There Is Life Outside Your Apartment
by Audrey Lynne
Captain America was "a bigger-than-life superhero phenomenon," as described in an article in the New York Post. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, still felt like he just got lucky. Lucky to get into the SSR, lucky the serum worked, lucky to be found after spending seventy years frozen in ice. Perhaps not so lucky when it came to the ice itself. He was convinced it was his imagination, but it had taken Steve weeks to feel warm again after waking in that spartan SHIELD hospital room and he still chilled easily.
Now the Avengers were all anyone in the news could talk about. They'd parted ways, partly because they were possibly one of the most dysfunctional functioning teams in history. Partly to escape the media circus that wanted to blame them for the billions of dollars of damage done to Manhattan by Loki's army. Partly because they were afraid of what being a team might really mean. They'd nearly fallen asleep over shwarma – which Steve hadn't been particularly fond of, but sometimes food was food. They'd brought Loki to justice. Steve had been reunited with his motorcycle, kept in pristine condition by Howard and then Tony Stark. He'd rode out to his old haunts, but they were new, shiny, and not the way he remembered them at all.
Kind of like the rest of the world.
Steve had retreated to the apartment SHIELD had set him up with. Other than occasional grocery runs to the delightfully quaint grocery store on the corner, he hadn't been out much. His apartment had been deliberately decorated to reduce culture shock, and it was a safe haven. Even though modern amenities were available to him, and the microwave had proven to be very useful, it helped to be insulated by familiarity. Steve still felt like a stranger in a strange land. He was afraid to look up his old comrades, knowing most of them had died long ago. The closest link Steve had to his past was Tony Stark, and while they had learned to work together well, Steve and Tony had also learned they had the propensity to drive one another crazy.
Steve had been genuinely curious to find out who Tony's mother had been. Part of him wanted to know who the ladies' man Howard Stark had finally settled down with. A smaller, pettier part of him that he wasn't at all proud of wondered if it might have been Peggy. But, no, Tony's mother was a woman named Maria Stark. A kind woman who listened to the tales of Howard's glory days and looked the other way when he went off to play spy games. No one Steve knew.
Steve had almost been able to believe the SHIELD agent who had first been assigned to watch over and reorient him was Peggy. Then he'd taken a second look – close, but definitely not. The baseball game was out of date. Once Director Fury had shown Steve to his apartment, SHIELD pretty much left him alone – officially – until Fury came back to recruit Captain America to the Avengers.
Left with time alone to poke at his new computer, Steve had managed to discover the wonders of Google and poured over what little unclassified information was available about the life of Agent Margaret Carter. After the war, she didn't stray far from science. Given what he now knew about SHIELD and Howard's role in it, Steve wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to find Peggy was another of the founders. None of the articles mentioned a date of death, which was both hopeful and terrifying to Steve. How could he, still twenty-two, track her down in her nineties and have it help her more than hurt?
Life had become fairly routine for Steve. He slept, he ate, he worked out, he burned microwave popcorn. He was in the midst of trying to send an email when there was a quick but insistent knock at his door – definitely out of the ordinary. Fury pretty much let himself in, and Steve hadn't had any other visitors.
Steve peered out the peephole and found Tony Stark on the other side of his door. Surprised, he hesitated a moment before opening the door.
"I know you're in there!" Tony yelled from the hallway. "I can smell you...it's like apple pie and tequila."
Steve shook his head and opened the door before Tony could truly make a scene. As long as he didn't have his uniform on, Steve had learned how to blend in with a crowd, which meant the neighbors pretty much left him alone. That wouldn't last if they saw Tony Stark harassing him through a door. He stepped back to let Tony inside. "I don't drink tequila."
Tony shrugged. "Your loss. More for me."
"What are you doing here?" Steve asked.
"Well, I tried to call," Tony said, "but your cell phone was off."
"I wasn't using it," Steve explained.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Oh, for crying out – that is not how a cell phone works, Gramps! You're supposed to leave it on so people can call you. But. Anyway. It's been two weeks since Thor beamed himself back to his planet, and repairs to Stark Tower are going swimmingly; I'm so glad you asked. No, wait, you didn't."
Steve sighed. "Please tell me you didn't come here to convince me that we should all live together." That idea had been proposed after shwarma, back when they were all too tired to think it was anything but Tony's slaphappy adrenaline letdown talking. Right, the Avengers living together in the Stark mansion. Thor and Hulk could destroy the basement with their wrestling matches, Hawkeye could make a nest on the upper level, and Natasha could...whatever it was she did when she wasn't taking down men (or aliens) twice her size. Throw in one super soldier out of time and a billionaire genius playboy and Jarvis would probably have the computer equivalent of a mental breakdown. Steve wasn't at all sure how the thing kept up with Tony.
"I still think that would kick ass," Tony said, grinning. "Avengers Mansion. Banner and I could play in the labs. Jarvis would make cookies. It would be sweet."
"Your computer makes cookies?" Steve asked.
"Technically, he's an artificial intelligence," Tony pointed out, "and he makes a lot of things. But since everyone seems to want to play Lone Ranger, I guess we'll put that idea on the back burner. On with the current mission."
"Which is?" Steve prompted.
"There is life outside your apartment." Tony grabbed Steve's arm and pulled him toward the door. "Come on, I've got satellite radio in my car. I'll put on 40's on 4, just for you. It'll be fun."
Steve pulled his arm back. Without the power armor, he had the physical advantage and he wasn't above using it, especially if this involved Tony's dubious definition of "fun." "What's your angle?"
Tony gasped dramatically and put a hand to his chest as if affronted. "Can't a guy want to hang with his buddy?"
So now they were buddies? As much as Steve liked that idea, he still didn't trust Tony completely. "Why?"
Tony spread his hands out in front of him, a "butter would not melt in my mouth" expression on his face. "Listen, I kind of might have set up this double date for us. Pepper got an email and I let her handle things, because that's kind of what she does, and...you know, women."
Now Steve was the one rolling his eyes. "I'm not going to let you blame this on your girlfriend."
"Business partner," Tony said, holding up a finger. "But also my girlfriend, yes. And if you were smart, you'd take this deal, because I stand a lot to lose here. I used to play with this girl when I was a kid. I'm sure she'd love to tell you Baby Iron Man stories. Not good for my image."
Steve wasn't sure whether he was more amused or confused. "Why did she mail Pepper then, if she knew you?"
"Because she knows me well enough to know that if it's not technical or shiny, it takes a lot to get my interest." Tony shrugged. "Pepper gets results. Besides, she thinks it's sweet."
"Okay, fine." Steve realized it was easier to give in than make excuses. "But why me?"
"She likes blondes and I had trouble sending smoke signals to Thor?"
"Oh, you are just no fun at all." Tony smirked. "As it happens, she grew up hearing about the heroic adventures of Captain America just like I did, and now that you've thawed out sufficiently, she hit a dead end at work."
"Work?" Steve asked. "What is she, a SHIELD agent?"
Tony adopted another innocent expression. "Um, possibly?" He immediately held up his hands. "I know, I know, they're not my favorite people either. But she and Phil used to geek out together, I guess, and she really wanted to spend time with you after she got reassigned. Plus, like I said, she has dirt on me, so it's really in my best interests to cooperate."
Steve sighed, knowing in his heart this was probably a terrible idea. But though he hadn't known Phil Coulson long, the man had been endearing in his hero worship. He had believed in the Avengers when they hadn't believed in themselves. Captain America tried never to disappoint his fans, and though plain old Steve Rogers was content to hide away from the world for a while, he was kind of hungry. One dinner couldn't hurt. "Fine. Just let me shower first."
Tony nodded. "Yeah, you'll want to get that old guy smell off you."
Steve gave Tony a "friendly" punch to the arm that was a little stronger than strictly necessary.
Two hours later, Steve, Tony, and Pepper were waiting in the lobby of Stark Tower for Steve's date to arrive. Tony and Pepper were busy flirting outrageously with one another. Steve was beginning to feel a little bit like a third wheel when a woman walked into the building. Steve froze. This was the agent who had greeted him upon his arrival to the 21st century, then disappeared. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and she was wearing modern clothes, but that was her.
"Um...hello." She smiled shyly, shifting from one foot to the next. "We were never properly introduced, I'm afraid. I'm sorry to put you through this little game, but it seemed easier to get a hold of you through Tony, to make sure you were ready for contact. Director Fury thought it was best we no longer see each other professionally." She didn't sound very happy about that.
"He'll get over it." Tony had pulled himself away from Pepper's lips and greeted the SHIELD agent with a hug. "So, it's only been, what, fifteen years?"
"Too long," she said affectionately. She took a deep breath, then offered Steve a handshake. "I'm Sharon."
Steve knew full well she already knew who he was, but protocol was protocol. He still got nervous around women. And her resemblance to the woman he had loved so dearly was disarming. "Steve Rogers."
Pepper extended a hand to Sharon as well. "Good to meet you, Agent Carter, at least in person."
Tony frowned at her. "Wait, Phil was Phil, but Sharie gets the 'agent' treatment?"
The agent blushed. "Tony, no one's called me Sharie since I was a kid."
"Wait, wait, wait." Steve held up a hand, knowing if this woman knew his history, she had to know what that name meant to him. "Agent Carter?"
She nodded, looking a bit sheepish. "My dad was Aunt Peggy's kid brother. She pretty much raised me after my parents were killed in a car accident. I didn't mean to mislead you, I just...she idolized you. I had to meet the man that meant so much to her."
Despite his losing ten dollars to Nick Fury, it really did take a lot to shock Steve. That did it. "Your...aunt."
Tony dropped a hand on Steve's arm. "Well, I'll leave you two to chat. Pepper and I are probably going to go have sex or something."
Pepper slapped Tony's arm. "Not now, you aren't."
Steve barely noticed as they stepped away. It took some courage for him to ask, "How is she? I mean, is she still...?"
Sharon nodded. "She's a tough one, hanging in there. She's gotten pretty frail lately, but she has her mind, which is great."
It hurt to think of Peggy as frail, but at her age, it was probably to be expected. "Does she know...?"
Sharon smiled. "Her whole face lit up when I told her they'd finally found you. She never stopped believing."
Steve smiled. He'd needed to hear that. In his heart, he knew. "Do you mind if we make a stop on our way to dinner?" Hours ago, he wouldn't have thought he could do it, but now he had to go. "I owe your aunt a dance."
Sharon smiled. Her eyes were beginning to mist up. "That would mean the world to her."
Steve returned the smile, feeling his own emotions beginning to rise. "She meant the world to me."
Author's notes: The title was borrowed from the awesome and twisted musical "Avenue Q." I know this little story will probably be Jossed when Captain America 2 or Avengers 2 comes out, but I had to get it out of my head.