At first, the pain was unbearable. It stung and burned him like never before . Like a flame in his very core, pulsing around and bushing to get out, trying to rip him up from the inside out. He wanted to scream and cry until his body gave out .
They were all dead. Dead. Dead.
Steve had never felt anything like that before- Wait, no, that wasn’t true.
Bucky's falling and falling and everything slows down and he can’t move and he can’t get to him-
Until a moment where it all just... burned out.
He felt numb, transparent, even. It was like he lost all ability to feel any more pain. To feel anything at all... just this bitter numbness and aching silence.
Maybe he was better this way, he really didn’t want to feel that agony again.
Why did they have to thaw him out? He had already accepted that he was going to die. Come to terms with it, even. He couldn’t help but feel old at that thought. Not even referring to his time in the ice, because physically he was young by most standards. There had never been a part of him that believe that he would live a long life. Whether he’d go from an illness or a battle where his luck ran out. He wouldn’t lie and say that he didn’t fear dying but he had always been fine with it, he was a soldier and had spent his entire life fighting for what he believed in. It was only natural that fatigue would eventually creep up on him and swallow him up.
They had said 'till the end of the line', but Bucky’s line had ended far quicker than expected. He hated to keep him waiting.
I just got him back! Why. Why. Why?!
Steve remembered the moment clearly when the full extent of his predicament hit him. It was glued to the front of his mind.
It took him a moment to recover from the blunt force of the fall and realis that the impact didn’t kill him, just knocked him out of the pilot seat. There was an aching in his ribcage that reminded him how it was to breathe with asthma, leaving him heaving. His head swayed but he made it to the aircraft’s door in matter of seconds. He pulled at it with all of his left over strength , but the door had gotten damaged and his hands felt like noodles (something that wasn’t supposed to happen anymore). It was so cold there. He couldn’t wedge it open.
Steve stilled for a moment and listened. He could feel the aircraft sinking into the sea and his heart went with it. The engines made protesting sounds as they stopped functioning. No more flapping, not for this metallic bird. Now, he was alone. He couldn’t see his shield that he could cling to for comfort and familiarity anywhere in the cold darkness.
He wasn’t sure how he felt. (Scared, terrified, that’s for sure.) He had saved everyone. He had done it, and would do it over and over again if he had to, but it was so cold, and he couldn’t save Bucky...
And what about Peggy... Their dance.
God, he was tired, he could feel the bone chilling cold creep into his very core. The ice pricking water was moving up his leg, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t remember feeling this tired since he got the serum.
He wished someone were there to distract him, talk to him, like Bucky used to when he was sick. He wanted Bucky.
‘ It’s not all bad, though,' he thought to himself, 'You’ll see him again.’ He latched himself onto that thought like it was the entire universe and found a little warmth coming to him at the prospect of seeing his family again. Bucky's dopey smile, his fond laugh.
Yeah, it would be okay. He had failed a promise (Peggy will never forgive him) but he’d done his duty.
Steve realised he wasn't only shaking any more. He was shivering, the room was too cold, like the water, and it was choking him. Before he had never thought of cold as a physical thing, just something deadly swimming around in the air. Now though, it slammed into him like a creature bouncing on its prey. It sunk its teeth into him, infecting him with its essence, poisoning him and he was too weak to get away from it. He couldn’t find it in himself to fight the urge to close his eyes and succumb to sleep.
They ( They ) gave him two weeks. Only two weeks to digest it all before shoving his shield into his hand and introducing him to this world’s newest catastrophe and the people They brought in to stop it. The ones that were supposed to be his new team. But they weren’t really his team, were they? The Howling Commandos had been his team, and while this (whatever it was) had its perks, it wasn’t his team.
The first thought that came to mind after being introduced was that this was never going to work.
Romanov mirrored whatever he gave her perfectly, which was indifference. The best word to describe her would be cryptic. She was the kind of cypher that even the best code breakers wouldn’t even dare to touch. Every word that came out of her mouth seemed calculated and not quite revealing the entire truth. He was usually so good at figuring people out that it was unsettling to not get an inkling from her while she looked at him like she knew everything there was to ever know about anything in the entire universe and she wasn’t above using it against you. Steve decided that he wasn’t going to get on her bad side.
Dr Banner was the quiet type, that much was clear. Maybe he would be more outgoing once the tension passed. He didn’t know how the scientist held it together so well, he remembered anger at its truest form. His used to be angry at everything, someone picking on the weaker, women getting harassed by assholes, someone who didn’t know him getting into his face and telling him who he should be. Anything could get his blood boiling. Steve couldn’t imagine how Banner lived with that every day and still managed to be so nice. He felt sorry for him that he had to get tangled up in all of this when he didn’t want to fight. He didn’t either. Not anymore.
He should have known just from the bloodline that Tony Stark and him weren’t going to get along. They just rubbed off each other in the wrong way. The older man was doing everything in his power to piss him off, to see a break in his front. It stirred something in his numbness, and he was sure that the younger and more alive him would have jumped at the challenge to his authority that he fought so hard for and throw quips right back, never backing down. Right now, though, it seemed so pointless. Did he really want to prove himself? Wouldn’t it be better if someone else took the reins and soon they would all realis how useless he really was and maybe they would leave him be. No one would bother him once they saw that he really didn’t know anything in this century and there were newer and better heroes everywhere now. His ability to not get killed easily didn’t compare.
While he was half lost in thought and half trying to make sense of what was happening around him, Stark seemed to get more agitated the more Steve ignored him and his cutting remarks got more and more vicious. Steve thought that he should try to defend himself, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Again, what was the point. Now that he thought about it, it was a little refreshing to meet someone who didn’t treat him as if he was glass or just an imbecile. This man knew he was mentally fast enough to follow him and just wanted a rise out of him.
“Everything special about you came from a bottle.” Ouch, that hit a nerve he had forgotten. But at the same time, it was true, wasn’t it? No one had really paid him any mind before (except Bucky, he always had him), maybe there was a reason for that.
Then Fury stormed in, saying that apparently, they needed babysitting like children. Stark continued to stare at him with his dark and intense eyes, contemplating, like he was one of his machines that needed fixing. Steve stared back solemnly. He wished he knew what that strange look meant. So many people were throwing it at him now a days, like they just saw a cat bark instead of meowing. Steve didn’t hate him (especially after it was revealed later that it was the tesseract manipulating them), he just didn’t think he could feel so strongly about anything anymore. It felt like he wasn’t thawed out yet. His insides were still covered in ice.
They were all aggressive and dominating in nature, and not one of them had any idea of what working together meant. A bunch of lone wolves that were all used to taking the lead. Sure, they had all had sidekicks before, but they had never been part of a team. No communication, no responsibilities whatsoever. All they did was argue when Loki was clearly up to something.
When Thor showed up, he decided that he was Steve’s favorite thing he had encountered in the future so far, even if he couldn’t show it.
He was surprisingly friendly for someone who wasn’t even from Earth. He knew that it wasn’t fair to make assumptions (everyone had some about the great Captain America no matter where he went) but he knew for a fact that no one (didn’t matter what species, where or when) liked what was unfamiliar, not their own and not what they were used to. It was this basic instinct and ignorance that roused conflict. Started wars. He knew this well, so he didn’t fault himself for being surprised at how kind the other was to them. Sometimes he came off as rude but that was just the lack of knowledge about their customs. He didn’t see himself as a superior, just different. Looking at Thor, he saw why people from the past thought that Asgardians were Gods. He just radiated power and strength, it was at his fingertips like second nature. Yet he still managed to be one of the kindest people he had ever met. He wasn’t sure what that said about humanity.
Later, when Agent Barton was free from Loki’s brainwashing, he was able to properly meet him, too. Barton looked like he was at home in from of the TV watching his favorite comedy sitcom, not discussing the possible end of the world, shooting a few comments in every now and then. It reminded him so much of Bucky’s smug façade that he had to look away to stop himself from vomiting. There was an underlined fatigue and guilt in his eyes. He knew Agent Coulson, Steve realised , they were probably friends.
After battling aliens together though, everything seemed a little easier. In the after-battle haze and relief Romanov didn’t seem so imposing, Stark's jokes were funnier, and Thor sounded like an old friend with the way he talked. The atmosphere in the Shawarma place was so close to the one around the campfire with his Commandos that it physically hurt. That had only been a month (a lifetime) ago.
He felt like his bones were made of jelly, but he didn’t let his posture falter when he watched them from the corner of his eyes. They looked tired and every one of them deserved to rest. It was mostly silent (the good kind of silent) but every now and then one of them would crack a joke and they would chuckle together. They took comfort in each other because they all knew what it was like to have so many people, not just your people, depending on you. They supported each other without saying a word, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He guessed that leaning against someone with the same fears and phantoms must be nice. The Avengers really were going to be a team.
They kept sending him small glances, like they were wondering if they should try to make him laugh with them.
Was this how it was going to be for the rest of his life? Get flung from one war to another like some used shield? Go form a team and lose them all to the next great threat or leave them behind? It wasn’t worth it. He didn’t want another team, he wanted his Howlers back, he wanted his Bucky back.
What was the point? Why bother learning names or even faces. In six months, he’d be back on the road anyway. The world didn’t owe him a cent.
Stark invited everyone to live in the Tower after it was rebuilt. He knew that Bruce had been hesitant along with the rest of them but had excepted first. It made sense, it looked like him and Stark had clicked earlier. Eventually, Barton and Romanov came out of whatever hole they had been hiding in and took their offered quarters. Since Thor was the prince of another realm, no one had heard from him yet, but it was pretty clear that he was busy and wouldn’t be staying in Midgard for a long term. That made Steve the last to stay away.
He weighed his options carefully. He meant what he said earlier: it wasn’t worth getting attached to any of them. It would just hurt more in the long run, for both of them , but he really wanted out of Shield’s watchful eye.
They had provided him with an ID, money and an apartment after they deemed him fit to be set free into the ‘wild’. It became apparent after a week of living there that it was full to the prim with bugs and cameras. He had found one in his jacket and could see another in the ceiling fan. It was clear that they thought that he was completely technology illiterate (which was somewhat true, but he wasn’t stupid ) because many of they were so badly disguised that a child could find them. They had given him a phone too, but he would bet his life on that it was full of spyware, judging by what they did to his apartment. He had no privacy.
Steve was aware that he couldn’t get out from under Shield's dump entirely (yet) but he could lessen his situation somewhat, so he agreed to move in.
He was given his own floor, everyone was, he learned. It was the largest place he had ever lived in; the entire kitchen was bigger than his and Bucky’s old apartment. It looked so impersonal that it made him feel sick. The electronic hum in every room set him on edge and the bright artificial lights burned his sensitive eyes. Everything was sleek and new, like a hotel. It kind of was, he doubted that he could ever call this a home. After all, home wasn’t a place, it was people.
Steve wished that he could go back there. Into the familiar streets of Brooklyn. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost feel the roughness of the chipping paint and the squeaky door that led to the dog pile of sheets that Bucky and him were forced to share, snuggling into each other, when their crappy heater broke down. The smell of the incense that their old landowner always burned seeped through the walls, infesting their room. He would be sagged into the bea t up couch covered in papers he had been sifting through when Bucky would come home from the docks. The older man would see that he had dozed off and clear the crumbled papers off him and then cover him with his coat. Then Bucky would wake him up by flopping his cap on his face. He would jolt awake and glare at him half-heartedly while calling him a jerk. Bucky would laugh his charming laugh which would make him lose his glare and start chuckling himself. The brunette would ask about his day with kind eyes trying to mask how tired he was himself while knowing well enough that Steve would see right through it-
The memory was rudely interrupted by an utterly British voice in the ceiling inviting him to dinner with the others. He wanted to grab at the fleeing image in front of him but couldn’t hold on and ended up standing in the middle of his new bedroom. He dumped his meager possessions onto the floor beside him and sat onto the too large bed.
The super soldier contemplated declining the offer, but his stomach got the better of him. Damn his metabolism. He had gone longer periods of time without food, but that had been in extreme situations, in battlefield, and he had felt like his stomach was trying to eat itself the entire time. It didn’t help that he felt hungry at normal times, outside combat, as well, but just not as severely.
Steve steeled himself like a soldier facing battle and hesitantly stepped towards the elevator.