Author's Note: No, this is not crack. Yes, I'm serious. If you've never heard of this or me and want more information, you should probably check out my tumblr (same user name as here) under the tag "Steve and Rachel Take Manhattan." And thanks for giving such an unorthodox idea a chance.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. Obviously.
It's kind of hard to blend in when you're a man of Steve Rogers' size, but really, he's doing his best. He made sure to get a seat in the last row of the balcony—his eyesight is better than other people's, and he didn't want to block anyone's view of the show because of his height. But still… these seats are on the smaller end, and he's not entirely sure what to do with his elbows.
He buries himself in his Playbill and tries to be nondescript.
The thing is, the big battle with the Chitauri—they're calling it "Portal Day" now—kind of leveled half of Midtown; rebuilding Manhattan has been a massive year-long project, funded dually by the government and a charitable donation from Stark Industries. It should have taken much longer than that, but attention was paid, and priorities shifted.
Steve is no stranger to patriotism or grief, but he has no way to share the baggage that everyone else carries when it comes to outsiders attacking New York; the twin towers both rose and fell while he was sleeping. From what Bruce has told him, he knows that back in 2001, a lot of people were scared to come back to the city after the 11th, which only made things worse—so at a press conference, the mayor said "The best thing you can do for our city is take in a Broadway show." It worked the first time, so he understands why they'd try it again.
Of course, this time around they'd had to rebuild the theaters, first.
There was a whole big party a few nights ago, for the grand reopening of the Great White Way. They'd gone to see Wicked—Tony's choice, but a good one once you got past his obnoxious reasoning. ("C'mon, this show was made for us. Badass ladies? Magic? A misunderstood green person? And—Cap, you like flying monkeys, right? Sorry Barton, no archery, but I'm sure once we get you a personality that extends past your job you'll find something to enjoy in there.") They were supposed to lay low and not draw attention to themselves, but Tony, being Tony, still managed to turn the whole thing into a massive red carpet event. He'd said something about being the best salesman in America, and how nothing would make people do something faster than wanting to copy him. And maybe he's right, but…
Honestly, Steve just wanted to watch a show in peace.
Broadway's changed a lot, since his day. He's not used to audiences that sit quietly and don't heckle; heck, he's not used to the fact that you can't just walk down Tin Pan Alley and hear the musicians at work, composing the next big hit. The theaters are huge now, decked with neon, and they're everywhere, and ticket costs are—well. He knows that the value of a dollar has changed, but when he hears "a hundred bucks," he thinks several months' worth of savings, not a casual night's spending.
But he'd wanted to see something, on his own time, with his own money. He's still getting used to the team, and though he likes them, he's still—sometimes he just needs time alone. And when he'd looked around at the billboards to see what other shows were playing, one name sounded familiar: Babes in Arms.
He remembers Babes in Arms. He went to see it when it opened, in the summer of 1937. Bucky took him for his seventeenth birthday, and the tickets had been two dollars each.
Thinking about that hurt, but what doesn't, these days? The need for the familiar was stronger than the need to avoid his feelings, so… here he is. At the back of the theater, waiting for the curtain to rise.
He wishes he'd remembered the plot a little better.
In his defense, it's been about eight years since he saw Babes in Arms—or seventy-six and a half, depending on how you count it—but if he'd remembered that the first duet is about feeling like you met your lover in a past life, maybe he'd have been able to prepare himself. Maybe he'd be able to breathe a little better right now.
He can't take his eyes off the woman playing Billie.
She doesn't look like Peggy. Not really. It's just that her brown hair curls in the exact same way, chestnut waves sprayed and held into place. It's period, now, but it's still what he expects to see on a girl, he can't help it. And she's beautiful.
And her voice.
Her voice would take his breath away even if he didn't have this damn weight in his chest, compressing his lungs. It pulls at him. As Billie and Val dance their way across the stage, it's all he can do not to think about the dance he missed, the pocket watch with the picture inside he lost in the crash, and the girl in the picture in the life he lost when he put that plane in the ocean.
But the songs are familiar, and the show takes him away.
Though the cast is talented, Billie outshines them all. Her rendition of My Funny Valentine puts a lump in his throat; he claps hard for her when she belts her heart out to Lady is a Tramp in the second act, and when she takes her bow at the end of the show, he's the first one on his feet. It's only when everyone is leaving that it occurs to him to look up her name in the Playbill still clutched in his hands.
There's a crowd waiting outside the theater when he exits, and it takes him a moment to figure out why: behind a barricade, the woman who played Baby Rose and the man who played Gus are signing autographs, and taking pictures. People didn't do that, back in his day—but then, people seem to find actors a lot more glamorous, now.
And suddenly all he wants is a chance to meet Rachel Berry face to face.
He doesn't really understand this need to see her, this connection he feels out of the blue; all he knows is that listening to her sing touched a part of him that he thought had stayed frozen when the rest of him thawed. And he'd like to tell her that, if he could only find the words.
It's not like he has anywhere else to be tonight.
She doesn't come out for another ten minutes. People scream for her, when she does, and flashbulbs go off as she shakes hands and gives hugs. He stands back, hands shoved in his pockets; he wants to talk to her properly, and that can't happen if she's trying to move on to the next person. He can wait.
Her hair is straight, now, which he likes—it suits her, and forces him to remember where he is. When he is. And who she isn't.
Of course, thinking of it that way only reminds him of what he's been trying to forget, and when he comes back to himself she's on the street corner, waving an arm to hail a cab. He blinks once, and starts forward.
"Wait! Miss Berry—uh, Rachel—"
She turns around at the sound of her name; in a few long strides, he's caught up to her.
God, but she's little.
He didn't realize how small she was, on stage; her voice and personality were so big, it made her seem larger than life. In person, however, she's nearly a foot shorter than him; before his bulky frame, she seems downright fragile. Peggy was taller than him—or at least, she was until she suddenly wasn't anymore—and he's not sure how to approach a woman he could break so easily.
You don't know how to approach any woman, Bucky's voice mocks gently in the back of his mind, and he shakes his head to free the cobwebs, wanting to focus on the present.
Rachel smiles politely. "Yes?"
"Sorry. Um. I was just hoping… could you sign this?" He holds up his Playbill awkwardly.
"Of course! Who should I make it out to?" she asks, taking the booklet in one hand while she uses the other to brush her hair back behind her ear.
"Steve Rogers," he says softly.
It isn't the first time that he's been recognized, but it is the first time it's been by name instead of on sight. It's both flattering and strange, to watch her come to terms with the truth: how her mouth slowly drops open, pen going slack in her hand. The way she suddenly can't stop staring, eyes flickering from the breadth of his shoulders to the cut of his jaw.
"You're Captain America," she breathes.
He coughs uncomfortably, and slouches a little more. It's not that he's embarrassed, it's just… he doesn't like making a scene. "Yes, ma'am," he confirms.
"What are you doing waiting at the stage door? Shouldn't you—you could have come backstage, or—did you even sit in the front row? I would have seen you. Do you want a tour of the theater? I can—"
"Honestly, Miss Berry," he says, holding up a hand to stop her from hyperventilating, "I just want your autograph."
She lets out a short burst of slightly hysterical laughter; her eyes go wide, and she tries to rein herself in. "Captain America wants my autograph," she repeats incredulously.
He smiles at her. "If it makes you feel better, we could trade."
"Are you sure? I wouldn't want to be a trouble—"
"It's no trouble."
There's another pang, then, for an autograph he never quite got around to signing… but Phil's death came with a funeral, and a reason, and he was there, and it just doesn't hurt the same way as some other losses do. Maybe he should feel guilty for that, but he doesn't.
"Oh, darn, I don't—" Rachel pauses, rummaging around in her pocketbook, "There's nothing in here for you to sign. Would you mind coming inside with me? Just for a moment? There's a notebook in my dressing room; you could—"
"Sure," he says, interrupting her only because he has a hunch she'd have let herself ramble on until she talked herself into a corner. It's been years since he did that himself, but he still remembers the feeling.
"Okay." Her smile is radiant, and she's still clutching his Playbill as she leads him back inside the theater. It's a comfort to know that, for all that the outsides have changed, backstage areas still look exactly the same as he remembers; he saw the inner workings of plenty of theaters in his early days as Captain America, when he traveled the country with his dancing girls.
There's a gold star on her dressing room door, and—well. He can't help but feel a little better about everything when he sees it. Stars have meant a lot to him, over the years.
He follows her inside, and leans against the doorframe as she rummages through the drawer of her vanity. "I'm sure I left a… aha! Here it is." Grinning, she holds out a notebook and a pen for him to take.
While she busies herself with his Playbill, he stares down at the blank page she'd opened to, unsure of what to say. How honest is too honest? Should he sign it Steve Rogers, or Captain America? Maybe compromise and sign it Captain Steve Rogers?
"I'm ready to trade when you are," she teases gently from the other side of the room, and he clears his throat. He'd wanted to tell her how she made him feel—this is his only chance. He signs quickly:
Miss Berry: Hearing you sing reminds me of home. –Steve.
He's sure to close the notebook before he hands it back to her; he doesn't want to have to watch her read it.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, he stares down at the Playbill in his hands, where she'd elegantly scrawled: I grew up listening to stories about you; you were my hero. You still are. It was an honor to be able to tell you a story in return. Rachel Berry
She'd signed her name with a star.
He doesn't mean to come back.
And he certainly doesn't mean to keep coming back.
But the world has been quiet, lately, and everyone—including his therapist—has been telling him that he needs to go out and experience life more. Get out and see the city. When they said that, they probably didn't mean for him to go and hide in the one thing that looks even vaguely familiar anymore, but… he's not hiding. Not really. It's healing him, he thinks, which is why his attention is as rapt as ever as he watches Val and Billie first meet for the fifth time in as many days:
"I've never met anyone like you before—I think you're wonderful," Val says earnestly on stage. "On the other hand, that doesn't make much sense, does it?"
Billie—Rachel—laughs breathlessly, "Well, no, I guess it doesn't, I mean, we just met."
He's lost in her eyes. "Yeah…" The strings come in, tugging at Steve's heart, sparking memories. "Gee, that's funny."
"Funny…" she agrees, equally lost.
And he starts to sing.
"It seems we stood and talked like this before—we looked at each other in the same way, then, but I can't remember where, or when. The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore—the smile you are smiling you were smiling, then, but I can't remember where, or when…"
It really is a beautiful song.
Once he finally got his bearings, when he'd woken up all those months ago—after they'd chased him down in a Times Square he barely recognized for what it was, after they'd escorted him back to their underground headquarters and gotten him a beer that could do nothing to calm his nerves—Peggy was the first person he asked about. Was she still alive? Could he see her?
He'd missed her by two years.
It's both a forever and a blink of an eye.
He doesn't know how to get over it.
He gets to the theater the same time as always Monday night, only to find the box office closed, the doors locked and the lights off. He frowns.
"The theater is dark on Mondays," a melodic voice says behind him.
He turns around, and there's Rachel Berry, wearing a bright red vintage coat, complete with matching beret. It's not his era, but… it's not contemporary, either, and he can't help but appreciate the in-between quality of it. She keeps doing that. He likes it.
"Dark?" he asks, not sure what that means.
"It's our day off. We weren't sure if you knew; I thought you might show up here anyway." She gives him a shy smile. "I'm glad I was right."
"That you've kept coming back? You're a bit hard to miss, you know. We've had a talk with the producers, and—from now on, the ushers are just going to let you in. No charge."
He frowns. "That's not necessary."
"Hey, we can't have you bankrupting the national defense budget just to see me si—um. See the show." He smiles at her slip, but she barrels on. "A-and it's the least we can do to thank you for everything you've done for us. Of course, they also wanted you to put endorsements on all of our ad campaigns, but… I managed to talk them out of it. Unless you want to, of course."
He lets that process for a second. It seems strange to him that it would be the star of the show's job to come and explain all this to him. "So… you drew the short straw to wait for me here and tell me that?"
She flushes. "Not exactly. I was actually wondering if—if you would like to get some coffee with me?"
He considers telling her that because of his super-charged system, coffee's as wasted on him as alcohol is, but—what would be the point? He finds her presence rousing and soothing in equal parts, and it would hardly be torture to spend more time with her.
"That'd be great," he says, then takes a look around. There's a Starbucks about two blocks down; it looks loud and crowded, but he knows it's popular. "Did you want to, uh…?"
She sees where he's looking and lets out a laugh. "Oh, gosh no. I was actually thinking of a place downtown, but—I suppose you don't take the subway, do you?"
He starts walking towards 42nd Street; she trots into place next to him. "Of course I do. I live in Brooklyn."
"Sure you do," she chuckles, and he frowns.
"No, I—I do."
She looks at him incredulously. "Why?"
"It's home. Always has been." He's kind of glad that he's walking next to her like this; the crowd naturally parts for him, and she's such a tiny thing. It's too easy to imagine people stepping on her.
"Isn't that a bit dangerous?"
At first he thinks she's talking about people stepping on her, and he has to take a moment to remember what they were discussing before that. "Living in Brooklyn?"
"You living in Brooklyn. Or using the subway. Or even coming to the show every night. Aren't you a little… exposed?"
"My bosses aren't always happy about it, but, um. It was… advised… that my comfort level should be more of a priority than my security, at least as long as the Avengers are a last resort. That's why they made my identity public after… y'know." Even he knows better than to say My therapist says I'll go crazy if they keep me locked up, but he thinks she understands his meaning. "Where downtown are we going?"
"Washington Square? There's a coffee place on Sullivan that's always quiet."
He nods, steering them towards the entrance of the NQR; they can transfer at 34th Street and take just about anything to West 4th.
"This isn't weird for you?" she asks, trying to keep up with his longer strides as he takes the stairs into the subway station two at a time. "How different it all is?"
"Honestly, the subway is one of the few things that hasn't changed too much. It took me a while to get used to using a MetroCard instead of tokens, but most of these lines were active in my day—just with fewer stops. It was easy to get used to." He pauses, thinking about it. "The seats are a little nicer, now."
He's never met a woman as easy to talk to as Rachel.
Part of it is that she's naturally chatty—which helps, as he's always been kind of a wallflower—but it's just… he can't explain it. He thinks it's something about her eyes. At first they reminded him of Peggy's, because of the similar deep brown color, but where Peggy'd always seemed to have impenetrable shields up that masked what she was really thinking, Rachel is completely unguarded and expressive. He can tell exactly what's on her mind just by looking at her, so he doesn't have to guess at what he needs to say to keep the conversation going.
That's new for him.
True to her word, the place she'd taken them to—Vbar—is relaxed and cozy. The whole staff knew her name and order on sight, and while at first he thought that was because she's famous, they've been here long enough for him to see that they do that for all their regulars.
He'd paid for her drink.
He's barely touched his own.
"Okay, okay, let me think," Rachel says, palms up. The degree to which she talks with her hands is immensely entertaining to him; he only ever sees it from Tony these days, but… he grew up in Brooklyn. It's like hearing someone speak a language he thought he'd forgotten. "You were probably too young for Porgy and Bess, right?"
"Sorry," he says, shrugging his agreement.
She waves him off. "Okay, thirties, thirties, this is so… Porter! How have I not asked about Cole Porter yet?"
"I never met Cole Porter," he chuckles, taking a sip of his coffee. It's lukewarm at best.
"No, I mean—you must have seen one of his shows. Anything Goes?"
"Didn't see it."
"Kiss Me, Kate."
"Saw it!" He sort of jumps in his seat in his enthusiasm. A few people turn around to look at him, and he ducks his head. "It was okay. My, um—Bucky, he was my best friend—he liked it more than I did."
She seems to sense his discomfort, and moves on immediately. "What about Pal Joey?"
He frowns. "Didn't like it."
"So overrated, right?" she laughs, and actually reaches out her hand to squeeze his fingers for the briefest of moments. "Everyone always talks about what a classic it is, but I just don't see the appeal. The plot is a mess, and Joey is…" She trails off, looking for the right word.
"… kind of a jerk?" he supplies.
"Exactly! I'm all for complex protagonists, but he's so manipulative and… sleazy."
"I thought so too. Really took me out of it. I just… I don't like bullies," Steve mumbles, and she smiles brilliantly at him.
"Trust me, me neither." She smiles, still shaking her head in awe. "I just can't believe you actually were there for all of this. What was it like?"
He's been talking about this in his sessions with Dr. Berdino for a year, and he still doesn't know how to answer that question. "It was normal. I didn't know any different, I guess." Because that's the thing he's been starting to realize—that he's the only one seeing it from his side of the telescope. All Rachel can think is you were there, but for him… there's so much he wasn't there for. Which is much harder to get his head around.
"And you really saw the first production of Babes in Arms?"
"A few months after it opened. July of '37."
She shakes her head in disbelief. "That's… incredible." Her expression shifts, and she bites her lip, suddenly nervous. "Can I ask you a question?"
"You've been pretty good at it so far," he points out, and she blushes.
"Is—um. Do you think… am I better than Mitzi Green?" At his baffled face, she elaborates, "The original Billie."
"Oh! I… I don't know. I'm not really much of a theater critic. But you're…" he trails off. He already told her how he felt about her voice, in his autograph. He doesn't want to come on too strong or something. "Your whole production is… really good."
"Really good, huh?" she teases. "Do you think you'd be willing to put that in writing? Maybe let us plaster your face on all our billboards?"
He squirms. "I don't think that's a good idea. Did your producers really want me to do all of that?"
"Well, no—not after I told them it would might make us a target, or have SHIELD breathing down our necks. It's just that it's hard not to picture it when I know what an excellent spokesman you are."
She's completely lost him. "I… am?"
"Captain," she says warmly, "we both know I'm not the only Broadway star in the room right now."
"Oh, come on. Who's strong and brave, here to save the American Way?" she sings lightly, practically under her breath so as not to draw any more attention to them.
The laugh that bubbles up from his throat is completely unexpected. "I haven't heard that in—wow. You know my theme song?"
"Of course! The old comics, the film reels… I was raised on that stuff. You're part of theater legend, you know—right up with the Ziegfeld Follies." She pauses, then looks at him calculatingly. "Did you ever see the Follies?"
He can't help it; he chuckles. "Yeah, once. Me'n Bucky snuck in through the back door. He knew a stage hand at the Winter Garden, I guess he must've bribed him." Steve shakes his head, still snickering. "I was only fifteen."
Rachel's smile melts away, face turning suddenly intense. "What year was this?"
"Uh, '36? It was April; I remember because my allergies were terrible, I couldn't stop sneezing. Bucky thought for sure we'd be caugh—um. Are you okay?"
"You saw Fanny Brice," she hisses, voice strained with emotion.
He smiles cautiously. "Yes ma'am. Well, the left side of her, anyway."
Rachel's lips contort over and over as she pulls her mouth to each side of her face, blinking rapidly. "You—I—you saw Fanny Brice."
"Is that… okay?"
She laughs breathlessly, like she did the other night when he asked her for her autograph. "Okay? How can you even—did she do Baby Snooks?"
"Yeah," he says, and the look of half-jealousy, half-delight that crosses her face has him grinning in earnest. "She was a heck of a performer, but I have to say… she's not really who I imagined people would be remembering these days."
"No, you don't understand, there's—they wrote—" Rachel stutters, stumbling over her words in excitement, "Her story was made famous when they wrote a musical about her life, starring Barbra Streisand… who you've never even heard of, clearly, how is that possible—but. She's been a life long hero, for me. I have always wanted to play that role." She smiles self-deprecatingly, and then takes a comically large breath to calm herself. "I'm sorry. What was I saying, before I got on a tangent?"
"I'm a theater legend," he reminds her, and tries not to choke on how false the words sound.
"Right, of course. You are! And an American hero, besides. My father is a huge fan; has been his whole life."
Steve does the math quickly in his head, and—in all probability, Rachel's father is likely around the same as Agent Coulson.
"It's an honor," he murmurs, because he doesn't know what else he can say. He still doesn't know what he's doing half the time, and trying to live up to this legend everyone wants him to be is… it's exhausting.
"I meant what I said on that Playbill, you know," Rachel adds softly. "You were… my favorite bedtime story, once upon a time. And what you wrote, in my notebook? I can't tell you how much it touched me."
He has no idea how they went from Fanny Brice to this.
"I meant every word. You have a gift, Miss Berry."
"Just Rachel, please."
"Then don't call me Captain," he counters.
"Okay," she says, and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. For a moment, they sit in silence; then: "So, not a coffee drinker, huh?"
He glances down at his cup, which is—indeed—still almost full, and now stone cold. "Guess I'm more of a tea person, actually. Picked it up in England," he says, mouth going dry as the memories return.
Eventually, her voice floats through, derailing his thoughts. "Did you serve there long?"
He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to push away images of Peggy and Howard and the Cabinet War Rooms. He'd grown fond of London, in his day.
"A while," he says.
"Well then, I definitely know where I'd like to take you next time."
His eyes shoot open. "Next time?"
She ducks her head, suddenly bashful. "Well, I was hoping that maybe next Monday, when the theater's dark again, we could… talk some more?"
"I'd like that," he says immediately, words tumbling out of his mouth before he can even think about them.
"Great," she breathes. "And you'll come back to the show?"
"Tomorrow night, same as always," he reassures her, but she's not looking at him anymore—she's digging through her purse, engrossed in a search. After a few moments, she emerges victorious, pen in hand.
"This is my number," she says, reaching out for a napkin and scrawling a series of digits on the paper. "You could, um, call me maybe, if you wanted to." She frowns, seeming to consider her words. "Pretend I didn't just say that."
"Why?" he asks, and she gives him a look he knows all too well. "Oh. You just made a reference, huh?"
"A pretty embarrassing one."
"Well, your secret's safe with me," he says, standing up and offering her a hand to help her out of her chair. He smiles at her mumbled thanks, and makes sure to pocket the napkin as they exit.
It's much darker than he remembered when they emerge out onto the street; he really lost track of time.
"Can I walk you to the subway?" he offers.
"Oh, no—I live in the West Village, I can walk from here. Besides, it's such a nice night."
"Well, can I walk you home?"
Her expression is part incredulous, part awed. "You really are Captain America, aren't you?"
"For a while now," he says, and she laughs. He only half meant it as a joke, but he can't stop himself from smiling back.
"I'll say. Thank you, but no—I'll be fine, and I'm sure I've kept you long enough. Have a good night, Steve."
He blinks, and it takes him a second to catch up as he watches her walk away. "Goodnight."
A/N More to come, though I can't promise when.