Coming back to the states was dangerous. He was a wanted man now, but he’d been informed that he was a goddamn stubborn son of a bitch who didn’t know how to quit when it was good for him. And he missed home.
After the battle of New York (or The Incident, as the media had taken to calling it) he hadn’t stayed in the city very long before taking off for DC. It was too fresh. At the time, he’d only been in this century a few days. In the span of a week everything that had once been familiar changed into something near-alien. He’d visited DC in his USO days, of course, but it wasn’t his city. The wounds felt less raw there.
Then came the invite from Tony and while the Avengers had been based at the rebuilt tower they spent all their time flying all over the world trying to track down Loki’s staff. Which, of course, led straight into Ultron, and then someone finally had the bright idea to send the crazy superheroes upstate where people were less likely to get hurt.
He’d taken day trips into the city a few times during those days, but for the most part he’d liked staying in the Avengers facility in case anyone there needed him. It felt good to be needed. Well, it had. The point was: he hadn’t actually spent much time in Brooklyn since the 40’s and he finally felt like he was ready to face it.
And yeah, pretty much everything was different.
Not everything, of course. The Botanic Garden was still there, though it had grown and changed over the years it still seemed like the sprawling grounds of a palace to him. He’d spent the morning there, sketching everything that caught his eye, and was just leaving when he ran into two lost tourists.
The young women were staring at the screen of a phone and arguing, occasionally pointing one way or another. Initially, he’d planned to keep walking. It was rude, but he was a wanted criminal, after all. He stopped in his tracks when one of them mentioned the name of the road he’d grown up on. Something about name changes over the years.
Curiosity got the better of him. “Excuse me,” he said in between two heated exchanges of words, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but would you like some help? I… used to live in the neighborhood.”
“Oh! Do you think you could?” the smaller woman said, suddenly all smiles and bright eyes. The other was less energetic, but seemed to be hopeful as well.
“Doesn’t hurt to try. Where are you trying to get to?”
The first young woman fiddled with her phone a little and brought up an address that was shockingly familiar. For a brief moment, he thought they might be Captain America fans (which was sure to blow his cover), but the apartment number was wrong.
“I’m sorry,” he said slowly, watching them for any signs that this might be more than it seemed, “but I think they tore this building down years ago.” His address had been classified and no one knew they were tearing down Captain America’s childhood home. He’d been heartbroken, of course, but it was probably better this way. If he couldn’t look back he’d just have to move forward.
“Are you sure?”
Both women looked devastated. The one he’d been talking to sighed and put her phone away. “Well, I guess that’s the end of that.”
“Our grandmother lived there when she was little,” the taller woman supplied. “We thought it would be fun to see it for ourselves.”
Grandmother? Then that would put her right about… “I had relatives who lived there.” Technically true. “They used to tell me stories about their neighbors. What was your grandmother’s name?”
Oh. Oh wow. Annie Tellefson. That was a name that brought him back.
“I take it from the look on your face you’ve heard of some of her less-than-noble exploits?” the smaller one said with a smirk.
He couldn’t help it, he laughed. “I wouldn’t call it that, but yeah, I’ve heard of her. Quite a few – ah – stories, in fact.”
The women looked at each other. The smaller woman smiled, the taller woman shrugged, and then he was the center of attention once again. “I’m Katrina,” the smaller woman declared, “And this is my sister Kristi.”
“Steve,” he replied, shaking both their hands.
“If you don’t have anywhere to be, would you like to come grab lunch with us? We’d love to hear some of those stories. We’ve only got a few from when Grandma was little. Our treat?”
He really shouldn’t. He should be laying low, and not talking to tourists… even if they were Annie’s granddaughters….
“That sounds great, but I couldn’t possibly let you pay for me.”
“Don’t be silly, you’re doing us a favor. I insist.”
Kristi didn’t warm up as fast as her sister, but when she got going there was no stopping her. They found a small, but well-reviewed place to eat nearby, and the women spent much of lunch excitedly talking over each other. They’d heard a few of his stories already, but were delightfully scandalized by the new details that had been left out, and the new stories had them hanging on every word. Kristi had brought up a voice recording function on her phone to capture the whole thing. She promised not to upload it to the internet, so he figured he’d be safe from whatever search methods Tony was using to try and find him. Probably. He still wasn’t completely sure how this stuff worked.
After lunch they got ice cream, and walked around the city, taking in the new and the old (at least some things were familiar). When he’d asked how Annie’s life had gone, Katrina’s face had lit up. She shot a pointed glance at her sister, who just laughed and threw her hands in the air, promising not to interrupt. A promise she mostly kept.
Katrina was a natural storyteller, and knew just how to craft her tail to keep her audience hooked. Her hands wove through the air, painting a grand portrait as she wove the tale of Little Annie Tellefson.
Her father had sent her, her brothers, and her mother back to Norway during the Depression, that much Steve already knew. He was greatly relieved to hear that they’d made it back to the States before the Nazis invaded (not all of their family was so lucky). After the war she’d married a Navy man. Steve had mostly worked with other men from the Army, but in his performing days he’d done a few shows for the Navy. Maybe Annie’s husband had been one of them?
He’d been a mechanic for the Flying Tigers, though the women insisted it was after all the ‘cool’ war missions. He wasn’t sure if he’d have called bombing runs ‘cool’ but it didn’t change the fact that Annie had traveled the world with her husband, going wherever the planes went. They had several children during this time, including Katrina and Kristi’s mother.
Katrina shared one story, from when their mother was a toddler and the family was stationed in England. Annie’s little girl just happened to be born on November 5th, and had assumed that the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks were all for her. Peggy would have gotten a kick out of that story. Thinking of her still left a hard lump in his chest. At least she hadn’t lived to see the disastrous events that lead to his exile in Wakanda.
The story didn’t stop there. Annie’s no-good husband had left her for, of all people, her best friend’s little sister. The sisters laughed it off, saying that both their grandparents had been happier in the end for their split, and that their grandfather had loved the younger woman ‘till the day he died, but Steve’s heart was still going a mile a minute. The Annie he’d known never would have stood for that. Apparently, she didn’t. Katrina admitted that things had been dark there for a while: a suicide attempt, Jesus Annie. Knowing that she’s survived and lived forty more years didn’t stop him from feeling like he’d been punched in the gut.
She’d spent some time as a schoolteacher before retirement. Her brother, the one that had often bullied Steve, had come to live with her and they took care of each other until the twilight of her life. With cancer filling her body she’d gone to live with her daughter and spent her last year on this Earth playing with her grandchildren every day.
Steve brushed away the tears that were welling up in his eyes.
“I didn’t think I told it that well,” Katrina teased lightly.
“Sorry, it’s just…” He couldn’t tell them the truth. “Small world, you know?” Whether they truly bought it or not, they didn’t press the subject.
“You haven’t told us much about your family.” Kristi pointed out.
“Not much to tell. I’m afraid you’d get bored.”
“It’s getting dark, anyways,” Katrina interjected, saving him from questions he couldn’t answer. “It was absolutely wonderful talking to you, Steve. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon.”
“You know? Neither can I.” It was a little surprising how refreshing it was to just… talk.
“Thank you for sharing your stories,” Kristi said.
They gave him their numbers, and he promised to find them on twitter. He didn’t have a twitter. The small deceit felt wrong, but he couldn’t exactly put them in the crosshairs by announcing to the world that they’d spent the afternoon with Steve Rogers: international criminal. He walked them to the subway station and they parted ways with warm, strong hugs. Knowing Annie, he’d have expected nothing else.
The room was cold, despite the warm climate of Wakanda. Hospitals were always cold nowadays. Something about inhibiting microbial growth. It just reminded him of the ice and set him on edge. This was the only place he could still feel connected, though.
“You should have seen them, Buck,” he said, leaning against the cryo-pod. “Annie Tellefson’s granddaughters. They were a stitch and a half. Just as stubborn and full of life as their grandma and smart as a whip, the both of them.”
With a sigh, he let his head fall back and took a small amount of pleasure in the resounding ‘thunk’ it made against the glass. Machines beeped in the background as he stared up at his friend’s face. At least he looked peaceful in this… sleep. T’Challa’s doctors hadn’t made any progress. Though, to be fair, they’d only had a few months compared to decades of brainwashing.
“You used to have the worst crush on her back in grade school. I think I saw you yanking on those pigtails at least once a day.” He chuckled at the image. It seemed so far away now. “You remember the day she finally had enough? As I recall, she pushed you down into the mud and started pummeling you with her tiny little fists. You deserved it, you know? But did you take your licks? Nah, you had to go and tell your Ma that her big brother did it. Then she went and called up Mrs. Tellefson asking for an apology, and Mrs. Tellefson says ‘Oh, sure, come right on over.’”
He laughed and it almost didn’t hurt. “I’ll never forget the look on your Ma’s face when she saw that little girl standing there in her ruined dress covered in mud. She beat your ass so red you couldn’t sit for hours. You know she told her kids about that? And they told their kids? You’ve forever made your mark as ‘that kid who grandma beat up that one time.’” He let out a few, echoing chuckles that didn’t fill the silence.
“I miss you, Buck. Well, I guess I miss everything, but I hate that right when I thought I had you back you went away again. It’s not your fault. I know you did the right thing, but I’m just so damn lonely sometimes. It was… nice to talk with those ladies. They were awfully nice, told me all about Annie’s life. It’s a hell of a story. I’ll tell it to you someday, promise.”
He couldn’t take looking into the unmoving face any more and let his gaze fall back to the floor. “It made me realize something, too,” he said, fiddling with his fingers. “Hearing about what happened to Peggy and the Commandos… that I was prepared for. I didn’t really think about the kids from the old neighborhood, though. Annie got along just fine without Captain America around to fight for freedom and all that. She kept going and had herself a hell of a life.
“I know I already decided that I wasn’t gonna be him anymore. I made up my mind when I left the shield with Tony, but… I feel alright about it now. Maybe nobody needed Captain America after the war. I’m not saying I’m gonna stop fighting for what’s right, just… I think it’s time to change. The rest of the world’s moved on and so should I.”
The steady beeping was the only thing that answered him. It was time to leave. He stood, and turned back to the pod, placing a hand over the glass.
“I’m good, Buck, I really am. I just… I just wish I still had a country to serve.”