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Captain Brooklyn: Beat Cop

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When Steve Rogers ran out into Times Square, he recognized it, no matter how different it was with flashing lights and swarms more people than he remembered. In one world, he stopped, looking around, confused and disoriented. This allowed Colonel Fury to explain what was going on with a simple sentence, “You’ve been asleep a long time, Captain.”

In another world, he was only spurned on by the disorientation, knowing if Hydra caught him again he’d never get out. He had to get away, lose the tails, and maybe, just maybe, he’d have time to figure out where he was and what the hell had happened to Times Square.

Sliding over the hood of a taxi, he plunged into an alleyway and dodged around trashcans and the homeless. These alleys had changed from his childhood though and he ended up staring at a former speak-easy that was now a brick wall.

“Blast,” Steve swore, pursuit’s shouts faint even to  his hearing but still present.

“Hey!” a voice whispered, Steve whipping around to stare at large dumpster in surprise. The black lid opened and a surprisingly clean head poked out, the flyaway red hair giving him a boyish look. “Who you running from?”

“Hydra,” Steve said bluntly.

The boy blinked, “Who’s that?”

“…Nazis?”

“Shit! Those guys are still around?! Why are they after you, you look like the Aryan dream, no offen—you know what, never mind. Hop in, I can hide you. But just so you know, I’m Jewish.”

“I’m not a Nazi,” Steve said indignantly, not looking a gift horse in the mouth and climbing in the dumpster. Surprisingly, everything was bagged and his host let the lid drop down on them, a really bright flashlight turning on and revealing that there was a hatch in the back of the dumpster which opened up into the building it had been pushed against.

“Huh,” Steve said, crawling through after the other man, letting him latch it behind them. “That’s a good idea. Covers up the smell for any dogs.”

“Thanks!” the redhead grinned, “Buddy of mine is in Waste Management, makes sure no one takes my dumpster. Come on, let’s get to a more secure area and we can see about these Nazis.”

“We are in New York, right?” Steve asked, following the flashlight wielding man through the warehouse, steel beams and rotting containers giving away that this place had been abandoned a long time.

“Course we are,” he replied, “Where’d they get you?”

“Last I remember they I was flying crashing a plane filled with bombs into the ocean,” Steve said bleakly. “What’s the date?”

“…The date?” the redhead turned and flashed his light in Steve’s eyes, Steve throwing up a hand and wincing at the sudden brightness, “Wait…you crashed into an ocean? Dude, are you telling me the story of Captain America? Seriously? Where is your respect?”

“What?” Steve asked, bewildered, “The story of Captain America?”

“Yeah! Fought Nazis, got stuck on a plane filled with bombs heading for New York, crashed the plane into the ocean to save the day, no one ever found the body, come on man! You’re the one who tried to sell me this like it wasn’t something we all learned in history class over and over again!”

“…History class?” Steve echoed weakly. “I swear, I don’t know—I mean, I know Captain America, but…what day is it?”

“Wednesday, 3rd of June, 2011,” Steve couldn’t see well with the light shining in his eyes, but he could hear the suspicion and confusion easily enough.

Steve froze, the year registering at last. “2000…2011?” he said quietly, “But I—I had a date.”

“Okay woah, what the hell did you say your name was?”

“Steve, Steve Rogers,” Steve could clearly sense the incredulous disbelief and he hastily said, “I swear I’m not lying! I crashed the plane and…and drowned and then woke up in this room that looked like a hospital room and the radio was playing a game I’d seen myself and this nurse came in and then I had to escape, they were keeping me prisoner, I had to—had to get away! Please just don’t let them get to me again!”

“Okay, okay,” the man agreed hastily, apparently hearing the desperate panic starting to enter Steve’s voice, “Come on, let’s—let’s sit down. I have some coffee, we’ll—we’ll figure this out, okay? No one’s handing you over to the—to the Nazis. Christ,” Steve guessed he wasn’t supposed to hear the last bit, “How do I get into this shit?”

They got to one of the metal containers and the redhead struggled open the door, waving Steve in impatiently and shutting it, flipping a switch for some bright overhead lights.

Steve’s eyes adjusted pretty quickly and he looked around. There were newspapers scattered around, marked up with pens. A slat of wood on cinderblocks held a bizarre machine with coffee cups lined up next to it, a small refrigerator underneath, with cables going into a hole drilled through the metal and the concrete. There was a broken in couch along the other side of the container and shelves filled with books and small plastic cases. On the far end there were lots of panels of various sizes that looked kind of like thin televisions, with numbers and videos and pictures and huge amounts of text on different ones.

“Wow, what are these?” he asked, coming closer and staring at one of them. One with a video—it was Times Square! “Hey! I was there!” Steve pointed at it, “Can you reverse it to see what happened earlier? Can you do that with these? Then you can see the people that are after me!”

“You don’t know—dude. It’s a computer.”

“A what?” Steve blinked, “A computer? What’s that, some sort of advanced calculator? How do calculators play videos? It looks like a television!”

“…Wow. Either you are trying way too hard, or there really are Nazis after you. Here, have a coffee,” the redhead, now that Steve could see him clearly it was clear he was around his age, certainly no older than twenty-five, handed him a large mug with a question mark on it half filled with coffee. “Need another pot to get that mug filled up, it’s brewing. All right, sit on the couch and let me check out this Times Square feed. I heard there was something weird on the chatboards and found you running through on the outside feeds, so figured I’d invite you in. Didn’t think I’d end up with a crazy claiming to be Captain freaking America though, gotta say,” the last descended into a mutter that Steve, again, suspected he wasn’t supposed to hear. He didn’t say anything, not mentioning that this guy’s story sounded equally crazy to him.

Steve just drank the coffee—delicious and hot, but it definitely made him realize how hungry he was getting. With the skill of hard experience he shoved it aside and forced himself to focus on something else, right now, on his host.

Thin, almost scrawny, but taller than Steve had been, he was at Steve’s nose now. He seemed to be built like a runner, wiry muscle visible on his arms. Bright red hair and the pale skin that went with, freckles scattered across his skin. So he didn’t just live in this metal cube then, he did see sunshine regularly.

The pants he wore were that strange denim material he only ever saw on farmers, but he didn’t look like a farmer—he was far too pale for that. Maybe he just was hard on his clothes? The shirt was a dress-shirt like office workers would wear, but with sleeves rolled-up and wrinkled.

The shoes made him feel at home though—they were Chucks! Bright red high-top Chucks, just like he and Bucky had drooled over. As much as it probably shouldn’t have mattered so much, just seeing those classic shoes put him at ease. Probably the fond memories.

“Holy shit,” the redhead swore absently, staring at the screen with the Times Square video feed, fingers flying across a board, clicking sounds meeting each tap of his finger. “You really were chased through Times Square—is that a gun? Holy crap! That guy has a high powered rifle, who the hell is after you?!”

“Hydra!” Steve insisted, “They’re the only reasonable explanation!”

“Look man, I buy that people are after you, but a Nazi organization seventy years after the war started? Not that far yet. But I do buy that there’s some seriously scary people after you,” the man assured him. “Let me work for a moment.”

Steve watched quietly, sipping at his coffee and trying to think of a way to prove himself to this guy. He had to get this kid to believe him, at least that he was Captain America, really Steve Rogers from the 1940s, otherwise this would never work. He could work with the enemy not being called ‘Hydra’. He knew who was after him, that would be enough.

“Right,” the redhead sighed, sitting back in his chair and cracking his knuckles. “We’ll let the cyberworld take that and run with it for a bit. Let’s get back to this Steve Rogers thing, yeah?”

“Anything I can say or do that’ll convince you?” Steve asked, “I don’t know what you want to hear. All I can tell you is that I really am Steve Rogers.”

“And you look freakishly like him too,” the man muttered, before speaking up again, “Look, I may not buy it completely—cloning, brainwashing, plenty of more plausible options but hey, I’ve believed weirder things than a man not aging for seventy years in a coma—and I need something to call you, so Steve it is. We’ll have to drop the Rogers for the IDs though.”

“IDs? You can get me papers?” Steve asked hopefully.

The redhead just smirked, “Course I can. I know people. I’m Richard by the way, call me Rick.”

Thank you Rick. I—God, just thank you,” Steve said, feeling a sudden weight just drop from his shoulders as he realized that there was actually someone who would be helping him with this, even if he was skeptical of his story. Hells bells, he’d be skeptical too. He was skeptical, but there wasn’t any other explanation, unless he was dreaming or something.

“Woah hey, no problem man. Good karma and all, right? Need more coffee?”

Steve’s stomach growled loudly in response and he flushed, “Ah, sorry.”

Richard just looked amused, “Nah, no problem. Guess you wouldn’t have eaten in a while, no matter which story it ends up being. I think I have some leftover takeout and protein bars, you can have those.”

“I’ll pay you back, somehow,” Steve swore, and Richard looked at him with a raised eyebrow as he pulled boxes out of the fridge.

“Seriously, stop worrying about it. Unless you’re one of those people who can’t stand the idea of even vaguely owing someone else, in which case, whatever helps yeah? But you don’t owe me anything. Hell, this is kind of exciting! A real life conspiracy, with Nazis! The guys you really don’t have to feel guilty about ruining!”

“What--?”

“Well heck, seems you really don’t know anything about the years you missed. Guess that debunks osmosis or something,” Rick mumbed, placing cartons and a fork in front of him. “Have at it man, oh we’ll have to do a history pop-culture crash course, otherwise I’ll have to make you Amish and those kinds of communities are difficult to get an in to.”

“I think I understood about a quarter of that. And this is amazing! What is it?” Steve asked, swallowing a forkful of noodles—but not like Italian noodles, this was excellent!

“…Pad Thai?”

“…Is that Japanese?”

“Oh Jesus. How the hell do I get myself into these things?”

Chapter Text

Steve thrashed awake, crashing to the ground from the couch as he gasped for air. It was the usual mix with some icy water choking him thrown in. Marvelous.

“You all right?” Rick yawned, sitting up on the folding cot he’d pulled out of a corner. He hadn’t wanted to leave the warehouse until a few more of his contacts got back to him and Steve hadn’t much cared at that point.

“Ye-yeah, I’m fine. Sorry I woke you,” Steve managed, slowly sitting up, shivering convulsively.

“Uh-huh, I cry bullshit my 40s friend. Tea? No caffeine and it’s warm.”

“R-really Rick, I-I’m fine,” Steve managed to get past chattering teeth. He couldn’t exactly see Rick all that clearly in the odd light provided by various gadgets left on throughout the crate, but he didn’t need sight to tell Rick definitely wasn’t buying it.

“Just sit on the couch man, I’ll make some tea. Had a pretty awesome idea in my sleep actually, might as well run it by you now,” Rick waved absently as he got to his feet, shuffling over to the table and fiddling with some boxes and the coffee-machine.

Steve just gave in at that point, and picked himself up off the floor. The silence as they waited for water to boil was peaceful and Steve shut his eyes again, trying to pound into his brain that it was fine, he was fine, Hydra didn’t have him and he wasn’t drowning for Christ-sake!

“Here you go man,” a mug of tea was stuck under his nose and he grabbed reflexively, not drinking any, just letting the warmth soothe him. Rick sat down on the sofa next to him with a sigh that morphed into a yawn, his own mug of tea in hand.

“So,” Rick said after a few moments, “Here’s my idea. You can’t stay in New York, not right now. We need somewhere you can lay low, not risk being caught on security cameras through your own windows, someplace where anyone snooping will stick out like a sore thumb. And I, conveniently enough, have some family that lives out in hick-ville, Pennsylvania where I know for a fact people will love you.”

“Even with my…awkwardness?”

“Man, we can tell them you’re Captain America frozen for seventy years and all Auntie Rosa will do is nod and ask you if you mind cherry pie.”

“I love cherry pie,” Steve blurted before he could help himself.

“Then you and Auntie Rosa are going to get along just fine. Figure we can smuggle you out of here this morning with rush-hour foot-traffic, hop in my car and drive out. Since it’s in a garage with disabled cams, we can hide you in the trunk for the ride out of town to avoid being spotted at intersections as we get out of the city.”

“And then what?” Steve asked quietly, “I just hide in the countryside forever?”

“Well, that’s certainly an option, but no offense, you don’t strike me as the type. Nah, figure you need to get your sea legs, lay of the land – you need at least some pop culture references so no one thinks you’re Amish! ‘Cuz man, you need to be able to blend in like you were born in the late eighties or this is never going to work and whoever is after you will find you easy,” Rick said seriously. “You look too distinctive, that’s a lot going against you already. So what we need to do is make you someone they don’t expect. I figure with a mix of flaming ‘here I am’ and ‘no wait, he’d never…’, they’ll never figure out it’s you just because they’re so damned confused.”

“Yeah, well, I’m confused,” Steve said blearily. “But it sounds good Rick. Just – just tired. I – I was supposed to be – oh Peggy.”

A hand hesitantly patted him on the back and Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at the awkwardness of the motion. “Thanks Rick, I’ll – I’ll be fine.”

“I could look them up?”

“Nothing strenuous,” Steve ordered, “That’s the first place they’ll look. I won’t put them in danger again. Besides,” his lips twisted, “They think I’ve been dead for decades. Why bring up old grief again?”

“Not old grief for you,” Rick observed.

“Yeah, well, no time for it. So. Tomorrow. What time do we leave?”

“Peak foot-traffic is between eight thirty and nine, figure we’ll leave in there. It’s a ten, fifteen minute walk at Yank pace.”

“Good, will your contacts have gotten back to you by then?”

“Yeah, papers are going to take some time, another reason we need to get you out of the city—hickville we don’t really check for papers. Heck, even now we don’t really actively check for papers unless you’ve done something stupid, but they might put out a BOLO on you.”

“…A what?”

“Uh… a stop and detain order, it’s an acronym for something, I hear it on cop shows.”

Steve just decided to keep the explanation of meaning and left “cop shows” to be investigated later. Just from what Rick was saying, TVs were a lot easier to get now and there was a lot more on than one or two shows at a time.

“Rick, why are you doing this? I mean—thank you, but it can’t be normal to have this kind of set up and invite people gunmen are chasing through the streets into hiding with you. Is it?” Steve asked hesitantly at the end, doubting it but figuring anything could have happened in seventy years (though apparently not flying cars, damn it Howard!).

Rick burst out laughing, “No, it’s not normal,” he managed after he calmed down. “It’s pretty weird, even now. But – well, did you ever hear about mutants?”

“Err…”

“Basically they’re people who have had their genes – uh, their DNA? Their – “

“I know what genes are, they’re the ways traits are inherited, right? Like, I have a blue-eye gene,” Steve interrupted.

Rick blinked at him, “Seriously? Wasn’t that like – discovered in the 40s?”

“My mom was a nurse and I was sickly, I read a lot,” Steve shrugged, “And I thought it was really swell, how traits could be passed down like that.”

“Really cool,” Rick said, and now it was Steve’s turn to blink at him. “No one says really swell. I mean no one. When you want to say something is interesting, neat, or swell, you say it’s cool.”

“So…I think genes are really cool?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I still say things like, ‘this water is getting cool’?”

“Yeah, but most would just say, my tea is cold,” Rick shrugged, “Verbosity isn’t really a thing anymore. Umm… I mean, verbosity isn’t all that common anymore. When you say something is ‘a thing’ you mean it’s popular or a trend.”

“Got it. So my tea’s cold, and those computers are cool.”

“Exactly, anyway, back to genes. So you know how sometimes there’s a change all of a sudden in one person? Not like, skipping generations, but something totally new? Usually it’s blamed for a birth defect, like an extra thumb, or something like that.”

“Darwin’s theory, right?”

“Yeah! Evolution! That’s actually part of the problem - there are human mutants now, they’re people with these strange changes in their genetic code, and they have ridiculous abilities! Some are really awesome, like controlling lightning or turning invisible, and others are kind of silly like…uh…turning twinkies into anything you want.”

“Is that actually-“

“No, I made up a stupid example, at least, not that I know of… some of them look normal, others have scale like features, or longer teeth, or blue hair, odd things like that. But, well, they’re not treated great.”

“I can imagine,” Steve said sadly. There were soldiers with strange abilities he remembered, particularly James with his claws. He wondered if he had made it back to his brother. But they must be a lot more common now for it to be such a common knowledge topic.

“One of my best friends was one of those that didn’t look entirely normal. He was really skinny, and had greenish skin and hair. He looked kind of silly sometimes, to be honest, and his mutation was just a little thing, he could photosynthesize. Err… get energy from sunlight, like plants. Anyway, we went on a school trip to D.C. and got lost on the subways trying to get back to the hotel with our class and got in a bad part of town. I had gone to ask for directions from a subway worker when these—these thugs grabbed Vince and started beating him up.”

Rick had drooped, clutching his mug desperately and staring into it. “I tried to stop them but, well, I was twelve, and I’m not exactly all that big now, and no one would help because Vince was a mutant. He was just a kid! Finally I ran and found a cop but when we got back Vince—he was already dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too,” Rick muttered, “Anyway, so I work to help protect mutants. There’s a whole crew of us, a network if you will, but we can’t do everything and we need our own jobs too. I sideline in conspiracy theories and making sure the government doesn’t go Big Brother on us, so I set this place up. I’m our techie. And I can take care of myself pretty well so I can go into the rougher parts of town to get to some of our less accessible contacts.”

“I want to help,” Steve said after a few moments. “After all this, I want to help.”

“You don’t have to, don’t feel like you have to, you don’t need to pay me back man, seriously.”

“I fought for everyone to have their rights,” Steve said sternly, “They can be green-blooded hobgoblins for all I care, they’re people, they’re kids and they don’t deserve that.”

Rick’s mouth was twitching suspiciously, “Sorry. The green blooded hobgoblin’s thing. We’ll have to put Star Trek on the list. And—well, I guess I’m starting to be a believer. In the whole Captain America’s memories thing. I’m still working on some other angles of investigation but, well, you seem like him? I don’t know, but you’re a good guy. Thanks. But let’s get you on your feet first.”

Another yawn split his last sentence in half, and Steve set his cup on the table, saying, “Thanks for sitting up with me Rick, but I think I’ll try sleeping again, you should do the same.”

“Yeah, yeah, good idea,” Rick said around another yawn, setting his own cup down and slowly shuffling to his cot. “Night Steve.”

“Night Rick.”

===***===pagebreak===***===

Rick’s mutant support network worked fast. Rick went out to grab coffee and returned with food and a paper bag filled with clothes that roughly fit Steve. Following Rick’s advice, he put the dark blue denim pants on – blue jeans – he reminded himself mentally, and then pulled on the thin cotton shirt with a pattern on it he didn’t recognize, but Rick assured him was from a good band. In a nod to the morning chill, Rick’s contacts had found a large windbreaker with the Yankees logo on it and a plain black ball-cap.

Steve glowered at the logo. What was wrong with the Dodgers?

He asked Rick, who got a curious look on his face, looking oddly like a mix between dread and eager anticipation. Instead of answering straight away, he just put the topic off for later and focused on the details of their exit from New York.

“Right, so I’m parked in a garage five blocks west, two north. There’s a few alleys I duck through. Carry the cup of coffee, and do not gawk, focus, keep a conversation with me going – I’ll try and avoid references you may not understand, but don’t ask, right? Intent walk, keep pace with me—um…driver’s are assholes, don’t get hit by a car – don’t make eye contact with people unless you bump into someone, apologize and move on so long as they didn’t dump coffee on you or something – and… think that’s it.”

“New York hasn’t changed that much then,” Steve smirked around his coffee. “Got it Rick. Pretend I know what I’m doing, all else will follow.”

“Yeah, and if you can subtly keep an eye out for tails without being obviously paranoid or hunted? Bonus points! Ready? Ready. Let’s go,” Rick grabbed a set of keys and led the way out of the metal shipping container, locking up some deadbolts and shoving some boxes aside to conceal the straight path as they went towards the exit. It was a main door rather than exiting through the dumpster, Rick waiting until he opened the door to start the conversational cover.

“Look man, I’ll acknowledge that Picasso was cool, but the later stuff? It’s just a disaster! How the heck is a mangled chicken-wire fence art?” Rick demanded.

Steve was relieved – he may not know about chicken-wire art, but he knew damn well how to argue for a form of art’s legitimacy!

Rick had either done some research beforehand or knew about art on their route already, because the debate was lively and included gestures to some of the graffiti that was on their route. Steve was careful to word his analysis around archetypes and cross-cultural symbols, just to make sure if any of his references were dated, they could be blamed on an international reference point. They barely afforded a second glance walking with the flow of traffic on the packed sidewalks of New York, the few who did double-takes were probably just astonished that an athlete type was knowledgably discussing the artistic philosophy of the great masters.

Steve was intrigued enough by Rick’s points about the “street art” he barely had time to notice the changes, much less gawk at them and betray the impression of ‘local’ they were trying to give. It seemed in no time at all they had reached the indicated garage.

“This is my ride,” Rick said, pointing at a dark green four-door car near the stairwell. “Crappy little Kia I got in high school. The cameras in here are just for show, they don’t actually work, and even if they did the car’s in a blind spot. So here’s the plan, the middle seat in the back goes down and gives access to the trunk. I honestly think it’d be a good idea to stuff you in there until we get out of the city, because odds are whoevers after you is watching cameras for someone leaving the city like a hawk. Moving through streets at a walking pace on a route with as few cameras as I could manage? Workable, especially with our conversation going – nice on that by the way. But sitting in traffic there’s a better than even chance of a camera getting a nice long look at your face.”

“Sounds a solid plan to me,” Steve agreed, “Thanks for picking art – could I get books from a library or something about the post-modernists? That Warhol sounded interesting.”

“We can google it,” Rick waved off, “figured if I talked about art you’d at least be able to BS modern lingo.”

“…”

“And we’ll work on that,” Rick grinned, “That’s a great expression though. I’ll need to get a picture, it definitely embodies the WTF sentiment.”

“…Just open the trunk, Rick.”

Steve managed to fold himself into the trunk reasonably comfortably. The windbreaker and cap made for a decent pillow and he was able to at least partially extend his legs when the trunk was shut so it wasn’t the tightest crawl space he’d crammed into since the serum. With the back seat down and letting sunlight and fresh air through, it felt almost roomy.

“So I’m going to toss my coat over the back to artfully hide the trunk opening, just so no one sees you stick your head through or something,” Rick said from the front, windbreaker appearing half-covering his window to the world.

“Just keep some sort of noise going so I don’t flashback. And if I fall asleep, open the trunk from a distance if you can.”

“Yep, there’s a trunk latch thing up here. You like jazz? You’ll love jazz. I’ll play jazz. And I sing along sometimes, sound like a dying cat apparently, so just a heads up.”

With that the engine quietly turned on and the car started moving to the musical accompaniment of some truly incredible saxophone. Steve had thought he’d be getting bruised bumping around in the trunk of a car, but this was incredibly smooth riding – a nap was looking more and more likely if they were stuck in traffic for a while.

Lacing his fingers behind his neck, he stared up at the trunk and smiled. For a few hours at least, he could put aside worries about how he was here, what he was going to do and what had happened to the Commandos. He had some music to enjoy.

Chapter Text

Fwop.

Steve swatted at the thing that landed on his nose, blinking up at the darkening sky. He barely had time to notice the hatch open above him when a dark ball arched down towards his face. He snatched it out of the air and stared – who on Earth was throwing wadded up socks at him?

Staring at the finely knitted socks, he remembered where (and when) he was. Right. They must be near Rick’s family’s place by now. Sitting up, he looked over at Rick who was standing with an open bag at his feet. Presumably it was the source of the socks. Cracking his back and stretching as he slowly climbed out of the trunk, Steve took the opportunity to look around. They were in a dirt driveway, the house a compact, two-story affair with a wrap-around porch.

Behind the house were neatly ranked fields bordered by trees and from what he could see, at the far side was a significant vegetable garden. Steve was certain most would call it idyllic, but the only time he had been in the countryside was when he was hiding from Nazis, so some of the peace was lost on him as he strained to listen for enemy movements that weren’t coming.

“Welcome to Auntie Rosa’s,” Rick said, “Outskirts of Pearblossom, Pennsylvania.”

“You grow pears here?” Steve asked, surprised.

“When the town was named? No. Now? Some people have Asian pears growing. Auntie Rosa and Uncle John grow hay, some apples for their own use, and a vegetable garden. They might have planted  a pear tree in the past couple months, but I doubt it. They’re trying to cut down on planting,” Rick replied, picking up his bag. “You were out man, guess we won’t be playing jazz if we need to keep you awake!”

“It’s a very smooth ride,” Steve shrugged, pulling the windbreaker out of the trunk before he slammed it shut. There was a slight chill in the air, and it seemed he was going to be sensitive to the cold for a while.

“Yeah, one of my uncles had a model T, the suspension in that thing sucked,” Rick said, clicking a button on a fob as he walked past. Steve jumped when the car beeped in response, shaking his head as he followed him up the steps to the porch. “So do they know I was coming with you?”

“Not safe to talk about over phone lines,” Rick replied rather than answer directly. “I’ve done it before.”

Steve just shook his head as Rick knocked on the door. The idea that an entire family calmly smuggled persecuted people out of cities – that such a network was still necessary – was both reassuring and disturbing with regards to human nature. He had hoped, they had all hoped, that the end of the war would fix that. But that was probably foolish of them, thinking that a war would have fixed anything, even by ending.

“Richard!” the grey haired woman who opened the door had a smile wreathed in fine wrinkles, eyes crinkling as she hugged her nephew. “Good to see you again, dear. And who’s your friend?”

“This is Steve, Auntie Rosa. He needs a place to lie low for a while,” Rick said, Steve shaking her hand solemnly. “A little different from the usual.”

“Well, why don’t you come on in and tell us about it, we were just sitting down to have some pie and coffee. You do eat cherry pie, Steve?”

“My favorite,” Steve said honestly, and Rosa beamed at him, Rick rolling his eyes at his aunt’s easy acceptance of strangers. She lead them into the house, both of them kicking off their shoes at the doorway and Rick tossing his bag to the side. “Hey Uncle John!” he greeted, taking the few steps necessary to hug the man sitting at the small dining table. “How are you?”

“Pretty good, pretty good, no complaints,” John, a tanned man looking a few years older than his wife, smiled at Steve and said, “Sit on down, son, Rosa’s just getting some more plates and cups. Rick, go help your aunt, would you boy?”

“Yeah sure thing,” Rick nodded and strolled into the kitchen where Rosa was pulling open cupboards.

Steve sat down across from John hesitantly, eyeing the homey room. The kitchen and dining room were off to the left while there was a sitting area and a television to the right, another door in the back leading to the rest of the house. It wasn’t anything unusual, except in the details. The lights were brighter, the TV much bigger (but so thin!), the appliances in the kitchen small and compact and far more numerous. But everything had a comfortably warm feeling to it that came with years of use and repair, so at least that was familiar.

“Ever been out to the countryside before, Steve?” John asked, drawing his attention away from his look around.

“In the war sir,” Steve replied, hoping he wouldn’t have to get into which war just yet. He wanted back-up for that explanation.

“Bah, desert and Pennsylvania may only have open sky in common, might as well be your first time,” the man brushed his explanation aside, apparently assuming he meant the current war (there was a current war? Still?) “What city you from, son?”

“Brooklyn, born and raised,” Steve answered honestly, John raising an eyebrow at that.

“Don’t mind me asking, but what you need to get out for? Born and raised there you’d think you’d have all the tricks for lying low.”

“I did, but... things changed. They changed a lot,” Steve replied quietly, unable to hide the lost tone in his voice. Chronologically, he was probably older than the man in front of him. He should be the one interrogating the friend his nephew dragged home, not sitting here fresh-faced and sun-haired while a man old (young) enough to be his own father (son) questioned him.

“Yeah, that’s what we need to talk about,” Rick said, a welcome interruption as he and Rosa came around with plates and mugs for everyone. Rick stabbed Steve’s pie with a fork before he sat down next to him, his own slice already missing a bite as he continued, “See – the war he mentioned isn’t the War on Terror.”

“Blasted secret government wars,” John muttered under his breath, Rosa rolling her eyes as she sipped her coffee in the seat next to him.

“Not a secret either, though I totally agree,” Rick grinned at his uncle, Steve quietly eating his pie and letting the red-head explain. “Come on, Uncle J, take a good, long look at him and think waaay back. You’ll get it.”

John blinked at Rick, frowning briefly before he turned to Steve, picking glasses up off the table and shoving them on. Steve tried to hold still under the intent gaze, wondering why Rick wasn’t just saying it. It was an odd enough story that the man would probably never gue—

“Those bastards cloned CAPTAIN AMERICA!” John howled, clearly outraged. Steve shoved away from the table, startled at the sudden outburst and Rosa swatted her husband on the shoulder, “John!” she barked, “Sit down and eat your pie!”

He paused in his banging on the table, eyeing the stern look on Rosa’s face before he subsided, shoving a forkful of pie in his mouth. Rosa turned her glare onto Rick briefly before facing a still alarmed Steve and smiling, “Sorry about that dear. They get a little carried away in their games. That being said, the resemblance is startling.”

“I know it sounds crazy, but I’m not a clone, I’m – uh, him,” Steve said quietly.

“Damn it Rick, I hate it when you play stupid tricks like this!” John grumbled before the final bit of Steve’s statement caught up with him and he stared at Steve incredulously, “Wait what? You’re – you’re saying that you’re Captain America?”

Steve sighed heavily, before deciding he had to at least try and explain, “When the plane went down near Greenland, it sank and… I guess I froze? I woke up a day and a half ago with these people trying to trick me into thinking it was still the ‘40s, but they were playing a baseball game on the radio I had been there to see. So I ran, and they chased me with guns, and when I saw Times Square I knew something was wrong and I had to get out of there. Rick found me when I’d hit a dead-end that wasn’t there before. He explained the year and helped me get out after he checked that I really was chased through Times Square by gunmen.”

He avoided mentioning Hydra. He remembered Rick’s dismissal of the organization and doubted his already hard to believe story would get any support by claiming an apparently long-dormant organization had reactivated to hunt him down. So long as they knew the people after him were dangerous, they’d be careful enough.

“Well that makes perfect sense,” Rosa nodded, “There have been plenty of stories of people seeming dead when it’s very cold but then waking up just fine!”

All three of them stared at her, the woman calmly sipping her coffee and raising an eyebrow at their stunned expressions. “He was the peak of physical conditioning and human possibilities, according to history, thanks to that serum. It makes sense his resistance to things would be higher, possibly even to the point he survived seventy years in a cold-coma.”

“But…but…breathing?” Rick sputtered, “He was at the bottom of the ocean! Allegedly.”

Rosa rolled her eyes again, shaking her head, “I don’t see why I should waste time convincing you when you have believed in stranger things, mister Area 51 is a double-bluffing time-machine. Steve believes he’s Captain America, and for all intents and purposes he is. So there. Clone or not he’s a human being, with human memories and human feelings. So. Welcome to Pearblossom, Steve Rogers. I’m Rosa Stearns, this is John Stearns, my husband. You have clearly met our nephew Richard. How’s the pie?”

“Fantastic,” Steve replied after a few moments processing the sudden subject change. Rick and Joe both subsided at that, though he could tell that Rick at least had some doubts still.

“Excellent,” she smiled, “How long are you staying Rick?”

“Just a couple days,” Rick replied, shooting Steve an apologetic look. “Have to get back to the network.”

“Of course dear,” Rosa nodded, “Steve, you’ll be staying in Rick’s old room. Rick, you’ll have Sofie’s.”

“Sure thing Auntie Rosa.”

“Now finish that pie while Rick explains things,” she ordered Steve, focusing on her nephew who had already wolfed his down, enthusiastically launching into an explanation.

===***===pagebreak===***===

 

Steve twisted the wire, tightening the line before he secured it to the post. It was day four of his stay here, day two since Rick had left, and he was feeling better.

The Stearns had done this before, and though his situation was looking to be a little longer term than their usual arrangement, they insisted it was no trouble, especially if he helped out around the property. He had happily agreed, not wanting to be any more of a burden than he had to, so had very carefully listened to John’s instructions for each job and followed them to the letter. Rick and Rosa had taken sizes down and gone “into town”, meaning the nearest city with a department store, and bought him six sets of clothes in the most basic, generically modern style they could find in his size.

While they had been gone that second day, he had been getting a tour of the land with John and a basic rundown of the history he had missed, since John had lived through most of it personally. His father had apparently been a soldier in World War II, so he was familiar enough with the details of how it had ended to be able to answer Steve’s questions.

Rick had dragged him down to the living room that evening and outlined a plan to get him caught up on the things he’d missed, both historically and culturally. Between the three of them the Stearns had come up with a list of things he had to know so he didn’t immediately give himself away, along with some books and shows he would need to read and watch to get caught up on common references and in-jokes. The immediate plan was for a decade a week, starting in the 40s and working forward, so with luck, by the time two months were out he’d be not only caught up, but ready to find his own place in the world where he wouldn’t get recaptured by Hydra.

Rick estimated the initial papers should be filed and basically usable in a week, but it would take about a month and half of careful, painstaking work for things to be backed up and verified across the board so this new name of his would be as solid as possible. When Steve had mentioned paying back whoever it was that was taking care of this, Rick just waved it off saying the challenge alone was enough.

Clipping the excess wire deftly, he examined his repair job critically before tossing everything back in the bucket and heading for the shed. That was the last section needing repair he had noticed on his morning run, and more importantly it was about half an hour before Rosa had told him to be ready to go into Pearblossom proper to help her drop off some bushels of apples at the town market.

“Steve Robinson,” Rosa said when he walked into the kitchen twenty minutes later, hair slightly damp still from the rushed shower she had insisted on.

“Um, sorry?” he asked, pulling a dark green fleece over his head before sitting across the table from her.

“Your name, Rick shot me a text asking how his friend Robinson was doing. They managed to finalize your last name, which is good because it means I know how to introduce you in town. Steve Robinson.”

“That seems a little close to Rogers,” Steve admitted, “But I suppose that’s what Rick meant by ‘a mix of no-way-too-obvious and he-would-never’.”

“Exactly,” Rosa smiled, “Spies overthink things. Proven fact. Ready to go?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I certainly hope he’s made you an Army man again,” Rosa muttered as she grabbed her purse and led the way to the old Eagle wagon (still younger than him by a hefty number of years and damn if that didn’t smart), already loaded with apples from yesterday.

“So when we go in, I’ll be introducing you as Steve Robinson, friend of Rick’s home from war and needing somewhere quiet to get his head on straight and figure out what he wants to do with civilian life,” Rosa said as she backed out the driveway, “I’ll just text Rick about army manners on the way out and he’ll get the idea to put you in some form of service, if he hadn’t already. You’ll be staying with us until you get all the details of your discharge worked out and have a place to go, because you’re a sweetheart and we’re good people like that.”

“How many friends of Rick’s have you put up over the years?” Steve asked, guessing the town would at least be somewhat suspicious of the frequency of these “friends” staying with Rosa and John.

“Actually, only two that we’ve introduced to the town, the others were here such a short time – or had such a hard time of it, poor things – we couldn’t take them into town to be introduced,” Rosa smiled slightly, “So they shouldn’t be too wary of any ‘friends’ of Rick’s. Especially not an army man.”

“Right, small town,” Steve smiled slightly, “At least that hasn’t changed.”

“Something else that probably hasn’t changed about small towns is the fact once one person hears something, everyone knows. So we’ll only have to do details this once, then everyone will at least have an idea. Janet, the owner of the market, is a lovely woman and a fantastic gossip – I mean, resource,” Rosa’s smile was brilliant now, and she cranked on the radio, a voice singing about a desperado, whatever that was, needing to come to his senses coming through clearly.

Neither of them said anything for the rest of the short drive into town, Rosa tapping out a beat on the steering wheel to the few songs that came on during the trip. “If you can start with grabbing some bushels, I’ll go get Janet,” Rosa said after the car was parked in front of the small general store and gas station. Steve was staring at the price listed for a gallon of gas in appalled silence, but he slowly nodded and got out of the car too, popping open the back and grabbing one of the boxes, easily lifting it and carrying it into the store after Rosa.

“Just put them on the counter there, dear, thanks,” Rosa directed him and he nodded again, setting the box down and heading out for the other three, hearing Rosa call, “Janet!”

“Rosa! Good to see you in town again! And who’s the new man in your life, hmm? You finally kicked that John of yours to the wayside for a younger man?” a happy voice with a soft burr to it returned her greeting, Steve unable to prevent the blush from forming when he heard the woman’s teasing.

“Don’t be ridiculous Janet, though I could certainly do worse. Steve’s a friend of Rick’s, just back from deployment and discharged, needs some time to get his sea-legs in the civilian life. Figured some nice calm work out here would do him some good, and he’s a sweetheart, so we couldn’t say no!” Rosa explained easily to the similarly aged woman behind the counter, blonde hair hiding the grey better though. Steve set two more boxes on the counter and headed back out for the remaining one.

“And not bad scenery either!” he heard Janet cackle, and he snorted, blush finally back under control. Seemed it wasn’t just USO girls who could express appreciation more…explicitly in these times. Kind of nice, that they didn’t have to hide behind coy little smiles all the time.

Shutting the car up, he carried the last box in, smiling and shaking Janet’s offered hand firmly. “Pleasure to meet you ma’am,” he said.

“Oh please, it’s Janet for any handsome man,” Janet winked back at him, her lips a shocking shade of pink he only just noticed. “And a few not-so-handsome ones either, I don’t exactly have the option to be picky out here,” she said in an aside to Rosa, turning to the register and starting to tally up the apples.

“Really Janet, you’re going to leave Steve thinking we’re like those ridiculous women on TV – oh what are they, desperate homemakers? Desperate housewives? Yeah, that one, desperate housewives, flirting with anything with three legs not wearing their matching ring,” Rosa snorted, Steve raising an eyebrow at the crudity. Yeah, he’d have a lot to get used to in this time. At least the USO had gotten him a little less prone to immediately turning a bright crimson with their ridiculous flirting and the men and their…unique songs.

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m sure Steve knows very well we’re just teasing,” Janet smiled over at him as she counted out the bills for the apples. “Don’t you dear?”

His finely honed sense of danger came to the rescue, and he managed, “I’m afraid I’ll have to plead the fifth, ma’am.”

Janet and Rosa both laughed, Rosa putting the money away and patting his arm, “Come on Steve, let’s put you to work carrying groceries. Anything new Janet?”

“Smiths brought in some squash, little early but they’re good,” Janet replied, waving over at the produce corner of the store. “Go ahead and just leave the money in the register, I need to go back and get some bills taken care of.”

“Sure thing, thanks Janet!” Rosa smiled, leading him over to the corner while Janet ducked back into the room, probably her office, that she had come out of. “That’s that. She’ll be on the phone in a minute to pass the news on,” Rosa said smugly. “I am good. Now we have an Anglican church we go to on Sundays, so if you wouldn’t mind coming with us a few times you’ll be able to meet most of the town. All the churches are in the same area, so we have potlucks.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Steve nodded, picking up a basket so Rosa could drop things into it.

“Now how are you at cooking? Living off MREs and take-out isn’t an option anymore,” Rosa raised an eyebrow and Steve grinned sheepishly, figuring that was something a lot of young men would end up doing.

“A few things, but I wouldn’t mind learning more,” he replied, already knowing that if Rosa got an idea in her head, he had best just roll with the punches.

“Then we’ll start with my one-step lasagna, good, easy and people think it’s complicated.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Chapter Text

 

Week Two

“Hey Steve here, it’s okay, it’s all right, have some water,” Rosa was saying, carefully pushing a glass into his hands after he finished vomiting up the entirety of his stomach contents into the toilet.

“Nightmares?” John asked from the door, solemn tone a little incongruous with his bright plaid robe.

Steve nodded once, swallowing some water before he rasped, “Hiroshima, actually. With ice.”

“Yeah, figured that one would be bad,” John nodded, gaze dark as he looked off into his own past. “Greater good. God I hate that phrase.”

Rosa stood between them both, the silence heavy, before she nodded briskly and said, “I’ll go down and make some tea. It’s five already, might as well start our day. We have some more history to plow through.”

“And movies to watch,” John grinned, and it was an impish thing, even if the dark edge was still there. “I think we can skip some decades and watch Star Wars, don’t you dear?”

Rosa just smiled at him, “I’m always up for Star Wars John. Come on Steve, peppermint or English breakfast today?”

Week Three

“This is really a phone?” Steve gawked, poking at the flimsy little rectangle on the table. Rick chuckled at his tone, still typing away at his small computer – a laptop, Steve reminded himself.

“Not just any phone, it’s your phone. Got you set up with being part of the network’s family plan, especially since you said you wouldn’t mind helping out occasionally after you got your sea legs. Oh, and I have your driver’s license, basic class C and motorcycle, high school transcripts, enlistment records, honorable discharge papers, SAT scores, couple rewards member cards, and your bank account information. And facebook accounts, of course, with some emails and spam accounts. We also have your life story in bullet points, so we’ll be going over that. Figure when I come by in another two weeks we can have a quiz night or something.”

“We already watch Jeopardy,” Steve informed him calmly as he paged through his high school transcripts – decent, C to B student it seemed. “I’m horrible at it.”

No one is good at Jeopardy Steve. No one.”

Week Four

“Thanks for the help Mister Robinson!” the eight year old boy gave him a gap-toothed grin and Steve smiled, ruffling his hair. “No problem Danny. You’ve got a good arm.”

“Yes, thanks for the help,” the Little League coach, a nice black man named Jeremiah (“Call me Jerry, please”) Smith. They grew fantastic squash.

“Really, happy to, I always loved baseball,” Steve grinned at him. With the assistant coach visiting family and the tournament soon, Jerry had asked for help at the potluck last Sunday and Steve had immediately volunteered. He had missed baseball, and working with the kids was fun.

“Well hey, if you love it so much, want to come back tomorrow?” Jerry grinned, and Steve was immediately assaulted by a pile of sweaty, grass-covered, pleading children.

“Please Stev-“ “Yeah please Mister Rob-“ “You have an awesome arm-“ “You broke the baseball bat –“ “I want to jump that high Ste-“

“Okay okay!” he laughed, scrambling to ruffle all the kids’ hair and tug on a few ears, “I’ll be here! I’ll be here!”

“Yeah!!!!”

Week Five

“Rick? Why’s that military life file you showed me pretty much blank? No fake missions, tragically dying teammates – not what I expected.”

“Well we basically put your name and records in the system with all the super black-ops if you have to ask you don’t have the clearance type missions. So you can just look woeful and say classified if anyone asks you anything.”

“Huh. Thanks Rick.”

“No problem man. Hey, pass the salsa, will ya?”

Week Six

“…uh…”

“Gotta get used to it man, people are going to flirt with you like nothing else because as my good friend Alice said when she saw your photo for the ID, ‘that is one fine piece of ass’” Rick said, affecting a falsetto for the quote, hustling Steve towards the theater entrance.

“But…”

“And guys flirt with guys now too, and don’t always get mugged and beaten up for it. Can’t say never, hating fuckers are everywhere, but it’s not guaranteed anymore.”

“…”

“Steve? You with me?”

“Yeah, just – um. Sorry. I never really know what to do when people flirt with me,” Steve mumbled, Rick looking over at him with a raised eyebrow as he drained the brilliant red Slurpee he’d grabbed from the concession stand.

“Wow man. Well. At least you don’t blush too badly anymore. We’d best start googling.”

“Oh God.”

“Just remember, image search is not your friend!”

Week Seven

“I did not have sex with that woman!”

“Clinton, in response to accusations of sleeping with…um… a secretary? Some lady not Hillary.”

“Good enough. Now, to pop-culture: Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

“Mission Impossible,” Steve quickly hummed a bit of the theme song.

“Nice. The names Stearns, John Stearns.”

“Reference to James Bond, started as a novel series, became movies, first one was Sean Connery, new one is Daniel Craig, another well known one was Pierce Brosnan. New Q is cool.”

“Very good, this is.”

“Yoda, Star Wars. Epic-est movie of all time, hands down, bar none.”

“Excellent slang usage my friend. And, for the grand finale… We are the knights who say-?”

“Ni!”

Week Eight

“So I hear you’ll be leaving us soon?” Janet asked leadingly, Steve smiling at the older woman as he helped her carry some desserts out of the back of the church towards the lawn where the potlucks took place in good weather.

“Yeah, moving to New York in a few days, got signed up for the Police Academy.”

“Well you’ll always be welcome back here,” Janet winked, “And I’m not just saying that because you’re great eye candy either.”

Steve laughed, but before he could respond he caught site of the rest of the town, and froze, throat closing up. Between two red-leafed trees was a banner, inexpertly painted on an old sheet he recognized from Martha and Alberto’s barn-shed job, were the words, “Good Luck Mister Robinson!” and the names of the Little Leaguers he’d been helping.

The tables were loaded with food and a giant card sat on the end, a posterboard folded in half with well-wishes from the whole town scrawled on it in different hands. He set the platter of cupcakes down and took the letter with slightly shaking hands, looking down at a few of the well-wishes and biting his tongue to keep from saying something stupid.

Rosa came up beside him and rested a hand on his arm, saying, “Steve?”

He looked up at the townspeople, gathered around the tables in their fall weather clothes, all watching him with smiles, the kids nearly vibrating in place as they alternated between looking at him and looking at the sugar he had carried. Finally, he felt the rock in his throat subside and he grinned, “Thanks everyone. For everything.”

“You’re one of us now Steve, we expect to hear from you and see you some holidays, understand young man?” the pastor of the Methodist church down the road smirked, her red hair in a tight bun.

“Yes ma’am!” he barked, everyone laughing before they all descended on the food. Rosa tucked the card with their things, and he spent his last potluck receiving well wishes and goodbyes from a truly ridiculous number of people.

He decided, then and there, that he wasn’t going to be missing Thanksgiving for anything if he could swing it.

Chapter Text

“Steve Robinson, you’re in with David Rosales and Sergeant Ramses, track three,” the instructor said. Steve nodded and jogged over to the given track, looking forward to the beginnings of their defensive driving course. Working with Rick, he’d come up with a skills list and limitations they were using as a benchmark so he wouldn’t get caught out and so far things had been going smoothly. It was the second month of training and the only trouble he’d really had was in the transition from wartime tactics to police work where the goal was to take them alive and without significant damage.

There were a few other veterans in with him though, so his occasional slips and one memorable complete flashback when they were getting an introduction to the SWAT team’s job weren’t precisely unusual. Actually, he had gotten a request to consider the SWAT team after some time on the force, apparently they had similar problems going from their specialized work to regular policing and thought if he could handle the regular policing now, making the switch back in forth would be easier in the future.

Steve had shaken the man’s hand and promised to consider it, but he wanted to get past the tackle-his-neighbors-because-mortars-are-firing stage first and foremost.

Judging by the considering looks he had gotten from some of the trainers after that incident, either the commander had passed it on along with what he thought Steve’s history might be, or he had actually tried to pull Steve’s records and received the line after line of black-out Rick had set up for him.

“Right, so you lot listed previous experience with defensive driving,” Sergeant Ramses, a short Samoan man, looked over the group of seven sternly, “Dunno what you think defensive driving is, so we get to do an assessment course. Pair off by last name, each pair gets a squad car. Bertrand, you’re with me. We’re going through first. Then you each follow after the previous car finishes. Clear?”

“Yes sir!” they all replied, hoofing it over to the four cars set aside for them this exercise. Rosales slid over the hood of the car to claim the driver seat first, and Steve just shook his head and got in, buckling his seatbelt and waiting patiently.

“Woohoo are you in for a fun ride, Robinson,” Rosales grinned at him with complete and utter confidence, “Because this chicano knows how to drive.”

“That so?” Steve replied, letting his words drop slowly from his tongue and he smirked at the younger man, “Little wager then? Whoever finishes fastest, without damaging the car, buys drinks and loudly announces to the class that the other is, in fact, the best driver. With appropriate drama.”

The gleam in his eyes told Steve the answer even before the shorter officer whooped, “You’re on!”

Some of the other drivers did apparently know what they were doing, but there were some who definitely hadn’t taken much of a defensive driving course. Judging by the way Rosales was grinning, he was certain that he had this in the bag, not only the bet with Steve, but with beating the entire group for time.

When their turn hit Rosales peeled out in a squeal of rubber and slalomed around the first corner with casual ease. Steve was glad he was strapped in, this kid was a good driver, but there were a few points where he knew he’d be able to shave off some seconds on his own turn, so unless something tragic happened, he wasn’t going to be buying any beers.

They got to the end of the course with, at the time, record speed. Rosales looked over at Steve with an expectant smirk, and Steve just couldn’t resist. He raised an eyebrow and affected a drawl, saying, “That all you got son?”

“Oh, hell no,” Rosales said as they pulled back around to get in line again, unbuckling to swap seats. He strapped himself back in in the passenger seat, shaking his head and saying, “No way you gonna beat that time, Robinson. Just concede defeat gracefully. I’ll even let you just buy me the beers.”

Steve just shook his head, smiling as he waited for their turn to roll around again. He’d gotten a feel for the car with Rosales’ test, so he had a very good idea of exactly how fine-tuned it was. Some of his reflexes were just too fast for the mechanics of the cars he’d driven before, but he should be able to balance this one out enough for a quick course.

Finally, they were up and Steve grinned, the engine roaring as the car leaped forward, Steve feathering the brake expertly as they drifted around a corner, tires regaining traction just as he punched it on a straightaway. Rosales whooped as Steve raced through the cones, a few wobbling in his wake but none toppling, spinning across ice as he’d learned in Austria, one hand on the emergency brake to give him some extra stopping power as he threw the car around a hairpin, nearly going up on two wheels by the weight and he grinned. Rosales had grabbed what John had fondly called the oh-shit bar. Even if he lost time, he won on that.

Feeling confident, he skidded across the finish line and checked the time. Rosales meanwhile leaped out of the car and sprawled on the asphalt, not even waiting for Steve to report his time before he declared, “You win! You win Robinson! Holy shit man! That was intense! Where did you learn to drive like that?!”

“The army,” Steve replied calmly, grinning as he looked out the open door at the other officer. “You getting back in or should I get back in line without you?”

He slowly climbed to his feet and got back into the car, shaking his head as he shut the door. Steve pulled out calmly to return back to the line, where they’d wait for the last car to do its run and then for the Sergeant to give them an assessment. Steve was hoping they’d get a pass on this, he needed to study some of that psychology work they’d assigned.

“Right. So. Friday night a group of us usually goes out for drinks after the Academy lets out. You want to come along so I can do good on this bet?” David asked as they waited.

“Sounds like a plan,” Steve replied, the duo sharing a grin before David said, “Now man, you have got to teach me to drive like that.”

“That’s gonna take more than a night of beers.”

 ***===***pagebreak***===***

Steve walked back to the apartment in a sour mood. The day had gone really well, fantastically actually. Rosales was a bit excitable, but he was good company and the bet had seemed to break down the barrier that had sort of hovered between him and a lot of the cadets. With that wall broken, he might be able to swing some back-up at least for character references if Hydra ever caught up to him and went the slow route.

Hydra was what put him in this mood. He’d grabbed a paper off the subway seat, psychology notes in hand for that night’s studying, when he spotted some very familiar activity in South America. Artifacts in the care of scientists had been stolen, and not to make assumptions, but he recognized a lot of those surnames.

Get them studied using official funds, then when those dried up steal it out before they could be put on display in a museum for the public somewhere, or in the holy places they belonged. Hydra, in a new, more suspicious world. He remembered what he’d read about Nazi ex-pats fleeing to South America and couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to him before.

He was busy berating himself for not thinking to investigate South America earlier as he went up the narrow stairs to their third floor Brooklyn one-bedroom. There was a decent size storage-closet he had tossed a futon in and used for himself, giving Rick the actual bedroom since he was the one who spent the most time here and had found a place they could pool resources to afford.

He had a feeling that Rick was shouldering more of the financial burden than he was, but didn’t feel the argument that might arise if he pointed it out was worth it. He wouldn’t be able to afford much more than he already contributed, so it was a bit of a moot point.

He wanted to slam the door open, but instead opened and shut it gently behind him. If he got angry and slammed things, it was too likely to break and he had to avoid that. A few things were believable for a trained, built guy, but doors? Not very believable outside of high-speed high-adrenaline situations.

Rick guessed something was wrong anyway, probably by the look on his face. He peered over his computer screen from where he was sprawled on the couch, asking, “What’s up?”

“Check this out,” he said, tossing the paper at him while he went to drop his books off and get out of his uniform. He came back out into the living room to find Rick sitting up with the paper on the table, a serious look on his face. Good. Good. Rick realized this was a problem to take seriously. Steve had been worried that he wasn’t going to believe him.

As soon as Rick opened his mouth he realized he’d jumped the gun on assuming Rick was agreeing with him about Hydra being something to take seriously.

“Look, I think I’ve been pretty cool with this whole Captain America-Hydra thing,” Rick started, “But – dude. You have to let it go. You’re not Steve Rogers. You’re a clone, Rogers 2.0 sort of thing. I’ve been digging through records to try and find proof and I haven’t got there yet. I wanted to have it to show you first, but you’ve got to stop with this. You woke up in a government facility and understandably freaked – government experiments are nothing to joke about man, they’re screwed up, but – you gotta get past this thing. You’re not Captain America.”

Steve wasn’t even hearing Rick anymore. He was hearing all those bullies and assholes from the past, saying he’d never amount to anything, that he was a useless weakling, nothing as good as a real soldier. If anything they got worse after he did become Captain America – being a strong man dancing around on stage when he could be killing Nazis? A waste, shameful.

He had a temper. He was an Irishman, of course he had a temper. It was a flaring, bright thing with a flash of light and then nothing, he wasn’t one to hold a grudge. But this wasn’t his temper getting the better of him. This was a lifetime’s worth of disregard and frustration resurfacing now that his one ally in this place had been leading him on about what he did and did not believe. This, this was more like the slow burning sludge that had kept Bucky in a constant state of leashed fury after the experiments.

“Steve?” he heard Rick ask, the red-haired man pasty white as he stared at Steve, who was sitting across from him with white-knuckles and a creaking jaw.

“Don’t,” he spat angrily, glaring at Rick and taking a brief, fierce joy in his flinch. “Don’t call me that, if you’re so sure that isn’t my name.”

He rose to his feet and grabbed his favorite dark leather coat off a hook, wallet and apartment keys going in an inside pocket absently, phone already tucked into his pants’ pocket. “I’m going out,” he stated, this time slamming the door as he left, the feeble thing quivering in its frame.

He might not know all the businesses anymore, but he still knew these alleyways and had refreshed his memory in the two months he was here just to make sure he wouldn’t have another dead-end incident. That one had turned out with him meeting Rick, but he couldn’t always be so fortunate. He let his feet guide him, unsurprised to find himself a fair distance away in a shadier end of town, about to enter a bar that had been a nice dance club, not the Stork, but similar, in his time and was now a bar he had heard through the grapevine wasn’t a place to get caught in uniform without back-up.

A fight sounded like just what he needed though, and he wasn’t in uniform, so he slinked straight in, walking like he was as dangerous as any of these fellows, if not more so, and claimed a stool at the bar. Not a prime spot for observation or one in the spotlight, so it was unlikely he’d get one of the typical ‘hey, you’re in my seat’ conversations. He may want a fight, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to provoke one.

He ordered a scotch on ice, remembering the rotgut flavor the Colonel had preferred and wanting the nostalgia, even if the stuff was just a waste of money considering how much of an effect it had on him. He had turned off his phone for classes and hadn’t bothered turning it back on, so he wasn’t going to get dragged out of his drinking by a well-meaning and unapologetic Rick. He needed to work this out before he went back.

He had ordered shitty nachos, devoured those, downed a few more drinks, watched some fights break out over hustled pool and been vaguely disappointed at the type of fighters that were here. Sure, some of them were decent brawlers, but nothing that he felt should be a worry to the officers he’d heard the warnings from. Well, it was a Wednesday, so it was likely that not all that many of the regulars were out and about.

At least he knew this place now, the nachos weren’t disgusting and the drinks weren’t ridiculously overpriced like most of New York, so he’d probably come back. Just to keep from starting anything, he’d avoid the uniform all the same.

It was on his fourth glass, the bartender now eyeing him to see if he needed to be cut off, when someone dropped onto the stool next to him, a familiar voice ordering a beer and taking a drag of a cigar. Steve’s nose twitched – he recognized that reek.

Turning to look at the man, he eyed him thoughtfully but needed no more than a few seconds to realize that the voice and the cigar hadn’t been some coincidence. It was, impossible as it seemed, actually James. Or at least the spitting image of James, hair, cigar, voice and all.

“James?” he asked cautiously, the man turning to him and raising an eyebrow, teeth clamped around the butt of the cigar as he asked around it, “I know ya, bub?”

“Guess not,” Steve shrugged in an attempt to be casual, “Just look and sound damn near exactly like a tracker I knew in the army.”

He turned back to his drink, letting the stranger brood over his beer in peace and mentally berating himself for taking that risk. Even if it had been James, what the hell would that have gotten him?

“You knew that sniper? Blue-eyed, baby-faced brat, thought he was a ladies man?” the gruff voice replied cautiously and Steve turned back to him, recognizing the description immediately. The two James’ of his group that had actually used their given names on occasion hadn’t exactly taken to each other, though they had in fact worked together a lot, being tracker and sniper they made a decent team when James was around, mostly in Poland. James’ name for Bucky was always ‘that baby-faced brat’.

“Yeah, yeah I knew Bucky,” Steve replied. The man’s eyes widened and he stared at his beer incredulously before turning back to Steve, shock no longer visible. “Right. I stay outside of town. You got a place that’s secure?”

“Yeah, I’ll just toss my roommate out, he gets ‘classified’,” Steve shrugged, figuring Rick would probably be out anyway but if he wasn’t, he’d call roommate-one-night rights, as Rick had a few times already, and kick him out.

They both paid their tabs and walked out, James looking over at him as they started walking away and saying, “Name’s Logan, now.”

“Still Steve,” he offered in reply. “You got a ride you need to grab?”

“Nah, the bike’ll be fine,” Logan gave him a grin that Steve recognized as one that had gotten his unit in some tight spaces back in Poland, but they’d always gotten out with some good stories beside, so he let it go. They walked all the way back to the apartment in silence, Steve fishing his phone and keys out of his pockets, unlocking doors and heading up the stairs while he unlocked the bright screen to check messages – he had a lot. Mostly from Rick, the most recent saying he was going out to check in with some network emergency. Perfect.

“Roommate’s out,” Steve informed Logan as he shouldered the door open, James raising an eyebrow at the place before slinking over to a couch and dropping in, taking a deep drag of the same cigar, now a bare stub.

“Ashtray, incoming,” Steve said, tossing one like a disc at Logan’s head, making sure to keep his voice pitched normally, the other man snatching it out of the air with ease. He remembered James having really sensitive ears – really sensitive. So he’d keep his voice lower just in case. He grabbed a six-pack of some IPA Rick had put in the fridge and slapped one of his IOUs down in its place. Even if alcohol didn’t have an effect on him, having something to fidget with during these types of talks was important. And James had always loved a brew.

He dropped down across from him and set the six-pack on the coffee table, Logan taking one and popping a top off before settling back and saying, “Gotta say bub, thought that baby-face memory was a long-shot. I ain’t that guy anymore. I don’t remember shit, before fifteen years ago or thereabouts.”

Steve felt his initial relief and joy at finding someone who was still around still the same fade and he stared at James in dismay, looking at the bottle in his own hand before looking up and saying, “You – you were called James Howlett. You were a tracker, a damn good one. We worked together in Poland for a while. You were – you were looking for your brother. He’d gone missing at some point and you wouldn’t let them declare him dead. I tried to recruit you a few times, and you ran with us for a while, but… you got some clue that sent you in a different direction, so we parted ways. Amiably enough, but then everything went to hell and I never saw you again. Guess… guess you don’t know if you found your brother?”

“Didn’t know I had a brother,” Logan said reluctantly, taking a swig and hiding his immediate interest in the idea of a relative pretty well, but Steve had played poker with him.

“His name was Victor,” Steve hesitated, before shrugging, “That’s all you ever said about him. You… you implied, that he was as, well, hardy, as you were. And you were always damn tough. Dunno if he had your claws though.”

“You knew about them?” Logan asked, raising an eyebrow in clear surprise, stubbing out the last of the cigar in the ashtray and taking a swig of beer.

“Yeah – you saved my skin a few times with them, bone claws jutting out of your fists are a little hard to hide,” Steve snorted, shaking his head, “Figured you were one of those mutants, when I heard about them when I woke up.”

“Steve,” Logan’s brow furrowed and he stared at his beer in fierce concentration. “That blasted uniform – and… some disc? Captain America? You Steve Rogers?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me. Do you remember something?” he asked hopefully.

“Flashes,” Logan shook his head, “When you mentioned tracking in the army, and called me James, I got this flash of that baby-faced sniper. Bucky, you said?”

“His name was James too, you two were partnered a lot on our missions, compatible skills, but didn’t get along too well,” Steve choked up, staring at his hands and regaining his composure, “He… he died. A bit after you left. Fell off a train job.”

“Brother?”

“Good as,” Steve sighed, “Why I hoped you’d found yours.”

“Who knows,” Logan grumbled.

“What happened? To forget everything?” he asked.

In answer, James made a familiar fist and three claws slid out of his hand with a quiet schlink. Steve stared at the polished metal additions in horror. He could take his friend’s former bone-claws, metal coating and amnesia added together, and get only one answer. His friend had been tortured, metal injected into him at the least.

“Whole skeleton’s coated in this stuff,” Logan explained, Steve only more horrified at that. His entire skeleton? Who would do such a thing? Hydra again? But that didn’t seem like them…

“All I remembered before tonight, was screaming in agony, men in uniform toasting each other over my pain. Fun shit like that,” he continued. Steve felt some of the earth shift under him at that, because even now when someone said a man was in uniform, there was one thing that came to mind immediately.

“The Army did this?” Steve asked in horror, Logan shrugging, but Steve could tell that he thought it was none other than the U.S. Army that had taken him, a former soldier, a hero, and pumped his skeleton full of metal in what had to have been a horrifically painful procedure.

“So, that’s my seventy years,” James snorted, finishing his beer and popping the top of his next with an extended claw. “What’s your stor – “

The door burst open and Rick came in calling, “Steve! I am – holy shit is that Wolverine sitting on our sofa what the bloody buggering fuck why do I cuss like I’m British!”

“I got a Wolverine, and British out of that. Repeat, slower,” Steve said, bemused. Logan was just staring at Rick in clear disbelief that he was even real, apparently some of it meaning something to him, as he said, “Where the hell did you hear that name?”

“Umm… I run a mutant protection network,” Rick said, “Well, I say run, but it’s more of a collective group effort type thing. Um… holy shit. Holy shit. You really are Captain America! Oh Jesus this is insane!

“Door, Rick,” Steve said dryly, the red-head nodding and shutting the door before slowly walking over and sinking into the one arm-chair, staring at the two of them in clear disbelief.

“So, you do believe I’m Captain America now?” he asked, to clarify, and Rick just nodded, apparently still unable to speak from shock. He turned to Logan and raised an eyebrow, the man shrugging and settling back in his couch, propping his feet on the table and taking a drink. “Go on then,” he prompted, “I gotta hear this story.”

“Right. So after you left, Bucky fell on an operation to capture Zola, a chief Hydra scientist. We got him, and got some intelligence on Schmidt’s current headquarters...”

 ***===***pagebreak***===***

Dawn light slowly lightened the sky, a small apartment in Brooklyn still filled with quiet mutterings as two old friends, one desperate for a connection to his lost past, one deeply interested in someone who knew anything about the past he’d forgotten, reconnected in the twentieth century. Logan was pleased to note that this Captain America that One-Eye worshipped and the comic-books made some paragon of soldier-hood didn’t actually exist. Sure, he seemed to have a decent head on his shoulders as far as tactics and managing ops went, but he wasn’t some goody-two-shoes moralistic preacher.

Hell, when he let him in on the joke with the bike – it was this annoying brat’s – the Captain just laughed and asked if it was really that sweet a ride.

Steve, meanwhile, was absolutely thrilled. His bad day had whipped around completely: he’d found an old friend who, if not exactly who he’d left, was someone he could reconnect with and actually feel himself with, and Rick believed him thanks to it!

They swapped numbers, and Steve left an open invitation to the apartment, figuring from Logan’s stories that there would come times where he just couldn’t stand being around that school he worked at anymore. James a teacher. Now there was something the other Commandos would have paid to see!

“I’d best head out,” James said finally, getting to his feet and Steve doing the same. “Have classes to teach this afternoon.”

“And I have classes to attend in a couple of hours,” Steve agreed. The pair of them stared at each other awkwardly over the door before finally breaking down and exchanging a brief, back-slapping hug before James headed out the door, “Gimme a call this weekend! I’ll need a drink by then!” James called over his shoulder.

“Will do!” Steve called back, shutting the door and locking it. Rick was passed out in the armchair, contorted into a shape that couldn’t be comfortable or good for his spine. He left him there though, and went to quickly shower and change for a day at the Academy. Before he ran out the door he moved Rick over to the couch so he could at least stretch out a bit. He scribbled a note that he’d clean up the beers and ashtray tonight before grabbing a breakfast smoothie out of the fridge and stuffing some toast in his mouth before he hit the ground running.

Right now, Hydra, the twenty-first century, drill sergeants – they could all bring it. Today, today Steve Rogers was on top of the world.

Chapter Text

“The man was FROZEN IN ICE before VIDEO CAMERAS were made!” Fury roared, slamming his palm against the table in the Rogers Recovery team’s assigned room. Coulson watched placidly from the doorway, deciding not to point out that the sentiment, while nicely expressed, was not technically accurate.

“He ran out of our facilities with nothing but the CLOTHES ON HIS BACK! How is it, how is it that it has been seven months and there is no trace of him after he ducks into a dead-end alley?! Someone, please. Explain this to me.”

The suspicious twitches and squirms indicated no one had an answer. Fury glowered impressively, before stalking out the door with a dramatic flare of his coat. Severus Snape’s billowing had nothing on that flare.

Coulson just raised an eyebrow at the now trembling group, saying, “I would recommend ceasing to email lists of improbable scenarios through SHIELD. While signs of your ability to conduct free association thinking, I doubt Captain Rogers was abducted by transvestite Amish aliens.”

They froze, blanched of all color, and he nodded, turning on his heel and walking out, quickly catching up with Fury, who had waited for him to have the last word. They proceeded to walk through the helicarrier corridors, ignoring the agents scrambling (most unsubtly, and Phil made a note to make a mandatory subtle-shrinking training program up) out of their way.

Not a word was spoken until they reached Fury’s office, the man sitting down behind his desk and Coulson standing in front of it, waiting patiently for the order he had been trying to get for the past seven months. Fury had held out on him, thinking it would be resolved, but as the past seven fruitless months showed quite clearly, there was nothing for it.

Sighing, Fury finally looked up from his papers and said, “Find him, Phil.”

“Yes sir,” Phil let his mouth twitch before returning to bland pleasantness, but he wasn’t quite able to keep the spring out of his step as he left the office.

He did however, hide his amusement at the redoubled efforts to scramble out of his path, lesser agents clearly terrified at him being in any sort of mood, much less a good one. Good. Let the peons feel fear, it was good for them.

Peons? he mused thoughtfully, before deciding he had spent too much time working with megalomaniac files. Hunting someone as refreshingly straightforward as Captain Rogers would be just the thing to get his head back into a more SHIELD friendly frame.

And getting this assignment called for a celebration.

Firmly decided, he went to the air-shuttle, dropped off in New York soon enough and after checking in with the New York branch office (the receptionist nearly stapled her fingers when he smiled at her, she would also have to go through a refresher course) he went for his favorite little café at the edge of Brooklyn. They had the best scones.

He was waiting patiently for the latest batch of blueberry scones to be pulled out of the oven, coffee in hand as he stood in the back. He was not alone in waiting for the divine offerings, a few others lurking impatiently for the freshest scones, so he entertained himself by rattling off facts about them in his mind. He already had the entire manhunt for Steve Rogers memorized and knew exactly how he was going to take over and go about this, he’d been planning for seven months after all.

“Cadet Robinson!” the barista, a middle-aged woman with a ready smile fairly beamed at the newcomer. “Sent as a pack mule again?”

“Of course!” a startlingly familiar voice said with a laugh, “And is that a fresh batch of scones I smell? Are they all claimed or can I still call dibs?”

“Oh we have two left on this tray,” she grinned, the blonde haired man slipping cash across the counter easily, “And they are yours. Make sure Rosales doesn’t go eating both of them, I know what that little brat is like.”

Phil was standing at a high table at the far end from the till, where the ‘order pick up’ sign dangled with flowery, actually hand-drawn calligraphy. That sign was in his way, and he shifted a bit so he could catch a glimpse of the newcomer, an NYPD cadet apparently and a regular, taking a sip of coffee.

Unmistakable blue eyes glanced in his direction and noticed Phil watching, smiling briefly. Phil couldn’t bring himself to return it more than weakly, and what happened next would never, and he meant never come to light. Ever.

Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD, dropped his coffee.

Glaring down at the mess, he apologized briskly to those that were splattered and went to get paper towels to clean it up, accepting the offered napkins with thanks.

“Here, I’ll help,” that same voice said, new hands coming into his field of vision, cadet uniform looking oddly out of place yet so appropriate on him. Phil just nodded and they worked around one another quietly to clean up the floor.

Finished, they stood and threw away the sopping napkins, Phil about to try and introduce himself when a short Latino man in a cadet uniform threw open the door and hollered, “Robinson! I’m wilting out here!”

“Get over yourself Rosales!” his target laughed, filling the room with the sound, and he grinned briefly at Phil, “Don’t burn yourself!” he chided, before grabbing the tray with three coffees and a bag holding two fresh scones from the baker with thanks and darting out the door after the other cadet.

The barista, Megan, came over to him with a fresh coffee a few moments later, along with his scone, quiet conversations already resumed after his complete loss of composure. “Yeah, he’s something else,” she said to him sympathetically, joining him at his table without even a question of her welcome. “But just so you know, both crowds have tried, and from what his roommate says he’s still devoted to his girl, who died in an accident months ago. Seems to swing for our side.”

Phil almost choked on his scone, and she just patted his hand, smiling, “You don’t come in often, Phil, but I like to think we’re friendly acquaintances, and Steve’s a doll. Just don’t want anyone getting hurt. But feel free to come and stare,” she winked at him ridiculously, “Not many here would object to him coming by more often, let me say.”

Before he could clarify that his was an investigative admiration, not some romantic attraction, she left to tend the till again.

If he were less composed and unruffled, he would have fumed, or even pouted. How had it taken those idiots seven months with nothing to show for it? He has this case one day one day and Captain America literally walks in the door!

He had such plans for this hunt.

Clearly, the only solution was to keep this little, fascinating tidbit to himself for now. See where it panned out, and just where Cadet Robinson was coming from himself. Because Fury was right, there was no way Rogers could have arranged this on his own, and discovering who was behind the new identity was an important step in securing Rogers.

And sending those idiots out to hunt him down as he’d planned would be a good training exercise for them on how to properly conduct a manhunt. Incompetents.

Chapter Text

“So then, he actually turned purple,” James huffed around his beer a few weeks later, waiting for Steve to line up a shot at the seedy dive they’d run into each other at. Apparently James was familiar with the bartender and a couple locals, so when he gave Steve the nod, he was in.

Still wasn’t planning to come around here in uniform or anything, but having a quiet (ish) place to lurk that few people would associate him with was nice. “Damn bike wasn’t even scratched, just had a bit of mud on the tires,” he rolled his eyes, “Kid needs better security.”

“Has he even changed his procedures yet?” Steve asked, finally taking his shot and smoothly ricocheting the three-ball into a side-pocket. With their enhanced reflexes, ordinary pool wasn’t much of a challenge, so instead they just practiced tricky shots.

“Kid doesn’t have any procedures,” James snorted, gnawing on his cigar and shoving off from the bar to prowl the table. “Peg-board with keys, and a post-it saying ‘keep off, that means you Logan!”

“…And you work at a school filled with teenagers,” Steve said in flat disbelief, cradling his own pint, shaking his head, “If anything, you’re trying to teach him a lesson about proper safety procedures. Teenage boys and a souped up street-bike? Yes. I see this ending in nothing but lawsuits.”

“Huh. That’s a good argument bub, stealing it.”

“My arguments are yours, James,” Steve waved it off with a wry smile, “You’ve smooth-talked your way out of enough situations for me to pick up some tricks.”

“Me, smooth-talk? Say it isn’t so,” James mocked, finally somewhat accustomed to Steve making references to his unremembered past, and taking his own shot with nary a flinch (a nice double-back, bouncing off the walls and other balls to get to the corner pocket it had been a few inches in front of in the first place), “Now you, you could sweet-talk your way out of anything. Flash of those blues and that stupid boy-scout smile and the most suspicious little Algerian grandmother would feed you her last rice.”

“Algerian grandmother? Where the hell did that come from?”

“I don’t like Algerians,” James shrugged, clearly seeing nothing flawed in his logic. Steve just shook his head and was about to take his own turn at the table when his phone buzzed in his pocket.

“Rick,” Steve answered, circling the table to think about his shot while he talked, “What’s up?”

“…About that – side project? With those blasted demon snake worm things that infested everything? I have made some progress! Think you can meet me at the usual haunt? And bring coffee? Double cappuccino, extra hot. Oooh – and a scone?”

“…Fine. Sure. Yeah I’ll be there soon,” Steve said, hanging up and quickly hanging up the pool cue, jerking his head towards the back and finishing off his beer. Logan knocked back the last of his and followed, raising an eyebrow at him when they exited out the back door into an alleyway.

“So, what’s up?”

“Rick’s found something – about – about the guys that pulled me out,” Steve said, “Wants to run it by me, figure you’d be interested?”

James cut a fresh cigar and nodded, lighting it up and smoke curling around his nostrils. Steve returned the gesture and set out through the neighborhoods. At a brisk walk and hitting all the crosswalks at the right time, it would take thirty minutes, forty to get Rick his coffee. Even though the double cappuccino had been a predetermined urgency code, his roommate really was addicted to caffeine, so actually bringing the drink and a scone couldn’t hurt.

Arriving at the warehouse he’d first met Rick in, it didn’t take long for him and James to be sitting on the old sofa in the cargo container, coffees and bag of pastries on the table while Rick was already halfway through his giant cappuccino, abandoned slurpee cups and empty coffee ground bags indicating he’d been at this a while.

“So,” he finally began, coming up for air, half a scone shoved in his mouth a moment later, “Here’s what I’ve got.”

Wireless mouse and keyboard balanced on his knees, he quickly swiped through a few filler screens and drew up the images he wanted to show them, “I was looking into the guys that were following you, and couldn’t find shit. Literally – it’s like no one noticed that there were some intensely armed and dangerous individuals running through Times Square. And yes, New York is weird, but we’re not that weird. It didn’t make sense, someone had to be purging the systems.”

“So I hit the underground, chatboards and actual meeting spots used when the computers of the world just aren’t enough for us conspiracy happy fellows,” Rick sucked dry the last of his drink’s foam and tossed the empty cup over his shoulder to join the rest. “And I came up on this organization, a government crew called SHIELD – it’s an acronym, Strategic Homeland – “

“Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division,” James finished, raising an eyebrow at them, “I’ve worked with them before, they’re good people. Well, the ones I’ve worked with. Couple of their agents have helped me out of some tight spots before.”

“Yeah – well. At first that’s what I thought too, seemed above board. Sure, shady, but government spy people shady, not HYDRA shady, which is like an entirely different degree of uber shady like the blackness of a black hole’s soul.”

Rick trailed off for a moment but quickly shook it off, clicking through a few more screens and pulling up files and images that had Steve hissing in disbelief and Logan growling, saying, “But this – um. Seems black-hole shady guys.”

“The guys I know wouldn’t be okay with that,” Logan said gruffly, pointing to some nauseating images indicating unwilling human and mutant experimentation, “They stopped it from happening with some of ours.”

“And I know those faces,” Steve growled, getting to his feet and stalking over to the screens, squinting at the (to him) equally nauseating photo of scientists, proudly beaming in front of an old SHIELD logo, every last one of them formerly on his list for capture and detain. “The hell is going on with this? Zola?! In SHIELD?! What kind of spy agency for the government is this thing?!”

“That wasn’t uncommon, Steve,” Rick said gently, “German scientists were often granted clemency if they just did the science, and agreed to come work for the States. I mean, no death camp types were let in, I don’t think – not publicly, but others? One of those things they still gloss over in history class but it wasn’t rare, exactly.”

“All right, fine, I’ll buy that then. But Zola?” Steve demanded, whirling around to face his two friends, glaring fiercely at them, “He was a monster!” he shouted, fist slamming into the crappy table in front of him, the coffee table cracking in two and the bag of pastries tumbling to the ground. The coffees at least, had been placed elsewhere so nothing was actually spilled.

“Sorry,” he said gruffly, “I’ll buy you a new table.”

“Not a problem,” Rick said after a few moments of slack-jawed staring, “Go ahead and sit down man, figured this would be a doozy, grabbed some beer from that convenience shop down the block, in the fridge on your left Mr. Wo – ah, James?” he squeaked the last, James giving him a truly impressive glare and a threatening fist at the formality.

The beers were passed out and the pastries salvaged, Steve knocking his first back and eating a pastry before nursing his second with grim determination. “So,” Steve finally said, when he felt he could speak without snarling the words, “Zola. In this – SHIELD. Damn am I glad I got away from them, no offense James.”

“None taken,” James growled out, “Might be having some words about shady experiment rumors with my contacts, because that shit is Weapon X status.”

“Weapon X?” Rick perked up, before deflating, “Never mind. I don’t need any more crazy conspiracies running around.”

“Any connection to the South America thing?” Steve asked.

“In surnames only, but I haven’t digged too deep. I’ll be honest, I took the South America thing as a half-given, wanting to find the less obvious stateside angle first – I figured, proximity and all, that was the priority. But there’s a lot of bases these SHIELD guys are managing, and their budget is enormous, seriously, and there seems to be a lot of in-house bankrolling going on so it might be even bigger and less taxed than it would seem. Some of that’s pretty common when you get into blacker areas, the less tape to trace the better, but this is excessive. So it’d be easy to slip a few South American bunkers or something in, can’t say I’m an expert, this is very low level infiltration of their systems here and even then, I had to evac with a feeder line to give me a backdoor, not leave any significant presence. They’re good.”

“And again,” Rick cautioned, “There’s no explicit mention of HYDRA, just some super sketchy black-hole status projects and those pictures and your gut feeling.”

“Couple words out of ten, but basically, you’re not sure?”

“Yeah, seems probable, but likely would be a strong word just now. Definitely premature.”

“Right. Fuck. A government sponsored half-HYDRA organization is after me,” Steve frowned, “And from what you’re saying they’re not even aware they’re part HYDRA.”

“I’m honestly surprised HYDRA made it, I thought they were a personality cult for Schmidt? That’s how the history books paint it anyway, and most theorists,” Rick shrugged, obviously curious.

“Schmidt was charismatic,” Steve allowed, frowning, “But – it wasn’t just him. His vision was a world dominated by one group, HYDRA, with the superior race ruling and everything, with some twisted enforcement of total peace thing. From what I remember, fear was considered a primary tool to enforce that total peace. Where he went different was with his mysticism. He was pretty sure that blue cube thing was some sort of mystical God-cube from the Norse deities.”

“Hello crazy train,” Rick muttered, James echoing it with a speaking gesture near his ear.

“So what that boils down to, is HYDRA wasn’t just Schmidt being personally powerful, it was the entire superior race ideology, using mystical science magic land to bring about goals,” Rick summarized.

“From what I remember, yeah,” Steve sighed, “Course, it could have changed, but I doubt their superiority complex has gone anywhere.”

“Can’t be total-power dictators if there’s not some underlying belief that you’re better than everyone else,” Rick agreed, before asking the important question, “So. Now what?”

“I’ll sound out my guys in SHIELD, say I heard from a friend of a friend they were into some sketchy things. It’ll be slow, can’t just call ‘em up, they’d be suspicious, and no way am I leading anything like that here,” James said grimly, indicating the images still glaring at them from the screens.

“Good,” Steve said, “Thanks James. Rick, when you have time and it’s not an insane risk to you, I’d like you to keep working the HYDRA-SHIELD connection and see what you can come up with.”

“What are you going to be doing?” Rick asked carefully.

Steve sighed, before saying grimly, “I’ll be hitting the stacks. Old history books, old newspapers, anything I can get my hands on to tell me what the hell HYDRA’s been doing. We know they’re here, but the rest of the world seems to think they’re dead. Idiots,” he snorted, black humor descending on him as he spat in a Germanic accent, “Cut off one head, two more shall grow to take its place.”

“Well you’re in luck,” James said, claws extending with a shnick, “They study the classics at Xavier’s. I’ll take care of the beheading, you get a torch.”

Chapter Text

“Oh come on! That’s like six inches!” Steve sighed as he heard the complaint, already knowing what was coming. This was his week on traffic duty – they had three weeks to graduation and they had been sent out to shadow various branches of the force so they’d get an idea of what to expect from their major duties. His mentor was on the other side of the street, doing the same thing for equally argumentative people.

Ripping the citation out of his book, he stuck it on the windshield wiper before turning around, saying dryly, “Have you ever tried to maneuver a fire truck around cars so you can get a hose to a hydrant? Six inches can make all the difference Mister…?”

The man spluttered, red-tinted sunglasses sliding down his nose so he could stare at Steve incredulously, “Seriously? Have you been living under a rock? I’m Tony Stark! Iron Man!”

Steve tilted his head to the side and examined the man – he’d heard of Iron Man and Tony Stark, he wasn’t deaf dumb and blind. But he’d never really looked into too many details, taking Rick’s assessment of ‘playboy genius who saw the light because of some intense shit in POW situation’ as accurate in the essentials and moving on. He didn’t want to think about Howard and Peggy and – and everyone. Not too hard. Not at all really. He had enough to be dealing with.

But now that he was face to face with the man, he could see the resemblance. In looks – but also in attitude; brash, bordering on arrogant, but he would guess with more than enough intelligence and wealth to back that arrogance up.

Eh, he’d always had fun poking at Howard until he exploded in full righteously indignant millionaire mode.

“I expected someone taller,” he said blandly, “Good day, Mister Stark.”

“Woah woah no no no that’s not okay,” the shorter man hustled so he could cut him off, wielding his cup of coffee like a stop sign, “I was gone for like – six – okay, the line was long, maybe twelve? Minutes? If there’d been a fire or something, I’d have moved my car but there wasn’t so no harm no foul yeah?”

“No harm no foul no,” Steve replied, “Just because you got here fast enough to complain about me writing you a ticket, doesn’t give you any more of a right to get out of it than the other… seventeen people I’ve written tickets for this morning.”

“Okay, okay, that’s cool. That makes sense. Dedication, I can respect that in a public servant,” Stark took a sip of his coffee and bobbed his head in mock agreement – the twist on servant gave that one away and Steve was tempted to roll his eyes. “So timeliness won’t get me out of it, and complaining won’t either, logic is too good for you peons, I suppose. How about a check? This ticket is – what, three hundred dollars?”

“Seventy-five.”

“Ha! Mere pocket change. Here – how about I pay you for the ticket, right now?”

“Are you offering me a bribe, Mister Stark?”

“Oh no, no, no, my good man. That’s illegal, see, and I don’t do illegal things. That often. Anymore. Anyway, what I was offering was that we cut out the long tedious process of ticket payment and just get it done now! And come on, look at that paint! The curb is totally not painted solid red, it’s chipped and shit! How am I supposed to guess how far I need to be from the fire hydrant?!”

His flailing gestures managed to not spill a drop of coffee. Steve was impressed.

Well, as fun as this reunion was, he needed to get back to work.

“No Mister Stark. If you want to pay the ticket, follow the instructions on the back. If you want to challenge the ticket, you can go to court just like everybody else.”

He stepped around the billionaire and kept walking, the man spluttering indignantly and Steve feeling inordinately cheerful about the whole thing. New century it may be, but Starks were still hilarious to poke at with a stick.

***===***pagebreak***===***

“But Pep it’s traffic court!” Tony whined at his girlfriend-nee-CEO-assistant. Pepper looked across her desk at him with a raised eyebrow – the raised eyebrow of doom!

“It’ll be good for you,” she chided, “Builds character and all that.”

Traffic Court!” he screeched manfully, “The cesspit of the legal system, the doom of the nation, the dredge of society! I can’t be seen their Pep, what if someone pukes on my suit?!”

“Then it will be just like those parties you used to go too – it’ll be a nostalgia trip,” she beamed evilly.

Tony glowered at her, crossing his arms and pouting, and she ignored him and continued with her work. Well then, if Pep wouldn’t let him steal some of the Stark legal team to take this Officer Robinson by storm on court, he’d just have to do it himself. He was a genius – the legalities of traffic court couldn’t be that complicated.

They were worse.

Dear neutrinos! He wanted to stab his eyes out with a stylus, it was so bad! Gouge his brain out with an ice-cream scoop!

But he prevailed! With the aid of Dummy and his smoothies, Jarvis and his snark, and the other two and their… otherness – he had prevailed! He had conquered! He was ready to take on anything the traffic court through at him, be it sniveling babies, snaky lawyers or no-good-logically-inept-jerkface-pretty-boy cops!

Fucking. Traffic. Court.

Tony stood in the hallway and fumed. He had a brilliant argument! A fool-proof model just waiting to be fired up with his newly commercial holographic platforms – and that jerkface pretty-boy cop (a cadet even!) hadn’t even bothered to show up! His entire preparation, his days of tears and pain and legal dictionaries was for nothing! Nothing! They just dismissed the entire case, gave him a good day no need to pay notice and what the hell.

Well let it never be said that Tony Stark was one who’d just roll over and take it! If he had to suffer, they would suffer with him!

Whipping out his phone, he walked to his car while he typed. He needed to find one Steve Robinson, NYPD cadet, out of the millions or billions of people in New York City.

Ha! Piece of cake!

Chapter Text

This was not Mystique’s week.

First, Toad drank the last of the decent tea. She had been ready to murder him, or at least make a good go of it, when Erik had called in from wherever he was right now to say he’d been hearing about some sort of mutant smuggling network in New York and would she be so good as to check it out as he was busy distracting Charles?

Where he heard these rumors she didn’t know. It had taken her three solid days and one ridiculously obvious staged mutant-reveal to get an in, and the girl wouldn’t even say anything solid about it, just that they were ‘good people’ and could get her help to ‘wherever she wanted’. As far as this Joan was concerned, these people could get her on a plane to a country with no extradition treaties by this time tomorrow if that was what she needed to keep her safe – so bullshit.

What part of that was Joan’s hero-worship tendencies coming into the fore and how much was active exaggeration of resources on their part (or, more likely, straight up lying) remained to be seen, but it was at least promising that Joan was on the streets living her life rather than being locked up in a facility to be cut open somewhere. She was a mild telekinetic, so it was a useful mutation to the government – she wouldn’t be wandering free if it really was some lab cover-up.

“Come on Rae! We’re going to be late!” Joan called, running back to grab Mystique’s hand and tug her after her with a laugh, darting through the mid-afternoon crowd (relatively low, for New York City) and heading for an alley to, presumably, take a short-cut.

She could hear the sounds coming from around the corner though, so tightened her grip and tugged Joan back before she could enter, peering around the corner with her and grimacing. Mugging in progress, lovely.

Sharp eyes (a pretty blue this time, blue eyes were still viewed as more innocent) took in the scene and quickly determined that there was nothing they could do safely, and the man involved was in a knock-off suit, shakily handing over his wallet and fake Rolex to the masked men waving guns around like drunken frat-boys.

Guns. So inelegant.

“Rae?” Joan whispered, peering over her shoulder and gasping, “Oh no! Those jerks!”

“Come on, let’s go another way,” Mystique whispered, Joan yanking away from her and saying, “No way! This is our chance to be heroes Rae! Just like the X-men, they’ll have to accept my application now!”

“No! Joan you – !” Damn it! Damn it all and thrice damn Charles for making that team of heroes he was getting so many wannabes killed gah!

“Leave him alone!” Joan bellowed, crashing around the corner and their guns jerked up towards the sky, but not out of their hands – she really wasn’t that strong a telekinetic.

Mystique snarled, expression entirely out of place on her baby-doll thirteen year old face, she knew, but damn that girl! She was the only lead she had on this crew and she was entertaining, she couldn’t just leave her to get shot, the idiot child!

Darting into the alley after her, she took a page out of Banshee’s book and screamed – not enough to injure, her mutation was already witnessed as a mild morph – but definitely louder and shriller than could normally be produced. Hopefully no one would notice that, and would instead be running to help – there had to be one decent person in the crowds outside.

Statistically speaking, anyway.

“Joan get down!” she shouted, the mock-businessman shoving his way past her and running for it, the blasted coward! They were probably criminal partners or something, she wouldn’t put it past him, and he was just abandoning two barely teenage girls to these punks?

She remembered his face, she’d find him later.

Joan ducked the first mugger’s punch but got snagged around the waist by the second one, the one with the knives.

Mystique launched for the man, nails sharpening to claws and she was just about ready to go straight for the eyes and to hell with being an innocent thirteen year old she’d come up with a story of some sort when she heard a blessed, blessed call from the mouth of the alleyway.

“NYPD! Drop the girl, now!”

***===***pagebreak***===***

“I’m tellin’ ya man, this is the neighborhood to be!” Rosales said, waving his hand around at the mixed business and residence district. “My tia lives a couple blocks back and this is a pretty nice area, ran all over the place when we were kids, pretty safe, not too pricey – sweet set up.”

“For families, sure,” Steve snorted, “Single guy, living on rookie paychecks? I think not man, this is a multi-income neighborhood, for sure. Rick and I are just fine in that shitty little studio in Brooklyn.”

“Yeah, at least you can say you live in Brooklyn, it’s got some name value outside the NYC,” Rosales agreed, hands in his pockets as he ambled along next to him. They were heading to the local traffic court to deal with any challenges their tickets from last week had gotten – Steve had gotten three, while David had gotten six.

Apparently he hadn’t talked anyone down or explained things, just slapped the tickets and gone; if he had he probably would have fewer challenges. Steve was honestly surprised people were bothering to challenge, the tickets weren’t that expensive and traffic court was tedious and inconvenient, they had to miss a whole day of work for this.

Their continued debate on neighborhoods and where was the best place to live within their means once they graduated was interrupted by a piercing shriek from a few blocks up and across the street.

Before the scream finished they were sprinting down the side-walk, people scattering in front of them, Rosales taking care of the bellowing, “NYPD, out of the way!”

Sure, they weren’t officially cops yet, but they still had some authority to act, especially in emergency situations.

Steve picked out the alley, hearing signs of a scuffle and a young girl’s voice shouting to her friend and spotting a man running out of the alley, looking rumpled. “That one!” Steve said, pointing him out and David nodded, “Got it man!” peeling off after him while Steve skidded to a halt in front of the alley and assessed the situation in moments, side-arm already half-drawn by the time he shouted, “NYPD! Drop the girl, now!”

One girl, looked familiar, held by a man with a knife, another girl charging him while the second main struggled to aim his gun, something off with the struggles – it was as if he couldn’t move the gun, even though it was in nothing but air.

“Oh shit!” the knife-man said, blade jerking against the captured girl’s skin and blood swelled, the girl screaming (more terror than pain, a scrape if that but damn if his blade was dirty – hope she had her tetanus booster) and other girl shouting, “JOAN!”

The gun was suddenly free (bleeding girl was telekinetic of some sort then) and barrel dropped towards him while bullets sprayed (he’d been pulling the trigger and it was an automatic – an automatic handgun, seriously?) Steve moved.

One shot into the knife-man’s shoulder, girl screaming again as blood spattered on her face and her friend tackled her out of the man’s slackening grip and away. Bullets whizzed towards him dodge the first spray see that horror (damn straight son you fired on an officer jail time for you is a sure thing dumbass) then the commitment (may as well go for actually shooting an officer, wow people were dumb) he could either dodge entirely and risk the man turning on the now trapped girls or take a shot (he fired first, haha!) and risk a hit.

Pain bloomed in his leg, not a graze, much more solid he felt that thunk of metal into his quad, and the assailant went down, clutching his chest.

Oh damn it, he wasn’t in a war.

Paperwork. Internal investigation. More paperwork. Temporary suspension.

Why God?!

Rick was going to kill him.

“Shots fired, officer down!” he heard David shout and footsteps pounded towards him. Shit he couldn’t go to a hospital, he healed too fast! Blood was already coagulating, if they found out he healed fast he’d be lucky if they accepted it as a mutant factor and didn’t fire him for lying on paperwork, but damn more likely he’d get found out by Hydra and have to run, again. And then Rick would be investigated his whole group would be discovered and no he couldn’t have that

“Belay that!” he barked, quickly checking the sidewalk – no blood, just soaking his pants, thank God, “Just tripped, it’s not blood. He missed.”

Rosales relayed that, relief clear in his voice and Steve suppressed a grimace as he stood on his injured leg. Navy blue stained with blood looked like navy blue stained with water and mud, so it would hold up, especially if he – there we go.

He went and kneeled in a puddle of the shoulder-wound guy’s blood – disguise his stain, didn’t actually contaminate his wound - the other guy was dead, easy enough to see that, and started padding the wound, Rosales calling in the appropriate people. Steve looked up at the girls; the one called Joan was shaking, wide-eyed, while the other was wide-eyed and pale in a way he remembered faking.

“I won’t mention the telekinesis, you don’t mention me getting shot. I have a healing factor,” he said quietly, and both girls nodded, Joan more hesitantly and the other girl with a very calculating look in her eyes.

He’d have to leave it. Right now he needed to focus on getting through the day and the reports without anyone figuring out he’d gotten shot, that he was lying on the reports or that his first instinct had been to go for lethal shots. Well maybe not the last, it was understandable and almost expected given his history, and he had at least waited until the man fired at him and into the street to do it.

At least he got out of traffic court.

***===***pagebreak***===***

The girls’ statements were collected and they were safely sent on home with reminders they may be called in to testify in court if necessary and if their parents agreed. The runner – a mugging victim who, while morally reprehensible for ditching the girls like he did, was innocent of any crime – had been let go with a few dirty looks after collecting his statement. The dead man was in the morgue being examined and the injured man was in the hospital getting the best treatment public tax money could buy and Steve was slumping over in his chair finger-pecking his way through his report. Typing fast without busting the keyboard from too much force required far too much focus for him to mess with today.

“Ugh,” Rosales grimaced, arriving to lean against his desk, “You look like you did get shot man. Glad you didn’t, but at least then you wouldn’t have to fill out the paperwork right now.”

“Never. Firing. My weapon. Again,” Steve groaned, letting his forehead thump against his cheap foam wrist-support. “Don’t do it, Rosales. It sucks. It sucks so hard.”

“Come on, got permission to peace out, shift’s over,” Rosales said, clapping him on the shoulder, “I gotta car, I’ll give you a lift to your place, unless you want to go out for drinks or something?”

“I just need to sleep,” Steve grimaced, pushing himself to his feet and swaying slightly, tight eyes the only indication he let himself give as to the throbbing pain in his right leg. It had been five hours since he’d been shot and the bullet was slowly forcing its way back to the surface thanks to his regeneration.

Also thanks to the serum, he already healed around it, so it was hurting one hell of a lot more than when he’d been shot in the first place. Damn Hydra eternally. They could be blamed for everything eventually, after all.

“Feel you there,” David shook his head ruefully, “Thought we’d just be joining the usual crowd bitching about crazy people in traffic court and what a waste of time it was, not getting into a shoot-out and saving some cute kids and filling out tons of paperwork!”

“So much paperwork,” Steve moaned, slumping against the elevator wall gratefully as he could take some weight off his leg.

He’d been able to retreat to the bathroom with his duffel bag to change pants and with the first aid supplies he’d stashed in there, he’d cleaned off the blood and wrapped it up a bit before pulling on new pants, but he hadn’t the supplies or the time for field surgery.

Hopefully Rick wasn’t queasy about blood, and thankfully he didn’t follow kosher so their kitchen knives would be enough. He’d have to invest in some medical scalpels.

Steve slid into the passenger seat of David’s low-slung Miata and leaned his head back, letting his eyes shut as the radio – some Spanish station, he barely got the gist of it, they talked way too fast – washed over him. David knew where he lived and how to get there, he didn’t need to give directions.

He slipped into a light doze, waking up when the engine stopped and he looked over at David, noting his worried expression and shrugging, “Just tired. Adrenaline crash, you know? Thanks David.”

“I’ll walk you up,” David said, getting out and opening Steve’s door for him, helping him out of the car and hovering – there was no other word for it – all the way up the five flights of stairs and down the hallway and even unlocking the door for him.

Rick and James looked up from the sofa – very clearly mutually ignoring each other if the headphones in Rick’s ears were any indication – and James sniffed the air, “Is that blood?”

Steve opened his mouth to brush it off, because David was still there, when his leg suddenly throbbed and he gasped, “Shit!”, clutching at his thigh and collapsing as his leg gave out on him.

“Robinson!” David cried, door shutting behind him as he caught him halfway down, Steve panting in pain as he clutched at his leg, “Shit man you said you didn’t get hit!”

“Bullet? Where?” Rick demanded, jumping to his feet and yanking out the industrial grade first aid kit out from under the sink. James jumped up and swiped David’s cell phone from him before he could finish his 911 call, saying, “Can’t let you do that, bub.”

“What the hell are you talking about? That’s a gunshot wound we have to call this in!” David demanded, Steve grabbing his arm and tugging him down so he could look in his eyes, saying intently, “No, David. We can’t. We can’t please just trust me on this.”

“What the fuck!” David squawked as he was shoved aside, trashbag thrown down on the ground with a towel on top and Steve quickly stretched out on it, James helping him pull off his shoes and pants before moving up to Steve’s shoulders, grabbing a small cutting board and placing it between his teeth, “Bite down on that, should hold up to power jaws,” he said with a voice of experience, David still spluttering when Rick took up a spot next to Steve’s gauze-wrapped leg, face-mask and gloves snapped on with scissors, hydrogen peroxide, scalpels and tweezers ready to go.

Scalpels in a home first aid kit – once again he thanked the Good Lord he’d run into Rick of all people when he escaped from Hydra.

“Rosales, right? Hold down his legs, the cleaner the cut the quicker he’ll heal,” Rick ordered, David gulping before finally obeying. It was clear he didn’t like it and didn’t understand what the hell was going on, but at this point he had to just roll with it or he’d never get answers.

While Steve was at it – Thank the Good Lord he’d gotten Rosales as a cadet partner.

Then the cutting started.

He tried, he tried damn hard, not to react, not to twitch, to just suffer through it and endure but there reached a point where he bucked, muscles straining with pain and the three around him cursed, struggling to hold him down while Rick dug around with the tweezers hunting for a bullet. He whited out from pain in a defensive measure and only came out of it when he heard a, “Done. Thank god it didn’t splinter that would have been a pain in the ass. Shit, Steve, you with us? Going to do some antiseptic and wrap it up, kay there big guy? Calm down man. Just us, no crazy Na – zi nurses or scientists or anything like that.”

James took up the monologue at that point, muttering hockey updates of all things, and Steve finally calmed down, relaxing against the floor while Rick cleaned and wrapped his fresh surgery injury. Without the serum he’d have been screwed, but with it and the medical grade equipment, if not the training, he’d be fine.

They were just getting finished with the clean-up, Steve about ready to find some sweatpants or something, when David finally snapped.

“What the fuck was that?!” he shrieked, pointing between the three of them incredulously, wide eyed and frighteningly pale, “What the fuck?! Surgery for a – that was already healed over the bullet we had to cut that thing out of you what the hell it was just a few hours ago and holy shit are there scientists after you are you a mutant ah you’re Wolverine holy crap I saw you on the news what is going on here I need to wake up now!”

“That… was almost as good as one of Rick’s,” Steve said blankly, processing what his friend was panicking over and carefully cataloguing answers before sighing. He’d have to come clean, for the most part.

“Look – David – sit down man, we’ll get some coffee or a beer or something and explain,” he said, grabbing the gym shorts James tossed him with a nod of thanks and sitting down gingerly at the kitchen table, extending his leg – blood was still drying on it, he’d have to deal with that too. Fantastic.

“Beer. I need booze for this, seriously,” David groaned, resting his head on the table, seemingly calming down at least a bit.

“Here we go, six pack and some change,” James grumbled, throwing himself into another chair and popping the top on his bottle, “So, where to start?”

“I’m being hunted by crazy Nazi scientists that have infiltrated the United States Government because of my startling similarity to Captain America,” Steve said bluntly, “Rick has a powerpoint presentation.”

“I do? Oh yeah – I do. Yeah, let me get my laptop! Sweet! I never thought I’d actually get to show this one off!”

“…Got anything stronger than beer?”

“I can hook ya up, bub.”

***===***pagebreak***===***

The explanation was finally over, well into the evening, James having departed after the presentation was over and the entire thing had devolved into an incredulous questioning session. David was scrubbing his blood-stained hands clean in the sink like a man possessed by the spirit of Lady Macbeth, muttering how there wasn’t enough booze in the world for this shit, seriously. Rick had finished cataloguing their use of the first aid equipment and had started on the blood-stain on the floor – apparently there had been a lot more blood than expected and the towel hadn’t cut it.

Steve was debating going for the phone and ordering take-out or putting forth the effort to actually make something when there was a pounding on the door.

He grumbled, pulling himself to his feet and heading for the door, Rick looking up with a frown and fingering a scalpel in a disturbingly considering manner, David eyeing the knife-block thoughtfully. Yanking open the door, Steve could only stare blankly as Tony Stark beamed at him through red-tinted sunglasses.

“Haha! You thought you could escape my arguments by ignoring traffic court but I’m Tony Fucking Stark and like hell am I letting all my research go to waste you ignorant peon – woah, is that blood?” Stark was staring down at Steve’s leg now, and he looked down, dully unsurprised to see that his leg was still caked in blood. He had forgotten to clean up it seemed.

“Yeah, Mr. Stark, it’s blood, because while I would have loved to see you in court today and waste my entire day listening to your undoubtedly flawless arguments, I actually had some real work to do today – you know, girls to save, kittens to rescue, the usual acts of the heroic police officer, with a dash of realism in the form of a bullet-wound and field surgery because of hospital paranoia,” Steve opened his mouth and Bucky’s caustic sarcasm flowed out – he might have spent a little too much time listening to his best friend dress down morons and damn it all but he wanted to sleep hadn’t this day been ridiculous enough without dragging in this walking flashback?

“Why weren’t you wearing Kevlar?”

“First off, we have bulletproof vests, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I was shot in the leg,” Steve replied, figuring he might as well keep it rolling – Rick had told him that the Captain America persona had become even more saint-like over the decades, so he was really just doing this to throw off suspicion, not because he was a sarcastic asshole when he was tired.

“Second, I was walking to traffic court, it’s not like it was planned – and we can’t wear Kevlar in our day to day, it alarms the civilians. Besides, we don’t have enough to outfit the entire force at once, at least not enough that are decent quality,” Steve snorted, “After all, it’s not like we’re in battlefields or anything.”

“Yeah, yeah, soldier-boy, you’re used to better supplies,” David groused, “Get used to it, dude, budget cuts are definitely a thing outside the defense industry.”

“They’re in the defense industry too, and trust me, I would know,” Stark flashed a smile, why hadn’t he left yet? “But you say that New York’s Finest isn’t adequately supplied?”

“What the fuck, just come in already!” Steve grumbled, throwing his hands up and limping his way to the bathroom, “Make yourself at home, why the hell not, not like I was getting any sleep anyway!”

Chapter Text

Phil Coulson was enjoying yet another scone at what was now his favorite coffee shop in all of North America (there was a hole in the wall place in Rio that held the favorite in the world title) and reading the reports from the agents he had sent off on fruitless yet still valuable searches for the elusive Captain America, going about his life as a police cadet right under their noses. It was good for them. Built character.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to catch a glimpse of the elusive Captain in the days he was here, and it wasn’t helping his protestations that he was not harboring some romantic crush on the man with Megan what with how he kept coming back around the same time the man had come in the last time, though on different days of the week.

Sighing as he slashed through the hapless report with a red pen, he mentally bemoaned the lack of truly interesting missions for the Barton-Romanov duo or even either of them solo. After the whole New Mexico affair Barton had cashed in on some leave time, and if Fury’s twitching eye was any indication the matter was going far beyond a regular old vacation with fishing-and-farming-and-children like his and Romanov’s vacations had been lately.

Which meant he was stuck editing reports and explaining all the ways these idiots failed at life how could they even breathe and walk at the same time?

“Three o’clock,” Megan chimed, coming over to top off his cup and wincing when she saw the red all over his papers – which he carefully closed the folder of the moment he realized she was there. She couldn’t get any useful information in the brief glance, he knew.

“Ouch – editing papers? Worst thing in the world, I sideline in it,” she said in a hushed, false-confidant tone, nodding her head towards the window, “But that should cheer you up!”

‘That’ being a sighting of the elusive Captain Rogers, walking through the door with a ringing-false casual gait and smiling at the cashier as he ordered for two again. He left, Phil very carefully not looking at him, and walked further down the block to the precinct where he worked.

He may have gotten some background information on one Cadet Robinson by playing up the hopeless-and-harmless crush angle with Megan.

He’d regret that one day, he was sure.

“You know, he’s a regular, if you want, I could slip him a card,” Megan suggested archly, the muted music and conversation and traffic thankfully covering up this utterly embarrassing never happened Barton or so help me God conversation.

Phil finally sighed and shook his head, making up a lie for the woman even as he fished out his SHIELD embossed business card, writing a brief note on the back. “I appreciate the offer, but I feel I need to reiterate, I’m not attracted to the man – I think he has potential with my firm, we subcontract background actors for locally set films and television shows, and they always need background eye-candy.”

“Mmhmm. Sure thing Phil,” Megan smirked, taking the card and raising an eyebrow at the strange-for-a-acting-firm logo before visibly shrugging it off and pocketing it. “If  I could get this place to hire some eyecandy, I definitely would start with that one. Think our sales would boost?”

“Think he could flirt with strangers convincingly?” Phil shot back and she laughed, patting his arm even as she started moving away. The idea was patently ridiculous, clearly.

He took his time finishing his scone and coffee and then closed his reports up and tucked them into his briefcase – slightly worn, but clearly loved, and not at all weaponized, really – before he headed out the door. He turned the opposite direction of the police station, going to the block behind the café and then heading up, turning back to the precinct’s road when he wouldn’t be in sight of the windows.

He was debating coming up with some semi-official cover story for an actual approach – leaving things up to chance with a card and a barista that was convinced he was flirting seemed a little risky and really, he should have thought that through better – when he spotted a very, horrifyingly familiar face bounding up the steps to the precinct with a large box under his arm.

Oh sweet merciful Hostess.

Stark.

“God bless, Captain,” he said, turning on his heel and walking the other way.

No way in hell was he getting in that mess.

***===***pagebreak***===***

Steve had thought the day was going rather well. He’d set up a meet with James later that evening to go over some of Steve’s memories involving him with a fine-toothed comb – James wanted to get any details on his brother Steve could dredge up, not that Steve could blame him in any way. He’d all healed up from the bullet wound and makeshift surgery and could walk without a problem or even an ache – the miracles of science!

Rosales had even relaxed and started bantering with him again after he showed up with conciliatory sorry-I-scared-the-shit-out-of-you scones and coffees.

He’d just shot back what he thought was a lovely comeback when David went dead-white, impressive with his complexion, and Steve heard a god-awful voice say, “Aha! I present – StarKloth! Twenty times better than Kevlar and easier to make pants out of!”

“What the ever-loving fuck –?”

“I wasn’t hallucinating?!” Rosales squeaked, interrupting the incredulous demands from the other officers and cadets in the area, “Stark actually showed up at your place last night for drinks?!”

Steve sighed at the sudden increase in babble, cast a glare at a smug looking Stark, and then stared at the ceiling, saying dryly, “Thanks Universe. Thanks a lot.”

***===***pagebreak***===***

He should have known better than to sass the universe. Really, he should have.

Because, after he’d finally gotten rid of Stark – involving his Captain, lots of headache-prevention nose-pinching, and leaving the precinct with enough of this StarKloth to outfit a SWAT team – and had explaining why Stark had thought he’d needed that without either party realizing the other had knowledge they weren’t privy to been fun – because after all of that, he had thought his day was over. He had thought his weekly dose of the universe taking a shit on him was through. But no.

Because who should show up but Rae and Joan, the girls from yesterday, with Rae’s grandfather, called dziadek, as an escort. Both girls were admirably composed during the statement, recorded and authorized for use in court if necessary by said grandfather, who if he were actually related to either girl Steve would eat the desk sergeant’s boots (the man complained of chronic athlete’s foot, it was a much more serious vow than his own).

Looked like Steve wouldn’t need to go devouring smelly fungal footwear though, as the man made sure to drop by his and David’s desks to “personally thank” the “brave men” who had “so heroically saved his girls”.

Steve was eighty-seven percent sure that Rae could have very easily taken down all the men involved and had them thanking her for it, so he took those effusive thanks with a large helping of sea salt.

The card that was expertly palmed into his hand had more than a little to do with that certainty, he had to admit. Waiting until they had left, he finally looked at the card in his hands and could only thank those long nights in the wilderness with nothing but a pack of cards to stave off boredom for the fact he didn’t visibly react to the words on the business card.

Salutations, Captain Rogers.

An interested witness,
Erik Lensherr

On the back was a number, probably for a burner phone acquired for the express purpose of this communication.

Rick was going to be so pissed.