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“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.”

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien


 

“Clint Barton, sit down!”

Perhaps moving in wasn’t the best idea, Steve thought, but he couldn’t really blame that because moving into Stark tower (or Avengers Tower, whatever Tony wants to call it) was only a stepping stone. A stepping stone to going ninety miles per hour down a city street with people shooting at them and damn it this car was only three months old.

He blames himself for getting the car with the moon roof.

He distinctly remembers the fact that he got the car with a moon roof for this exact situation.

That doesn’t mean that he likes the idea of Clint Barton standing on the back seats with the upper half of his body through the roof. Natasha most likely would have joined him if she wasn’t holding the archer’s waist to stop him from bowling over and cutting his torso in half whenever Steve had to slam on the brakes.

“Do we even know who’s shooting at us?” The soldier grumbles and swerves between two semis as Clint whoops with joy.

“No idea, Cap,” Tony says through the radio—and Steve tries to think of a time when the billionaire could have installed the technology but then just gives up. Red and gold armour shines as it shoots past them, ready to take on the giant tank of a machine that was knocking civilian cars out of the way. “Does it matter?”

Steve gritted his teeth, cars honking at him on all sides. “It kind of—sorry!” he shouts out the window at a trucker who’s horn almost blows his eardrums out. “Sorry!”

“Pew!” Clint laughs like a hyena, shooting off another arrow.

Something explodes.

“Pew! Pew!”

“You’re such a child,” Natasha grumbles and glares at Steve through the mirror when she gets a face full of archer butt. “And where did you learn how to drive?”

Steve slams on the breaks, spinning the wheel until the tires are smoking, and they face their attackers straight on. “Paris, France,” he tells her and puts his foot down on the gas before they’ve even stopped moving. The man who was following them has eyes that are powder blue, the Captain muses. They go incredibly wide at the sight of a Nissan Rogue coming at them at high speeds with Captain America at the wheel, a shit eating grin on his face.

“Are you playing chicken with HYRDA agents?” Tony asks over the radio and they can see him getting cars out of the way. “That’s not the best idea, Cap—”

“Uh huh,” Steve presses down on the pedal even harder—but the black sedan turns out of the way, goes over a curb, and slams into the side of a building. The Nissan swerves and stops, perpendicular to the yellow line running down the road, black tire marks scorched across asphalt. “And who, exactly, has been fighting these lunatics since the forties?”

Tony lands beside the wrecked sedan and hauls it out. “Technically, you were on ice—”

“That was awesome,” someone says, cutting them all off.

Steve, Natasha, Clint, and Tony (though the first three were still in the car and poked their heads out of the windows like human shaped gophers) all turned to look at the teenager standing on the sidewalk.

“You’re the Avengers,” the kid says again, his leather jacket stylized with silver spikes, hair dyed an electric green. “This is so cool.”

Tony seemed to bask in it, ripping off the door of the sedan to grab the dazed driver out of his seat. “That’s right—”

“You’re Captain America,” he goes on, staring at Steve (who had still not gotten out of the car, but he felt a bit better about that because neither had Natasha and Clint). “Can I have your autograph?”

Sputtering, Tony turned between Steve and the kid.

Clint held his sides and laughed.

Steve sighed, wondered how he got into this mess when all he wanted was to get some milk from the grocery store, and said “sure”.

oOo

In South Carolina, Steve finds a Black Widow and Hawkeye bobble head. They look nothing like Natasha and Clint, but he buys them anyways because they’re the first ones he’s seen (they end up sitting next to his microwave and are quickly joined with the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and himself).

oOo

“I count five,” Steve says, not bothering to lower his voice while he checks his phone—there wasn’t any new messages from Tony, but the billionaire had said that he was going to keep them in the loop with the chaos happening in D.C. “Maybe six.”

“There’s six,” Clint yawns dramatically and stretches, arms above his head—one falls across Natasha’s shoulders.

She doesn’t look very impressed, but whether it’s by the agents or Clint touching her, the soldier couldn’t tell. “They’re not very good.”

“They’re not SHIELD,” the archer points out absently, leaning over to glance at Steve’s phone. “Not even close... what are you looking at?”

“Tony cleared up a lot of the crap going across the internet.” Steve showed them a few files that were downloadable and Natasha flipped through one, an eyebrow raising at the sight of only a meagre portion of her disguises and bits of her history (enough to make a full picture to anyone who didn’t know her) laid out on the screen. “He managed to keep all the particularly deep stuff under wraps.”

Clint whistled, eyes wide, impressed. “Wow, did he do the same for the rest of us?”

“Yes,” Steve drawled as if it was the most obvious answer and took back his phone, flipping to his own file which was... deceptively short. “He kept a lot of things out of mine—mostly what only Fury and Natasha know—and kept my apartment address out of it.”

Sighing dreamily, Clint cupped his hands under his chin and batted his eyes. “He wuvs you—” Yelping, the archer dodged the bag of art supplies.

oOo

Steve paints Bruce first. The scientist follows Thor and Tony over one rainy Saturday to watch the Harry Potter series with the soldier already set up in his lounge area with his sketchbook, a canvas, and paint.

The sound doesn’t bother the soldier too much, and he just smiles as they try and raid his fridge (Clint had done a thorough job the day before—there was nothing left except for a cherry and almond salad). When they were all sitting on his couch, though, watching as eleven year old Harry finds out he’s a wizard for the first time, Steve dips his brush into black and starts. The end result is the doctor’s profile—relaxed and smiling—on top of a smeared green background.

Bruce’s eyes shine when he sees it, and the smile on his face is small and bright and precious.

oOo

The original apartment, Steve’s apartment, was sold to a Charley Morris who was nothing more than a name on paper. Captain America kept his apartment with the spider clock on the wall and the television that could do more things than his phone (which was surprising, because a Stark phone can do a lot). Tony Stark bought the building so the switching (or not switching) tenants were kept under wraps and, well, the Avengers had the entire building to themselves after the SHIELD agents moved out.

They somehow all managed to correlate into Steve’s living room anyway (it was a slow, almost non-existent process, him moving into the tower).

“Why are you here?” the soldier grumbles out at Tony when he comes home to find the scientist on his couch. “Don’t you have a tower? And a girlfriend? And, oh, a company to run?”

“Stop being bitter and sassy,” the billionaire waves his hand. “Pepper’s in D.C. with Natasha, Clint is in India with Bruce, and Thor’s in England.”

Steve shoved a gallon of milk into his fridge. “Go build a new suit, then.”

“I reached my monthly quota.”

Captain America leaned his head against his fridge and sighed before turning around and looking his teammate over.

Dark circles under bloodshot eyes, hair fluffed up and a mess, same clothes as the day before, that tired slope of his shoulders—Steve grabbed two beers and sat down beside the billionaire, handing one over. “What’s wrong?”

“Wrong? Nothing. Nothing’s wrong—what makes you think something’s wrong—”

“Shut up, Tony.”

Brown eyes widened and blinked. “You called me Tony.”

Steve frowned.

“You never call me Tony—”

“Shut up,” the soldier says again and twists off the cap of his bottle. After a few seconds of watching the billionaire struggle with his own, Steve trades him and pops the cap off that one, too. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

The room was filled with a long, bitter silence while Tony stared down into the golden bottle in his hands. “Do you ever dream?” He asks haltingly, words coming in quick spurts. “About the war, I mean—”

“Yes.” Blunt, honest. Steve takes a long drink of his beer and watches the man across from him. “Many times.”

“Does it, uh...” Tony trailed off and drank about half of the bottle in his hands under the soldier’s understanding gaze. “Does it go away?”

Leaning back against his couch, Steve stares at his reflection on the black television screen. “Not always,” he says. “Some parts do, some parts don’t.” He wonders how much he can tell Tony, how much was appropriate—and then decides that it doesn’t matter. “I don’t dream about the ice,” his fingers hold the cold glass—press up against the paper label. “Not as often, but I dream about other things—” Concentration camps, death marches, Bucky on the operating table.

Bucky on the train.

Tony doesn’t look too happy to hear that.

“It fades, though,” Steve murmurs and catches brown eyes strewn with pain. “Not as fast as you hope it will, but it does.”

They sit there for a long time, finishing their beers as New York bustled about outside.

“Thank you,” Tony says when he’s at the door.

Steve doesn’t say ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘anytime’.

He doesn’t need to.

oOo

His Nissan comes back with an adamantium exterior, bullet proof glass, and shines with a new paint job that’s a darker blue to match his suit.

There’s also an “I Heart Iron Man” bumper sticker on the back.

Steve covers it with a Captain America one.

oOo

Steve smiled softly, pen in hand as he signed autographs. Natasha stood behind him, arms crossed over her chest, back straight, and eyes scanning the crowd behind crimson sunglasses like a body guard.

“Mr. Rogers!” Someone shouted and the soldier winced a bit, his eyes darkening ever so slightly before it was all tucked away. A reporter ran up to him, microphone in hand, camera hovering behind him. “Can you comment on—”

“I do believe there should be a ‘captain’ in there somewhere,” one of the fans said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, blonde hair curling around her shoulders. A few of the teens around her snickered.

Steve barked out a laugh and grinned—grateful for the catch and also the fact that he recognized the movie it came from (“You haven’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean?” Pepper had looked personally offended and quickly turned on the rest of the Avengers. “You haven’t shown him Captain Jack Sparrow?”)

“She’s right,” Natasha looked over her glasses at the reporter. “You are addressing a man who has earned his title. You are to address him as such.”

The soldier was pretty sure that the assassin only said such things so his face would turn as bright as her hair.

“Yes, of course, Captain Rodgers,” the reporter nodded and pushed the girl out of the way to shove his microphone in the taller man’s face.

It hovered underneath Steve’s nose and, since there really was no reason for him to hide it anymore, the captain narrowed his bright eyes, lips curling up into a sneer. With all the practice of a showman who had to dance around the paparazzi and as an Avenger used to letting Tony deal with the press, he dodged around the reporter to help the young lady up from the concrete. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, uh, sir,” she flushed a bit and her friends giggled.

Steve gave them all a gentle, warm smile before his face turned to stone, his expression focused on the reporter. “You are going to apologize for ruining my afternoon,” he barked in the way that got even the commandos to snap to attention. “And then you will leave.”

“I—” The man started, his eyes wide with shock before he straightened, puffing out his chest.

He looked like a half plucked peacock.

Steve rose to his own full height, then, feet apart, hands clasped behind his back. He said nothing, eyes boring down disapprovingly on the cameraman and the reporter until they both muttered apologies and scrambled. He relaxed only when they were out of sight and found Natasha smiling at him. “What?”

Her smile turned into a grin.

What?

“Where did you learn to channel disappointed drill sergeant?”

Laughing, he shook his head. “You don’t know the meaning of ‘disappointed commanding officer’ until Colonel Phillips just gives you this look that he had.” The young man tried to imitate it, his face suddenly morphing from the boyish, cheerful face of  Steve Rogers to something that was strikingly cold, dispatched, and utterly unimpressed. The expression stayed there for a long moment before his features relaxed and the soldier shuddered. “That look meant horrible punishments. Horrible, horrible punishments. No one crossed that look.”

Natasha just shook her head and waved him on and Steve, grinning happily, turned back to the fans waiting and held up his permanent marker.

“Who’s next?”

oOo

Steve doesn’t even look up from the pot of caramel when his door opens—the Avengers always forget to knock and Tony claims that he owns the building so the whole knocking thing is useless anyway—until a heavy duffle bag hits the floor next to his kitchen table.

“Good morning, Natasha,” he gives her a grin, looking over the black dress suit, her red hair pulled back into a bun, and the guns holstered at her hips. He’s pretty sure there are knives hidden all over her, but he doesn’t take the time to figure that out.

She grunts at him, heels tapping against the floorboards as she heads straight for his room—and the shower.

“Do you want breakfast or have you already eaten?” The soldier shouts after her.

“Delayte vse, chtoyebat' vy khotite!”

He makes her five crepes with various fruit fillings, all smothered with whipped cream and caramel.

She eats them with a towel wrapped around her head.

“I take it D.C. didn’t go so well,” Steve murmured, dipping an apple into the caramel until it was soaked before placing it on the cookie sheet covered in wax paper. “Secretary of Defence getting on your nerves again?”

“He’s going to want to bug Stark Tower,” Natasha grumbled and sucked a blueberry off her fork. “As we are, what was it? ‘Dangerous and cannot be left to our own devices’,” her tone turned scornful and sarcastic, but she watched him stab another stake through an apple and dip it in the pot. “They don’t know about your apartment, though. Or this building.”

Steve snorted. “My address belongs to Charley Morris now, remember?” He grins broadly and bats his eyelashes. “Am I on the terrorist watch list, too?”

She hums around a strawberry and frowns. “No idea,” reaching for his laptop, she pushes her mostly finished plate to the side. “I do believe Clint and I are, though.”

“And Bruce.”

“Bruce has always been on it,” Natasha murmurs absently. The list pulls up and she frowns, going through the names. “Oh, there’s Maria Hill.”

Steve chuckled. “Good for her—did you hear that she joined Stark’s HR department?”

“Yes,” the redhead grins slightly. “She hates it.” Two more apples join those already on the cookie sheet and Steve has to slide them into the fridge before Natasha speaks up again. “You’re not on here.”

The soldier grunts, “What a shame.”

A few hours later, Natasha retreats to the guest room and Steve opens the fridge to get a glass of milk.

Three of the caramel apples are missing.

“Damn it,” he curses and hears her laugh through the wall.

oOo

A banging on his door wakes Steve up at three in the morning. He is incredibly grateful that he has no neighbours as the sound seems to thunder through the entire building. “Yes?” is the first word out of his mouth when he swings the damn thing open.

Thor, clad in all of his armour, stands on his threshold, his blonde hair matted, eyes widened with adrenaline. Leaning to the side, Steve stares at Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis (who he had only seen in pictures before) shivering in front of a very worryingly swaying Erik Selvig. The soldier in Steve wakes up immediately at their devastated expressions, the drowsiness vanishing as his body snaps to attention.

“Shield brother,” the Asgardian says, his voice tired, “I would not have bothered you if it had not been an emergency.”

“Yes, of course, Thor,” Steve stands to the side and motions them in. “Don’t worry about it.” Their bags are just as soaked as their clothing and the soldier winces, taking them from the tired scientists and placing them beside the washer and dryer as he fetched them clean towels. “Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee?”

Darcy and Jane wrap themselves up in their towels and sit down at his table. “Tea,” the astrophysicist murmurs. “Please?”

“Of course, ma’am,” Steve nods once with military stiffness and sets bout setting a kettle on the stove before pulling the clothes out of the wettest bag and forcing it into his dryer. “Doctor Selvig,” gently, he guided the dazed man to the guest bathroom. “I can fetch you some sweats as you take a shower.”

The man seemed to wake up a bit at that and smiled gratefully.

“I would have taken them to the tower,” Thor says an hour later when everyone is bunkered down with their beverage of choice at the table, warm and dry. “But it was being watched.”

Steve nodded. “That’s fine, Thor,” he laid his hand across the larger man’s shoulder. “My home is your home.” A large hand falls over his and the Asgardian smiles so gratefully that the soldier feels something in his chest tighten. “Are any of you hungry?”

The scientists all look at each other before turning their eyes to him. “Something,” Jane starts and rubs her hand across her eyes. “Just something warm.”

“Soup, Mister America,” Darcy says and is elbowed in the side by her boss so adds “please”.

Steve chuckles for a bit and reaches out his hand. “Captain Steve Rogers,” he says and shakes her hand.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Captain,” Selvig watches him, blue eyes staring and unblinking.

Living with Clint on and off, though, gave Steve plenty of practice at ignoring being watched like the prey of a hawk. “Just Steve is fine, sir,” he says and pulls a pot out from his cabinet. Chicken soup is easy enough to make and the smell fills his apartment while golden sunlight drifts through the windows.

Thor helped him set up his two rooms while the others ate, and, once Jane and Darcy had set themselves up in the guest room and Doctor Selvig was snoring away on Steve’s bed, the two sit down on the couch.

“I worry for them,” the Asgardian murmured, his eyes examining Mjolnir. The hammer looked heavy in his hand in such a way Steve had never seen it before. “I worry for us all.”

Steve looked up at the older man and rubbed his knuckles with a finger. He never answered, though, as his phone buzzed on the coffee table.

Hear you have a God, the words next to Tony’s name seem to glow with something other than the light of the screen. You can tell him he’s safe to come to the tower now. All footage is being cleansed through Jarvis.

Thor brightened up like the lightning he wielded, his smile wide and toothy even as he shook Steve’s hand. “Thank you, my friend. I shall see the man of iron, now. Perhaps we may develop a strategy.”

“Of course,” the captain smiled, though it was whisked away when the Asgardian left. “Of course,” he murmured to a silent apartment.

oOo

“I think you collect strays,” Natasha says, eyeing Darcy on the couch watching Finding Nemo. “And in packs, too.”

He slaps her hand away from the plucked and gutted ducks on the counter and shoos her towards Jane and Selvig, both who were sitting at his table. “You, Natasha, are a menace,” the soldier grumbles with a grin. “Don’t touch the food or no dessert.”

“That smells like God blessed your hands with a heavenly treasure,” Darcy says, looking back over her shoulder at them. “What’re you making?”

Confit de canard,” Steve grins just a bit and looks at the clock. “It’ll be done in a couple of hours.”

Darcy whistles, her eyes widening in awe. “You’re dedicated.”

Steve just smiles.

The ducks are done by five, roasted until golden and placed on a plate in the middle of the table. They’re surrounded by sliced potatoes grilled in the duck fat and sprinkled with parsley and basil. Peppered corn was made right before they all sat down when Tony, Bruce, Clint, and Thor came through the door with the billionaire holding a red Bordeaux in each hand.

“You wouldn’t have this problem,” Tony said as they all sat down after the soldier said that there wasn’t enough for all of them, “if you made large batches of food to feed everyone. Like pasta.”

“Or pizza,” Clint pointed out, already digging into his duck.

Steve narrowed his eyes. “If you would call before dropping over,” he said, mockingly pleasant in a way that made a few people scoot their chairs away, “there would be nothing to worry about.”

There was silence after that except for clinking silverware and, miraculously, enough food to go around.

“Thank you for the marvellous meal,” Thor boomed, clapping Steve on the back when there wasn’t even a scrap left on the table. “It was truly magnificent!”

Natasha, however, looked like she was going to purr when the soldier pulled the strawberry pies from the fridge.

oOo

Steve doesn’t help in the mission to get Jane, Darcy, and Erik to the tower once the strategizing was over, but it doesn’t stop him from sitting on his couch, waiting for news.

We’ve got them, Natasha sends him forty minutes after they had left.

He leans his head back against the couch and breathes out in relief. His phone buzzes again.

I’m coming back for your pie, the assassin tells him and Steve grins.

oOo

“It takes me two years to get you to agree just to live at the tower,” Tony laments one night, swinging around a bottle of Midori as 300 lights up Steve’s living room. “Two years. And, you know what? You not moving in is probably the best idea you’ve ever had, Cap.”

“Yeah, Cap,” Clint smirks at him over a glass of vodka and orange juice. “If you didn’t want to live at the tower you could have just said so.” The Archer sighs dramatically. “There was no need to blow up your employers!”

Steve smirked. “And yet, who’s the one person in this group that’s not on the suspected terrorist list?”

“Captain fucking America,” came the deadpanned chorus.

The soldier lifted his glass to salute himself. “Damn straight.”

oOo

Thor loves his painting and smiles at it for hours leaving Steve to blush and mutter about how it wasn’t exactly a big deal—even though he actually couldn’t think of what to do for the Asgardian until a few days before during a massive thunderstorm.

The background is dark and cloudy—a mix of harsh blues, blacks, and greys—with a single lightning strike. Thor’s golden hair looks almost angelic against the dark colours; the gold shining, his eyes pure and blue with the focus of a warrior.

Steve wasn’t sure if he had gotten the other man’s ‘battle face’ completely correct, but Thor loved it all the same.

oOo

The manhunt for Thor and his associates (as the media calls them) doesn’t last long. In fact, it lasts just long enough for the United States to declare a mass panic as some sort of flesh eating alien invades Texas.

“Texas,” Clint groans, “whoever wants to invade Texas?”

“Everything’s bigger in Texas,” Tony says with such a sombre, southern accent that Clint snorts and jerks the quinjet a bit.

It takes all of five seconds for the two of them to start giggling like school girls.

“I’m surrounded,” Natasha speaks next to Steve, her voice suddenly deep with the slight hint of a British accent and the soldier jerks, staring at her, “by idiots.”

“Nice, nice,” Tony nods.

“Kill Mufasa!” Clint crows and sounds exactly like the female hyena, sending him and Tony into another round of snickers.

Thor grins joyfully, as if this is the greatest thing he’s ever seen. Steve rests his head in his hands and breathes slowly through his nose while Bruce pats him on the back.

The flesh eating aliens actually turn out to be flesh eating robots so Steve, Clint, and Natasha watch from the air as Hulk and Thor have the time of their lives smashing each of them into little pieces. The entire town had already been evacuated by the army, so they were free to do as they pleased. Tony kept track of the perimeter, making sure nothing escaped while their Archer leaned out from the quinjet’s hatch, shooting any that he deemed ‘worthy of his skills’.

And then one arrives that can shoot lasers while Steve is at the controls. It, of course, takes a shot at the quinjet and Steve jerks the entire machine to the side, almost smacking Iron Man across the face.

Mjolnir smashes into the robot and it flies out, over the buildings, and crashes somewhere along the horizon. “Victory!” Thor crows, holding up his hammer like a trophy.

“Hey!” Tony yells through the radio and everyone winces at the sudden screech. “Who the hell taught you how to fly?!”

“Your dad!” Steve shoots back before he thinks it over and, after a second, realizes what he just said. Snorting into his hand, the soldier tries to hide the wide grin on his face as Tony Stark sputters, speechless.

Silence seems to echo through their com units until Clint howls with laughter.

oOo

After four days in a row of coming back to Tony Stark and Clint Barton looting through his fridge, Steve raised an eyebrow and asked; “Why do I have a security system if you guys just disable it anyway?”

“In case there are actual intruders,” Tony says, hand over his heart and looking wounded.

Steve levels him with an unimpressed look. “I consider you to be intruders,” he said, voice flat and devoid of emotion.

oOo

“Your room,” Pepper stepped out of the elevator with a smile, “went through a bit of redecorating once we found out you were going to move in.” She stepped aside so he could see the work out area, the large bed, and the desk in the corner. There was a large enough area for him to paint and draw without it being obtrusive, and he smiled.

“It’s perfect,” Steve said and shook her hand. “Thank you, ma’am.”

She waved the last word away. “Tony did tell me that you’re keeping your apartment?” They stepped back into the elevator to head up to the lounging area.

“Yes,” the soldier grinned softly. “No one knows where it is, so the team can often come over and just... have fun.”

“And eat all your food.”

Steve winced a bit. “That’s true,” he said, but he smiled. “But it’s also nice to be able to cook decent meals and, well, my mother always told me that a meal shared is always a good one.”

Pepper laughed lightly. “Smart woman,” she said. “I heard that you got yourself into some trouble, lately, though.” Her voice turned sly.

He turned pink. “It was a complete accident I assure you, ma’am.” Steve shuffled on his feet before realization struck him. “How are you, though? Natasha and I heard about the Mandarin. We’re sorry we weren’t able to help out.”

“I’m fine,” the redhead urged, her blue eyes bright with an emotion he couldn’t identify. “We all made it out okay.” She rested her hand on his bicep, smiling softly. “I heard that you helped him a little.”

“Helped—” Steve remembered the night, the beer, and the words passed between just the two of them. “I had hoped it had helped,” he gave her a small, but no less bright, smile. “Now I know that it did.”

Pepper leaned away as JARVIS announced the floor number. “He looks up to you, Steve,” she murmured before the doors opened. “I think he, sometimes, even admires you.”

“Tony Stark?” Steve gasped and she laughed as the doors open. “No way!”

“What are you two laughing about?” the man in question looked up from the couch, his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“You,” they both replied in the same, deadpan voice.

Turning to Steve, Pepper smiled back up at him. “You’re welcome to stop by my office any time, Captain Rogers.”

“It’ll be my pleasure, Miss Potts.” He said and, since Tony was looking between them, his grin turned into a leer. “Most definitely my pleasure.”

Pepper laughed and blew him a kiss as Tony sounded like an engine without gas for a moment. Bruce looked up beside the billionaire and just grinned.

“Hello, Captain.”

“Doctor,” Steve nodded to the man and sat down. “What are you reading?”

The scientist pointed at the journal he was looking over. “A new article just came out on the study of Gamma radiation in space and—”

“Are we not going to talk about how my girlfriend and star spangled over here just flirted?!” Tony slapped his palms against the coffee table and the two other men turned their eyes to him. “Flirted!”

“Jealous?” Steve grinned and Tony turned a scarlet that the soldier was pretty sure didn’t belong on any human’s face.

The billionaire pointed at him, finger so close it was almost touching the captain’s nose. “You don’t even know how to talk to a girl!”

“I spent four months touring with a group of USO chorus girls who sang and danced in miniskirts and heels, their changing room right next to mine and, let me tell you, they had no problem coming to me in their bras once they found out I knew how to braid hair,” Steve drawled. “What makes you think I don’t know how to talk to a woman?”

Bruce only grinned that small, but knowing grin of his and leaned across the soldier’s arm. “He’s got you there, Tony.”

For a moment, the inventor looked between them and then scowled. “You’re not funny.”

“No, I’m not,” Steve smirked. “I’m hilarious.”

oOo

Steve paints Clint with the expression of a hawk that had just found his evening meal—all focus and intent (and underlying glee). His hair is slightly messy and there’s a bit of dirt on his face, but the background (purple) looks like feathers in a subtle way and flows around in him the blurry shape of a hawk.

The archer grins at the picture delightedly and has Steve go with him to pick out a frame (the solder was blushing the entire time, no matter what he denied to Tony later).

oOo

They’re all covered in bruises (except for Bruce, but no one really complains about that because he has other issues to deal with) after an especially long fight with what Tony called ‘Doom bots’. Steve leaned back against the couch, Natasha leaning against his shoulder and curling up against his side. The screen flashes in front of them, but none of them are really paying attention.

Steve closes his eyes and opens them to the credits. There’s a hand laying on his stomach and a cheek resting over his heart—the delicateness of both tell him that it’s Natasha. Tony snores somewhere to the left and shifts. He doesn’t have the reactor anymore to glow in the dark, but he’s loud enough.

The soldier shifts a bit, burrowing his back into the cushions again, and the redhead murmurs and pressed her fingers into his abdomen. “Hush,” he whispers and runs his hand gently through her damp locks and over the skin of her neck. She felt cold so Steve wraps his arm around her waist and pulls her closer. “Hush, malen'kiy pauk.”

Natasha stills and hums in her sleep, her breath warm against his skin and he closes his eyes, letting the sandman drag him back into dreams.

oOo

Habit is the only think that makes Steve grin for the cameras when a senator is shaking his hand and the paparazzi take their cue to snap as many photos as possible. He raises his hand, waving to calling people, smiling wide and showing his teeth with his shoulders pulled back, his spine straight.

America’s perfect poster boy.

He laughs softly when they ask him questions, ducks his head as if he’s shy, runs his fingers through his hair. Look boyish, the USO girls had giggled in a diner as they talked over coffee and breakfast. Look adorable, cause if they’re not lookin’ for the soldier, you gotta get them to like your star spangled butt.

A few of the girls had laughed at that. Not that it’s not a nice butt, said Louise. Because it is a very nice butt indeed.

Make yourself look like you’re shy, Betty had chimed in. Girls wanna eat that up.

Mmm hmm, Charlotte hummed around a cigarette. Don’t you ever pull that macho act—girls like them big softies. We like cuddling some teddy bears, not those damned spiked clubs.

The press eats it up and suddenly a picture of his soft boyish grin and gentle, bright eyes covers the front page. The article underneath it claims he’s “America’s sweetheart” and his “soul’s golden like apple pie crust”.

“You’ve got them eating out of your palm,” Natasha says—does he hear a slight tint of admiration in her tone? He sure does. “Not even Stark has them wrapped around his finger.”

“I had a lot of lessons.”

She snorted. “On how to bull shit the media?”

Steve grinned like a shark. “On how to charm the media.”

“Oh yeah?” Natasha looks at him over her newspaper, one eyebrow raised. “Who taught you that?”

“Twenty young women in red, white, and blue miniskirts.”

Through the echoes of history he can see their painted red lips all smiling. You got that right, they say and their laughs are like bells.

oOo

Natasha keeps Steve tethered to reality by the silk of a spider web, her voice whispering words into his ear—Russian, Italian, French, English—and he grips her hand, breathing through his nose. Thor holds down one arm, Stark on the other (clad in full Iron Man gear) while Bruce leans over him, scalpel in one hand, tweezers in the other, searching for the bullet that had gone through (and gotten stuck) his shoulder.

All of them are spattered with dust, mud, and blood. But Steve, laying on the medical table, looks like a mockery of a flag with red smeared across his chest and dripping down to the floor.

Sei un idiota,” Natasha murmurs, “Ya budu strelyat' vam sebya, kogda vy luchshe.”

T-tá tú amadán,” He grunts fondly before his eyes roll back, spine arching off the table as the doctor pushed further down. The soldier’s grip made the bones in her wrist grind together and it was only her own serum that stopped them from turning into dust.

Bruce sighs between them, the tweezers closing around the bullet. “You two are not making my job easier.”

Leithscéalta,” Steve gasps, his blood flowing freely as the lead is pulled free. Natasha immediately takes one of the gauze pads and presses down, gritting her teeth at his agonized scream.

“Let me stitch him up,” Bruce waves her away, glancing at the two other heroes holding the super soldier down, making sure that they both have tight grips, before pouring alcohol over the wound.

Steve immediately lashes out, just about throwing Iron Man to the floor as it burns like a hot knife pressing against his flesh. He howls like an animal, legs kicking, heel cracking metal when it slams into the table. The redhead catches his head before it, too, can slam backwards, and runs her fingers through his damp hair.

The doctor waits a few agonizing seconds before wiping the mix of blood and vodka away with an already red-stained rag. It drops to the floor, uncared for, with a wet plop.

Natasha cups Steve’s chin, forcing his half-lidded glazed eyes focus on hers as the needle pierces his skin. “Shhh, sobrat. We have you.” She runs her fingers through his hair and looks up, catching Clint’s shadowed face as he watches the process. “We have you.”

oOo

Steve’s shoulder is mostly healed when Tony stormed into the tower with various cardboard boxes. “Attention!” He clapped his hands so that the people lounged out on the couch and at the table looked up. “I have an idea.”

“Oh God,” Clint groaned and Bruce looked as if he was going to stand up and vanish into the laboratory (or jump out the window, no one was ever too sure).

Natasha looked a bit sick and ducked behind Steve who just blinked and glanced around at his teammates. “What’s going on?” The soldier frowned at the various reactions and noticed, quite easily, that the only one who looked even remotely excited was Thor.

“If it has something to do with strippers I’m leaving,” Natasha told the billionaire.

“If it has something to do with strippers I’m staying,” Clint looked ecstatic. “Is it strippers? Please tell me it’s strippers.”

Tony sighs almost dramatically. “No, Katniss, I didn’t get you strippers.” He opens up one of the lids on the boxes and holds up a black gun with blue LEDs up and down the side. “Laser tag!”

Just about everyone perked up at that.

“No way,” Clint darted forward, shifting through the boxes and pulled out a vest with a purple arrow down the side and gun that had violet lights. “Sweet!”

Steve caught the gun Tony held when he threw it and glanced over the lights on the side. “The last time we played this,” he turned his gaze to the inventor. “You cried because you lost to everyone—including Thor.”

“I’ve gotten better,” Tony said, exasperated, as Natasha found hers; black and crimson with a small red spider on the vest.

Gold for Thor with a hammer on the black fabric, white for Tony (there was a circle on the chest, mimicking his old reactor), and green for Bruce who had nothing on his except for what might have been a small emerald fist above his heart.

“Rules!” Steve shouted as they all pulled the gear on. “Bathroom are off limits—” Groans came from all over but he stared them down. “Don’t you dare,” he pointed two fingers at the group and scowled. “No hiding in bedrooms or the laboratory—we don’t need anything broken—”

“Or to explode,” Bruce grumbled and the soldier nodded before he continued.

“—unless it is absolutely necessary. When someone needs or wants to take a break you will let them, understood?”

“What’s the definition of necessary?” Clint asked and earned a smack on the back of his head.

Tony snorted. “Yes, mom!”

Steve turned and shot him, making the billionaire’s vest wail and flash blue before going back to white. “Every person for themselves during the first hour. Agreed?”

There were nods from everyone except Bruce who was struggling to clasp his holster to his belt.

Grinning, the solider glanced up at the ceiling. “Jarvis?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Kill the lights.”

And the tower erupted into chaos.

It doesn’t surprise anyone that Natasha, Steve, and Clint were at the top.

It also doesn’t surprise anyone that Tony’s name was on the bottom.

oOo

“Your teammates are crazy,” Sam Wilson tells him at the airport, duffle bag in hand and grinning as security watches him with sharp eyes (they won’t find his wings; those were sent ahead with Natasha two days before). He waves at them with a broad, white smile. “Absolutely crazy, I went through like, what, three frigging background checks?”

“Tony likes to be thorough,” Steve snickered, leading him out to the parking lot. “Don’t worry, about it; you’re probably being watched by Clint right now, too.”

Sam jerked and looked up at the rafters high above them. It was hard to make up anything up there, really, but he spun around, trying to find something out of place. “And I thought you and Natasha were nuts,” he muttered.

Laughing, Steve pulled him out to the parking. “Don’t worry; they’re like a bunch of hamsters on a sugar rush.”

“I don’t know whether to be insulted or amused by that comparison.”

Yelping, Sam jumped about a foot off the ground and whipped around so fast he hit Steve in the side with his bag. “Jesus Christ!”

Raising a single, perfect eyebrow, Natasha stared up at him as if she had been walking beside them the entire time.

“Crazy,” Sam muttered as the two Avengers smiled at him. One looked like a golden retriever puppy—all fluffy hair and bright eyes—and the other one like a mother wolf—too much teeth to be comfortable with and a gaze that looked as if she was already planning on ripping him apart, bit by bit. “Absolutely crazy.”

“Let me guess,” Clint asked, sitting on the roof of the Nissan as they got closer. He was dressed in long jeans, a black t-shirt, and a smug grin. “You didn’t sign up for this shit?”

Levelling a deadpan stare on the archer, Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “I did, actually,” he muttered. “When I slapped those damn folders on the table.”

“Welcome to the fun house,” Natasha laughed and patted him on the back.

Steve reached out without looking and grabbed Clint by his ankle. With a yank, the archer was yelping and on a crash course to the ground. “Stay off the car,” the soldier said pleasantly. “I got the moon roof so you could look out, not so you could sit on it.”

“You’re no fun, boss man.”

“I’m making you dinner.”

“Never mind. You’re loads of fun. Like a bouncy castle.”

Sam just shook his head and slid into the passenger seat as Clint whined and tugged on Steve’s sleeve, following him around to the driver’s side.

Definitely crazy.

oOo

When Steve’s home alarm goes off for the first time since, well, ever, he stares at his phone for a long time before turning and sprinting the two blocks back to his apartment. He goes through the back door, careful to keep silent to not spook the intruder from running—and to stay out of sight of any look outs.

His door is wide open, broken down and gaping.

The soldier bares his teeth.

“Find it!” Someone hissed inside and he slunk through, ducking behind the counter beside his kitchen. Sounds of something ripping came from beside the television and Steve scowled at the sight of a man in dark clothing ripping through a canvas with a half finished painting on it.

There were five it sounded like—one rummaging around none-too-gently in his bathroom, another in each the bedrooms, the woman giving out the orders, and the last one who would die first. They were making a mess out of what little they good—time in the army forced Steve to keep his belongings sparse—and he recognized their uniforms. No one worked long with Natasha or Clint without not knowing uniforms.

And without a search warrant.

Lucky, lucky day.

He opened one of the cabinets closest to him, careful to stay quiet even though the invaders were making such a racquet. Various firearms—ones he had even kept a secret from the assassins—were hidden away behind a false backing.

The sound of a shotgun being loaded froze everyone in their tracks.

“Good morning!” Steve greeted pleasantly behind the barrel of a Mossberg 500. “You are breaking the law and I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“We have a warrant,” the woman gritted her teeth, arms raised above her head.

The soldier turned his wolfish grin to her. “Yeah? May I see it?”

She didn’t move.

“That’s what I thought,” Stepping around the counter, Steve got a good look at her face. Brown hair, pretty green eyes, a caramel coloured face. “You are all going to line up in front of the couch, please.”

All of them—except the woman—scrambled to obey. She stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “You’re not going to shoot me, Captain Rogers. You’re not going to shoot anyone.” There was that confidence behind her eyes—that same confidence that the Red Skull seemed to ooze. Always underestimating him, mistaking him for apple pie.

It was the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s, wasn’t it?

“Yeah?” If there hadn’t been a super soldier serum pumping through his blood, Steve was sure he would’ve had a headache at this point. He pulled the trigger and the bullet shot past her ear. The breeze it made sent her hair up in a flurry even as she gasped and jerked away as the wall exploded behind her. “Does no one realize that I fought in a war? I shot people, you know. I shot a lot of people.” Steve got some sort of pleasure from her flinch as he cocked the gun again. “Get in front of the couch, ma’am.”

“That firearm is illegal,” she managed, words shaking. He could see her scrambling around for excuses but he’d been bullied enough for a lifetime—no agent with a righteous stick up their ass was going to boss him around.

Steve tossed his wallet out to her—which included the permit for the gun currently in his hands. “No, it’s not.”

She scuttled towards her men without another word.

Natasha came through his door a few minutes later, Clint at her heels, both of them dressed up in uniform and armed to the teeth.

They froze at the sight of the five government agents kneeling before the couch, palms against the back of their necks, all staring at Steve Rogers drinking whiskey from a wine glass.

“You’re late,” the soldier saluted them half heartedly with his drink and downed the rest with the ease and manners of a soldier.

“I bought you that,” Natasha pointed to the wine glass.

Steve eyed it for a moment, humming. “So you did.”

“It’s not for drinking cheap whiskey out of.”

“Says you.”

Clint eyed the agents in the lounge room. “What are we going to do with them?”

Steve poured another generous amount of whiskey into his glass even as Natasha made a strangled noise in the back of her throat. “I was thinking weights around the legs and tossed into the river.”

The archer sputtered and choked on his own spit even as the redhead beside him brightened and looked over the horrified agents. “Captain America just recommended dumping people mafia style?”

“I did grow up in a neighbourhood where the Irish Mafia was being born,” he took another loud gulp of alcohol just to watch Natasha sneer. “And I am Irish.”

“Really?” Clint pulled a roll of black tape out of one of the pockets on his uniform. “I thought you were born and bred American?”

Steve shrugged and grinned as Natasha swiped the whiskey from him, finished off the drink, and placed the glass in the sink. “I was born in America, but I am a first generation Irish immigrant.” He stood up from the table and placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder when he went to go tie up the agents rodeo style. “Get all their names; I’ll be charging them on trespassing and, well,” the soldier looked around at the ruined objects on the floor. “Destruction of property.”

The agents were herded out the door by Natasha, leaving the assassins and soldier alone together.

“I can’t believe you used a wine glass for that cheap whiskey.”

Steve groaned and closed his eyes, head falling back while he slumped in the chair. “Get over it, sestra.”

There was a second of silence and then—

“When did you start learning Russian?”

“I told you he knew more. I fucking told you—”

Smiling, Steve grabbed the bottle of whiskey by the neck and took a good long drink. It burned on the way down and he laughed.

oOo

Natasha calls him shchenok a few days later without realizing it and Steve, eyes wide, whips around to stare at her, rolling the word over in his head. “Puppy?” he asks, frowning slightly.

She laughs. “Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, Rogers?” The redhead waves her hand absently. “Wide, blue eyes, ruffled hair, earnest smile. You are a shchenok.”

Scowling, the soldier presses his hand against his hair, combing through it with his fingers and trying to flatten it.

“Now you look like a disgruntled shchenok.”

“Shut up, Natasha.”

oOo

Steve finished painting Tony at one in the morning, his back and neck aching, eyes itchy from exhaustion, but he leaned back and examined the finish product with a weary, but no less real, smile. The billionaire stared out at the observer, one eye watching, the other hidden behind the emotionless face mask of the Iron Man suit. Half man, half machine, but both Tony.

For weeks, Steve doesn’t see it again until he went down into Tony’s workshop. There, protected by two inches of bullet proof glass, his painting hung just above the largest work station in a place where everyone, but especially Tony, could see it when they worked. The billionaire made it sound like no big deal, but the soldier doesn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

oOo

“I was thinking about taking a few courses at the university,” Steve tugged at his undershirt, still sticky from sweat after a long workout. “History, some science courses...”

“It’s a good plan,” Bruce nods and points with a pen at some tubing. “That one.”

The soldier lifts it with ease and watched as the scientist shuffled around him, pulling at wires before guiding him to set it down again. “Not weird, then?”

“You’re, what, twenty-nine?” Bruce looked over the forms on his clipboard.

“Twenty-six.” Something snapped and Steve frowned, looking up—things that snapped around Banner tended to not mean good things. Sure enough, the doctor was staring at him, brown eyes wide, but not tinted green, with ink spilling across his fingers from the broken pen in his hand. “Doctor Banner? Bruce?” One finger went up, the man asking for a second and Steve stopped talking.

After a few seconds, Bruce went over to the sink and washed his hands. There was a bag of pens next to his desk (supplied by one Tony Stark), but he didn’t pick up a new one. “You’re only twenty-six?”

“Well...” Steve flushed a bit, “yeah, I guess.”

“You guess,” Bruce grumbled to himself. “That would have made you, let’s see... twenty-three when you, uh—”

The soldier smiled gently, but it was just a bit too sad to be real. “Were frozen, yes.”

“Natasha said you were born in 1918.”

Blue eyes blinked slowly and Steve frowned. “1918?” Bruce pointed at a second tube and he lifted it. “No, but I did put that on my enlistment form.” He shrugged at the doctor’s unimpressed look. “I thought I would have a higher chance of getting in if I was older.”

“Don’t tell Stark that, he might have kittens.”

“What?”

Bruce shook his head. “Means he’ll be ecstatic. You can set that down now.” The tube was placed carefully back on the table. “So you lied about your age. Anything else?”

“Just where I was from,” Steve shrugged. “That’s the one I got nailed for.”

“But no one ever realized that you were, what, twenty?”

Laughing, the soldier shook his head. “They didn’t exactly have good handle on birth certificates. Especially for immigrants.” He traced a blue wire with his thumb as Bruce walked around, pen tapping on his clipboard. “I was born with the help of my mother’s second cousin because they couldn’t really afford to go to the hospital.”

Bruce didn’t say anything, but he knew that look on his face—the same look a lot of older folk got when they heard about that during the 1920’s. The Doctor didn’t have to say Steve was lucky to have lived as long as he did because both of them knew it.

“You really are the puppy of the team, then.”

Bruce!

Doctor Banner snickered, “You’re the baby out of all of us—” He froze and frowned. “You’re half my age.”

“Well, uh—”

“I feel old.”

“Why are we feeling old?” Tony sauntered through the doors, DUM-E following behind. “Because I am completely against that—it makes my skin itch.”

Bruce looked between Steve and Tony, his eyes lighting up in the Doctor Banner version of unrestrained glee. “Steve here is—”

“Don’t you dare—

“—Jailbait.”

There was a moment of silence before;

“I am not!”

“He’s what?

The soldier crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m twenty-six, not seventeen. Not even in my teens—” But Tony was staring at him like he was some sort of new experiment. “What?”

“You’re twenty-six?” The billionaire’s face was slack, staring, his eyes wide. “I thought you were only a year younger than Natasha.”

Steve crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “You’re not the only one, apparently.”

The two scientist grin at him before Bruce waved his hand, going back to his clipboard and pen. “You should ask him.”

“Ask me what?” Tony had moved over to his own work station.

For a moment, Steve looked confused before he remembered what they had been talking about before. “Oh! Yeah, I was thinking about taking some courses at the university.” He sat down in one of the rolling chairs when he realized that he wouldn’t be needed for a while. “Science, history, anything really.”

“Are you working to get a degree?” Tony stopped playing with a hologram and looked up at him.

Steve only shrugged with one of his shoulders. “I don’t know yet. I might get one in art.”

“Just taking classes you’re interested in,” the billionaire nodded. “That’s the way to do it.” Suddenly Tony froze, still staring at Steve. “You’re the oldest and the youngest on the team,” he murmured in awe. “Wow, that is—I don’t know whether to be impressed or disappointed I mean, you can’t have both those titles.”

“Get over it,” the soldier laughed.

oOo

The Fourth of July rolls around again, along with Steve’s second birthday with the team. Due to SHIELD and HYDRA (and Natasha’s brave, brave sacrifice) it’s spread all across the internet and Stark Tower gets enough apple pie to supply it for the winter.

Steve, however, receives a strawberry rhubarb crisp from Bruce which he demands to be eaten right away.

It was delicious and that’s not because it’s his favourite and he’s biased.

(Okay, so maybe it is a bit.)

oOo

Tony Stark starts shouting at the television not even twelve minutes into the movie. The rest of the Avengers sit around him in varying stages of amusement. Seeing the fact that it wasn’t angry shouting, Steve just let him be, sitting with his laptop at the kitchen table, Pepper at his side.

“You need to choose a colour scheme first,” the CEO leaned over to look at the skeletal makings of his website. “Maybe a theme.”

Steve nodded and frowned a bit. They already had a few of his drawings and paintings scanned and put on a flash drive. He flipped through those—“no white,” the soldier said after a minute. “Not as the background—it would be too bright.”

Pepper nodded. “Good choice.”

Tapping his pencil against the table, Steve messed around with the settings—going from black, to red, to blue, before he finally settled on a marine green. The woman next to him was tapping out something on her own laptop—just there to answer questions if he needed it.

“Very nice,” Clint chimed up when Steve was testing out font colour.

The whole site looked a bit oceanic—a deep green background with blue in various shades highlighting here and there.

“You should call it Freezer Burn,” Natasha spoke up from the couch, not bothering to look away from the screen.

Steve scowled even as the others laughed. “You’re hilarious.”

Her smile was sly, but bright.

“You’re really going to do this, though? Post up your art?”

The soldier shrugged. “I might as well—my style might be a bit old fashioned (“That’s bullshit,” someone said and he ignored them) and I’m not expecting much, but it would be nice to get it out there.”

“Steve, you’re not giving yourself enough credit,” Tony waved his glass around and Steve winced—though none of the liquid inside spilled across his couch. “You’re art is really good.”

“Really, really good,” Clint hopped over the back of the couch and landed beside Natasha. “Like, close to great, or something.”

Steve threw the pencil at the back of the archer’s head and smiled pleasantly when the man yelped.

oOo

On a stormy night, Steve found himself between Natasha and Clint at three in the morning. Somehow all of the Avengers managed to crash to the floor, sitting in a circle, drink of choice in front of them. The movie behind Bruce’s head flickers from white to black—a dance of light that both brightens and shadows each of their faces.

“—Cap?” Someone said and Steve shook his head, clearing his thoughts to look up at his teammates—his friends. “It’s your turn.”

War stories. That’s right. He had muttered something about how the movie they were watching earlier that week—something Bastards—was so historically inaccurate that he felt mildly offended (which is really offended, if Steve was the one to say it). “Right,” the soldier takes a long sip of the Russian vodka in front of him. “A few months before we chased down Zola in the Alps the Commandos and I were heading back to one of the few allied bases in occupied France.”

There was something kid-like on all of their faces; hearing stories about a war that they were too young to witness.

“We were celebrating a victory and decided to be stupid and use a known German road,” Steve winced a bit. “A frequently used German road. By Nazis.”

Clint snickered and rested his elbows on his knees. “You get caught?”

“Sure,” Steve shrugged, “and we gave them a right scare, too.”

Whining, Tony finished the rest of his beer and reached for another. “You can’t just leave it at that,” the billionaire popped the cap off with the ease of an alcoholic.

“That’s not the story,” Steve smiled and the Avengers shuffled a bit. “See, we blew up a few things, caused some chaos like a bunch of reckless morons, but then we ran into this woman.” His eyes lost focus while he was drawn back into the memory. “We hadn’t even realized it was a woman at first—but there she was, walking down the side of the road in this dark coat.” The bottle sang a bit as his finger traced the rim. “We had a truck and she was going the same way we were so we offered her a ride.”

At this point, the group had stilled and Steve knew they could read something on his face. “The headlights lit up her face; skeletal, shaved clean, eyes sunken in and dark. Her feet were bare and mangled from walking so long and we could see her bloody footprints on the road.” Natasha’s fingers dug into his arm but he kept talking. “We managed to get her into the truck and she told us, in Polish, that her name was Lilith.” Now, all of the Avengers were silent, staring at him with wide, round eyes.

“She managed to point us back down the road and we left Bucky with her in case more Nazis came down the road. His German was pretty good—we had no doubt he’d be able to get them to keep moving. The rest of us followed her trail for two hours.” He stared into the darkness of the beer bottle. “We found them. Twenty thousand of them. Almost all of them women. Marching through the woods looking like an army of ghosts in striped pyjamas.”

“You liberated a death march,” Bruce was staring at him with darkened eyes, searching his face.”

Steve snorted, but there was no humour in his tone. “We liberated concentration and death camps, too,” His nails clinked against glass and he took another long swing from his bottle. “After we were finished with the Nazi soldiers we got a hold of Bucky and told him to bring the truck while the rest of us got some food and water.” The soldier smiled slightly, “I remember sitting there,” he murmured. “Next to Lilith when they arrived and she told me how she escaped from the death march after waiting two long years to finally escape. And then she told me this story about how Lilith was the first wife of Adam, made and formed from the same earth that he was.”

Beside him, Natasha hummed her approval and the others snickered quietly.

“She was banished when she refused to be subservient to him and I, in Nazi Germany, sat next to this woman when she looked me straight in the eye and said ‘I will always be Lilith, never Eve’.”

The Avengers were silent for a long moment before Clint finally spoke up. “Did you ever find out what happened to her?”

Steve laughed. “She joined SHIELD when it first started,” he grinned at their sombre faces. “Lived until she was ninety and married a beautiful lady named Darlene.” Nudging Clint’s shoulder with his own, the Captain’s face softened. “Some bad stories have a happy ending.”

They drank to Lilith and, after Thor wiped his face, the Asgardian looked over Steve with a critical eye. “I would like to hear the story about how you took down the first HYDRA base. It sounds most exquisite!”

“Yeah!” Tony snickered. “What did they call you?”

“The Star Spangled Man With A Plan,” Steve grinned at them and leaned forward. “I was touring with the USO girls through Europe and we crossed paths with Peggy, Colonel Phillips, and the rest of the 107th—”

oOo

Natasha had tried to sneak glimpses of her painting whenever he hinted at it and Steve made sure to keep the canvas concealed away until she was gone—dealing with things in D.C. or just getting some new personas. He finished it just before her plane touched down in New York and he waited, leaving it out in the lounge area so she could see it when she snuck in that night.

It had been the hardest, trying to find colours and an image that screamed Natasha, but he finally found something he was happy with; her features in black and white, filling the shape of a spider. The only colour was her hair—shockingly blood red.

Steve watched her drop her guard, fingers reaching out as if to touch the paint, her eyes bright and shining.

“I love it,” Natasha murmured, eyes never leaving the canvas. “Thank you.”

oOo

“I think I found what I like to do,” Steve tells Sam one day, their morning jogs (or sprint in the super soldier’s case) finished, cups of coffee in their hands.

“Yeah?” The other man says, his hands cupping a mix between white and milk chocolate cocoa. “What’s that?”

Steve smiles and looks over the street—he can see the tips of red and purple, the shine of a security camera that normally pointed at the entrance of a store looking curiously at them, and the rumble of a storm on the horizon. “Being friends with a bunch of crazies,” he says.

The laughter that spills out of Sam’s gut is loud and brash in the early morning, not caring for the stares of the other costumers. “That works,” he grins, teeth white and shining, when the laughter dies down but simmers behind his eyes in a joy that couldn’t be contained. “That definitely works.”