Steve had not meant to become famous.
It was one of those weird twists of fate where it felt like he had no choice, it had just happened.
He slipped around the corner to avoid the growing crowd
One Year Ago
“I’m telling you, Steve, you should try out.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Dugan, you should shut up.”
The man frowned at him, “why do you always think I’m teasing you. I’m being serious .”
“You wouldn’t know how to be serious if Colonel Phillips bit you in the ass.” Morita joked, tossing the ball up and down.
“Not helping.” Dugan said with a snap, “you and I both know Steve’s good enough to be in the majors.”
“Majors?” Steve choked out, “what the hell? Dugan, I’m over 30 I’m not a 16 year old pretending I’m good enough to be in the MLB—“
“But you are good enough—“
“Dugan.” Steve groaned, “we’re here to have fun with the kids. And that’s it. So—“
As if on cue, Bucky appeared, opening the side gate and 45 kids came screaming onto the field effectively cutting off any hope of conversation.
“Hey kids!” Morita shouted, “let’s get in a line and separate you by age and—-“
Steve watched as the kids eagerly bounced on their toes and he smiled.
Three weeks later Dugan tried again.
“I’m just saying. They have open try-outs for—“
“Dugan.” Steve sighed, “I thought I’d made myself clear—“
“Just because you’re wasting—“
“I’m just saying—“ Dugan pressed again, “you’ve got real actual talent and you’re wasting it by being a mechanic!”
Steve scoffed, “being a mechanic isn’t a waste—“
“Barnes spilled about art school—“
Steve’s mouth gaped, “ what—“
Dugan nodded, a serious expression on his face, “back on the second tour, when you were recovering from that hand injury, he was real worried you’d lose ability, knew you’d be devasted and ended up telling us why he was so worried. But then we get home and you just pick up the first job you can find. You didn’t even try—“
Steve tried to tamp down the annoyance, “I didn’t graduate from art school, Dugan.” Steve snapped, “we went to war remember? So I put that on hold. And now—“ he looked around, the restaurant bustled as they waited for the others, “that’s just not in the cards. I wouldn’t even know where to start to make a living off that. And it’s just a hobby anyways. Gabe’s family was really nice letting me into their business. And—“ he paused and tilted his head, “weren’t we talking about baseball?”
“You’re happy being a mechanic the rest of your life?”
At that Steve hesitated. Dugan wasn’t wrong. Steve had picked it up because it had good pay and flexible hours when he needed to help Bucky get back to civilian life. He’s picked up enough skills overseas that he was a damn good mechanic and had no trouble earning a good place at the shop. All while learning about prosthesis and researching the best arms for his friend. The both of them tried to hold it together with the jarring contrast of being at war versus living a normal civilian life.
Steve had adjusted quicker, but not fully. He still felt the cold grip of fear or raging anxiety when certain things triggered him. Bucky had taken a long time to come around. Nightmare fits and hiding in small spaces, but now he felt healed, whole. His therapist had done wonders, and now Steve was left jealous that he couldn’t achieve that level of peace.
He hadn’t thought he’d needed therapy. So he hadn’t gotten it. And now he wished he’d had. But he was too much of a coward to admit he needed it now , three years later.
While Bucky’s fits and nightmares and signs of PTSD had been loud and unignorable, Steve’s signs were silent and imperceptible.
But that was fine. He could handle it. He was handling it.
“Steve?” Dugan’s voice drew him from his thoughts to see Morita and Gabe walking towards the table.
He blinked and swallowed. “Yeah, sorry, just thinking.”
And Dugan, occasionally knowing when to drop a subject, just nodded.
But he didn’t drop it forever. And he started to convince the others Steve should try.
“Come on,” Gabe said in a cheery tone, “what could it hurt? Worst you’d get is a no.”
Steve rolled his eyes, calling the kids in the community league to order and ignoring the comment.
“Do it.” Bucky pleaded, “for me.” He groaned and tossed his phone onto the couch, “because Dugan won’t leave me the hell alone—“
“Won’t leave you alone!” Steve scoffed, “how do you think I feel?” He snapped, shrugging off his jacket and throwing it across the back of a kitchen chair.
Bucky flopped onto the couch and grabbed the remote, “like he’s right, you’ve got skills, but the majors? Like come on.”
Steve narrowed his eyes. And he waited.
Bucky peeked over the couch and caught him staring. “Shit.”
“I’m not a hot headed soldier anymore.” Steve ground out, “challenging my abilities won’t work.”
Bucky sighed, “I told him it wouldn’t work. And let’s be fucking honest. You’ve never been a hot head.”
Steve snorted as Bucky laid back down on the couch. He then stared at the table where the bills were stacked. Honestly, they were fine. Their military pay and now their actual paychecks covered everything. A bit extra even. But… Steve looked at Bucky who was rubbing at his shoulder. Even with lots of research it’s not like they could afford the top of the line prosthetic. And he knew Bucky still dedicated a good amount of his paycheck to help his parents get Becca through college. Steve had offered to help and been given the finger and the silent treatment for three days.
Steve lived frugally. His clothes were the same he’d been wearing since he got big in the army. And his shoes and everything had seen better days. But he grew up with less than that. He was perfectly content. So his savings account had more money in it than he would have ever thought possible.
And he didn’t need the money for himself.
Bucky sucked in a sharp breath and then hissed it out. “Steve, throw me the ibuprofen will you?”
He grabbed it out of the kitchen cabinet and tossed it. Bucky’s other arm reached out and caught it without looking.
“Arm acting up?”
Bucky nodded, popping a few, “it’s just…” he sighed and took a gulp of water, “it’s like every arm is too heavy or too light. And I don’t know. Just can’t seem to get it right.”
“Maybe we should think about talking to that army rep who said he had a connection to Stark Industries. The research showed—“
“The research showed—“ Bucky cut him off, “that getting a Stark prosthetic would cost my other arm and a leg.”
“I can help pay—“
“You can shut the hell up, Steve.” Bucky said with a grin, “it’s fine. I’m not complaining. It’s one arm. I could have lost my life and you kept that from happening. Just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean I’m not grateful.”
Steve’s throat ran dry. Everyonce and a while Bucky would say something so clearly that he’d learned in therapy that Steve would freeze. Bucky’s ability to accept what had happened and move on made Steve sick with longing. He wished he could be as fine as Bucky now seemed to be.
Steve couldn’t find any words to respond, so he just nodded and walked towards his room.
“Alright kiddos.” Steve called, “the seasons almost over and we want to finish strong, so let’s make sure we give our last few games everything we got. Okay?”
“Yes, coach!” The kids responded with smiles. He sent them towards Bucky and Gabe to get their gear.
“What are you going to do with all your free time once these kids go back to school?”
Steve turned to find Dugan smirking at him. “I’m going to pick up some more hours at the shop.” Steve admitted.
The larger man’s eyebrows and mustache turned down, “what? Why?”
Steve’s eyes involuntarily flicked to Bucky and then down at the ground. “Just something I gotta do.” When he looked back up Dugan was staring at him seriously. “What?”
“He ask you?”
The dust rose as he scuffed his cleat against the base bag, “he shouldn’t have to ask.”
Dugan cursed and then tossed the ball into the air and caught it deftly, “you know he’ll be pissed if he found out.”
Steve huffed, “he can be pissed with an arm that doesn’t make his spine crooked.”
Dugan wrinkled his nose. “That bad?”
“Not that he’ll admit. But he’s buying ibuprofen more often than groceries.”
Steve sighed, “yeah.”
Steve watched Morita sidle up to their conversation, “what are you two whispering about?”
“Barnes’ arm is giving him trouble.”
“And he won’t let me help get a new one.” Steve added, “what can I do to convince him?”
Morita made a face, “convince Barnes to accept a handout? Yeah. Sure.”
Steve groaned and stuck the glove onto his left hand, “that’s why I’m doing it without telling him. Then, by the time it’s done, it will be too late.” The disbelieving chuckles made him roll his eyes. “Can’t return something that’s custom designed to fit your body.”
Dugan guffawed and stepped towards the dugout, “he’s going to be pissed.”
Morita was nodding in agreement. “How much an arm like that run?”
Steve wrinkled his nose. “A lot.”
He winced, “like 200k.”
Morita gaped, “what? That’s insane!”
Steve shrugged, “yeah. But it’s got a lifetime guarantee. Updates. Refittings and warranties and everything. It’s a lot upfront but worth it in the end.”
“Steve.” Morita said slowly, “Barnes would never ask that of you. And that’s insane. Even for Stark Tech. Which I’m sure is great. But that’s a house, that’s years of apartment rent. Even in the nicer place you guys are in now. You can’t spend that—“
“I can.” Steve gritted out. “I can.”
“You need to talk to him—“
“Morita.” Steve said with a low tone. His Captain’s voice came out unintentionally, “ Enough.”
Morita looked at him and just shook his head. “Whatever you say, Cap.”
They had a final party for the kids community league and they celebrated at a local pizza place. Steve and Bucky traded off giving awards and the kids squealed with delight every time their name got called.
At the end of the night, Dugan and Gabe were paying at the counter while Morita and Bucky were helping him clean up their mess.
“Whoa,” they heard Gabe say, “no way—“ they turned to see him looking at the screen in the corner. A sports newscast happening.
“What is it?” Bucky called out, grabbing a stack of dirty cups.
“Someone is buying out the old Dodgers stadium.“
The volume on the TV increased, Dugan reaching up to the TV to turn it up.
— the old stadium, known as Ebbets field, has found a new owner. Although details haven’t been released, we do have confirmation from the previous property owners that whoever has purchased it, intends to renovate it and return it to its once former glory. Which spells something exciting for New York sports history. Could we possibly have three professional baseball teams in one city? And what team could possibly be looking to relocate? More on this story as it develops.
“Damn.” Bucky said, “any chance it’s the Dodgers coming back from LA?”
Dugan laughed, “doubtful. But who knows.” He turned to Steve about ready to say something, but Steve glared at him.
“Dugan. Drop it.”
The man rolled his eyes as he grabbed the receipt.
Steve’s keys jingled in his hand as he went to open the door.
As it swung open, he saw Bucky on the couch, an ice pack strapped to his shoulder and the prosthetic resting on the coffee table.
“You okay?” He asked.
Bucky glanced up, pain pinching at his eyes, “yeah man. Just one of those days. Wranked it hauling stuff at work and it just needed a rest.”
Steve’s eyes landed on the arm. Too heavy and clunky, but the best they’d had found so far.
“Okay.” Steve said slowly, “you’ll let me know if you need anything?”
“Yeah.” Bucky smiled, “what do you want for dinner?”
“I was thinking that pasta sounded really good.” Steve said, “I’m… pretty hungry.”
Bucky nodded, “sounds good to me as long as we get salad and breadsticks.”
“I’ll go change and grab it.” Steve offered, “I wanna stop at the atm too.”
“I won’t complain.” Bucky grinned at him, “bring me that iced tea from that little Chinese place would you?”
Steve nodded, “oh yeah, those are good. I’ll get one too.”
He changed quickly and headed out the door.
He was walking past an electronic store when the tvs caught his eye.
He turned, eyes widening at the words scrawling across the bottom of the screen.
Billionaire Howard Stark revealed as new owner of Ebbets Field.
Steve watches as the auto generated closed captions rolled up while the man on the screen talked.
— we’re not sure yet the catalyst for this decision as it seems very outside of Howard Stark’s wheelhouse, but for a man richer than Rockefeller and more eccentric and intelligent than Albert Einstein, one can never guess their motives. Open tryouts are happening in just under three weeks. Stark has claimed he wants no one known. Only players who have never played professionally will be allowed to tryout. We will have more on this decision as details get released.
Steve stood there stunned. A direct line to Howard Stark.
He’s done research that even with full payment, prosthetic limbs could take months even up to a year to be ready because it was such a specialty item and Howard Stark was notoriously picky about details.
Even if he just went to try-outs. Maybe he wasn’t good enough to make the team but he could possibly talk to Howard Stark.
It’s a long shot. A wildly improbable scenario. But the way Bucky’s eyes stayed a bit tense from pain, stayed in Steve’s mind.
A long shot was better than no shot at all.
Two weeks passed before someone else he knew brought it up.
“Did you hear?” Gabe mentioned as he helped Steve haul up an engine block to the proper placement, “that weapons guy who designed all our gear is the one who bought the stadium.”
Steve made a noise in his throat, pretending to be distracted, “oh yeah?”
“Yeah. Not sure why a weapons contractor is getting into major league sports but hey—“ they huffed as they set it into place, “I guess if you’re rich you can do whatever you want.”
Steve nodded, “guess so.”
He took the metro, switching once and changing his mind before gritting his teeth and forcing himself back towards the field.
His gear was held in his old gym bag and he felt like an idiot walking towards the stadium.
As he got nearer, the crowd began to grow and his eyes widened at just how many people were there to try out.
Dread coiled in his gut but he tamped down the anxiety of being surrounded by so many people and he stepped forward, getting in line towards the sign up table.
It took him well over an hour but soon it was his turn.
“Full name.” The lady snapped, not even looking up.
“Steven Grant Rogers.”
“Position you’re trying out for?”
“Any of them.”
The woman, still glaring at her paper sighed an exasperated sigh, “we’re so impressed by your ability to play baseball.” She said with absolutely no humor in her voice. “But you need to pick a damn position to try out for.”
Steve felt stunned. He hadn’t meant it as a brag. “uh—“
His hesitation made her finally glance up, annoyance on her face. He swallowed heavily and he could tell he looked helpless. “Pitcher?” He said slowly, “I guess? Or short stop?”
Her dark eyes studied him. And he’s not sure why but she seemed to accept that as an acceptable choice because she nodded, wrote something down, and handed him a number and a safety pin.
Steve’s never been to major league or any league tryouts before. So he couldn’t judge whether it was protocol or not. But he got the strangest feeling that a math test was not a typical try-out requirement.
He looked around and 90% of the guys were glaring at their papers. So they must have been thinking the same thing.
But he just took a deep breath, looked at his paper and started. One problem at a time.
As he finished he felt a smile tug on his lips.
It hadn’t been bad at all. Mainly equations about angles, distances, and force. While Steve preferred the humanities. He’s always had a knack for math. The way it organized itself logically. Black and white, no wiggle room had always sat well in his mind.
So as he stood, the first one to do so, he felt pretty good about it as he handed in his paper.
“Alright.” A voice said, making Steve look to his left, “you all selected pitcher as your position of choice. Let’s see what you got.” A man, dark skinned and rather menacing looking leaned against the dugout rail. “Throw like your chance of getting on the team depends on it.”
The line of men fidgeted as they stood, but Steve stood stock still. Used to having to stay imperceptibly still in pressurized situations.
He was one of the last to through, with his last name starting with R.
“Rogers, Steven.” The man called, “you’re up.”
He strode forward, accepting the ball from the nearby attendant and he walked to the mound. The stadium was rundown and a mess. But the diamond’s shape was still visible as he turned to face the catcher.
“You get 7 pitches.” The man reminded him. “Don’t screw it up.”
Steve mentally calculated each throw. He wanted to show a range. Two-seam and four-seam Fastballs, curveball, slider, screwball, change up, and splitter.
The catcher sat on his heels, ready for the first pitch.
Steve swallowed down any fear at having such a large audience, and he set his focus on the catcher. He was doing this for Bucky.
The noise his first pitch made as it slammed squarely into the catcher’s mitt reverberated through the stadium.
And something in Steve’s mind idly wondered if they had the catcher mic’d up.
But when he looked at the catcher, who was staring at him with wide-eyes, he noticed the silence.
Nerves fired on the back of his neck but he ignored it as the catcher slowly stood, throwing the ball back to him.
Maybe he’d thrown too wild… he breathed deeply again, rocking back on his right foot as he wound up, throwing the four-seam fastball, making sure his throw was tightly controlled.
“Shit!” The catcher called, waving his hand and standing, “shit.”
Steve straightened, worry lancing through him.
“Barton.” The menacing man called, “what?”
The catcher glared at him, “nothing.”
“Then what’s the hold up?”
The man, Barton, mouthed something imperceptibly and rolled his eyes. Then he tossed the ball back to Steve. “Five more.”
Steve nodded and wound up, throwing each pitch as perfectly as he could manage. Allowing his strength and accuracy to fuel his throws. As the last one smacked into Barton’s glove. He heard silence.
“Next.” The man called. “Rumlow, Brock.”
As he walked off the mound, his nerves rattled. He hadn’t thought he’d done any worse than the other men. But maybe he just didn’t have an accurate perception of his own skills.
They ran everyone through drills, speed tests, accuracy tests, and group dynamics.
Steve kept his eyes peeled for a sight of Howard Stark, but didn’t manage to see him.
“You’ll be called if we want you to come back.” The man, whose name he learned was Fury, said with nonchalance. “We won’t call twice.”
Steve walked home. He felt disappointed with how the day had gone. Not that they had announced anything. But all the scouts or whoever they had judging the try-outs had all been tight lipped and showed no sign of who may or may not have impressed.
But the worst part of all was that Howard Stark had been nowhere.
He shrugged the strap of his bag higher and walked home.
Three days later he heard Bucky call his name. “Steve, some random number is calling your phone!”
He leaned out of his bathroom door, scrubbing at his damp hair, “probably spam. Just ignore it.”
It only takes 5 minutes for him to realize who it could have been.
He tried to remain calm as he grabbed his phone off the kitchen counter and made some excuse about walking to the mailroom to get away from Bucky’s insanely good hearing.
He tried to call the number back.
This number is not allowing calls. Goodbye.
Steve scrunched up his face in annoyance, shoving the corner of his phone against the cartilage of his nose. “Shit.”
We won’t call twice.
Steve sighed and felt a sense of guilt rise. Maybe Bucky didn’t blame him. But he blamed himself. And if he can’t get a hold of Stark to get Bucky an arm, then he’ll figure something else out.
The next morning at work, he’d been wiping his hands of oil when he felt his phone buzz. He pulled it out and stared at the screen.
A random number.
He furrowed his brow and slid his thumb over the answer button. “Hello?”
“Is this Steven Rogers?”
“This is Nick Fury. I’m calling to inform you that you have been called back to the stadium. We’re meeting at 3p.m. Today can you be there?”
He looked up at the clock, his shift ended at 2, but he could probably leave a few minutes early. “Yeah.” He said quickly, “yeah, I can be there.”
Then the line beeped dead.
He slipped into the apartment, glad Bucky wasn’t there, and showered quickly before changing and running down to the station. He made it to the stadium by 2:58 and breathed a sigh of relief at the other people who were filing in.
They were led to a conference room and Steve stared in awe as Howard Stark entered the room, walking to the front. He sat behind the desk and looked at them.
It got silent and Howard smiled, “Hello, if you’re not aware my name is Howard Stark. I own this stadium and I am looking forward to narrowing you down into a real team.”
He turned to the side where Fury stood, looking bored.
“Fury here has selected you out of your physical skills—“ he turned to his other side and gestured to the commanding woman who had taken his name. “Hill here has selected you based on personality.” Then he gestured to himself, “and I have selected you due to your mental skills.”
He could see the confusion and bit of trepidation on the other men’s faces, but he stayed calm. “I have watched the footage of your tryouts, gone over your test scores and am interested in speaking to each one of you. Let’s get started.”
It takes awhile to get to him. Everything seems to be alphabetical, but soon he’s shuffled into a smaller conference room and pointed to a seat.
Howard looked up and Steve watched as his eyes shifted to Fury. Fury nodded subtly and Howard grinned.
“So here he is. The one we actually called twice.”
Steve blinked, “I didn’t mean to miss the first call. I didn’t think you’d call again.”
Howard stretched out his hand to shake, “I’ll be honest Steven, if you weren’t so high up on our list, we wouldn’t have.”
He heard the surprise in his own voice as he spoke, “I was high on the list?”
Steve could feel curious eyes on him. Howard’s, Fury’s, Hill’s. Then Howard’s face broke into a smile. “You are indeed, Steven.”
“Steve.” He said quickly, “I just go by Steve.”
“Alright,” Howard said, “Steve. We’d like to invite you to be on the Avengers.”
He blinked, “the Avengers?”
The smile grew wider, “yep. That’s our new team name. The Brooklyn Avengers.”
“Oh,” Steve rolled the name around in his mind… He… actually kind of liked it. Then he felt insecure, “I don’t have any other things I need to prove?”
Silence greeted him once again, and his heart rate rose, anxiety at the way they were looking at him like he had three heads. He was about to apologize, although he wouldn’t have been sure what for, but Howard stood and gestured for him to do the same. “No, Steve.” The man said calmly, “you’ve got nothing left to prove. Let’s go to my office and talk about salary.”
Steve stopped, and he gathered every ounce of courage he had, “actually sir, that’s something I wanted to talk about.”
Howard paused and turned to him, “oh?” He looked behind Steve and he could tell he was having a silent conversation with either Fury or Hill. Maybe both. Then a wariness crossed over Howard’s face. And something about it struck Steve as sad. Like Howard must be confronted about his money a lot.
But that’s not what he’s here for. “I don’t want a salary.”
Maybe he hadn’t spoken loudly enough, because Howard looked at him like he’d gone insane, “I’m sorry, what?”
“I was hoping to negotiate for something else.”
And another silence filled the room. Steve’s not sure he ever remembered rendering people speechless so many times in a row.
Hill spoke from behind him. “Negotiate for what?”
Steve squared his shoulders, “one of your prosthetics.” Howard’s brow started to furrow in question, so Steve kept going, “for a friend. He lost his arm and the prosthetic he has makes his back and spine hurt. He can’t seem to get one that fits.” He cleared his throat and forced himself to continue. “I’d like to forfeit my salary to purchase that.”
Howard blinked and shook his head, “I’m so lost right now, what?”
Steve was about to repeat himself when Hill’s voice spoke up, “how did your friend lose his arm?”
“An accident that was my fault.” Steve admitted, “I know it’s out of the ordinary, and I don’t know how many seasons it would take to pay off, or maybe I could pay for some of it, and then work for the rest, I just—“
“Steve—“ Howard said, “let me just stop you right there.” He gestured to the field that was visible outside the window behind him. “You do understand that this is a major league team.”
“And therefore, we would be paying you major league contracts.”
Steve looked at him helplessly, “sir, I don’t know how much that is.”
Howard laughed, “where the hell did you come from, Steve? You’re like an alien.” He laughed again and smiled widely, “you’re going to get millions. You hear me? You play like you did at tryouts and you will be earning tens of millions.”
Something akin to shock and disbelief must have played on his face because Howard was laughing and Hill had a smirk to her tone as she said, “I told you so.”
He felt strange signing the contract, as if it was him signing up to be a different human being altogether.
What the hell was he thinking?
Play baseball for a living? In front of thousands? To a televised audience?
He almost backed out.
He almost decided it was insane.
But then Howard had looked at him seriously and leaned forward over the desk, “so tell me about this friend who needs an arm.”
And that had been that.
Thankfully, he had months to prepare.
He told no one. Not Bucky, not Gabe or Gabe’s dad at the shop, and especially not Dugan.
He only had to meet with Howard a few times over the next few months. He got measured and fitted.
“We’re going to be the best looking team in the league.” Howard had said, clapping him on the shoulder, “and you’re one hell of a starting line-up.”
Steve had stammered and tried to protest only for Howard to laugh and shake him good naturedly.
Then training had to start.
“I need to cut back on my hours.”
Gabe’s dad, one of the tallest and kindest men Steve had ever met, looked at him curiously, “and why is that, son?”
“I’m…” He scratched at the back of his neck, “I’m working on another project. I know you were trying to hire a part-timer, but what if I went to part-time and you hired someone full-time?”
The man stood and walked towards Steve around his desk, the clanking of the tools a distant sound behind them, “I mean, I don’t mind doin’ that, if you’re sure this project is going to be a long term thing. I don’t want to give up your job if you’re going to want it back.”
Steve shook his head, “I’m sure. I don’t want to leave you in a lurch though. I’ll work whatever hours you need until you find someone full-time.”
The man studied him, “are you sure everything’s okay, Steve?”
Steve smiled, “yeah, it actually is. I just…” he sighed and decided to be honest. Even if just for a little bit. “ I’m trying something new.”
Steve stepped onto the field with his jaw on the ground.
The stadium had been renovated and revamped from top to bottom. Now everything gleamed clean and classic. Steve appreciated that Howard had gone for a more classic baseball stadium look than the modern style which was more popular.
The food stands looked like old 1940’s stands, heavy wood and brass fixtures. The music that played over the speakers sounded like a big band was somewhere near. He could see the way Howard had taken the paying customers and made their advertisements look retro and vintage as they decorated the field.
“Hooolllyyyy shiiiiiiiiiiittttt.” He heard someone say. He turned around and caught eyes with a blonde guy who was taller than him but thinner taking in the stadium with wide eyes.
Steve recognized him, “you were my catcher.”
The guy looked at him and laughed, “you were the guy who bruised my palm.”
“What? I did?”
“Hell yeah, hardest, fastest pitch I’ve ever caught in my entire life!”
Steve huffed out a surprised laugh, “whoa, I didn't know, thanks, I guess.”
“You our pitcher?”
Steve nodded, “you?”
“Catcher. And reserve pitcher.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, “oh yeah?”
The man nodded, “yeah, my aim’s perfect, but pitching is all about changing it up, you know? And speed. Getting past the batters. So you beat me out for that. But there won’t ever come a ball in my arm’s radius that I won’t catch.”
Steve grinned, “I’ll count on that.”
“Damn!” Another voice echoed from the tunnel and joined the fray, “this is wild .”
Steve watched two guys exit, one who looked like he might explode from excitement and another who couldn’t stop smiling.
“Hey,” Barton called, “over here.”
The two men headed their way and introductions were made.
They talked for a bit and others joined them.
Steve memorized everyone’s names and then Howard was there, talking about how excited he was and what hopes he had for the team.
The jerseys were a classic off white with thin black and red pinstripes. The stitching was black and it looked old school and class. The name Avengers ran across the chest in a dark charcoal gray with black threading and red shadowing.
Steve turned his around to see
He smiled and suddenly it started to really feel real.
“Damn, Rogers!” Clint called, shaking his hand, “why haven’t you been playing pro since you aged in?”
Steve shrugged, not wanting to go into where he’d been for the last most of the decade, “just didn’t cross my mind.”
He heard Sam and Scott laughing about something over by first base and he smiled, somehow feeling like he’d started to gain a new family.
“Who do you want to invite?”
Steve looked up from the proofs in his hand. He’d had a photo shoot where he’d had to stand and smile for his roster photo. He’d felt like an idiot but Hill had been smiling with an eyebrow raised the whole time and she didn’t mock him after so it couldn’t be that bad.
He looked positively massive compared to everyone else’s frames. It made him feel self-conscious.
“We have a game in just over a month. How many and who do you want to invite?”
“Oh…” He scrubbed at the bottom half of his face, “I don’t know. Can I give you an answer later?”
Howard narrowed his eyes at him, “Steve. Have you still not told them?”
Steve winced, “no.”
Howard huffed and threw up his hands, “how in the world have they not noticed?”
Steve laughed, “they’re all pretty busy, and I keep normal hours. There’s nothing for them to ask questions about.”
“And what are they going to say when they see their friend’s face on the TV?”
His shoulders sagged, “I know, I know .” Steve set the proofs down. “Okay, I’ll invite—“ he pauses, counting them in his mind. “How many am I allowed to invite?”
Howard laughed, “as many as you want Steve.”
He counted them again. Bucky and his parents, Rebecca, Dugan, Gabe, Gabe’s dad, Morita, Dugan’s fiancé Rose. “Nine?”
“Nine? That’s it?”
Steve grimaced and Howard immediately backtracked, “I didn't mean it that way. I just don’t want you to leave anyone out. They’re going to have a whole box, so any number up to 25 is fine. That’s fire code.”
Steve laughed and nodded, “okay, sounds good.”
“Your friend with the arm going to be there?”
“I’m inviting him.”
“You want me to stop by?”
Steve felt stricken. “No, uh, no… not yet. He doesn’t know and he’d be pissed if he knew.”
Howard titled his head in confusion, “wait what? You’re not going to tell him why you joined the team?”
Steve laughed, “hell no. I choose life.”
Howard chuckled, “I swear you’re like from another planet.”
They laughed and ate as usual while Steve tried to stay calm and not panic about telling them.
As the meal was winding down, Steve cleared his throat and got their attention. “So,” he started, “I got a box… for the first game of the season. For the new team, the Avengers?” He watched their faces register surprise, “so I wanted to invite you guys and your families or significant others.”
They blinked at him. Then Morita leaned forward, “what do you mean you got a box? ”
Steve stayed calm, “you know…a box. Like one of those private rooms.”
Dugan squinted an eye at him, “and how did you get this box?”
This was it. “Well,” Steve started, glancing at the door and then back at them, “I got it because the owner gave it to me. Because I’m on the team.”
It was silent for over a minute. And Steve just waited.
“You’re what! ” Bucky choked.
“I’m on the team.” He said slowly, “I went to open try-outs and I made the team.”
Dugan laughed, guffawing so hard he shook the table as he pounded his fists on it. Gabe was just staring at him slack-jawed, “is that why you went part-time?”
“You went part-time? ” Bucky choked again, “since when! ?”
Gabe looked at him, “you didn't tell anyone?” Steve shook his head, “I have to call Monty, and Denier, they’re not going to believe this shit—“ he laughed, pulling out his phone and disappearing out the restaurant door.
Morita was staring at him. And something in his too observant expression made Steve want to squirm. But he didn’t.
Bucky was looking at him, “what the hell, Steve? Why didn’t you tell us any of this?”
“I wanted to make sure it was real and going to last before it did.”
Bucky asked more and more questions and soon they were all back to listening to him explain how everything had happened. At the end of his story they all laughed and joked and exclaimed in awe about the turn of events the night had taken.
They paid up and were heading out when Morita caught his elbow. He turned and the man looked at him seriously. “You did this for Barnes. Didn’t you?”
Steve opened his mouth to lie but Morita just held up a hand, “no—“ he laughed, “don’t tell me. Plausible deniability when Bucky does find out and loses his absolute shit on you.”
Steve stood, the locker room full of noise and action as everyone got ready.
“Listen up!’ Howard called, “I know I’m just the owner and the manager wants my hide outta here, but I wanted to introduce you to one last piece of the team before I head up to watch what I know will be a spectacular game.”
He gestured behind him where a red-head stepped into view, “this is Natasha. She’s our media liaison and will be the one instructing and training you as the season progresses. You listen to her. She’s well trained in the art of making the press eat their own hats and that’s just what I want for this team. None of this scandal shit, you understand?”
The team nodded and he tipped a hand to his brow in a mini salute and was gone.
Natasha stood there and took them all in, “it’s nice to meet you gentleman, I’m excited to get to know and work with each one of you. I will be visiting your families and boxes during the game to get to know you from the outside in. So if you have anything you don’t want me knowing, better warn them now.” She winked and disappeared.
He watched three guys pull out their phones but the rest just shrugged it off and started lacing up their cleats.
He pulled out his phone and texted the group chat.
No military talk. They don’t know I served. Anyone mentions that and I quit the team. Understood?
He received back four thumbs down emojis. One from each of them.
But thankfully, he knew they would listen.
He stood on the mound, the fresh spring air tickling the back of his neck. They were playing the Oakland A’s and he couldn’t believe it. Standing there, on a major league mound, about to throw his first pitch of his major league career.
Steve felt anxiety clutch at his heart, but thankfully his signs were imperceptible. So he took a deep breath and wound up, throwing so hard he saw Clint rock backwards, a new reinforced glove on his hand.
“ STRIKE! ” The umpire crowed and he heard the first cheer of the night.
And he smiled.
He could hear the organ (Howard had insisted on the stadium having an actual organ to align with his old school aesthetic) blaring and the announcer crowing about their amazing first win.
What a showing from Howard Stark's rag tag group of players! We’ve witnessed something historical here today folks! Jerseys are for sale in the souvenir shop, better get ‘em before they’re gone! This is a historical night!
Barton was smiling widely at him, his catcher's helmet tucked under his arm, as he stood in the mound staring up at the crowd.
He heard a whooping howling call somewhere up from his left and he turned, seeing the waving figures of his friends waving wildly at him.
Sam was clapping his shoulder and dragging him off the field. Scott was chattering animatedly and they went clomping through the dug-out.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Howard crowed, waltzing into the room. “You all showed them! First game of our entire career and we beat ‘em 6-2? Hell yes!”
They cheered and talked and celebrated for a few minutes before everyone started to dip and head up to their families.
Steve waved goodbye, still in his jersey although it was hanging open, and headed up to his box.
Cheers and hollers greeted him and he smiled and accepted their enthusiastic compliments.
“Damn, Rogers!” Gabe’s dad said, “never knew you could play like that!”
“I’ve been trying to tell you guys for months!” Dugan whined and then grinned, “you gave ‘em hell Cap!”
He turned to Bucky who was smiling at him, and Becca was positively giddy as were his parents.
“Wish your ma coulda seen that.” Mrs. Barnes said softly, “she woulda cheered so loud her voice was hoarse.”
He nodded, his throat feeling tight. “Thanks, Mrs. B.”
They talked for a long time and then headed home.
When they were getting ready to separate to their rooms, Bucky looked at him and hesitated, “uh—“
And something about the trepidation on his face made Steve feel instantly anxious. Had Morita told him the truth of why he was playing?
“There—“ Bucky started again and then grimaced, “the woman, the one who was asking us all those questions about you—“ Steve’s brow furrowed, “she said her name was Natasha and she was your media liaison.”
“Oh.” Oh. Whew . “Yeah? What about her?”
A surprised choked laugh escaped Steve, “I don’t know, hell, I just met her tonight.” Then he felt surprised and that damn jealousy again. Bucky was ready. He was willing to maybe let someone into his life intimately. “You..” he paused, then smiled, happy for his friend, “you want me to see if I can find out?”
And Bucky straight up grinned, “you know? No. I figure I’ll see her again, right? I’d like to see if I can manage this on my own. Haven’t felt scared asking out a girl in years.” Then he grimaced good naturedly. “Hell I don’t think I’ve asked a girl out in years. Kinda scary. Kind of exciting.”
Then he laughed at himself and waved goodnight to Steve leaving him standing there alone in the dark living room.
Bucky seeing life that way made Steve happy for him.
Steve hadn’t reached the kinda exciting part yet.
And that was how it went for the season. The Avengers won the majority of their games, giving them a record breaking first season. Then playoffs started and Steve was traveling more and more. He’d had to give up his part-time at the shop, but Gabe’s dad had laughed him off, telling him not to worry.
Steve had felt embarrassed but also secretly proud to see one of his jersey’s hanging up on the shop wall. When Gabe’s dad wasn’t looking he grabbed a sharpie and signed it.
To the man who made me
remember what having a dad is like.
When he’d next seen Gabe, the man had crushed him into a hug so hard it had almost hurt.
The cheering was so deafening that Steve could barely focus on the fact that they’d won.
They’d won .
Even with three injuries and a 0-3 start, they’d won.
They were going to the World Series.
In their first year as a team.
Suddenly he was being shaken and patted with heavy hands and he let out a shout as ice cold water got poured over his head.
He shoved down the signs. The way the cold made his body want to go rigid and simultaneously rip to shreds anyone within a 10 ft radius.
Instead he let out a choked laugh and brushed his hair off his forehead and blinked at the water that dripped in his eyes. He pretended his shaking hands were from excitement as he pulled the freezing jersey away from his skin only to wince as it settled back against him.
But he had no time to focus on that because they were all there jumping and cheering and he forced himself to relax and join in the celebration.
“Alright,” Natasha started, tapping her pen to the tip of her nose, “we have lots of offers for press and we need every single one of them filled. Now that we have that break to the World Series you all have time and might I remind you it’s in your contracts.”
Some of the men groaned but mostly nobody minded. Answering questions about their excitement for the series or how the season went or what they thought of their team were par for the course.
Thankfully the press had been mostly stunned by their incredible ascent to the top and hadn’t had much to say other than to gawk over their statistics.
But now that they were solidified as a major contender for the foreseeable future, the press and entertainment worlds were getting more grabby.
“I have one spot open—“ Natasha started, “and I want this to be fair, so we’re going to take a vote.”
The men looked at her curiously and Scott spoke up from the side of the room, “vote?”
Natasha nodded, “each player will submit either their own name or a teammate's name that they think should be given this spot. It’s for the talk show Late Night catch-Up with Carter.”
Sam’s voice cut through, “isn’t that more news and entertainment segments?”
Natasha nodded, “yes, but Howard apparently called and convinced the producers that his players are more than meets the eye. And they agreed to give it a shot. Howard is relentless, we all know that.” A chuckle passed around the room. “So text me your votes, the form is already in your messages. We will meet tomorrow and I’ll tell you who won. Good luck gentlemen.”
Steve looked around the room and thought about it. Then he typed in a name, Sam Wilson, and shoved his phone in his pocket getting ready to go home.
“ Storms and power outages are due to the area. Take precautions to have extra food and water if you’re in the local Brooklyn area and you’ll want an umbrella—“
Steve tuned out the tv that Bucky was watching as he studied clips from their opponent’s games. He watched and analyzed how each player batted and began to formulate how to pitch to them.
“Alright,” Natasha’s voice entered the room just moments before she did, “the winner, with 24 out of 25 votes, and shocker if you can guess who didn’t vote for this person, is Steve.”
His head popped up and he looked at her, “wait, what?” The team started laughing and he felt confusion rise, “what? What is it?”
Barton grinned at him, “you’re the lucky soul going to the late night show!”
His mouth gaped and then he was shaking his head, “no, no, no, no.” He stood waving his hands, “no way, not me. I—“
“ You received 24 out of 25 votes. You’re going. Howard already ordered your suit. It will be at your house at 3pm and the limo will pick you up at 4.”
Then she turned, ready to change the subject, but he couldn’t breath. Stunned and stuck standing, his hands unwilling to move for fear of showing them shaking.
“Steve?” He blinked, looking at Sam who was standing and looking at him funny, “you alright, man?”
Steve reminded himself that his signs were supposed to be imperceptible. So he straightened and rolled his eyes, “guys, I’m not the best choice for this. I won’t have anything interesting to say—“
Natasha, who had allowed Bucky to take her on multiple dates with increasing frequency, looked at him with an observant eye, “Carter is good at getting things out of people. Late night hosts are good at making anything interesting, okay? So don’t worry about it.”
But he continued to worry about it.
It was fitting that the rain began to pour right as he got home. It put the apartment in a somber mood and he stirred around anxiously. Glad Bucky was gone at work.
His stomach churned as the storm built. For some reason the thought of being on a show made him feel like Colonel Phillips was coming for inspection.
So he decided to run down to the place Gabe had recommended to him and asked if they had an opening.
“Aren’t you Rogers? On that new team?”
He nodded nervously.
“We always got time for a Brooklyn native! Sit down, we’ll get you all cleaned up!”
Their calm and easy going nature helped ease the tension in his chest a bit. And when the man leaned over him and asked, “you want a clean shave?”
Instead of saying “no”. Which he was used to doing, he said, “yeah, sure.”
He’d had a beard the whole season, but… for some reason he felt like he had to present himself as perfectly clean and put together.
When he looked in the mirror, he barely recognized himself.
He couldn’t tell if that made him more relieved or worried.
When 3pm finally came, he tipped the delivery man and hung the garment bag on his door. No one knew he was going to be on tv tonight except his team. So maybe he could pretend that it was no big deal. Just a conversation. He didn’t know who this Carter was, had never seen his show, and he felt like watching clips or segments would just make him more sick with worry about what was to come. So he placed his phone face down and ignored it.
He showered, dressed casually. He’d been instructed to wear something else and change into his suit when he got to the studio.
As 4pm neared he kept up a steady rhythm of deep breaths. His eyes trailed to the photo of him and his ma. She was kissing his cheek at his 8th grade graduation and he was laughing, waving his cap. He sighed. He’d lived more years without her than with her.
A car alarm outside made his insides fire with nerves. But he stayed calm and collected on the outside.
The doorbell rang, he snagged his phone and the garment bag, left a note for Bucky saying he’d be out late, and stepped out of his apartment.
Howard called his phone halfway through the ride.
“ Steve, you in the car?”
“Yes, I’m on my way to the studio.”
“You’re going to do great.” Howard affirmed, “this is going to be great press for the team! I’m counting on you to make us look good!” Howard laughed, but Steve’s nerves fired again.
The line went dead and Steve sat there as they drove closer and closer.
He focused on keeping the signs under control. He’s been in control overseas. As Captain he’d had control in high pressure situations. And he’d always handled those well.
Which was why he felt so lost but mostly confused as to why normal civilian kid rattled him so much. I’m counting on you to make us look good .
People were counting on him.
He breathed that sentence into his subconscious and felt it settle. He would use that as the pressure he needed to force his anxiety and signs into submission.
And that was working fine. Steve had been escorted into the studio (where he walked under a big sign stating that Catch-Up with Carter was the number one rated Late Night talk show 3 years running) and shown to his dressing room.
But he was instructed to not change yet. As they told him the makeup and hair people had to check him over to make sure he wouldn’t be washed out in the lights.
So he sat.
And he waited.
“If you want to use the restroom before you get changed, it’s around the hall and to the left. First door on your right.”
Steve nodded as the makeup lady spoke and gestured out the door.
After she’d left, he’d decided it was probably wise to take her up on her not so subtle advice.
He stepped out his door and followed her instructions, finding the bathroom easily. He was reaching for the paper towels when he heard a surge and then a pop.
The lights went out and he was plunged into darkness.
He froze, unsure of what had happened until he heard the clap of thunder.
The storms. He briefly recalled the news section about how there might be power outages. So he felt for the paper towels, dried his hands, and then walked out into the hallway. He could hear the rumble of people in the distance but there didn’t seem to be anyone directly close for him.
As Steve felt along the wall, he came to a turn. Had he passed a hallway when he was walking? He tried to remember and came to the conclusion that he hadn’t so he turned right and felt for door handles. Three down he grasped a handle and turned.
“Is that you Angie?” He heard a voice ask, “I knew this was going to happen. I told them to reschedule shooting.”
“Um…” was all he got out before he heard a sharp intake of breath and only barely heard the whoosh of air before something was thwacking him in the face. “Ow—“ he snapped, instantly feeling combat mode take him over, but he reigned it in, forcing himself to not go into attack mode, this was just a misunderstanding.
“Whoever you are, get the hell out, I have a knife and I know how to use it.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He reached behind him and grasped the handle, disappearing quickly and moving back the way he came.
Halfway there the lights flickered back on and he heard a sigh of relief throughout the whole building.
It was easier to find his way once the lights returned, and he hurried towards his dressing room.
His lips turned into a grimace at the sight of his face. A red mark ran from above his eyebrow and down, crossing over his nose.
“Mr. Rogers, they’re ready for you to get dressed. I’ll be by in 10 minutes.”
The voice, spoken through the door, made his frown deepen. There was no way this mark was going to be gone in 10 minutes. By voice he could tell she was English and had a phenomenal aim. He briefly wondered about her identity before turning towards his garment bag.
The aid looked at him funny, “uh, what happened to your face?”
He grimaced, not exactly sure how to explain.
Before he could think of something to say, a voice bellowed above the loudspeakers,
“ We are recording in 5… 4…”
The aid made a ‘ what the hell am I supposed to do with you now’ face but there wasn’t time. The small woman with the head set gestured for him to follow and he saw screens light up all around him. A jaunty tune played and then a deep announcers voice played form somewhere,
“ Welcome to the best late night show on television, please give it up for your magnificent host, Peggy Carter!”
Lightning struck Steve. It was a girl . Woman. He winced, glad no one could see his face as he was directed to a darkened corridor and told to stand “ there, no. Right there. On the x. When she calls your name, walk through this door.”
He nodded that he understood and he looked up at the screen that was in his little space.
Steve cleared his throat. A gorgeous woman was walking out and waving at the crowd. A teasing red lipped smile had the crowd cheering louder and she bowed her head slightly before sitting behind her chic desk.
“ Hello, hello— “ she started, and he froze.
He knew that voice.
The one who had accosted him with whatever had struck him in the face. Embarrassment flamed and he hoped the mark was fading if not gone.
“ Welcome to tonight’s show!” She was saying, “we have quite the line up for you this evening, and I’m excited for it all to begin. Are you excited?”
Cheers and hollers greeted her and she smiled.
“ Well, let’s catch-Up! We’re starting a segment we’ve never done before and I’m excited to share it with you. Our guest, someone perhaps unexpected, is waiting in the wings, are you ready to greet him?”
Clapping and cheers that were presumably for him started loudly and he felt his throat grow dry.
“Well then, let’s bring him out, our guest this evening is the pitcher from the brand new Brooklyn based team, The Avengers. Please welcome, Steve Rogers!”
“That’s your cue.” A small voice said behind him. He reached forward, grasping the knob and stepping into the almost blinding lights of the studio.
He blinked once. Forcing himself not to show any distress, and then he remembered his job. Good press for the team. He smiled, letting his face relax and his hand came up in a good naturedly wave. Cheers came and he felt so out of orbit. Like he’d stepped out into another planet.
People cheering in a stadium felt very different from this.
He stepped onto the soft carpet and turned, finally catching sight of the hostess herself.
She was beautiful. More than that. She was artistic. Her hair and curves and the way she practically glowed under the lights. He found himself wanting to catch that essence in paints, but he kept his mind focused.
She was smiling at him, but her eyes were scanning his face, bewildered.
So the mark must not be gone then.
He walked over and sat in the very luxurious chair that was placed by her desk and she settled back into her seat as well.
The cheers died down and she tilted her head, as if examining him, “Steve, welcome to our show.”
He nodded, “thanks for having me.”
“You’ve changed your appearance on us?”
He laughed, “it started with a haircut and ended with a shave. Didn’t mean to cause alarm.”
Peggy smiled as the crowd laughed, “we don’t mind at all. We’re just glad to have you. But on that note, I hear from a very reputable source that you didn’t exactly choose to be here tonight.” Her eyebrow raised in question and he shifted in his seat just slightly before forcing himself to stop.
“Well, it was a surprise to me, I’ll say that.”
She laughed softly and he felt himself lean towards the sound subconsciously.
Her eyes found his and she seemed to notice that he’d leaned forward. “Well, I think every one of your teammates voting for you to be here would say a lot about a person.”
Steve wondered all she knew if she knew that but, so he decided honesty was the best policy.
“They just like to tease. Every single one of those guys is great. They all have something important to say. I’m sure you would have enjoyed interviewing any of them.”
She turned to the audience and raised an eyebrow and they chuckled like she’d told a joke. He felt off centered, like he was listening to them speak in an alien language and not understanding a word of it.
“Yes,” she finally agreed, “but here we are, stuck with you, hmm?” She said it with plenty of humor and he laughed, unbothered.
“Yep, sorry about that.”
“Well,” she smiled, “let’s get to know you we can see at the end if it was a waste of our time, hmm?” She turned to the audience, “what do you all say?”
They cheered and clapped and Steve smiled along.
“Tell us about your season? As someone who learned about baseball late in life, tell me what you love about it? What do you love about your team and how it feels to be entering the ranks of record breaking World Series contenders?”
Steve allowed himself a subtle deep breath as he thought about her question and how to answer.
“I—“ he started, looking out at the audience who were paying attention quite eagerly. Good press. Good for the team. Well, lucky for him he loved his team and it would be easy to answer. “I love the team aspect of it. I’ve played baseball all my life, and there’s a lot of camaraderie that comes along with it. And there’s just something about it. It’s maybe old fashioned of me but I just feel like going to a baseball game has a charming quality about it that other sports lack.” He received cheers for that and he smiled, waiting till they quieted down, “as for my team, I couldn’t say enough good things about them. I don’t know how Howard did it but he somehow found some of the best guys in Brooklyn. Not only great at the sport but just genuinely good guys. I’m proud to be on a team with them.” More cheers but he forged on, “as for your last question, that’s all just a cherry on top. If I get to play the sport I love with the people I love, then I’m happy.”
The crowd clapped and cheered their approval and he turned to find observant eyes on him. Peggy nodded and smiled, waving for the audience to quiet.
“Well, that sounds lovely, and we are all of course, rooting for your big win. Aren’t we everyone?”
The crowd roared long enough that Peggy quieted them down again.
“Now,” Peggy started as the crowd quieted, “tonight we’re starting a new segment where we dig deep into the lives of our guests. There’s of course the stereotype about sports fellows isn’t there—“ the crowd laughed. “But we don’t believe stereotypes do we?“ they agreed loudly with her as she turned to him, “so let’s find out all about Steve Rogers, shall we? Are you ready?”
He felt like a deer caught in the headlights. No one had given him an ounce of warning. But he forced himself to lift his hands in a shrug of acceptance, “don’t have much to tell, but I’m along for the ride, I suppose.”
Peggy studied him briefly before turning back to the audience, “a lucky few of you will get the chance to ask a question, Steve’s friends and family have submitted their own snippets for us to discover and we’re going to learn more about Steve than possibly anyone else has had the pleasure.”
He felt his chest tighten. His friends and family had submitted information?
Suddenly the distinct inclination that he’d been bamboozled by everyone on his team entered his mind.
Sure, maybe he was the most private of his team. And maybe he was the quietest and least likely to share. But he had reasons for that. It kept the signs quiet. It made things simple to compartmentalize.
“Alright, first up, questions from our audience!”
A standing microphone appeared out of nowhere and Steve watched as a random number was drawn. A young woman gasped as her seat was called and she crossed over people and down the stairs until she stood behind the mic.
“Give us your name, and where you’re from.” Peggy asked.
The girl seemed nervous but smiling, “I’m Olivia and I’m from Queens,”
“Nice to meet you,” Steve said genuinely.
“Have you got a question in mind?” Peggy asked.
“Well,” the girl started, “I’ve never been a huge fan of sports but I’ve been really drawn to the Avengers season. Me and my boyfriend have watched practically every game of yours and I’ve really become a fan of the sport in general. What would be something you’d want to tell every fan?”
Steve thought of generic answers and casual answers but truthfully… he just wanted to give the honest answer.
“I’d tell them—“ he paused, wondering if Howard would be mad, but then he remembered how they all forced him to be here. So he would give his answer. “To remember that it’s just a game. It’s all fun and exciting and I love playing. But when we lose, it’s just a loss. We’ll work harder next time. I’ve seen so many fans or other seasons of sports where people get so fired up and I just—“ he laughed self deprecatingly, “I get played to play a game—“
“That you play exceedingly well.” Peggy cut in.
He dipped his head, “thank you,” then he grinned, and as if on cue he heard the audience make a sound of surprise. He looked up at them and just saw a bunch of smiling faces, “I’d tell the fans thank you for all their love and support, but never forget real life is more important than a game.”
The audience cheered and when he looked at Peggy she seemed to be deciding if he was telling the truth. But then she turned away, “what’s your name and where are you from?”
Steve. Turned to see someone new at the mic. A young boy, maybe 12 stood there with an Avengers jersey. “I’m Paul, and I’m from Brooklyn,” cheers with Steve gave a mini whoop for. “And I was just wondering, which of your teammates is the funniest?”
That question made him genuinely laugh, “oh man,” he thought and then gave a knowing look to the kid, “you know, they’re all pretty goofy, but I’d have to say Scott Lang takes the top spot.”
The next question took him by surprise.
“I’m Richard, and I’m from Manhattan. What kind of car do you drive?”
And he didn’t even think about it before he answered. “I don’t have a car.”
The audience was silent. And Peggy looked at him with a head tilt, “you don’t own a car? Is Howard Stark not paying you enough?”
The question is in jest but he can see the real curiosity there.
“I haven’t bought one because I’ve never needed one. I have my license. But…” he shrugged, “I walk and take the metro to work, and I don’t want to pay for something I don’t need. In New York, public transportation suits me just fine.”
Surprised cheers but cheers all the same greeted him and he received another interested eyebrow raise from Peggy.
A few more questions that he could answer with ease passed. He was just starting to get comfortable when Peggy waved for quiet and then turned to him, “now it’s time to turn up the proverbial heat.” She laughed slightly and gestured to the audience, “they’ve warmed you up but now we do a deep dive. Are we ready?”
The clapping and hollering gave cover to the noise of nervousness he made, but he kept that smile on his face and reminded himself.
For the team.
Even if they had tricked him into being here.
“So,” Peggy started grabbing something off her desk and holding it in her hands, “we have a few snippets or submissions from family and friends. And we’re going to show it to you, and you give us an explanation or a memory, understand?”
Steve looked up at her and tried to seem nonchalant, “am I allowed to know how you received this information?”
The audience and Peggy laughed. “Of course, all information was vetted through your media agent Natasha.”
She said it with a cheeky laugh and he smiled in return, but inside his stomach was nauseous. Natasha being the informant meant she had access to his teammates and actual friends and family.
“So, are you ready?”
“How this works is that I will ask a question, and you respond with the appropriate answer. If you’re telling the truth you get a point, but if we find a question you lie about or are unwilling to answer, then we—“ she gestures to the audience and herself, “get a point. Understand?”
“I do,” he said softly, feeling anxiety ratchet up further. Even if he wanted to, he wasn’t sure he could lie on public television. How could he count himself a good man if he lied to save himself some embarrassment?
He mentally cursed his well-meaning teammates and turned to face her more head on. Letting himself slip into Captain mode. That’s where he felt most secure.
“Alright, our first question is an easy one. Are you an only child?”
“I am.” He said easily, “there’s many people I count as family but by blood I have no siblings.”
“Parents thought you were enough trouble, eh?”
She said it good naturedly. She had no idea how ill he’d been or how his ma had almost died in childbirth. And Steve knew that she didn’t know. So he smiled, “I was a handful.”
Peggy smiled and then nodded at him, “but I’m sure they’re quite proud of the man you’ve become? How could they not be?”
Steve just smiled and nodded but said nothing, not wanting to go down that line of discussion.
But Peggy’s ever observant eye paused and studied him before saying, “uh-oh, are they not a big fan of you being a professional sports player?”
He sighed. But he didn’t lie. “I’m sure they’d be proud.” He said calmly, “next question?”
The audience was quiet for a second as the meaning sunk in.
“Ah,” Peggy said, her eyes showing understanding and sympathy, “next question, did you play baseball in high school or college?”
“No.” Steve responded, “I did not.”
She looked at him in surprise, then checked her list, “you didn’t, interesting, so how did you develop the skills to be such an excellent pitcher?”
This was also hard to explain. How do you explain that you and your special ops team played baseball for hours while you waited for mission orders?
“Just played with friends a lot.” He answered, it was the truth after all, “lots of practice.”
“So.” She said, eyeing her list of questions, “if you didn’t play baseball, what were you interested in in highschool?” The audience made a suggestive “woo-ing” sound and he felt his cheeks wanting to heat. But he just cleared his throat, knowing this was Bucky’s.
“I uh,” he sighed and just shrugged helplessly, “I was into art. Wanted to be an artist.”
Several cheers or sounds of surprise escaped the audience and Peggy herself looked surprised as she opened an envelope and must have seen it was the truth.
“Oh my—“ she started, “he’s telling the truth ladies and gentlemen, and we even have a piece of artwork to see!”
Steve’s head whipped towards her in surprise, “what?”
But she was already flipping it around, and displaying it. The camera zoomed in and he was going to wring Bucky’s neck when he got home.
Gasps and cheers were heard through the audience as they displayed the piece.
“My, Steve—“ Peggy was saying, staring at it, “this is gorgeous. Tell us about it.”
Steve looked at the painting and it stared back at him.
“Well,” he said slowly, “my grandfather fought in WWII and I went through a phase where I would ask him all about it. I wanted to know what it was like. Something so big and scary.” Steve paused and the room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. “And that’s what he said. It felt so big. So much bigger than just individual soldiers. He said he was terrified all the time.” He pointed at the painting, “but he said what he didn’t expect was that he came home and he was still terrified. That feeling didn’t go away. And here—“ he points to a man, dressed in full dress uniform, still and rigid in the middle of a dance hall party, couples swinging and laughing and having a good time around him, while the man stood there, frozen, as if waiting for a dance partner who would never come, “he said… being back home, and having to pretend everything was normal. That he hadn’t seen what he’d seen or done the things he’d done. Or…” flashes of his hands covered in one of his soldier’s blood made his throat catch, but he forced it down. This wasn’t about him. So he just cleared his throat and continued, “he felt scared back home. Like he’d been left behind in this big scary thing while everyone else seemed to move on with normal lives.” His hand dropped to his lap, “and that’s what I tried to capture here.”
He heard a sniffle and it made him look up. A few audience members were wiping their eyes.
He looked back to Peggy who was now studying him so fiercely he thought he may have said something wrong.
“I’m—“ she said, breaking the silence, “I’m taken aback, Steve. This painting is gorgeous and the story behind it is quite touching. Thank you for sharing that with us.” She turned towards the audience, “haven't we all appreciated learning about Steve so far?”
Cheers filled the room and he was impressed by her ability to lighten the mood back up.
“Alright, we have more items here.” She set the painting down gently and picked up something else, “before you were a baseball player, what did you do?”
“I worked in a mechanic shop.” He said with a smile, “Jones Auto and Repair. Best shop in Brooklyn. You won’t find a better man to work on your car than Hank or Gabe. I’d stake my honor on it.”
Laughs and good natured cheers reverberated and Peggy smiled nodding, “did you go to college for art or auto mechanics?”
He swallowed, oh no. He hoped this wasn’t going where he thought it might be headed. “No, ma’am. I did not have the privilege to attend college. Although one day I hope to take some classes. Keep my mind fresh.”
“So, you’ve been working at the mechanics shop since highschool.” She said easily, “and then one day you decide you want to play baseball professionally. Is that how it went?”
He briefly wondered if any of them had spilled about his military career. 14 years being overseas wasn’t just a blip between highschool and Gabe’s shop. But… he was not about to bring it up. “Something like that.”
“So, in this envelope it tells me that there are three hidden talents you have that most people don’t know about. You have to guess what your family or friends put in here.”
He laughed, shaking his head, “I’ve got no idea, ma’am. I don’t know what they’re thinking saying I’ve got hidden talents.”
She shook her head, “ah, ah, ah, that sounded like avoidance to me, what do you think, ladies and gentleman?”
The laughed and cheered and he saw a screen light up informing the audience they scored a point. He had a few hash marks and they only had one.
“Care to guess or shall we force it out of you?” She was teasing but he could feel his worry building. What had they said?
“I suppose you’ll have to look because I don’t know.” He shrugged and the audience let out light boos
She waved them to be quiet as she ripped open the envelope. “So talent number one is…” she read the card and then looked up at him, surprise on her face, “you’ve never lost at a game of chess?”
Fucking Morita .
He groaned internally but he just shook his head. “That’s not a hidden skill.” He said firmly, “I was sick a lot as a kid and chess helped pass the time. As to whether or not I’ve never lost a game is a rumor I don’t know how it got started. I’m proficient at chess. That’s all.”
Her eyes narrowed as her lips pursed in amusement. “So you have lost a game of chess.”
Steve’s teeth tugged at his bottom lip in nervousness before he looked at her and nodded, “I’m sure I have.”
She gaped a bit, “but you don’t remember when?”
The audience was snickering and laughing in a humorous way as his face must have looked helpless. Unwilling to lie but not wanting to admit he couldn’t remember ever losing a game.
“Next talent?” He asked with a wry grin.
Peggy scoffed but obliged. “Next talent is—“ her brow furrowed, “your ability to whistle?”
He laughed, not minding this one. “I can whistle well.” He said easily, “I can throw it, and make it sound like it’s coming from somewhere else. Another thing I could practice while sick and it drove my mother mad.” He smiled at the memory and turned to see her eyes on him again.
“Well, now you have to show us.” She gestured for the audience to quiet down and they went silent.
Steve picked a tune from an old Disney movie and started the whistle normally, then he threw it across the room and he watched as every head in the audience turned, hearing it from behind their seats.
He stopped and they turned back in shock, then cheering in awe.
“That’s impressive.” Peggy said, “you and Julie Andrews could have a competition.”
Steve laughed, “actually, funny you mentioned that. I used to whistle along with that scene in Mary Poppins. Her and the bird? And I loved finding out she was the actual whistler. Really cool.”
“You’ve watched Mary Poppins?”
“Don’t be so shocked.” He teased, surprised at himself as he did, “Mary Poppins is a classic.”
She raised that eyebrow again and smiled, “I quite agree.” Then she glanced down, “any guesses on your third talent?”
Steve thought about it. But nothing came to mind. “I genuinely don’t know.”
Peggy seemed to accept that with ease and she turned over the last card. Her face shifted as she read the card. Then her mouth made an ‘o’ shape as she looked up at him, “surely not?”
Steve looked at her, “what, what is it?”
“It states here that you can do one armed push ups with another human being on your back?”
He sighed and tipped his head back, “it’s a long story.”
She scoffed with humor, “oh is it?”
He winced, “well, not really. I just really needed to win a bet and that was the way to do it.”
“Ah, so this is past you. Present you couldn’t do it?”
And her eyebrow raised was like a challenge that time.
And maybe he had lied to Bucky because her casual manner about doubting his abilities made him want to show off.
But not for the audience.
Not for anyone but her.
And the feeling was so strong he had to shove it down.
Her demeanor was too disarming.
“I don’t know. I haven’t done it in a few years.”
The audience began to clap and chant of their own accord.
Do it, do it, do it, do it—
Peggy was laughing and shushing them but then she turned to him and she raised that eyebrow again, leaning towards him with a mischievous look, “well, what do you say. Would you lay your body on the line for a late night talk show?”
And something about that question made him want to.
“I think I could manage.” He answered, his voice rougher and deeper than he’d been expecting.
She blinked at him and he saw her pupils dilate at the sound of his voice.
And that set off a whole other feeling in his chest.
“Well,” she said, straightening up in her chair and then standing, “let’s see if you can, hmm?”
The audience cheered and he stood. “Is it alright if I take my jacket off?” He asked, “probably would rip if I wore it.”
It was a tight fit and he didn’t want to owe Howard for it. Not that he thought the man would mind.
“Of course.” Peggy said.
He unbuttoned it and slipped it off, folding it and laying it across the back of the chair. When he turned he heard a ripple of amusement and some gasps that made him look back at the audience. They were all staring at him, but he didn’t know why.
He turned to Peggy who was also staring at him with surprise. But she regained her composure quickly and he didn’t have the chance to ask what the matter was.
“Alright.” She said, “any size person you have in mind?”
But as she finished her question the crowd started chanting again.
Carter, Carter, Carter, Carter—
She looked at them frowning but there was a smile on her lips. She turned to Steve and looked at him, “well, what say you, are we in this challenge together?”
He nodded, “works for me,” then he loosened his tie, “when I get down, you just sit on my back.”
Her smile was half amused and half embarrassed but she nodded and then laughed, “I think this will be a first for me as a late night host, and I’ve seen and done alot.”
He laughed softly and knelt down, placing one hand on the floor and the other on his lower back. “Ready?”
His peripheral caught as she walked over to him and he could see as she slipped off her heels. “Is cross-cross alright?”
“That’s fine.” He agreed, and he could feel her hesitate for one more second before her feet disappeared from view and he felt her weight settle on his back.
And while she of course weighed something. Since she was a living breathing adult woman, he felt it take almost no effort to hold her up.
And he was glad the lights of the stage were already warm because he felt his chest heat at the thought of the beautiful woman perched on his back.
“Someone keep count!” She asked, “whenever you’re ready, Steve.”
And his name on her tongue was like a strike of lighting.
He dropped with ease, catching her off guard and making her stretch her hands out to steady herself. He ignored the way the audience laughed at her reaction and her noise of surprise. And he ignored the way her hands now gripped the back of his thigh and his shoulder blade. Wherever she touched felt like molten lava spreading from her grip.
23, 24, 25,
The count went on. And he could have stopped a long while ago, have proven his point. But a shameless part of him wouldn’t let himself stop.
The contact wasn’t sexual or intimate in anyway. And yet the prolonged human contact was something he’d been missing since before he left for overseas. His team had never been afraid of hugs or hands on shoulders. But the way she was sitting on his back, her entire weight, was almost like a weighted blanket. Her body heat and his pressed against each other as he moved up and down, not having slowed down in the slightest.
67, 68, 69, 70–
He could hear the amusement and surprise growing from the audience. And her hands no longer gripped him for steadiness but instead they were gently resting on him. It was like they found their balance. Their rhythm. She was perfectly at ease as he pushed up and down on his one arm. He could feel her thigh resting against his left arm as it laid against his back.
100, 101, 102, 103 ,
Suddenly he did feel tired. The adrenaline and human contact having powered him through more than he’d done when Denier was perched on his back.
He kept it up a few more but when he heard the audience say 107 . He figured that was enough.
He paused and then gently lowered himself onto the carpet floor and felt as she laughed, sliding off, her legs still over his torso, her bare feet by his hip and her knees tented over his lower back.
The audience was roaring and cheering but he just focused on his breathing, ignoring the way the absence of her weight made his chest ache with lonliness.
He admonished himself. He really needed to get a grip , if one nice conversation with a beautiful woman unhinged him this much.
And a woman who was being paid to speak to him no less.
A gentle hand tapped his shoulder and he turned to see her leaning to catch his eyes, “that was quite the feat, Mr. Rogers. I think you’ve earned a nice glass of water.” The audience laughed as she pulled her feet from their perch over him and stood up. He stood along with her and the audience was still cheering as someone brought out a water bottle for him.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been so impressed by a physical feat.” Peggy laughed, “perhaps I’m biased since I was a part of it.”
“Well,” he said, “I’m just glad I didn’t embarrass myself.”
“Quite the opposite!” She assured, “now, since that took a bit of time, we will move on to one last thing before our time with you is up. Of course we will all be cheering you and the rest of the Avengers on as you enter into the World Series next week. And no one will be cheering harder for you than—“ she pointed to a screen and it lit up. All the faces of the kids he’d coached last summer in the community league waving and smiling. “ We love you, Coach Rogers!” They said in unison, “Good luck in the World Series!”
The audience cheered and he felt stunned, how they had managed to put all this together in such a short amount of time? And that made him think he for sure was bamboozled into being the guest on this show.
“You coach a community league in your free time?”
She obviously knew the answer but was giving him a chance to speak.
“I do.” Steve admitted, “I remember how sometimes in the city it feels like you are never outside. Surrounded by so much—-“ he paused, not sure how to put it into words, “stuff.” He finished with a chuckle, not having found a better word. “Even when you’re outside it can feel like you’re just in the city. Does that make sense? But I found that coaching this team helped me, and I hope the kids, feel like we got outside and played, you know?
“Well, I’m sure they do.” Peggy said. “Thank you so much for joining us this evening. We wish you luck in the series and the future!”
The audience clapped and after a brief farewell, they shook hands and he waved, grabbing his jacket and walking back through the door he’d come from.
He got home not too late, thankfully they recorded these things in advance. But he knew it would premiere soon.
Bucky didn’t even ask where he’d been. “You hungry?”
Steve shook his head, “nah, not really. But I should eat I guess.”
“Did the stadium lose power too?”
Steve shrugged and then realized he needed to answer because if he wasn’t at the stadium then he’d have to answer where he had been.
“Just for a moment.” He said, hoping it was true.
“Here too. Don’t forget to reset your clock.”
Peggy sighed, “I don’t care.”
“You gotta care.” Angie rolled her eyes, “this is big news. People don’t know these guys at all .”
“Probably because they’re athletic and they’ve allowed that to be their whole personality. Nothing much exciting there.”
Angie frowned, “judgy.”
Peggy pinned her with a glare, “it’s my show isn’t it? Why must I be forced to have guests I don’t want? So they play a sport well. Hoo-rah.” She intoned sarcastically. “I’ve avoided the sports sector in my career and I intend to continue!”
At that Angie stood, “I’m not here to ask, English. I’m here to tell.”
Peggy gaped, “what? They’ve already decided?”
Angie nodded looking away, “they went over your head with this one. So if you want to fight, fight them, not me.”
Peggy grabbed her phone off her dressing room desk and stomped all the way to Jack’s office.
“You don’t get to make that decision!”
The eye roll Jack gave her was mind numbing. “Sweetheart—“
“I told you, call me that again and I’ll file a harassment suit after I punch you in the nose.”
He sighed as if she was the problem. “Studio execs got it in their head. They want to broaden your guest horizons. I told them you’d be pissed. But they insisted. You’ve had every type of guest on here. Except an athlete.”
“Because I don’t need an overinflated egotistical jock in my chair!”
Jack just shrugged as if helpless, “well they think you do.”
“I have not had the number one show running for 3 years for them to pull this crap!”
Then Jack, in a rare moment, dropped all pretense, “listen, Marge. I don’t know. It was a surprise to me too. But it will be good. It pushes your boundaries you know? If you do it and it goes well, great. If you do it and it sucks, hey. At least you can say I told you so.”
His logic was sound and she hated when that happened.
The three executives she could manage to corral looked at her with wary expressions. “Only one, what?”
“I’ll interview exactly one of your little meatheads. And that’s it. Understood?”
She watched as annoyance crossed their faces, but she didn’t wait for their brains to catch up. She marched back to her dressing room.
Angie watched her as she entered the room. Peggy turned to her and glared, “what’s this imbecile’s name?”
Angie laughed, “first of all, rude. Just because Fred was a jackass who loved cricket or whatever the hell you call that sport. Does not mean they are all idiots.” Then Angie smiled widely, set down her coffee and practically pulled Peggy to her office. “His name is Steve Rogers. And Twitter is all aflame about him. But he’s kind of aloof, right? Like when he give interviews it’s always about the game or his teammates. He does not talk about himself. And that’s got the girls all in a tizzy.”
Peggy stared at the photo of a behemoth of a man standing on the mound, his arm twisted behind his back with a baseball tucked against his palm. “He’s broken records this season with his pitching. He threw 3 no-hitters in a season. That’s insanity . And he won’t even give interviews about it!”
“Does he think he’s too good to talk to the press?”
Angie sighed. “Again, judgy.” Then she shook her head, “and no. Not a single one of his teammates have anything less than the highest praise for him. He’s just a very private person apparently.”
“If he wants to be so private why did he agree to come onto our show?”
Angie laughed, “oh. He hasn’t agreed. They’re setting it up so it looks like he won a vote but they’re all in on it.”
“He’s being tricked into this? What if he refuses?”
“I dunno.” Angie shrugged, “the girl who contacted me about him seemed pretty sure he could be convinced.”
She turned to the screen and watched a clip replay as the man wound up, pitched, and then stood there in disbelief as they won the game sending them to the World Series. He was a very attractive man. She would admit that. “So what am I supposed to talk about if he won’t talk about himself? I don’t know or want to know enough about baseball to speak only about that.”
Angie’s grin turned positively mischievous, “here’s the kicker. His media agent has this idea—“
She did a bit of googling herself. But true to Angie’s word, there just wasn’t much about him at all on the internet. The massive amounts of pictures and gifs were all from his games or few moments of press this season.
Somehow she found herself annoyed that there were no scandals or those disgusting paparazzi photos of him leaving the club with a woman practically half his age, where she could write him off as just like the rest.
Truthfully there was nothing personal about him at all. And she couldn’t decide if that intrigued or annoyed her.
When the power went out, she almost briefly hoped they could reschedule. She was having misgivings about this whole interview. But then someone strange was in her room, and the thought left.
After speaking to security who said they did a thorough sweep and found no one unusual, she rolled her eyes and changed into her outfit. A smart eggplant colored pantsuit with a cream blouse that tucked in nicely. Her heels were slipped on next and she took a deep breath.
“At least allow him to speak before you rip his head off.” She ordered herself in the mirror.
After sound check, they got the cue to begin and she greeted her audience.
When he walked out onto the stage, she had to focus on keeping her eyes from popping wide.
While she’d thought he was handsome with the beard and longer hair, her knees almost went weak at the sight of him clean shaven and with his hair perfectly pushed back. The suit fit him snuggly and his hair reflected golden under the intense stage lights. The women and men in her audience were also cheering loudly and she took the moment to collect herself.
It would not do to have her resolve crumble just because he was somehow the most handsome man she’d ever seen.
Then her eyes caught the mark across his face, a slight redness and she wondered about it before she knew she had to get started.
She greeted him and bantered with him a bit, and while it was subtle, she could tell he was very much forcing himself to be calm. If she wasn’t mere feet from him she may have missed all the micro signs of surprise or anxiousness that ran across his face. And her wonderment of how he learned such control made her interest deepen.
Then her mind almost went positively blank when he leaned forward when she laughed. It was a strange moment where he’d somehow made her feel like the sun by that infintisemal movement. His eyes were on her face, studying her and she wanted to study him back.
But like him, she was an expert in maintaining control. So she kept at it, half teasing him and prying for information.
When she asked about his season, she felt surprise at his answer. So vulnerable and honest and, she hated to admit it, sweet.
He really did seem to mean that he didn’t care about the outcome. Not typical of a sportsman she thought.
“Well, that sounds lovely,” she said, “and we are all of course, rooting for your big win. Aren’t we everyone?” While the crowd cheered, Peggy was surprised to find she meant it.
As she explained the game, she watched panic cross his face. And his self-deprecating answer only fueled her intrigue. “Don’t have much to tell, but I’m along for the ride, I suppose.”
—something you’d want to tell every fan?”
Peggy heard the question asked. And she expected a generic answer. But this Steve Rogers was turning out to be a bag of surprises because his answer had her floored.
“I’d tell them—“ he paused, wondering if Howard would be mad, but then he remembered how they all forced him to be here. So he would give his answer. “To remember that it’s just a game. It’s all fun and exciting and I love playing. But when we lose, it’s just a loss. We’ll work harder next time. I’ve seen so many fans or other seasons of sports where people get so fired up and I just—“ he laughed self deprecatingly, “I get played to play a game—“
“That you play exceedingly well.” Peggy said, able to pull herself together to chime in.
As he thanked her, she watched a genuine smile cross his face. And she wouldn’t have known the other smiles weren’t genuine until that moment. Because that was a real smile. Her breath caught silently in her throat and she heard the audience react too. But he was still talking, “I’d tell the fans thank you for all their love and support, but never forget real life is more important than a game.”
And then he was explaining how he didn’t have a car and Peggy just had to keep reminding herself to get a grip because somehow with each answer he managed to get more attractive inside and out. Her whole world view on sportsmen was being shifted off balance and she hated being wrong.
So she decided it was time to really put him to the test. ANgie had arranged the items for her, and instructed her not to look ahead of time. That way her reaction as host would be real and genuine. “—show it to you, and you give us an explanation or a memory, understand?”
She watched his eyes unfocus. And she wondered at that. “Am I allowed to know how you received this information?”
As she was explaining the rules, she watched him with a discerning eye,
But he didn’t back down or cow out. So she asked.
Then when he refused to make a sound about his parents, Peggy felt a sense of gotcha , perhaps he’d been a hellion and his parents were the bit she could use to find the kink in this man’s armor.
“I’m sure they’d be proud.” She heard him say softly before following quickly with, “next question?”
Go fucking figure.
She mentally chided herself for being so on the attack. He’d been nothing but kind and respectful. So she could return the favor.
Which was when he threw her for another loop by admitting he’d wanted to be an artist.
And as she unveiled the painting, she felt herself drawn to the artwork. Skilled hands had created the work. She could tell from the use of color and movement he’d imbued into the dancers.
But the man in the middle stood out.
Lonely, and lost.
Her eyes found his face as he was explaining the meaning of the painting.
And while he spoke about his grandfather… Which made sense as the man bore a significant resemblance to Steve.
She couldn’t help but feel like there was a sense of relation to him as well. And that made her wonder.
She didn’t cry, but she could hear the audience be moved by his words.
Then he was plugging his old workshop and she had to smile at that.
His answer of “—something like that.” Felt evasive, but she was already running out of time, so she didn’t press.
After they scored a point by him not admitting to having three secret talents, she found herself as excited as the audience to discover what they were.
When she proclaimed his chess ability. She saw annoyance cross his face. And she wondered at that . How could he be annoyed that someone would share something so impressive? He should be proud, or crowing about it but he seemed annoyed to have to explain that he in fact had never lost a chess game.
Peggy listened as he described himself as a sickly child, able to practice many habits, including spectacular ability to whistle. And then he was explaining how he’d learned it watching her favorite childhood movie, (her father having resembled Mr. Banks in more ways than one) and somehow, in the brief 15 minutes she’s had with this man, he was becoming a full person. A well-rounded balanced individual. And individual she wanted to know more about.
Then the talent on the last card made her scoff in disbelief. “surely not?”
But when she looked at Steve he seemed genuinely confused, “what, what is it?”
“It states here that you can do one armed push ups with another human being on your back?”
He grimaced, “it’s a long story.”
“oh, is it?”
He winced, “well, not really. I just really needed to win a bet and that was the way to do it.”
“Ah, so this is past you. Present you couldn’t do it?”
As the words slipped out of her mouth, she felt the challenge she’d filled them with.
And something about that challenge seemed to shift him into a different person. The way he straightened his shoulders and looked at her seriously.
Even as he said, “I don’t know. I haven’t done it in a few years.” She could hear the fact that he knew he could do it.
Then the audience was egging him on and he agreed.
“I think I could manage.” Steve answered her question, and his voice was deep and almost frightening. But in a way that made her want to hear it say her name.
They stared at each other for a beat too long before she cleared her throat and stood.
It was an innocuous question for him to remove his jacket.
Until it was off.
And she heard the gasp of the audience.
Under the bright stage lights, his white button-up shirt was practically sheer.
And holy hell. Every muscle on his back was on display as he was twisted, laying the jacket down on the chair, just lightly shaded by the shirt. And as the audience made their chittering, he turned around, his face showing confusion.
He didn’t know .
And the fact that he didn’t even think to glance down at his body told her he was very unaware of how his appearance affected the audience.
But then her eyes caught what was around his neck.
Through the sheer material she could see a pair of dog tags hanging, kept tightly against his skin by the shirt.
Understanding about the painting flitted through her and she knew she would think about this man for a very long time. But for now she had a job to do.
And she didn’t fight too hard when they chanted her name.
She let out a gasp of surprise when he dropped so gracefully and quickly on the first count. Her hands reached out, grabbing at him probably a bit more handsy than she would have had she not been caught off guard.
Maybe she expected him to quit at 10, or 20, or maybe 25. All nice, good and impressive numbers.
But he kept going.
And the frenetic pace at which he went, bolstered by the frantic count of the audience, threw her into one of the strangest moments in her life.
She could feel the muscles in his back as he moved, but they were warm and for some reason, after she caught her balance after the first couple, she felt at ease. Her hips and legs rested comfortable as if a space had been carved for her on his back.
Which made zero logical sense at all .
One of his arms rested along her thigh and she saw a few light scars. She wondered about them as the count reached a ridiculously high number.
She saw the producers waving at her to get her to stop him, but she ignored them. Unwilling to cut him short.
And just a touch unwilling to dismount from his back.
He seemed more at ease doing this than he had the entire interview.
So she let him be as the crowd cheered and counted.
Then, eventually he did slow, and she counted and cheered with the audience until he lowered them both to the ground. His shirt was even more see through from the heat and slight sheen of sweat.
It seemed like everyone in the room knew how completely on display he was. Except Steve. And if that didn’t make her stomach churn in a good way.
Thankfully no one made any comment or called attention to it.
After they settled back in their seats, his jacket once again in place, a producer gestured to the display screen and she pointed it out.
Happy, smiling and excited children cheered the man on, and it was so sentimental and so adorable she found herself watching enraptured.
Then, before she was ready, he was shaking her hand firmly, and waving goodbye.
And somehow she had to watch him walk out of her life like he hadn’t just changed it.
Her phone vibrated. But she was unwilling to wake up just yet. So she ignored it.
Then it vibrated again.
And she growled in annoyance as it refused to be silent.
She blearily reached out and snagged it off her side table, swiping the answer button. “WHAT.”
“Pegs!” A voice too loud shouted.
“Michael!?” She hissed, “Stop pretending you don’t understand time zones you bloody barbarian!” Then she hung up and shoved her head up her pillow again.
Only for her phone to ring.
Her voice was deadly low when she finally answered, “someone better be dying .”
“That’s the guy!” Her brother was speaking entirely too loud, not even addressing her threat, “that’s the guy!”
“Who’s the guy?”
“We just got watched the interview over here, and that’s him!”
“Michael, what the blue blazes are you chattering about!”
“Steve Rogers, it’s him, Steffa’s brother’s captain!”
“Steffa’s brother?” She blinked, her brain being pulled unwillingly to full consciousness. “Your Steffa?”
“Do you have any other sister-in-law’s called Steffa? Yes, my Steffa!”
She sat up and switched on her light, looking at the clock, it was 3am. She growled in annoyance, “start over.”
“You remember Steffa’s brother from the wedding?”
“Yes, James wasn’t it?”
“Uh-huh, except he goes by Monty. And he was on my team in the RAF, remember?”
“Yes… Michael, where is this going.”
“Remember when we were ribbing him for ditching God and Country for a blasted American team?”
“I thought it was a special ops team of people from all over—“
Michael huffed, as if annoyed at her , “Yes, but it was mostly Americans! And that guy, the blasted baseball player on your show! That was their Captain! His team leader!”
“Peg, what the hell have I been saying! That’s Monty’s Captain, from the special ops team!”
She sat there silently for a minute. Her brain cleared the fog from sleep as his words sunk in.
The dog tags made sense now. As did the scars and his ability to stay in control even if he was nervous.
“What the hell.” She whispered quietly, “what are the odds?”
Her brother was laughing, “I don’t know. I didn’t even recognize him, but Steffa kept saying he looked familiar, and then she pulled up a photo of Monty and his team and there he was, although he’s beardless now. That’s why she didn’t recognize him right away.”
Something like that .
His evasive answer now made sense.
“And geez, Pegs, he’s a right specimen.”
She wrinkled her nose, even if she agreed, “Ew, Michael.”
“What!?” Her brother was laughing, “Steffa practically giggled when he took off his jacket! And I would of been mad if I didn’t agree with her!”
Her brother was laughing and she felt a smile tug at her lips, “he was dashing, and so unaware. Made him even more attractive.” Peggy admitted.
“Oh, we know.”
Those words, said with such mirth made her eyes narrow. “What do you mean, you know?”
And her brother was laughing louder, “don’t go on twitter.”
“You’re not as subtle as you think, my sister.” She heard Steffa’s voice and suddenly he was saying goodbye and hanging up.
Her episode would have premiered last night, which means it would have only aired about 6 hours ago. Michael always watched it in the morning over in England.
But curiosity kept her from considering going back to sleep.
She tapped the little twitter app on her phone and clicked ‘trending’. Her mouth gaped at the sight.
A gif of Steve, his back to the audience, and then turning to face the camera, shirt see-through as his face read unsure.
He looked positively handsome and vulnerable and it made her chest heat at the sight.
The dog tags briefly made an appearance in the shot and that thought ran through her head over and over. A man, with so much talent and kindness, the leader of a special operations team and so much more.
Then she did scroll and her mouth dropped even further. It was another gif, this one of the way he leaned towards her as she laughed, followed immediately by her leaning towards him as he spoke. It was captioned, “if there is a God, He will make them get together. They’re pppppeeeerrrfffffeeeeeccctttttt”
She clicked quickly over to trending hashtags and saw:
And then the one that made her choke out a gasp of disbelief
There was clip after clip of her sitting on his back, her laughing, as they moved up and down with each push-up. Then his artwork showed up again and again.
She read a thread that started with: “Why is no one talking about the fact that we just watched the beginning of a romance novel!? Like… Strangers to Lovers in 15 minutes flat!? Please let them get together!”
Then lots of comments on how adorable their babies would be.
The internet was a wild place.
She clicked her phone off and shoved it away from her. Groaning at what was sure to be a very long meeting with producers tomorrow.
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” Something smacked against Steve’s head and he groaned. Something else hit him and he sat up, glaring at Bucky who was standing in his doorway, hands pressed against his hips and annoyance on his face, “What the hell, Steve?!”
Steve looked at the shoe and the baseball glove that now laid on his bed from where Bucky must have thrown them. “What?” He snapped, not appreciating the violent wake up call, “what is your deal?”
“My deal!” Bucky practically shouted, “how about you going on a late night show, half naked with some gorgeous woman and you not telling me, not informing me of when it aired, AND not telling me that you’ve fallen for said woman!?”
And he blinked again.
Bucky growled at him and pointed an accusing finger, “don’t play dumb, Rogers. Natasha sent me the link to the episode. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Steve shrugged, “I dunno, I was awkward about going on a sho—“ then his brain cut off, “wait, what!? Half-naked, what do you mean?!”
Bucky laughed, “oh come on . I’ve worn sunscreen thicker than that thing!”
Steve felt frozen, unable to process what he was saying.
It must have been convincing because Bucky tilted his head, “did you.. did you pick out the suit?”
Steve choked, “no, Howard did.”
Bucky pressed his lips together to keep from laughing, “oh shit. Have you not watched it?”
“No. When did it premiere?”
“Last night, and Steve—“ Bucky’s face was full of amusement, “you’re dead meat now.”
He felt his face pull down in a frown, “what do you mean by that?”
Bucky laughed as he backed away from the door, “there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You’re screwed.”
He clambered out of bed, his pajama pants hanging low on his hips, “Bucky, stop speaking in riddles, what the hell are you talking about?” Bucky waved a hand to silence him. “Buck—“
But Bucky threw a bagel at him and he had to duck to avoid it. By the time he looked back up, Bucky was walking to the couch. “Watch.”
He unmuted the TV and rewound the program.
—While Late Night Catch-Up with Carter is not a new topic, as the show has had a handful of extremely successful seasons, the name is on everyone’s lips today for a different reason.”
A picture, a screengrab from the episode popped up, and it was him standing up with his jacket removed, looking out at the audience in confusion.
That was when the air left his lungs.
The lights of the stage made his shirt see through.
Straight to his dog tags. He made a choked sound and his hand went to his chest, struggling to pull in air, the weight of his dog tags feeling like an anchor yanking him under.
“Steve?” Bucky’s concerned voice answered, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the screen as the news anchor continued
—- Newly minted Major League Pitcher, Steve Rogers, was a guest of the Late Night Show, and the audience watched something amazing bloom before their very eyes—
A clip of him leaning forward, obviously entranced by Peggy was shown. And then another clip of the way he looked at her when she watched the clip of the kids.
Mortal embarrassment rose so heatedly that he couldn’t stop it this time. Shame at his actions and how unprofessional he’d been. So obvious . He hated that about his old self. So open. Heart on his sleeve type of guy. That was who he had been trying to shove down since he got home. And here he was, acting like an idiot for all the world to see.
“Steve, breath!” Bucky’s hands were on him and he was being shook. But he couldn’t pull in air, “Steve, come on, snap out of it!”
A slap broke his trance, making him gasp and suck in a sharp breath before crouching down, his knees to his chest and his hands in his hair.
“Steve, buddy, come back, what’s wrong?”
He couldn’t answer.
What a joke .
Thinking he’d been holding himself together all these years. Only for it to crumble in one night. How was he going to face Howard, or his team after making a fool of himself so publicly ?
“You’re scaring me, Steve.” Bucky’s voice said, sounding miles away, “you’re scaring me—“
That broke through. He couldn’t make anyone else worry.
Hands were pulling at his fingers and he realized Bucky was trying to get him to let go of his own head. He shakily released his hold on his own hair and swallowed roughly. Bucky’s hands, one flesh and one metal cupped at his face, “What the hell was that? You went practically catatonic. Steve? What happened?”
“I’m fine.” He said roughly, yanking his face out of Bucky’s grasp and standing.
Bucky gaped at him, “um, you and I define ‘fine’ very differently—“
The news anchor was still talking.
— While that’s his first public interview, we hope it won’t be his last!—
“I need air.” He said suddenly, grabbing his jacket off the chair and sliding into his shoes at the door.
But he was out the door and gone.
There was no avoiding it.
Peggy straightened her blouse and marched with her head held high into the studio.
She expected people to laugh or snicker perhaps, at how love-sick she’d seemed during the show. But her demeanor changed to one of confusion as she walked past people and they smiled at her. Genuine smiles. Excited smiles.
Angie came squealing up to her, “okay, I didn’t have the chance to talk to you after the taping, and I know your phone must be busted because why else wouldn’t you have called me back?”
“I’ve been avoiding my phone like it has the bubonic plague.” Peggy hissed, “my notifications won’t cease and I’m not looking forward to what the producers will say.”
Angie frowned, “what? Why?”
“Why wouldn’t you want to hear? They’re thrilled!”
Peggy stopped, looking at her friend and head show writer, “they’re what ?”
Angie squealed, realizing she was delivering this news to Peggy who had no knowledge, “Peggy, we just had the biggest episode ever . Not only did we have the numbers from our usual viewers, but we had a huge upswing from the sports channels. Like, the people who were usually tuned in to ESPN or ABC Sports were watching us and it has the most rewatches, the most clips generated, and the most hits across the platforms of any episode! People are going WILD about you two!”
Peggy was stunned, “so the producers aren’t mad?”
“Mad?! They’re practically floating! They want to bring him back as soon as possible!”
“What!” Peggy shouted, then dropped her voice as aides looked their way, “what! No, that’s—“ she winced, “I couldn’t, not after what is being thrown about on Twitter and everywhere else!”
“But he was the perfect guest! Charming and sweet and interesting and hotter than the Sahara desert!”
“We can’t just have him back.” Peggy reiterated. “Besides, the World Series starts in a few days. He’s not going to have time and we have our line-up for the next month—“
“We can push—“
“Nothing!” Peggy snapped. “We’re not pushing anyone out of their slot.” She started walking again, Angie following after her. “And I mean it.”
“But I get to say ‘I Told You So.” Angie said with a pout.
“You being judgy about all sports guys. He wasn’t anything stereotypical at all.”
Peggy wanted to argue. Because she hated being wrong. But she just sighed, “Well, you were right.” Angie started to crow but Peggy cut her off, “in this one instance.”
Angie stuck her tongue out at her and Peggy laughed.
“Hey, you’re Steve Rogers!”
He smiled and nodded, grabbing his coffee from the barista and hightailing it out of there.
He’d been stopped three times on the way to his usual coffee shop and asked for an autograph twice.
Sure he’d had the occasional fan recognize him on the street during the season. But this was something else. A whole other level entirely.
After getting coffee he headed back to the apartment, now that Bucky’s shift had started it should be empty.
But it wasn’t.
Howard and Natasha were there.
“How did you get in here?”
Both of them just laughed, but then Natasha gestured to the door, “we got here before James left. He let us stay.”
Steve’s emotions were warring between anger and embarrassment.
“You set me up.” He finally said. Knowing this at least was true.
Howard wrinkled his nose, “that’s not exactly the words we would use—“
“Oh yeah?” Steve snapped, “then what? Because there I am, expecting to talk about the team and baseball and suddenly my life is being flashed for the whole world to see—“
At that Howard looked apologetic, “we didn’t know about your military career. I didn’t know you wore dog tags.”
Steve felty anger beat out embarrassment, “You might as well have dressed me in tissue paper! And you didn’t even warn me!”
Howard winced, “I didn’t know, you wouldn’t realize I—“
“I don’t wear suits like that Howard!” He snapped, “how am I supposed to know what it looks like under stage lights! There I am practically half naked for the world! And—“ his jaw clenched, “now, I’m going to be fielding questions I never wanted to answer—“
Natasha stepped between them, “Steve, it’s mostly my fault. I—“
“I blame you too!” He snapped, then he pinched the bridge of his nose, “I just—“ he glared at them, “why push me so hard? Why trick me into doing this? You used the team against me. Now I’m the idiot of the internet.”
They both tilted their heads in unison. “What?”
Steve groaned, “I made an idiot of myself on national television!” The silence lasted for too long. They were both looking at him like he had three heads. “What?”
“Who said you’re an idiot?” Howard asked.
Natasha pulled out her phone, “I haven’t seen that anywhere, where did you see that?”
Steve felt taken aback, “the news anchor, she said…” he paused, then he held up his hands, gesturing at the TVm “they showed clips of me making a fool of myself.”
“In what way?” Howard asked, looking genuinely confused, “because everything I saw was gold.”
“What?” Then he gestured to her phone, “just look up the clips! I look like an awkward teenager!”
Natasha looked at him and her brow furrowed, “Steve, I’m not sure what clips you were watching, but every clip of you I have seen has been incredibly positive. You’re the most diverse and exciting guest I’ve ever seen her have, and I’m not being biased! The people love you.”
His eyes flicked back to Howard, “what?”
Natasha huffed, “Steve, what clips did you even see?”
He started to feel unbalanced, “just two, from the news—“
Natasha rolled her eyes so far back into her head. “Steve, have you even looked on Twitter? TikTok? Hell, have you googled it!? You guys were a hit! The producers already called and want you back after the World Series. Your episode has only been viewable for 13 hours and it’s their biggest episode ever. ”
“You’re a hit , pal.” Howard said with a laugh.
“I don’t feel like a hit.” He snapped, making them fall silent, “I feel like an idiot who got tricked by his team into something he should have had a say over.”
“I’m not a celebrity.” Steve said harshly, “I’m just a guy from Brooklyn trying to do his job.”
Steve, I’m so confused.” Natasha snapped at him, “you’re acting like you were some babbling idiot. You spoke very well, you answered her questions like a pro and the audience loved you! You’re literally being praised on every corner of the internet! People said it was so refreshing to see someone honest and vulnerable—“
“I am not vulnerable.”
The words come out harsh and angry. Biting and full of command. His captain’s voice made them seem like an order.
It caused both Howard and Natasha to take a step back. Their wide eyes, a bit fearful, made him wince.
Natasha’s eyes dipped to right over his chest. Where his dog tags hung, as if she could sense where they were.
He shifted. That was another reason he’d wanted his military career kept out of it. People usually either thanked you for your service, or worried you might lose it on them.
Natasha groaned and covered her eyes, “what is happening Steve, it’s like, did you even watch the show? Or did you just watch two clips and lose your ever loving mind? I’ve never seen you like this, what’s wrong?”
He cleared his throat and took a deep breath, “I just…” he couldn’t admit how much he’d been affected by her. How she had managed to take down almost every wall he’d been building since he got back. “I feel like I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t choose what was revealed. That was decided for me. And now I’m…” He looked around, his eyes catching on the coffee cup that was probably now cold. “On display.”
Howard walked forward and he rested a hand on Steve’s arm, “I am sorry about that. Truthfully we were just so excited for people to get to know you that we may have gotten carried away. You hide your greatness Steve. And hell, you don’t know how tempted I was to put the thing in about your salary and Barnes’ arm—“ He felt Natasha’s head turn to them, and Steve held his expression, not giving anything away, as Howard kept talking. “—and I really didn't know about your military career. Like that big fella with the mustache? I knew he was military on sight, but I didn’t even think to check up on you. But now I see it. So I promise the shirt was not a way to reveal that. I just knew you’d probably end up taking off your shirt for the push-ups and hell,” Howard smiled at him, “we’re going to have a huge upswing in female attendees I can tell you that.”
Steve groaned, “Howard, I’m not a sales tactic—“
Howard laughed, “I know. And I won’t do it again. All I needed was for them to get a tiny taste of what we have to offer.” Steve and Natasha were frowning at him, but he just waved them off, “hell, I would bet good money we will see Carter in the stands.”
“What?” Steve asked, “Why?”
And again, they looked at him like he was an alien, “Oh my freaking hell, STEVE.” Natasha snapped, “did you put your brain in a blender?” She pulled out her phone, “she was into you .”
Steve’s head snapped back, “what?”
“Steve.” Howard said, somehow the voice of reason in the room, “you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of by how you acted. Shit, I’d make ten times bigger of an idiot if she’d been looking at me like that too.”
He turned to Howard, “huh?”
“Carter.” Howard said as if that explained everything.
“What about her?” Steve asked with gritted teeth.
But then Natasha was shoving her phone in his face, “watch this. People have already made full-on montages about you guys.”
His eyes were drawn to the screen where clip after clip of them interacting were shown along with some song he didn’t recognize.
Steve was stunned to see that they were right. She had been into it, or at least an excellent actor.
Then it was her perched on his back, laughing as her hands rested on him. And the way she looked a bit sad as he walked away.
Then a hashtag caught his eye.
He started to scroll but Natasha snatched her phone away, “no. No, no. You’re not ready to go down that rabbit hole. I just needed you to get your head out of your ass. You didn’t embarrass yourself. Or if you want to think that, then you both did. And it was hella cute to watch. I’m literally rooting for the two of you. But that’s not even why Howard and I are here to begin with.”
He felt like he was coming off a roller coaster, “What are you here for?”
“We’re going to the World Series, and I want you to paint the team.”
“You want me too—“
“Paint the team.” Howard finished for him, “I’d pay you of course. Hell, you could buy Barnes two arms with what I would pay you. I want portraits and I want a group one. What do you say?”
He had a hard time concentrating with the way Natasha’s wide eyes were staring at him. Shit. If she knew, Bucky would know. He had to get her to not spill.
And then Howard went and made it worse. “When I get him that arm you’re not going to leave the team right?”
She choked out a surprised scoff and Steve winced. Howard looked between them and then realized. He looked at Steve, his face pinched, “oh, oops.”
Steve sighed, “Natasha, you cannot tell him.”
“You joined the team to earn an arm for James?”
“Correction,” Howard said, his apologetic face gone and now excitement replacing it, “he offered to forfeit his entire salary to buy Barnes an arm.”
“This stays between us .” Steve ordered, “It’s none of your business Natasha and you’ve already had your fun of spilling my secrets. Understood?”
She frowned at him. “He’d be so mad if he knew. He thought you joined up…” she paused and Steve felt her eyes get sad, “never mind.”
“What do you say?” Howard asked, cutting back into the conversation. “Would you paint the team?”
Steve nodded, “yeah. Sure.”
When they left he went and mechanically changed into his pajamas and stood at his window. It was only 11am and he already felt exhausted.
So he climbed into bed and he went to sleep.
“Are you going to go?”
Peggy looked up from her desk and spotted Angie in her doorframe, “go where?”
“To Washington DC. For the World Series.”
It had been three days and the talk on the internet had barely died down. “No.”
“And why the hell not?”
“Because that would be strange.”
“Why! Why is it strange!? You like him! I know it, the internet knows it. And you know it. You’re just the only one refusing to admit it!”
“I do not—“
Angie threw up her hands and scoffed, “you’re acting like it would be illegal! You’re a late Night Host, he’s a baseball player, in what rulebook does it say you can’t date!?”
Peggy didn’t have an answer to that.
A lot of his team had had a fun time ribbing on him and mentioning the interview. But he didn’t really respond. And after a while they quit their teasing.
He found Natasha’s eyes on him a lot more.
And Bucky had tried several times to get him to talk about his meltdown. But he’d repeated over and over again that it was just a bad day.
He was sure Bucky didn’t believe him. But he stopped trying.
They flew to Dulles and stepped into a large bus. They were going to be playing at the Washington Nationals’ Field.
He spent hours studying his opponents' games and practicing.
He and Barton spent hours pitching back and forth.
And the night before the game, it was just him and Barton out in the back parking lot behind the hotel.
Clint, who had always been a vocal member of the team, had been unusually quiet.
Finally Steve stopped and straightened. “What?”
Barton tipped up his catcher’s mask, “what, what?”
“You’re being unusually unquippy.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
Steve looked at him, “tell you what?”
Barton pointed at his chest, “that you were military.”
“Why does it matter?” Steve asked, his jaw clenched in annoyance.
“Becuase.” Clint said, “if I’d known, I would have realized you’re suffering from PTSD. I wouldn’t have assumed you were just a intense introvert.”
Steve felt his throat go dry. He’d been avoiding this conversation with even himself since day one of being back.
Clint scoffed. “Oh, sure. Yeah. Totally. The way you keep to yourself and avoid physical contact and hate the cold, and never sleep in front of anyone. Yeah. Totally normal.”
“That is normal.”
Clint looked affronted, “no, Steve. It’s actually not! And then I’m watching that interview, wondering why you seem so different. And then I realize it’s because you’re actually opening up to someone, not just on edge, ready to correct yourself if you thought you were going to give too much away.”
“Ha!” Clint barked out a harsh laugh, “if you’re so open, how come I knew barely any of that shit! And I didn’t know you were military! The minute I saw those tags I realized what had been right in front of my face all along! You’re scared, I get it, it’s scary being home—“
“I’m not scared—“
“Well I was! ” Clint snapped out. Then he covered his eyes with his hand. “I was.” Steve stood there, stunned. Then Clint reached into his shirt and yanked out a chain. Dog tags dangling. “I was.”
He stood there, in disbelief. He’d never asked. Never even thought to ask. If you ask, then people ask of you. So he never had.
Clint let himself tip backwards, sprawling on the asphalt. “You know Sam is too? Ex-military I mean?”
“Yeah. Wilson. He and I even know some common denominators. Which…” he lifted his head, “we talked about it for hours. It is good to have someone else who understands.”
When he didn’t answer, Clint sighed, “pretending to be okay, is a sure fire way to never be okay.”
“Fine.” Clint snapped. “Right.” He stood up and looked at Steve, “I get it. I got home and instead of sniping people from rooftops and following orders I needed to be a husband again, and a dad. And I was fucking terrified. How could it be more difficult than war?” He laughed, scrubbing at his face, “then I’m holding it all in and waking up screaming and Laura’s talking to me and I just realized… I’m not alone. I had Laura, my kids, my brother.” He laughed, “geez, yeah. Even my psycho brother. But it wasn’t until I let Laura in, that I started to heal. And I’m not going to say ‘true love heals all’, but it sure as hell helped. And so did seeing a therapist.”
“You’ve been home for a while.” Clint cut him off again, “I get it. But it’s never too late to admit you need help. And admitting help is not a weakness, Steve.”
“I don’t know how.”
Clint smiled, “Yeah…” he said with kindness, “I get that. But the first step is admitting that, right there. And you did it.” He shrugged, “now it’s about following through. Did you know Sam was a counselor at the VA before he tried out?”
“Yup, you wanna see if he’s still awake?”
And suddenly Steve did. “Yes.” He said, his chest aching. “Yes, I do.”
Clint smiled at him and they headed inside.
They were probably up way too late considering the fact they had one of the biggest games of their careers the next day. But Sam was speaking and Steve couldn’t stop listening. It was like Sam knew exactly what Steve needed to hear, but in a way that made Steve ache and heal all at once.
They talked for hours and Steve felt his throat catch a few times. But he forced the urge to cry away.
Until Clint called him out, “you know how many times I’ve cried, Steve? Just let it out, it will feel so much better.”
So the next time, when he felt his emotion catch at his throat, he did. He breathed deeply and shakily but he didn’t stop it. He didn’t force it down.
He felt his eyes and sinuses get tingly and as Sam was talking, he cried. Admitting how out of control he’d felt and how having everything just so had made him feel like he could handle it.
“Why do you have to handle it?” Sam asked, “who is asking you to have it all together all the time?”
When Steve didn’t answer, Sam nodded, “listen, of course everyone wants to hold it together. But everyday? Every hour? Every second? No. No, that’s not realistic and that’s so much pressure. Once you realize that you’re not in control of a lot, and I mean the majority , you start accepting the bad days and the good days the same. You need a moment? Take it. You need to cry? Do it. Need to shout? Sure. Now, violence and anger are separate. And you can’t let your emotions control you. But you can let yourself experience them and figure out how to express them the right way.”
Finally, after Steve was barely able to keep his eyes open from exhaustion, he laid in bed, and didn’t worry about the game. Whatever happened would happen.
Peggy watched the clips. And she read the threads. And she kept up with the trending hashtags.
And she dreamed.
Dreamed of the way he’d smiled. The way he’d carried her on his back like it was nothing. Had spoken from his heart about the sport he loved, the art he loved, and the people he loved.
And so, when the Avengers lost their first game, and the internet went into an absolute state , she booked a ticket and packed a bag.
He’s sure exhaustion and distraction helped them lose. But the other team had put up a fair fight and the 5-4 loss hit the team hard.
Starting off the series with a loss was always a tough blow. Morale was low as they changed in the locker rooms and quietly tied up their cleats.
“Gentleman.” Howard said, “while I of course really want to win, I’ll be happy either way. You guys have done what no other team before has done, and you’ve managed it spectacularly. Not a single scandal, slip up, or even a blip on the questionable radar. You’ve made me proud, and I’m excited to announce that all of your contracts have been renewed, if you want. Whether or not we win. You’re a part of this team. Understood?”
Howard tipped his head towards them and disappeared.
Steve took a deep breath and grabbed his glove. He’d gotten better sleep and he was ready to face the team again.
It’s around the 3rd inning when he sensed the shift in the audience. He wasn’t sure what happened, but one minute the game was going normally (tied 1-1) and then the next the crowd was abuzz.
Steve looked around and noticed that his teammates were doing the same thing. A cheer went up from the crowd and as one they all swiveled to the large screen that was at the back of the stadium, looming against the outfield.
And Steve’s entire body went rigid as he saw what the camera was focusing on.
She was there.
Peggy Carter sat in the stands, an Avengers jersey unbuttoned and hanging over a deep red tank top. Her lips matched and her hair was in curls underneath a backwards baseball cap.
She waved at the screen, and even though he couldn’t hear it, he imagined the way she sounded as she laughed at the attention. Suddenly his shocked face was on the screen and he blinked in surprise, the camera relaying that to the big screen. The stadium was roaring and he felt his cheeks start to heat. He almost pushed it down. Tried to hide the signs. But then he looked at Sam, to his left at third, who was smiling at him. And he laughed. Instead of hiding it, he laughed and gave a mini-embarrassed salute before turning back to the batter.
And he wondered if she was there for him.
And for some reason, never really having had the experience of that before, he was pretty sure she was.
After that, not a single hitter on the opposing team made contact with the ball.
He felt alive. Thriving under the pressure of the game but also the freedom of knowing it was just a game.
And the way he camera panned to her face often was another boost. Everytime she found the camera on her she waved good naturedly, once even blowing a kiss which sent the stadium into a tizzy.
But it wasn’t till the 7th inning stretch (4-1 was the score) where the crowd lost its ever loving mind.
Peggy was standing and singing and then suddenly she was turning her back to the crowd to grab something off her chair and that movement revealed the back of her jersey.
He could hear the roaring of the crowd but all he could process were the hands shaking and grabbing at him, laughing and joking and cheering in the dugout. His teammates hooted and hollered and he laughed right along with them, a sense of excitement at what was maybe to come.
And the Avengers win! Tying the series 1-1 at the Nationals’ Stadium!
He heard the smack of the last strike into the mitt. And he knew it meant they won, but he just didn’t care. He looked up, his eyes finding hers as she stared at him from whatever box she was sitting in.
And she leaned over the railing, resting her elbows on it, staring at him.
And he stared right back.
And the crowd would not stop cheering.
But he didn’t mind. He knew both their faces were being displayed back and forth on the Jumbotron. And the crowd was eating it up. But he just couldn’t manage to look away.
And She didn’t seem inclined to either.
“Hey.” Clint called over the cheers, “Nat says she’s in box 114.”
And that got Steve off the field.
Peggy watched as one of Steve’s teammates said something to him, breaking their eye contact. Then Steve looked at her one last time and was walking off the field.
She grabbed her things, and exited her box, walking towards the stairs to make her way down to the locker rooms.
When she reached the top of the stairs, he appeared at the bottom. And the both froze.
People started to gather, getting louder and cheering.
“Are you going to make me walk these to you?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
He laughed, a sound so pleasant she felt it in her chest. Then he was taking the stairs, three at a time and appearing on the steps below her, leveling their significant height differences.
He was a bit sweaty, and seemed out of breath.
Her heart melted as she realized he’d run to meet her.
“You know,” She said, “if we keep meeting like this people will talk.”
She said it as a tease, because she could feel the phones and cameras already on them.”
“From what I’ve seen, we’re already being talked about.” Steve replied, his face calmer than when she last saw him. More at ease in his element. “What’s one more thing?”
She frowned, her eyes alight with jest, “just one?”
His eyes widened and he looked at her jersey. Then in a move that surprised her, he spun her around and she felt the way his fingers ran over his own last name before he turned her back around.
“You know,” he said, and she watched him shore up his confidence, “I think you just accidentally made yourself my good luck charm.”
She pursed her lips as a smile tugged on them, “oh, have I?”
He nodded, “yep.”
“And what, pray tell, does being a good luck charm entail?”
“Oh you know, the usual. Coming to games when you can…” then he looked up at her and smiled, “maybe a date or two?”
“Why,” She said with a smile, “seems like a good gig. I think I could manage that.”
His grin made her entire stomach flip with butterflies.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of the crowd.”
He held out his hand and she didn’t hesitate a moment before taking it.
With a stunning Grand Slam from Sam Wilson, the Avengers clench the victory! Winning the series 5-2!
Peggy cheered loud and long from her perch in the box. Steve’s friend James shouted beside her, as did a couple of his other friends. And when she informed them that she knew Monty, was related by marriage even, all hell had broken loose, including a FaceTime call where Monty had practically had a fit finding out that his old Captain and sort of sister were dating.
She’d had to miss one game (the only other game they lost, further solidifying her as his good luck charm in the eyes of the public) but had been there for the last two in which she helped cheer them on to victory.
The team was leaping and crashing on the field, the huge trophy held aloft and the crowd roared. But she looked down to find his eyes trained on hers and she winked at him. He gave a mini salute back and then was whisked off by reporters and fans.
Peggy and Natasha became friends very quickly over the next month. Both of their boys were easy to get along with and they spent many a double date avoiding the paparazzi. It was one such night, as they hid in a deep set booth at a favorite restaurant of Natasha’s that Peggy had noticed a difference about Bucky. His prosthetic was missing. His shirt sleeve was pinned up and he seemed unbothered by it.
“Did something happen with your prosthetic?” She asked, gesturing at his arm.
He laughed, “no, it was the strangest thing, Howard Stark approached me after their last game and said he’d noticed that the arm I was wearing was likely too heavy for my body type. And he’s right because it’s been yanking me sideways since I got it. And he offered to build me a custom one out of nowhere!” Bucky was grinning, “didn’t even want payment, just said he’d like the challenge!”
Peggy would have believed that if Natasha hadn’t gone tight lipped, staring at her plate and if Steve hadn’t suddenly decided he needed to use the restroom.
When Steve had left, she poked Natasha, “spill.”
“Spill what?” The woman asked innocently.
“You and Steve went all in a tizzy about Barnes’ arm. What is it?”
“Nothing.” And maybe she wasn’t used to lying because it came out with an unconvincing arm shrug.
Which caught Barnes’ attention. “Nat? What is it?”
“It’s nothing.” She said again. And this time Peggy saw it. She wasn’t bad at lying, she wanted them to dig for this information.
“You’re rather unconvincing.” Peggy huffed, “just tell us why you both looked so suspicious.”
“It’s not up to me. I’m not supposed to tell.” Then she clammed up as if she had said too much. And Peggy felt a shock of surprise at how gifted in manipulation Natasha was because Barnes took the bait.
“Tell what?” He gently turned her face towards his, “Nat, tell what?”
Natasha just looked at him as if she was helpless, “Steve would be mad if he knew I told.”
And true worry crossed Barnes’ face, “what about Steve? What happened, I won’t let him get angry at you.”
Natasha sighed and then swirled her small straw in her drink, “he doesn’t want you to know.”
Barnes’ voice got deeper, “know what ?”
And then Peggy watched as Natasha looked up and smiled, “that he did it for you to begin with.”
Peggy leaned forward, “did what?”
“Joined the team.” Natasha said, her eyes alight as if relieved to finally tell the secret, “Steve tried out for the Avengers because of Howard. He figured if he made the team, he could trade his salary for an arm for James.” She turned to the man in question, “he offered up his whole contract salary to earn you an arm.” She laughed, “of course, Howard set him straight about how much he would get paid, and that it would be plenty and then some to buy James a top of the line Stark arm.” She set her glass down with a clink, “and so now you know. And Morita knows as well. He told me he called it all the way back at the beginning.”
But Barnes was glaring at the hallway that led to the bathroom. “Excuse me.” He said with narrowed eyes, “there’s a punk I need to go punch.” He slid out of the booth and tromped towards the bathroom.
Peggy looked at Natasha, “you wanted him to find out.”
Natasha laughed, “are you kidding!? I’ve been dying holding that secret in. I swear everything I found out about Steve makes me love him more.”
Peggy laughed, “we’re in agreement there.”
A few minutes later they both entered the dining area, their eyes a bit red and smiles wide on their faces.
“Pull that shit again and I will punch you.” Barnes threatened as they got closer.
Steve just laughed. “Listen, I’ve got way more money than I know what to do with now. I won’t need to sign up for any more major league sports.”
Natasha and Bucky began chatting quietly as Steve slipped beside her. She wasted no time pressing herself against him. “You truly are the most intriguing man I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
He looked down at her and smiled, kissing her softly on the lips. “Breaking News,” he said softly in a fake announcers’ voice, “Peggy Carter has finally met her match.”
She smiled and kissed him again, before tilting her head onto his shoulder and sighing. “Indeed.”