A/N: In my defense, this was supposed to be a one-shot. I guess it's a two-shot now? With a much longer first part? I don't know what I'm doing!
I really gotta get back to And We Will Run Together Again. Shall I let you all in on a little secret? I've got no bleedin' clue what I'm doing with that story. This is my sanctuary . . . for now. I'm thinking of starting an SI/OC fic for the HP fandom, though . . . ?
NOTE! Ownership . . . copyright laws . . . do we really own anything? What . . . what does it mean, to own something . . . ?
He'd made a promise. A multi-step promise:
1) Be a hero and save the world.
2) Come back and find Tom.
3) Have that dance with Peggy.
It was supposed to be all very simple. Cut out the heart of Hydra, Schmidt (because obviously cutting off the head wasn't working going to work — "two more shall take it's place" and all that), end the damned war, stop by England on the way home to pick up his favorite people, go home. He honestly wasn't sure about the future with Peggy, but he wanted to think that he had a chance with her . . . and Tom, of course, was gonna be his kid. If he was really honest with himself, he was a bit frightened at the prospect of parenthood this early in life and so soon after the war, but . . .
He loved that kid. And Tom, in that small and embarrassed way, assuredly loved him back. What kinda fella would Steve be, if he abandoned the kid to some messed up orphanage where kids got away with beating on each other?
And Tom was (possibly . . . probably) the mature one. He didn't kick up much of a fuss, more like, it would be Steve fussing over him by himself . . .
(Bucky would find this hilarious and tease him to death, he was sure)
(Bucky would also agree with Steve that, yes, he had a thing for British brunettes somehow. maybe it was the accent)
He was getting off-topic. Rambling, really; it happened when he was nervous, like everyone else. What was he thinking of?
He didn't break promises.
Looking at the ice before him, he thought he might hate himself a little. It was the most important promise of his life and he'd broken it in two ways already. And he couldn't help but think, as the cold embraced him and ripped the heat away from his body, that Tom would hate him a little, too.
When he opened his eyes 70 years later, his first thoughts were of the boy that had been standing on the street corner. His second thoughts, of course, were on the softness of the bed and the unfamiliarity of the room and the baseball game on the radio that somehow didn't seem right. With the rest of what followed (they were liars, and there was something wrong. she stiffened — was she really a nurse? — and he ran ran ran-) Steve didn't really get back to his first thoughts until later, when he realized the promise he'd mostly broken and the dance he'd definitely missed.
He was angry, he was heartbroken, he was scared, he was curious — it all overwhelmed him, how different everything was, and how Steve knew that if he missed how all this happened (billboards that were apparently made of little things called "pixels" and electricity, letters sent instantaneously through tiny phones held in hands, clothing that seemed on the verge of shameful — or just plain shameful, really) he certainly missed the things that were actually important to him.
Namely, Peggy and Howard and Tom.
It was only after he'd visited with Peggy (older, grayer, but beautiful and bright and he regretted many things seeing her eyes filled with tears at the sight of him) that Steve realized that Tom would probably be alive. He'd been eight during the war — people older than him obviously were still alive, so Tom was alive.
Of course, Steve couldn't rightly adopt a 78-year-old Brit right now, but he could at least apologize. And listen. And talk.
(he wondered if Tom ever got another snake — not to replace Nagini, but just as a new companion, as Nagini had been Myassa's successor. he wondered if Tom ever got to admitting that he did indeed like ice cream. he wondered if he managed to get good at kick-the-can as he declared he would, all those years ago. he wondered, especially, if Tom had forgiven him for those broken promises)
He hoped Tom had forgiven him.
But more than that, he hoped that he could apologize in the first place. If Tom didn't forgive him, Steve understood. He'd broken such an important promise . . . and brought to life one of Tom's greatest fears: abandonment. Steve had abandoned Tom, the reasons didn't matter, because it was true. And after the way Tom had finally latched onto him and started to open up and smile — a real smile — it was probably one of the cruelest things Steve had ever done.
Intentionally or not.
He hoped he would be able to apologize for both their broken old hearts.
And yet, despite himself, Steve found a small grin forming. He was gonna see his kid again, and he looked forward to seeing not how much Tom would be different, but how much Tom would be the same.
(because he couldn't get the image of that kid on the street corner, bloodied knuckles and split lip and blue eyes shining with stubborn vivaciousness)
Standing in front of the grave, he blinked. It was strange, Steve thought, that the most important people to him were gone now. (his team, his girl, his son) Even stranger that the one he'd failed the most, the child he'd made stupid promises to, was buried in some remote wasteland that he'd had to threaten people for; for some reason, no one who knew where Tom's grave was wanted anyone to know.
(like it was some dirty secret or something — that pissed him off)
It was somewhere abandoned and quiet, and Tom would've hated it.
Tom didn't like loneliness, and he didn't like quiet — Tom was a genius, after all, his mind was always moving. Sure, he liked bouts of solitude to read and think and internally monologue, but Tom was a curious person and he'd hate it here. And even though Steve had just finished re-burying a faded flag-cloth wrapped around tiny, old bones next to the grave it didn't feel right.
Nagini would keep him company, he supposed, but Steve still didn't feel it was right.
The flowers around were young buds still, like when Nagini was buried, and Steve gathered them and arranged them in a thousand different ways over the unassuming mound that was Tom's grave (it was so barren and un-personal and . . . and cold and it made Steve boil with anger, at himself and everyone else-)
"Oi! What're you doing here, then?"
The sudden voice jarred him from his thoughts and Steve whipped around, tensed for combat and staring at a young man with black hair, green eyes framed by round glasses, and a lean frame that was covered in odd, billowy clothing that Steve instinctively knew wasn't a modern fashion. The boy-man looked just as shocked and battle-ready, though rather than his fists put up, he was holding in his right hand a stick of wood.
A stick of wood that was sparking at the end, and not burning.
(he'd seen strange things, like Tom speaking to snakes, but it was still a surprise)
". . . I'm going out on a limb here and guessing that you're that Muggle." the stranger said, warily putting his stick back into the folds of his robes and walking forward slowly, hands held out placatingly.
Steve blinked, but also relaxed. "Not sure what that is, but I'm not here to fight."
The man nodded. "People don't usually tend to go to graveyards to fight, though this particular bloke here, well . . . I guess he had a flair for the dramatic or something, because I definitely kicked his arse in a graveyard."
Steve snorted. "Tom probably didn't like that very much."
The other guy's eyebrows shot into his black bangs. His green eyes widened, too. "He let you call him Tom and get away with it? Bloody hell, man — where were you during the war?"
"Fighting it." Steve replied absent-mindedly, still laying flower buds down.
". . . On his side?"
He let out a frustrated huff. "Look, I don't get angry quick, but I'm trying to mourn for my kid, alright? I don't even know who you are."
There was silence, and when Steve looked up, the man looked dumbfounded.
"What?" asked Steve, a bit self-conscious now.
"You're Steve Rogers — Captain bloody America."
(and wasn't that strange, that the Brit had known HIS name first, rather than his title; people screamed and squabbled over Captain America, but they usually didn't know who Steve Rogers was)
"Er . . . yeah."
"Mate, I think you and I need to have a cup of tea. The name's Harry Potter."
On the scale of 0 to sitting with the 30-something-year-old Brit that killed his son sixteen years ago, Steve thought he was at a 7 billion. Wizards and witches. Magic. A secret war and an even more secret society of the former listings. Voldemort and Horcruxes?
WHY had his child tried to murder a baby?
"I told him to stop killing small, fluffy creatures . . ." Steve said faintly, sipping at coffee (he didn't really like tea all that much) at a table that had been conjured from thin air (along with a nice, lacy tablecloth and a full setting tea stuff and a basket of buttered biscuits).
". . . This must be a lot to hear."
Steve blinked at the boy-man sitting across from him. The guy didn't look 30-something; he looked younger than Steve, actually. It was probably a wizard thing. Magic thing. (which made Steve's heart clench, because that meant that maybe if Tom hadn't grown up to become . . . to become whatever he was, then maybe they would've been the same age physically when Steve woke up, and maybe if they couldn't be father and son, they might have a shot at being brothers . . . not that it mattered, because Tom was dead-)
"Are you alright?" asked the older wizard gently.
The old soldier shook his head of his thoughts. "I . . . um . . . I'm not sure."
Harry Potter gave a small smile that was very close to a grimace. "Sorry. I'm sure it's not . . . comforting . . . to hear all this, especially from the guy who . . . well, um . . . offed . . . Voldemort . . ."
Steve honestly tried not to think about that.
(what was good? what was bad? he loved Tom but then Tom had practically become some magical wizard Nazi and then Potter killed him. should be be angry at Tom? at Potter? Potter killed his son but Potter had really killed Voldemort, and was Voldemort really still Tom? could he have loved someone who became the very thing he fought against? why did he do that, anyways? why would he- how could he-)
He gave his own weak, small smile. "I don't . . . I don't even know how to . . . how to start. My kid — Tom — I know he was troubled and I know . . . well, I know he had some issues, but he was . . . he was my kid. I can't . . . this Voldemort, he doesn't even connect to my son, not to me . . ."
He took a deep breath, trying to organize his thoughts. If he were honest with himself, he would have lashed out with anger first. This was . . . this was his son. Damn the consequences of starting a fight with a magical that managed to kill Tom, because Steve had never been there for Tom but maybe he could avenge-
But that was the first thing he wanted to do, and the first plan was never the greatest one. The second was wallowing in his grief; simply curling up in front of his child's grave and wondering why the hell Tom had done all that and if he could've stopped him if he'd been there-
But again, Steve knew he couldn't do that. He couldn't do anything.
(what kinda man was he, that he'd let this happen?)
" . . . thank you. For telling me, I mean." he said, finally.
Potter's eyes widened a little. Then he gave a sad nod. "You know, I've seen you before."
"Well, I'm . . . I apparently have a couple museums or something."
Potter shook his head. "Nah, not like that. We have these things called Pensieves, see; they show us memories. I'm not entirely sure how Professor Dumbledore got it — he was a brilliant old wizard who headed the first war against Voldemort, by the way — but I saw you with, erm, Tom."
(his son that became a mass murderer and a leader of an elitist cult of mass murderers. he still didn't know if he should love his child. he still didn't know if Tom hated him for his broken promises, and if that hate was why Tom became this Voldemort character)
The wizard grinned, ignorant of the turmoil in Steve's head, and pushed up his glasses. "Merlin, it was weird. To me, all I knew about the Dark Tosser was that he was a megalomaniac that killed my parents and godfather, among many. Then I saw the little bugger looking at your photograph together and then getting all starry-eyed when you offered to adopt him, and I knew . . . 'cuz that's what I looked like, I bet, when my godfather said he'd let me live with him. Tom was just a lonely kid that, well, only had one friend in the world. When you, er, died . . . well, Tom wasn't Tom anymore-"
(he was a good kid. misguided. Tom was becoming happier. then Steve broke his promises and Tom wasn't a good kid anymore. that's where this was going, he knew, he knew somehow that it was-)
Steve slumped in his seat, understanding more than Potter knew. "I wasn't the only one that died, you mean. It's my fault that your world was torn apart-"
"It's also your fault that Hitler and Grindewald went down, and the wizarding world was saved back in the 40's; same as Dumbledore, without the Hitler part. We've all got skeletons in the closet, Mr. Rogers. No one — least of all me — blames you for what Tom Riddle became. Honestly, your Tom and my Voldemort are practically different entities."
(and suddenly it was clear, and there were no more swirling questions)
"Thank you." Steve said, tired and not-quite-happy, but accepting.
Potter's eyebrows rose. "For my rambling, you mean?"
"For killing him."
He dropped his tea cup, along with his jaw. Steve smiled a little at it. (Potter was probably wondering what in the hell was wrong with this American muggle that seemed to be perfectly content with taking tea with the man who murdered his son)
"Voldemort. You're right — at least, I think you're right. They're different people. And if my Tom — Tom Rogers, that is — knew what kinda psycho Voldemort was, I think he would've wanted the bastard gone, too. Tom was a smart kid, and it wasn't . . . it's just . . . he wasn't Voldemort."
Steve smiled, faintly.
"He'd have been horrified at Voldemort. Tom was too smart to do that soul-splitting stuff, and too curious about the world to try to enslave it. No . . . he would've hated being that kind of man. So, yeah, thank you. For freeing him. I'm sure that somewhere, the crazed murderer called Voldemort was just my son, waiting for me to come home."
Potter's jaw snapped closed with a click, and understanding and empathy filled his gentle green eyes. "He'll wait a little longer, I hope?"
(Potter hoped that Steve wasn't going to do anything drastic, in other words)
The old soldier nodded, and they sat in quiet companionship as the flowers bloomed.
He had missed the most important war, it seemed, sometimes.
(only sometimes, when it was very late or very early or something like that, because normally, Steve was quietly proud of his WWII achievements, but sometimes — like now — Steve was ashamed that he couldn't even save his own child from something as simple as fear)
He had missed everything important, it seemed, sometimes.
Magic and wizards and witches was one thing. Aliens was a completely different story. But Steve, as always, went with it and improvised and managed to scrape as close to a victory as possible. Saving as many people as possible.
He hadn't been able to save his son, so he tried to save everyone else.
After the battle and the shawarma — which wasn't that bad, really — Steve actually wrote to Potter (they corresponded not often, but enough that they were beginning to be tentative friends) and asked if the magic-stuff that Loki did was connected to his world, or if he knew anything that might be able to help the next time this might happen. It was mostly to let Potter know what happened and that there was apparently a magic-wielding god.
Potter responded by Apparating across the pond nearly immediately to examine the magic and aftermath, much to Steve's surprise.
(he did NOT shriek. why did Brits always say that?)
"What's with the robes?" was Steve's immediate question.
The grey-cloaked figure shrugged. "Nicked it from the Unspeakables. Thought I might check on your agent — mind control's a nasty business. Just . . . don't let your eye-patch director get me, okay? I've already got crowds of people calling for me to get into the hero business, I don't need you Americans on it as well."
Steve rolled his eyes. "More like crowds of witches. How many of your valentines were spiked with that pearly stuff?"
"Amortentia? Ugh. Love potion. Yeah, too many. I just wanna be a Defense teacher, is that so much to ask? Come on, then, lead the way-"
"You're just trying to meet the Avengers. Admit it."
Potter grinned. "Was that a joke? Merlin, Steve, you're learning!"
"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, I'm an old man with old jokes. You're rubbing off on me, sarcastic jerk."
They walked in silence. Steve's first impression of Potter had been kinda horrible, to be honest, but when he thought of the wizard now, all he could feel was gratitude. He was offering to heal Clint's mind, for one thing — something he didn't have to do, but would do anyways, because they were friends. He always let Steve stay with him on his visits to England to say hello to Tom, and even helped spruce up the grave — despite the fact that it was Potter who put him there (which was probably why Steve, despite all hard feelings having been erased, still called him 'Potter' and not just 'Harry').
But most of all, in accordance to the last one, it had been Potter who had taken care of Voldemort. Steve was sure that if he'd come out of the ice earlier, Tom wouldn't have had the chance to become that monster, but if he did . . . Steve would've taken him down himself. It would've been his responsibility, as a father, to free Tom from that monstrosity.
(Erskine said that everyone forgot that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own. Steve thought it was the same; the first person Voldemort murdered was Tom Rogers, long before that monster had that fancy French name)
The grieving contemplation must've shown on his face, because Potter nudged Steve with his elbow.
"D'you want to visit him after I'm done?" he asked quietly.
Steve nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."
Potter returned the gesture. "Anytime, my friend."
"You know, you broke your promise, too." began Steve.
He was sitting cross-legged in front of Tom. The unassuming mound and been piled with fist-sized pale stones stacked around it — somewhat crude, but Steve didn't want to rebury him (he didn't think he would be able to) — and was bursting at the cracks with green clover. Budding flowers crept at the edges of the stone pile.
He'd come alone this time.
(it was the first time he'd been here alone)
"I don't blame, you, kid. I took a long time." he sighed, running a hand through his hair tiredly. "But . . . you said you'd been right there at the street corner, waiting for me. I just wish I'd found an old man sitting in London, instead of a grave. That's all."
(he was sorry that he started crying. he hadn't cried for Tom before. this was the first time he did, and he wondered why — but he kinda knew the answer, too)
"I'm also a little peeved that Peggy and Howard didn't come get you. I talked about you non-stop when I got back, you know that? I was talking the Commandos' ears off, Dum Dum actually socked me in the jaw to shut me up." Steve explained, grinning at the memory; Howard had called him an idiot. "None of them are around anymore for me to kick around for leaving you in England, except for Peggy — but I don't kick girls — so I guess I'll never know?"
"You wouldn't've gone with any of them anyway. I bet you were angry when I 'died,' and blamed them. Sounds like something you'd do. I just hope you didn't kill anything innocent and fluffy again, because if you did, young man, we are going to have words later."
(he dearly hoped that somewhere, Tom was cringing at the threat of a lecture)
Steve stood then, brushing off stray leaves and dirt from his jeans. He smiled at the grave wistfully.
"I'll see you later, kid. Love you."
(he refused to go with Miss Carter, Mister Stark, and anyone else who tried to adopt him in Steve's place. they tried to replace his dad, and he wouldn't have it. when he explained it to them in clipped tones, they usually gave up after careful questioning. yes, this was what he wanted. no, he didn't want to 'try it out')
(Miss Carter was the most difficult to get rid of. he actually resorted to his powers for her, scrambling her brains just enough to make her forget about him and move on with her life. someone should move on. he would stay)
(he would wait on the street corner every day. obviously his dad wasn't dead — Steve was probably heavily injured and limping his way to London right now. he just had to wait, even when everyone else was impatient and done waiting. well, he would show them, wouldn't he? his patience would pay off)
(sometimes, he thought he was crying. but then he'd stop, because the only person he allowed himself to cry in front of was Steve, and that's who he was waiting for. so he'd wait. his patience would pay off)
(his patience would pay off)
(except it didn't)
(or did it?)
(he couldn't really remember. everything was gray and fuzzy and distorted and strange. everything was contorted somehow. wrong. and there was darkness and searing light and warmth and icy chill. and then he heard it quite clearly, as clear as rainwater)
(i'll see you later. love you)
(he loved him, Steve said. he knew the waiting would pay off)
(he smiled. and he wished a little bit that Steve could see him now, smiling, because his dad always grinned wider when he smiled and it made him happy. it made him happy when his dad was happy. he hadn't known before what family was, until he met the crazy American on the street corner.)
(i love you, too, dad. goodbye)