The same things kept running through Steve’s mind, like little cockroaches scurrying out into the light and back into the shadows: sixty years, you were asleep for sixty years, everything’s different, and Lukas is from another world, how is all that even possible?
He was going mad. Or maybe he was already mad. But mad or not, he was alive. So he had to deal with it. It was true and real, and he’d seen the buildings and the cars and he knew this was the future.
He didn’t really believe Lukas was from outer space, that still felt like a fairy tale. He looked so normal sprawling in the chair and drinking beer, while flipping through the papers left for them.
Well, “normal”. His hair was too long, brushing the tops of his shoulders and curling at the ends and where he tucked it behind his ears. He was still wearing the black suit trousers and white, button-up shirt with the green necktie, not even loosened, as if it was comfortable that way.
He glanced up, sensing Steve’s eyes on him. “What?”
Steve wasn’t going to say any of that, so he waved to the big picture frame with the black shiny interior, sitting on the table across the rug from the sofa. “So what is that?” Steve asked. “I assume it shows pictures like the one in the deli?”
“Television,” Lukas said. “Like a combination radio and motion picture. Has a variety of programs, news, sport, fictional shows.” He grabbed a small handheld device. “You control it with this wand. It uses infrared signals, not magic, despite the name.”
The television made a strange popping groan and the screen flickered before coming to life, as a color image of a man spraying his garden with a hose while a voice intoned something about killing weeds.
“Advert,” Lukas said and pushed a button on the wand. “So I change the channel, up or down, until I find something interesting. Here.” He tossed the wand to Steve. “You try.”
Steve snagged it, and with a little experimentation figured out what the symbols meant, and was clicking through, astonished. Even radio hadn’t had so many channels of different things – and all of it in brilliant color and sound. He stopped on a baseball game, glad to see something familiar and amazed to see the different views. He’d seen less at a game in person than he did on this television.
He watched the game, letting his mind focus on something that wasn’t bizarre was a relief. At least until they mentioned the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“What? Los Angeles! That’s stupid! How could they move there!” he demanded, incensed.
“I have no idea,” Lukas said, mildly, but seemed amused by Steve’s anger, which made him angrier.
He was so agitated, he jumped to his feet and alternated crossing his arms and gesturing. “They were Brooklyn, my team. And now they’re in Los Angeles! I can’t root for the fucking Yankees! You know, I could handle the future, I can handle you being from someplace else, but I can’t handle the Dodgers in California!”
Looking up at him, Lukas watched with a smile dancing on his lips and suggested innocently, “There are also the Mets, I believe?”
Steve gagged at the thought, and Lukas burst out into laughter, shaking his head. “Of all the things to find appalling in this time, the transfer of one sports team to another city seems fairly minor, Steven.”
“it’s...” he waved a hand vaguely, helpless to explain. “My town. A symbol. And now that’s been yanked away too.”
He settled back on the sofa, tired now that the temper had passed.
“i should not have laughed,” Lukas said after a moment. “This is difficult, I know.”
Steve scrubbed a hand through his hair and looked down at the SSR T-shirt he was wearing, wishing he’d been able to keep the fantasy of it still being the Forties just a little while longer.
But that wasn’t real, and he’d have to get used to the truth no matter how long it was put off. He was in the next century, so he’d better deal with what was true.
He stood up again, restless. “you want to get out of here for a little while?” he asked. “I want to see the city. I think that’ll help me figure this out.”
“Of course,” Lukas agreed. He went to the table and pocketed some things from the table.
Steve put his shoes back on, and they left, clattering down the stairs. Outside on the sidewalk, they paused. “Where do you want to go?” Lukas asked. “The park? Downtown? Back to Times Square?”
Steve glanced left and right and decided east. “Let’s explore.”
They headed back toward the new skyscrapers of Midtown. It was warm, but the trees were turning leaves, announcing that it was truly fall, despite the current warm spell.
Without Fury hastening their steps, Steve could stop and look at whatever he wanted, and Lukas would explain as best he could, though occasionally he gave a shrug of ‘humans are strange, how should I know?’ It was nothing he hadn’t done back in the war, but it made more sense now that he understood Lukas wasn’t just a superhuman spy from Arendelle.
But finally, his wandering path made sense and he looked up, knowing this was where his feet had been carrying him. “Let’s go in.”
Loki tagged along after Steve, as Steve poked his head into various shops and lunch places. It was helpful for Loki to also see the city, since he was not nearly as familiar with it as Steve seemed to assume. Other than memorizing the map, which kept him oriented, Loki understood far less about the city than Steve did, even sixty years after he’d lived in it.
When Steve found his destination, Loki craned back his head to one of the tall buildings and read the sign. “The Empire State Building?”
“Let’s go up,” Steve said. “I want to see the city from on high.”
Inside the glass doors into the lobby, he paused, looking around. “It’s just as it was,” he breathed. “This is – this is amazing.”
The line to get tickets was the opposite of amazing, and Loki pulled out his phone like everyone else in the line.
“That’s a phone?” Steve asked, impressed with the small size.
“It’s a phone, but also a radio, television, newspaper, source for information, all on this tiny screen,” Loki listed off. “Definitely a technological leap of recent years.”
So Loki showed him the phone, and it was probably their relative ages, but Steve seemed to pick up its use even better than Loki did, despite Loki’s familiarity with higher technology elsewhere. Or perhaps it was because it was a human phone made by humans, so it was more intuitively obvious to Steve. But in any case, he was soon reading Wikipedia while they stood in line.
It was maddening to wait in line, when he could’ve cloaked them in illusion and skipped the line altogether, but Steve shook his head when Loki offered it. “No, I want to wait. I remember when Bucky and I came, not long after it opened. Spent every dime we had, waited in line for hours, but, y’know, standing up there, seeing Bucky’s face at the sight…. It was worth every penny,” he murmured.
When it was time to buy tickets, Loki figured that they’d done quite enough waiting and got two of the most expensive tickets they had. Steve gasped and nearly had a coronary when he heard the price. “Lukas! Oh my God, that’s so expensive, that’s too much!”
Loki slapped the card on the table and pushed it to the clerk. “Two,” he confirmed. “To the top. As quickly as possible. We’ve experience enough of nostalgic waiting in line.”
The clerk nodded and printed their passes and handed two souvenir books to Loki, who promptly passed them to Steve.
Heading for the special elevator line, Steve hissed at him, “That’s not even our money.”
Loki glanced at him. “Nonsense. That credit card is to help you get oriented and what’s better to get oriented than one of the tallest buildings in the city?”
Loki cut off his objection, pointing around the corner to a room full of people waiting in yet another horrific queue. “We could be over there. So think of this as SHIELD’s welcome home present and let’s go to the top.”
On the first transfer area, they were fed through a photographing area, where Loki was going to walk straight through, not wanting his photograph taken, but Steve tugged him back. “C’mon, they’re just trying to do their jobs. We don’t have to buy it later.”
So Loki stood next to Steve to have their photo taken against the dull green background, and he was sure Steve was smiling as Loki stared at the camera, not wanting any part of this.
He did wonder, as the attendants hustled them off with their claim ticket to get to the next group behind them, whether anyone would ever figure out it was them. Captain America and the Ice Demon taking tourist photos at the Empire State Building might be worth something, once the public became aware they were in this time.
Finally they were in the next elevator to go up to the observation deck and going outside, he had the delight of watching Steve’s face transform at the sight of his city laid out at his feet.
He gripped the safety fence and looked for a long moment. They faced downtown, toward the towers that way, and Loki stayed next to him, more interested in Steve’s face than the city laid out before them. “It’s so big,” Steve murmured. “So tall. So… everything,” he finished, a little helpless-sounding.
“I remember it as a pit,” Loki said dryly. “Cholera, sewage, pig farms -- it was vile.”
“Oh hush,” Steve nudged him in the ribs with a sharp elbow jab. “Be quiet. I’m trying to be amazed.”
Loki chuckled but stopped needling him, following as Steve circled the deck, looking and pointing out the landmarks he recognized.
When they faced Stark Tower, all glass and curves, Steve stared at that one for a bit longer. “Stark?” he asked. “Howard?”
“His son, Tony,” Loki corrected. “Howard died in 1991.”
“Oh.” Steve wasn’t seeing the tower or the city beyond it, looking blankly into the past.
Given where he was looking, Loki shouldn’t have been surprised, but he had no idea what Steve was talking about when Steve said, “You can lay it on me.”
Steve tapped his fingers against the formed balustrade and the metal of the fencing, and had to take a deep breath before he said, “Bucky. Peggy. When did they – when did they die?”
A smile spread across Loki’s face, irrepressible. Finally, he had some good news to share with Steve. “They didn’t. They’re both still alive, Steven.”
Steve stared at him. “But, they must be – ninety years old!”
“So are you,’ Loki retorted.
“They’re not--” his eyes flared. “Oh my God, did they get some kind of serum, too?”
Loki grimaced, and Steve’s face fell at his expression. “I did not intend – no. They are elderly, but still alive. I’m told James is … well-preserved.”
Loki thought the dry words would get Steve’s attention, but instead it was something else. “You’re told?” he repeated. “You haven’t seen either of them?”
Loki set down the empty beer bottle and stood up. “No,” he answered, thinking that Steve was much braver than he was to ask about their friends so quickly. “I only recently found out they were still living myself. And they are located in the DC area.” He looked out the window toward the darkening sky. “There wasn’t time to visit, when I wanted to be there for you when you awoke.”
Steve frowned, confused by something, but shrugged it away. “Then we need to go visit.”
“We will,” Loki agreed. “I think you could use a few days of transition before traveling there, though.”
Steve stiffened as if he wanted to argue, before letting out a short laugh and relaxing again. “All right, I get it. You don’t think I’m ready.”
“No,” Loki answered. “Not yet. Steven, they’ve waited this long, they can wait a few more days.”
Steve couldn’t make himself finish the speculation, and Loki found he couldn’t either. So he said, giving a tight shrug, “Then we know it wasn’t meant to be.”
Steve hesitated, looking away, pressing his lips and brows drawn tight in distress, but he nodded finally, in acceptance.
While Loki wouldn’t say the Norns couldn’t be that cruel, because of course they could, he suspected that it was the other way around, that Steve had been recovered and Loki had come back to Midgard at this time, so they would have time to see their friends again.
They stayed on the observation deck as long as Steve wanted to look at the city. Loki found himself unexpectedly patient, standing behind his shoulder to force other people to go around them, while Steve leaned on the rail and looked across the river toward Brooklyn.
“Are we going there?” Loki asked.
Steve shook his head. “Not today. Tomorrow maybe. It seems too far today.” He turned away from the view. “You ready to go down?”
Below at the photo station, Steve held out his hand for the claim ticket. “Come on, we’ve got to look at it. It’ll be good to have a memento of this day, won’t it?”
Rolling his eyes but resigned to Steve’s enthusiasm, Loki held out the ticket and in an appallingly short time, he was also pulling out his credit card again to buy a ridiculously overpriced photo. But not even the price dissuaded Steve from buying it once he saw it. In the image, Steve was smiling, arm hanging over Loki’s shoulder, while Loki looked straight at the camera with such a disgruntled expression even Loki had to admit was comical.
He made Steve carry the little bag, though.
They stopped for pizza on the way back to the flat, and as the server walked away, Steve stilled and leaned forward to murmur, “Do you think SHIELD is following us?”
“Certainly they are tracking us,” Loki answered. He hadn’t caught them at it, but he also knew his phone was sending out a signal and SHIELD knew where that was. “Why?”
“There’s a man who just sat down, behind you, and he’s watching us in the mirror above the bar.”
Wondering if it was SHIELD or someone was recognizing Steve, Loki flicked his eyes that way, gaze colliding with the watcher’s, who looked away hastily, flustered and blushing. Loki smiled. “I think he finds you attractive, Steven. Nothing alarming.”
Steve cleared his throat. “Oh.”
“There were more than a few people on the tower who were also, as they say, ‘checking you out’,” Loki kept going, cheerfully needling his discomfort. “That T-shirt is rather… snug.”
Steve looked down as if only just realizing that a T-shirt that might as well be painted on was not the way to be ignored. Not that anyone was going to ignore that face and physique if they had eyes, but Steve was always charming when he was embarrassed.
He looked up and tried to toss it back, “You noticed.”
Loki smirked and leaned back in his chair, at his ease. “Steven, I was noticing men long before you were born.”
He blinked. “But you and Natasha-- I thought – Sorry, I was assuming--”
Loki raised his brows. “Oh, you weren’t wrong. Well, you’re wrong if you think we’ve done anything, but not wrong that I find her attractive.” He shrugged. “But I also bore easily, I’m old, and as they say, variety is the spice of life.”
Steve drank his beer, musing over what he was saying. “During the war, you never--” He gestured and added, “seemed interested. In anybody, really, now I’m thinking about it.”
“Because it was the war, and I wanted no attachments to soldiers who would soon perish.” Not that it had worked very well, but that had been the idea.
“And now?” Steve asked.
Loki looked into his glass, watching the little bubbles chase each other to the surface. “You can’t hold on to something so tightly that you can’t let go of it. That’s still true. Even if it’s a difficult piece of advice to take.”
“That doesn’t prevent casual relations,” Steve said, with careful euphemism that made Loki smile.
But since the path of ‘casual relations’ went straight to Elsa’s mother and ended up causing him more pain than anything else he’d ever felt, he sidestepped the implicit question with a smirk. “No it doesn’t. So if you’re looking for a little… relaxation, let me know.”
But Steve was far less flustered than Loki expected by the offer, blue eyes blinking and looking back, before he responded levelly, “Maybe I will.”
Feeling his bluff very definitively called, Loki found his lips dry and his heart was thudding noticeably, as what had been a more aesthetic appreciation for Steve in his T-shirt abruptly became a mental image of his fingers on those broad shoulders. And in a split second he’d pictured it, all the way to Steve’s graceful, but strong hands sliding down the front of his trousers.
… hands touching him..
Recoiling in his chair so hard his knee slammed into the table and the beer sloshed dangerously, he grabbed for the glass to steady it.
“You okay?” Steve asked, frowning. “I didn’t mean to shock you, or --”
“I’m fine. There was a – a bug. Startled me.” Loki held himself to one swallow, even if he wanted to gulp the rest of the glass, and he tried a laugh. “You and that innocent face- I forgot how quick you are.” He held out his glass for a toast and then, thank the fates, the food arrived.
When they returned to the apartment, Loki busied himself with putting Lila’s pictures on display in his bedroom and unpacking his few belongings into the empty drawers and bathroom.
After a shower and change to a similar outfit as before, but this one with shorts and a T-shirt with the SHIELD logo on it, Steve watched the television. He had his phone next to him, and Loki watched as he started to look up references he was unfamiliar with.
Loki had never been bothered by not understanding random historical or cultural references. He gathered the meaning well enough to play along or simply made it clear he didn’t care, because he didn’t. Yet living with the Bartons had made him familiar with a great deal of it, through their eagerness to share their favorites with him.
However, gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of Disney Princesses did not seem to be of much use watching shows that were supposedly humorous, and he was soon bored and texted Natasha.
“Rogers settling well. We went to ESB and ate pizza.”
She returned. “I heard. rest tonight. I’ll see you in the a.m.”
Disappointed by the end of the conversation, he decided to look himself up online, but when Professor Randolph’s work on the Ice Demon came up immediately, Loki stabbed the phone off.
Steve groaned afterward and in response to Loki’s inquiring look answered, “There’s so much. I’m trying just to read the summary here, and it’s … I don’t know who half these people are. So then I look them up and--”
“Steven,” Loki cut in. “None of it is really important. It’s the past. It’s history. And while that’s useful to learn, it’s not going to help you deal with today.”
“But everything I missed --”
“Do you think all these people,” Loki gestured toward the window, “know the history of the last sixty years either? Humans are mostly ignorant and insular, and care only about what directly affects them.”
Steve straightened as if he wanted to argue with that, but Loki gave him a look not to start with him. “I’m more than three hundred years old, Steven. I have seen much of this world and the people in it.”
“And it’s made you cynical,” Steve accused.
“In three hundred more years we’ll have this conversation again and you can tell me if I’m wrong.”
Steve paused and shook his head, frowning. “Three hundred years? I’m not gonna-- I’m not immortal like you.”
It was Loki’s turn to frown. “Are you certain? Perhaps not ‘like me’ but you did not age at all in six decades; I would expect the serum to grant you a great deal of longevity. Is that not so?”
Steve sat back on the couch and looked blindly at the screen of his phone before slowly setting it on the end table beside him. “I don’t know,” he answered finally. “Professor Erskine didn’t tell me, and then he was gone. I hadn’t thought about it.”
Loki opened his mouth to suggest they go to Tony Stark or some other trustworthy scientist to test and find out, but the shut it again. No, he would not suggest that his friend become a laboratory plaything. That was wrong. “Well, I suppose we’ll find out in time. Selfishly though, I will admit to hoping I’m right, and your lifespan continues beyond the average of your kind. It will make the years on this world much more tolerable.”
“Thanks,” Steve said and smiled wryly. “Nice to hear.” Then his jaw widened with a yawn he belatedly tried to cover with his hand. “Oh my God, sorry, that’s unbelievable! How am I even tired? I slept for sixty years!”
He sounded personally affronted by his sudden tiredness, and Loki had to smile. “You had a rough day, Steven. Get some rest.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
Loki pressed his lips together and offered, “I can put you to sleep. If you like.”
Steve’s instant wide-eyed alarm was enough of a refusal, but then he blurted, “No, no, that’s all right. I – I mean, thank you, but no. That sounds helpful but no.”
Loki held up his hands and retreated a deliberate step. “Then I will not. Please, I do not wish you to fear me.”
“No, I don’t,” Steve said, even thought hat was plainly a lie, given the reaction he’d just had. “I just – I’d rather do it naturally, if I can.” He stood up, got a few steps to his bedroom door then turned around. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
It tilted into a question, so Loki nodded. “You will.”
“Okay. Good. G’night.”
“Sleep well.” He watched Steve enter the bedroom and when the door shut, Loki grabbed his phone and went to his own room. He didn’t try to sleep though, he sat on the bed and decided to research Broadway shows, since their adverts were plastered all over this part of the city.
In the safehouse bedroom, Steve lay there on his bed, eyes flicking open each time they shut, heart pounding with the sudden anxiety that if he fell asleep, he'd sleep another lifetime away.
But he stayed there, telling himself it was stupid. He needed rest, and he knew it. Lukas was right, that today had been fatiguing – so much information, so many bright lights and sounds to take in, there was just so much of everything in this time, it was overwhelming.
Here in his room, he could tell himself all that was far away. The traffic noise wasn’t that different from the sounds he’d grown up with, and otherwise everything was quiet. He felt less physically tired and more wrung out, but he should be able to sleep.
But his fears wouldn’t let him. Another half hour of tossing restlessly, he gave up and flicked on the light. He picked up the phone to find something else to read and maybe help himself fall asleep that way, but found himself too restless even for that. He’d go find something on the television. Or no, he should go running outside.
Shoes back on, he cracked open his door. The living area was dark and deserted, so Lukas had gone to bed. But he only got two steps down the short hall toward the front door, when Lukas' bedroom door opened to reveal Lukas standing there. He arched his brows at Steve and absurdly, Steve felt like Colonel Phillips was back and glowering at him in disapproval. Even though Lukas didn’t actually look disapproving, only curious, Steve still felt a pang of guilt for being caught out.
So Steve asked first, “You can’t sleep either?”
Lukas was still in the same clothes, the room behind him was lit up, and the bed still made, so it seemed Lukas hadn’t even tried to sleep yet, though it was well past midnight.
"I don't sleep much," Lukas answered.
"Funny, because I slept too much."
Lukas' gaze flicked down, as if the sad joke had struck too deeply. Steve opened his mouth to try to stop Lukas from feeling guilty about that, but Lukas looked up again, trying to smile as he asked, "What were you intending to do?"
"Go for a run. You want to join me?" Steve invited.
Lukas didn’t complain about the hour, only pondered the question for a breath and nodded. “All right. Give me a moment to change.” He shut the bedroom door and Steve headed back to the living room to wait. He hadn’t reached the couch when the door opened and Lukas had changed out of his suit trousers and button-front shirt, to a white T-shirt and pants made out of some shiny black fabric with a stripe up the sides.
“Shall we?” Lukas gestured toward the front door.
“Shouldn’t we lock it?” Steve asked, on the landing and Lukas made no movement to get a key out.
Lukas shrugged. “It’s a SHIELD safe house, and there’s nothing to steal that I care about. I have my phone. C’mon, let’s go.”
Once, way back when, Steve would never have gone running in Central Park. Of course, he couldn’t have run anywhere, anyway, but even if he had, he wouldn’t have done it at one in the morning, because it was dangerous.
But back then, so long ago, the most dangerous person in the park had been anyone but Steve himself. Or his companion running alongside him on the sidewalks dodging the trash set out for pickup and the occasional person sleeping on the streets.
Nighttime was different. The city wasn’t dead at night, but it got a bit sleepy, especially as they turned uptown away from the night-life.
The park itself was dark and could’ve been spooky, except there was no danger to him. Not with the serum in his veins, and not with Lukas, who had once caught a bullet in his hand running next to him.
It was an easy pace, more than a jog but nothing he couldn’t sustain for hours if needed. He glanced at Lukas, who was pacing him easily, and Steve smiled. It was so good to have someone who could keep up with him.
They’d rounded the north end of the park and headed back downtown, when he heard the distinct sound of a fist hitting a body, muffled by clothes, and the gasping cry of someone getting beaten. It was a familiar sound, and Steve’s feet slowed, for him to listen for where it was happening.
A gruff voice ordered, “Shut up, there’s someone near.”
That gave away their position and Steve trotted that way. Lukas was an extra step before he noticed Steve was going somewhere else and followed.
At the edge of one of the path lights, there were two men above a third, crouching down.
The two standing men turned, alarmed, but got less so when they saw what looked like just a runner.
“Hey, fellas,” Steve greeted.
“Get out of here, man, this isn’t your business,” the taller one said, and then his eyes flicked to see Lukas coming up behind Steve. “Both of you. Scram.”
“See, I could, but you’d just keep beating the hell out of that guy, and I can’t just pass by. So you two need to move along and let this guy go.”
His voice was very reasonable, Steve thought, but of course they didn’t listen. The shorter one pulled a switchblade, and took an aggressive step forward. “Dude, fuck off.”
Lukas moved up next to Steve. “Oh, they think they’re intimidating, Steven. How cute.”
“Cute?” the aggressive one snarled. “I’ll show you cute, motherfucker.” He swung the knife in Lukas’ direction. Lukas was like water, slipping to the side and grabbing the knife hand and doing something with it, so the guy cried out and the knife clanged on the ground. It wasn’t far from the victim, but he remained curled up, either too afraid or too hurt to move.
“Lukas!” Steve warned, meaning not to kill him or break his arm, since Lukas was in position to do either, immobilizing the smaller man against himself, one arm around the neck and the other hand had a grip on the wrist.
It might have ended there, except the taller companion pulled out a gun. “Let Tommy go! Or I’ll shoot.”
Steve eyed the gun, fingers itching for his shield. He could get to the gun, but not before it fired.
“Oh no,” Lukas exclaimed in a mocking tone. “A gun.”
“I mean it! Let him go, or I’ll shoot.”
“Oh, you can try. But here’s your problem: if you fire, I’ll break Tommy’s fragile little neck,” Lukas countered, purring with something dark and coldly angry in his voice. He twisted his hand and Tommy cried out. “Or maybe I’ll shatter the bones in his wrist.” Tommy’s knees buckled, and he jerked his head in a vain attempt to get free and garbled some kind of plea.
“Lukas!” Steve said, wondering if he was going to have to attack Lukas to get him to back off. He looked the gun-wielder in the eye, reading the uncertainty. “Put it down, son. And both of you walk away.”
“Walk away?” Lukas objected. “They need something to remember why it’s a terrible idea to beat up people in Central Park. In the middle of the night. Where no one can hear you.” At each phrase he tugged on Tommy’s arm, making him cry out each time.
Tommy’s friend looked from one to the other, wide-eyed, and his hand shook, “You’re crazy, man. I have a gun! I could kill you.”
“Well, that’s the thing, you can’t.” Lukas shoved Tommy away, into the gunman, and in a split-second, Steve saw what was going to happen: the gun was going to fire right into Tommy, as the finger pulled the trigger in fearful reflex. He was leaping as Lukas pushed, tackling both and grabbing for the gun to make it point away.
The sound cracked through the quiet night, and they all flinched and cried out, wondering if the bullet had hit anything. Luckily it hadn’t.
Steve plucked the gun away, rolled to his feet, and hurled it into the lake. He turned to confront Lukas. “What the hell was that?”
Lukas folded his arms and smirked. “I let him go. Just as he wanted.”
“You were trying to get him killed!” Steve returned, furious that he was finding this amusing. “What the hell happened to you? You--”
Lukas’ eyes flared and he flung out his hand in warning. “Steven!”
Steve whirled to find Tommy had found his knife, and was rushing him. Steve grabbed at him, punched him, and when Tommy’s friend came into the fray, flipped him hard against the ground.
Both were lying there, moaning, while their victim was staring at his rescuers, astonished.
“You were saying?” Lukas said blandly to Steve. And Steve winced, knowing he’d been hardly any less violent than Lukas had.
“Holy shit,” the victim breathed in wonder. “Who the hell are you?”
“Nobody,” Steve answered shortly. “Do you need the hospital?”
“No, no, I’m okay.” He seemed to stand all right, cradling his ribs on the left side after Steve had pulled him to his feet. “Thank you.”
“Go on, get out of here. We’ll handle these two.”
Lukas added, “But in case they were beating you because you also are a scum-sucking lowlife criminal, be warned that karma is a real force. You’ve been given a chance, and if you reject it, it will come back on you. Go.”
He nodded, looking dazed enough Steve hoped he didn’t walk into traffic, and stumbled off into the dark, leaving him with Lukas and the two others on the ground.
Lukas picked up Tommy’s knife and examined it. “Cheaply made, Tommy. The steel in this will break with any kind of force, and the edge is so dull it wouldn’t cut an apple.” He snapped the blade and tossed the two pieces into the trash can, turning to Steve. “Are you ready to go back?”
“I was kind of hoping they’d come at us again,” Steve admitted, and Lukas’ smile was bright with mirth.
“It’s much more fun. But no, I think they’re down and they’ve learned their lesson.”
Tommy pushed himself up on one elbow to glower at them. “Next time we see you, we’ll teach you a lesson.”
Lukas went to one knee by Tommy, who flinched back, but not quickly enough to avoid Lukas’ hand grabbing his hair. “No, you won’t, because next time I see you, my good-hearted friend there won’t stop me from ending you. So keep your head down,” he shoved Tommy’s head into the dirt, “and out of my way.”
He stood up and sighed, looking at Steve. “Let’s go. I tire of these hostile children.” He started running and Steve ran after, staying a bit behind to mull over what he’d seen and heard.
When they were back in the apartment, Lukas scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I need a shower.”
Steve wanted to discuss what had happened in the mugging, but decided they were both probably too tired to deal with it right then. “I’m going to try bed again.” Lukas was starting to close the bathroom door when Steve added, “Lukas? Hey, uh,” Lukas’ face went tense, expecting Steve to harangue him about the mugging probably. “In the morning. This is stupid, but if I’m still asleep, would you make sure I wake up? I don’t want to miss anything, sleeping too long.”
Expression softening, Lukas nodded. “Of course. I will wake you.”
“Great. Thanks. Good night.”
“Sleep well.” He closed the door to his bathroom and Steve went back to his room, more invigorated by the run and the fight than tired out by it. But in the end, it did help, and after the water had stopped running on the other side of the apartment, Steve dropped into sleep.
Steve snapped awake and was upright as he opened his eyes, heart thumping with the sudden fear that it’d be 2100 or some damn thing.
But the room was the same, but with some brighter sunlight glowing around the edges of the curtains. Rubbing his face he let out a breath and decided he might as well wake up.
In the main room, Lukas was already up. He was a long-sleeved pine green sweater, thin as a shirt but knitted, and black slacks. He looked up when Steve emerged and smiled a greeting. “Good morning. Unfortunately there is little to eat, since no one thought to stock any basics.”
Steve went to peruse the kitchen, since he hadn’t yesterday finding it pretty bare as Lukas had described. “I still have an instinct I need to make do with what’s here,” he observed wryly, “but I know I don’t have to. Let’s go find breakfast and we’ll grab some basics on the way back.”
At the Starbucks, he gaped at four dollars for a coffee. “Is it made of gold? Good Lord.”
“Not my money.” Lukas shrugged and held out the credit card to pay for their food and drink. Steve glanced at him, disapproving of this unnecessary spending, but Lukas was immune.
Steve got his plain coffee- better than the slop they’d drunk in the war but hardly four dollars worth of better – and Lukas had something that looked more like dessert with whipped cream and chocolate topping. Modern decadence.
There was no place to sit down in the tiny shop so they sipped at their drinks while under a bank building’s awning and watched the people and the traffic. It felt… familiar, Steve decided. Sure it sounded different and the people dressed differently, but the flow of it was the same. Businessmen still walked with quick steps, taxicabs still drove like maniacs, tourists still strolled, gaping at storefronts as if they’d never seen a shoe store before.
“You’re right. It’s not that different,” he said out of nowhere, but Lukas didn’t seem surprised, he just nodded.
“Humans – actually most people everywhere – are much the same,” Lukas answered.
“So there’s us, there’s your people, are there others?” Steve asked curiously.
Lukas turned to him with such eagerness, Steve suspected he was about to get a story. “Oh yes. So many kinds. It’s a big universe, Steven, with so much in it you cannot even imagine.”
“But you come here?” Steve asked, a bit dubiously.
“Well, at first I wanted to hide on a backwater planet where no one would look for me and then...” he paused. “There didn’t seem to be a reason to go elsewhere. At least I knew this world, and my powers made living here easier than I might find elsewhere.”
Steve listened to this obvious attempt at diminishing the appeal, and asked with a smile, “So you would rather I think you were lazy, than admit you like it here?”
Lukas scoffed. “Like it? Absurd. I tolerate it.” He lifted his chin loftily, and Steve laughed.
“Fine, Your Highness. Let’s go buy groceries, if you can deign lower yourself that far.”
Lukas rolled his eyes but followed.
The bodega was an interesting study for Steve between things he recognized and things he absolutely had no idea what they were. Lukas helped with some of that, though it was pretty clear to Steve he hadn’t actually ever been grocery shopping.
But armed with some basic staples, they carried the sacks back to the apartment, and it was companionable putting it away. It felt more like a home with eggs and bread and butter in the kitchen.
“So, do you want to take the train to Brooklyn?” Lukas asked. “We could--”
Brooklyn. Steve was abruptly furious, temper snapping. "You know, you don't have to babysit me," Steve snapped. "I can get to Brooklyn on my own.”
Lukas raised his brows and frowned as if trying to figure out what Steve was talking about. "I do not doubt that. Nor am I babysitting you.”
“No?” Steve demanded. “You’re not here to keep watch on me? To make sure I don’t do anything stupid, or reveal myself to the public too soon? Did Fury put you up to watching me?”
Lukas remained still and calm, and helped Steve let go of the flash of anger. “I think you saw what I think of Nick Fury’s manipulations of you. I am not here to any of that. I am your friend, and I wish to do things with you because you’re back after I thought you were dead. Not control you, or ‘babysit’ you. If anything, I think we're meant to babysit each other."
"Why would you need it?" Steve asked, flummoxed by this new information.
Lukas' brow cleared with realization. "Ah. I think you are under a mistaken impression that I was on Earth all the time you were asleep; I was not. I was sent down to Arendelle only a few weeks ago. So I have a small head-start on you, but I am hardly an expert on modern Midgard."
That put things in a different context. No wonder Lukas wasn’t especially knowledgeable about modern American life; it wasn’t because he was an alien and didn’t care, he just literally hadn’t been there to see it. "Oh. I thought – of course. That makes more sense."
"Sorry," Lukas said. "I should have explained before."
"No, no, that's okay. Now I know. So what have you been doing these past few weeks? Hanging out in Arendelle until SHIELD figured out you were there?"
"More or less," Lukas agreed with a tight shrug. His fingers rubbed at his opposite wrist, an anxious gesture that Steve recalled from when he'd rubbed at the bandages on his wrists. "I spent some time on a farm... what would the word be? Acclimating, I suppose. So I might now help you do the same."
"Right. Sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you."
Lukas smiled wryly. "You weren't wrong, I am here to babysit you."
"No," Steve disagreed with a shake of his head. "We're in this together. So, why did you come back?"
Lukas moved away to pick up the pens on the table and put them into the cup. "I did something impetuous and unwise at home, and it got me sent away."
Steve noticed the lack of details and frowned. "You're in exile?"
“At first. I could return now, but I choose not to," Lukas answered. "I'm here to stay."
"Well, I'm selfishly glad about that. Your presence makes this easier." He gripped Lukas' shoulder in thanks, surprised when he tensed beneath the grip as if tempted to throw Steve off. But Lukas had never been one for the cheerful embrace back in the war, as Steve recalled. He’d figured Lukas didn’t like casual touch because of his captivity, but perhaps he was just that way.
Steve took his hand away. “And Bucky and Peggy are still alive, too. Others of the other Howling Commandos, do you know?”
Lukas shook his head that he didn’t.
“You didn’t want to know they were dead?” Steve asked.
“I thought for certain they were. It was a shock to learn about Carter and Barnes. Or Carter-Barnes, I suppose I should say. That is how she signed her letter--”
Steve almost didn’t notice the correction, but he felt his head whip around in a movie-style double take. “Carter-Barnes?” he repeated, thinking that couldn’t possibly mean what he thought it meant. “They got married?”
Lukas laughed. “To each other!”
“Oh.” Steve could only stare at that, trying to figure out what he thought about that. “Well. Isn't that something?" Steve said. It was strange how his heart could sink at the thought that Peggy had married someone else, even though of course, it had been decades and he would never want her to pine away for him, and then his heart also felt too big with joy, that at least they had found each other. He chuckled a bit wryly, thinking back to that time in the pub when Bucky had asked her to dance and she'd refused him. Apparently she'd said yes in the end, and found her right partner, after all.
"I know they had two children, as well; Lucy for me, and Steven for you. Lucy is a professor of Norse linguistics," Lukas said with more somber, yet evident pride. "I have not met her yet, but I know she has consulted for SHIELD."
"Wow. That's great. Kids. And a professor already." Though when he did the math, he realized she was probably in her forties. Bucky and Peggy could have grand-kids. They probably did.
Because they were in their nineties. It finally sunk in that they were old. Like he was supposed to be, but wasn't. He sank down to the couch, hands clasped between his knees, and looked up at Lukas. "How do you deal with this?" he asked. "They're old, and I'm not. They've lived, and I've been stuck out of time."
Lukas grimaced. It was not a smile. "I don't deal with it. Not well, at least. Why do you think I have not pressed to go to them? The concept of children growing up and becoming adults, I manage to grasp, but aging and death? Those are difficult to see in my mortal friends and family. That is why I tried not to be as social with the Howling Commandos, to keep myself somewhat apart so it would pain me less when death inevitably struck. It was not very successful, when I became attached to all of you despite myself. Natasha advises caring more broadly, so the loss of one is not so deep. But I wonder if that will not make the loss unendurable." He stopped, eyes weighted with years and loss that Steve couldn't even imagine, far beyond his own. He knew that Lukas wasn't a 'real' god or demon, but he was no mortal human either, not with those eyes.
He returned to the present, glancing at Steve with an attempted smile. "So, difficult as it is for you, I must admit to some gladness that you are also less touched by time. I feel less... alone."
Steve turned that one over in his mind, and thought it was true for him, too. What would this be like without Lukas? Without a friend from before who was the same, who shared some of the same experiences? Without someone who missed the same people and was familiar with the same things that Steve was, plus Lukas had even more years of dealing with staying youthful while the rest of the people he knew aged. Even if he claimed not to handle it well, at least he understood the problem.
Steve stood up again, so he could look Lukas in the eye. "And I'm glad you're here, too," he declared, meaning to be clear so Lukas would understand he meant it. "I'm glad I'm not alone in this either."
Lukas' smile was more genuine then, widening out with a flash of happiness that Steve was glad to see. Humor from him wasn't rare, but happiness was, and Steve liked to see it.
"We should go see them,” Steve suggested. “Not just because they’re our friends. But… maybe we need to.” At Lukas’ inquisitive brow lift, Steve added, “Because we’ve got to get used to it sometime, right? Better sooner than later.”
Lukas stilled and then quirked his mouth in a bit of a wry smile. “You are wiser than I, Steven.”
“Says the man who told me two minutes after I woke up that I’d slept decades,” Steve teased but then got serious. “But what I don’t want is to miss anything else of their lives. Not while they still have them. I missed a dance, Lukas. I missed… so much. But I don’t think I could stand to miss everything.”
Lukas nodded. “As one who believed I had missed everything, that is best. For certain.”
Steve frowned, “But you must’ve known they were still alive?”
“I did,” Lukas admitted. “But I knew they would blame me for your loss. And I thought it best the Ice Demon die there.” His eyes shifted away and his lips shaped the words, barely with any voice, “With you.”
Steve gripped his shoulder, shaking his head in denial. “Lukas, the only one who blames you, is you. I said it before, and I’ll keep saying it til you believe me- it’s not your fault.”
Lukas twisted away. “It is!” he insisted. “If I hadn’t fled, if I hadn’t been too much a coward to face them, you might have been saved sooner. You might have woken up in time to dance with Margaret, and those would be your children, not James’. So think of that, before you think to absolve me of things that are absolutely my doing.”
He rushed out, letting the door slamming behind him, and Steve watched him go, mouth open but unable to call after him. His voice seemed stopped in his chest, as the pieces fell into place. Because it was probably true; as much as he’d been told about his rediscovery, Lukas had been there, if he’d been able to give them a better location, maybe Steve could’ve been found earlier. But Lukas went away and he didn’t tell anyone where the plane had gone down, so Steve had slept decades.
Steve had missed his life. He’d missed the life he should have, because Lukas had vanished, instead of staying. So maybe it was his fault.
The fury rose up inside him, bubbling up with the unfairness of it all, that he’d lost his whole life and everything good in it, he’d slept away the end of the war and all that followed. He’d missed his chance with Peggy. He’d missed his chance for a normal life. He’d missed everything, because Lukas had run away.
Because he thought you were dead, idiot, a small voice chided in the back of his mind. It sounded like Bucky. He didn’t mean to leave you, you know that. You know Schmidt tortured him, and you remember he had a head wound. He threw up on the deck, he could barely stand, and for damn sure he wasn’t thinking clearly. Did you think he would make it after he fell out of the plane? No. You hoped so, you knew he’d done amazing things, but you thought it was more likely he was dead. So don’t blame him for thinking the same about you.
The reminder from his conscience made the anger settle back down. He was still angry at the sheer unfairness of what had happened to him, but it was unfair to blame Lukas for it. There were things he could’ve done differently, but that was true of Steve, too. He could’ve kept a tighter hold on Lukas for one thing, and kept him from diving after it. He could’ve taken down Schmidt faster and harder, and kept him from the cube in the first place.
But Lukas was blaming himself, and since the last time he’d done that, he’d vanished from Earth for sixty years, Steve decided to go after him, and reassure him that he was forgiven.
Outside the apartment on the landing, he hesitated, wondering if Lukas had gone up to the roof or down to leave. He called down to the old man slowly mopping the floor, “Hey! Have you seen my roommate?” The old man turned and peered upward at Steve, through his glasses, then pulled out an ear piece. Steve moved down a few steps. “Did you see which way my roommate went? Guy with the black hair?”
“Your boyfriend went out,” the man pointed with his broom handle toward the main door.
“He’s not my--” Steve started, but the janitor put the ear thing back in his ear and kept on mopping, so Steve gave up objecting. He took the stairs two at a time, waved his thanks to the janitor, and headed into the street. No slim silhouette with black hair was visible in either direction, but there was a redhead heading his way from the subway stop.
“Afternoon, Natasha,” he greeted her as she came up. “Did you see Lukas? We had kind of a fight and he stormed off.”
She shook her head. “No, I didn’t see him. But let me see if I can find him.” She pulled out her phone, and he watched as she touched the screen rapidly, before putting it away. “In Central Park.”
Steve blinked amazed he’d traveled all that way in such little time. That was faster than Steve could run there. But then he frowned. “How do you know that? Did you put a tracking device on him?”
“No!” she objected, incensed. “Not that. He’d never forgive me for doing that without his knowledge. But, he does have a phone, and he knows it can be tracked.”
Steve thought of his locator beacon and nodded understanding. Not that different really.
“What did you argue about?” she asked.
“Not really an argument. We were talking about going to see Bucky and Peggy, and he was upset he’d left after the crash, instead of telling them where it was. Which I guess is true, but I don’t want him to think it’s his fault. But he left before I could say it.”
She hesitated, eyes flickering indecision, and Steve wondered if there was a secret being kept from him. She answered, “He told me after you died, he didn’t think about Barnes or Carter, at all. Even when he was back here, he didn’t seek them out or ask if they were alive until the director gave him a letter Carter had left for him. The letter forgave him for not coming back, but he doesn’t believe it. And he won’t until he hears it from them. He doesn’t have a lot of,” she chose the words carefully, “emotional resilience. Not since the war, I don’t think.”
“When he was a prisoner.” Steve nodded slowly. Although Lukas had mostly seemed fine after he’d been rescued, Steve knew that an experience like that wouldn’t just go away, not in anyone with human reactions to things, which Lukas certainly had, despite his age. “I’ll go after him.”
Her hand closed around his forearm, forestalling movement. “No, I’ll go. And when we’re back, we’ll head to DC to visit your friends.”
Natasha checked her map again, to find that Lukas was still in the same place, by the obelisk. She’d texted him that she was on her way to him, and though there’d been no direct response, he’d seen it and so he was waiting for her.
She entered the little plaza beneath the obelisk, and saw Lukas there, standing in the shade between the fence and the obelisk’s base. He was wearing black, the jeans and T-shirt simple but fitted to his slim form perfectly. It looked good, but she remembered that beautiful emerald green silk shirt he’d had in Arendelle and resolved to find him something like that again.
She approached and called out, “I see you managed to find the only thing in New York older than you are.”
He glanced at her, with a smile to see her coming near. “I thought at first it was one of those fake follies the aristocracy made so much of back in the day,” he said, “but it’s genuine.” He tilted his head at it, looking up at the worn hieroglyphs. “I remember it from Egypt. It’s good to know some things endure, if somewhat faded and not in the same places they once were.”
She knew that was directed at himself, but left it alone to try and poke at what had happened with Rogers. She curled her hands around the railing between them. “Steve tells me you’re still blaming yourself for not coming back sooner, after the plane went down.”
He tensed, and kept his gaze upward. “I could have.”
“Could you?” she countered softly. “Truly? You told me you didn’t even think about Carter or Barnes. And that’s not because you were selfish or cruel, Lukas; it’s because you were too upset to think clearly. And because ...” she hesitated, unsure if she should mention it, but deciding to forge ahead, “I think, you were afraid if you thought about them, you would also remember what else happened to you. You tried to leave all of it behind. That’s perfectly understandable, and there is no way that Barnes wouldn’t understand that. You should read his memoir, you’ll see there’s nothing but admiration. Nothing but understanding, in what he wrote about you.” She reached out and laid a hand on his back lightly, and murmured, “You don’t have to be afraid they’ll be angry.”
He dropped his chin and didn’t speak at first, letting her words rush through him,
before he huffed a laugh. “So easily you see to the heart of me, Natalya, and disarm what I know are foolish fears, but they prey on me nonetheless.”
She rubbed a hand across his shoulder and down his arm. “That’s what friends do. And Steve wants to be there for you.”
Lukas gave a sharp shake of his head in denial. “He has enough to manage, without dealing with me.”
She pulled at him, to get him to turn toward her and look at her. “You’re the one thing right now he hasn’t lost, Lukas. You’re his connection. So let him be connected to you. It’ll make you both stronger.”
He grimaced, not quite a smile, and seemed resistant but didn’t argue. “Very well. But do not tell him about Sokovia. There is connection, and carrying burdens that belong to me, and I will not have him carry this, too.”
She opened her mouth to object, that he was ignoring everything she’d just said, but his face was stone and she knew she wasn’t going to get very far. One careful breath later, she had her control back and reminded him, “He’ll find out, Lukas. It’s not a secret.”
“Now it is,” he declared, folding his arms. “Tell SHIELD they are not to tell him. I will tell him when I want, not before.” Deciding that was settled, he announced, “We should go back before Steven gets himself in trouble.”
Natasha doubted that Rogers on his own was any more likely to get in trouble than Lukas was, but she nodded.
Making their way back to the apartment, Rogers was waiting inside. “You feeling better?” he asked Lukas.
Who nodded, looking down away. “I apologize,” he said stiffly. “I should not have run out.”
“You were upset; it’s okay. I understand. And just so you know, those years weren’t lost because of you.” Lukas snapped up his head to object, but Steve held up a hand to stop him. “Listen. We both made a choice when we jumped on Schmidt’s flying wing, knowing we might not make it out of there. We knew it had to be stopped. And without you, Bucky’d be dead. I would much rather have you and Bucky and Peggy alive in the future, than me waking up alone in 1946.”
Lukas still looked resistant and stubborn, so Steve added, “You didn’t take her away from me, okay? Fate did. Or God. Or at least Schmidt. But not you. You didn’t think you had anything to come back for, I get that. You thought I was dead. That doesn’t make you a monster, it makes you,” he paused, realizing what he was about to say before chuckling and saying it anyway, “human.”
Lukas didn’t answer immediately, but nodded slow acceptance of the words.
“Good,” Steve said. “Now let’s visit our friends.”