Characters: Steve, Nora (OC), Victor (OC dog)
Pairings: None, sort of
Word Count 4,233
Summary: Steve and his dog make a new friend, and acquire some good books to read.
Author's notes: Hey look, it's a another super AU thing! Last May, joonscribble and I did a bunch of crossover memes that were nothing but trouble, and spiralling out of them came this AU verse of OC children and crossovers and fluffy, fluffy stories. As usual, I started writing in the middle of the 'verse, and have been sharing them with her, but I thought I should eventually write the start, and post it, so other people could follow along if they wanted, and make it easier on myself.
Not sure when exactly this AUs itself, but probably before Ultron. Basic premise is that Bucky has been found, and doing okay, and Steve has retired to Brooklyn to live a more normal life, living near him. joonscribble's meme gave her the pairing of Bucky Barnes, and Elementary's Joan Watson, and their child, Winnie. I gave Steve a child for Winnie to grow up with, and so he needed a partner, and I created one. This is how they meet. Everything else should be somewhat explained in this story. All you need to know is that Steve has a dalmatian named Victor. I think the rest he talks about within the narrative.
As always, apologies for the weirdness of my brain. In this case, it was only partly my fault! joonscribble did nothing to help!
One of the nicer parts of being retired was that Steve now had time to get to know New York again. His city had changed a lot since the 40s. Modernized, hacked apart, torn down, attacked, rebuilt, all while he was sleeping under the ice. During his tenure as an Avenger, he’d lived in the city, but leisurely jaunts around town weren’t something he had time for. Now, he liked to roam around and see what he could find. He took Victor with him for long walks. In the morning they jogged through the park, but in the evenings and on weekend afternoons, they strolled the streets. Steve liked finding little pieces of the past, and he liked finding new, interesting places, too.
Paper Books was a little shop he found one day on one of the lazy Saturday afternoon walks. It sold new and used books, according to the sign, and was in an old building that he thought might have been something else in his day, but he couldn’t remember what. It looked friendly from the outside, with tumbling stacks of books in the windows. Steve had been trying to read again--something else he’d had no time for as an Avenger--and hadn’t had much luck with Stark Books on his tablet. He knew he was old fashioned, but he couldn’t focus on digital pages. He couldn’t get drawn in. He wanted to hold and touch a book, put it down, dog-ear the pages of it, and pick it back up again.
He tied Victor’s leash to a parking meter and told him to stay while he checked it out. Victor plunked his backside down, obediently. He’d learned to wait for Steve when he popped in somewhere, and the only thing that ever happened was that Steve came out to find he’d charmed someone into giving his ears a scratch.
The inside of Paper Books was as friendly as the outside. Or maybe cozy was a better word. It was warm, and quiet, and still, and smelled like coffee and something Steve couldn’t find a word for other than ‘books’. There was a nook for reading in one corner and a large children’s section in another with bean bag chairs and colorfully painted shelves. The decor was all wood and deep, rich colors and had an atmosphere of leaving the world outside when the door closed behind him.
He took a wander around, looking for something to catch his eye. He had lots of recommendations, too many in fact, and it was hard to know where to start. There were a few tables set up with themed books and signs saying what the themes were. “I don’t know the title, but it’s blue”, “Books without love stories”, and “Zombies, werewolves, and vampires”. He browsed around those but nothing jumped out at him, so he moved onto a shelf of fiction. He didn’t recognize any of the author’s names, aside from the classics like Dickens and Austen.
“Is that your dog?” someone asked him.
Steve turned toward the voice, which belonged to a woman with a nest of orange curls on her head and a face so full of freckles it looked like someone had splattered them on with a paintbrush. She carried a stack of used books in her arms and peered over them to the door. Victor sat there, watching Steve expectantly through the window.
“Yep, that’s my dog,” he said, chuckling at the picture Victor made. ‘Fine’, he signed. ‘Stay.’
The woman made a cooing noise. “Oh, the poor thing,” she said. “You can bring him in here if you want. He looks so lonely.”
“He’s okay,” Steve said. “He’s deaf, so he watches for commands because I have to sign them. Unless he’s not interested in doing what he’s told. Then he turns his head away and won’t look at me.”
“That’s adorable,” the woman said, cocking her head and smiling. “He looks like Pongo from 101 Dalmatians.”
“That’s a book, right?” Steve said. He was sure he’d seen some mention of it during his dalmatian research when he’d adopted Victor. “Or is it a movie?”
“Both!” she said, brightly. “It’s a Disney film, but it’s based on a book. Pongo is the father dog in it. Dalmatians are so beautiful. You really don’t want to bring him in?”
“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” Steve said.
“Well, it’s my shop, and I make the rules,” she declared. “You’ll get no trouble from me.” She shifted the books to stick out a hand. “I’m Nora.”
“Steve,” he said, and shook it carefully so as not to send the books toppling.
She gave a little smile. “I kinda knew that already,” she said in apology.
He got recognized a lot as he wandered around but most people tended to be respectful. Even if they were excited to meet him, they were rarely rude about it. But for the most part, New Yorkers seemed to fold him into the landscape, as though he belonged there and was just another part of the view. So, it sometimes took him by surprise when people knew him before he knew them.
“But it’s great to meet you,” she added. She looked concerned and, for a moment, Steve was certain she was going to ask him to right some terrible wrong for her, but what she actually said, very seriously, was: “your to-read list must be miles long.”
“You have no idea,” Steve said, with a laugh. “I’m kind of lost on where to start.”
“Hit me,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Oh.” He hadn’t expected to be taken at his word. “Uh…” He plunged his hand in his pocket and searched for the notebook he’d gotten in the habit of carrying with him. It was full of pages of suggestions that got longer and longer and never any shorter than a few struck off items. Nora put the books she was holding on the floor and reached for it. “Not all of it is books. And some of them I don’t know what they are, sorry.”
“No problem,” she said. She leafed through the pages, nodding here and there, looking skeptical elsewhere. Her brow furrowed, forming two of her freckles into one. “Huh. You weren’t kidding. There are a lot on here.”
“I can just wing it,” Steve said, reaching to take the book back. “I don’t want to take up your time…”
She pulled it away. “No. We can’t give up before we’ve started. We’re totally going to find you a book to read! Well, I mean, if that’s okay, and you’re agreeable and...stuff. You don't have to, obviously. It’s a free country--mostly thanks to you.”
Steve grinned. “I’m agreeable,” he assured her. “I’m happy to have your help if you’re sure I’m not bothering you.”
“Not at all!” she said. “Don’t even think that. This is awesome! I love finding books for people, and you’re a blank slate, practically.” Her eyes were a color that reminded Steve of an arc reactor, and they lit up like one, sparkling with the challenge. “Do you have time? Because this might take a bit.”
Steve felt a little flutter in his stomach, caught up in her enthusiasm like he was about to start an adventure. “I have nowhere to be,” he said.
“Good,” she said. “Okay, just let me get these books shelved, and I’ll be back. Get some coffee--it’s free. And let that poor dog in here!”
Steve didn’t think he’d been interrogated so thoroughly since he’d woken up from the ice and they were trying to make sure he was really him and his cognitive functions were still intact. Nora was devoted to finding him the ‘right book’ to start off with.
“You give up a bit of your life to read a book. You invite characters into your head and let them live with you for a while--maybe forever. It’s important to find the right one!” She paused in her speech. “Am I making it sound like the world is at stake?”
“Sort of,” Steve said, trying to hid his smile.
She made a sheepish face. “Sorry, I’m just really passionate about books.”
“Don’t apologize,” Steve said. “It’s good to be passionate about things.” He knew it made him sound like an old man, but so many people were apathetic these days. “I like it.”
“We could go in order by publication date, but there’s 100% chance that you won’t even like some of the ones in your list,” she said. “So let’s try to find you something you’d enjoy to start off with, and we’ll go from there?”
“Sounds good,” Steve said.
And then the questions had begun, asked as she walked around the shop looking critically at shelves while Steve followed, keeping Victor close beside him.
What’s the last thing you remember reading that you enjoyed?
(It turned out that one was so out of print Nora couldn’t even find it on the Internet as having ever existed, so he went with A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, instead. He’d read that in the army, one of the ‘good American books’ they offered to the troops.)
Is there anything you’d find upsetting to read about?
(Not really, no.)
Are you sure? I don’t judge--really. Some people are uncomfortable with certain things and that’s fine.
(No, I think I’m okay, thank you.)
What was your favorite book when you were a kid?
(Call of the Wild, maybe. Or Huckleberry Finn.)
Are you okay with graphic sex scenes?
(Uh...I’ve never really thought about. Probably. No, that’s...fine, I guess.)
Are young adult or children’s books okay, too?
(Yeah, that’s fine with me.)
How would you feel if Captain America was a character in the book?
That last one threw Steve for a loop, and she explained there was a really great book about a USO girl touring with Captain America during the war. It had been a bestseller and made into an Oscar-winning movie.
“I think they made a musical of it, too,” she said. “That’s not making it any less weird, is it?”
“No,” Steve admitted. There was nothing normal about the idea of someone portraying him on stage, singing and dancing in a musical. It was mortifying, actually. He was surprised Tony hadn’t brought it up yet. He loved quoting the radio show they’d done in the 40s.
“Okay,” Nora said. “We’ll avoid books with Captain America in them, then.” Steve liked that she referred to it that way--not using ‘you’. Like he was separate from the title--or at least the character versions of him bearing it. “But I guess that means Counting Stars is out, too. Which is a shame. It’s a good book.”
“What’s it about?” Steve asked.
“It’s about a girl during World War Two. The other kids in her class write letters to their fathers who are away at war, but her father died before the war, so she writes to Captain America instead,” Nora said.
“Do I--does he--does Captain America write back?” Steve asked. He felt oddly guilty for not responding to a fictional character’s fictional letters that didn’t exist.
“Yes, but it turns out that it’s her mother all along and that’s how they find a way to communicate about her father’s death,” Nora said. “Captain America’s just a means for them to connect.”
“That’s--I mean, it sounds good, but--” Steve said.
“It’s actually really well done, and it explores the home front life, and all the things she hears on the radio she tells to Captain America, so you learn a lot about the war that way,” Nora said. “I really enjoyed it when I was young, but I can totally see why it would be weird for you to read. We won’t go there.”
“That might be for the best,” Steve said.
She moved onto the next shelf and on they went on their search. The shelves were crammed full of books, all used, except for one shelf along a wall with ‘new releases’. Nora didn’t go near that shelf, she stuck to the rest of them, where all the books were worn and had lined, cracked spines and covers that had been faded and rubbed off at the corners, thumbed and read and loved by someone else or maybe many someone elses. Books that didn’t fit on shelves were piled around elsewhere, and it was all in loose alphabetical order by author and organized by genre. When Nora found a book out of place, she picked it up and carried it with her until she found the right place again, never breaking her flow of questions. He found it easy to talk to her. Even though her enthusiasm was palpable, she had a calm, grounded feeling to her, like the shop itself.
“How long have you been here?” he asked her.
“I worked here all through university, but I’ve only owned it for a couple of years,” she replied. “The previous owner sold it to me when he retired to Florida.”
“It’s nice,” Steve said.
“Isn’t it?” she looked around, with an adoring smile on her face. “I love it. I wasn’t ever planning on being a business owner, but my old boss said he’d close it down if no one bought it, and so I couldn’t let that happen. It’s been a learning curve, but I think I’m doing all right. I really enjoy it, anyway. I like coming to work every day, and I think that’s rare in the world. I’m really grateful for it. I know you’re retired now, that was on the news. Are you enjoying it?”
“I am,” Steve admitted. “More than I thought I would. It’s been an adjustment, but I’m finding things to keep me busy.”
“Good,” she said. “I’m glad. You deserve it.”
“Thanks,” Steve said.
Victor followed along with them and lay down by Steve’s feet when they stopped moving, content to be there, though, Steve thought, a little confused by what was happening.
“He’s really well-behaved,” Nora commented.
“He’s a good boy,” Steve agreed, signing it to Victor.
“How old is he?” Nora asked. “He looks like he might still be a bit of a puppy.”
“Nine months. So, yeah, still a bit of a puppy,” Steve said. “He’s a rescue. I got him from the shelter I work at. The family that had him before said he was destructive, but I think he was just bored, or he couldn’t understand them. Dalmatians need lots of exercise, and they had him in an apartment with only a little walk every day. He needs a run, don’t you?” He signed ‘run’ to Victor, who got up and wagged his tail. “Once I taught him to understand signs, he’s been great.”
Nora gave him a pat on the head. “I know you can’t hear me, buddy, but you’re a sweetie,” she said. “I had a couple of beagles growing up, and my parents have a lab now, but I only have a little apartment above the shop here, and I don’t know if I have room for a dog even if I’d like the company.”
“There are a lot of breeds that are good for apartments,” Steve said. “But it’s good to know if you can’t handle a dog. It’s better than them being unhappy. I see a lot of animals come in that shouldn’t have ever been where they were. I’d rather someone not have a dog and want one than get one and not be able to care for it.”
Nora took a book out and looked it over and put it back. “Are animals something you’re passionate about?” she asked. Steve couldn’t tell if this was conversation or another question to help her choose a book.
“I guess so,” he said. “The shelter keeps me busy in my retirement. I like it. I feel like I’m still doing some good, even if I’m not…”
“Avenging?” she suggested, with a raised eyebrow.
“Avenging,” he agreed.
She moved to another shelf, grabbing a book and putting it under her arm with one already there. “Now that you’re retired, you should write your memoirs!”
“Oh, no,” Steve said, with a laugh. “No one wants that. People aren’t interested in that.”
“People are!” she countered. “After the Battle of New York, I had lots of people coming in asking if I had any books about you. I had to research to see which ones to recommend.”
The idea that there was a single book about him was amazing to Steve, let alone multiple books. He still had trouble thinking of himself as a historical figure. He was only thirty-two in his head. Not ninety-eight and, apparently, the World War Two hero everyone learned about in school. Surely, seventy years in the future they would have forgotten about him altogether. But they hadn’t. That wasn’t exactly the biggest surprise of waking up in 2010, not by a longshot, but it was kind of a shock.
“I’m probably going to regret asking this, but which ones do you recommend?” he wondered.
“It depends,” she said. “I usually ask if people want to know about Steve Rogers or about Captain America. You know, whether they want to know about you or the hero? Does that make sense?”
So much sense. It was a distinction Steve tried even harder to make now that he was trying to live a normal life in the real world. He wasn’t a guy in a uniform anymore. He was just Steve.
“It makes sense to me,” he said.
“So, if they want to know about Cap, I usually recommend one by a man named Sam Gray,” she said. “It has a foreword by Howard Stark. It mostly focuses on the stuff you did during the war. And then there’s one by a lady named Mary Drake, who writes about you from more of a historical position. It’s dryer. More of a biography. Child to when you... to the end of the war, when they thought you died. It has a foreword by a woman...I can’t remember her name…Carson?”
“Carter?” Steve guessed. “Peggy Carter?”
“That’s it!” Nora said.
Huh. What had Peggy said? He couldn’t picture her mincing words about him. Maybe he’d have to dig up a copy on Stark Books. He couldn’t buy a book about himself in person, that would be way too embarrassing.
“I knew her. And Howard. We were all friends.” He joked: “I hope they weren’t too hard on me.”
“Of course they weren’t,” she scolded. “No one writes forewords to complain about people. I didn’t read the books, mostly skimmed--I have a hard time getting into non-fiction--but I did read the forewords. They were both very affectionate.”
Steve knew he was blushing. He bent to give Victor an ear rub to hide it.
“Are you interested in either of those books?” Nora asked.
“No!” Steve said, quickly. “No, I don’t want to read about me.”
Nora gave a bright, hearty laugh. “That’s totally fair,” she said. “But I still think you should write your own story. People would read it, I promise.” She pulled another book off a shelf and tucked it under her arm with the other two. “Do I remember...did you like art? Was that something I read?”
“Maybe,” Steve said. “I do like art, so it’s possible you read it. I used to want to be an illustrator. I was in art school when Pearl Harbor happened, and, well, I never finished.”
“I studied children’s lit at university,” Nora said. “As part of my English degree. Illustration is a huge part of that and how the story is told--especially in picture books. I admire people who can draw. It must take tons of time and patience.”
“I was sick a lot when I was a kid,” Steve said. “Drawing was always something I could do and work on, even in bed. So, I had the time and patience, I guess. I used to read a lot of comic books, too. I liked the idea of telling a story in pictures.”
“I had a version of The Secret Garden when I was little with the most beautiful illustrations,” Nora said, spreading her hands out like she was holding a book. “My dad gave it to me when I had my tonsils out. I must have read it a dozen times. It absolutely fueled my love of reading. And my love of gardening, too, actually.”
“It’s hard to keep a garden in New York,” Steve noted.
“You can keep window boxes,” she said, happily. “Look up when you head out. My impatiens are doing very well this year.”
“I’ll be sure to look,” Steve promised.
Nora move onwards to another shelf, and Steve and Victor followed. “Do you still draw?”
“I’m trying to,” Steve said. It was one of the things he was using his retirement time to get back into. He and Victor liked to hang out on the roof of his brownstone and sketch up there. It was his favorite part of his new place. “I’m rusty, but I working on it.”
She looked toward the children’s section of the shop, thoughtful. They’d already passed by it once. “No, I think I’ve put you through enough today,” she said. She took the books out from under her arm. “I think these are a good place to start.”
There were three of them: two thicker ones and one smaller one.
“This one, I’m pretty sure you’ll like,” she said, putting To Kill a Mockingbird in his hands. “It’s about a girl growing up in the South in the 1930s. And it’s about racism in the South in the 1930s, but I think it’s more enjoyable if you read it like a coming-of-age story. It’s really funny in places, even though some of it is heavy, and the characters are great.”
“Sounds good,” Steve said.
“This one is kind of hit or miss,” she said, adding one titled Catcher in the Rye. “It’s kind of a litmus test to see what your tastes are. I don’t think you’ll like Holden Caulfield at all, but you might like the style.”
“What’s it about?” Steve asked.
“Kind of nothing,” Nora said, thoughtfully. “It’s coming of age as well. Disillusioned teenager in the 50s. It really captures the time period and the idea of being young then and between childhood and adulthood.”
“Okay,” Steve said.
She added the last, thin book on top of the other two. Charlotte’s Web. “This one’s just for fun,” she said. “It’s a kid’s book, but it’s a classic, and I know you like animals.” She smiled down at Victor. “It’s about a pig who’s the runt of the litter who makes friends with a spider. It’ll wash the taste of disillusioned teenagers out of your mouth. You don’t have to read it. Like I said, it’s just for fun.”
“No, I’ll give it go,” Steve said. “Thanks. You’ve been really, really helpful. I’m sorry for taking so much of your time.”
“Are you kidding?” she said. “I love this! I’m sorry for taking so much of your time. You’ve been really patient.”
“Not at all,” Steve said. “No, I liked it. I liked...um, I liked talking to you.”
“Oh, well, thank you,” she said. “And, back at you, definitely. It was really exciting to meet you.” She brought him to the counter and started ringing the books up, her cheek pinker than they were moments before. “So, if you like these, come back and I’ll find you more. And if you don’t like them, I will find you more that you like better. Basically, if you come back, I will find you more books. I have lots of ideas. Please come back. I feel emotionally invested in this.”
Steve laughed. “I promise I’ll come back,” he said, and meant it.
They said goodbye with a firm shake over the counter. Nora waved to Victor, and they headed off. The street outside seemed a hurried, loud, chaotic mess after the quiet of the shop, and Steve blinked into the sun, feeling like he’d come back out into reality after going through a fairyland. With a book fairy guiding him through.
“She was nice, wasn’t she?” he said to Victor, signing, ‘girl, good’. “Did you like her? You’re spoiled, getting to go inside. Don’t get used to it, you’re still going to have to wait for me in other places, okay?”
Victor sniffed at the bag in his hand and wagged his tail. Steve looked up at the apartment above the shop. Flower boxes hung from all the windows with bright blooms spilling out of them. Even though he’d only just met her, he thought they captured Nora well, and they made him smile.
“It’s nice to make new friends, huh?” he said to Victor, signing ‘friend’. “Should we go home? I want to get reading. We have some time before Bucky comes for the baseball game. We’ll see how we like these books.”
And then, when he was done, he’d come back and see the book fairy again.