There's a knock at the door of his apartment, which comes as a pretty big surprise to Steve. Only a very small handful of people know about this place- Phil, Director Fury, Agent Hill- because this is where Steve goes when he's not Captain America, when he's just Steve Rogers. The landlady pretends she doesn't recognize him, just smiles at him when he pays her in cash every month. It's a little nicer than the place he used to live back- back when he was young, but it keeps him humble, makes him remember.
He looks out of the peephole, and there's a young woman standing there; he can't see much of her, just blonde hair and a grey suit. He undoes the chain and turns the deadbolt, opening the door. "Can I help you?" he says.
"Steve Rogers," she says, and he appreciates the way she lowers her voice, "I'm here on behalf of the estate of Erik Lehnsherr."
Steve's eyes get wide. He hasn't heard that name in a very long time. The word "estate" hits him like it always does; he hears it kind of a lot. "Please, come in," he says, stepping back and holding out his arm. "Won't you have a seat?"
"Thank you," she says, taking one of the armchairs, and Steve sits across from her on the couch. She has a manilla folder with her, and she sets it down on the coffee table, out of Steve's reach.
"What's this about?" he asks.
She takes a breath. "How much do you know about the X-Men, Captain Rogers?"
"Not much," he admits. "Nothing more than you see on the news. And call me Steve, okay?" he adds.
"Steve," she says. "Let me start at the beginning." She looks at him, a firm, no nonsense look. "I know what happened in 1943. I know about you and Erik, and I know why you left him."
Steve can feel his throat start to close up; he knows things are different now, that he wouldn't have to hide if I didn't want to, that he could even be out in the military these days. That doesn't mean he's not panicking, his heart starting to beat out of his chest. No one's ever called him on it before, known about him without his consent- he's been called a faggot plenty of times, but only in that empty way, the way that's insulting and childish, not hateful and dangerous.
"It's okay," she tells him gently. "Your secret's safe with me. Just because people are more understanding doesn't mean you're not allowed to keep it to yourself. That's your right."
He nods, trying to slow his breathing. "Thanks."
She gives him a moment to collect himself before she moves on. "He was-" she pauses, choosing a word. "sad when you left. Disappointed. But then, Captain America happened." She smiles. "And he always knew it was you."
"I always wondered why more people didn't," he says.
"Erik had proof," she tells him, and he frowns.
"What do you mean, proof?" Steve presses.
"Let me go back for a minute," she says. "I know you didn't know this, but Erik was a mutant. Of course, that word didn't exist at the time, but still, he had abilities."
Steve thinks about it for a moment; he gets the sense, from what he knows about mutants, that that's supposed to change his opinion of Erik somehow, but Steve just missed too many years of conflict to even understand the divide between mutants and humans properly- and besides, Steve doesn't have the strongest claim on being human anyway. "Oh."
"Shortly after you left, Erik met someone else," she says, and there's a little pang when he hears it. It's not as if Steve has any right to feel that way at all; he thinks about watching Howard's hands as he worked, how beautiful Peggy's voice was even through static, the way it took him three whole days to even remember Erik and realize that he'd done something heartless. That still doesn't stop it from hurting, the way it always does when he remembers that no one stays in place after you're gone.
"That man was Charles Xavier," she tells him, and that name sort of rings a bell. "And, of course, if you've got a mind-reader handy and you're trying to prove you're not crazy when you insist that Captain America is your ex-boyfriend-"
"I get the picture," he says, waving a hand at her.
She grins. "After that, Charles and Erik began a school for children with special abilities," she explains. "Stop me if you've heard this one," she adds, sardonically. Her face grows serious again. "And then you died. I don't know if I'd be patronizing you or just torturing you if I told you what that was like."
Steve swallows. "Both."
"Charles knew enough by then to find the right people to steal the real story from, and Erik was pretty broken up about it," she says. "He was happy, but he still wanted to say goodbye." She laughs. "Even after all those cheesy USO shows, he was still proud of you.
"And that's one of the reasons they started the X-Men," she tells him. "Good had a face, and then it suddenly didn't. Around that time they also began to realize that not all people with abilities shared Charles's ideas about peace. So the X-Men were meant to be good, and they were meant to keep threat from other mutants in check. The second part, they were pretty good at." She sighs. "The first part, not so much."
She sits back. "It turned out that humans had their own ideas about what good looked like- good looked like the Fantastic Four, all human, all endowed with powers through fate and science." Steve shifts uncomfortably; that one hits a little too close to home. "Even Ben Grimm is someone they pitied, not hated, someone who had his-" she doesn't actually do air quotes, but they're audible anyway- "'deformities' thrust upon him instead of being born deformed." She looks at him. "I apologize if this part gets a little political. It's important."
This is an increasingly depressing story, but Steve still wants to know how it ends. "Go on."
"Instead of giving the world something to believe in, Charles gave the world something to hate," she continues. "All they saw were mutants fighting mutants, and all of them ran together. All they learned was that there was a new threat, worse than the Communists. It's one thing to think your neighbor might be trying to overthrow the government, but it's another to think your neighbor might kill you in your sleep for being human." She sighs. "I'm not being very fair to Charles," she admits. "But I'm only telling you what I know."
"I understand," he says.
"Charles and Erik disagreed on what to do," she tells him. "Charles wanted to keep fighting, keeping the peace and trying to show humans that mutants were good. Erik realized that there was no going back, and the only option for guaranteeing the safety of mutants was to take power by force." She sighs. "So, they split up, in the extremely loud way that only two very powerful, very heartbroken mutants could, and Erik went to form the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants." She gives him an apologetic glance. "The name sounded better at the time."
Steve stares at the coffee table, trying to get a handle on this information, but it's very hard. Erik was a lot of things; he was lonely and tired and sometimes sad, in a way that Steve never could help him shake. He just can't imagine him wishing that kind of harm on anyone other than the Nazis- where did Erik's life go so wrong that all humans began to look just like that to him?
He can't stop thinking about how it would have been different if he could have been there for Erik; Steve could have made things so different, used his abilities and his status to help, kept all of this from going so far downhill.
"I want you to understand something," she says, leaning forward. "Erik hated humans. There were only ever a few exceptions. And you were one of them." He looks up at her. "He knew you wouldn't have done anything different if you'd known. You'd have protected humans and mutants both, because you'd go to bat for anyone who was in trouble. You'd never done anything but get your ass kicked up and down, but you still wanted to protect everybody."
Steve bites his lip, swallowing down the emotion that's threatening to choke him. He'd never known Erik felt that way, doesn't have the slightest idea what he'd have done if he had. He's not sure he could have done anything differently at all. This isn't the life he wanted, but now he can't think of another one, not when he's almost certain he was meant to have this one.
"So they fought for a long time, the X-Men and the Brotherhood," she tells him. "And things went back and forth, and public opinion went this way and that- it was about like you'd expect." She sighs. "And then, a few years ago now, there was." She shakes her head. "Look, it's really complicated, but let's just say that the world came pretty close to being destroyed, and there was nobody to stop it but mutants. And as you can see, Earth won." Her face turns grim. "But it cost Charles and Erik their lives. Erik died a hero." She looks at him, and her expression is rock-hard. "But heroic and dead is still dead."
Those words hit Steve like a punch to the gut; he's never felt like this before, like someone ripped his heart right out and arranged it for him, showed him exactly what he'd always felt and never been able to say. "I'm sorry," he says.
"People die," she says sharply. "And losing them in an instant is a hell of a lot easier than watching them grow old."
"I wouldn't know," Steve says flatly; he wants to ask her where she gets off saying that, how she possibly thinks she could understand how much he would have given to go on living with the people he loved, even if it meant having to see them waste away. "I just realized I don't know who you are. You're Erik's executor?" he asks, steering clear of it. "One of his grandkids?"
She laughs, breaking up the tension. "Oh god, Erik would have a heart attack to hear someone say that," she tells him. She sighs. "My name is Raven, and Charles Xavier was my brother."
He looks at her skeptically. "I'm having a hard time picturing that."
"I had the kind of childhood where you don't get a birth certificate," she says, "but I was born sometime between 1915 and 1920." He stares at her; she looks maybe thirty. "I met Erik when he and my brother became lovers, and when they parted ways, I left with Erik."
"Charles got a raw deal on that one," Steve says.
"Didn't he?" Raven says, snorting. "And then Erik and I." She stops, frowning in contemplation. "To give you some idea, at least two of my children are his, and we spent about half of the seventies trying to kill each other. You spend that much time alongside someone, you become a lot of things to each other. But by the end, we'd been settled for a long time." She shrugs. "So when he died, I quit."
He looks at her in confusion. "You quit? Pardon me, but how do you just quit something like that?"
"I'm probably still a fugitive from justice," she says, like it's nothing; but then something happens, blue flickering across her body, and another person is sitting there, a brown-haired man. It happens again, and then she's bright blue and slightly scaly- and it says something about Steve's life at present that it's not really that off-putting. "But you can't catch what you can't see, and I'll end up outliving everyone who even remembers what I've done." She notices how he's blushing; it's not the blue, but the fact that he can see all of it. A flowing white dress seems to lift up from her skin, covering her.
"So you just came here to tell me all that?" he asks.
"Not just that," she says, pushing the folder across the table to him. "A lot of people come back to life," she tells him, and he's about to express his disbelief when he realizes how idiotic that would be coming from him. "At some point, Erik got it in his head to leave notes. He was getting old, and he didn't know who he might miss. He got like that sometimes, right on that line between genius and just plain strange," she explains. "He thought you were a pretty good candidate for coming back."
"That's amazing," he says, picking up the folder.
"It's bizarre, isn't it?" she replies. "He had some kind of weird knack for it. This is the second time he's hit it. Anyway, I don't read them, so whatever it says is between you and him," she tells him. "And god, don't open it while I'm here, that would be way too creepy, watching you read a message from my." She stalls out. "From Erik."
"Will do," he says, fingering the edge of the folder. He puts it down on the table. "They say they don't know how I'm alive," he tells her, not sure if he should but compelled somehow. "If I lasted seventy years on ice, there's no telling how long I might live. I might not be able to die, not of old age."
Her face is stricken. "I say this with the best possible intentions and from the bottom of my heart," she says, "but I hope you don't live long enough to find out."
He rubs at his forehead, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, looking at the carpet. "Let me tell you something that I haven't learned yet," Raven says. "Life's got a high turnover rate. You go through a lot of people. Maybe you did it all at once this time, but you're going to do it again, and again, and again, sometimes slow and sometimes fast. People are going to move in and out, but there are always going to be other people to take their place. That one moment you had is just going to be one moment. That lover is just going to be one lover." She shakes her head. "If I had one more letter from Erik, I would read it, and then I would burn it. There's no staying. Not for anyone. Especially not for us."
He sits up, looking at her for a long time. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" he asks.
She considers him. "I take it black, if it's any good."
"It's drinkable," Steve allows.
"Put a little cream in it and we'll go from there," Raven says.
"Coming right up," he tells her, and she smiles.