“Miss Potts is on the line for you Captain Rogers.” The voice came from the ceiling and Steve had to remind himself not to jump. He had been staying at what they were now calling Avengers Tower while SHIELD found him his own space and to say it had been anything but strange and uncomfortable would be pushing it. None of the “team” knew how to be together now that there wasn’t a war to fight unless it was with one another and each of them had found solace in private spaces. Steve kept to his own quarters for most of the time, content that no one would disturb him here as he tried to learn about everything he had missed. He really had a quick appreciation for the internet.
But he did like Pepper, not too surprisingly, she reminded him of Peggy and fierceness and kindness bundled into a beautiful woman that didn’t actually care if you thought she was pretty because she knew she was that and much more. He cleared his throat and looked at the ceiling, “You can put her through Mr. Jarvis.”
“Steve?” the voice came from the speakers only a moment later; Steve was still not quite fond of how everyone sounded like a floating head when on speakerphone.
“Yes, Miss Potts, I’m here. Sorry it took a moment – still not used to Jarvis.”
“Oh no problem but stop calling me that – it makes me feel like I am having a meeting and I already have too many of those.” Pepper responded with a smile in her voice and the side of Steve’s mouth perked up a touch at hearing it – it was a familiar argument.
“Yes, Pepper. Now what can I do for you?”
“Well aren’t we amenable today? Well, I have a proposition for you.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
She laughed in a way that meant she wasn’t doing it for his benefit and his smile got a touch wider. He had missed easy camaraderie.
“I promise it's no skin off your nose, you might even enjoy it. I was trying to get the Avengers involved in volunteer work so the public can know you are here for them you know? But some of you guys are a bit harder to place since you have very specific personalities to say the least.”
Steve cut her off as she paused for breath, “So this is like a team thing?”
“On no, each of you guys would be doing your own thing –” She stopped talking as there was a light tap on Steve’s door, before Pepper waltzed in and continued talking, placing her phone in her purse before listing everyone off on her fingers, “Nat is going to be helping at an animal shelter because her and people aren’t the best, Clint is actually coaching a girls archery team already – he keeps calling them his ‘little army of Katnisses’, I have placed Dr. Banner in one of SI’s labs working with interns and he is having a grand time once he realized the lab was made Hulk proof, Thor is proving near impossible to place definitively but likes reading to children so for now he is camped out at the library and is trending on YouTube and Tony’s already got his things so now there is you.”
She finally stopped and looked up at him, a little smile on her face as she cocked her head to the side in question.
Steve filled it in for her, “You want me to pick something?”
She nodded, “What’ll it be Captain?”
“I guess I could help out at the VA?”
Pepper shook her head before he finished and he huffed out a breath confused, “Why not?”
“Because I said volunteer work, not penance.” Her eyes glared at him softly and he knew better than to argue with a woman with fire in their eyes. Especially when he knew she was right.
“Well what would you suggest then?”
She pursed her lips for a moment, staring up at the ceiling like it would give her divine intervention, “How about working at a center with underprivileged youth? That is something you are familiar with” – she paused, her eyes going wide as she realized her statement.
Steve shook his head, “There is no shame in that Pepper.”
She closed her eyes for a second and nodded, “I am not sure what you would like to do with them, some of the kids are a little rough from what I’ve heard.”
“Well they like to pick fights and come in a bit worse for wear most of the time, either sick or scraped up.”
Steve snorted indelicately, “So they like to pick fights and they’re from the wrong side of town and they always come in beat up or under the weather?”
Pepper nodded, obviously not getting why Steve was so amused.
“Pepper, I was them – literally – all of that. I’ll work with them but I want to teach them self-defense.” He said it with as much gravitas as he could, looking Pepper directly in the eye.
Her eyebrows raised a fraction before she nodded once more, “Okay, I will let them know and give you the details when I have them.”
She left with a smile and a wave of her fingers, and Steve smiled before returning to the article he was reading about the Moon Landing.
It took about two weeks and a decent amount of convincing according to Pepper, “even after throwing ‘Captain America’ around” but the youth center finally relented. Steve requested that no press be told and that the kids only know him as Steve which probably didn’t help matters.
He showed up at the center a little early, the girl at the front desk wide-eyed and stuttering over him once she realized who he was. She led him to a small office and poked her head in to announce him before heading back to her station.
Steve entered the office to be greeted by an older man, tanned and smiling, as he stood from his chair to greet him. "Captain Rogers, I am pleased to meet you. Even if the request is a bit unorthodox."
"It is nice to meet you too sir. I appreciate you allowing me this chance to work with these kids." Steve responded, taking the seat the man gestured him to.
"Oh please - the name's Robert but the kids call me Robbie. I understand why you wanted them to just call you Steve, what I don't get is why you want to teach them to hit each other when they already do enough of that outside of here." Robert had sat back down and folded his hands atop the desk in between them and for a moment Steve felt like he was back in school being told off for fighting again.
"I think you misunderstand sir - and I mean you no offense - but I was one of these kids and sometimes fighting's the only way to feel like the world isn't gonna swallow you whole and I sure would've appreciated someone teaching me how to protect myself rather than learning the hard way how to block my nose from being hit 6 times in one fight."
Robert watched him for a moment after he finished, in the way that only teachers and mothers can do, before he sighed. "I forgot you were a kid from Brooklyn in the Great Depression before you were America's first hero. I'm sorry son - you might be right. I just hate seeing them hurt, you know?"
Steve nodded, unable to stop himself as he replied, "Oh I know - I was a scrawny kid with a laundry list of sicknesses no one could fix and my mom could barely keep us in food and home on a good day and I still couldn't help but stick myself in everything like it was my job to protect all of Brooklyn. Like I could save everyone even if I couldn't save myself - or maybe because I couldn't. You know? I know a lot has changed in the last 70 years but I don't think that has changed much. These kids probably feel the same way. You can't shame them for a scar they think they got from fighting more than just the bully down the block. To you it's anger and hatred but to them - it is victory, it proves that yesterday they won."
Steve wanted to apologize the minute the words were out of his mouth, he had said too much but the man across the desk was smiling softly.
Robert cleared his throat, chuckling slightly as he said, "You know, I think I may have somehow underestimated Captain America. I was expecting a hero. I am much more pleased I got a good man."
They smiled at one another in understanding and got the logistics in place pretty quickly after that.
Steve started the very next week, on a brisk Thursday afternoon. He was excited in a way that made him feel energized and he hoped he could pass some of that onto the kids – to let them see purpose in the fighting rather than just violence. He wanted to teach them protection.
He walked into the gym building of the youth center to a group of about 15 kids huddled in groups on the bleachers.
“Hi there.” He called out to them as he closed the door behind him and headed towards the group.
“You our coach?” One of the boys in the front called out to him.
Steve smiled, this one would be interesting. “Yep.” He responded, popping the p as he put down the gym bags he had brought with him.
“You look like Captain America. Are you really? Some of the older kids say you are.” A girl in the corner of the bleachers, sitting alone called out, the other kids looked over like they hadn’t even realized she was there.
“Here I am Steve. But yeah sometimes, I put on a costume and hit aliens. Everybody’s gotta have a hobby.” Steve laughingly replied, the kids eyes getting big as they realized he wasn’t kidding.
“Why are you here? Why’re you teaching us to fight?” The same boy from before asked him, still sounding suspicious.
“Because a few months and 70 odd years ago I was you guys and – don’t start with me let me finish -” Steve stopped as he noticed the boy getting ready to cut him off with what he figured would be the “no one is like us” speech he had recited time and time again to Bucky when they were young and he was trying to fight the whole world alone.
“I mean I lived in a pretty bad neighborhood and my ma was always out working trying to keep us fed and warm and I couldn’t keep my damn mouth shut to save my life, so I got hit – a lot. And I was really bad at hitting back – couldn’t land a punch to save my life. Couldn’t even protect myself. Didn’t help I was tiny” he holds up his hand to estimate how short he was and the kids are rapt with attention now, the boy in front still looking at him with so many questions in his eyes, “and I wanted to come here and be around people that remind me of myself and maybe make sure you don’t have to go through 12 broken noses in a calendar year before learning to block a hit right.”
“What’s in the bags?” The boy asks again, not giving Steve an inch.
Steve smiles, he likes this kid. “Gloves because boxing helps with form. Hand wrap tape because you need that no matter what you’re hitting – I don’t want you bleeding for no reason. Gym towel cause duh sweat. I ordered some heavy bags but they have to be brought in next week so for now we will focus on getting everything looking right and next week on actually hitting stuff. Good?”
The boy nods and almost looks like he might not talk, but then couldn’t help himself, “The other teachers don’t want us hitting stuff though.” He doesn’t say it like he’s warning Steve, but rather like he wants to test him on his response.
“But that’s not always an option, is it?” Steve counters, raising an eyebrow. “Sometimes, you gotta protect yourself and what’s yours and sometimes that means getting rough. I want to make sure I can help you do that when you need to in a way that isn’t gonna end with you bloody and broken in a corner. But I am not gonna tell you not to hit somebody if they have it comin’.”
This time the boy nods and doesn’t ask any more questions. So Steve asks some of his own – he learns their names and ages, some of them have previous experience in some kind of structured class like this but most don’t, they swap stories of their scars and Steve tells them about the time he jumped a fence and got clipped on the way down, tearing up his whole left side just to scream at some punks for kicking a dog, only to end up getting kicked himself. The kids all nod and smile that way that only kids like these do – the whole world of understanding in their eyes and the way they won’t show their teeth, hiding their rage in small smiles that come and go the next second.
The boy, Damian now, asks him, “You don’t scar?”
Steve huffs out a breath as he shakes his head, “Not anymore.”
“That’s probably nice though, huh?” The boy Damian sits closest to, Marc, adds, and Steve sees the clipped eyebrow and the bump in the nose enough to know why he’s asking.
“I’m actually kinda pissed about it.” Steve laughs and a smattering of the kids chuckle with him.
“You didn’t know?” The girl in the corner, Liza, cocks her head as she asks, she’s moved a little closer to the group as they’ve talked.
Steve shakes his head, “Nope. I knew in theory the serum would take away my illnesses and I was happy about it – I had a laundry list of awful stuff going on inside me constantly trying to kill me – breathing well for the first time in my life right after getting the serum was a huge amazing relief. But I didn’t realize it would take away my scars, and make it impossible for me to scar in the future. I liked those scars. I earned them, they were – and this is terrible -” he adds because he doesn’t want to give the kids his weird complexes on the first day but he could never lie to them, “but they were kinda like trophies. I could fight again because I had the scar to prove I did it yesterday. I am damn sure my ma and the doctors didn’t see it that way – my best friend sure thought it was stupid but I couldn’t get it out of my head. When they were gone, it was like taking away proof I had made it.”
Liza strokes her hand over her wrist, covered by a shirtsleeve, and nods.
They eventually get to practicing and the kids are delighted to find out that yes the equipment is theirs to keep. They fall into a pattern - learn, practice, learn, practice. Going through the motions of all the blocks and jabs Steve thinks they will find the most useful, the ones they might need. He makes sure they know they will get to fancy fun stuff later but today they learn this with a focus and attention he didn’t really expect from a group of modern teens.
Steve packed up his own things and said goodbye to the kids as he headed towards Robbie’s office, knocking on the open door when he got there.
“Capta – Steve, come on in.” Robbie motioned him into the office with one hand as he typed with the other.
He turned to look at Steve a moment later, “I swear 80 percent of my day is emails.” He laughingly adds, pointing at the computer screen as if it offends him.
Steve laughs, “I have unfortunately discovered what you mean. I love the internet, I do not love the constant influx of messages.”
Robbie shrugs, “Well how did your first class go?”
“I think it went really well actually. The kids were great. Curious and rough around the edges like you said but actually really eager to learn. I was surprised with their focus actually.”
Robbie laughs, “Yeah that whole millennial BS really grinds my gears. It always surprises people that they actually want to learn if you give them something they can be interested in and apply themselves to. But I am glad you got to see if straight off – some people it takes a while.”
They chat for a while longer, Steve coordinating with him on when they can get the heavy bags moved into the gym and then he is on his way home, content. He makes a mental note to send Pepper a gift. This was a great idea.
It is six weeks later when he walks into the gym to find more than half his class missing. He looks at Damian and Marc, the only two kids waiting on him, and asks, “Where is everybody?”
“It’s an explosion day.” Damian says with no inflection and Steve can’t tell if the kid is pranking him or not.
Marc sticks his elbow in Damian’s side and explains, “What he means is it's testing day for the engineering kids, and Mr. Stark let’s people watch and it tends to draw everybody since stuff tends to” he makes a “boom-shhh” noise while motioning with his hands.
“Mr. Stark?” Steve asks in a way he knows must sound dumb.
“Yeah Iron Man, Tony Stark, list of adverbs explaining his awesomeness here? Don’t you live with the guy?” Damian adds, making a face that let’s Steve know he did indeed think Steve was stupid.
“Yeah we figured he was how you got the gig. He’s been here forever.” Marc adds as they both get up from the risers, and Steve realizes they don’t have their gear.
“You guys wanna go watch too I take it?” Steve asks, already knowing the answer, and feeling only a little put out that his class has been overtaken by Stark.
The boys nod, “We wanted to make sure you knew we hadn’t ditched you though. You could come watch with us. It is pretty fun.” Marc adds, motioning towards the small field behind the center where apparently the event takes place.
Steve agrees, mostly because he doesn’t really have a choice other than just going back to the tower and heads out to the field with the boys.
Tony Stark is surrounded by a large group of kids, ranging in ages more diverse than Steve’s group, helping them with pieces of robotics as most of the staff and other kids look on from what has been roped off as what Steve assumes is a safe distance from any explosions.
Steve has never seen Tony like this.
He is always in motion – even in the tower, even half asleep the man can’t seem to be still but this is different. He is dressed down, in a shirt emblazoned with the youth center’s logo and jeans, grease covering his hands and smudged into his hair, which is standing on end. But the thing that gets to him is that Tony is smiling. Steve has seen Tony smile a thousand times in the few months he’s now been in the tower, he has seen him smile for fans and for news cameras and for the small comments Bruce makes under his breath when he thinks no one is listening. But this smile is different, it is honest and bright and edging on a little bit giddy. Like this is the best place Tony Stark, Iron Man, list of inappropriate-to-tell-kids adverbs here, could be.
Steve recognizes Liza out there on the field, using a wrench on some device that kinda concerns him.
“Is that a rocket?” he asks Damian, who is standing closest to him.
“Probably – engineering kids don’t really have rules.” Damian remarks, attention rapt.
“Mr. Stark made one when he was our age I think and it made it to orbit.” Marc responds, excited.
“Dork.” Damian chuckles and nudges Marc who laughs and tells him to shut up.
“May I get everyone’s attention please?” Tony is shouting over the din of the crowd now, hands cupped over his mouth like a megaphone as he bounces on the balls of his feet.
Everyone quiets quickly to Steve’s amazement.
“What am I doing-“ Tony cuts himself off and grabs something small out of his pocket that almost looks like a pen, bringing it up to his mouth like a microphone.
“Hi everybody.” And apparently the device is a microphone because suddenly Tony’s voice is much clearer even from this distance. “First off, can we please stop calling these engineering testing days ‘explosion days’ – that was only like two times! The others were all just very minor fires.”
The crowd, Steve included laughs as Tony shrugs off things catching fire and begins introducing the kids and their experiments.
Steve is amazed. These kids are making some really incredible things. And so far down the line, they seem to be working at least at the beginning stages.
Then they get to Liza. She is tugging on her shirt sleeves and staring at her rocket like it’s already on fire, her eyes large and glassy before Tony has even walked over to her fully. Steve wants to say something, she is too nervous, too scared. But before he can think of it, Tony does.
“And we are gonna take a brief intermission for snacks.” Tony says with a flourish and some of the other volunteers begin handing out popcorn as Tony turns to Liza, the pen microphone stashed in his pocket and he kneels to look her in the eye. Steve can’t hear what they’re saying can only see Tony’s mouth moving, and see him reaching out to Liza, gently holding her wrists in his hands for a moment and then placing his hand over the middle of his chest. Liza nods and Tony smiles softly at her before standing up and pulling his tiny microphone out again.
It is indeed a rocket. But it doesn’t do what everyone thinks it will. The rocket goes up into the air at an angle towards the crowd, gets past where they can easily see it in the sky and then suddenly a small explosion goes off, the kids gasping and looking back towards Liza, who is just looking at the sky, hands clutching the ends of her shirtsleeves.
The kids start to point up at the sky as things start to fall from the cloud cover. Marc catches one as it gets close to them and says in wonder, “they’re medical kits.” Steve looks as Marc opens the little sack and it is indeed a fully stocked mini military medical kit.
Steve looks up to find Liza grinning and crying and Tony is patting her on the shoulder and smiling and for once, Steve actually wants to talk to him.
Liza is the last of the engineering kids to go and the field barriers come down as the kids rush the field to check out their friend’s inventions, many of the kids stopping to congratulate Liza, who is very much overwhelmed but smiling.
Steve goes back to the tower. Fury had asked him to give it a chance to live as a team before moving into his own place and he had begrudgingly agreed. They all try to eat together in the morning but otherwise they keep their own schedules and lives separate from one another still and Steve doesn’t know how to feel about a team that isn’t a family.
Tony comes in about an hour after him and Steve doesn’t want to think about the fact that he’s been waiting in the kitchen rather than going to his room in an effort to catch Tony but he blushes when Tony’s eyebrows raise at seeing Steve out of his room as he comes into the kitchen and buries his head in the fridge.
“What’s up, Cap?” Tony asks and he pulls out one of those odd green things he drinks, shaking the bottle and turning to grab a glass from the cabinet.
“I didn’t know you worked at the Youth Center in Queens?” Steve says, and it comes out like a question without him meaning to.
Tony stops moving, hand halfway to the glass with what looks like an equation on it and the text “and it was delicious” that Bruce got him and they chuckled over a few months back.
“How did you find out?” Tony asks him, turning away from the open cabinet, green bottle dripping condensation on the counter.
“I saw you today. I teach the self-defense class and all my kids abandoned me to see your ‘explosion day’.” Steve says it with a smile, hoping for once that this won’t start an argument between them.
Tony starts a little, posture going rigid, before hearing the end of Steve’s sentence and scoffing. “My god – they have you calling it explosion day too!?” He throws up his hands and points at Steve, “Its freaking Damian isn’t it? I know it is. That kid is a pain in the ass has been since he was 11.”
Steve doesn’t quite know what to do with Tony when he is talking that fast, but he can’t help the laugh that rises out of him when he starts calling out Damian, that kid was definitely a pain in the ass. Steve loved it.
“You’ve been around there for 5 years?” Steve realizes as he manages to calm his laughter, made more difficult by the fact that Tony looks flabbergasted at his response.
Tony nods. “Yeah, needed to get out of my head when I got back from Afghanistan, I wanted to work with wounded veterans but Pepper thought this would be better. Said the other was me trying to punish myself. She ended up being right and I have been there every single Wednesday ever since. Well, until last year when I added Thursdays to keep up with all the kids.” He finally reaches back into the cabinet to grab his glass and Steve thinks the conversation has ended and moves to get up when Tony adds, “How in the hell did you convince Robbie to let you teach the kids to hit stuff?”
Steve laughs and explains.
Tony ends up next to him at the counter and they talk about the center and the kids they teach.
Steve is amazed that Tony has so many students and a little ashamed to admit he is surprised Tony continues to make time for them after 5 years. He says as much, blush rising to his face in shame, but Tony merely shrugs.
"No, I get it. It's one of the big reasons I didn't want any publicity when I started, same as you. I wanted to just be Tony the engineer to these kids. They didn't need me to be a Stark or even Iron Man - they just needed someone that believed in their ideas and didn't mind getting caught up in their energy. And it may seem selfish, but I have come to rely on those days of nothing but working through problems and helping those kids realize even their craziest ideas have value and can be turned into action. It's..." Tony paused, looking as if he were searching for the right word.
Steve hummed and smiled softly, "Therapy. It's therapy."
Tony nods, "Yeah, I guess that's it. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper." he laughs and gives a light smack to Steve's shoulder as he stands and rinses his glass, green juice now gone, and heads out of the kitchen and towards his workshop.
Steve smiles, believing for the first time that maybe Fury having them all stay here would be a good decision.