Steve Rogers smiled when he saw that it was Katerina Sevda at his door. Over the past few months, he and Natasha had been helping her get on with her life despite the trauma caused by The Incident. Over the course of their lives, they had each had their own ‘incidents,’ whether that meant Budapest and hospital fires or being on the front lines of the most brutal world war. Perhaps the experiences were different, but Steve knew it meant they understood grief and darkness in ways most people do not. They couldn't be called traditional friends, but there was an unspoken understanding there that comforted him. Besides, Steve wasn’t in such denial that he couldn’t admit to himself the ego boost that came with hanging out with the Black Widow and Kat.
With her red hair, immense courage and incredible physicality, the Black Widow was an amazing woman and Steve wasn’t immune to her charms. Kat also was terrific and made a great physical contrast to Natasha when the three of them went out. She had black hair, bright blue eyes and, despite her being fit, Kat was more likely to try cleverness to get out of a tight situation; athleticism really wasn’t her thing. Both women shared a sharp intellect and a dry wit, two characteristics that made them a lot of fun. Of course, Kat hadn’t been at her most witty lately but Steve noticed that was starting to come out of her long hibernation. He could relate.
“Hey Kat, how are you?” Steve said when he opened his apartment door. “Do you want to come in?” he asked after a moment when she just stood in the doorway.
Kat simply shook her head. Between waking up from her long nap only a short while ago and the anticipation of telling Steve, she was way too keyed up to want to sit down and drink coffee or something. Besides, there was no telling what kind of tabs SHIELD and/or Hydra kept on Captain America. Kat had never thought about it before but it made sense that Steve would be under surveillance. “Ummm….not right now. Do you think we could take a walk instead?” she asked.
Most people who met Captain America found him too good to be true. Yes, he was handsome and strong but what made him great was his firm belief in goodness and morality. He stood for the positive values we espoused as a society and did not waver in those beliefs. That was what made him such a great advertisement for the nation. However, since he’d returned from the dead, there had been some who snickered behind his back. Sure, there was the cheesiness of the costume but it was about more than that.
Back when Steve Rogers became Captain America, so-called traditional values held sway. Patriotism, loyalty, and a rigid certainty about what was good and what was bad were the beliefs of the time. Put simply, right was right and wrong was wrong. However, times had changed and the world had gotten gray. The broad (and, to be honest, blunt) emotions that made Captain America such a hero back in World War II were no longer as revered as they once had been. Now people understood that sensitivity was what the world needed but Captain America’s image was anything but diplomatic. Thus, people who didn’t know Steve thought that he was truly a man out of time, that he could not possibly be in touch with the subtle gradations of emotion or grasp the blurring of morality. Those people were wrong.
What those people never knew or had forgotten was that Steve wasn’t born Captain America; he was made into him. When he was growing up, Steve suffered the slings and arrows of a skinny, weak boy back when such characteristics were truly abhorred versus merely tolerated like they are now. Moreover, Steve spent his pre-Captain America life ignored by women, or when they did deign to even notice him, in the Friend Zone, so his body back then was not in synchronicity with his vision of himself. In other words, Steve suffered a great deal and, once he became Captain America, it didn’t get a lot better.
At first he was used as a show-piece. He was believed to be an airhead who looked good in a suit, someone who was only good for doing what he was told. Then, when Steve decided he was done with that, he entered combat and experienced the horror and tragedy that inevitably accompanies such a dismal adventure. He lost his best friend, Bucky, along the way. Steve didn’t even get to spend time with Peggy, the love of his life, before he made the courageous decision to save humanity by burying the Tesseract (and himself) in ice. When Captain America was revived, everything had changed but Steve had not. Consequently, Steve had to start over and relearn almost everything. Yet despite all he had done and all he had suffered, his life was still not his own.
Kat knew all this. She realized that despite his calm and broad exterior (she and Nat often made fun of his “Cap” way of talking), Steve was a tortured soul. In short, he was a kindred spirit, one who could immediately pick up on her moods and was not shy about inquiring about them. More than most, Steve wanted to help, so Kat knew she had to be careful. Steve had such strong feelings about Hydra and she did not want him to go on an impulsive witch hunt that could backfire on them both. After all, she still didn’t know the depth of the infiltration and who they could trust or even if she was correct in her assumptions.
That was why, when she could tell that he immediately picked up on her mood, Kat felt a thrill of fear. Was she doing the right thing by dragging him into this? Was this something he could even handle right now? Kat felt just as protective of Steve as he did of her. She could not let him get hurt.
“I don’t know if I feel up to it. Why don’t you come in for a while?” Steve said casually. Kat was about to demure and turn to go when Steve grabbed her hand and practically yanked her inside. He gave her an intense look and asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”
Kat was completely bewildered but said, “Sure. What do you have?”
Steve gave her a list of possible liquids while he clinked around in the kitchen. Kat gave him an answer but figured it didn’t truly matter because it was clear that Steve was only making noise. He slammed the refrigerator shut, took her arm, held a finger to his lips and gestured to the window. Looking at the fire escape, Kat almost laughed when she realized his intentions but only nodded and let Steve lead the way. Maybe this wasn’t a mistake after all.
Once they reached the sidewalk, they continued on in silence as Kat let Steve lead her wherever he wanted to go. Once again she let patience be her guide as she decided to let him tell her about the deception when he was ready. The two of them walked for quite a ways, only stopping once they reached a grubby diner that was completely devoid of customers. Steve gestured Kat to take the booth at the far end of the diner and then took the side facing the door. That way, if anyone entered, he would know it.
“OK,” he started. “What’s going on?”
Kat couldn’t help it. She started to laugh; she’d just been hijacked by Captain America and now he was asking her for answers. “Umm….I think I’m the one who should be asking you that question! What’s with all the secrecy?”
Steve smiled and relaxed a bit but kept his watch on the front door. “Weird things have been happening lately and it occurred to me that maybe I’m being watched. You clearly have something serious to discuss, so I thought it best to go someplace we have less chance of being overheard.”
Kat stopped laughing and also relaxed a bit. Maybe this would be easier than she thought. She considered where to start but then realized that she probably was going to spill everything, so she might as well just do it. “Well, I don’t know anything for sure but…” and launched into her story.
Steve was a good listener. Although he eyes did widen when she first said the word Hydra, he didn’t interrupt her recitation to make comments or even ask questions; he just nodded during appropriate moments. Kat was incredibly relieved. Not only did he seem to believe her but he also wasn’t going to go off and do something stupid. “So, what do you think? What should I do from here?” Kat finished.
Steve sat there a moment and thought hard. His first inclination was to flat out disbelieve what she was saying. He thought he was done with Hydra! However, this was no longer the World War II era Steve; he was now post-Battle of New York Steve. He had seen first-hand how organizations, even ones as well-intentioned as SHIELD, could put power and weapons to bad use. And although he badly wanted to ignore Tony Stark, Steve had to admit that the guy had a point about secrets and lies. But Hydra? Was it even possible?
Steve realized that he was out of his depth with this sort of thing but also recognized the gravity of the situation. Kat came to him hoping that he could help her. She either was right (and he did acknowledge that his missions were increasingly strange, and people he thought he could trust suddenly were questionable) which meant she was in danger or she was wrong and her mental condition was deteriorating. Either the fate of SHIELD was at risk or Kat was. What on earth could he do? Suddenly the answer, or at least some relief, came to him, “We need to call Natasha.”