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A Lullaby For Gods

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Steve Rogers hasn’t gotten a hang of the future yet. There are places that he might have once been familiar with, but have now been replaced with shiny glass and metal buildings: landmarks that have been destroyed and never rebuilt, only plowed over and covered in cement; pubs that have been turned into bookshops. There are faces that might have once been familiar but can now only be seen on monochromatic history textbooks. There are things that he might have loved to see come into creation, but never got the chance to and now he doesn’t understand them.

There’s too much of everything and too little of him.

The other Avengers have been helping, Tony and Bruce especially. Tony is a bit of a pain to deal with, but he means well, underneath all that. Bruce is just made out of goodness and sunshine, until he’s not.

Steve’s given a place in Stark tower, but he refuses it despite Tony’s incessant whining. He wants to adjust to the world at his own pace, and being in the same room with someone who’s practically built the future, well…it’s too much.

In his dingy little apartment that is the only thing he can afford, because people would be surprised at how little Captain America is actually paid, he tries to catch up to the world.

Sometimes he finds it fascinating, sometimes he finds it overwhelming.

When it does become overwhelming to the point where it frustrates him, he takes out his sketchbooks and starts to draw. Sometimes, it’s a canvas and he takes out the acrylics. Sometimes, it’s watercolor paper and watercolors.

Sometimes Steve goes to the park and brings his stuff with him so he can wind down, pull away from the enormity of everything around him. In the park, at least, he can more or less pretend that he is not in the wrong time, and that there is still some place where he is not being forced to fit into a slot that he has long since outgrown. Square pegs for circular holes.

The park is where he first sees the boy. Overtime, that eventually becomes The Boy, but first, it’s just Steve Rogers seeing a random kid with black hair and blue eyes, wearing glasses and a smile so bright with two front teeth too wide that he almost looks comical. The kid is dressed in a blue shirt, a jacket that’s a lighter shade than the shirt and pants that are a darker shade than both. Yellow sneakers. Comical.

The Boy is standing on the edge of the fountain when Steve walks over to the benches situated near it, ready to set up his easel. At first, the kid’s not doing anything remarkable, and Steve sets up his canvas, takes out his pencils and tubes, and he doesn’t notice the top hat on the ground.

He starts sketching, and a few people pass by, and he doesn’t pay it mind until he notices the gasps of awe that are coming from the direction of the fountain. He turns his attention there.

The Boy is wearing a temp disguise, and he’s making a rose disappear from one hand and reappear in the other, even though his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows. Once, he crushes the flower and lets the petals fall down into the fountain. Then he keeps that hand open, shows his other hand to the crowd in a flourish to let them see he’s not hiding anything, fists it, blows on it, and when he opens it, the rose is there. He steps aside and gestures to the fountain; there are no rose petals there.

Children gasp and adults clap politely. Then the boy throws the rose in the air and makes a motion with his hand. The rose blows into the direction that the boy is gesturing towards. He moves his hand in the opposite direction. The rose follows.

He keeps the rose steady in the air, and with his free hand, he gestures towards one of the dolls that a little girl in his audience is holding. The doll starts to float up in the air, joining the rose. He lifts a finger and makes a circular motion. The rose and the doll start to orbit.

The crowd starts whispering amongst themselves, and the little girl whom the doll belongs to is too mesmerized to mourn her loss. The Boy starts pointing to random objects and levitating them in the air: a hat, a leaf, another flower, a ball, a coin. Somebody lifts up a can of soda and he levitates that too, adding it to the ever increasing group of objects orbiting around all of them.

The crowd claps and tosses coins into what Steve now notices is a top hat. The Boy takes a bow, and one by one, the objects floating above them cease their motion and go back to where they belonged to or are neatly sorted into the trash.

The little girl who owns the doll holds out her toy in front of her face in awe. She grins and waddles over to the top hat to deposit a dollar bill into it. The Boy gives her a grateful look.

When the crowd has finished being generous, The Boy hops off of the fountain, picks up the top hat by its rim, takes another bow, and then the gentle breeze that is blowing gets slightly stronger. He starts to levitate off of the ground, bowing to his audience at the right, and then at the left, until he is completely over their heads. He takes off his temp disguise, tosses it into the hat and laughs as blue light wraps around him for a millisecond, and in the next millisecond – in the time it takes for Steve Rogers to blink – The Boy is gone.

He is often there whenever Steve visits the park again, performing his magic tricks, levitating things and sometimes flying off of the ground himself. Steve has heard and read about mutants in this day and age. Sometimes, they are like him, products of a scientific research meant to further the defenses of the nation. Sometimes, they are sort of like him, products of a scientific research that went wrong.

Often, they are mistreated and looked down upon.

The Boy doesn’t appear to worry about that. He shows his abilities in public to gain a few bills in his pocket, and Steve finds that he respects that. Better the kid use his skills for good than to be the next baddie of the week. Steve thinks he’d be hard to take down too, especially since Steve sort of knows him, and anyone who could disappear and reappear at will could prove quite a challenge.

Once, Steve paints him – smiling without the temp mask on, in all his bucktoothed and mischievous glory. Steve hopes to befriend the kid one day, but he wouldn’t be too bummed out if he didn’t.

Tony mentions the Safehouse over a movie marathon initiated by Clint (they managed to drag Steve along because team building). When he recognizes Tony’s description of one of the mutants, he mentions The Boy – his busking habits and his magic tricks. Tony gets his thinking face on and Steve can practically hear a few screws falling off from overexertion.

Nothing comes of it, and frankly, Steve doesn’t mind. If it was a mission from S.H.I.E.L.D, they might be interested in recruiting the mutants of the Safehouse into the Avengers, and that was useful (on the other hand, if they were interested in detaining the mutants because they were perceived threats…Tony hadn’t taken the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D checking up on the Safehouse very well, and Steve was putting trust on that; Tony was a teammate).

He continues his jogs in the early morning, relishing his few hours of freedom when nobody’s around to recognize him, asking for photographs and signatures. He fulfills missions and leads his team. He goes down to the park to paint.

One day, he goes down to the park bringing his sketchbook, a few charcoal sticks, and a watercolor set. The Boy isn’t at the fountain, so he doesn’t sit by there, instead finding a spot by the little grassy slope that led to the pond. There were ducks there. They quacked obnoxiously at parkgoers every now and then.

Steve sketches a few of the ducks, quick studies of people walking around, before deciding to do a watercolor of the pond. He hears a loud splash, an indignant yell, and then the series of harassed squawks from the ducks.

When he looks up, he stops from his painting, looking at The Boy, very drenched from his impromptu dive into the pond. His glasses are not on his face, and quite possibly have joined the rest of the missing objects that have decided to take up residence in the bed of the pond, getting cozy with the mud. Steve winces in sympathy.

The Boy, still in a ridiculous blue-color-schemed getup, flaps his arms uselessly to get the water off. In one hand, he’s holding a leash that’s connected to a rowdy little dog that’s splashing about the pond, wagging its tail and yipping playfully.

“Buster!” The Boy whines, trying to shake off the water.

“See, this is why you leave the dog walking to me,” somebody says. Steve turns towards the girl that’s marching pond towards the pond. She looks just like the boy, except for the high shade of green of her eyes and the…dog ears on top of her head. Clip-ons? She whistles sharply. “Here, Buster!”

The Boy lets go of the leash and Buster splashes his way out of the pond and over to her, she giggles as the puppy stands up, laying his wet paws on her jeans.

“Aww, buddy, you’re wet all over now,” she says.

From the pond, The Boy yells, “I’m wet too!”

“Get out of there so I can do something about it.”

The Boy scrunches up his face the entire time he wades out of the water. He holds up his arms up sideways.

The girl – Steve wonders if he should capitalize that – rolls her eyes before snapping her fingers. Steve blinks before he processes what he’s just seen happened:

The boy was wet, soaking even, and muddied, and then the girl snapped her fingers and suddenly all the moisture and the mud were standing right beside him - not standing per se, but they were positioned so that they looked like they were still clinging onto a solid body even though they were removed from the body itself. It was like an afterimage. Like one of those photo-editing softwares Clint had shown him, where you can just superimpose things and move the superimposition around the way you wished it. It was like that. Like the water and the mud were a layer above and somebody decided to drag it to the side.

But then by the next second, gravity remembered its function and all the water and the mud fell into a puddle on the ground.

The Boy, now perfectly dry, shivers.

“You’re getting seriously good,” he says, “I mean, not to sound ungrateful, but you could have teleported my skin off my body too.”

“I’m getting seriously good,” the girl acknowledges rather smugly, “And that’s why your skin is still attached to you.”

The Boy shivers again. Or shudders, more appropriately.

Two more teenagers walk over to them, both looking very amused. The one in the aviators looks at The Boy and says in a disappointed tone, “Aw, Egbert’s dry now. I wanted to take a picture.”

“Fuck you, Strider.”

“Well, I wasn’t the one who decided to audition for the lead role in Swan Lake, was I?”

The Boy, now with the identification Egbert, punches Strider in the shoulder, while yelling that even though he’d only seen the Barbie movie version of Swan Lake, nobody actually took a face-first dive into a pond while being dragged by a dog, and this pond didn’t have swans, it had ducks.

“On the other hand, Jade’s getting scary good with teleporting tricky things,” Egbert says, motioning to the girl whom Steve suspects is his twin sister.

The second girl, blonde and looking a lot like Strider, also probably the boy’s twin sister, looks around the park carefully. “That’s good, but, we are at a park.”

“Eh, everyone probably knows us from the Safehouse.” Strider shrugs. “I mean, the entirety of New York’s been there at some point.”

“Yeah, it is kind of surprising we’re not on blogs or tabloids yet,” Jade says.

Egbert shudders. “Ah, don’t jinx it.”

“I’ve never checked any blogs or new outlets,” the blonde girl says, “And with our work, we’ve only ever watched the television.”

“Well, fuck,” Strider says, “I hope to hell we’re not on any blogs. Did they at least get good photos?”

Egbert kicks Strider’s shin this time, the boy evading nimbly with a grace Steve has seen in well-trained assassins.

Buster yips from where he’s nudging Jade’s calf with his head. The girl bends down and smooths over his wet fur, doing the same thing she did to Egbert. The dog perks up when he feels he’s no longer wet and licks her hand.

Egbert gives Buster a half-hearted glare. “Tell Palmer his dog’s getting kicked out of the house.”

“Hey, no, man, you’re not kicking any dog out of the house, especially not Palmer number two’s,” Strider says. Then he whistles and bends slightly to pat his thighs, calling Buster, “Here boy.”

The dog bounds over to him easily and he scoops the little Jack Russell Terrier up. Buster yips and Strider chuckles, a small smile breaking on his face that Steve thinks definitely suits him. He should smile more. “Why would you kick little Buster out the house?”

“Not to mention it’s Kevin you will be answering to, John,” the blonde girl says.

John Egbert massages the space under his eyes, clearly feeling the absence of his glasses. “I want my glasses back,” he says, “I can’t see anything. And I will be telling on Buster today.”

“Palmer will laugh at you. Both Palmers, actually,” Strider says.

Steve watches all of them walk away from the pond, still talking, Strider, with Buster still comfortably settled in his arms,  somehow pulls his phone out once to text someone while Egbert tries to steal it. He tries to recruit the help of Jade once, but she only laughs. The blonde girl looks fond and exasperated of all of them.

Steve goes back to his watercolor when they’re out of sight, but his work is hurried. More of a study than an actual painting. He packs up his things and heads back to the tower.

He doesn’t know why it actually matters, but it does, and it feels like he’s got something so very precious and very important in his hands, when all he’s got is really a few names, and only one appears to be full enough to actually have some meaning.

John Egbert.


 

When he hears that Pepper had once been in the middle of an attack, his concern immediately flares, but Pepper waves it off and explains that she’d ducked into the Safehouse.

Steve’s only heard it from Tony, and he’d given sparse descriptions, but that should be the place where John Egbert resided in. Tony gets this funny look on his face when Pepper mentions the incident, like he’d forgotten to do something, but he shrugs it off and lets it clear, still not interested in it like he’d declared so before.

“I kind of see him at the park, doing tricks for money,” Steve explains, “And a few weeks ago, I saw him and his friends. They look like two sets of twins?”

Pepper nods. “John and Jade, Dave and Rose.”

Tony snorts. “Seriously?”

Pepper elbows him.

They’re in the kitchen, just the three of them. Steve had been meaning to talk to Tony about the Safehouse, and he’d only just managed to catch him in the kitchen when he popped by the tower at eleven in the morning (and Steve really wanted to talk to him about his drinking habits). He was lucky that Pepper had a day off (Steve did believe in miracles), as she appeared to have more information than him. Barton and Romanov were on a mission, somewhere. Bruce was sleeping. Thor was in Asgard. It was the perfect timing, especially since Tony was against S.H.I.E.L.D getting their hands on the Safehouse inhabitants.

Pepper explains the Safehouse to him in the same way she explained it to Tony (judging by how the man had skipped out on it and decided to pour himself a glass of whiskey for breakfast before Pepper told him to pour it down the drain without even looking at him, and he decided to just get poptarts), from the way the house seemed to be bigger on the inside, how the inhabitants shared the work whenever there was an invasion, and how nearly everyone in New York knew what it was or at least knew about it.

According to Pepper, the Safehouse inhabitants that actually participate in the safehousing bit are the landlady, the elder-brother-figure who looked a lot like Jade and John, and three sets of twins.

Steve frowns. “Three?”

“There’s two more siblings who make snacks for everyone when there’s an attack. We never know how long we get holed up there after all.”

“It’s a fallout shelter,” Tony says, still crunching a poptart.

“So that’s why S.H.I.E.L.D wants to recruit them?” Steve asks, remembering Tony’s mentions of it.

The inventor scoffs and waves his half-eaten poptart around. “If only. They kind of want to put the little guys in cells so they can make sure they don’t decide that their ancient magics would be better off in achieving world domination instead of building the most unsuspecting bunker in the middle of the city.”

Ah. That’s why Tony is so against it.

That seems to be news to Pepper too. She turns to Tony, frowning. “What?”

Tony puts his hands up, one hand with his index and thumb holding his poptart carefully while the rest of the digits are splayed out. “Hey, don’t look at me. I was only given the file and I refused. Burnt it.”

“Good,” Pepper says, and decides to get herself breakfast. She looks like she’s mentally composing her gently yet very, very threatening lecture to Nick Fury about how you leave people who just trying to help the fuck alone.


 

He meets Jade Harley while he’s on a morning run. He’d just gotten back from a stressful mission the other day, the sort that makes him question S.H.I.E.L.D’s motives and if the world and freedom he’d been fighting for all those years ago really was achieved, and when he runs out of punching bags he tends to run from dawn to clear morning, when the sun’s already high up and the light’s bright and hot.

There’s very few parkgoers around this time, but he’s not surprised to see at least five of them just walking around and stretching their legs.

He is surprised that when he’s slowing down to a jog, an entire pack of mismatched dogs runs past him, tongues out and eyes comically widened as they race ahead of him. He slows to a walk, amused, and a few minutes later, Jade Harley is running past, telling the dogs to slow down.

He recognizes the dog ears almost immediately, and then her face when the dogs curve and Jade follows. In the lead of the pack is mischievous little Buster, looking like he’s having the time of his life.

Then Buster halts and darts back, cutting through the pack, and the rest of the dogs follow, suddenly stopping and turning back, running straight towards Jade.

Jade skids to a stop too, and Buster jumps on her. She yelps as she catches him and falls down to the ground. Buster licks her face and she giggles. Her dog ears flick.

Steve wonders if those really are clip-ons.

The other dogs are gathering around her now, tails wagging happily as they watch her sit up, and she has trouble trying to pat all of their heads. They try to move in closer to lick at her face and this just makes it harder for her to move.

Steve makes his way over. If there was ever a good time to talk to one of the Safehouse mutants, it was now.

“Are they all yours?” he asks.

Jade turns to him and her dog ears perk up – really not clip-ons – before she adjusts her glasses and smiles. “No, only this one.” She pets a scraggly-looking wolfhound that was next to her.  “They’re my neighbors’ dogs, I just take them out for a run every morning before I stop for bread and coffee.”

The dogs look at him warily before the wolfhound breaks away from Jade to step just a tiny bit closer to Steve. It sniffs him. Then decides he’s not so bad and nudges his leg, asking to be pet.

Steve looks to Jade. “Can I?”

“Rover’s a terrible guard dog. He’s too friendly,” Jade says, “Yeah, you can pet him.”

Steve kneels down slowly so as not to scare Rover and softly pats the dog’s head. Rover’s tail starts wagging again and he licks Steve’s hand. The soldier chuckles.

A minute later, Buster is running towards him, pushing a wet nose to his face.

“Buster!” Jade cries out. She runs a hand through her hair and sighs. “Sorry, he’s a little energetic. Buster, don’t lick his face.”

Steve’s cheek is coated in saliva before Jade has managed to run over and gently pry the terrier from him. Steve just laughs, wiping his cheek down.

“Sorry,” Jade says.

“No, it’s okay.” Steve looks at Buster, who is overjoyed to meet him, and at Rover, and at the rest of the pack, all still wary but no longer seeing him as a threat.

Dogs were always refreshing to meet. Nowadays, most people flocked over to him to ask about what it was like being frozen for years, what it was like to fight the war – and Steve can’t tell them that it’s not as glorious or as heroic as the books make it sound; it’s starvation and sleep deprivation and no showers and lice and bone-deep exhaustion and the temptation to put a bullet in your own head just so you can get some decent sleep. It’s watching friends never fall back in line, it’s watching good captains run into battlefields to save their men, it’s endless screaming for loved ones and shivering in trenches knowing you’ll die alone.

Dogs don’t do that. They meet you and if they are eager, they are eager simply because they are happy you exist. Not because you’re a glorified hero who doesn’t know the first thing to do with a fucking phone.

When Steve looks back at this time, years from now, he will think that maybe this is the reason why he doesn’t shy away from Jade Harley’s presence when they first meet. She asks for no autographs, and she smiles at him simply because she is glad to meet him and she is glad that somebody loves dogs as much as she does (and if Steve looks hard enough, he sees war in her eyes too, buried so so deep, that anyone who isn’t looking would never find it), and he will think this is why he joins her for bread and coffee that morning, in a simple family-owned café run by two college-age siblings and their no-nonsense older brother.

It’s Steve allowed to just be a person instead of a celebrity, with a dog-eared mutant, and pack of eleven dogs.

It’s a good day.


 

This is Steve Roger’s schedule, provided Captain America’s doesn’t mess it up: Mondays through Thursdays, he goes to the park in the afternoons. John Egbert is there performing tricks. They never talk. Steve only watches. There’s something calming in having all eyes not on him and being a spectator to something so fun.

On Friday mornings, he jogs in the park with Jade and her dogs, and then afterwards they go for bread and coffee at Sunny’s, the little café that’s a few blocks from the Safehouse.

He never tells any of his team that he’s hanging around the Safehouse mutants. If Tony was right about S.H.I.E.L.D’s intentions, well. He doesn’t think Jade or John or any of them deserve to be locked up.

He doesn’t quite understand why he’s so taken by them. He thinks maybe it’s the novelty – they seem like they’re made of magic, and people always gravitate towards magic (at least until they realize it’s real and freak out and point fingers and scream, except for people like Steve who have seen weirder). But Steve’s always been able to shrug off novelty eventually, and Jade doesn’t flaunt it around, and John only does it to earn money.

Maybe it’s because they’re different. Different as in, they don’ belong, like square pegs in circle holes, and they’re still here and they’re living and they’re thriving. Kind of like Steve, except Steve’s not sure about the living and thriving part. People gravitate towards people like themselves too.

“Do you ever feel like you’re out of place in the world?” he blurts out one morning, when it’s raining outside and Jade didn’t walk the dogs but they agreed to meet up at Sunny’s after a few text messages. He immediately tries to back up and swallow his words back, but then he turns to Jade and her eyes look so inexplicably old and tired and sad.

She nods and drinks her coffee and says, “Yeah.”

And Steve learns that he doesn’t know enough about her and the Safehouse. And he thinks maybe the fact that they’ve got so many things alike is why he gravitates towards these young mutants.

They linger a little longer at the coffee shop, both in pauses of comfortable silence and conversations punctuated by hearty laughter when they talk about dogs and the daily hassles of life. When the clock shows it’s fifteen past ten, Steve offers to walk her home.

Jade blinks and she looks around. “Uh.” She starts to stammer. “I don’t think that’s really a good idea…” She trails off, and the sentence sounds more like a question instead of a statement.

Steve opens his mouth to tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t want him to when he notices that there’s a kid at a table across them pointing excitedly at him while the boy’s mother is holding her child’s arm, trying to shush him. Steve doesn’t have to strain his hearing to make out the excited, “That’s Captain America!”

His stomach nearly plummets down. It’s late. There’s a lot of people at Sunny’s already. Of course some people would recognize him here, it’s not like he doesn’t save New York from villains every week or so.

Whereas the staff of Sunny had only given him an intense minute-long stare when he first came in to make sure that he was a friend of Jade’s and was indeed Captain America (even though they didn’t say it out loud, Steve could practically hear them thinking it), customers tended to stop and stare and point and crowd. And Steve wasn’t against fans, but he just…he needed space.

Jade’s dog ears perk up and then she turns, following his line of sight. Her shoulders relax when she sees the little boy. When she turns back to him, she offers him a small smile.

“Actually,” she says, “Yeah, you can walk me home. Just – the residents of the Safehouse aren’t very…”

“I get it,” he says, “It’s kind of hard not to hear about the Safehouse when nearly the entirety of New York’s been there.”

“Only a good third,” Jade says. She pays first, since it was her turn to pay for the food, before they make their way over to where their umbrellas are placed to retrieve them.

Steve reaches the door first and he opens it. Jade steps out and opens her umbrella before raising it high so he can duck under it and open his own umbrella. When they’re both set, Jade leads the way to the Safehouse.

“I should probably just teleport us there,” Jade mumbles, “So you have no idea which way to take. But then you might get lost? Or maybe Iron Man will drop from the sky to raid our flat because I mojo’ed you there.”

Steve tries not to snort unelegantly. He still ends up chuckling, letting the truth that’s been looming since the coffee shop settle into his chest. “I’m Captain America,” he says.

Jade nods. “I’m Jade Harley.”

“Most people take that differently.”

“You’re a soldier,” she says. Soldier, not super hero. “And you protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Steve stares at the ground as they walk. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“I do that too, except I didn’t go to military camp, and it usually involves a lot of green stuff and space magic,” Jade says. She looks up for a while as she thinks. “I can shoot a gun.”

Steve turns to her. “You’re – what, thirteen?”

“Twenty,” Jade says with a cheeky grin, and Steve lets his surprise show.

Twenty?”

“Mmm. You’re – what, twenty two?”

Steve makes a disapproving noise. Jade laughs.

“It’s a thing with the…ah, mutation,” Jade says the word carefully, with a little laugh attached to it. She says it like a secret. “It’s like the ears and tail,” she says, “But no telling.”

“Me or you?”

“Me,” she says, “For you, you’re not telling anyone you walked me to the Safehouse.”

Steve nods. Then, “Has anyone been to the Safehouse? Any of the Avengers?”

“If there have been, I haven’t been home for any of them.” Jade shrugs. “I have a day job too.”

The Safehouse is an unassuming building. From the outside, Steve can imagine the inside to be just like his own building – not Stark tower – with its small, close quarters, and the cigar stains on the carpet, and the occasional noise from the neighbors.

But when the door opens, he gets a glimpse of clean tiled floors, and a very, very nice chandelier, and an even nicer carpet with well-polished stairway rails, and basically it looks like a mansion from the inside, and Steve’s head can’t even wrap around how it fits inside the small building.

The girl who opens the door is young and blonde and she has violet eyes and she appears to be glowing in the dim lighting of the overcast sky and Steve thinks he’s had too many weird things to process today.

She studies him intently before turning to Jade.

Jade grins at her. “Rose, I’d like you to meet Steve Rogers.”

Steve Rogers, not Captain America. Steve loves the fact that he can breathe around Jade Harley.

“Steve, this is Rose Lalonde,” Jade continues, “One of my flatmates.”

Rose smiles at him and extends a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mister Rogers,” she says, and in the chill of the rain, her hands are warm. “Thank you for walking Jade home.”

“Steve’s fine,” he says, “And, my pleasure.”

Rose’s smile grows wider as they let go of each other’s hand. “Will you be staying for lunch? It’s almost noon after all, and the Safehouse is quite large. A tour will be a while.”

And suddenly Rose’s smile appears too sharp and full of mischief and while not enough warning bells are going off inside Steve’s head for it to be DANGER DANGER, enough of it’s going off to be well this is just shifty and I’ll probably get home with one extra head than I started with.

So he tilts his head down politely and declines. Rose nods, looking amused and contented, like Steve passed something, and then she says, “Perhaps another time then.”

From the inside, there’s a very loud thud. Jade tries to see around Rose while the blonde doesn’t even look startled. Then there’s a shriek, “Egbert!” and then successive sounds of porcelain breaking and more yelling.

“We should probably break that up,” Jade says. She turns to Steve. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“No problem,” Steve says. He waits until Jade and Rose are inside the house, and listens to the cacophony of the Safehouse for a little while. Then he smiles to himself and starts his own way back to his flat.

He doesn’t tell anyone about his visit to the Safehouse.


 

“I like Captain America,” says John Egbert while he’s chewing on a piece of toast.

Mrs. Harrison looks at him disapprovingly but doesn’t say anything. John swallows his toast, sets the rest of it down and empties his glass of orange juice before he continues speaking. “He always comes to watch my magic shows. I don’t know if he knows I know he’s watching.”

“I’m too sleep-deprived to deal with that sentence,” Palmer #1 says. Jade pauses as she chews off a piece of bacon. She should really stop referring to them like that. Dave’s terms were rubbing off on her.

“He hasn’t shown any inclination to visit the Safehouse,” Rose says, “So far.”

It’d only been a month since the whole Tony Stark incident. Loki and Dave had taken care of that – well, Dave latched onto the first weakness he’d seen which was Stark’s alcoholism and had gotten flat-out wasted in the effort, but the situation was handled.

And then John had reported seeing a familiar dude in the park, frequenting his shows, and then a trip to the grocer’s and passing by the magazine rack had him snapping his fingers and saying, “Aha!”

So they tried to go to the park together and see what would happen if Steve Rogers saw them together. They’d acted on the assumption that he was on a surveillance mission. It wasn’t that farfetched since Tony’s sudden arrival at the Safehouse.

So far, all of them had agreed on a few things – they were not interested in being recruited by the Avengers, they were not interested on being lab rats for whoever held the Avengers, they were not interested in being pegged and treated as threats by the Avengers.  And if they had to act a little paranoid about it, well, Sburb didn’t teach them nothing.

It was a coincidence, really, that earlier that morning, Jade Harley had run into Steve. And she didn’t think it was on purpose that he was there. He certainly had no way of knowing she walked the Safehouse dogs every morning, and she hadn’t even seen him jogging there at that time before.

On impulse, she’d invited him over to Sunny’s, just to try and discreetly get a few answers out of him. What she’d gotten was that he really didn’t plan to be there that morning and that he knew less than Tony had known about the Safehouse.

When asked by the Safehouse residents whether she thought his knowledge and curiosity was safe, Jade said yes.

“Buster likes him,” she had pointed out, and Kevin had nodded approvingly.

“He’s seen John do his windy thing,” Dave says, and Jade rejoins them at their current train of thought, steamrollering over breakfast and the implications of an Avenger being interested in their little extravagant bunker made up of magic and stubbornness and humans and psychics and gods. “He’s seen Jade do her spacey thing. He’s seen her ears and didn’t freak out. He’s seen Palmer’s dog.”

“And you will cease your mutterings about my dog if you don’t want to be fed to him, Strider.” Kevin doesn’t even look up from his plate. Lying on the floor, by Kevin’s feet, Buster yips happily.

“Tony Stark visited because he was worried about Pepper Potts’ safety,” Loki says, finally. He’s been silent so far. Jade turns to him. He’s already finished his plate and is leaned back on his chair, relaxed. Royal and collected. “Or was operating under the guise of it. As unlikely as it seems, he really was trying to see the credibility of the Safehouse, especially since Miss Potts has taken shelter here.”

“So what’s Cap America’s deal,” Dave finishes his thought. “He likes the magic shows?”

“He strikes me more as a man of science and deep-seated religious faith,” Rose says.

“You went to the museum,” Dave points out.

“Research.”

“Cheating.”

“Even doctors research their patients’ previous experiences.”

“You know, we could probably set you up in college around here,” Dave says. Jade pops a cut of meat into her mouth and chews, setting down her utensils to listen. “You wanna be a psychologist, there’s a shit ton of villains that the Avengers have caught that you’d have a field day with.”

Rose looks down at her plate thoughtfully, slowly turning her fork over and over until a prong nearly wears a hole in the porcelain. “Perhaps I should,” she says, then, louder, “Perhaps I should, this is Earth, after all.”

Jade watches Rose’s fork. She thinks about the dogs, and the pets stores and the animal shelters. She thinks about watching Iron Man’s suit flying around, she thinks about the complexity of Stark Tower’s systems, she thinks about the machineries the big bads bring around every other Thursday. She wonders if it’s too far away to double major in engineering and veterinary medicine.

None of them have ever thought about pursuing paths forward. Only ever to blend in. Never about the future. The future’s too blurry to make out, and Sburb’s always taught them to focus on what their hands are holding because if they fuck this up, they fuck everything up.

“Did we even finish high school, I don’t remember,” John says. “I really don’t.”

“Paperwork is easy to fake,” Rose says.

“I can go to college, yeah,” Jade says. Veterinary medicine and engineering. She’ll sweettalk her way around it if the college people don’t let her. “It sounds fun.”

“You never finished your studies?” Loki asks.

“No, the game kinda destroyed every single school when it rained blood on our parade,” Dave says. “So, no. We’re pretty good at alchemizing shit though. And at fighting. And managing our aspects. But calculus? Fuck.”

“Roxy was good at programming,” Rose says, and Jade doesn’t miss the look Dave shoots his sister over his glasses, the motion registering in Jade’s internal radar. If she squints, she can imagine red irises glaring at Rose. Nobody ever says their parent-siblings’ names. It’s like an unspoken rule.

“Apocalypse situations give you a lot of free time,” Dave says, stiff.

Loki studies the exchange quietly. Everyone else pretends to be more interested in their own food.

Jade clears her throat. “So, Steve Rogers,” she says, getting them back on topic. “I don’t think he wants anything from us.”

“We’ll have to make sure,” John says. He turns to Loki, who turns to Jade. Jade nods.

“I invited him, Friday morning. I told him maybe he’d like to run with the dogs, because they seem to like him, and he looked like he could use a running partner.”

John makes a funny face as he looks at her. “Isn’t he like, ninety something?”

Jade flips him off. He laughs.

“But you believe he honestly does not have any ill intentions towards the Safehouse, Jade?” Loki asks.

Jade holds his gaze, green eyes brighter than her own, raw with power, before turning to stare at the wall across her. There are tiny little black ants, crawling on that wall, and every foot they move, Jade feels exactly by how much distance they move it and the coordinates of their position. She knows space. She doesn’t know heart. But Steve Rogers is one of those people she feels wear their hearts on their sleeves and the truth in their eyes.

“He doesn’t like being called Captain America outside of a mission, you know,” Jade says, “I can see it. He looked so happy when I didn’t seem to recognize him, and only ever addressed him as Steve. Captain America is a superhero. An icon. Somebody perfect. Steve Rogers is somebody fucked up and just wants to live his life, and whose identity isn’t confined to a name he didn’t want.”

Loki inclines his head. Jade knows he understands what she’s trying to say.

“Yeah,” she says, “I think he means no harm.”


 

When she said that, it wasn’t a go-signal for everybody to bare their teeth at him. And surprisingly, the first one to show canines without actually showing canines is Rose, who looks smug as all hell as she closes the door behind her. The rain is pouring outside, and so Steve won’t hear them when Jade hisses, “What was that for?”

“Confirmation,” Rose says.

“Couldn’t you just See?”

“Oh, I could, but I always like hearing them say it,” Rose says. From the kitchen, there’s another crash. John cackles, the Palmers simultaneously groan, and Dave starts to go on a tangent about the sanctity of apple juice and threats to shop nothing but Betty Crocker for a week, as if Mrs. Harrison would ever let him.

Jade sighs. It’s a good thing Loki is still at the animal shelter. She’s not really sure if he would have egged Rose on or had pity on Steve.

“He really is a good guy, you know,” Jade says as they both make their way to the kitchen. “We left Sunny’s because some kid recognized him as Captain America.”

Something in Rose’s eyes dim. Her mouth sets into a stiff line.

It doesn’t take much to break up the fight. Rose grabs her brother, who is easily pliable when he is focusing on his words, and makes him sit on a stool in the corner. The Palmers are happy enough to get out of the kitchen and start up the PS4. Jade slaps John on the head and gives him a stern talking to about children starving somewhere and how any sort of food should not be wasted even for pranks. Dave’s hair is still shining with apple juice and edible glitter, but he’s quieted down.

When Jade finishes her lecture and John looks sheepish, Dave pipes up, “Dude, I still cannot fucking believe. I trusted you to be better than that.”

“Alright, before this goes off into another block of aerial text, you’re going to go take a shower and John’s going to clean up his mess. And hopefully he finishes before Mrs. Harrison gets back from the grocery store.” Jade puts her hands on her hips and the decision is final.

Dave goes, still muttering. Rose has a hand on his shoulder to push him forward whenever he looks like he wants to stop and confront Egbert again.

“So how was breakfast?” asks John as he wipes down the kitchen counter. Glitter gets permanently lodged into the spaces between the tiles. Jade wrinkles her nose and snaps her fingers, and the glitter finds itself in the bottom of the garbage can.

“Nothing special.”

“Really? You took longer than usual,” he says, then grins at her, “Did the cap sweettalk you or something?”

Jade gives him a stern look. “John.”

John laughs, and it’s high and clear and genuine and Jade relaxes. “Sorry, it’s just – he’s a good friend, right?”

“He’s a great friend and he’s a good man,” she says, “And he doesn’t like being called Captain America outside of work, how many times do I have to tell you.”

John nods. “Sorry about that too,” he says, “He still keeps on coming to my shows, you know. We never talk but, he’s getting better. At…adjusting, I guess. He looked worse than us when I first saw him at the park. He wasn’t even drawing. He was staring into nothing.”

“He was frozen, right?”

“For seventy years, give or take.” John finishes up the wiping and wrings out the rag in the sink. Apple juice and glitter rain down on the smooth porcelain. He runs the cloth through water and wrings it again so that it’s not too wet, then goes back to the counter to give it another wiping.

“Was anyone he knew even alive when he woke up?” Jade grabs the stool from the corner to sit on it.

John pauses in his work, and then shrugs and continues. “I don’t know.” Another pause, but this time he doesn’t stop working. “We were lucky.”

Jade nods and swallows down the bile threatening to rise up her throat. “Yeah,” she says, and her voice is shaking. “Yeah, we were.”