Hah, long time, no see, eh?
Yeah, sometime this year I said that I was done with fanfiction because I was working on "Bigger projects" and while I am working on those, I also decided that fanfiction can be a sort of weekend-break type of thing for me.
So, don't expect constant updates or anything, but I am going to push myself to finish this thing, unlike a lot of my "WIP"s. RIP WIP
This is actually more of a gritty, realistic take on another story I wrote last year. I loved that story, I thought it was fun, but I also knew that I could make something more out of it. So, that will stay there, unedited and un-updated, while this is something new, but with the same characters and vague plot points.

This is one of my first "serious" fanfics with plot points and adult situations and *gasp* characters having viewpoints on things within the series that directly contradict my own! Shocker, I know!

Anyway, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!

Michael thought his life was pretty average.

He had grown up in Detroit, running around with the same kids all of his life, but never straying too far from his apartment complex, per his mother's orders. As far as she was concerned, leaving her line of sight meant Michael was getting into something that would get him arrested, and she was not about to lose a son to Juvie.

Once, behind a parking garage only a block away from their apartment, Michael's mother had caught him smoking with a few of his friends. The car ride home was long, full of cursing, smacks on the arm, and copious amounts of, "WHAT. WERE. YOU. THINKING?"

After that, Michael made sure to stay on the straight and narrow, following rules as tightly as possible. Not only because he'd taken up the "Scared Straight" program as his own, personal religion, but also because he feared ever making his mother that angry, or disappointed, again. A squat black woman glaring you down for the entirety of a ten-minute car ride is terrifying under the right circumstances.

His career choices had ben slightly more than average, compared to the rest of his classmates, but he had his heart set on it. Michael wanted to be a gymnast. The inspiration for this particular choice came from watching his first Olympics games when he was nine. After the festivities, he'd tried mimicking one of the male performers, bracing himself between the stair railing and the wall so he could swing back and forth. Michael, having not learned about the displacement of weight and also not properly understanding gravity, flipped over backward, cracked his head on the stairs, and continued to injure himself by falling down these same stairs, breaking his wrist.

Even as he was being driven home from the hospital, wrist in a cast, and head freshly shaved with a new set of stitches, Michael had made up his mind to be the best gymnast in the world. Really, he had thought, considering his former favorite profession, being a firefighter had nothing on being a gymnast.

Michael trained day in and day out, cartwheeling and swinging his way through classes, programs, and competitions. Ending his high school career by winning first place at the Michigan State Gymnast Meet.

His family had been skeptical at first. Comments like, "Such a young, strong boy, why not be a football player? Baseball?", along with, "You always got such good grades"- he really didn't- "Why not do something in the sciences?", were very common. Soon though, his immediate family became more than accepting. They arrived at competitions with signs blaring catchy phrases like, 'Michael the Man always Lands!' or 'Michael Miller you're a Killer!'. (Though, Mama Miller had to make his little sisters stop bringing that one, as it sent the wrong message.)

With his family standing behind him, Michael finished high school with a passing report card, strong legs, and a coach who believed he truly could make it to the Olympics someday.

So, all in all, Michael thought his life was pretty average. He had dreams and goals like everyone else, along with failings (once again, science was not his subject).

But, as Michael opened the doors to the gym, he imagined for a moment that he was walking through a darkened corridor, and out into the blinding lights of a real Olympic arena, and he didn't feel so average, just for a second.

He was quickly brought back into reality by some nine-year-old 'Dance Mom's' wannabe with makeup caking her face and a high ponytail that looked like it was about to scalp her pushing past him to get outside. Stumbling slightly, he watched as a middle-aged woman with a bob-cut reamed out his manager, Dante

"We are never coming back to this underfunded, low-grade establishment ever again!" The woman spat, pointing a long, acrylic nail adorned finger in Dante's face. With what Michael thought was an over the top flourish of her purse, the woman stormed past Michael and slammed through the door, shouting a name that sounded like Kimberly but someone had added too many vowels.

Michael hurried over to Dante. "What was that about?"

Dante shrugged. "She wanted us to teach her daughter all of these complex moves, stuff you see on the internet. After I told her it would be easier to start with basics, she agreed and went off with her daughter while I looked at my schedule for a session opening. Then Kayla caught her trying to get her daughter to stand on top of the high bar." Dante barked out a laugh and shook his head. "I told her if that she wanted her daughter to crack her head like an egg she could get the fuck out of my gym. Things got a little heated, as you can see."

Michael ran a hand through his angled buzz cut. "I'm almost sorry I wasn't here to see it." He put his hands on his hips and continued in an exasperated tone, "What is it with soccer moms trying to make their daughters Simone Biles in middle school?"

"The internet makes people think they can do anything," Dante said simply. He looked off into the distance, mouth half-open as if about to say something. Then he paused, and this paused stretched into about thirty seconds of silence.

This was not an uncommon occurrence, as Dante was one of the most spaced-out people that Micheal had ever met. At first glance, Dante looked like a stoner, what with the dreadlocks, tie-dye headband, and the free-love vibes he was giving off. This wasn't a bad observation, as Dante was a stoner, at least, outside of work. Michaell and the rest of the staff knew that Dante would never go to work high, and the employee that Michael had replaced when he first began working at the gym was fired because Dante caught him smoking in the locker room.

Michael was very enthusiastic about Dante never coming to work high because Dante was also one of Michael's trainers, and was often the only thing keeping him from breaking his neck during a set or a difficult exercise.

Along with being a stoner, Dante was also a really spacey, chill guy which lead to dead air between phrases and walking off in the middle of conversations he forgot he was having.

Dante seemed to snap back into reality and he quickly glanced at Michael with a grin. "Oh, yeah, Andrea's got a surprise for you."

"What?"

"Follow me."

Dante walked off towards the back of the gym, where there were squishy mats and low balance beams, a beginner's playground. Michael had to slow down to keep up with Dante's slow gait. Dante was never one to rush, and it didn't help that Micheal was much taller at 6'5", having to slow his own pace with most people so it didn't look like he was jogging away.

Andrea was already there, helping three young girls with their handstands. One poor girl was failing miserably, and Michael wanted to laugh, but didn't, because he decided not to be a dick.

Andrea spotted them walking over and lit up. Michael waved.

Michael had first met Andrea after school when he had come home to find her and his mother having coffee together. It turns out that they had gone to high school together, and Andrea had just happened to move back home a week earlier after her complex in New York had been destroyed.

Andrea was a gymnast herself and had had a strong possibility of making it to the big leagues when she was younger, but just didn't want too. When Michael heard the opportunities she'd turned down, he'd thought her stupid. But, it only took one lesson with her to prove himself wrong. Andrea was far from stupid. She weaved flips and tricks together into a routine that could get any practiced gymnast the first-place prize in a competition. She simply liked teaching more than doing it herself, which is what made her open the gym.

Andrea helped the girls with one final attempt at a handstand before glancing up at the clock. "Well girls, it seems our time is up for the day!"

The girls all made various pleas for 'just five more minutes!' but Andrea silenced them with a pointed look. "Girls, you've been here for forty-five minutes, now it's this boy's turn." She gestured towards Michael, and Michael watched as three pairs of eyes snapped around to glare at him. ''Now, go wait for your mother's by the front desk. I'm sure Kayla has some treat for you in that candy bowl of hers."

The girls seemed to forget about Michael at this and ran off towards the front desk. One stopped and did a cartwheel before continuing.

"Hey!" Andrea rebuked sharply, but Michael thought he saw a glimmer of amusement in her eyes, "No doing tricks off the mat!"

Dante laughed. "It was just a cartwheel Andy, let it be."

Andrea smirked. "Weren't you the one who just kicked someone out of our gym for the insurance liability?"

"I kicked her out because I don't want broken growth plates in my gym."

Andrea scoffed, "People don't seem to realize that what we do is actually dangerous."

Michael nodded along with Dante. Even he, who followed every safety instruction, had gained fractured bones and bruised ribs before. It was all part of the job.

Andrea shook her head and said, "Well, stupid is as stupid does, I guess." She suddenly snapped her fingers and pointed to Michael. "You, I want to show you something. I've got a new floor routine."

Michael raised his eyebrows. "I thought we already settled on my routine for this season."

Andrea waved her hand as if dismissing the comment. "We're cutting out the section between your initial jump and the splits. It's too boring, too overdone. I was looking over some floor stuff from the last two games, every arrangement we use I can count at least twice when someone else does it."

Michael thought that this wasn't too big of a deal, as the people who were doing the same thing as everyone else were obviously winning those competitions, but Andrea was the choreographer, not him.

"So, what's in this new routine?" Michael asked, hiding his nervousness. He always feared that one day Andrea would ask him to do something that he couldn't perform, and she would fire him and kick him out of her program, the whole time screaming "Boo, you suck!"

Well, that last part was probably just in his head, but still.

Andrea walked out onto the mat. "After your initial leap, you will land and go into a front handspring." She gave a little leap upwards before planting her right foot firmly on the ground. Then she bent forward, pressing her hands to the mat and pushing herself upwards, flying through the air and landing perfectly straight, like a pencil. "Then, an aerial cartwheel," she continued, bending forward and sticking her left leg straight up in the air. She flipped herself through the air, legs sticking straight out, and landed facing the opposite way she started. A bit breathless this time, Andrea said, "Finally, a back handspring." With a boost from her legs, she powered herself backward, landing on her hands and giving one final push to fly up and land. Michael noticed something was off about her landing though; one of her knees was bent too far. Andrea stumbled for a moment before regaining her composure. At forty-five, he worried, her age might be starting to get to her.

The few people milling about the gym had stopped to watch, and they all clapped at Andrea's finale. She gave a small bow, looking like some sort of strange circus performer, her hot pink tank top and leggings contrasting sharply against her dark skin.

Michael clapped too, caught up in the moment, before stopping and nearly throwing up when he realized that he too, had to perform that routine.

Dante nudged Michael with his elbow. "Good luck man." He seemed to have spotted someone over by the parallel bars and shouted, "Dude, you're using those wrong! You're gonna break your back doing it like that!" He took off across the gym at a light jog, leaving Michael alone with Andrea.

"So", she said, eyeing him up and down, "You ready?"

Michael gulped, "I have to warm up."

After some drawn-out stretching where Michael desperately tried to push off the inevitable and Andrea impatiently tapped her foot, Michael stood at the front of the mat, already mentally preparing to fail.

"Front handspring, ariel cartwheel, back handspring, you got it, Michael?"

Michael nodded weakly at Andrea's words, the gym suddenly seeming too hot and too crowded.

Andrea had her finger hovering over her watch, "I'll start timing you when you begin, Michael. Go whenever you're ready, preferably today though."

Michael took a deep breath, wiped his sweaty palms on his blue exercise shorts, and began his front handspring.

The first part went well, he noticed. He hadn't botched the handspring, so he went into his aerial cartwheel with a new bout of confidence. Undeserved confidence, apparently, as he flung himself into the air, lost control, stuck out his foot too early, landing awkwardly and painfully on the mat.

The next thing he saw was Andrea standing over him. "Well, that was a failure." Michael felt heat rush to his face. "But hey, failure just means that you can get better, right?" She held out a hand for Michael to grab and he took it somewhat sheepishly.

The two worked on Michael's set for the next fifteen minutes, and every time he did it, Michael felt better, he felt like with every step and leap the lights and crowds were coming closer and closer.

Eventually, though, Andrea told him that she wasn't paying him to flop around on the mat and that he had to actually work.

So, Michael meandered around the gym, looking for things to clean or people to help. He stopped by the receptionists' desk where a particularly pretty girl named Kayla worked. They would chat, which was usually comprised of Kayla complaining about her mom, or her loud neighbors, or some of the people that came into the gym. Michael didn't really mind, because he liked hearing her talk. He always seemed to be people's venting machine, they'd complain at him for an entire conversation and he'd just take it. The cost of having three teenage sisters, he guessed.

The talking couldn't last too long though, otherwise, Dante would yell loudly across the gym, "Hey MICHAEL, stope FLIRTING with the girl and GET BACK TO WORK." Kayla always thought this was funny, of course, but Michael never liked taking the walk of shame back to whatever he had been doing previously.

The gym closed down at 8:00, which meant Michael was free to leave, but he usually waited for Kayla to pack up before walking her to the bus stop. Tonight, however, Andrea was waiting at the door.

"Michael," She said, a glimmer of excitement in her voice, "I was just informed of something very important that involves both you and me."

Michael's head rushed with ideas. Was he getting into the Olympics? No, that was stupid, there wasn't a 2015 Olympics, and he hadn't been in any qualifying tournaments anyway. Could he be getting sponsored already? Or did Andrea just have some new, more complicated routine that she wanted him to try?

Andrea handed him a piece of paper. He felt Kayla looking over his shoulder as he read out loud:

"American Gymnastics Coalition Convention," Glancing along the rest of the paper, he saw Andrea's gym listed under 'Featured Associates'. They would receive their own booth and get to speak on a panel about small, independent, gyms and how to rise through the ranks of local competitions.

"Andrea!" He exclaimed, looking up, "This is great! You and Dante must be freaking out. What are you guys going to say on the panel?"

Andrea seemed to be suppressing a smirk. "Well you see, that's the thing. I'm not bringing Dante along. I'm bringing you, as our representative."

Behind him, he heard Kayla squeal and felt her arms wrap around him from behind.

Staring Andrea down like a deer in the headlights, he blabbered, "Buh-but this is all the way in New York, I- I can't afford to fly out there. It's like, a billion dollars per ticket, not counting the hotel!"

Andrea's smiled, "That's why Dante and I are paying for it, all of it. You've been working hard for so long, Michael, you deserve to get your big break."

Michael was frozen. He was going to New York. He was going to a large gymnastics convention in New York. He was going to be representing his gym in a gymnastics convention in New York. In front of sponsors with money.

Without thinking, Michael embraced Andrea in a hug. She stiffened at first but then relaxed if only slightly. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he whispered.

Andrea gave him a single pat on the back. "You're welcome. Now you two head home, it's getting dark."

The walk to the bus stop was full of non-stop talking by Kayla.

"Michael, this is amazing! I'm so happy for you! You deserve every second in New York! Gosh, New York! That's big! That's huge! This could be your break! Imagine if a big sponsor notices you! This is so freaking cool!"

Michael nodded along with a big dumb smile. Once again, he slowed his pace so that the shorter girl could keep up. He silently willed her to walk faster though, as all he wanted to do was run home and give his family the news. They would cry and laugh and be so happy, he just knew they would. Mia would want to make him some fancy outfit, Scarlett would draw up some business plan for meeting important people, Clea would just start screaming, probably, and his mom, well, his mom would probably pack him a lunch for the occasion and talk about how she always just knew this would happen.

Through his daydreaming, he sensed that Kayla had stopped talking. He glanced over at her and saw through the quickly fading daylight that she was focused on something up ahead. He followed her gaze and his brow furrowed at what he saw.

It was a large mural, graffiti, most likely. A large, blocky, human figure dressed in red, white, and blue stood within a circle of white stars. It was the star-spangled man himself, Captain America. Quickly sprayed words next to him read, 'We want our Cap back!" along with a tiny shield emblem.

"It's beautiful," Kayla whispered, brushing her fingers against the painted star on the Captain's chest.

"It's illegal," Michael muttered.

Kayla looked up at him, "Graffiti can still be pretty, Michael. Besides, I like the message."

"What message? They want a criminal to be able to walk around without any consequences."

"It's about freedom Michael. The government shouldn't be able to control whose lives the Avengers choose to save."

"What's the alternative then? Letting super-powered people who can destroy cities run around doing whatever they want without government intervention?"

Kayla sighed and looked at the ground. "You know that's not what I meant Michael."

"I know Kayla, you would never personally destroy a city and kill hundreds to stop one man, you want other people to do it for you." Michael snapped.

Michael immediately regretted opening his mouth when he saw the hurt in Kayla's eyes.

"Kayla, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."

Kayla looked at the ground, scuffing a piece of sidewalk with her shoe. "I know you didn't Michael. This is my stop, you go home now and tell your mom the good news."

Michael glanced up and saw that they were already at the bus stop. The apartment he shared with his mom and sister's was only a block from here.

Kayla brushed a piece of bench off and sat down. Michael glanced up and down the street nervously. It was completely dark now, and even though the stop was well lit, he still didn't feel right leaving Kayla all alone.

"I can sit with you until your bus gets here," He offered, standing awkwardly, hands in his hoodie pocket.

Kayla didn't even look at him. "I'll be fine Michael, my bus gets here in ten minutes. See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, see ya." Michael hesitated to leave, but slowly turned and walked away. Guilt wormed in his stomach with every step he took from the stop. If it was one of his sister's waiting in the dark, he knew that he would want someone to stay with them. Kayla had pepper spray in her bag, that much he knew, but he also knew that pepper spray meant nothing against a gun.

Finally, when he turned to go down the alley leading to his street, the guilt exploded inside of him. He whipped around and walked back in the direction he'd come from, his speed and anxiety growing with each step. When the bus stop came back into view, he was relieved to see Kyla still sitting there, checking her phone, and glancing up every few seconds.

He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, not wanting to make a scene by coming back. He also didn't want to look like a stalker, so he backed up into the shadow of another alley.

As soon as he did this, a bus roared by and came to a screeching halt in front of Kayla's stop. She smiled, got on, and the bus took off down the street.

Michael let out a deep sigh, She's alright, I made sure of it. Now I can go. He made a vow to never make Kayla wait alone again, for her safety and for his mental health.

Now that his anxiety had left him, thoughts of excited mothers and sisters crowded his mind again. New York, a career blossoming ahead of him. Maybe his life wouldn't be so average anymore. Maybe he was on the cusp of something great, something he could look back on as an old man and say, 'Yeah, I did that, and it was fucking awesome.'

With a new bounce in his step, Michael ran full speed down the sidewalk, dipping into the alley he had come out of before. Full of glee he paused to do a few useless high kicks, punctuating each one with a "Heeya!", before landing back on his feet and skipping towards the end of the alley.

A strangled cry escaped his throat as he felt the back of his hoodie catch on something. No, he noticed, it wasn't catching on anything, that was a hand, holding him. There was suddenly a sharp, quick, dot of pain in his lower back.

His legs folded beneath him and he slumped to the ground. Someone was standing above him. Dark clothes, a puffy jacket, a large beard, dark skin, dark eyes.

Through his panicked breathing, Michael barely heard the man when he spoke.

"What," he cried, shaking. "What?"

The man didn't respond. Instead, he dropped to the ground and began rifling through Michael's pocket's in a smooth, practiced maneuver.

Michael weakly pushed the man away. "Leave, I said leave!."

The man slapped Michael's hand away, using the other to dig through Michael's short pockets, where Michael knew his wallet was.

Suddenly, it seemed as if Michael were splashed with cold water. This is happening, he thought, This is happening right now. Do what mom always said, hit him, and make as much noise as you can.

In a sloppy move, Michael clenched his left hand into a fist and punched the man right across the face. He used his left hand to grip the lid of the dumpster and pull himself higher.

The man looked angry now, but he reached into Michael's pocket again, quicker and clumsier.

Michael scratched at his face over and over. The man tried to slap his hand away but Michael kept coming. He took his other hand off of the dumpster and lunged at the man, grabbing whatever he could and scratching and pulling and punching. A loud, inhuman wail escaped his throat, eventually forming a word. "Help! Help!"

During the brawl, Micheal made brief eye contact with the man, catching scared, wide, eyes. Michael felt a flash of what was almost pity and hesitated on his next blow.

That was all the man needed. A sudden flash of silver darted through the thin space between Michael and the man. Michael felt as though his face were on fire. He fell back, hitting the concrete as he heard quick footsteps retreating back down the alley. Every muscle in his body was sore and it was as if he could feel the blood pounding through every vein. Except for his legs. His legs were silent in this cacophony of pain.

His legs?

As a new wave of pain rippled through his face, he groaned and let his body relax against the ground. He was lying next to the trash in a dirty alleyway full of rats and roaches. Above him, on the outer wall of one of the apartment buildings, was a small, spraypainted, Captain America shield. It did not give him hope. He did not want to die like this.

But I'm not going to die. I don't feel anything except sore. I don't have any cuts or holes. I'm put together.

Something warm and liquid slowly covered Michael's hand. He used the last of his strength to move his hand away from his back and just over his face.

His dark hand was covered in bright, rose red, blood.

It didn't make sense.

There was only pain.

It was all just pain, no holes, no breaks.

But that was the thing, he didn't feel any pain in his back.

He didn't feel any pain in his legs.

In fact, he couldn't feel them at all.

And there, in a dirty, dark, alleyway, being watched over by the beloved symbol of his nation's patriot, Michael screamed himself into unconsciousness.