Disclaimer: I do not own Captain America, or the Avengers. No profit is made from this.
Author's Note: Another recent work.
That first night, when his head is a dark mess of why, and how, and all the agony of his grief for Bucky still fresh as the day on the train, there's only one thing that gets him through it to the other side of morning.
Everything is changed, or gone, and Steve doesn't know the world anymore. He gets to his quarters, struggling to find his feet, and himself, and stops in the doorway because someone has remembered enough, or researched enough, that there's a sketchbook and a pack of pencils sitting on the desk. Steve stands there, exhausted after day-long briefings, and century-relevant cultural lessons that have all been too much, too soon, and he can't breathe.
All he really wants is to close his eyes, go back to sleep, and wake up back home to Bucky's stupid, silly smile, or that half-way fierce look Peggy would get, sometimes, when she thought no one was looking.
He'd even take not waking up at all, much as he knows that isn't a thought he should be having. He isn't Captain America tonight, though. There's just Steve, and he's only a man.
He aches for home now in the same way he once ached for war, and the fight, and the chance to do his part for his country. If Fury is to be believed, then Captain America will find no shortage of that here, and he snorts to himself as he walks over to the desk, running a careful hand over the rough paper. It's almost too much, the feel of it against his fingers.
What was the saying? 'Be careful what you wish for?'
Steve can't really regret it, though; joining the Army, taking the serum. It all led to meeting Peggy, and fighting alongside Bucky, and stopping a madman from killing millions of people.
There is no regretting those things, even as the overwhelming, out-of-depth feelings of waking up seventy years out of time threaten to drown him.
The room is too small, it feels like he's taking up all of the space, but there's no where else he can go that isn't likely to be crowded with people who stare, or whisper, and treat him like something he isn't. He sighs instead, staring down at the pencils, and paper; makes a decision at last.
The feel of a pencil in his hand, canted in just the right way, and just the right weight seems to be the only thing that hasn't changed. Holding a pencil in the twenty-first century feels just the same as it did in the forties, when he had a spare bit of time, and the itch under his skin. That itch is slowly building now, at first a slow, meandering murmur in his blood, the faintest tease of an idea, flashes of long-gone faces, and places no one but soldiers know.
He thinks about it, about preserving memories in lead on paper; how much it will hurt to let it out versus how much more it will hurt later if he ignores it, and forgets. He's the only one left who knows, who remembers them all for who, and what they are; the only one who knows them well enough to know they would hate being called 'heroes.'
It's an easy decision in the end; the way the itch has migrated, vibrating through his whole self, and his fingers twitch around the pencil. He doesn't really have a choice; he never did.
The first strokes of the pencil are shaky, uncertain as he recalls details, brings an image to the forefront of his mind, but his hand eventually steadies, flesh-memory and instinct, and he lets go; creates.
It hurts, and it pulls, and he wonders if this is what breaks him when all of the war couldn't.
He doesn't stop with the one sketch, keeps going, loses himself in the rhythm of it, and closes his eyes when they burn with tears he doesn't want to shed. It's calming in an odd way, settles the raging fire in his mind, and allows him to relax in a way he hasn't in too long. He's almost forgotten how much this helps, how much it reminds him that he's still himself, still Steve; maybe not okay, not yet, but willing to try.
There are long, broad strokes to tease out a jaw line, and short crosshatching layered over, and over to get just the right shadows on the eyes looking up at him. A shadow of Peggy as he'd last seen her, staring after him from the passenger seat of a car, the taste of her lips still lingering on his own. He missed their date, misses her with an intensity that surprises him, but he hopes she was happy after the way; that she found a partner who took her dancing, and didn't let her go.
Steve gives the sketch a painful smile, lingers over it to perfect shadows, and adjust the way the light falls just so, giving her the fiery, compassionate, capable personality he remembers. Everything he feels for her is mixed in there amongst the pencil lines; he can't help that, it's the way of art, and he likes it, anyway. His love is there, in the careful lines, and the reflection hidden in her eyes; his respect in the way she appears as wholly herself, strong, and a soldier in her own right. The rain falling down over her is loneliness, leaving her hair damp, and obscuring part of her face.
He could have been happy with Peggy, could have settled, and had a life; safe the way Bucky tried to keep him. The question he's most asked himself today is why?.
There is no answer that Steve can find.
Peggy is not the only thing on the page. It is littered with half-detailed landscapes of foreign lands, the secret places of ops he was never officially involved in, and the ruined, crumbling remains of HYDRA bases with his team sprawled across the stones, looking careless in their victory. A monkey in tights dances it's way down the side of the page, passing the Commandos, their beer glasses raised as they laugh together, happy and alive.
Howard flies a plane into the corner, grinning back at his passengers with mad glee, while Dr. Erskine toasts Steve from Peggy's shoulder, two shot glasses raised in something like a salute.
He misses the doctor, wonders if his duty would be done if he'd lived; it doesn't really matter, though. He's a soldier, and that's what he knows. If he has to live in an unfamiliar world without everything that made his own worth living in, he'd rather be a soldier still.
War is simple, except when it isn't, and Bucky's falling, tumbling away from Steve's out-stretched hand at the bottom of the page, pencil lines smudged from the wet marks that fell onto them. The details are precise, sharp; it's an image Steve stills sees anytime he closes his eyes. He's been told about PTSD, has already been set up with a therapist, but the things in his head are his, and the War didn't do anything but kill him slowly.
The hard knot of grief in his chest doesn't ease, and his pencil doesn't still once he turns the page, filling the next one half-way with a portrait of Bucky, goofy smile on his face even after the torture, and Steve dragging him back to base camp. The background takes only a few short strokes, uncoordinated, and no real sense of shape. He doesn't need it; they had been in the medical tent, side-by-side on a cot, and all Steve really remembers is the look in Bucky's eyes, and the warmth of his voice as it washed over him.
There are too many feelings in this piece, too, but he can't bring himself to care. It doesn't matter if his love is hidden in plain sight, drawn into the carefully crafted expression; the suggestive tilt of an eyebrow, the sheer goofiness in that painfully familiar grin that was Steve's alone, or the ever-present sparkle of mischief in Bucky's eyes. No one is ever going to see the bitter anger lingering in the darkest part of the shadows, fading to grief, or Steve's relieved joy at finding him alive on display in the play of light over that worn, dirty face.
These things are his, and they don't matter to anyone but him, anymore. They once were; he knew them, lived and breathed, and laughed and loved them, but they're all dead now. They're still real, still exist somewhere inside of him, but the reality is lost to time, and death. He doesn't know what to do with that knowledge; Steve can't wage war on time, can't force death to give up those it's taken with a gun, or a shield, or pretty scripted words. There's nothing left but to go on, and rebuild what he can, make new what he can't.
Maybe he'll never lose the gaping hole somewhere in his chest, or maybe it'll ease with time, but there is always this; the light scratch of pencil on paper, and the ability to lose himself for a while, and just be.