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Steve Tries Employment

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1. Construction worker

After the invasion was thwarted, Steve found himself at loose ends. There was nothing to do, and being idle only served to make him feel even more out of place than he already did. There was only so much running and exercising he could do, especially since neither of those things did much to stop him from thinking about all he had lost. Finally, at his wit’s end, he called Natasha to see if there was anything he could do at SHIELD. Unfortunately, she was away on a mission, but she at least gave him Clint’s number.

Steve debated what to do, since he felt really awkward calling someone he barely knew. Not that he knew Natasha, of course, but he had spent more time with her than the archer. Still, there was nothing for it, so Steve bit the bullet and called.

Clint was not at SHIELD either, having been given some leave to ‘get his head on straight’, according to the man.

“I can’t really help you,” Clint said. “But if you need a distraction, you can try getting a job. I mean, I know SHIELD set you up with some money, but it’s always better to have something of your own, you know? ‘Cause you never know when you’re going to need it.” It was not terrible advice, Steve reflected, even though he had no idea what he could possibly do, which he told Clint. “Hey, you’re strong. You could try construction. There’s plenty to be done around New York, after all. Rebuilding and all.”

It was worth a shot, Steve decided.

A few days later, he found a construction crew not too far from his apartment and asked to speak to the supervisor.

“What can I do for you?” a small woman asked, coming up to him.

“Ah, sorry, ma’am. I wanted to speak to the man in charge.”

The look she gave him was very unimpressed. “I’m Dalia Mathers. I’m in charge of this site. If you have something to say you can say it to me, or you can leave. We have a lot of work to do.”

A woman in charge of construction? Steve thought. That didn’t seem like a very good idea.

“I was wondering if you have an opening for a job,” he said, trying to be polite anyway. He extended his hand and she shook it. “I’m Steve Rogers. You might have heard of me.” He gave her what he hoped was a charming smile.

“Steve Rogers, huh?” she said with a shrewd expression. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. “You know anything about construction, Mr Rogers?”

Steve hesitated a moment, then nodded. It wasn’t a lie, he told himself. He’d had some carpentry classes back when he was a kid, and he was a quick learner. How hard could it be if they put a woman in charge?

“Fine. God knows we need all hands on deck right now. I trust you have all you paperwork in order?” She asked. Steve wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but SHIELD had given him a new ID. That should be enough, he thought.

“Sure.”

She waved to a guy passing by. “Lou, this is Steve, he’s looking for work. Show him around and make sure to get all the documentation filed.”

Lou looked Steve up and down and nodded. “No problem, Ms Mathers. Come with me. We’ll find you something to do.”

It was easier than Steve thought. He gave his ID, filled out a bunch of papers and signed where they told him to, then was given a tour of the site. They were mostly removing debris for the moment, Lou said, so a couple extra strong hands would be really useful.

It was really boring work, Steve soon discovered, but at least it got him out of the tiny apartment SHIELD had set him up in. It was something to do with his days that wasn’t just staring at the walls in despair. And it gave him a chance to interact with people, to stave off a bit of the loneliness that plagued his every waking moment.

The first week of work had been clearing out a portion of a collapsed building so the heavy machines could do the rest. Then they had moved to another section shoring up a few walls that remained so they could be used whenever reconstruction began. When he was told about it, Steve got excited, thinking finally he’d get something a bit more interesting to do, but he was soon disappointed. His role was simply to fetch materials for the other guys.

“Hey, I can do that,” Steve told Lou.

“You know how to do this?”

“Sure.” How hard could it be, Steve thought. Lou gave him a somewhat dubious look. “I want to help,” Steve continued, as earnestly as he could be.

“Okay, fine. Check in with Gary, then.”

“Sure thing.” Steve replied with a smile.

Gary was doing something else, so Steve decided not to bother him and took care of it himself. He’d seen some of the guys mixing up the cement, so he did the same and then applied it to the portions of the wall that were a bit crumbly. He had just finished when Ms Mathers came by looking for Lou.

“I think he’s checking on the guys over on the other side of the site, ma’am,” Steve told her.

She nodded, typing something into her phone, and glanced at him again. “And what are you doing?”

“Fixing this wall.” Wasn’t that obvious? Steve still didn’t get why they had put a woman in charge here when there were so many guys here. It must have been some kind of political thing. Steve had heard something about it on TV in one of the few times he’d bothered to turn it on.

“Who’s supervising you?”

Steve had to grit his teeth not to say something rude. “I know what I’m doing.”

“You’ve only been here a week, Rogers. I’ll repeat, who is supervising you?”

“Gary,” he replied, annoyed. He didn’t have to take this. He was a hero. These people should be grateful he was here at all.

“Then make sure he checks that wall out before you do anything else.”

Steve nodded, and turned away from her to hide his anger. How dare this woman question his skills? He couldn’t help remember all the times when he had been dismissed, overlooked and ridiculed. He’d thought becoming Captain America had meant an end to all of that, but apparently not. After all he’d accomplished and everything he’d lost, he still couldn’t get any recognition.

When she was gone, Steve continued what he had been doing, muttering to himself about the disrespect of the future. He longed to be back in his time, where things made sense. Where he was Captain America and that meant something.

When Gary finally came by, Steve thought he’d feel better. Surely this guy would see that Steve was doing a good job.

“Fuck’s sake, Rogers,” Gary started.

“Language,” Steve muttered. He’d never liked cursing. His mom used to say that only thugs and fools used that kind of language.

Gary glared at him and continued. “This is a mess. It’s the shoddiest work I’ve ever seen. It’s like you’ve never done this before.” He narrowed his eyes. “And you haven’t, have you? Damn it, we’re gonna have to redo it, and it’s more work for us when we’re already swamped.” The annoyance in the man’s expression was unmistakable, and it made Steve’s hackles rise.

Steve stood to his full height, towering over the smaller man. He wasn’t going to stand here and be insulted. He had saved the word – twice! – he didn’t need to put up with this.

“Fine. I quit, then.” He threw his helmet down on the ground and stalked off angrily. He didn’t even bother to go to the office to collect his partial pay check. It wasn’t like he was desperate for money. All he wanted was to get out of here.

All he wanted was to go back to a time when things made sense, when he wasn’t so lost. When he was appreciated.

He hated the future.

 

2. Barista

After he quit the construction job, Steve stayed in his tiny apartment, angry at how things had turned out. He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew he was brooding.

Most of all, though, he was bored.

There was only so much TV he could watch, and the computer SHIELD had given him was still mostly a mystery to him. One of the agents who had set it up for him had told him to call if he had any questions or needed help, yet Steve refused to do that. He didn’t want to look like he didn’t know what he was doing. He’d thought he could figure it out by himself, and it had worked for a while. Then the computer went and changed things on him, and now he didn’t know how to make it behave again. It was frustrating an annoying. The last time he had tried to use it, he had nearly chucked the thing at the wall in a fit of rage.

He went running around the neighborhood every morning and every afternoon, and those ended up being the best part of his days.

Every day he hoped someone from SHIELD would call to give him something to do – some enemy to fight – and every day he was disappointed.

At the end of his run, he sometimes stopped at a little coffee shop a block from his apartment to get a bite to eat. One good thing he could say about the future; the food was plentiful, and good. Well, some of it was, at least (some was quite horrible). He didn’t really care much for coffee, but they had all sorts of fruit juices as well as doughnuts, cupcakes and brownies.

Steve went in and immediately noticed that the line seemed much longer than usual. Generally, there were only a few people at this hour. With a sigh, Steve considered just going home. The thought of his empty apartment and its loneliness was enough to make him stay, though. Even it took forever for him to get to the counter, what did it matter, really? It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be or anyone waiting for him.

“Good afternoon,” the girl at the counter said with a frazzled smiled. “I’m sorry for the delay. We’re a bit short staffed today.” It was only then that Steve realized the girl was the only one there, rather than the usual three people manning the counter. “What can I get you?” Steve gave his order. “Right. It will just be a moment.”

“No problem.”

The actual food didn’t take that long to arrive, thankfully, but Steve still felt sorry for the girl having to deal with a lot of angry impatient people. When the crowd finally thinned enough for the girl to take a bit of a breather, Steve approached the counter.

“What happened to the other guys?” he asked. At her puzzled look, he clarified. “Your co-workers.”

“Oh. They quit. Bit of a drama earlier. I’m not really sure what happened, to tell you the truth, I was a little late for my shift today.”

Steve made what he hoped was a sympathetic noise. Then an idea occurred to him. “Hey, do you think I could get a job here? I’ve been looking for one, actually. I could start tomorrow. Hell, I could start right now.”

The girl’s eyes lit up. “Really? Yeah, maybe. I’ll have to call my manager. What’s your name?”

“Steve. And you?”

“Joyce.”

Joyce made the call and just like that, Steve got himself a new job.

“Can you be here at 9 am tomorrow?” she asked.

“Sure. It’s about the time I finish my run anyway. I live nearby.”

“Awesome. You can talk to Serena, she’ll explain everything to you.”

The next day, Steve arrived right on time and met Serena. They went over the work, and Steve thought it seemed simple enough. All he had to do was take orders, input them into the system, receive payment and give people their orders. The computer part was the trickiest one, but Steve was sure he could manage it after a bit of practice. He had no idea there were so many different types of coffee, though. It was mind-boggling. The machines that made the coffee were not as complicated, because all he had to do was pretty much press the right buttons. He also learned how to swipe credit and debit cards, since people didn’t seem to use actual money anymore.

All in all, he was happy to have gotten this job. It got him out of the house, got him a (modest) paycheck, and he could talk to people a bit.

No one seemed to have recognized him, and he decided it was better this way. He wasn’t a showman like Tony Stark; he didn’t need to have people lining up to take his picture. Until he got his feet on the ground a bit more, he figured it was better to keep a low profile. Less pressure that way.

His first few days went fine. It got a little crazy on the busiest times of the day, but nothing he couldn’t handle. When he got an order wrong (which happened from time to time – why were there so many types of coffee, for god’s sake?), he smiled, apologized, got a new one and that was that.

On his second week, though, he got the kind of rude costumer his co-workers had warned him about.

“Hey, buddy. I asked for a double latte. Does this look like a double latte to you?”

Steve paused in the act of giving the costumer in front of him her change to look at the man brandishing the cup in his face.

“What?” Steve asked, tampering down on his irritation for the rudeness of the gesture.

“I said I ordered a double latte. And this is not it,” the man said, sounding even angrier. “Also, I said my name was Craig, not Greg. Do you have some kind of hearing problem?”

“Hey, there’s no need to be rude. It’s an honest mistake.” What Steve really wanted to do was teach this asshole a lesson, but the manager had been very clear that he had to be nice to all the costumers, even the ones who were awful. While Steve didn’t technically need this job, he didn’t want to have to quit a second one in a month.

“Well, then fix it. And I’m not paying for another coffee.”

With gritted teeth, Steve looked at the man. “If you’ll wait a moment, I’ll get a new one for you.” Then he returned to the woman he’d been speaking to and gave her the change he still had in his hand.

“I want my coffee now.”

Steve ignored him and got the woman’s order together, an expresso and a croissant. “Thank you, ma’am. Have a nice day.”

“Thanks. You too.” She gave a sideways look at the rude man as in commiseration, and left.

“Hey!” the man said, raising his voice.

“I told you to just wait a moment.” He went back to the machine to get the damn double latte for Craig, Greg, or whatever his name was. He knew he was supposed to smile, but there was no way he could do that. “Here you go.”

Craig snatched the cup out of his hand with a huff of irritation and, thankfully, left.

Steve thought the matter was over, but Craig was there the next day. Steve had just stepped out for his break and bumped into him coming in.

“Watch it!” Craig said, looking at Steve like he was dirt under his shoe. It was a look Steve was unfortunately familiar with. It was the look all the bullies had given him when Steve had tried to stand up for himself when he was small. Like he was insignificant.

Well, Steve wasn’t insignificant anymore. Nor was he small.

“You need to mind your manners,” he told Craig.

Craig was not a small guy either. He wasn’t as tall as Steve, but he did look like he worked out. He was probably the kind of man who was used to using his body to intimidate people. Only Steve wasn’t going to be intimidated.

“Get out of my way, coffee boy. I’m an important man and I don’t have time for this little pissing contest.”

“I don’t bow down to bullies,” Steve said in his most assertive tone, the one he’d used to lead his men back in the war (back when he was important and happy).

Craig looked him up and down and shrugged. “Whatever.” Then he walked into the coffee shop, not sparing Steve another glance.

For a while, Steve could only stare. He wanted to go inside and punch the asshole in the face, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Right after the invasion had ended, before everyone had gone their separate ways, Steve had gotten some of the SHIELD agents to spar with him. They had all been strung out and needed an outlet. It had felt good to be able to fight again; it had made him feel alive. Unfortunately, Steve had forgotten that he was much stronger than a regular person, and three SHIELD agents had ended up with broken bones. Fury had been pretty pissed off about it, and told Steve that he had to be more careful, because Fury wasn’t going to bail him out if the broke some random civilian’s arm while out jogging or something.

So Steve couldn’t do anything about Craig. If he hurt the man, he’d get in trouble. It galled him to have to walk away now when he actually could do something about Craig’s horrible attitude. Christ, what he wouldn’t give for a few aliens to punch right now. Even those stupid bags at SHIELD wouldn’t do much to curb the frustration curling in his gut.

Steve waited until Craig was gone to go back to the coffee shop.

“I really appreciate the opportunity, Serena,” he told her, “but I don’t think this is the right job for me.” He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep his temper in check around all these awful rude people who thought they could treat others like dirt.

At home, he sat on the bed staring at the wall for a long time. He wished he’d never left the ice.

 

3. Model

Steve was still feeling angry and frustrated over what had happened at the coffee shop. He had been right to quit, he knew that, yet that did not stop him from feeling like a failure. How hard could it be to keep a job for more than a couple of weeks? People seemed to do it all the time, and Steve was supposed to be better than ordinary people. (That wasn’t a nice thought to have, but it was there anyway. Erskine had chosen him because he was good, and good became better. So why was everything so difficult?)

It was a point of pride now. He had to be able to do this; he was Captain America, he didn’t want to be dependent on anyone.

Unfortunately, finding another job was not that simple. Everything he saw seemed to require qualifications he didn’t have. Hell, some he didn’t even understand. What the hell was a telemarketing operator, for god’s sake?

At last, he came upon something that might work. In a Laundromat window, Steve saw a sign that some local arts students were looking for models, and were offering fifty dollars for a couple of hours of sitting around. It wasn’t a lot, but Steve didn’t really have else anything to do, so he could be there every day. It might not be very glamorous, as jobs went, but at least it would put him in contact with artists. Who knew, he might show them some of his own sketches and perhaps get some tips into how to pursue that. Of course he still wanted to be Captain America, but these last few months had shown him that being a hero was not a full time job, not without an actual war going on he could fight in. Steve wrote down the address and went home.

He had a good feeling about this one.

The next day, he was there at nine in the morning.

“Hi. I’m here about the modeling job,” he told the woman who opened the door.

“Oh, wow. Excellent. You’re perfect. Come on in.”

Steve was led into a spacious studio apartment, where several people were already set up in a semicircle, canvases in front of them. Aside from the woman who greeted him, there were two others and two men. None of them looked up, focused on their work and the woman who was posing for them in the center of the room. She was lying in a divan, wearing a rather revealing dress and holding a small mirror in one hand.

“I’m Mara. What’s your name?”

Steve forced himself to drag his attention away from the model. “Steve.”

“Hi, Steve. So, it’s pretty straight forward. All you have to do it sit there without moving – or moving as little as possible – for a few hours. Sound good?”

“Sure.”

“Great. Lucy’s time will be done in half an hour, and then you can start, if that’s all right with you.”

“Okay.”

“Can I get you some coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Mara nodded and went over to a small table set against a wall in the back. Steve wandered over to see what the artists were doing. Some were using charcoal while others used watercolors or acrylic paint. The art itself was highly variable as well, Steve noted. Some were very life-like, others seemed more abstract, using the woman posing more for inspiration than as an actual model. Steve realized he would very much like to do some sketching too.

“Here you go,” Mara said, handing him the coffee with a smile.

“You’re a university student?” Steve asked.

“Yes. Most of us here are. Art majors, you know.”

“Sounds interesting. I… I draw a little myself.”

“Oh? Well, you’re welcomed to join us. You’ll need to bring your own material, though. And we do charge a little fee, for the rent.”

“Of course.”

Steve went back to walking around as he sipped his coffee until Mara told the woman – Lucy, wasn’t it? – that her time was up. Lucy stood and stretched, making her already tiny dress hike up even more. Steve hastily averted his gaze, feeling his cheeks flame.

“Everyone, this is Steve.”

Five pairs of eyes were suddenly on him, and Steve flushed even more under the scrutiny. He knew that he looked good after the transformation from the serum, but he had never really had much time to truly appreciate what that would mean in terms of garnering people’s attention. Back then, there had been the war to worry about – and the only woman he had been interested in was Peggy.

Lucy disappeared into a room Steve had not noticed before – probably a bathroom – as the artists looked Steve over from head to toe.

“You’ll do nicely, Steve,” one of the man said. “Why don’t you sit over there for a bit so we can get a feel for you?”

Still feeling mildly embarrassed, Steve complied. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself, so he simply sat straight. Despite his apprehension, though, it wasn’t so bad. Every now and then someone asked him to turn this way or that, or position himself in different ways. By the time Mara told him he was done for the day, Steve had actually begun to relax.

“Can you come back on Friday? Same time?”

“Sure.”

“Great. And here.” She gave him his payment and walked him to the door.

All in all, Steve thought it had gone pretty well. It might not be the most exciting job in the world, but it was something do pass the time and earn some money.

Over the next couple of weeks, Steve got to know the artists a little bit, and he even took his own sketchbook one time to doodle on after his time modeling was up. It was all going well.

Of course, he should have known that it couldn’t last. His luck had been abysmal so far, after all.

Occasionally Steve was given specific outfits to wear, or was asked to dress a certain way. It hadn’t been much of an issue, though the suit had been uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to such formal wear, and it made him feel awkward – also, the suit was a bit too small for him, and he could hardly move for fear of ripping it. Still, he understood the purpose. Clothes and fabric were tricky to get right, and the artists need to practice with as much variety as they could.

“Hey, Steve,” Mara said as they walked up the apartment.

“Hi, Mara.”

“So, we have something new we’d like you to do today.”

“Yeah, sure.”

She smiled. “Great. We’re doing nudes today.”

Steve thought he hadn’t heard it right, but then she opened the door and there was Lucy, not a stitch on, reclined on the divan. He felt his face heat with embarrassment and averted his eyes.

“So, can you do that?”

It took a moment for the meaning to really penetrate. “What?”

“The artists need a male nude. Is that all right with you?”

Steve stared at her, utterly speechless. “What? Are you insane? What…? What kind of perverts are you people?” He hadn’t realized he’d raised his voice until he saw that everyone was staring at him. It just made him buckle down on his indignation. “I’m not… I would never… How can you even think of such a thing?”

Mara backed up, arms raised. “Hey, there’s no need to get snippy. You can just say no, no problem.”

“It’s not…” Steve glanced over to Lucy again and quickly turned the other way. “You people should be ashamed of yourselves, going on like… this.” He made a gesture to encompass the whole room and fled down the stairs.

Afterwards, back in his apartment, he thought perhaps he had exaggerated a little. It wasn’t like nude models were a modern invention, after all. It was just that Steve wasn’t used to that sort of thing. It was one thing to see a painting of a naked woman, it was another thing entirely to see the real flesh and blood naked woman. And in those kinds of circumstances, with everyone just sitting around looking as if it was nothing. It was… disconcerting. And the thought of Steve himself being naked in front of strangers make him squirm with discomfort and embarrassment.

Perhaps he could have just said no like Mara had said. Surely no one would have demanded that he strip. He’d overreacted. But now it was too late. He’d made a spectacle of himself and offended everyone just because he was uncomfortable. He couldn’t go back there.

Damn it, Steve thought. Now what?

Keeping a job was proving to be a lot harder than he’d ever anticipated.

 

4. Bouncer

Steve went by SHIELD every once in a while, hoping they’d have something for him to do, but so far he’d had no luck with that. It appeared that Fury was busy with some secret project and didn’t even have time to talk to Steve. The only one Steve could speak to was Agent Hill, who told him she’d call him if they had a mission for him.

“You should take the time to get to know the future, Captain. There are a lot of great things now. Go and enjoy yourself,” she’d said.

It had sounded a little condescending, though it might not have been intended like that. Perhaps Steve was just overtly sensitive, given that nothing was working out for him now.

He debated calling Natasha or Clint again. Hell, he debated calling Stark – and Steve didn’t even like the guy (also, he didn’t exactly have a number, though he could have gotten it from SHIELD, he supposed). He was just… lonely. Lonely and miserable.

In the end, he caved and called Natasha, but he got no answer. So he tried Clint.

“Hey, what’s up, Cap?” the archer said.

“Hi, Clint. How are you?”

“I’m… you know… not too bad, all things considered. I think they’ll let me out in the field again soon. I can’t wait.”

“Yeah. It’s… frustrating… not having anything to do,” Steve agreed.

“How did the job hunting go?” Clint asked. “I thought you were gonna give that a try.”

Steve gritted his teeth and made a noncommittal noise. He didn’t want to admit that he’d already quit three jobs in less than two month. It would make him look like a failure.

“I… I’m trying,” he finally said. “It’s not as easy as I thought to find something.”

“Hmm… Not even construction?”

“They wanted someone with… qualifications,” he said. Steve could still remember being told he didn’t know what he was doing, and how angry that had made him. He was a soldier, he knew lots of things!

“Ah, yeah. That could be a problem. Well, how about private security? I don’t think you need much for that. Oh, or bouncer. That doesn’t need any qualifications except being big and imposing.”

“What’s that exactly?” Steve asked, feeling a little more optimistic. If being big was a requirement, that would be perfect for him.

From what Clint said, it sounded very simple, and definitely something Steve could do. “Thanks, Clint. I’ll try that.”

“Sure. There must be a ton of clubs in New York you could try. One of them is bound to need someone. If you don’t mind working nights, you might find something.”

“Yeah. Thanks again.”

It took Steve a little while, but he got a job as a bouncer. The first day he stayed inside the club, keeping an eye on the patrons. By the time the club closed, Steve felt his head pounding from that awful noise they called music, so he asked the manager to stay outside handling the door. He didn’t think he’d be able to stand listening to that drivel all night along again.

Keith, the manager, said he could switch with the guy at the door sometimes, though not always. It wasn’t ideal, but Steve agreed. Maybe he could buy earplugs for next time, that might make the ‘music’ (using the term loosely) more tolerable.

The earplugs did help a little. They dampened the noise and Steve felt less like tearing his hair off in frustration. The job itself was pretty boring though. There wasn’t much to do except watch people dance (sometimes drunkenly) and make out with each other. It made Steve really uncomfortable, the way these young people carried on. It was a public place, for god’s sake! Everyone was watching. The girls, especially, were downright… inappropriate (to say the least). It really wasn’t the way ladies should behave. Steve couldn’t help thinking of his mother and what she’d say if she saw this.

It was yet one more thing that he disliked about the future. Everyone seemed… promiscuous and overtly sexual in a way that was… forced and weird. Steve had caught a few of the female patrons eying him in a way that made him want to hide in shame. Back when he’d been skinny and sickly, he’d desperately wanted girls to notice him, but not like this. Not like he was… a thing. One or two had even come close and danced around him (almost grinding him), and Steve had had to squash himself into the wall to escape. This wasn’t the way dating was supposed to go at all.

(And all it did was make him miss Peggy even more. He knew she was still alive because that had been in the files SHIELD had given him. He’d thought about going to see him, but the file also noted that she was old and had some memory problems, and Steve wasn’t sure he could stand it if she didn’t recognize him.)

Manning the door of the club was much easier, and Steve was glad to get that assignment today. The patrons were still loud (it seemed young people nowadays were always yelling and laughing far too loud, with no consideration for anyone else; it was late, there were probably people trying to sleep, for god’s sake), but at least no one paid much attention to him. Sometimes people got a bit over excited and wanted to cut the line, so Steve told them to settle down. So far, he’d had no problem. All he had to do was stand tall and the would-be trouble maker would back off. Steve could see why being big and imposing was a requirement for this job.

It was almost time to close the club doors, and Steve was looking forward to going home. Standing around doing pretty much nothing didn’t exactly tire him, but Steve longed for a shower and his bed anyway.

Then there was a scream, and Steve looked around to find out what was going on. Finally, something to do!

Not far from the club’s entrance, a drunk guy was holding a girl’s arm, trying to get a kiss. The woman was shoving him away, but she seemed a little unsteady on her feet too, and couldn’t get free.

“Hey!” Steve yelled, coming closer to glare at the man. “Let go of her.”

The guy scowled, but complied. “All I wanted was a little kiss,” he said.

“And I told you I’m not interested,” the woman replied. “So fuck off.”

Steve considered reprimanding her for the language, but decided to let it go. She was probably upset.

“Fuck you, bitch.” The man made a rude gesture, lost his balance and fell on his ass. Steve shook his head at the unseemly display and led the girl away while the mad tried to regain his footing. Steve had never had much patience for drunks.

“Thanks,” the woman said once they were back at the entrance to the club. It was almost empty now, only a few people standing around typing into their phones, probably waiting for a taxi.

“No problem.” Steve smiled. The woman was pretty, but she was wearing far too much makeup for his taste. “But miss, you might want to reconsider your clothes,” he told her gently. She looked young, in her twenties, maybe. Didn’t she have a mother to tell her not to go around like this?

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, it’s very… provocative. It gives people the wrong impression.” The skirt she was wearing could hardly be called that, it was so short. It left her legs pretty much bare. The top also seemed to be a size too small for her, making her breasts almost jump out of it. The extremely high (and impractical; how could she even stand in those?) heels didn’t help the image either. It was really no wonder that drunk idiot was all over her.

“Excuse me?”

“I just mean that a sweet girl like you should be a little more… covered up.” Just looking at her was making him squirm. It wasn’t as bad as the naked woman in the art studio a couple of weeks back, but it was close.  This girl was practically naked too!

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“It’s for your own protection, miss. Men can get a bit… rowdy, especially when they’re drunk, and you’re not helping matters dressed like that.”

“So it’s my fault that I was being harassed?” She glared at him, which Steve thought was uncalled for. He was just trying to help.

“No, no. It’s just… well… It sends the wrong message.” Surely she could see that? Unless she had done it on purpose. Steve had noticed that girls dressed a lot more provocatively these days.

“And what message is that? That I’m a hooker? A slut? And that makes it okay for men to harass me?”

Steve didn’t answer it, but, well… If the shoe fit… “What I mean is that… Well, you can’t expect people to respect you if you don’t respect yourself.” That was something his mother used to say, and it seemed that girls had forgotten that now. Peggy would never have dressed like that.

“Fuck you, you sexist asshole. I’ll dress anyway I want, and the only message it should send it that I’m a grown woman – not a girl – who should be respected no matter what. Christ, what a jerk.”

A few other women who were standing nearby began looking at Steve like he was dirt under their shoe, and whispering to each other. They probably thought he couldn’t hear it, but thanks to the serum, he could.

“Sexist dick. Who the hell asked his opinion about her outfit anyway?”

“If that’s the kind of bouncer this club has, I’m not sure I want to come here anymore. He’ll probably side with the guys if he doesn’t like the way the woman is dressed.”

“Why are all the cute guys complete jerks? It’s not fair.”

Steve gritted his teeth and said nothing. It was no use arguing, he knew. The best he could do was ignore it. It wouldn’t be long now until it was time to go home. When the club finally closed its doors, Steve told the manager he wouldn’t be back. The little money he was making wasn’t worth the aggravation. There had to be something out there that he could do that wouldn’t make him feel awful for not understanding the rules. He hated the way everything had changed and he was constantly wrong-footed and lost. Nothing made sense.

God, he couldn’t wait for SHIELD’s call.

 

5. Firefighter

For the next few days, Steve stayed in his apartment. He wasn’t sulking, exactly, he was just… taking a break. He wasn’t going to give up, though. No, sir. Steve Rogers was not a quitter. His determination and stubbornness had carried him through his whole life, and he wasn’t about to let go of it now. Even if it was hard. Even if he couldn’t see what else he could try. (Even if he wanted to scream – or go back to the ice.)

He turned on the TV to distract himself, but there didn’t seem to be much worth watching. Tony Stark was in the news for… something… and it was all the news channels talked about. It was something to do with a charity foundation. Steve watched Stark’s self-satisfied grin as he shook hands with a bunch of people, and anger pooled in his gut. Why did Stark get everything? It didn’t seem right. People kept talking about how the man had saved the world, and fawning over him, completely forgetting that there had been other heroes there that day. Steve had killed a lot of aliens and protected civilians on the ground. Why didn’t anyone talk about that? It was beyond frustrating.

Steve had worked really hard to get where he was, to become Captain America and earn people’s respect, and now it was all going down the drain.

Despondent, Steve paced listlessly, muttering to himself about the unfairness of life.

The sound of a siren blasted outside his window, and Steve went over to see what was going on. A fire truck was going past, heading north. Steve made a dash down the stairs and followed it.

Perhaps he could still put his skills to use in saving people. That would be a much more worthwhile job than the crap he’d tried before.

The fire truck stopped in front of a burning building. Aside from the flames, there was plenty of smoke coming out of the windows, and a crowd was gathered nearby, watching and filming the whole thing. Steve approached one of the firefighters.

“Hi, I’m Steve Rogers. I’m here to help. What can I do?”

The firefighter looked at him for a moment, but there was no sign of recognition. Tony had asked the Avengers to do some press appearances after the battle, but Steve had refused. He wasn’t a dancing monkey anymore. Now, he was regretting that decision. Fury had told him they would work out a way to introduce the Avengers to the public, yet nothing had really been done so far.

“Are you a firefighter?”

“No, but I’m strong and fast. If you tell me what needs done, I can do it.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sure you want to help, but I can’t have untrained people running around.” Most of the other firefighters were already setting a perimeter and going into the building. “You need to stay behind the line.” He pushed Steve away gently and started relaying orders to his fellows.

Steve complied, but kept an eye on things. Perhaps he’d have a chance to prove himself.

The opportunity came a few minutes later. The balcony in one of the windows cracked. Steve jumped over the perimeter line and shoved the people underneath away to safety. After that, he started herding the people coming out of the building to the awaiting ambulances.

When the fire was finally controlled, the same firefighter came to speak to him. “Look, if you’re serious about this job, you can come by the station and we’ll see about getting you into the program.”

Steve smiled and shook the man’s hand.

The next day, he arrived bright and early, eager to finally do something good.

Paul, the commander of the station, was very friendly, inviting Steve to a small office where they could talk. “Well, you need a high school diploma and a driver’s license for New York. I assume that’s not a problem?”

Steve produced the license SHIELD had given him, not commenting on the diploma part. He was sure he could get someone at SHIELD to sort that out for him. They’d provided all his documents already, it shouldn’t be hard. It wouldn’t matter that Steve had actually never gotten a diploma in the 40s, since that wouldn’t have been valid anyway.

“Good,” Paul said, handing the license back. “I can see you’re pretty fit, so you probably won’t have any problem with the physical tests.”

“None at all,” Steve replied, beaming.

“Great. So I’ll give you an application form to fill out. We do background checks, so if you’ve had any kind of issues with the law, you should tell me now.”

“No, nothing.”

“Good. So there will be an initial interview, and then, if that goes well, you can start studying for the exams.”

“Exams?”

“Yes. You’ll have to take a couple of written tests, as well as a physical evaluation test. I’ll give you some brochures with the material you need to cover. Typically, it takes applicants six months to a year to be ready, depending on how much of the required reading they’ve already done.”

“Six months to a year?” Steve asked in dismay. He couldn’t wait that long. He wanted to start now! “Is that really necessary?”

“Yes, it is. Then you’ll have the required on-the-job training.”

“I… That’s a really long time.”

“Well, yes. This is a serious job, Steve. People need to be properly qualified.” He paused. “If you’re worried about money, maybe I can help you find something while you’re doing all this.” He leafed through his desk and handed Steve a stack of flyers and brochures. “These should help you get started. All the information you need is there, including the books you’ll need and the address to online sites that can help you further.”

Steve took the papers numbly, glancing at a long list of things he was supposed to know.

“Thank you,” he said, though inside he was already saying goodbye to yet another job.

They talked for a while more, and Steve had to work hard not to let his disappointment show. He had thought that this time would be it, the chance he had been looking for. Why did he need to jump through all these hoops? He’d been in the army! He knew how to save people, that was his job! While technically he had enough time get all these qualifications, just the thought of going through all that exhausted him. He’d barely gotten by in school, since he’d had to miss so much of it because of his poor health. In this time, when everything was already different and confusing, Steve hated the thought of repeating the humiliation of being thought stupid. Becoming Captain America was supposed to fix all that. It was supposed to make him better, respected. He shouldn’t have to prove anything anymore; he’d already done so by being transformed.

When he got home, he tossed all the brochures in the trash. He felt like crying. Nothing was going right. He didn’t know what else he could do.

He wished he’d stayed in the ice.

He was out jogging a couple of days later when his phone rang. It startled him, since he didn’t think anyone had his number.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Steve, it’s Natasha.”

“Oh, hi.”

“Can you come to DC? We need you.”

Steve’s heart began to race, and a smile spread across his face. “Absolutely.” It seemed like things were beginning to look up after all. Finally he would get to do the job he was meant to do.

 

+1. Avenger

When the dust settled after Ultron, Steve was glad. Sure, it had felt great to be able to do something worthwhile again – save the world from a homicidal robot – but he needed to get back to finding Bucky. Now that he knew his friend was still alive, it was all Steve thought about. He had to get Bucky back. Steve knew that if he could just find Bucky and bring him home that everything was going to be all right. He would no longer be lost and alone, constantly struggling to fit in in a world that he didn’t understand. He would be getting a piece of the past back. Peggy was gone (not dead, but she might as well be for how much she had changed), so Bucky was all he had. Bucky had always been all Steve had, and now he needed his friend more than ever.

So, after Hydra had been exposed, Steve, Nat and Sam had been trying to find Bucky. It hadn’t been easy, unfortunately. Bucky knew how not to call attention to himself.

In the course of looking over information about the Winter Soldier (god, Steve hated that name. It was Bucky), Nat had found out that Hydra had stolen Loki’s scepter from SHIELD. It was too dangerous a weapon to be left in their hands, so Steve had had to pause the search for Bucky to focus on that. And he’d had to involve the rest of the Avengers. Thor had been pretty angry when he’d found out, and practically demanded they all get together to handle it. Steve would have preferred not to get Tony into it at all, but he’d had to admit that his resources were necessary for something like that.

Now, with the scepter found – and Ultron destroyed – Steve could turn his attention back to Bucky. And, as a bonus, Tony had stepped back after Ultron, so he was unlikely to poke his nose into the search for Bucky. Furthermore, Wanda might be able to help Bucky when they found him. Steve had promised to ease the way for her to become an Avenger in exchange for her assistance with a personal matter. He hadn’t told her what it was exactly, because he wasn’t sure he could trust her just yet, but at least it was something. He had a plan.

It was all going to work out now, he knew it. After all those frustrating and demeaning jobs, Steve was finally back to doing what he knew, what he’d been made for. He was a Captain America. And soon he would have Bucky by his side once more, and everything was going to fall into place. Life would make sense again.

Or at least, that was what he’d hoped.

Three weeks after Thor (and Tony) had left, Steve was itching to have a new lead on Bucky. Nat had told him she had some contacts that owed her favors, and they had promised to get back to her with information. It was annoying that Steve had to wait for other people in order to act, but there was nothing he could do about it for now. As long as Bucky was found, Steve wouldn’t care how it happened.

He was out running around the grounds when he saw the car pull up. The fancy car left no doubt as to who was coming, and Steve had to suppress a sigh of irritation. What was Tony doing here?

And he wasn’t alone. Rhodes and two guys in suits stepped out of the car as well. The suits looked like agents, and that make Steve suspicious. Were they SHIELD? Or something else? Why would they be here?

“Hey, Tony,” Steve said, coming closer with a smile that he hoped didn’t look as forced as it felt.

“Steve,” Tony replied rather coldly. “We need to talk.” With that he simply walked in as if he owned the place (technically he did, but he’d quit, so he should no longer have the right to just barge in whenever he wanted).

With a wary look at the suits, Steve followed. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Last minute thing,” Tony said, still not really looking at Steve. “Have to talk to everyone, so here we are. Can you call the others to meet us in the conference room?”

“What’s this about?”

“Get everyone first. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.”

Annoyed, Steve nevertheless complied. He sooner he got Tony out of here the sooner he could get everything back in order.

The others were just as surprised as him about Tony’s visit (except maybe Vision; who knew what he thought about anything), and Wanda muttered something in her native language Steve couldn’t understand. He and Natasha traded worried glances. There was nothing to do now but see what Tony wanted.

Tony and Rhodes were already seated when the Avengers arrived, the two suits standing at the back of the room. Agent Hill and a couple of other people Steve vaguely recognized as former SHIELD agents were also there. Steve really didn’t like this. What was all this about? Tony was up to something and it was probably nothing good.

“All right, we’re here. What’s this about?” Steve asked again, eying the strangers suspiciously.

Tony looked at each of the Avengers in turn. When the billionaire had first invited them to the Tower, he had been all smiles and jokes – which Steve had found grating since most of the jokes seemed to involve references that went over his head. Now there was no smile to be found, no hint of camaraderie. It made Steve even more nervous.

“So, as I’m sure you know, the investigation into Ultron has just ended,” Tony began, and Steve clenched his jaw slightly. He really didn’t like this. “The investigative panel found that Bruce and I bear no responsibility for the alien entity that called itself Ultron. Whatever it was, it was already present in the scepter, and came online due to unforeseen circumstances.” Tony paused, staring right at Steve, as if daring him to say something.

“We know what happened, Tony,” Steve said at last.

“No, I don’t think you do. You have no idea what Bruce and I were doing in the first place, and you have even less idea how Ultron came to be.”

Steve pursed his lips. “We know you never told us anything about Ultron.”

“And why should I have? Really, tell me that. Tell me why I should have talked to any of you – and by you, I mean you and Natasha, since Thor and Clint aren’t here – about a tech project. Do you know anything about computers, Steve? Do you know anything about Artificial Intelligence? No. So what exactly could you have contributed to that? I talked to the one person who had some expertise on the matter – that is, Bruce.”

“You mean you bullied him into it,” Steve replied with gritted teeth.

“No. I stated my case and he agreed. I convinced him – with arguments. It’s a thing people do.”

Steve bristled and sat up straight. “The point is–”

“The point is,” Tony interrupted, “that I stepped back from the Avengers because of that. Now that the matter has been put to rest – and now that I’ve had some time to think about things – I’m back. And there are going to be some changes around here.”

“You can’t make that decision. You’re not in charge here,” Steve said. “I am.”

Tony smiled. It was not a nice smile. It was a shark smile, full of teeth and confidence. Steve felt the urge to squirm, but he controlled himself.

“And that is the very first thing that’s gonna change.”

“What?” Steve said. Sam and Nat also made displeased noises. Wanda glared and Vision had no reaction whatsoever.

“You’re being fired as leader of the Avengers. Effective immediately.”

“What? You can’t do that!” Steve and Sam spoke almost at the same time.

“You have no qualifications for this job, Steve,” Tony went on, utterly unperturbed. “You didn’t even finish basic training back in the 40s – you’re not even a real Captain, that’s just a stage name that stuck. You’re still way behind in catching up with all you lost in 70 years – which is understandable, of course. And, more importantly, your leadership” he stressed the word in a mocking tone “has been something of a mess so far.”

“How dare–”

“DC. Hydra. Hellicarriers dropping from the sky. Millions of secrets dumped online for the whole world to see. Hundreds dead as a result.”

“We stopped Hydra!”

“No, you didn’t. You stopped SHIELD. We still don’t really know who was and wasn’t Hydra. And in any case, the price was far too high. You nearly started World War III.”

“Come on, man,” Sam said. “That’s a huge exaggeration.”

“Is it?” Tony gestured to one of the man in suits. “Agent Linner here is from the CIA. He’s going to explain.”

Agent Linner came closer, looking decidedly unfriendly. “When you dumped all SHIELD’s files online, a whole lot of information got out. Information that compromised not only national security, but also our relationship with several other nations, both allies and not. There was information on defensive and offensive strategies, as well as key figures in both the domestic and international stage, and intelligence about other nations and projects. SHIELD was not entirely an American agency, but it had heavy ties to the US, and world leaders were not pleased by what was revealed about us and them in those files. So, no, Sgt Wilson, it is not an exaggeration. We are lucky no one really wants another world war, because if they did, this would have been the starting point, make no mistake.” He paused and glared at Steve, Nat and Sam. “The dump also took us all by surprise, so there was no time for any kind of damage control. Countless agents – as well as their families and innocent bystanders – were killed in the days that followed it. Not to mention the dead and injured in DC. So if that was an example of your leadership skills, Mr Rogers, you definitely need to be replaced as soon as possible.”

There was a sort of stunned silence after Linner’s words. Steve didn’t know what to say, and he hated the feeling of humiliation churning in his gut.

“After that disaster,” Tony said before Steve could think of a retort, “the world began to look more carefully at the Avengers and how they operate. It was all well and good to stop an invading alien army, and no one could be blamed for the destruction that brought. Hell, the world was happy it wasn’t worse, ‘cause it sure as hell could have been. But what happened in DC was a different matter. That could have been prevented – or at least mitigated – and it wasn’t. And it wasn’t partly because the Avengers (and SHIELD) answer to no one. That can’t continue.” Tony paused, again looking at each one in turn. Steve had no idea what he hoped to find. “Then we started the search for the scepter. Despite the complicated political landmine, we managed, more or less, to coordinate with different nations. Again, no one could argue that securing the scepter wasn’t important and in the best interest of the whole world, so as long as the proper channels were used, it worked. But then Ultron happened, and a whole city was almost destroyed.”

“That wasn’t our fault,” Steve said, finally finding his voice.

“I never said it was.”

“We saved those people.”

“Yes, but there are other issues surrounding that mess that I want to address today, which tie into your leadership problems. Namely, her.” he pointed at Wanda, who scowled. Tony’s cold expression did not change.

Steve felt his hackles rise. “Wanda is–”

“Don’t you dare say she’s a kid. She’s 26 years-old, that’s far from a kid.” Tony’s voice cracked like a whip, and Steve was honestly taken aback. He’d never seen Tony like this. “The issue is that she doesn’t belong here. She needs to answer for what she’s done, with both Ultron and Hydra.”

“And what about you, Stark. When will you answer for what you’ve done?” Wanda hissed, her hands glowing red.

“I haven’t done anything. As you’ve just heard, I’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter of Ultron.”

“You killed my parents! My brother! They’re all dead because of you!”

The mist around her hands became stronger. Sam and Nat, sitting beside her, hastily backed away. Tony stood his ground and stared right at her. If he was afraid, he hid it well enough that Steve couldn’t see it.

“Wanda,” Steve said, reaching out to her.

She made as if to attack Tony, but Vision was quicker. He grabbed her by the arm and held her back. “That is enough, Ms Maximoff.” Wanda struggled, yet couldn’t get free. The power in her hands flared up, than died.

The other suit walked up to the squirming Wanda and snapped some kind of collar around her neck. She snarled in rage and fought even harder, still without success. “Wanda Maximoff, you’re under arrest for suspicion of terrorism.”

“Hey, what are doing to her?” Steve said, now getting up as well. “She’s not–”

“Special Agent Vargas is from the FBI,” Tony said, seemingly unconcerned. “He’s collaborating with international authorities regarding terrorist activities Ms Maximoff might have participated in. She needs to answer some questions.”

Wanda began cursing and twisting. Vision held her still while Vargas handcuffed her.

“You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. The Sokovia government has already been notified and is sending someone to meet with us to discuss the matter of your deportation.”

Vargas and one of former SHIELD agents dragged Wanda away, still spewing curses and a few death threats. Steve felt frozen in place, unable to process what was happening.

It seemed like his carefully laid plans were falling apart right before his eyes. He needed Wanda to help Bucky, damn it.

“What are you doing?” Steve finally said, turning back to Tony, who remained seated, the picture of calm.

“I’m not doing anything, Steve. The warrant for Wanda’s arrest was issued by international authorities. She’s wanted for questioning regarding a number of crimes. Since you insisted on keeping her here, I simply informed the FBI of her whereabouts so they could do their job.” Tony gestured to the chair and Steve reluctantly sat back down.

“What crimes?” he asked.

“Accessory to murder, for one. When Ultron killed the scientists in Dr Cho’s Seoul lab, Wanda and her brother were right there. Cho and the surviving scientists have given testimony against Wanda.”

“What?” Sam asked, turning to Steve. “You didn’t tell me that.”

Steve clenched his jaw. “I didn’t know. They helped us, in Seoul.”

“Yeah, after they realized Ultron’s plan was to destroy the whole planet. You know, the planet they also live in,” Tony drawled, then became serious again. “And that right there is the exact problem, Steve. You didn’t know. You didn’t know because you didn’t ask. You decided Wanda was a victim and ignored everything that pointed in the opposite direction. And, despite knowing nothing about her, you also decided she should be on the team, again ignoring objections. My objections, for example. And Bruce’s, which he would surely give if he was here. After all, it was because of her that he attacked innocent people in Johannesburg. And in ignoring all that, you have helped cover up her crimes, and implicated all of us sitting here in this cover-up as well. Those are not the actions of a good leader. So, you’re fired.”

Steve’s mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out. He couldn’t believe this was happening. “I didn’t… I don’t…” he floundered. “I’m Captain America!” he said at last, though it sounded weak even to his own ears.

“And I’m Iron Man. So what? Those are just names. It means nothing.”

“And I suppose you want to be the leader?” Steve sneered. This was a power grab, Steve realized. Tony was trying to get him out of the way so he could take over and do everything his own way.

“No. That would be Colonel James Rhodes,” he inclined his head in his friend’s direction. “I’m a business man and an engineer, not a military commander. The Avengers’ field leader should be someone with training and experience. Not you, and not me either.”

“What’s going to happen to Wanda?” Natasha said into the uncomfortable silence that followed.

Tony shrugged. “No idea. That’s up to the authorities. You’ll all be questioned, though. I’ve already given a statement. It’s in someone’s hands now. I’m here to discuss the future of the Avengers.”

“It sounds to me like you’ve already decided what that will be,” Sam said, and he sounded a bit suspicious, which Steve appreciated. This had all gotten completely out of control.

“Like I said earlier, the running of the Avengers has been called into question by numerous world leaders, and international organizations like the United Nations. I was contacted by representatives of those concerned voices as a recognized member of the Avengers.”

“Why wasn’t Steve contacted too?” Natasha asked.

“As far as I know, he was. When he didn’t respond, they got in touch with me.”

All eyes turned to Steve, who fidgeted uncomfortably. “I didn’t get any calls.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “They sent emails, Steve, to your official Avengers account.”

“I told you about that, Steve,” Maria Hill interjected. “You said you’d read them and get back to me. I’ve been waiting to hear back from you and set up an appointment.”

“I… I’ve been busy.” He vaguely remembered Hill telling him something about email, but he had been focused on Bucky, and forgotten all about it.

The expression on Tony’s face showed that he was really not impressed by that answer. Steve shifted in the chair again. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. He’d been so close to getting everything back, and now it was all slipping through his fingers.

“Once again proving that you are not fit to be leader. It’s your responsibility to keep on top of these things, Steve, and you haven’t been doing that. Probably because you don’t know you have to, having never been in this sort of position before.” Tony sighed. “I guess it’s partially my fault, since I’ve been doing a lot of your job for you. Perhaps I should have tried to talk to you before, but frankly, I’m a busy man and I don’t have time to hold your hand through everything. I assumed that you would figure it out, but it doesn’t seem like you have.”

He paused, and once more let his gaze linger on everyone present. “But the way things are going is unsustainable. So, Rhodey is taking over, at least for the moment. We’ll all discuss what other changes need to be made, and how to go forward from here.”

Steve straightened and attempted to retake control of the situation. “And what if we disagree with all that?”

“Then I will no longer be part of the Avengers, nor will I fund the group. I cannot endorse this train wreck, Steve.”

“That’s childish,” Steve replied.

Tony shrugged. “Call it what you like. It’s still my money and I can do whatever I want with it. I owe you nothing. Also, I haven’t forgotten that you nearly killed me on the word of a woman you obviously know nothing about and who had tried to kill us all, or how quick you were to blame me for Ultron without any knowledge of the situation. Frankly, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have anything to do with you ever again, but I’m willing to put my personal feelings aside for the greater good, if the greater good is keeping some kind of Avengers’ team. Whether or not you’re in it will be up to you.”

“You can’t… You can’t do that.” No, this could not be happening.

“I won’t be the one doing anything, Steve. I’m not in charge, remember? I’m just explaining things. The UN has expressed an interest in taking over the Avengers, and I think it’s a great idea. So there will be a totally new command structure, with transparency and accountability, which I am very much in favor of.” He turned to Natasha and Sam. “Any objections? Now is the time to speak up.”

Natasha’s expression was as unreadable as always, and it made Steve wary. He would have thought she’d have jumped in to defend him and his right to lead, yet she didn’t seem concerned at all.

“Not at the moment, no,” she said, her gaze on Tony. Steve felt like he had just been abandoned, and it hurt.

Sam frowned, looking from Steve to Rhodes to Tony. “I… I don’t know. I’m not… I don’t know.” He shrugged.

“I am in favor of these changes,” Vision said. “If we claim to be acting in the world’s best interests, then it makes sense for people other than ourselves to weigh in on what happens with the team.”

Tony smiled. “Exactly. No more adding people willy-nilly because they give some bullshit sob story.” He glared at Steve. “We need people who actually know what they’re doing to be in charge of this team. Preferably before a new disaster that could have been prevented.”

“But we’ll keep being Avengers, right?” Sam asked, a bit timidly.

“I don’t know. I guess that will depend on what criteria is established for membership, and whether or not we qualify for it. Personally, I think we all need a psych eval before we go any further.” The way he looked at Steve now reminded him of all the people who had dismissed him when he was young. Like Steve was lacking, like he wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough. Despite the serum running through his veins, at that moment Steve felt 5 foot tall again, and he hated it.

Reluctantly, Sam nodded, and again Steve felt like he had lost one more important thing.

Wanda was gone, he was being fired, his friends hadn’t rallied for him… It was all falling apart. And Steve still couldn’t find any words to object. There was a lump in his throat that refused to go away.

It wasn’t fair. Just when he had finally thought that he’d found his place again, it was being yanked out of his hands.

Rhodes started talking about some ideas he’d had for additional training for the Avengers, but Steve wasn’t listening. Then there was something about the Avengers being essentially grounded until the new arrangements could be sorted out, and that finally lifted the fog from Steve’s mind.

“What? What do you mean, grounded? We have things to do,” he said.

“What things?” Rhodes asked.

“Missions.”

Rhodes shook his head. “There will be no missions for now. We’re staying put unless something world threatening happens, as I’ve just explained.”

Steve opened his mouth to complain, then thought better of it. He couldn’t tell them about Bucky. He couldn’t risk Tony finding out. Who knew what he might do? “There are still some Hydra leftovers to round up,” he said instead.

“And Counter Terrorism is taking care of that,” Tony said. “Like they should have done from the start. It’s their jurisdiction.”

“You can rest assured that the CIA, the FBI and Homeland Security is on it within US borders, Mr Rogers. Other agencies around the world are doing the same. Your assistance is most certainly not necessary,” Agent Linner stated firmly, the glare he had directed at Steve earlier back in full force. “I think you’ve done quite enough.”

“But…” How was he supposed to find Bucky now? One glance at Nat showed him that she probably wasn’t going to help him after all. Perhaps she was afraid of being fired as well, perhaps she wasn’t as good a friend as Steve had believed. Without her contacts, Steve had nothing. Even if he could convince Sam to still go along with it – which was by no means certain, given how the man seemed to be accepting all this – there was very little the two of them could do by themselves.

“Here’s the thing, Steve,” Tony said, eyes hard. “I don’t know how the Commandoes were run back in the day, but here and now we have a ton of things to consider. The Avengers cannot be your private little army, going on whatever secretive mission you want.” Steve swallowed hard. Tony knew something. He had to know. That was what all this was about. “You have no real training, no experience or understanding of today’s world. You don’t even seem to know basic command structure and the responsibilities of a leader. Hell, I have my doubts about your mental health too. I mean, really, who knows what the serum and 70 years in the ice did to your brain?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I don’t trust you, and neither does the world.”

“But they trust you?” he sneered, deciding he might as well go on the offensive.

“Right now, yeah. To an extent, at least.”

“What about all the awful things you’ve done?”

“What things? Come on, let’s get it all out in the open, Steve. What is it that you think I’ve done that’s so terrible?” Tony replied, unperturbed. In fact, there was a slight smirk at the corner of his mouth that Steve desperately wanted to punch right off.

“You sold weapons to terrorists!”

Tony made a buzzing sound. “Wrong. Obadiah Stane did that. The investigation cleared me of any responsibility for that.”

“Like you didn’t pay them off to say that,” Steve sneered.

Tony’s face became stony. “I hope you have some kind of proof of that, because otherwise I’m suing you for slander.”

“Natasha said–”

“I never said that at all,” she interjected quickly, and Steve felt the pang of betrayal again.

“She’d better not have, or I’d have to sue her too,” was Tony’s smooth reply, looking at Natasha with come contempt. “Anyway, I think this is all for today. I have other things to do.”

As Tony stood – with the others pretty much following suit – Steve realized that he was alone. Again.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” Sam said, the last one to leave. “Maybe this is for the best. You can take some time to catch up on things, you know. Enjoy yourself a little, not worry about the fate of the world and all that.”

After a pat on the shoulder, Sam walked out of the conference room too.

This was all wrong, Steve thought. This was supposed to be the one thing he could do, and now… now he didn’t even have that. What was he supposed to do now? If he couldn’t be an Avenger, what the hell else was there for him?

Steve slumped into his chair, defeated.

He had no idea what to do now.