He likes to sit in Sal’s Diner late at night with history books. He reads everything and anything he can about what he’s missed. Sometimes he reads history books about himself, to see what they say about him.
They miss a lot.
Sal works the counter every night. He knows damn well who Steve is and he doesn’t give a shit. It’s one of the many things Steve loves about Brooklyn. Nobody brings up who he is. Nobody cares that he’s Captain America as long as he’s not an asshole.
Sal knows his order. There’s always a cup of coffee ready for him at his booth. Ten minutes later there’s always a plate of home fries and scrambled eggs. It’s a good routine.
Sometimes he just people watches. All sorts of folk show up in diners late at night, and it’s almost never the same people twice.
Except for one.
Every night, a kid in ratty dirty clothes shuffles in. He can’t be more than sixteen. His black hair is matted and filthy, tugged into a greasy ponytail and there are heavy bags under his tired brown eyes, set deep in his brown skin. He wears a gray hoodie and he sits on the stool at the counter. Sal knows his routine too, gives him a small glass of water and a single scrambled egg. The kid wolfs it down. Sometimes he’ll stay for a bit, hunched over the counter. Most of the time he’ll fumble in his pocket and pull out a few crumpled bills. He’ll try and tip Sal, who always silently pushes the money back. The kid’ll take the rejected tip, shove it in his pocket, and head on his way.
Steve may not know the kid, but he recognizes him. He knows the way you walk when you’re down on your luck, the way you hold yourself when you’re sleeping rough. The look in your eyes when you can’t remember the last time you ate enough.
Different clothes, same story.
One night, when he’s sketching Bucky’s dog tags (from memory- they are safe around his neck, as they have been since he discovered there was still a pair in the Smithsonian), the kid starts fumbling with his cash and his hand freezes, then starts shaking. He starts painstakingly counting out the money, again and again, like he thinks that perhaps, the next time it’ll be different.
“Hey, kid,” Sal says gruffly. “Don’t worry about-“
“No.” The kid’s voice is hoarse, but resolute. “No. Just- just let me count again. Don’t let me eat for free. Not fair.”
“Sal.” Steve doesn’t even know he was thinking it until the word’s out of his mouth, but at soon as it is, he knows that there wasn’t really any other option.
Sal waves at him. ‘Busy.”
“Sal. Put it on mine.”
Both Sal and the kid look at him. Sal looks only mildly surprised. The kid looks stunned.
“You sure, Rogers?” Sal asks, tone clearly indicating he’s only asking for the sake of it.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“You got it.” Sal turns to the teenager. “Your bill’s been paid, kid. You’re all good.”
The kid’s still staring at Steve. Steve raises his eyebrows.
“You wanna sit down?” he asks, indicating the empty booth seat across from him. The kid quickly shakes his head and jumps off the stool. He gives Steve a jerky little nod, and bolts out of the place. Steve shrugs and goes back to his sketch, and assumes that’s the end of it.
Except it’s not.
The kid hasn’t been to the diner in the past two weeks, but he’s everywhere else. He skulks in the grocery store while Steve studies cereal boxes and he sits on the corner while Steve jogs around the block. He sits on the bench across the street from Steve’s apartment building and whenever Steve’s eyes pass along too slow he pulls his hoodie down over his face and looks away.
Steve, of course, is always aware that he’s there. The kid is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is.
Finally, as he finishes his meal at the diner and the kid lounges by a streetlamp, Steve catches Sal’s shirtsleeve as he cleans up his plates.
“Hey, Sal. That kid who used to come in here all the time?”
“The one who’s shit at tailing you?”
Steve smiles. “That one. What’s his story?”
“No clue. Name’s Eli. Living rough.”
Steve nods thoughtfully. “Thanks.”
“Sure. Make sure he’s still eating something.”
“You got it.” Steve leaves the money on the table. “See you round.”
It’s raining when Steve leaves, so he pulls an umbrella out of his jacket pocket. He walks home and sits on the steps of his apartment. Eli stops abruptly, uncertain. This isn’t part of Steve’s usual routine.
Steve pulls out another umbrella for his jacket and holds it out to Eli. “Want it?” he asks. “It’s supposed to rain harder in a bit. You could be a little wet or a lot wet.”
Eli looks at him warily, then quickly takes a few steps and snatches the umbrella. He opens it and stands under it, trying to look at small as possible.
Steve gestures at the steps. “You can sit if you want. I’ll even move my legs.”
Eli sits on the bottom steps. “I didn’t know you saw me,” he mutters.
“I would’ve seen you from space. Eli, right?”
Eli nods once.
Steve grins. “Not a hard one, I guess.”
“So why’re you following me, Eli?”
Eli shifts a little. “You paid for my meal.”
“I know what living rough looks like, son. You looked like you could use a hand and I didn’t think you’d let me pay for your food any other time.”
Eli looks at him shiftily. “You’re Captain America.”
“You’re not supposed to like people like me.”
Steve frowns. “Like who?”
“You know.” Eli pulls his sweatshirt a little tighter with one hand. “Like me.”
Eli bites his lip. “Gay.”
“Why did you think I wouldn’t like you for being gay?” Steve asks gently.
“You’re Captain America.” Eli’s got his teeth clenched and is resolutely looking ahead. “You stand for truth and justice and the American way. You stand for American morals. You stand for…” he shrugs awkwardly. “Not people like me.”
Steve blows the air out of his cheeks slowly, trying to figure out how to keep the anger out of his voice so Eli doesn’t think it’s at him.
“Captain America does stand for truth and justice,” he says slowly. “The truth is that LGBT folk exist. And justice is them being given the equal treatment they deserve. But I’m not…” he struggles for a moment. “I’m not Captain America. Not really. Anybody could be Captain America. Captain America’s just a uniform I put on sometimes. I’m Steve Rogers.” He looks at Eli, who’s staring up at him now. “Captain America stands for you, Eli. And so does Steve Rogers.”
Eli swallows. “Oh,” he whispers.
“Who told you I wouldn’t?”
“Um.” He shrugs awkwardly. “Fox News. My parents. Society?”
“They’re all wrong. Very, very wrong.”
“You’re, uh, you’re from the 40s. Aren’t you supposed to be… less tolerant?”
“Some of us were. Some of us weren’t.”
“The smart ones and the queer ones.”
“Which one were you?” He’s got a little trembling quirk to his lips, like he’s trying to pull out a joke to cushion all of this.
Steve thinks about lying for a fraction of a second. The decision not to could easily be described as: eh, fuck it.
“Well,” he answers wryly. “I certainly wasn’t one of the smart ones.”
“Oh.” Eli’s eyes widen. “Oh.”
“The history books didn’t say anything about that.”
Steve’s lips twist into a slightly bitter smirk. “I noticed.”
“Uh. They talked about Peggy Carter a lot, in the books. Um.” Eli looks like he’s trying to be tactful and Steve takes pity on him.
“I think they call it bisexual now.”
“Oh. That’s, uh.” Eli suddenly breaks into a wide smile. “That’s really cool, Mr. Rogers.”
“Steve. And thanks?”
“No, but like…” Eli’s grinning at him. His entire face is lit up for the first time since Steve’s seen him. “You’re one of the most famous people in American history. And you’re one of us. And that’s just… weirdly life affirming, I think.”
Steve smiles at him. “Glad I could be of assistance. You gonna come back to Sal’s now? I think he wants to make sure you’re still eating.”
“Yeah. I think I might.”
“Good. You’re always welcome to come and sit with me, if you want.”
“Guessing not a lot of people come and talk to you, what with you being the size of a mountain and a legend and whatnot.”
That startles Steve into a laugh. “Not really, no.” Something occurs to him. “You gotta place to sleep tonight?”
Eli shrugs. “There’s always a place to sleep.”
“A place with a roof?”
“I’m not one of those rich folk, now.”
“Do you want to sleep here? I mean-“ Steve suddenly flusters, realizing that he has just told a teenage boy that he swings both ways and then invited him into his apartment. “I’m not- it’s not like- I just- you’re a child,” he finishes weakly.
Eli snorts. “Don’t worry, Mr. Rogers. You’re not my type anyway.”
“That’s not what I-“
“And thanks, but, well, I’ll manage.” Eli hefts himself up and holds out the umbrella to Steve. Steve shakes his head.
“Keep it. I have a friend who thinks it’s funny to keep sending them to me. She says this way if it rains and I get cold and wet I won’t freeze into an ice cube again.” Steve’s long since accepted that Natasha’s humor is strange and roundabout.
“Thanks, Mr. Rogers.”
“Whatever you say.” Eli gives him a little salute. “See you around.”
He jogs off into the night.
The next night when Steve’s at Sal’s, Eli walks in. He stands hesitantly at the doorway. Steve smiles at him and goes back to his drawing. He won’t push him.
Eli sits down across from him and Steve puts his sketchbook down.
“Can I ask you some questions?” Eli asks and Steve leans back in his seat a little. “It’s not too personal or anything?”
“Can I ask questions back?”
“Then you got a deal.” He holds out his hand and Eli shakes it.
“So, uh. When did you know?”
“When I was a kid. Not much younger than you are. Bout thirteen, I guess. Maybe twelve. It wasn’t really…” he thinks about it. “There was a definitive moment, but I don’t really remember the age. It wasn’t about the age, it was the moment.”
“Yeah.” Eli rests his chin on his hands. “I feel that.”
Sal puts their food in front of them.
“What about you?”
“Yeah. About the same.” Eli takes a sip of his water. “Who was it for you? That made you realize?”
“Clark Gable. What about you?”
“Christ, you’re young.”
“You’re like a hundred and twenty-five, everyone’s young to you.”
Steve laughs. “I was born in 1918.”
“Still old as balls.” Eli swallows down a forkful of eggs. “What was the scene like, back in the old days?”
“Pretty vibrant, if you knew where to go.”
Steve grins. “Son, getting arrested in raids was a pastime for me.”
“Holy shit. Seriously?”
“Mm-hm. The mob ran a lot of the queer spots. There was good money in it. So a large gathering of queer people plus the mob ties, you got raided a lot.” Steve’s grin widens. “Especially if you punched cops.”
“You punched cops?”
“To be fair, they were assholes.”
“Holy shit.” Eli looks impressed. “Nothing says you have an arrest record.”
“Yeah, they expunged it after I got big. Doesn’t look good if Captain America has a record involving him getting arrested for ‘frequenting homosexual meeting places’. Did manage to get a copy of it, though. I was very proud of it.”
“What happened to it?”
“Peggy kept it for me. She knew they’d have destroyed it and that they wouldn’t have wanted that. She gave it back to me, when I came back.”
“So Agent Carter knew?”
“The books all say you were in love with her.”
He smiles a little sadly. “I was.”
“Did you ever… were you ever in love with a guy?”
He sighs. “Yeah.”
“Oh.” Eli pushes his fork around his empty plate. Steve can tell he’s trying to figure out how to phrase something. He waits.
“Your family know?” Eli asks quietly.
“I didn’t have a lot of family. No siblings. My dad died when I was pretty young. Just my Ma and Bucky.”
“Did they know?”
“How’d they take it?”
“Bucky knew when he found out I was sneaking off to one of the underground bars. He told me not to be stupid and if I was gonna go, I was gonna go with him so I wouldn’t get beat up too bad when I inevitably got in a fight.”
“He took it that well?”
Steve’s lips twitch. “We lived in a pretty progressive kinda neighborhood.”
“Well, by progressive I kinda mean that it was a mostly queer kinda neighborhood.”
“Oh. And your mom?”
“Ma…” Steve runs his hand through his hair. “Ma found out when the cops brought me home after a raid. I came back with a black eye and a fat lip and my clothes ripped. She tore me a new one, I can tell you that. She yelled at me while I sat on the chair in the kitchen. I almost started crying. I thought she hated me.” He smiles a little wistfully. “Finally after about an hour, she stopped, and she got a cloth wet, and wiped the blood off my lip. She told me she didn’t care who I hung around with and what I did, so long as I stuck to my guns and didn’t go keeping secrets.”
“That’s…” Eli swallows. “That’s really impressive.”
“It was… an abnormality.”
Eli looks down.
“I’m guessing your parents didn’t take it that well,” Steve says quietly.
Eli snorts. “No. They didn’t. They, uh.” He picks at the hem of his sleeve. “They kicked me out.”
Steve stares. “Out of your home?”
Eli gets a full thread out of the cuff. “Said I could come back when I wasn’t a faggot anymore.”
“They kicked. They still do that?”
“But.” Steve can’t stop staring. “But we can get married now. We have rights. It’s. It’s the future.”
Eli’s lips twist bitterly. “The future ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, Mr. Rogers.”
“You’re their son.”
“Not to them.”
Steve shakes his head. “That’s not right.”
Eli shrugs. “Is what it is.” He must be able to see Steve struggling. “Not everything changes, Mr. Rogers.”
“Do you. Do you miss them?”
Eli blows all the air out of his cheeks. “I mean, sometimes. Miss having a bed more.”
“You’re always welcome to stay at my apartment, you know.”
His smile is less bitter. “Thanks.” He starts digging around in his hoodie pocket. “I’d better run.”
Steve holds up a hand.
“You can leave here with me paying for the meal or giving you cash,” he tells Eli. “Pick one.”
Eli scrutinizes him for a minute. Steve holds his gaze.
“Second option,” Eli says finally. “I pay my own way.”
“How much am I going to get away with giving you?” Steve remembers negotiating back and forth with Bucky in the early days of sharing an apartment, back before they gave up and agreed to share the money equally.
Eli narrows his eyes. “Depends. What crazy amount were you going to offer me?”
Steve manages to get Eli (grudgingly) to twenty bucks up from the five he wanted to originally take and the fifty Steve originally wanted to give him. Eli puts the money deep in his pocket. “Thanks, Mr. Rogers.”
“Steve is fine, you know.”
Eli grins a little. “You’re lucky I’m not calling you Captain.” He stands up. “Be seeing you.”
He slips out of the diner, leaving Steve with a small smile.
Eli comes back every night. He and Steve’ll talk and Steve will give him a twenty. Steve always offers him a chance to stay in his apartment and he always turns it down. Steve wonders how long it’ll take Eli's pride to wear down.
“Is that Sergeant Barnes?” Eli asks after about a week, when he arrives to see Steve sketching Bucky the way he looked that night at the Stark Expo in his new uniform, shiny and young.
“Yeah, that’s Bucky.”
“You’re a good artist, Mr. Rogers.” Eli sits down. “Ever thought about going back to school?”
Steve smiles a little bitterly. “Believe it or not, constantly going out on missions with the Avengers is not exactly compatible with a course schedule.”
“That’s what online courses are for. You know how to do the online?”
“I’ll have you know I’m very good with technology.”
“Sure, Victrolas.” Steve snorts as Eli rests his chin on his flat hands, palms against the table. “What was Sergeant Barnes like?”
Steve fiddles with his pencil. “Cranky. Had zero tolerance for my bullshit. But he was brave and kind and good. The best man I ever knew.”
Eli tilts his head slightly. “Personal question?”
“You love him?”
Steve sighs. “Complicated.”
“Don’t have to tell me. Just curious.”
Steve gives what’s probably best described as an aborted shrug. “He made sense. Nobody else did. To be fair, nobody else except for Peggy really tried to, but. I don’t know. I think the answer is yes, but like I said. Complicated.”
“Complicated sucks.” Sal delivers their food and Eli sits up. “Glad to know he was actually a nice guy, though. Wanted to make sure the history books didn’t lie to me about that, too.”
One day Eli shuffles in with a deep cut on his cheek. Steve raises his eyebrows.
Eli shrugs. “Recent enough.”
Steve stands up. “Sal, can we have our food in a box?”
Steve takes Eli to his apartment and pulls out his first aid kit. He motions for Eli to sit at his dining room table.
“Looks kind of like a showroom in here, Mr. Rogers.”
Steve shrugs a little as he cleans the cut. “I feel self-conscious in stores. You gonna tell me how this happened?”
“Contrary to popular belief, black homeless gay kids are not extremely popular.” Eli winces at the anti-septic.
“Do you want me to go out and give you a hand?”
“Nah. But thanks.”
They’re quiet for a moment.
“Hey, how classified is too classified?”
Steve raises his eyebrows. “You wanna clarify that a little bit?”
“What can’t you tell me?”
“Ask me whatever you’re thinking and I’ll let you know.”
Eli’s silent for a second. “Is the Winter Soldier Sergeant Barnes?” he finally asks.
Steve stills. “That’s pretty classified,” he says quietly.
Steve lowers his hands. “How did you figure it out?” he asks in a murmur.
Eli squirms a little. “I’ve got a friend who’s kind of a history buff. The Soldier’s picture was everywhere. She put two and two together.”
Steve snorts. “That’s not exceptionally comforting.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Eli says quickly. “I won’t even tell her she was right. I just.” He clears his throat a bit. “Are you, uh. Are you handling this? Okay?”
Steve blinks. “What?” He expected questions about betrayal and Bucky’s loyalties.
“I mean.” Eli fidgets. “He tried to kill you, right? And I’m guessing you didn’t know he was alive. So like. Are you talking to anybody or anything? You’re not just stewing in it, right?”
Steve stares. “You’re not. You’re not worried about him being a traitor or if it’s still Bucky in there or something?”
“I figure if Captain America’s not stressing about it, I shouldn’t. Just… wanted to make sure you were doing okay.” Eli shrugs awkwardly. “Might not like the idea of you being sad or something.”
Steve grins. “Or something.”
Eli smiles hesitantly. “Shut up.”
“I’m coping.” Steve finishes with Eli’s cut. “Wish you’d let me help you with these assholes, though.”
“I’ll be okay.”
Steve leans forwards in his chair a little. “I want you to stay here tonight.”
Eli vigorously shakes his head. “No.”
“I can’t.” He looks at Steve pleadingly. “I can’t, Mr. Rogers, I just can’t.”
He looks at Eli and sees something almost desperate in his face. Steve sighs.
“Keep the cut clean,” he instructs. “And you’re taking an extra ten bucks.”
Eli sighs in relief. “Okay.”
Three days later around midnight, Steve’s door buzzes. He jumps a little. Natasha never needs the buzzer and Sam isn’t due for a visit, especially this late. He hesitantly presses the intercom.
“Mr. Rogers,” Eli’s voice crackles through. “It’s Eli.”
“Come on up.”
A few minutes later, there’s a hesitant knock at the door. Steve opens it.
Eli’s supporting a teenager with a towel wrapped clumsily around her head like a hijab, her arm hanging limp to the side. Crowded around them are two boys and a girl. They all look dirty and pale and tired, and Steve realizes that it wasn’t pride that kept Eli from accepting Steve’s offer of a place on his couch, but loyalty.
“I’m sorry,” Eli says. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Totally fine.” Steve motions them inside. “What happened?”
“We had a run in with those guys from earlier.” Eli gently puts the girl on Steve’s couch.
“Racist as well as homophobic,” she mumbles. “Yayyyy.”
Steve kneels across from the girl. “What happened to you specifically?”
“Tried to yank the hijab from my head. I didn’t like that.”
“Okay.” Steve studies her briefly but carefully. “Okay. What’s your name?”
“Hi, Majeedah. I’m Steve. It looks like your arm’s been dislocated.”
“I told you,” the boy with the straggly red hair mutters. Eli shushes him.
“I’m gonna set it, but it’s going to really, really hurt. I want you to hold onto something with your other hand, okay? You can scream if you need to, that’s totally okay.”
Majeedah tightens her jaw and nods. The boy with tattoos of vines winding around his arm reaches out and links his fingers with hers.
“Are you ready?”
She nods again.
Steve takes a deep breath and pops her arm back in. She doesn’t scream but a high pitched noise hums through her mashed tight lips.
“You did really well,” Steve tells her kindly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You did a really god job, okay?”
She wipes a couple tears from the corner of her eye. “Thanks.”
Steve looks up. “Hi, guys. I’m Steve.”
The girl with the tattered purple streaks in her hair waves a little. “Hi,” she whispers. “I’m Wendy.”
“Jason,” says the redhead.
“Benji,” comes from the boy with the tattoos.
“Did any of you guys get hurt?”
They all shrug faux-nonchalantly and Steve sighs.
“Okay, let me rephrase that. Do any of you guys feel like not lying to me?”
They look at each other guiltily.
“S’not lying, per se,” Wendy mumbles. “It’s just little bruises and cuts. We’re not hurt like Majeedah was.”
Steve rubs his forehead. “Everyone sit down. Eli, you okay?”
“Yeah, Mr. Rogers, they didn’t get me too bad.”
“Then get me the first aid kit.”
Steve learns a lot about Eli’s little gang while he patches them up. Wendy prefers Gwendoline if people are going by full names, and she shyly tells Steve that she'd read the name in a book as a child, and always knew that when she eventually transitioned, she would pick that one. Benji asks to be addressed by they and them if pronouns have to be used. Majeedah got kicked out because she was caught kissing a young lady. Jason got the boot because he’s pansexual and after “pray away the gay” camp (Eli has to explain to Steve what that means and boy does that infuriate Steve, because he remembers the “treatments” of his youth and nothing changes, does it really?) didn’t take his parents decided that there wasn’t any point in trying anymore.
After Steve is done patching everyone up, Eli shuffles around a little.
“You’re sure this is okay?” he asks. “I just didn’t know where else-“
“I’m glad you came to me, Eli. This was the right thing to do.” Steve rummages in his closet until he finds the scarf patterned like the American flag Natasha found and gave him after a mission in Texas because she said it “represented the true workings of Steve’s soul”. He holds it up so Majeedah can see. “Is this okay? That towel doesn’t look very comfortable.”
Majeedah blinks. “Yes. Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” He hands it over and she scurries off into the bathroom to change. When she comes back she curls up into Benji on the couch, who wraps their arm around her shoulders. Steve gazes at the small ragtag bunch, and comes to a decision.
“Fortunately I should have enough pillows and blankets for all of you,” he says. “Two can fit on the couch. The armchair stretches out to where it’s almost flat. That just leaves two on the floor.”
They stare at him.
“Sorry, what?” Eli asks, the first one to recover his tongue.
“You’re all staying here. So divvy up the sleeping space while I go get the blankets and pillows.”
They all look to Eli, who seems to be the de facto leader of the group. Slowly, Eli smiles.
“Okay,” he says. “But if you try and give us your bed, I’m going to make a valiant attempt at fighting you. You need a place to sleep too, man.”
Steve grins back. “Understood.”
When Steve wakes up in the morning, Eli’s snoring lightly on the floor, Wendy curled up with her face to his back. Benji’s head is resting on Jason’s chest on the couch and Majeedah’s tangled in a blanket in the recliner. Steve softly pads into the kitchen to get a banana.
“You’re nice,” he hears a quiet mumble. He looks over to see Wendy, looking at him sleepily from the floor.
“I like it here. Thanks for letting us stay.”
She hums and seems to doze off again.
Steve makes a decision.
“You should stay here,” he says to Eli while everyone else is watching cartoons.
(Cartoons, Jason has told him firmly, is a Constitutional right and if it’s not it should be and they’ve been deprived of it for far too long)
“We did.” Eli’s munching on toast. “I didn’t bitch about it or anything.”
“No, I mean for a while. As long as you like. Whichever.”
Eli gapes at him. “Really?”
“Yeah. I mean, look.” Steve shifts uncomfortably. “You’re all still kids. And you shouldn’t be out on the street. And I literally have more money than I know what to do with. I don’t have a ton of space and we’d have to buy a sleeper sofa and it’d probably be a little cramped. But I think it would be good for you guys. And for me too.”
Eli’s staring at him like he’s never seen a human being before. Steve shifts again.
“I’ll talk to them about it,” Eli says finally. “But I think that might be okay.”
“Okay.” Steve clears his throat. “Let me know when you make a decision so we can go out shopping.”
About an hour later the group approaches Steve, Eli at the head, while he’s reading a book.
“I think we might like to take that shopping trip,” Eli says shyly. Steve breaks into a wide grin.
The sleeper sofa they pick out is giant.
“Seriously,” Jason says, bouncing up and down on the light blue couch slightly. “If this were debris in the ocean Rose and at least four Jacks could have survived on this thing.”
“I don’t understand that reference.” Steve runs a hand over the cushions. They’re very soft and squishy.
“My friend Natasha said I should stay as far away from that movie as possible.”
“Your friend Natasha does not understand the nature of the worst cinematic masterpiece.”
“THEY HAVE PILLOWS WITH STAR WARS CHARACTERS ON THEM,” Benji yells manically, snatching an R2-D2 pillow. “STAR. WARS. CHARACTERS.”
Steve manages to talk Benji down to only three Star Wars pillows and feels pretty accomplished.
Wendy shuffles awkwardly. “I don’t know what girls’ clothes look good on me,” she mumbles when they head into the Kohl’s. Majeedah and Benji instantly link arms with her.
“We’ve got this,” Majeedah says with authority. “The rest of you go figure stuff out.”
They march a surprised but also delighted looking Wendy off to the girls section, leaving Steve, Eli, and Jason on their own.
“They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Steve observes.
“They definitely are,” Eli agrees.
“When I was a kid we didn’t have this many kinds of shampoo, you know,” Steve tells them, trying to tell the benefits of frizz control vs. curl control.
“Did the pictures only cost a quarter?” Jason responds dryly. Steve rolls his eyes and chucks both shampoos in the rapidly filling cart. They’ll know which one not to get for next time.
That night, they all jump on the couch that they’ve flipped out into the massive bed, resplendent in new pajamas and Benji clutching a weird looking Princess Leia pillow to their chest, to watch Titanic at Jason’s insistence.
“This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” Steve says about half an hour in.
“Yes,” Jason answers. “But the greatest worst movie you’ve ever seen.”
“This isn’t historically accurate.”
“I thought you were born in 1918,” Eli mutters.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t know what shit was like in my ma’s day.”
Steve does a lot of research into homeschooling.
“You don’t need to do that,” Eli says while Steve resolutely pores over books.
“You’re children. Children need to learn somehow.”
In the end, Steve sets them up with Khan Academy. They watch a lot of documentaries and educational channels on YouTube and Steve teaches them a lot about WWII. Wendy, who Steve guesses is the friend who figured out who Bucky is, eats up the history stuff swiftly and devours all sorts of nonfiction from the library. From what Steve reads on the Internet, it’s basically what’s called unschooling, and while that terminology feels a little weird to him it also works for them and he feels comfortable with it.
Steve learns quickly about what each of their interests are.
Wendy would drown in a sea of history and nonfiction if she could, but she also has a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy. She and Steve read Jules Verne together, the sci-fi of his boyhood. She also has a vested interest in makeup and beauty, something Steve knows next to nothing about, but he lets her excitedly paint his nails and they find makeup tutorials to watch together on YouTube.
Benji likes space. “How can you not?” They say eagerly when they’re watching a documentary about black holes. “Space is the coolest thing out there. Especially now that we know fucking aliens exist. Space is the best thing ever.” Their enthusiasm reminds Steve slightly of when he and Bucky were kids and they would climb to the roof of their apartment building and look at the stars, so they and Steve will often watch space documentaries and movies together. They also love to draw, something Steve knows a great deal about and so will often give him drawing challenges.
Jason likes to write, soon filling tiny little notebooks or great big binders with collections of poetry and short stories. He shyly asks Steve to proofread and give him notes, and while Steve makes sure first to tell him that he has really no expertise in this field, he gladly does so, pointing out little things he thinks could flow better. Jason’s stories and poems veer from the mundane to the wild, a diner in the city to a castle in a fantasy land. They’re beautiful, and Steve thinks that maybe in a few months he’ll suggest that Jason try to publish some of them.
Majeedah is brilliant, smarter than any of them. She immerses herself in the latest science and technology news, reads so many engineering textbooks it’s dizzying to watch them interchange. She’ll excitedly explain to Steve how rockets work, what updates Tony should make to the Iron Man suits, why cars should never ever fly. Steve doesn’t understand all of it, but he listens and watches the careful diagrams she maps out, pushing the glasses she recently picked out a little further up her nose.
Eli studies social justice books carefully, reads about the law and human rights and the suffering of others, watches documentaries on gentrification and poverty and homelessness. Steve could see him going into social work or being a lawyer- it could honestly go either way. Eli’s also a talented knitter, currently working on a fuzzy light pink sweater for Benji, which delights them. “It’ll go great with my combat boots,” they say, and everyone has to agree.
One night Steve has fallen asleep out on the sleeper sofa with the kids (sometimes they still feel a little uncertain and alone and Steve will stay out in the living room with them and watch terrible sci-fi movies from the 1960s) and when he wakes up, Wendy curled into his side and Benji’s arm flopping across his chest, Natasha is leaning against the window, eyebrows raised as she surveys the situation.
“You’ve acquired a posse of adorable ragtag urchins,” she observes. Steve’s lips quirk.
“You’re not entirely wrong.” Steve gently moves Benji’s arm and scoots off the bed carefully. “Coffee?”
“Yes, please. The flight from Pakistan was murder.”
Steve explains the situation softly to Natasha as he makes them coffee. She is quiet until he’s done.
“Have you tried to get in touch with their parents?” Natasha asks.
“The kids don’t want to talk to them and I respect that.”
“Hm.” Natasha sips at her coffee. Cream, three sugars. “They sound kind of like assholes anyway.”
Steve snorts. “They do.”
Steve and Natasha look to see Benji blinking owlishly at them from the bed. The rest of the kids are rising too, sleepily looking over to the dining room table.
“You’re the Black Widow.”
“I am,” Natasha says, an unusual softness in her eyes. Steve isn’t wholly surprised- Natasha’s past, he knows, involves a lot more child soldiers and assassins than his does and she always has a soft spot for the younger ones. “Hi.”
“Hi. I’m Benji.” Benji yawns a little. “This is Wendy, Eli, Majeedah, and Jason.”
“Hi, everyone. I’m your Aunt Nat.”
Steve groans a little. “Natasha-“
“No, no, no.” Jason sits up a little. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that the Black Widow as an aunt would be awesome as shit.”
The kids nod vehemently and Natasha laughs.
She ends up staying all day, teaching Wendy ways to braid her hair (“in Soviet Russia, hair braid you,” she informs Wendy seriously, who nods solemnly) and telling them some of the more amusing stories from the Avengers.
“I like having an aunt who doesn’t tell me I’m going to hell,” Steve overhears Jason say casually to the rest of the kids. His heart breaks a little and when he glances at the expression on Natasha’s face he can tell that she is going to be the best god damn aunt on the face of this planet and possibly other ones too.
The first time Steve has to go out on a mission, Steve is what he views as being protective to a reasonable amount.
“The number to call me at in case of an emergency is on the fridge, the table, and taped to the TV,” he says for the seventh time. “You can call me at any time, do not worry about it.”
“We know, Steve,” Eli answers patiently.
“You all know 911, right?”
The look they give him is so unbelievably done with him that he sighs. “All right, all right, I’m going.”
“How are the gaggle?” Natasha asks when he gets on the Quinjet.
“Cap’s got a gaggle now?” Tony asks from where he’s operating the plane. “Is it of adoring fangirls? Man, I want a gaggle. Oh wait, I have lots.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “What’s the mission look like?”
When they’re halfway there, Steve’s phone rings and his heart drops into his shoes.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re out of bacon,” Jason deadpans. “We thought it was an emergency you should be aware of.”
He hears the rest of the kids crack up on the other hand. Steve sighs and hangs up. Natasha looks amused enough that he reckons she knew what had happened. The next time Steve goes out for a mission, he’s less strident about protective measures.
“I think the Winter Soldier’s been leaving us pies,” Eli says without preamble when Steve picks up during one of his and Sam’s longer missions, three days and counting.
Steve blinks and rubs at his eyes. “Okay,” he says wearily. Sure. Why not. “Why do you think so?”
“Pies keep appearing in front of the door with notes that say Steve would approve of me feeding you. Keep eating. I don’t know why he thinks that pies are sustenance for a bunch of teenagers, but we’re not complaining.”
“Are they-“ Steve clears his throat. “Are they apple pies with a lattice on top?”
“Uh, yeah actually.”
Just like his Ma used to make.
“So, um. Do we discourage this behavior?”
Steve thinks about it for a second. “Have Natasha stay with you guys. Just in case.” Steve doesn’t think Bucky’s going to snap and lash out at the kids, but, well. These are the most important things in his universe.
“The pies were really good,” Wendy tells Steve when he returns.
“He’s probably using my ma’s recipe,” Steve says absently. “My ma made the best apple pies.” The general commotion in the room stops abruptly and he realizes what he said. “Oh.” He trusts the kids so much that he forgot that he couldn’t tell them some things.
Wendy stares, and then a slow smile blossoms over her face. “I knew it,” she whispers.
Steve points at the group at large. “You can tell no one. I mean.”
“We promise,” they chorus.
“So is he still really cute?” Eli asks. “I’m asking for a tall blond friend of mine.”
Steve throws up his hands as he goes into his room to find clothes that weren’t just hastily thrown on after a mission. “I’m not answering that question.”
“Come on, Steve! Close your eyes and think of America.”
“Shut up, Benji!” Steve yells back.
Benji’s response is to cackle loudly.
Steve listens to Majeedah talk excitedly about liquid technology and the Iron Man suits and is it okay if she gives him a list of questions to ask Mr. Stark because she’s really very curious, and comes to a decision.
Majeedah is reading a book on engineering in the 1800s when Steve approaches her.
“I have a gift for you.”
Majeedah’s brow furrows. “Not for the other kids?”
“They’ll get their own stuff soon.” And they will. Steve’s a firm believer in the notion that everything levels out in the end. “Here.” He offers her the package, thin, flat, and rectangular. She opens the purple wrapping paper and lifts his present out, staring.
“These are two VIP passes to the Stark laboratory here in the city.”
“They are,” Steve confirms.
“How did you get these?”
“Called in a favor from Tony.” The favor had been “I won’t tell Natasha that you’re the one who accidentally set her belt on fire if you give me the two highest passes to your lab here that you can”. So maybe more like blackmail.
“You called in a favor from Mr. Stark.” She traces her finger over the passes, expression wonderstruck.
“One for me and one for you. I know I’m not gonna know as much about that stuff as you will, but I figure you need a chaperone, and besides, I thought it might be nice for us to go out and do something togeth-“ Majeedah lunges forwards and hugs Steve so tightly it surprises him. “Oof.” He grins and hugs her back.
“This is amazing.” Majeedah is gazing around her like a kid in a candy store, looking around every which way. All over, scientists are studying experiments and things Steve can’t possibly understand but seem to be making Majeedah glow. She’s dressed her best, in a white hijab with a floral blue pattern, a black blouse and a flared blue skirt. “I love it here.”
Steve smiles down at her. “I’m glad I could help.”
“I just.” She wraps her arms around Steve. She’s been doing that a lot lately. “Thank you, Steve.”
“You’re welcome, Majeedah.”
“All right, show me the second person Rogers blackmailed me into giving a pass too.”
Steve releases Majeedah and turns around. Tony Stark is striding into the lab, impeccably dressed in one of his best suits.
“Gah,” Majeedah whispers, shuffling behind Steve very slightly. Steve takes her hand comfortingly.
“What’s up, Spangles? Welcome to Stark’s Funhouse.” Tony leans to the side. “Who you got behind you?”
Majeedah tentatively comes out from behind Steve. “Hello, sir.” She looks much smaller than her fifteen years all of the sudden.
“Tony’s fine. Who’re you?”
“My name’s Majeedah.”
“Majeedah. I like it. What do you think of the labs?”
She bites her lip and looks up at Steve, who nods encouragingly.
“Your rocket system on the boots for the Iron Man suit is flawed,” she blurts out. “I know a way you could do it better.” She looks abruptly terrified, like she thinks she might be thrown out. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“You do, huh?”
For a terrible moment, Steve thinks he might make fun of Majeedah. But he starts looking around and once he finds the whiteboard he’s evidently been looking for he drags it over and tosses Majeedah a marker.
Majeedah starts drawing some kind of equation with a hasty doodle on the side to show what she means. It’s gibberish to Steve, but Tony leans in and Steve can see his eyes widen from behind his glasses.
Majeedah caps her marker and looks at Tony nervously. Tony straightens.
“Well?” Steve asks, antsy on her behalf.
“You want a job, Majeedah?”
Majeedah gapes at him. “Sorry?”
“A job. Being my personal lab assistant. You could come in, oh, I dunno, I guess every Wednesday and Friday? Steve, what do you think, Wednesdays and Fridays?”
“Wednesdays and Fridays, come in with me while I work on the Iron Man suits. If that’s not your thing, you know, I get it, you can come in and I can give you stuff to do. You got a school you go to?”
Majeedah looks dazed. “Steve teaches me.”
Tony raises an eyebrow at that but doesn’t say anything. “Well, it’ll count as extra credit with Steve, I’m sure.”
Majeedah looks at Steve, who grins back. Then she squares her shoulders and looks at Tony.
“Yes, Mr. Stark, I think that would be nice.”
“Awesome. Just don’t call me Mr. Stark, that’s weird and uncomfortable. Tony is fine. Come on, let’s get you fitted for one of those badges you need to get into the building. Happy’s weird about the badges.”
The first of the kids to call him by a father term is Wendy.
He gets down the cookie jar for her (she is a wisp of a thing, to the point where Steve keeps trying to feed her in the hope that she’ll get some meat on her bones) and she smiles at him radiantly, says “thanks, Papa” and scurries away, leaving Steve stunned.
The next one is Jason, when Steve’s given him careful constructive criticism of a story he wrote, complete with little notes on what he liked and doodles of what he was describing. Jason beams at him, cheerfully yelling “thanks, Dad!” as he runs off to go edit his story.
“So,” Steve asks Eli while they’re washing dishes together. “Why do they keep calling me dad?”
Eli drops a fork in the sink and curses. “Sorry. Uh, it’s kind of how we refer to you on our own? I didn’t know they’d been doing it to your face. We can talk about it, if you want them to stop?”
“No!” Steve clears his throat. “No. That’s…”
Steve had never thought he’d have kids. His life has been lived one mission to the next. It was never something he thought he’d be able to do, and here he is.
“That’s just fine.”
Steve hates press conferences.
They’re one of his least favorite things ever. Even HYDRA comes pretty damn close. He sits half slumped over the table while Tony flippantly fields the questions. Tony’s the best of all of them at handling the press, since he’s been doing it his whole life.
Steve looks up dully at the reporter. “Yes?”
“Sir, what are your feelings about the new bathroom bills designed to prevent transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice?”
Steve straightens a little. “Is that even a real question?”
“They’re bad,” he says flatly. “Transgender people get to use whatever bathroom they want. Next question.”
This, somewhat unsurprisingly, causes more reporters to rise. Steve points at one.
“Captain, does this mean you support transgender people?”
“Yes. Unequivocally. And before you ask,” Steve adds, sensing that he should head them off at the pass. “I support all sexual and gender orientations.”
Another reporter stands. Steve recognizes him from FOX News and knows instantly that he’s going to hate him.
“Sir,” he says, voice dripping with condescension. “I know that you’re from a different time and it may cause some confusion. But in this time, the advance of the LGBT movement is seen as a detachment from American values. You may want to reconsider your stance.”
Steve remembers Eli, standing in the rain under his umbrella, saying you stand for American morals. You stand for… not people like me, thinks of his kids standing at his door, beat up and afraid and lonely, and sees red.
“Believe it or not, sir,” Steve growls, letting every inch of acid he feels in his body leak into his voice. The room suddenly goes quiet except for the flash of cameras. “We had people have different orientations back in the mid 1900s. And believe it or not, I’m one of them.”
The room is suddenly full of shouting voices. Steve looks up and down the table. “We done here?”
Everyone nods, Tony vociferously.
“Good.” Steve stands up and leaves. The rest of the Avengers join him.
“That,” Tony says loudly. “Was the most baller thing I ever have seen in my life.”
“Clint owes me thirteen dollars,” Natasha tells him. Sam claps him on the back.
“Proud of you, dude.”
“You couldn’t have waited till Christmas?” Clint asks. “Thirteen dollars, man. Seriously. Go fuck yourself.”
Steve grins. “Sorry, Clint.”
“Aw, whatever.” Clint’s giving him that sideways smile. “I’ve got like at least twice thirteen bucks.”
Thor picks Steve up. It’s a regular enough occurrence when he hugs people that the only reason Steve jumps slightly is because he did it from behind and that’s a little more surprising.
“CONGRATULATIONS, STEVEN, ON YOUR MAJESTIC COMING OUT TO YOUR PEOPLE AS NOT BEING A HETEROSEXUAL!”
Steve winces a little at Thor’s voice booming right in his ear. “Thank you, Thor.”
“My congratulations are quieter,” Bruce tells him, lips quirked. “But no less sincere.”
“So, do we like throw you a party or something?” Tony whips out his sunglasses and sticks them on his face. “A ‘congratulations on metaphorically dropping the goddamn mic on your sexuality, Rogers’ party?”
“Could we just do a diner in Brooklyn?”
“You don’t know how to throw a party, Cap.”
“But a diner in Brooklyn is fine,” Bruce says, giving Tony a stern look.
“Could we, uh. Could I make a phone call first? Pick some people up on the way?”
“You have other friends?” Clint asks. “Wounded, Rogers.”
Tony’s giving him the speculative head tilt. “Would it have anything to do with my new intern and the siblings she refers to sometimes?”
Steve grins. “It might.”
“Go for it.”
Steve pulls out his cell phone and dials his home number. He insists on a landline, much to the chagrin and confusion of the kids.
“Hello?” Eli sounds vaguely breathless.
“HOLY SHIT.” Eli hits a couple buttons before he hits speakerphone. There’s a chorus of screams at him. “DAD THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY WHOLE LIFE.”
Steve grins. “You’re a kid, Eli. You don’t have a lot of life.”
“YEAH BUT WE ALL AGREE WITH HIM,” Wendy yells uncharacteristically. “AND TOGETHER WE HAVE A DECENT LIFESPAN.”
Steve laughs. “So, the Avengers and I are talking Sal’s.”
“We can hold down the fort for you while you’re gone,” Jason says.
“We’re curating the best Twitter and Vine responses for you,” Benji adds.
“There’s one that’s just a shaking camera and pterodactyl screeching,” Majeedah throws in. “It’s pretty great.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “I want you to come, too.”
“Oh.” Eli sounds startled. “Um. Yes. We’re okay with that. Sal’s?”
“Sal’s. We’ll be there soon.”
“Bye, Dad. And uh, hey. Congratulations. You did good.”
Everyone chimes in with similar sentiments. Steve smiles. “Thanks, guys. See you soon.”
Steve hangs up and turns around to see the Avengers all looking at him.
“So,” Sam says. “What was that all about?”
“Steve adopted a gaggle of homeless LGBT youth,” Natasha says, pulling out a pair of sunglasses of her own. Steve’s fairly certain it’s for dramatic effect. “They call him Dad and they call me Auntie Nat.”
“She spoils them rotten.”
Natasha arches an eyebrow. “They deserve to be spoiled rotten.”
“Hi, Auntie Nat,” Wendy says from the four tables that they’ve mashed together in Sal’s. Sal’s closed the place down for them, Steve sees, which he appreciates. “Papa’s a BAMF.”
Natasha grins. “Hello, malyutka. I know.”
Majeedah comes out with an armful of silverware. Steve frowns.
“Do those have knives in them? You should be careful.”
“Tony had me using lasers last week, Papa, I’ll be okay.”
Steve whips around to glare at Tony as he says “aw, Majeedah, now he’s gonna give me his overprotective disappointed face.”
Steve’s suddenly attacked by a hug from Benji. “That was,” Benji says, muffled in Steve’s shirt. “The coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Steve smiles and ruffles Benji’s hair with one hand, wrapping an arm around them with the other. “Thanks, Benj- oof.”
The rest of the kids latch onto Steve immediately.
“Thank you for being so awesome,” Jason mumbles.
“Are we all hugging the Captain?” Thor inquires. “I do not believe there is room for myself.”
Everyone detaches from Steve, Eli surreptitiously wiping his eyes.
“So, are you going to introduce us to Annie and the hard knock life gang?” Clint asks. Steve points at each kid.
“Benji. Jason. Majeedah. Wendy. Eli. Guys, Avengers.”
“We know who you are,” Benji says. “Also hi, Auntie Nat.”
Sal makes them all a veritable feast of diner food. Thor draws up a map of the Nine Realms for Benji, who keeps gazing up at Thor in a mixture of fascination and adoration. Majeedah and Tony tinker with Tony’s watch, trying to make it run smoother. Wendy braids Natasha’s hair with multi-colored ribbons. Eli presents Steve with a sweater he’s been knitting him in the bisexual colors which Steve immediately pulls on. Clint and Jason try to get the salt shakers to balance on their corners. All in all, it goes pretty smoothly.
Steve receives a shirt a week later on his doorstep that says World’s Okayest Bisexual and a note in Bucky’s handwriting that reads well done, punk. Steve laughs until he cries.
“So, uh.” Eli’s clutching papers and looking at Steve nervously. The kids are shuffling around him. “Tony pulled this up for us, and he said it might be helpful in the future legally and stuff, and we wanted to do it, but you don’t have to, I’m just realizing we probably should have talked to you about this before we said yes to Tony-“
“Let me see.” Steve’s hands still when he sees what it is.
“We can talk about it first,” Eli says hurriedly. “We don’t need to-“
Steve grabs a pen from the cup that holds all the pens. “Where do I sign?”
They all beam so wide it could rival the Sun in power.
They all marathon Star Wars that night, from New Hope to Force Awakens, because according to Benji those are The Big Ones. Steve basically trusts Benji when it comes to all things Star Wars.
One day on the way back from a mission, Steve’s phone rings.
There’s a crackling silence, and then a deep breath.
“Hi, Dad,” Eli says shakily. “We had some company today.”
Steve does not go apeshit.
He very, very, very carefully does not go apeshit.
“They said they were HYDRA. Wanted to take us hostage to draw you out.”
“Are you okay?”
“We’re all fine, nobody got hurt. Well.” Eli chuckles weakly. “Wendy creamed one of them with a baseball bat.”
“Good.” Steve thinks he might be on the verge of a panic attack. Is this what a panic attack feels like, this jumpy thing. Natasha’s looking at him concernedly, the closest to him in the Quinjet. “Give me a second.” He covers his end of the phone and calls to the cockpit. “Clint, I need us to turn around and go to Brooklyn. The kids were hit by HYDRA.”
Clint and Sam swear loudly. Tony actually stands up in fury. Bruce’s eyes flash green. Natasha’s fists clench. Clint responds “you got it” in the tight voice that suggests he’s ready to start wrecking shit. Lightning crackles at the edges of Thor’s fingertips.
“Are they all right?” Natasha asks in a low voice that implies if they’re not, terrible things will happen.
“Yes.” He returns to the phone. “We’re on our way.”
“You don’t have-“
“Yes I do. What happened, how did you get rid of them?”
“Uh, we didn’t.” He clears his throat. “Bucky did.”
Not. Going. Apeshit.
“They were getting ready to take us out. Then there was this voice that told us to close our eyes, so we did. And there was noises that sounded… less than good for the HYDRA guys. And when he said we could open our eyes again, he was there and they weren’t, and he said they were outside and that we could call the police when we felt ready, and did we need anything?”
“Did he. I don’t.” Steve wants to punch something and hug all his kids at the same time. “Did he stay?”
“Well, Majeedah burst into tears. So he stayed and hugged all of us and uh, he sang to us? He sang I Only Have Eyes For You, he said he sang it to you when-“
“I was fourteen. I was really sick.” He’d been coughing and coughing, and Bucky had scrounged up the first song he thought of to sing and calm them down.
Bucky remembers that.
“Yeah. So he stayed and he made us grilled cheese and then when we were ready to call the police and you, he said to tell you not to do anything stupid until he gets back, and then we did.”
“Are the police still there?”
“Okay.” Steve swallows. “Can I talk to everyone?”
“Yeah. We’re in your bedroom. I’ll turn the speakerphone on.”
Steve hears the click. “Hey, everyone.”
There’s a round of his.
“I heard you got one of the HYDRA guys, Wendy. Good job.”
“Majeedah, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Her voice is still stuffy. “It just surprised me.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart, it happens. I’m on my way home, all right?”
“We all are,” Tony yells. “We’ll be goddamned if we’re all leaving you alone tonight.”
“Did you catch that?”
“Okay. It’s gonna be fine, okay? You all did really well. I love you.”
“Love you,” is called and whispered. Steve hangs up.
“Everyone?” he says, very calmly.
“Yeah?” Clint asks.
“I’m gonna lose my mind now.”
“You go for it, buddy,”
Steve goes apeshit.
Steve flies up the stairs to his apartment and throws open the door. “Guys?”
Wendy hits him first, flinging her arms around him. The rest of them soon follow. Steve sinks to his knees, trying to hug all of them at once.
“You’re their father?”
Steve looks up to see a cop who looks impressively collected by the sight of a crying Captain America surrounded by children.
“We need you to look at some paperwork and such.”
“Yes, ma’am. Could I just. Could I have a minute?”
The officer’s face softens. “Of course. I’ll be in the hall.” She files into the hallway where Steve guesses the rest of the Avengers are probably hovering.
Wendy has a bruise on her cheek. Steve gently takes her chin in his hand. “What happened?”
“They weren’t really happy that I clocked one of them with the bat.”
Steve swallows down the rage. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. This never would have-“
“We knew what we signed up for, Dad,” Jason says quietly. “We don’t regret it.”
They all nod. Steve just holds his little cluster a bit tighter.
“Do we really get to move here?” Benji asks while they set up posters in their room. “Like, I know you keep saying it, but it seems unreal.”
Steve grins. “Tony was pretty insistent.”
Tony’s given them their own floor in the Tower. It’s way bigger than the apartment they used to share, like a medium sized house. Everyone has their own bedroom. The floor has it’s own kitchen. It’s very strange but wonderful at the same time. Tony made it clear that after what happened with the HYDRA agents, he wants everyone to be okay.
“Most of this is to do with being able to steal Majeedah for projects, Rogers,” Tony had said when Steve thanked him profusely. “I don’t have feelings like you people. They’re disgusting and I don’t condone them.”
Steve grins. “I understand.”
The kids have spent the day running around the floor, yelling things like “STARK GAVE US ALL IPADS” and “HOLY SHIT THIS VIEW IS INSANE”. Steve feels full enough to burst.
Steve gets hit on a mission.
He doesn’t get to use his shield fast enough, having thrown it at a combatant. A blast from an alien gun hits him in the side and he goes down to his knees gasping, When he takes his hand away, it’s red.
“Fuck,” he mutters in vague surprise.
“Cap swore!” Tony sounds delighted in his ear, not understanding yet. “He’s single handedly funding the swear jar, gotta step up your game, Barton.”
“Ass titties,” Clint answers solemnly.
“Tony,” he mumbles, trying to be clear even though his vision is swimming. “I’m hit. You’re in charge.”
Steve doesn’t hear what follows when he topples over a little.
When he wakes up, he’s in the med bay of the Tower, and his kids are sleeping on the floor.
“No,” he mutters. “No floor.” It doesn’t look comfortable.
Benji stirs and climbs up next to Steve. They give him some water which Steve takes gratefully. “Hi,” they whisper. “How you feeling?”
“I’m okay, I think. Side hurts.”
“Tony brought in a SHIELD doctor. She said that your ribs are a little fucked up but they’ll heal.”
Benji looks around a little, then leans in. “Bucky’s here,” they murmur. Steve blinks.
“Yeah. He got here as soon as you did. I guess he’s been keeping an eye on you.”
Steve smiles weakly. “Doesn’t surprise me.”
“We thought you’d want him here.”
Benji looks at him seriously. “Do we have an extra dad now?”
Steve snorts and pokes at them in place of shoving them a little. Benji giggles.
The door to the med bay slides open and Bucky comes in with two trays of coffees. He puts them down on the table quietly.
“I’ve got your mocha, Benji,” he says, then notices Steve is awake as Benji quietly dodges their siblings to grab coffee. Bucky tiptoes around them and sits next to Steve.
“How you doing, punk?”
Bucky grins a little. He’s in a baggy sweater with a pansexual flag on it that looks suspiciously like Eli’s handiwork and his hair’s been pulled back into a ponytail.
“You look clean, Buck.”
“Tony told me I wasn’t spending time in his Tower unless I took a shower.”
“Sounds about right.” Steve sighs. “We’re gonna need to talk.”
“Yeah.” Bucky’s hand slides into his. “Not now, though.”
“No,” Steve agrees, squeezing his hand. “Not now.”
He spends a lot of time poring over letters while he’s bedridden.
They bring him old fashioned mail sacks full of letters from teens. Thank God you said something, they all say. Thank God it’s not just us. Thank God we’re not alone.
“I’ve got an idea,” he tells Bucky, who’s reading a book on the history of science since World War II. Bucky doesn’t look up.
“Is it a good one or is it a ‘crash a plane into the Arctic one’?”
Steve scowls. “I said I was sorry.”
“Ain’t said it enough.”
“No. Not a ‘crash a plane into the Arctic one’. A good one, I think. But I’ll need Tony’s help. And maybe Sam’s. Actually, maybe everyone.”
Bucky looks up. “What is it?”
Five Years Later.
“Your soup needs salt,” Steve says.
Bucky gives him a look as they bustle around the kitchen. “You haven’t even tried it yet.”
Steve takes a spoon and tastes the soup. “Needs salt.”
Bucky tries it next. “God dammit, Rogers, I hate it when you’re right.”
Steve smiles sunnily. “You’re welcome.”
Bucky kisses him lightly. “I’m always thankful.”
Steve and Bucky had gotten together not long after Bucky had come back. Everyone is still sick of them, Sam saying he has no time for their “lovey dovey bullshit” and every Avenger agreeing, even Thor.
The elevator dings and Steve turns around as Eli walks in.
“What is that shit on your face, son?” Bucky demands as he pulls him into a hug. Eli rolls his eyes.
“Like your beard started out looking A+ when you started growing it as a teenager, Papa.”
“It didn’t,” Steve says, hugging him when Bucky’s done. “It looked like he’d tripped and fallen in a dirt pile.”
“Alright, that’s enough of that, Rogers.”
“Am I the first one here?” Eli’s just gotten his master’s in social work.
“You are,” Bucky confirms.
“Yeah, but I’m second, and which is coolest?” Benji breezes in. Benji’s been studying with Jane, running around studying space and anomalies.
“Nothing about you,” Eli tells them. “Whatsoever.”
Benji punches him on the shoulder. “Wrong.”
“Hey, fight me.”
“Children, play nice,” Steve says absently, stirring the soup.
“And here, you can hear your father living up to his 95 years.” Bucky gestures towards Steve grandly.
“Fuck off, Buck.”
“First words I hear when I come home,” Jason murmurs. “Why am I not surprised?” He dumps his duffel bag on the couch. He’s got a pencil shoved behind his ear. Steve would guess he’s been editing his book. It’s been his side project while he works on getting qualified as an English teacher. Majeedah has her arm linked with his, pushing her glasses up her nose. Tony’s promoted her to head of his R & D department, and she’s been in an apartment in the city.
“How goes being a bigshot?” Eli asks her, grinning.
“Delightful,” she answers dryly. “How goes being a nerd?”
“Why are you all so angry?” Wendy shuts her WWII textbook when she enters from the elevator. “You have issues.”
Bucky narrows his eyes at the textbook. “You bring such a thing into my house when we can tell it better than you?”
“Well, ‘my dads say you’re wrong’, somewhat surprisingly, does not work well in a citation.”
“And technically it’s Tony’s house,” Steve adds, dishing up the soup. “We’re just living in it.”
“How dare you remind me of such a thing.”
Everyone’s in the living room, egging on Bucky and Benji while they both play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga together. Steve pulls Eli aside.
“So, I might have a job for you.”
Eli raises his eyebrows. “Do you?”
“I want to have you working in the Shelter.”
‘The Shelter’ is Steve’s good idea from five years ago, the Sarah Rogers Shelter for LGBT Youth. It’s a place for the youth from mostly the city, but really all over the country, to come for a safe place if they’re being discriminated against for their orientations. They bought out a huge building and the rooms fill up fairly quickly. It’s what he’s the second proudest of in his life, other than raising the kids.
“Okay. Working the front or something?”
“Assistant managing it.”
Eli gapes at him. “Pardon?”
“You did a good job at that homeless shelter when you were interning. I think you’d be good at this.”
“I. Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. Thanks, Dad.” Eli hugs him and Steve grins.
“You’re welcome, Eli.”
“FUCKING WRECK HIM!” Majeedah bellows. She gets into video games. Eli laughs.
“I’m gonna go make sure no one’s going to strangle each other.”
Steve watches Eli rejoin his siblings. Bucky is desperately smashing buttons on the Xbox. “QUIT SHOOTING AT ME!” he yells at Benji with a grin.
“QUIT BEING SO SHOOTABLE!” Benji bellows back, voice diluted with laughter. Eli laughs, pulling out his knitting. Jason is sketching the scene and Wendy is dozing off on Majeedah’s shoulders, watching her sketch out equations.
Steven Rogers looks out at his family, and he smiles.