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For Want of a Nail - Epilogue: Time

Title: For Want of a Nail
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky
Warnings: Angst, dystopia, violence, a whole lot of death, etc.
Word Count: 1302 (43,312 total)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Hydra wins the war and then the world.  Seventy years later, the Resistance has a plan to win it back.

Part I: Fire
Part II: Ice
Part III: Stone
Part IV: Flesh
Part V: Metal
Part VI: Blood


There was a man who lived up on the hilltop in an old house left over from before the Day of Fire and the Day of Blood. He came into the village of Brooklyn once a week to buy supplies but he did not talk to anyone and one look into his eyes was enough to freeze the villagers mid-word. For there was sorrow in his gaze; such sorrow as only the eldest of their town had ever known.

Only the eldest remembered the days of the war, the days of Hydra, and the smothering taste of fear that had seeped through all their lives. That generation remembered the grief of losing family members to midnight capture or random cruelty and yet some of them almost seemed to miss the past as well.

Because things had been uncomplicated under Hydra – you did not have to think, you only had to follow – and they were unused to making decisions for themselves. Thus, many of these men and women decided to drink and fight and wait for the world to turn back toward Hydra even as the younger generation began to thrive instead. For so much had been stifled when Pierce was their ruler and while the long struggle of the recovery had made weak hearts despair, the children saw only opportunity.

Those who had grown up without Hydra enjoyed being free to do as they wanted, free to criticize Premier Pott's decisions on education and Stark's latest adventure into supposedly helpful technology. They enjoyed being able to love where their hearts led and argue without killing, the streets no longer painted red when one of Hydra’s strike teams wanted to test out their new guns.

Things were better now even if they were also harder and the post-war generation just shook their head dismissively when someone said otherwise. There was no point in arguing with their elders for these words were wrong but harmless and no one ever thought differently in Brooklyn until the night that Monsieur Chastain drank too much.

“Those sniveling Resistance fighters should have let Hydra put them in the ground where they belonged,” Chastain claimed loudly in the village inn that evening, a few too many shots of whiskey in his cup. “They spent the whole war hiding in the shadows and now they want to change everything as though they have the right. What did the Resistance ever do but make my life more difficult? They should have left government to those who knew how to take care of their own.”

“Like Hydra did?” the voice was cold; the ice of winter and bitter storms washing over all who heard it and although the words had not been spoken loudly, the entire inn fell silent nonetheless.

Because it was the man from the hilltop, the sorrow in his eyes replaced by a burning fury such as they had never seen before. “Hydra, who watched everyone and killed for their own amusement, who met criticism with death squads, and who did not need propaganda to sway you to their side. Because men like you had already convinced yourselves that such death was normal and when the slaughter came again, you would have looked upon the bloodshed and told yourself that it was justified. You make me sick. It makes me sick to think that anyone sacrificed their life for you.”

With every word, the man stalked closer until Chastain was trapped against the wall behind him, but the old drunkard had never been the type to back down from a fight when his blood was running hot. So instead of giving in, he just raised his chin and replied scornfully, “I didn’t ask them to. I liked my life fine and if some idiot decided to die to change it that doesn’t mean I have to thank them for their meddling.”

There was silence as the watching villagers gaped at the old man’s audacity and yet the man from the hilltop did not unleash the violence that simmered there beneath his skin.

He did not kill Chastain as the old drunkard half expected and any member of Hydra would have done. Instead the man threw back his head and started laughing and somehow this was far more horrible.

Because there was no mirth in the sound, only pain and desolation, and no one was supposed to sound that broken while they were still alive. But the villagers could not offer comfort, not to this stranger who was baring his heart before them and yet showing them their flaws.

“You’re right; it was a choice. It was their choice to fight even as it was your choice to do nothing and only God can judge which one was right,” the man said bitterly once his laughter had finally disappeared into the nothingness. “But next time you feel like ranting about the glory days of Hydra, you had best be sure that I'm not around or I might choose to kill you in trade for what I've lost. A bit more blood won’t make a difference now.”

He left then and he did not return for weeks, the story spreading throughout the entire village over the time that he was gone. Sometimes Chastain himself would tell it, the old man trying to make it seem as though he had won that encounter and in some ways, perhaps he had. But the stranger had spoken to the hearts of all those watching and their own eyes had found themselves wanting afterward. So they wondered about the man who lived up on the hilltop, alone with his sorrow and the fury on his tongue.

Although, if any of the villagers had dared to venture closer, they would have discovered that the stranger was not as friendless as they thought. For there was a woman, a redheaded woman who came to visit once or twice a year.

She would bring a bottle of the finest whiskey and a bitter smile, the two of them trading glasses back and forth until the alcohol ran dry. Only then would the stranger talk; speak his sorrow to her ears as he would to no other still living in this world for she would listen without judgment and then hold him while he cried. She could not judge him when her hands were stained just as scarlet and here the man was able to find a brief respite from the grief that bowed his shoulders, the weight he carried through every moment of every waking day and too often in his dreams.

Indeed, the stranger did not sleep much these days; his evenings spent up on the hilltop beneath a sea of endless stars. Yet he was not alone despite the loneliness within him; he could not be alone as long as he was still alive. For the man would never be free of the shadow of his failures, his shame embodied by the grave that he had dug on the hill when he moved in.

So the man spent many an evening sitting by the gravestone that marked the body of his captain, his best friend, and the one love of his life. The only love that his heart would ever carry and sometimes he wondered if he should simply end it all. But the stranger had made a promise when he brought his lover home to Brooklyn; he had promised and he would not break this vow as well.

So the man wished his captain a good night every evening, pressing a gentle kiss to the headstone before walking back inside. He left behind a plain marble marker on the hilltop, the grey stone carved with three short lines:


Steven G. Rogers
1918-2012
He was not expendable

Finis




(This fic turned out way more depressing than I expected; I didn't know it was going to end like this when I started it)