Title: Stand by me.
Summary: Somebody else found the frozen Captain America before S.H.I.E.L.D. How would two abnormal and displaced heroes get along? Will their friendship change anything? What difference a better adapted and less uptight Steve Rogers could make? What difference, if any, will Harry make? (What will I do with all these 'what ifs'?)
Warnings, disclaimer, etc, etc, are in the first post.
AN: Not a lot of action yet. This first chapters are a bit introductory so both of them can built some common ground as friends, or something like that. Basically they are discovering things they have in common and such. But don't fret! The action will come, or at least S.H.I.E.L.D. will. For now the focus is on these guys though.
I hope I haven't made Steve too overemotional or something. He is going through a difficult time but well, I don't want to overdo it. Be nice and tell me! :)
Thanks ShadowedHand, anon and Junkie munkie
3. Sketching the future.
Agent Chang (1) sighed for the umpteenth time in less than an hour and rubbed his tired eyes, knocking his glasses askew when he forgot about them.
"Shit!" The curse sailed from his lips awkwardly and he cringed in the emptiness of his workplace. He didn't like cursing, neither hearing it nor doing it himself, but he was rapidly losing patience with his newest assignment.
Director Fury had charged into his tiny office late last night, when his shift was almost over, dumped a file and a string of codes on his lap and ordered him to get to work immediately. Agent Chang had taken one look at the director's livid face and scrambled to obey faster than one of Stark's sport cars could run. Now the clock read 4:00 am and agent Chang was ready to cry in a mixture of boredom, frustration and exhaustion. He did none of that, instead he put the glasses back on and returned his attention to the stream of data he was supposed to check over in the hopes of finding anything abnormal.
The data he was reviewing was the result of one of the many devices S.H.I.E.L.D. had in its possession. This one in particular was stationed in a small base in the Arctic and was wired to pick up a wide variety of energy signatures. Why on Earth there was a base in a godforsaken place like the Arctic, agent Chang didn't know and didn't care to know. Not knowing was one of the best ways of staying alive while working on a place like S.H.I.E.L.D, fresh recruits were informed of that fact the first day and everyone with at least a quarter of a brain did well to remember the advice. Chang had been working as a tech specialist for nine years and he liked to consider himself within the intelligent portion of the agency employees, so he accepted his missions and didn't ask for more information than what was given to him.
This time the only thing he knew was that this data went back five months (apparently the machines did a sweep every six months. Unfortunately, something had gone wrong before the scheduled date and a more human approach was needed), data that he had to check over with a fine comb and he better write down any little detail that stood out, even if it was a barely there peak in the temperature.
There were a lot of those too.
The agent scrolled down another page and scribbled another meaningless line before repeating the process. This assignment was painfully mind-numbing but agent Chang was used to boring and apparently inconsequential tasks, he was even more used to going without sleep for far longer than what was considered healthy in... everywhere really. Thinking back on Fury's urgency that was probably why he was chosen. Agent Chang was far from the only efficient insomniac in S.H.I.E.L.D. (most of them were) but he sure as hell was one of the few where you could find diligence and discretion as well.
But none of that mattered in the end. He had a job to do and he would achieve his objective before crashing in some quiet corner to recover. Still... he looked mournfully at his empty mug and at the equally empty coffee pot. Five months was a long time to review and it would take him at least a few days to go over all of it. Agent Chang grabbed his cup and made a beeline for the nearest rest room. He loved his job and always strived to do it well, but there was no way in the nine circles of Hell that he would continue working coffeeless. No. Way.
Steve woke up with a start, a strangled cry caught in his throat, hands reaching forwards in a futile attempt to grab a shadow of a past long gone. Blue, unfocused eyes stared up ahead, seeing nothing but the fading strands of a nightmare, no, not a nightmare, a memory. Steve blinked and his eyes cleared of shadows but a familiar and unwelcomed itch started to burn behind them. Despite being alone in the dark room, the blond-haired man covered his eyes with an arm and bit his tongue in an attempt to stifle the howl of anger mixed with hopelessness than may've been a sob if Steve was inclined to cry. But Steve hadn't cry in a long time. Crying never helped, not back then and certainly not now.
Following a routine he had established right after the first nightmare, Steve took deep and controlled breaths until his heart rate slowed down to acceptable levels. When he finally stopped feeling like he was being suffocated by the conjurations of his own panicked mind, he started on some simple memory exercises, recalling with precision what he had done the day before, what new things he had learned, where and when exactly he was. It was a tedious process and it took Steve almost half an hour every time before the lurking shadows dissipated and he was ready to face another day of sitting idly in bed and doing nothing besides reading.
Steve, like any good soldier, hated bed rest with passion. A feeling echoed heartily by Harry but the green-eyed man made good points when he pointed out that his body was weak and in no condition to move around overly much, that and 'maybe he could use a couple of days to learn a bit about the world?' So that was why he spent the past three days holed up in his new room reading a few books Harry had fetched for him. He didn't see much of Potter afterwards, he could hear him around sometimes and he popped in for a few minutes every day, but otherwise Steve was left mostly alone. Which was fine with him, he didn't need anyone, no matter how friendly, as a witness to his anxiety, confusion and helplessness while he tried to pick up the scattered pieces of his own self.
His food was delivered by what he could only count as magic and he had his own adjacent bathroom, anything else he required he could ask the creepy, cranky, little creature named Kreacher.
Suffice to say that Steve had not called the servant, not once.
In the end, the bed rest and isolation hadn't been as bad as he had feared. Sure, thoughts and questions about his own past would crop up at the most inopportune moments and sometimes not even the history books helped him in stopping the flow of painful memories. In those moments he would pick up one of the other books, the smaller, flimsy books with titles like: "So you are a technophobe?", "An introduction to technology for dummies" and "Useful appliances every house MUST have". Those books never failed to short-circuit his brain before he even finished the prologue and reached the first chapter. He had even tried looking for something familiar in the index once, he had naively thought that 'phone' was a safe choice. Instead he got the picture of a little, rectangular box that looked nothing like a phone. The description said it was a 'cell phone', or in other words a portable phone, but that made no sense to Steve at all. Phones were big and cumbersome, how could you put one inside something so little? And what did cells had to do with anything?
Finally, when his brain couldn't take any more beatings, Steve would pick up the little, blank notebook and pencil Harry had also provided him with. Then he would perch on the rather big windowsill and draw everything within his direct sight, and what a sight the garden was. It was good practice for his stiff fingers and something he loved and could lose himself completely into. The knowledge that something had not changed, that there was something he had not lost... words could never express the overwhelming feeling that would overtake him in those moments, so intense that his eyes burned even if he never let those tears fall.
Today would be different though. For three days he had stayed inside his room, internalizing the mind-blowing knowledge of suddenly being in the future and letting his body recover in relative peace. It was enough. He was actually surprised that he had been able to sit still for so long but that time was in the past (he cringed at that). He was starting to feel jittery and that was enough of a clue for him to get a move on.
Steve threw the covers away from his body and was on his feet in one fluid movement. He curled his toes on the soft creamy carpet and rejoiced in the simple fact of not being cold. He didn't feel warm like he should, considering the sweltering temperature of English summers, but it was a big improvement all the same. He took a quick shower and put his borrowed jeans and long-sleeved t-shirt on, tied the laces of a comfortable kind of footwear called sneakers, before making a beeline for desk where his breakfast was waiting for him. He didn't know how the creepy, er... how the little servant knew exactly when he awoke but every day the food would appear within the first ten minutes of awareness and it would remain warm until he ate it. In all honestly, it had almost given him a heart attack the first time he saw a tray with warm food appear mere feet from his prone body. He had refused to touch it until Harry came and explained that and some other facts that were normal for a magical house.
He still was trying to wrap his head around talking portraits. As in, portraits magicked to move and talk, like movies but not quite like them either. Fortunately his room was void of them or he wouldn't have gotten a wink of sleep knowing that something was watching him, even if it wasn't alive. Between technology and magic Steve didn't know which was worse. Don't get him wrong, he had nothing against magic itself, he rather liked the idea of it, but the double cultural shock was wearing on him and he hadn't left his room once! Worse, now that he knew that magic did indeed exist, he couldn't for the life of him differentiate between the two because the new developments in technology were like magic to him, new and indecipherable.
But back to the present, Steve ignored the uncomfortable feeling he got every time he thought about magic in the vicinity of his food, and ate. Once finished he piled the empty plates on the tray and left them there, knowing they would be taken care of even if the idea of having someone else clean after his mess rubbed him the wrong way. He still hesitated a bit in front of the tray before shrugging; he picked up the notebook and pencil and exited the bedroom, softly closing the door behind his back.
The stone hallway, with its many (moving!) portraits, tasteful tapestries, random suit of armour and antiques was exactly what Steve had pictured after three days of inspecting his own room where everything, from the four-post bed with its velvet drapes to the iron chandelier that hung from the ceiling, seemed like it came straight from the Middle Ages. The clash between the knowledge that he was in the future and what his eyes were seeing made his head swim.
Suddenly unsure, Steve looked around. Harry had told him he was free to roam his home, that everything he didn't want the soldier to see would be locked and warded, although Steve had no idea what the later meant. That didn't help him decide where to go. Shrugging to himself Steve wandered off to his right, hoping against hope that he would not get irrevocably lost.
Steve was hopelessly lost. He had discovered in the first five minutes of his aimless wandering not to use the portraits as a location point for they seemed to enjoy moving around, jumping from frame to frame almost as much as he enjoyed his career of choice. Most of them weren't even useful as guides. Actually, they seemed to be enjoying his plight more than just a little bit and Steve was starting to suspect they were responsible for it in the first place. The lost soldier turned around another corridor and his eyes immediately found a double door, twice as tall as he was and carved masterfully. Relieved at coming across something new he pushed it open. Whatever he had been expecting it wasn't the view of what had to be the biggest private library he had ever laid his eyes upon. Forgetting all about his intention of finding the gardens, Steve stepped into the glorious world of knowledge.
Whereas before he aimlessly wandered the stone hallways now he wandered the narrow and dimly lighted corridors between tall bookshelves, index finger casually stroking the spine of many interesting books, some written in languages he couldn't hope to understand and some which were so old that the titles had faded into oblivion. By chance, or maybe he had followed the light, Steve stepped into an open space next to two huge, arched windows that allowed the light to stream through the partially opened curtains that covered them. The space was in the form of a semicircle and most of it was occupied by heavy oak tables and matching chairs that managed to seem comfortable in spite of the rigid curves and angles of the wood. Next and in between the windows there were spread big, old armchairs that looked and probably were comfortable enough to sleep on. Everything, from the rich purple of the armchair's upholstery to the wispy material that made the curtains was expensive enough to make Steve's head spin. Never mind the fact that the entire place (mansion, palace, castle, he didn't know) would look right at home in a museum.
"You look lost, child." Instead of jumping like he felt tempted to do, the fair-haired soldier whirled around, feet poised in a self-defence stance and notebook lifted in a ridiculous attempt at... something, he honestly had no idea what he planned to do with it. "Oh, a soldier! How delightful! It has been a while since I have been visited by one."
"I'm not lost," he refuted, looking around for the voice. "I know where I am."
"I did not mean that kind of lost, dear." The voice said in fond exasperation and added, "I am up here, boy."
Steve looked up and came eye to eye with a portrait he had obviously missed. It hung exactly in between the arched windows and at least a foot over his head. It was also older than all the others paintings he had seen during his wanderings as attested by the fading colours of the canvas and worn frame. The lady in the portrait was garbed in a dated dress from a time period he couldn't even begin to guess, Renaissance maybe. He spotted the nameplate under the frame: Lady Charlotte Alice Potter; it didn't have a birth date or a death date.
"In my time it was considered rude to stare," Steve blushed and diverted his eyes like he had been burned. "Moreover, it was a show of poor manners not to introduce oneself."
"I'm Steven Rogers," not knowing what to do with himself (you couldn't kiss a painting hand) Steve bowed slightly. "It's a pleasure to meet you ma'am."
"That's much better," she approved. "My name, as you already know, is Lady Charlotte."
"But back to my previous point, you look lost." The portrait reiterated and Steve once more got the feeling that she wasn't quite talking about his physical location.
"I was looking for the gardens and I, well, I got lost." Lady Charlotte lifted one eyebrow in a regal way that clearly stated that she wasn't buying his bullshit. He fidgeted but didn't add anything else. Because, honestly, he really, really didn't want to discuss his situation with a strap of painted cloth spelled to talk and move, not matter how realistic it was. She seemed to get the message because she sighed and relented in her creepy staring.
"The room connected to this one by that door," she pointed to her left, "has a stunning view of our current Lord gardens," 'Lord?' repeated a surprised Steve in his mind, "which are said to be worthy of being painted by DaVinci himself. I still can believe the runt became so famous," the Lady added under her breath, answering Steve's question about her timeline.
The soldier bowed again. "Thank you for your help, ma'am."
Lady Charlotte nodded imperiously at him, still muttering viciously under her breath about troublesome brats who should've known better than to steal the dresses of their neighbours to use as a canvas. What a mess that had been! And she, as the older sister had been the one responsible to solve the problem. At that point the woman dissolved into incomprehensible muttering.
Steve hurried out of the library and didn't look back.
The adjacent room Lady Charlotte had pointed out was, once again, a dizzying mixture of different periods in history. The walls were made of the same light brown stone than the rest of what he was now reasonably sure was a castle. One wall was entirely made out of elegant windows that opened up to a wide balcony; the balcony itself overlooked a truly beautiful garden. The opposite wall had a huge, decorated fireplace with photographs, what he assumed was a radio (although he couldn't begin to guess the function of all those buttons) and other knickknacks on the mantelpiece. In front of it there was a round, low table surrounded by two comfortable looking armchairs and a large sofa. The remaining walls were filled with bookshelves that held a mixture of books, likely taken from the library next door, and a wide variety of games, a few he even recognized. Streamed around the room were more armchairs and near them little tables with lamps and enough space to put something else. Everything was decorated with warm colours, dark reds, burnt oranges, muted yellows, creams and the dark brown of polished wood.
It was a strange but welcomed change from the medieval time period. Besides the tasteful decoration, the room was different because it felt lived in. All the other doors he had opened in his exploration had led to beautiful rooms fit for nobility but all of them had felt cold and empty. Not this one though. Steve looked around for a bit until he walked over the windows and opened one of them on a whim, letting the warm air breeze by.
It was weird, Steve thought. He was struck in a time not his own, feeling completely inadequate and out of his depth, but this moment, right now, was nice, peaceful. He thought that it may be nice if it could last a while longer. Without really looking, Steve grabbed the first book out of the bookshelf closer to the window, the only identification being the number 2 depicted on its spine. He opened it and froze. It was not the solid black-on-white of the printed letter that greeted him but the soft, hesitating traces made by a pencil and guided by an inexperienced hand. He wanted to close the sketchpad, he should've closed the damned thing, but he didn't. There was something in the expression, half madness half bone-crushing anguish, of the sketched man that just tugged at Steve's heartstrings. (2)
He turned the page. It was a house, plain looking and totally unimpressive except for the flowers in the garden and the number 4 on the front that had been viciously scratched on the resilient paper. The next was a kid's playground. A park. A school. A public library, and now Steve knew where these building were located: Surrey, England. More buildings followed, each drawing better detailed than the previous one. Then there was a bedroom, small, clustered with trash and sad, with bars on the window and a broken cage on the desk, hopelessness hung around every trace left by the pencil.
Steve kept turning the pages, marvelling in silence at the improvements in the technique. The first drawings were simple, mere lines that intersected at some points to form a picture that lacked the substance needed to make it real. Shadows started to make an appearance, slowly deepening the designs, adding volume, reality to everything. Then the backgrounds became more complicated, more intricate and everything started to come to life. And then it changed. It seemed that the artist (Harry?) had gotten bored with the landscapes so he turned his attention to the people. The first three weren't bad but they were rather ridiculous and a bit grotesque, almost cartoonish in nature. Apparently they were an exception for the rest was more close to reality. Steve kept turning pages and noted with interest the improvement in the portraits.
It wasn't until he reached a particularly sticking drawing that Steve remembered himself and realized what he was doing. The drawing depicted a parade, or something similar, with frenzied people in cloaks, some shouting, some crying and some staring in unabashed adoration at the raised platform in the middle. There was nothing on it besides a sheep, a crucified sheep. Steve would've taken the illustration as a sudden interest in Christian Religion but two things prevented that course of action. Firstly, the traces left by the pencil were deep and a bit too rough, they were angry, more than that, furious. By itself that reason wasn't enough, but along with the second point it made horrible sense. The sheep had a scar shaped like lightning bolt on its forehead, something he had caught a glance on Harry one day, when the man had brushed his bangs aside for a second. It was a remarkable scar and so Steve had remembered.
This sketch reminded him too much of a dark time in which he had thought of himself as nothing more than a performing monkey and not the soldier he was supposed to be. The memory was a bitter one and not even the knowledge that he was giving hope to the populace could change the fact that he had felt useless and worthless.
Steve closed the sketchbook with a resounding snap, still half-lost in memory-lane but no less horrified at the breach of privacy he had just committed. Drawing was like writing in many ways and what he had done was the equivalent of reading someone's diary behind their backs. He felt like a jerk.
"Thank you. For stopping, I mean." Harry's voice was tight with barely contained emotions, too many to identify any of them. Steve closed his eyes, cheeks burning with embarrassment and shame. A stupid jerk that got caught with his hands on the cookie jar like a naughty boy.
"I'm sorry, I... I didn't mean to look, or to keep looking, but they are good, like really good and I guess got a bit carried away..." Steve returned the sketchbook to the shorter man who took it with hands that were shaking barely but enough to be visible. The hidden distress in his until now unflappable host eyes only served to make Steve madder at himself.
"It was never about being good, but thanks for the compliment," the words were curt and clipped.
Realization dawned on Steve then. Harry hadn't started to draw because he discovered a passion or because he had talent; he had taken up drawing in order to vent some unnamed emotion he couldn't release in any other way and not because he was good at it, and he hadn't been, not at the beginning. Steve had been down that dark alley once, he should've realized.
"I'm sorry," the super soldier whispered, honest regret tinting his apology.
Harry took a couple of deep breaths. "Don't think about it," he found himself saying when he looked at the hunched form of the Captain. Harry wasn't really angry, shaken, yes, but angry, no. The wizard knew himself and, had their roles been reversed, he wouldn't have let a chance like this to pass him by. Why shouldn't Rogers do the same? Besides, the man was honestly sorry for the transgression. That had to count for something. "Come, it's time for lunch. After that I'll show you around. I'm sorry I didn't do it earlier, by the way," brilliant green eyes peered at the taller man form under long bangs. "The portraits didn't get you lost, did they?" The comeback of a dark blush on fair skin was enough answer.
Harry laughed and skipped ahead. If the sound was a bit strained and somewhat shaky no one commented on it.
"Hurry up, Steve. Maybe, if you eat all of your vegetables, we could go into town and catch a movie in the evening. You know, to start with the acclimation and all that. What do you say?"
"I'd like to."
"Then that's settled."
They talked no more, but Steve soon found himself choking back another apology as he caught sight of Harry shaking hands clutching his sketchbook in a white-knuckled grip. It was a miracle his fingers hadn't pierced the sturdy book from side to side.
Steve officially felt like scum.
Harry started drawing the summer after Sirius death.
Barely a week into the break Harry was starting to believe he would never sleep again without nightmares, feel anything remotely positive without guilt or even eat properly without his stomach rebelling against him. He didn't know what spurned him to pick up the pencil or what made him retrieve a spare piece of parchment or why, why, instead of doodling nonsense on it as he usually did, he drew. When he finally came out of the frenzied haze he had fallen into, he found himself staring at a drawing of his bedroom, a pretty horrible depiction of his frankly depressing bedroom.
Harry blinked, blank eyes tracing the lines his old pencil had left behind with his hand guidance. It was awful, made more awful by his complete inexperience and lack of talent. But it wasn't that what captured and held his attention. It was the silence, the utter nothingness and complete quiet that had taken over his mind during the time it took him to draw his bedroom. He grabbed the memory of that moment and held it close, as if he could feel that tranquillity again if he did. The feeling did not return but the cogs in Harry's mind were moving at ferocious speed.
If only he could replicate the feeling- but wait! Of course he could, he had done it once so he could do it twice. He looked back at his pitiful attempt. His old pencil number 2 evidently wasn't appropriate and parchment was a poor choice for support too.
Not really giving himself time to think about anything but his objective, Harry dislodged the loose floorboard under his bed and retrieved his magically protected wallet. Every year before taking the Hogwarts Express Harry exchanged some muggle money just in case his dear family decided to starve him again or in the unlikely case he wanted something. For once the unlikely case won.
Purchasing a cheap sketchbook, five different pencils and a special eraser Harry made his way towards the less visited parts of the park nearest to Privet Drive. He sat on a rusted bench and proceeded to lose himself within a white world that would soon be filled with grey lines that would hopefully resemble his models.
No such luck. His first drawings were as awful as the first, or even more so. The trees looked sick, either too fat or starved to death, the flowers looked dangerous, as if they could and would jump out of the paper to attack him at any given moment, and was that a mushroom? He tilted the book to the side, well, now it looked like a mutant mushroom.
It didn't matter much to Harry though. The only thing he wanted from his 'hobby' was to be able, if only for a moment, to forget about the real world, forget about magic and Sirius and life in general. However, like it happened with everything, even though he didn't possess a natural affinity to it, Harry's art improved. Little by little his dogs stopped resembling mutated pigs, his houses stopped turning out like flat like pancakes and embarrassingly childish, pigeons stopped looking like feathered balloons and so on. Every day he filled pages upon pages with his art. After that much practice it was only natural for his drawings to start reflecting reality as he saw it and, even though he didn't care in the beginning, he found pride in them.
He never expected to find true enjoyment, contentment and sometimes happiness in his art. But he had and he relished on it.
And when he went back to Hogwarts he told no one. Not. One. Soul. It was his secret to keep, and for someone whose whole life was practically public knowledge, it felt marvellous. Being able to have something to call his own filled him a strange sort of happiness. And then, he didn't know when and he didn't know why, but at some point his way of venting his feelings and distracting his mind from depression, had became something more, something he thoroughly enjoyed. It was almost like flying but without the added adrenaline.
Years had passed since then and his secret was still his own. Or it was until a curious Steve Rogers stumbled upon the library side room he had converted into a den and one of his sketchbooks. It wasn't that bad, his rational mind told him. Steve seemed like an honourable man, he wouldn't take advantage of what he had seen. If only the rest of him could believe it.
If only he could stop feeling like he was standing naked each time those intense blue eyes focused on his person.
To be continued...
(1) A shameless OC. They will come and go but none of them will have much bearing in the story as a whole.
(2) I know I may be overdoing it with the things they have in common. But remember that while they have gone through similar situations (as I've hinted) they are very different in personality and value different things.
Steve wanted nothing more than enlisting in the army, Harry would've loved to be just another John Smith in the block and let the war sort itself out. Steve is an artist, he studied art (according to marvelwikia), Harry could've been a musician instead if he had come across a guitar that day.
In the end is my story and I do what I want with it. :P