It's harder than Steve anticipated, coming home from war. He's not sure what he expected, to be honest. Maybe celebratory parades or something. And to be fair, there are many of those in the first few weeks, and during those times, Steve feels an almost unbearable amount of pride: pride for his country for coming through this, pride for his boys for making it home. In the end, though, it's all formalities and showmanship. It isn't personal, except for what he makes of it. And once all the parades and celebrations are over, Steve finds himself alone, and not the same man he'd been before the war.

He's not totally alone, of course. He still meets with his men, the ones who live close by. And there's Bucky, of course, who sleeps in the next room over. Steve could never forget Bucky, would never take for granted his presence in Steve's life, especially after how close Steve came to losing him on the battlefield. Steve will never forget those terrible, terrible minutes when he'd thought the man was dead, before the bastard opened his eyes, grinned crookedly up at Steve through a mouthful of blood and said, "That was a close one, huh?" Steve had never been more grateful than he was that day to receive the order to pull his men off the line.

The fact remains, though, that even if he's not alone, he's still not the man he was before he went off to war. He looks the same on the outside, which is more than some soldiers can say, those with injuries that can't be hidden. On the inside, though, he's different: more jaded, maybe, or maybe it's just that he's seen things he can't unsee, no matter how hard he tries. The nightmares, they don't come often, but when they do happen, he swears sometimes it's worse than actually living through the war the first time.

During the day, though, he's mostly alright. He tries not to think about the men he lost, the friends he lost. It's not always easy, especially when Bucky does something ridiculous or catty that makes Steve think of the camaraderie the unit shared. Steve hadn't been as much a part of that as he would have liked toward the end of the war, after he'd been promoted to captain and made official commander of his commando group, but he'd understood even then that it was more important to keep his men alive and together than to be one of them. He'd had a duty, is the thing.

And who knows, maybe that's what he's missing now: a duty, a purpose. Steve got a job as soon as he got back, at the Stark Industries factory to be exact. It's a good company and Steve's proud to work for an employer who actively sought out returning veterans to fill their open job slots. SI does good work and Steve knows a decent percentage of weapons used to win the war came from one of the company's many plants around the country. On top of that, too, is the fact that the current CEO, named so after old Mr. Stark died a year or so ago, is a veteran himself. Steve's seen the man in the newsreels, and Mr. Hogan looks like a good-natured, amiable fellow, who holds himself upright, despite the limp from the war injury that sent him home before the end of the fighting. Steve knows there was some scandal when Howard Stark left the company to his daughter Antonia, not only because she's a woman, but also because of her scandalous past exploits. With Mr. Hogan running the company, though, Steve can't name a single man who wouldn't work for the company just because a woman owns most of the shares. Not that it matters to Steve, really, who owns the company; he does his job and comes home and that's just how it is now, in these days after the war.

It takes Steve almost six months to really settle into his job at Stark Industries. He's done factory work before, of course, before the war when his paintings just refused to sell. And it's not that this job is especially difficult. If anything, it might be a little too dull. Steve hates to admit he misses the war, but it's true he developed a taste for adventure during his time in combat. Not that he would ever trade peacetime for a little bit more excitement in his day, but if there was a way to compromise, he'd snatch it up in a minute.

As it is, he arrives at the factory every day at six-fifty sharp. He drops his lunch pail off at his cubby and trades in his street coat for a protective overcoat. He says hello to the boss's secretary as he passes and very carefully does not stare at the way her dress hugs her body; she's a firecracker, that one, but Steve's always sure to give her the respect she deserves, unlike some of the dogs in this plant. By the time the whistle blows for the shift change, Steve is at his station, welding torch on and ready to go.

The job itself isn't hard, just welding the same spots on the same type of weapon then passing it down the line. He doesn't get to stand next to Bucky, but they're near enough to one another for Steve to be able to catch sight of him occasionally. They can't make eye-contact because of their protective faceplates, but just being able to stand in the room is enough to reassure Steve.

They eat lunch together, too, of course, once the lunch bell rings at eleven. More than that, their leftover army pay, the stuff they hadn't needed to spend any of while they were tramping all over Europe, lets them eat better than they ever have as civilians. Most of the men had had wives or families to send money back to, but Steve and Bucky have both been orphans for years and neither of them is married, so they've got money to spare these days. Steve's not taking it for granted, not wasting it, because he knows as well as everyone who starved through the thirties how easily money can disappear. The economy seems to be stable these days, though, and Steve's job is steady, which means that between them they can splurge on meat, honest-to-god meat at least three times a week. Neither of them are excellent cooks, exactly, but they manage. Bucky always makes wistful faces at the other men in the lunchroom who have complicated meals home-cooked by their wives, but Steve's not worried. He may be awkward around women now, but one day, he's sure he'll find a woman who completes him. After all, it's happened to him once before, so it can happen again.

After the bell rings for second shift to take over and first shift's end of day, Steve and Bucky make their way home. It's not far, just about a twenty-minute walk, which is nothing compared to the miles and miles they'd marched in full gear while in Europe. Some nights, Bucky likes to go out to the dance halls, hoping to meet girls. He sometimes convinces Steve to come along, but Steve prefers to stay in and work on his paintings. Unlike before the war, he can actually afford the good kind of paint now, the kind that can let him make the type of art he craves. He's out of practice, but the more he tries, the better it gets. Using his G.I. money to go to art school is still an option, but he really wants to be sure before he makes a decision in that regard. He's always been a city boy, so buying a house in the suburbs probably isn't something he wants, but if he ever gets married, who knows how he'll feel about the matter. He wants to keep his options open, at least for now. And in the closer future, Steve's even got high hopes that he might get his work into a gallery.

So yeah, Steve's life is good. He's home, safe and alive. He's got a well-paying job for a company that he respects. He's got an apartment with his best buddy, the classiest place either of them has ever lived. He's even got the opportunity to go back to art school someday, if that's what he chooses. And if he sometimes misses the war, well, he's sure he'll get over that in time, once he really settles in. So, right; life is good. Now if only he could stop dreaming about her, about Annie, his first love, things would be perfect.