Actions

Work Header

The Stars Ain't Crossed (Why Align Them)

Chapter Text

“So where is the little guy from, actually?”

Steve’s breath catches in his chest. There was one more thing Steve had lied about on his registration form. He lied about it most of the time. He had even lied to Bucky about it until Bucky walked in on him in that bathroom. But unlike everyone else, Bucky didn’t care when he found out. If anything, Bucky and Steve became closer because of it. Only his mom and Bucky had ever known, and Steve was very careful to make sure it stayed that way.

Technically he hadn’t even lied. They just assumed he was a guy since he was trying to enlist and all. His chest was small enough and he pitched his voice low enough that people just assumed he had some baby fat and a higher voice for a guy. He already had so many ailments, assuming that puberty didn’t hit him that hard wasn’t usually much of a stretch. And it really wasn’t because puberty didn't hit him very hard so he was lucky enough to have a small enough chest that no one suspected the truth about him. He had hoped it would let him pass the first parts of the exam, but it seemed like, once again his fucking asthma had stopped him from even having a chance.

So now, he just said “Brooklyn,” knowing Dr. Erskine would find out soon enough and he’d be kicked out yet again. Instead of asking any more questions, Erskine stamped his form and handed it to him. Steve opened it and stared at the 1A, knowing it wouldn’t last. He steeled himself, forcing his own, inevitable decline.

“Dr. Erskine, there’s something you should know.”

“What is it, little guy?”

“Um, could we talk in private?”

“Why? Are you having second thoughts? You don’t seem like the type to back down, Steven.”

“No, Dr. Erskine, I just need to make sure you’re not.”

The doctor raised a single eyebrow, “Steven —”

“Could we talk in private? Please?”

The doctor’s eyebrows furrowed, and Steve got ready to ruin everything. There was no way he’d recover from this; no way that he’d be let into the army once they knew the truth. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears as Erskine simply nodded, turning back to the curtained-off area where they had met.

The doctor gently closed the curtain behind them, looking at Steve expectantly. Steve opened his mouth, and suddenly he couldn’t talk. He swallowed, took a deep breath.

“I’m actually a girl. Or I’m not. But people think I am. I’m sorry, I’ll just —”

He was interrupted by a friendly hand on his shoulder. “Steven, if you think you were chosen for what you are on the outside, you’d be... misled, to say the least. I’d advise you keep this between us and —”

The doctor paused. Steve was ready for his world to fall apart. Despite the doctor’s seeming nonchalance about the whole affair, Steve knew he wasn’t natural, wasn’t normal. Bucky and his mom had only accepted him because they had to love him — they were family. But this was a stranger.

The doctor continued, not noticing Steve’s world imploding as he spoke.

“— I think, if everything goes to plan, there’s a chance you’ll be very happy…”

Steve just blinked at him. He knew he was supposed to say something but nothing would come out.

“Steven?”

“Yeah — Yes. Thank you, doctor. I can’t tell you how —”

The doctor cut him off with a wave of his hand, opening the curtain once more, walking out with a,“Congratulations, soldier,” to Steve over his shoulder.

Steve couldn’t move. He stared at the A1 on the form. His world hadn’t ended. Instead, he had one more person on his team. Not that he had anyone left on his team before, what with Bucky gone and his mother buried. Now there was one whole other person in New York fighting with him for Steven Grant Rogers.

~~~

Steve quickly learned that that was painfully accurate. Exactly one other person was willing to look out for him. None of the other guys were interested in giving him the time of day; they certainly weren’t about to commit treason for him.

They’re all standing in a line when she walks in, hair perfectly done, devastating in her military greens. This is what Steve should be. What he might’ve been if he wasn’t so messed up in every way possible. As she, with good reason, punches one of the recruits in the face, he wants nothing more than to be like her, to be normal, to be unafraid of anything. But he is the way he is. Fucked up in every way imaginable.

This doesn’t help during their training. He struggles through exercises the others breeze through and, as the runt of the team, is often sabotaged in more difficult ones. But he fights through it — not to prove anything but because he knows he’ll never have this chance again. He should be fighting for his country, and if pushing through the pain and the sweat and a couple almost asthma attacks is going to make it happen, then that’s what he’ll do. He’s no better — if not a thousand times worse — than any of the other men training, so he’s ready to do anything to fight for his country. But the longer the training goes on, he begins to doubt that he really is all that much worse than the rest of them. They’re going to to be making a super-soldier, right? Why should it matter how far he can run before it happens?

From what he can tell, he’s passing all of the non-physical tests. From getting the flag down from its pole to the final test, jumping on that grenade, he starts to think he might actually be the one they choose.

When he finds out he is, it doesn’t really feel real to him. Not only is he not too sure about why, even after his talk with Erskine, but he doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. Erskine said it would “amplify whatever’s inside” of him. What does that even mean, on a practical level? He’s not like Schmidt. He’s not like any of the other guys who were almost chosen. He’s a girl . What would the serum do with that? Was he going to lose everything that made it easier for him to live in this stupid body in the first place?

They said the serum was going to give him a perfect body. But if it was a woman’s body, he didn’t know what he’d do. He didn’t know what Erskine would do. He’d be ruined. There’d be no way to argue he didn’t know the truth about Steve, no way to not be the man who wasted millions of dollars on a girl . Not like some other girl couldn’t’a worked out. Steve was pretty sure if Peggy Carter got this serum the war would be over in a matter of days. She was a force of nature. Steve tried to hate her — she was everything he couldn’t be — but not only was she one of the few people who was actually decent to him, but she was just an all-around good person. If Steve was any other guy, he’d probably be at least a little bit in love with her. But he knew who she was and who he was, so he stuck to his envy of her normalcy.

Steve tried to go to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he just saw himself before he knew who he was. But he was different. Instead of pigtails and an innocent smile, he had curves and long blonde hair swept away from his face. Maybe the one benefit of being so sickly and poor was that he was too malnourished to have those curves. But tomorrow anything could happen. He gripped his pillow tight under his head and willed himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Envy turns out to be the right feeling to have about Peggy Carter. When they’re sitting in the car the next day, on their way to where the procedure will taking place, Steve is reminded yet again of how superior Peggy is to him.

He’s, for God knows what reason, pointing out all the places he’s been beat up they pass along the way when Peggy asks him why he didn’t just run away from the fights. He has to think about it for a second. Bucky never asked him — he just seemed to know — and no one else seemed to care enough to ask. He decides that he didn’t have anything against running away from these fights, it’s like he tells Peggy, he has to keep on pushing back, they can’t stop him forever, small and weak as he is.

“I know a little of what it’s like, To have every door shut in your face,” she says. She probably thinks she’s helping, but he somehow feels even more ashamed to be the one person picked for this serum when there are so many more qualified candidates — like Peggy — that don’t have the chance to ruin the entire project if the serum works too well.

“I guess I just don't why you'd wanna join the army if you're a beautiful dame. Or a beautiful...a woman. An agent, not a dame! You are beautiful, but…”

He’s lying. He does know. If he didn’t know he wasn’t a woman, he’d’ve been right alongside her. But she can’t know his secret, so he lies.

He doesn’t tell her that he actually does know how to talk to women. He doesn't tell her he was trained for years in the art of being a woman. Just once he knew he was a guy, there wasn’t a woman who would give him the time of day, especially not with Bucky next to him. And with the way he was, there was little to no chance he’d ever find someone who’d want to be with him. But he was fine with that; he’d made his peace with it long ago.

Steve follows Peggy into the store when they arrive, and continues as she leads him to the back of the shop behind the almost painfully cliche but still impressive fake doors that hide the laboratory. When they step into the lab, all the men in white coats go silent and look up at him. He can feel the weight of their hope on his shoulders as he looks down at all that has gone into this project already, all the people who have been working on this for years, only to chance wasting it all on him.

He looks to Peggy for guidance, but, finding only a sympathetic gaze, heads down the stairs to find Erskine. Erskine greeted him, and Steve is momentarily blinded by a camera flash.

"You ready?"

Steve nods, but he's not. He hates lying; he wishes he didn't have to do it all the time.

"Good. Take off your shirt, your tie, and your hat."

He hesitates. He's not comfortable being any kind of naked around anyone so he fumbles with his hat as he hands it to the orderly. He takes off his shirt turning his back no one can see his chest. Hopefully, he thinks, they'll be too focused on how small and weak he is to even think about it.

He climbs into the machine, wondering if he'll recognize himself when he comes out and if he doesn't if he'll hate what he's become. He lies in the machine, listening to the bustle of people getting the procedure ready. He sees Howard Stark and privately hopes this will work better than the flying car prototype he saw with Bucky. Bucky . God, he misses his friend. Who knows if Bucky'll even recognize him after this.

Steve exchanges a final, hopeful look with Peggy as she heads up the stairs to the observation room.

~~~

Going through the transformation is possibly the most painful thing that’s ever happened to Steve. Even so, when he yells for them not to let him out until it’s done, he remembers to pitch his voice lower, even if he’s slightly disappointed he still has to.

When it’s all over, Erskine helps him out of the tube. No one’s screaming; so it must have worked. Steve looks down, expecting to see either a mass of muscle or a pair of boobs. And while there’s muscle there he’s now on par with the other guys who were vying for the serum. The Colonel was going to be disappointed, but what was new. Thankfully, there are no more boobs than there were before and... it looks like his bigger muscles are making them somehow look smaller. He’d take it. He didn’t magically grow a penis or anything but, for the first time, Steve could look down at his bare chest without hating it, and that was a win, even if nothing else today worked out.

And it didn’t seem like anything else would. Not two minutes after he had stepped out of the pod chaos ensued. There was an explosion in the observation room, and gunshots and the suddenly Erskine was lying on the ground and Peggy was shooting up the stairs at the man responsible. Steve rushed over to Erskine, kneeling over him. Erskine weakly poked him in the chest, as if to say, “Remember who you are; it’s all up to you now.”

Steve took a breath and focused himself on his new task. He took off running up the stairs, out of the laboratory, past the nice old lady who had died with a machine gun in her arms, and out the door. Just in time to pull Peggy out of the way of the car that was heading straight for her.

“I had him!”

“Sorry!”

And he was, really. But instinct kicked in, and, for the first time, he was able to save the person that needed saving. He took off running past the car. He thought for a second about the fact that he probably looked ridiculous in bare feet and too short pants but quickly brushed the thought out of his mind. He was using all the secrets he knew about Brooklyn to his advantage and running as fast as he could, so if he accidentally ruined the display of a bridal store when he underestimated his weight as he goes around a corner, he thinks he’ll be able to keep up. And for the first time in his life, he can.

He managed to jump on the roofs of cars, playing some giant, possibly fatal, moving, version of the "the floor is lava" game he and Bucky used to play when they were kids. He finally landed on the car he was following, and the man inside starts swerving the car, trying to shake him off. He tried shooting at him, but somehow Steve stayed on. Until he didn't but it didn't matter because a second later they were toppling, wheels-over-roof, as it were.

The man started shooting at Steve, thankfully, instead of the crowd of people behind him. Steve picked up the car door, which must have fallen off, and uses it as a shield. It always felt more natural to him to use a shield instead of any kind of weapon. The man shot at him a few more times and then, to Steve's horror, grabbed a kid from the crowd and hauled him off. Steve followed, careful to stay at enough of a distance so he could easily take cover when shot at.

As Steve came around the corner, the man pointed his gun at the kid's head.

"Wait don't! — Don't!"

The man pointed the gun at Steve and it clicked empty. He picked up the kid and, despite Steve's useless, automatic, protests, threw him into the river. Steve rushed to the edge, ready to jump in. But to his surprise, the kid was treading water.

"Go get him! I can swim."

Gratefully, Steve continued down the pier, where he saw a weird submarine-looking thing. That must be where the man went. It was sinking down further into the water, so he did the only thing he could — he jumped in after it.

The only kind of exercise you can do when you're 90 pounds and, among other things, asthmatic is swimming, so Steve was a pretty good swimmer, even before the serum. He dove in and started swimming as fast as he can to find the submarine. He found it without too much trouble — there wasn't much else going on in the water — and broke through the glass so he could pull the man out. Steve unceremoniously threw him onto the concrete as he hauled himself out of the water

The man took a wild swing at him, which Steve easily dodged. He kicked the man to the floor, before roughly pulling him up by the front of his shirt.

"Who the hell are you?"

"The first of many. Cut off one head," he broke what must've been a cyanide tooth, "two more shall take its place." He was frothing at the mouth. "Hail Hydra."

As he died, Steve loosened his grip on the front of the man's shirt, slowly putting him down. As he did so, he suddenly remembered all that has changed about his body. He looked down at himself, at everything that was different now and wondered if this meant everything would be better now. He hoped it did.

Chapter Text

Apparently, nothing was going to be getting better anytime soon. Apparently, all Steve was good for now was being pricked with needles. When they decided they had enough blood, so they could hopefully replicate the process Erskine had developed, he wasn’t going to be allowed to serve. Apparently only having one super-soldier instead of an army of them somehow made him obsolete? It had been clear from the beginning that the colonel didn’t like him, but Steve didn’t know he would go as far as to actively stop him from serving while he was a freaking super-soldier.

But he didn’t have anyone on his side anymore. There was no more Erskine to fight for him, and he couldn’t ask Peggy to help him — she had to fight her own battles and he didn’t want to sabotage her future by asking her to fight for him.

So when he was offered an opportunity to help, even only in a small way, he took it. Being “Captain America” was not anything he wanted, but he could see the substantial difference he made, even if the work he was doing wasn’t rewarding in and of itself.

Steve kept on doing the shows, feeling more and more like a puppet, or, as he so often drew, a circus monkey. The good that he was doing was starting to lose its appeal and worth as the war dragged on. Here he was, pretending to punch Adolf Hitler in the face when there were men laying down their lives every day. When he actually performed for the soldiers, it got worse. He could see how completely unimpressed they were, how exhausted they were from fighting every day. He could see them asking themselves why he wasn’t helping them fight, and seeing that made it harder to answer that question for himself.

The final straw was broken when, one seemingly unimportant day, he learned he had performed for the 107th infantry. His dad’s old division. Bucky’s division. God, he missed Bucky. They’d never been apart this long when they were kids. They’d hardly been apart for over a week most of the time. He thinks the longest they had ever spent apart before was when Bucky’s family had gone to the beach for a month one summer. It had also, not so conveniently for Steve been only a week after Bucky had learned the truth about him. It had been stressful, thinking he lost Bucky as a friend, but it was nothing compared to the constant worry of Bucky dying that he was going through now.

Bucky had been there for him like no one had ever been before — and probably ever will, Steve thinks to himself grimly. Not only did Bucky accept Steve’s secret, but Steve was comfortable around him in a way he wasn't around anyone else. When they were alone, he didn’t feel he needed to hide himself as much. He could let himself get more excited about things without worrying if his voice went higher than he wanted. He was even shirtless around Bucky a couple times. That had been one of the most nerve-wracking parts of trying to join the army — with one look they could see that he didn’t belong. But miraculously no one suspected that a girl would try to join the army, and much less allow herself to be shirtless to let it happen. Bucky was the only one alive in the world who knew his secret now. Throughout the years Steve had always been able to talk about it with Bucky, and he was able to confide a bit in Erskine, but for the past few months, he felt more alone than he ever had before. If Peggy had shown up earlier on the tour, he might’ve even ended up telling her.

So when Peggy told him he had performed for “what was left of the 107th,” he knew he needed to find Bucky. Somehow he always thought he’d be able to feel it in his soul when Bucky died, and he hadn’t felt anything. He jumped to his feet, ignoring the rain, and sprinted to Colonel Phillips’s tent, slowing to a walk as he arrived.

“Sir, I need the casualty list from the Azano.”

“You don’t get to give me orders, son.”

Why did Colonel Phillips choose to be difficult right now?

“I just need one name. Sergeant James Barnes from the 107th.”

“You and I,” the colonel said, pointing at Peggy, “are gonna have a conversation later that you won’t enjoy.”

Why wouldn’t he help? It was no effort to him at all, but to spite Steve, he wasn’t willing to do this.

“Please tell me if he’s alive, sir. B-A-R—”

“I can spell.”

Thank God this wasn't going to be one of the times the Colonel used his petty hatred of Steve to torture him.

“I have signed more of these condolence letters today than I would care to count. But the name does sound familiar. I'm sorry.”

He was wrong. Steve would’ve felt something; he was sure of it. Bucky had to still be alive, regardless of what the Colonel thought.

“What about the others? Are you planning a rescue mission?”

“Yeah. It's called winning the war.”

“But if you know where they are, why not at least —?”

“They're thirty miles behind the lines. Through the most heavily fortified territory in Europe. We'd lose more men than we'd save. But I don't expect you to understand that because you're a chorus girl.”

The remark stung, more than the colonel thought it would.

“I think I understand just fine,” Steve said, biting back his anger.

“Well then understand it somewhere else. If I read the posters correctly, you got some place to be in thirty minutes.”

Steve agrees, a plan already forming in his head.

~~~

Okay, so it’s not much of a plan, but it’s not like Steve’s ever done this before. He really was ready to walk to Austria to get Bucky back, but thanks to Peggy and Stark, it looks like he won’t have to.

Not that jumping out of a plane is that much safer, but it gets the job done.

He lands decently near the base and is able to figure out where it is pretty easily. It’s the only thing creating that much light and sound for miles. Thankfully, there were some vans approaching the base only a few moments after he found it. He ran toward them, thinking to himself that he was going to be thanking Dr. Erskine all night.

He jumps in the van, startling the two HYDRA soldiers inside.

“Fellas,” he says, unable to not be a smartass.

The agents don’t laugh; instead, they punch him — or rather, try to. They land a couple blows, but Steve has them unconscious and unceremoniously dumped out the back before they can do any damage that he wouldn’t have healed from by the time he left the van. The van passes the gate, and Steve lets out a sigh of relief — the first part is done.

There are three parts to Steve’s plan: get in the base, find Buck and get the hell out. At this point he’s not that concerned with the details; he just knows he needs to find Bucky.

He found Bucky in what he decided was the worst possible place — weak and strapped to a table. Steve rips the restraints off. “Hey, it’s me,” he said, pulling Bucky up. God, he’s so damn happy Bucky’s alive.

“Steve.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“I thought you were smaller.”

Well at least he’s still Bucky, Steve thinks, a grin forming on his face. But it can’t last. He catches a glimpse of a map on the wall and does his best to quickly commit it to memory all the while supporting Bucky.

“What happened to you?”

“I joined the Army,” he said. He’d tell Bucky the full story when they got to safety. He’d wait until no one was around so he could really get excited and not have to worry about pitching his voice down. Well, that was assuming they got to safety. It was looking to be considerably harder now that the entire building was exploding around them.

But somehow Steve and Bucky got out because that was what Steve and Bucky did. But because they were Steve and Bucky, the transponder Stark gave him was destroyed. Y’know, because that was what they did.

The other freed prisoners couldn’t believe their luck, neither the bad nor the good. But Steve had earned their respect now, and, once the joking comments about the Captain America costume died down Steve started to lead them home.

It was a long walk back to the base, so they made camp as soon as they felt they were safe from German forces investigating the HYDRA base. Both Steve and Bucky tried to take lookout shifts, but none of the men would hear of it. To hear them tell it, Bucky’d not only taken the spot of a wounded man to go to the medical center, but he’d lasted longer than anyone they knew of. And well, Steve had just broken them all out of prison, so nothing either of them did could convince them to let them take a shift.

So they settled in for the night, sharing a blanket as they so often had in Brooklyn. Steve was just starting to drift off when he heard Bucky’s voice in his ear, just barely a whisper.

“Hey, punk.”

“Yeah, Buck?”

“You’re gonna tell me everything tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Steve all but sighed back. It was good to be home again. Even Brooklyn hadn’t felt totally like home with Bucky gone, but here with Bucky’s warm presence at his back, Steve felt himself relax for the first time since Bucky shipped out.

Chapter Text

Steve tries to peel off from the group with Bucky that morning. And he thinks he's succeeded when —

“Hey, Cap!”

Steve’s head jerks up. He’s still not used to being called by his rank in anything other than a mocking tone.

“Cap, c’mon! You gotta meet the boys!”

Steve looks apologetically at Bucky, “Sorry, Buck. But I —”

“No, go for it, Cap. You gotta meet the boys.”

There’s a sting in his voice that Steve isn’t used to.

He starts to pick up the pace, moving to rejoin the group.

“Oi, Sarge! What the hell you think you’re doing?”

Bucky smirks, “Just enjoying the fresh air. Y’know Austria’s really pretty this time of year.”

“Hurry your ass up! The both of you! Ain’t you supposed to be a super soldier or some shit?”

Steve turns to Bucky, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Race you?”

“You got it, punk.”

“Jerk.”

And like that, they’re off. For the first time in their lives, they were almost evenly matched, trying to trip and catch the other the whole way. If they hadn’t been acting like the absolute children they were, Steve would’ve won by a mile. Both he and Bucky knew that, but they didn’t care.

They arrive, panting and a little muddy at the front of the group of rescued prisoners.

“Hey Sarge, you gonna introduce us to your friend?”

“Sorry, fellas. This is Steve. Steve Rogers. We were kids together; he’s my best guy. I don’t know ‘bout that super soldier shit though; he’s a bit of a punk.”

“Thanks, Buck. Jerk.” Steve tries not to think about how warm it made him feel when Bucky called him his best guy.

A man, with a rather impressive mustache and a hat that Steve was pretty sure wasn’t regulation, stuck out his hand to shake, “Boys call me Dum-Dum” and Steve took it.

In quick succession, Steve gets introduced to the rest of their little group, Gabe Jones, and Jacques Denier, who spent most of their time speaking in rapid fire French, Jim Morita, and an English guy they called Monty. This group had been together in the base and had led the push for escape while Steve found Bucky.

After a couple hours, though, Steve is starting to feel a little overwhelmed. For so many years he had been completely sidelined whenever he and Bucky had hung out with other guys, and this newfound attention, while not bad was starting to get to him. He jostles his shoulder against Bucky’s.

“You good?” Bucky asks, quietly enough that only they could hear.

“It’s just a little… much.” Steve gestures uselessly.

“You’ll be good until night?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Buck.”

Bucky keeps on checking in every hour or so. It wasn’t always with words, sometimes he would just catch Steve’s eyes and he would nod back. It keeps him grounded, keeps him present.

Steve doesn’t know how to act in a big group of guys. He doesn’t know what he was supposed to do. He’s decently sure they wouldn’t guess his secret but that didn’t mean he had any idea what to say. He decides to mostly watch, laughing at the appropriate times and throwing in a quip or two.

Eventually, it grows dark and they’re all exhausted, so they make camp for the night. By Bucky’s reckoning, they’re just one day’s march from where the 107th was stationed.

~~~

Bucky and Steve are huddled around the fire, legs under the same blanket they shared the night before. Until not too long ago, there had been a big group around them, talking and complaining about how hungry everyone was. But one by one they had gone off to bed, and now it was just Bucky and Steve. Just like it always ended up.

“So, Steve, what happened to you?”

“Like I said. I joined the Army.”

Bucky laughs and shoves Steve affectionately, “No, man, what really happened?”

In hushed tones, Steve explains it all, from telling Erskine his secret to Peggy, who he could’ve been if he wasn’t all wrong inside — “Naw, Stevie! You can’t believe that. You can’t!” — to the serum, to becoming Captain America to sell bonds.

“But how’d you get from dancing with showgirls to breakin’ me out of a HYDRA base?”

“Well by that point I was goin’ through the motions. Especially when we were performing for troops I just couldn’t justify to myself not fighting, not bein’ on the front line. And when the Colonel told me it was the 107th, I had to find you. And when the Colonel told me you were gone I still had to find you. Y’know I was about to walk to goddamn Austria ‘til Peggy Carter arranged a lift for me?”

Bucky shakes his head in disbelief, “You’re a real dumbass you know that?”

“Jerk.”

“Punk.”

“Hey, Buck?”

“Yeah?”

It’s becoming apparent that they were going to fall asleep there in front of the fire, legs tangled together under the blanket. Steve steels himself for a moment, then says what he’s wanted to ask Bucky since he found him.

“What’d they do to you? On that table?”

Bucky stiffens a bit beside him. “Don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Okay,” Steve says. “I’ll be here when you’re ready, okay?”

“Okay, pal.”

Steve turns and lays his head on Bucky’s chest, the same way he’s done since they were kids. But today Bucky stiffens. Steve stays, though, and before long Bucky relaxes and his breathing starts to even out.

Steve’s still awake, watching the dying embers of the fire when Bucky starts to gently snore. Steve wishes he could calmly go to sleep; he knows he’ll be in for a world of trouble with the Colonel when they arrived at the base. But for now, he just leans into Bucky’s warmth and closes his eyes.

Chapter Text

As they near the camp, for the last mile or so, the men push Steve and Bucky to the front of the pack, with Steve leading them and Bucky at his side.

Steve surrenders himself to the Colonel knowing there was only one thing he could do in so public a setting. Peggy walks over to him, completely ignoring not only Colonel Phillips but also the other men around Steve.

“You’re late,” she says, a smille tugging at her lips. 

“Couldn’t call my ride.”

Peggy looked into Steve’s eyes — they were almost nose to nose — and Steve feels something, something he’s never felt with a girl before.

“Hey!” he ignores Bucky, “Let’s give it up for Captain America!”

Steve reluctantly lifts his eyes from Peggy’s, looking around at the men he’d saved. They were all cheering for him, but who knows how long that'll last. He knew this couldn’t last — there was no way he’d make it through the war with nobody finding out his secret. He wasn’t like them, and it wouldn’t be long before they found out.

Once all of the excitement from their return died down and he had debriefed with the Colonel, Steve retreated to his tent to pack up his things to join the Allied forces in London.

He’s putting the last couple of things in his pack when Peggy walks in.

“It really was quite remarkable what you did, you know?”

“They keep tellin’ me that. It was actually kinda selfish if ya think about it.”

“How do you mean?”

“I didn’t go in looking to save everyone. I was just a kid looking for his best friend. And now everyone thinks I’m Captain America — that I’m everything I pretended to be.”

“I think you might be closer to Captain America than you think.”

Steve suddenly realizes how close Peggy is, feels her breath on his skin. He looks down at her lips, noticing her lipstick.

“I’m really not,” Steve backs up to the bed, sitting down. “I’m just a dumb kid from Brooklyn too stubborn to know when to back down from a fight.”

“And who’s to say that that kid can’t be Captain America? There’s so much good in you Steve, Abraham saw it, I see it, even the Colonel sees it, though he’d never admit it. Your friend, Bucky, he sees it. And I guarantee when he looks at you he doesn’t see Captain America. But that doesn’t change the respect he has for you. That we all have now — you’ve earned it. You may not like it, but you’re Captain America now.”

Steve buries his head in his hands, and when he looks up Peggy has disappeared.

~~~

They arrive in London and, after Steve shows the Colonel where the HYDRA bases he saw on the map are, he’s given the opportunity to get a team together to bring them all down.

He knows that the men from the camp aren’t the most obvious choice, but they respect him already and he knows they work as a team. He’s also not that ready to trust the Colonel’s judgment — while the men he had recommended for the serum were definitely more physically capable, most of them were downright assholes and he doubted he'd have any better luck this time around.

It takes remarkably little convincing to get the whole squad signed on — they all could've gone home heroes, but somehow, somewhere along the line, they started to believe in “Captain America” and now they're along for the ride. Steve's not sure how he feels about it. He sure as hell doesn't feel like a hero.

He lets himself get lost in his misery for a few moments at the bar when he sees Bucky.

“So," he says, “you ready to follow Captain America into the jaw of death?”

“Hell, no,” Bucky replies, and Steve's heart sinks a little. He doesn't know what he expected. Bucky had been tortured by HYDRA. Tortured. Why the hell would he want to do anything but go home? Fuck. Steve should've asked him first. He didn't know if he could do it without Bucky. The only reason anyone believed in “Captain America” at all was because of Bucky.  

Bucky’s voice pulls him out of his panic spiral.

“That little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight — I’m following him.”

Steve smiles, wondering how Bucky always knows the exact right thing to say.

“But you're keeping the outfit, right?”

He hadn’t been planning on it. Not until this moment. He didn’t think he could be Captain America. He didn't think he could stand the pressure. But knowing Buck would be beside him and everything was still the same between them he chuckled and said, “It's growing on me.”

They stayed at the bar late into the night. Even though Steve couldn't actually get drunk anymore, he knew there was nothing more important in a squad than trust. And while they already had quite a bit built up from their collective near-death experience, they'd need to know each other like brothers if they were going to be able to take down HYDRA.

But no matter how close they got, Steve knew he couldn't ever tell any of them his secret. They wouldn't understand. And even if they did, they were here to follow Captain America, not some girl who wanted so badly to be a boy she lied to herself and everyone she knew.

Steve laughs along with the guys at some joke Gabe made, but it feels hollow somehow. He knows there will always be this distance between him and everyone he knows. But he smiles anyway. Because he's Captain Goddamn America.

Chapter Text

The other guys seem to understand pretty quick that only Bucky will ever be really, properly close to Steve. He tries, he really does. He spends time with them, cracks jokes off-duty, does everything a good captain should do with his squad. But there’s always this veil separating them, and Steve doesn’t know how to break through.

That’s a lie. Bucky is how he breaks through. When Steve’s with Bucky, he’s able to forget . He’s able to be an idiot, he’s able to be a friend. When he’s with Bucky he just has to be a person.

Most nights, if they’re not on a mission, he and Bucky will break off from the squad a little after dinner. They’ll find somewhere, a well-lit room for Steve to draw, a open field for Bucky to look at the stars, and just be. They’re nothing special. Bucky’s not the best sniper in the US Army. And Steve, Steve’s not Captain fucking America. They’re just two kids from Brooklyn.

Steve finds himself missing Peggy. Sometimes they do missions with her. Steve loves those missions, not only because Peggy is brilliant but also for the moments that seem to find them every time. They stand too close, their gazes linger too long, and he feels that feeling again.

Despite them being maybe the only two people alive that Steve cares about, Bucky and Peggy don’t get along. Well, Bucky doesn’t get along with Peggy. Maybe he just can’t get over her rejecting him. Whatever it is, Steve doesn’t like it. He wants to tell Bucky what he thinks he might be feeling for Peggy, but there’s no way he’s gonna tell Bucky about a dame for the first time if Bucky can’t stand her.

They’re somewhere in France, looking up at the stars in comfortable silence, when Bucky, out of the blue, says, “Hey, Stevie?”

“Yeah, Buck?”

“What are we gonna do when this whole mess is over?”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“We’re different Stevie. We’re not who we were.”

“The whole world is different now, Buck.”

“‘Snot what I mean. It’s different for us. Everyone else, they only have to deal with the same world we had before. It’s worse, obviously, but it hasn’t really changed. But we’ve got HYDRA and Schmidt and…” Bucky trailed off.

“And me, ” Steve said hollowly, feeling like all the air had been pushed out of his lungs.

Tears were springing to Steve’s eyes. Goddamnit, goddamnit, he was better than this. He wouldn’t cry. Not now, not in front of Bucky. Steve looked up at the stars, hoping to keep Bucky from seeing the tears that were pooling, despite his best efforts.

“Steve I didn’t mean—”

“No, you did Buck. But it’s okay; you’re right anyways.”

Steve turned away from Bucky, curling into a ball, tears starting to stream down his face. He felt a hand on his back but shook it off. He didn’t want to talk about this. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He took the first watch that night, watching the stars alone.

~~~

They don’t really talk about the future after that. They don’t talk about anything serious. They’re still best friends. They still crack jokes; they still have each others’ backs. But there’s something between them and Steve has never felt so alone. He feels like he’s watching himself from a distance. He can’t let his squad know. Not that he’s hurting, not that he’s lonely, and definitely not his secret.

He sees Bucky watching him from a distance sometimes, catches him in a moment where he’s supposed to be laughing with the squad, just watching him, always with this sad, broken look on his face.

Now that he can’t hide behind Bucky anymore, Steve is finally getting to know the squad. He learns that Dum-Dum used to be in the circus, that Morita has a son back home. The more he learns about them, the better they fight in the field. They’ve gone into so many “suicide missions” at this point Steve has to remind them not to grow cocky. His men tease stories out of him about growing up with Bucky and he indulges them, choosing his words carefully so he doesn’t slip. Bucky retorts with his own stories and for a few moments, they’re normal again. And then Bucky stammers over a pronoun, too drunk to be telling this old of a story. When he finds the courage to meet Steve’s eyes again, there’s that same sadness and the night is somehow ruined.

Steve finds himself distancing himself from the squad during the day, preferring to let Bucky have a normal life not clouded by Steve. He can’t tell if Bucky is more distant on those days or if he just doesn’t have anything to distract him from seeing the sadness in his eyes. Either way, Steve keeps on reminding himself, Bucky’s better off without him.

When they go to little villages and surpass all expectation of how much seven men can drink, Steve knows he doesn’t have to make sure Bucky gets back to camp safe. He knows Bucky’s not getting back until morning, sneaking out of whatever blonde’s bedroom he had found himself in. He doesn’t know why, but he hates those girls. But he can’t show it, especially if he ever wants Bucky to like Peggy. But that would mean telling Bucky. Or Peggy. And that’s just. Well.

Steve rolls over, trying to get comfortable. Trying to think about anything other than the slim blonde Bucky is undoubtedly fucking right now. He can imagine it; Bucky’s muscles rippling, her fingers grasping at his broad back as he fucked into her. He must fill her up so completely. And Bucky must be considerate. Not just a hand on her, but a mouth. Steve remembers the other girls talking about it at school. He must put his tongue inside her and —

Steve felt himself getting wet. Great. As if he has to be reminded he will never be like Bucky. He ignores the warmth in his abdomen and wills himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Peggy seemed to be on every single one of their missions lately. And if she wasn’t on the mission, Steve couldn’t get her out of his head. Now that he didn’t have Bucky he only had Peggy. He tried not to let her know, but it must’ve been obvious in how he perked up whenever she was around. And for every smile she brought to his face, she seemed to bring a scowl to Bucky’s.

Steve knew he couldn’t expect Bucky to try and like her for him. But he should at least pretend when they work together. Shouldn’t he? He kept finding himself trying to tell Bucky that with his eyes, silently willing him be nice . But Bucky either didn’t see or simply didn’t care.

Instead of going to bars with his men, Steve started walking the streets with Peggy. It started with him walking her home one night, but soon they’re walking for hours just talking about nothing. It felt like nothing he’s felt before. He was thinking about making a move. He’d spent too much time on the other side of the equation to want to do anything other than move slowly. But he thinks she’s ready. He thinks he’s ready.

They were walking down the street, dusk settling over the village they’re in, when he finally found the courage.

“Peggy.”

He stopped walking, and so did she, after a few steps.

“There’s something I have to tell you. Something I’ve been too scared to say. But I think I can say it now.”

She looked at him expectantly. He was sure she knew what he was about to say. He was also sure she wouldn’t help him say it.

“Peg…” He trailed off, looking away from her, unable to meet her eyes.

“Um. There’s someone in my life. I’ve never known anyone like them. They’re so strong and so vulnerable, so sweet and so brash, so goddamn incredible I barely know what to do when I’m around them. I’ve been trying for so long to let them know and I just can’t wait any longer.”

He turned back to Peggy, but this time she’s the one looking away.

“I feel like I’ve always known them. And they’ve always known me. Gosh, Peg... I just feel normal around them. I can forget that I’m me. That I’m Captain America. That I’m everything that I am. I’m just… Steve.”

He could see a single tear drip down her cheek but he chooses not to acknowledge it.

“So Peg, what I’m trying to say is… Will you go dancing with me?”

“Of course I will, Steve.”

Her smile was so bright it was blinding him. He didn’t know what to do with his body. He was trying so desperately not to jump up and down like a little kid.

“Took you long enough to ask.”

“Aw, Peg. There’s no need for that,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.

When he arrived back at the camp, the only person he wanted to talk to was Bucky. But Bucky was nowhere to be found.

~~~

They met the next night, not wanting to wait since they didn’t know when their next mission together would be.

The Commandos had had the day off, waiting for orders from the Colonel before they went on to their next location. Bucky staggered home sometime close to sunrise. Steve tried to find a moment to talk to him. This was the first time there was a girl he actually cared about, who didn’t pity him, who wasn’t just using him to get to Bucky. Steve was busy all day, sending telegrams back and forth as they received the final details for their next mission. He finally got a break for dinner and immediately started looking for Bucky. He found him outside his tent, meticulously cleaning his gun, preparing to move on.

“Hey Buck,” Steve says, but he barely looks up, moving the oiled rag over the pieces of broken-down rifle.

“Um, so,” Steve shifts nervously, “I have a date.”

“Hey look at you! Going up in the world!”

Bucky stands to give Steve a one-harmed hug coupled with a slap on the back. Before the serum, a slap like that would’ve sent Steve reeling. Instead, he wraps an arm around Bucky and matches his force.

“Who’s the lucky lady? Someone back in London?”

“It’s…” Steve found himself unable to say it. Just last night he had been so excited.

“C’mon, spit it out.”

“It’s Peggy Carter. Er Agent Carter — er Peggy. Peggy.”

“Aw, Stevie, I’m so happy for you!” Bucky’s face broke out into a smile. If Steve was anyone else in the world, he wouldn’t notice how the smile didn’t quite meet Bucky’s eyes. Was he interested in Peggy? Is that why he never wanted to talk about her with Steve?

They settle into idle prattle and Steve eventually drags Bucky over to where Joe has made dinner, making him promise not to tell the rest of the squad about the date. Bucky obliged, but that didn’t stop him from flashing eyes at Steve every time Peggy’s name came up. But no matter how many jokes Bucky made, Steve couldn’t get that look on Bucky’s face out of his head.

~~~

It was still bothering him later that night when he met Peggy to go dancing, but he forced himself to put it out of his mind. There was a small dance hall in town, with a little band that played folk music and radio hits alike. It wasn’t anything lavish; it was sturdy and homey and warm. It felt right.

Steve gets them a couple drinks. Even though he can’t get drunk he still likes to pretend sometimes, pretend he isn’t different. They sip their drinks, people-watch, and tell stories from home or of missions gone awry. Growing up with Bucky, Steve has no shortage of stories from their years as teenage misfits. Peggy chimes in with a few of her own and Steve learns more about her in that evening than he had learned in all the time they had spent together before. He learns about her older brother Michael and about their misadventures during their school days. She breezes over her days at Bletchley Park and how she got to where she is now but Steve gets the distinct impression she is far more impressive than she will ever let him know.

Finally, the band plays something slow and soft and Steve offers his arm to Peggy to dance. She takes it, and they walk together to the dance floor.

Chapter Text

Steve’s hand is on Peggy’s waist. Her hand is in his hair, playing with the short hairs at the nape of his neck. They’re hardly even dancing, just rocking with the beat and holding each other.

Steve doesn’t let himself get close to people, emotionally or physically, and his body and soul singing. He lets himself lean into Peggy’s weight, letting her feel the shape of his body in a way that perhaps only Bucky and his mother have ever felt. He doesn’t think about the serum, even his body seems an afterthought in this bubble they’ve created for themselves.

He brushes the hair back from her face and she looks up at him. He’s never wanted to kiss anyone more in his life. He doesn’t know how she would feel if she did it. He can tell she wants it, but she also has a reputation to maintain and some of the men might’ve followed them in.

After what feels like hours, the song finally ends. He points his head towards the door as a question. She nods, and he leads her through the crowd already starting a more upbeat number.

They reach the door of the dance hall and he takes his hand in hers. They’re lit only by the light from inside the houses.

“So that’s what dancing’s all about. I guess I see what the big fuss is all about,” Steve says, and immediately regrets opening his mouth. Why did you say that? Steve, you idiot, she was going to kiss you. To kiss you.

To his surprise, she laughs, “Do you, now?”

Somehow, without Steve realizing, they’ve stopped walking. Peggy wraps her arms around his neck, fingers interlocking.

Steve wants to say something but can’t even form words. Just looking at Peggy, glowing in the moonlight mixed with the warm glow of the street, takes his breath away. She looks up at him and he slowly leans in, giving her the chance to stop him. She leans up into his mouth and it feels like it’s his first kiss all over again. She’s soft and pliant and warm and keeps pulling him closer. All of a sudden though, she pulls away.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“Of course not. I just don’t think the good people want to be seeing this right now.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Steve looks around sheepishly, but the street is still deserted apart from a circle of men smoking outside the dance hall.

“I do have a private room.”

Steve hadn’t even considered. Hadn’t even thought that he would kiss Peggy tonight much less do more. He just stares at her dumbly for a moment until his brain finally returns to his body.

“Yes! Uh, yeah that would be nice.”

He had walked her back the other night, so he knew where he was going, but everything felt different now. He was excited, sure, but he was also panicked. He was going to have to tell her. He’d only ever told Dr. Erskine on purpose and he hadn’t had a choice. How was he going to do this? She was going to leave him. She was going to leave him and expose him to the world. Captain America, freak of nature! Only good to be stared at and mocked.

Before he knows it they’re at her room and she’s unlocking the door. She walks in and he just stands in the door frame for a moment, feet glued to the floor.

“Steve, if this is too much too quickly…”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just… I don’t know how to say this.”

“What is it, Steve?”

“I’m actually a girl. I mean I’m not. But people think I am?”

“I’m not sure I understand, Steve...”

He can’t make himself meet her eyes.

“When you were little, you always knew you were a girl. Everyone told you you were a girl and gave you dresses and dolls. But even without all of that, you knew you were a girl. When I was little I always knew I was a boy. But everyone told me I was a girl and gave me dresses and dolls. But even with all that, I knew I was a boy. But no one could see it. And I knew I couldn’t tell anyone. I knew I was a freak. When my breasts started to grow, I wrapped them in rags and bound them so tight I could hardly breathe. You could hardly see them, but just knowing they were there made me... One day, my mom found me in the bathroom, a pile of hair on the floor, scissors shaking in my hand as I cried. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Somehow she understood. She said she had always known but was afraid of what it would mean for me. She was there for me, her and Bucky were. I lied on my registration form but I didn’t even get far enough for them to figure out the truth. And now I’m rambling and I should stop… Peggy?

She had gone to sit on the bed while he was talking, and a curtain of hair had fallen from its pins, obscuring her face.

“So you’re a?”

“I’m a boy, Peggy. It just looks like I’m a girl.”

“I’m not sure that I completely understand, Steve. I have to be honest. But I don’t know that I ever will. I started to fall in love with you when you were nothing more than a stick with arms” — Steve chuckles at that — “and you’ve changed so much. But, Steve, I don’t think this changes anything.”

Steve’s breath caught in his throat and he could feel tears welling in his eyes.

“Do you really mean that?”

“Of course.”

She stands up and kisses him. And it’s the same as it was before, but somehow it’s completely different.

He kisses her back, for the first time ready to not hold anything back. She brushes her tongue across his lips and he parts them, allowing a moan to escape as he does so. She cautiously enters his mouth, exploring. He’s soft and yielding, and when he sucks on her tongue she makes a sound that he wants her to make a thousand times.

His hand is on her shoulder, thumb caressing her exposed collarbone. He blindly finds the buttons to free her from her dress.

“You’re better at that than most men.”

“I’ve had practice.”

She huffs a laugh into his mouth as she continues to work on the buttons of his shirt. All of a sudden the fear comes back. He doesn’t know if he’s ready for her to see him.

But she doesn’t seem to sense his hesitation. Or if she does, she doesn’t understand it.

All of a sudden his shirt is off and she can see his chest. And after the serum, you can’t tell unless you know. But she knows and his heart leaps to his chest and he can only let out his breath when she takes an appreciative look at him and goes back to kissing him, her hands roaming, exploring his body.

She helps him pull her dress off and then she’s in front of him in nothing but her underthings and he’s speechless again. Why would she want to be with him? Why would she stay with him after what he told her?

But then he can’t even think because she’s freed herself from her underclothes and she’s beautiful. Steve can’t keep himself from pushing her against the bed and sucking one pink nipple into his mouth. He grazes it with his teeth and Peggy moans and suddenly there’s a hand in his hair, egging him on. He looks up at her and she is beautiful. She can’t stay still as he works over her nipple with his tongue. All of a sudden, she pulls him back up to meet her mouth again and their chests are touching. He runs his fingers along her sides, eliciting a shiver.

He begins to work his way down her body, taking time at her pulse point, but being sure not to leave a mark. He takes time to mouth at her nipple, his left hand coming up to tease at the other. All too soon he finds himself between her legs, her hand twisted in his hair. He lets his tongue dart out, licking a line up the length of her pussy. He finds her sensitive nub quickly and puts everything he has into eliciting those little sounds from her, using his fingers inside her, taking cues from the grip of her hand in his hair and the beautiful, broken sounds she was making. Before he knows it, she’s coming and pulling his head up to meet hers and taste herself on his lips. She makes a move towards his underwear.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to, Steve,” she says, pulling down his boxers and suddenly he’s naked. He doesn’t remember the last time he was naked with another person was probably when he took baths with Bucky to save water. He always seemed so small next to Bucky; he wonders what it would be like now, if he could still fit between Bucky’s legs. Fuck, he shouldn’t be thinking about Bucky right now. He was in bed with a beautiful woman and he was thinking about his best friend. What was wrong with him?

She’s working her way down his body, mimicking his path on her and he grips the sheet underneath him, needing something to hold on to. When she gets between his legs, she seems to hesitate for a moment but dives in. He’s never come in front of another person, not that he’s had the opportunity before and he just can’t get out of his own head enough for it to happen. Eventually, he decides it’s been too long and gives up. He doesn’t tell her though; it’s not about her and he’s more satisfied and sated than he’s been in a long while.

He stays the night in Peggy’s bed, their legs intertwined. She’s in front of him, using one of his warm arms as a pillow while the other is wrapped around her waist. It takes him forever to get comfortable; he’s always been in her spot whenever he and Bucky shared a bed. He misses it for a moment, but pushes the thought out of his head and forces himself to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Steve comes back to the camp the next morning and all the men know where he’s been. Not that he’s been with Peggy, specifically, but they all know he got laid. As he makes his way back to change into a fresh set of clothes, he gets knowing nods from his men and can hear the whispers starting amongst the men who aren’t Commandos. Bucky almost literally pulls Steve into the tent when he gets back.

“So?”

“So, what?” Steve’s being a dick, and he knows it.

“So how was it, punk?” Buck asks, giving Steve a friendly whack on the arm.

“It was… it was good — great, I mean. I mean I’m here and nobody’s freaking out so it can’t have gone that bad.”

“So she… knows now?

“Yeah.”

“And she’s okay with it?”

“Yeah, she seemed weirdly fine with it. It’ll probably hit her soon though.”

“Nah, she’s a good one. If she had a problem with it she would’a told you then and there.”

“I’d like to think so.”

There’s a moment of friendly silence, the kind Steve had been missing.

“Buck? Can we go back to how things were? Before… everything…”

Bucky slings an arm around Steve and he leans in, relishing in the always-familiar warm presence at his side.

“Sorry Stevie,” Bucky’s almost whispering, “it’ll never be like things were.”

“Can we pretend? Just for us?”

Steve’s entire being is on edge waiting for Bucky’s answer. He never lets himself be vulnerable, only around Bucky, and he needs it. He can’t keep on being Captain America without it. It feels like he’s waiting an eon but it’s only a moment before Bucky replies.

“Yeah, Stevie, yeah we can.”

They stay like that, Steve curled into Bucky’s body, both crammed onto Bucky’s cot, Bucky’s hand absently running through Steve’s hair until it’s time for them to leave.

~~~

Steve and Bucky are better then. Or at least Steve likes to pretend they are. But every time he goes to see Peggy, Bucky closes off. He knows he shouldn’t take it personally, but it still hurts when Bucky’s face deadens and that’s how he knows Peggy must be behind them.

Bucky has always been a player, but those nights when Peggy is around he seems to be on a mission. Some nights he’ll be with more than one girl before Peggy and Steve have even left the bar.

Peggy and Steve. Steve likes that they’re Peggy and Steve now. He’d never been a couple with any girl before and it felt good, no matter how relentlessly his men teased him about it. Bucky never joined in, though, didn’t seem to think it was funny.

One night, Steve and Peggy are lying in bed, his hand absently twirling her hair when he asks her, “Why do you think Bucky doesn’t like you?”

She laughs out loud and then stops herself.

“Oh! Sorry. I just thought it was obvious.”

“You thought what was obvious?”

She seems to settle herself, turning to look at him.

“Steve, Bucky’s in love with you.”

“He’s what?!”

“I’m sorry I honestly thought you knew. Honestly, I thought you two were a couple for a little bit until — Steve?”

Bucky is in love with him. Bucky is in love with him . He starts giggling, unable to keep it together. Bucky in love with him? That’s ridiculous. Why would she even think that? Is it because she knows the truth about him? Because Bucky is only into women. Or is he? Steve has noticed a few lingering glances when Bucky’s had a few too many. But never for him!

“Steve, are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just — Bucky!”

“Yeah Steve, Bucky. Are you okay?”

He’s not sure if he’s okay. Bucky’s in love with him. What is he supposed to do with that? His best friend is in love with him.

“I’m not sure?”

“That’s fine, Steve.”

Peggy strokes his hair as he tries to puzzle through the bomb she just dropped on his world. He doesn’t know when he falls asleep, but it’s suddenly morning, too early to go anywhere and they have languid morning sex. But as Peggy is fingering him (it had taken a while for him to open up to the idea, but once they had tried it, Steve was a changed man) he remembers what she told him again. Bucky is in love with him. Does that mean that Bucky is attracted to him? Does he want to have sex with him? What would it feel like to have Bucky fucking him?

And for the first time, he feels what he’s only felt in private, the glorious feeling taking over, leaving him limp and exhausted. Fuck. He came thinking about Bucky. He’s going to have to unpack that later.

When he leaves for their next mission, he tells himself he’s going to see if there’s anything different about Bucky. And there doesn't seem to be. He’s the same old Bucky, a little harder from the war, but then again so was Steve. What could Peggy have seen that made her think Bucky was in love with him?

Bucky can tell something is off but he doesn’t ask about it. Steve pretends that he hasn’t noticed how Bucky’s ass looks in his uniform or how he bites his lips when he’s concentrating during a briefing. Steve pretends his hands don’t brush against Bucky’s when they walk together and that he doesn’t shift so Bucky is against his back when they sleep outside.

Nothing seems to be different with Bucky, though. Peggy must have been imagining it. But now that the thought is in his mind he can’t get it out. This is ridiculous! He’s supposed to be falling in love with Peggy! What is he doing thinking about Bucky? He can’t be in love with Bucky! If he is falling in love with Bucky, what does that mean? Does that mean he was wrong? Is he really a girl? The only person he wants to talk to about this is the only person he can’t, so he settles for the next best thing and promises himself he’ll talk to Peggy about it the next time he sees her.

Chapter Text

How do you tell your girlfriend that you might be in love with your best friend? Do you tell her over dinner or after? Do you wait until you’re in bed together or until you’re warm and sated in post-orgasmic bliss? If you’re Steve Rogers, apparently you blurt it out the first moment you’re alone with her.

“What if I was in love with Bucky? Not that it even matters I’m pretty sure he’s not even in love with me but ever since you said it I can’t the idea out of my head and —”

“You’ve always been in love with him?”

“I’ve — what?”

“Steve, I’ve known from the moment I first saw you two together, suspected from the first time you told me about him. I knew that when I went out with you, and I did it anyway.”

“I — what? I need to sit down”

He sits on his cot, thankful they’re in his tent where no one would barge in. She sits down next to him, but he can’t meet her eyes, they stay fixated on her pumps, just impractical enough to make everything she does all the more impressive.

“I’m sorry, Steve. I didn’t mean for it to affect you this way. If I had known I never would have mentioned it.”

She puts her hand on the small of his back, deliberately not curling it into the curve of his hip — she knows how he hates that.

“Steve, I think you need to talk to Bucky about this.”

Steve can’t even look at her, the question on the tip of his tongue but unable to make his mouth form the words.

“Steve?”

“Does it… mean I’m really a girl?”

Steve’s voice sounds broken, even to him and he hates himself.

“Oh, no, Steve! Loving a man doesn’t mean you have to be a woman! I know plenty of men who love other men and — oh!”

Steve is crying. Fuck. Why is he crying. God fucking damn it. It wasn’t even Peggy telling him he didn’t have to be a girl that did him in. It was the casual way she referred to him as a man. No one ever called him a man .

“Steve? Are you okay?”

He can only shake his head “no” as Peggy brings him into his arms. He stays there for a while, until the sobs have stopped shaking his body. He un-buries his head from her shoulder.

“I love you, you know?”

“I know. I love you too.”

“But not like…”

Steve gestures pointlessly to his right.

“I know. It’s okay, Steve.”

They stay there for a long time until Steve finally breaks the silence.

“What was that you were saying about men who love other men?”

Peggy tells him about men who love men, poofs, women who love women, dykes, and even tells him about someone like him she remembers reading about in the paper a few years ago. She even tells him that she has loved both women and men. Steve thinks that’s where he falls too. He tries to parse through everything they talked about, but all he really wants is to talk to Bucky about all of this.

~~~

Bucky must know something is up. Steve can’t find him most of the time, much less get him alone. He sits across the tent and leaves the second he’s done eating. Every night he’s at the bar and most nights he’s bringing some girl back to the camp. If he’s not, he’s probably gone back to hers.

It’s almost a week before Steve can catch Bucky by the arm after a briefing about the mission they’ll be leaving on the next day.

“Hey, Buck. Can we talk?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Bucky isn’t making eye contact with him.

“Now?”

“Can’t. I have to prep for tomorrow.”

“When can you, Buck? C’mon, I miss you.”

Bucky’s face screws up a bit, like he’s thinking about something important.

“Fine. We can talk tonight.”

Tonight seems to come too quickly and too slow all at once. Steve sits impatiently on his cot in his tent, jiggling his leg. Eventually, the tent flap opens, and there’s Bucky in all his glory, silhouetted against the fire the squad has made.

“Hey, Buck.”

“What do you need to talk about, Steve?”

“Can you sit with me?”

Bucky does it, but there’s still tension in every muscle in his body.

“So… Steve?”

Steve takes a steadying breath.

“Peggy, uh, told me something.”

He can almost feel Bucky rolling his eyes next to him.

“She told me that. That you were in love with me.”

He feels Bucky get very still next to him. Even the sound of his breath seems to have stopped.

“She told me that. And then it got into my head. And then she told me about — about men who  love men and…”

He turns to looks at Bucky, forcing himself away from his nervous hands. There are tears dripping down his face, and his eyes are closed. He looks like he’s in such pain. And he’s so beautiful it hurts Steve.

“And I love you, too, Buck.”

Bucky doesn’t speak for what feels like a year.

“It doesn’t matter if Peggy was right or not. You don’t have to love me back.”

Steve can feel his heart breaking as he says it.

“Of course I love you back, Steve.”

It’s so quiet and unexpected that Steve hardly believes he heard it.

“You —?”

Bucky turns to him. God, he’s beautiful.

“Of course I love you, Stevie. I’ve always loved you.”

“But —?”

“I thought you had found out I was a — a fairy,” he spits the word out with such disgust that it makes Steve’s heart hurt.

“And once you knew that, why would you ever want to be friends with me?”

“Bucky, I would always want to be friends with you.”

“You would?”

Bucky looks at him with watery eyes and he looks so young and innocent that Steve just wants to wrap him in his arms.

And so he does, and when Bucky starts to cry again, he joins him. And they just hold each other until somehow, without either of them noticing, they fall asleep.

Chapter Text

No one comments when Bucky leaves Steves tent in the morning. Before Peggy had come around it had been a  normal affair, Sarge and Cap sharing a bed; one that everyone knew about but no one mentioned.

It didn’t used to seem significant but now Steve swears he can feel the whole camp’s eyes on him and Bucky as they go about their mornings preparing for the mission. There’s so much more he wants to say to Bucky, needs to say, but it’ll have to wait until after the mission.

The mission is pretty standard. There’s a HYDRA scientist who’s supposed to be on a train. They’re meant to capture him to get information. The name had seemed to mean something to Bucky during the briefing yesterday. Steve had meant to follow up but with everything else last night it fell to the wayside.

Their missions have become to feel like habit, their squadron a well-oiled machine that seems to be able to defeat every enemy they come up against. Steve has been sure to stop his men from getting cocky, make sure they treat every mission as if it was their first, but it’s hard for them to not get a little over-confident on the easier ones. Once they get into the train, it should be no problem, Steve thinks to himself, already mapping the mission out in his head.

The whole day, Steve is struck by how unchanged his and Bucky’s relationship is. Theoretically, everything changed last night, but it just feels like this was how it was always meant to be. There’s no awkwardness and neither of them feels like they’re acting. Everything is out in the open and Steve can just breathe. He tries not to think about it too much though, afraid the other men will notice he’s not focusing on his mission.

Getting on the train might prove a little tricky. They have to set up the zipline using Stark’s zipline gun, and they’d only have one chance to make sure it was both secure and exactly where they needed. Then, they’d have to zip down, and there would only be a few seconds gap where they would actually be able to get on the train. Steve trusted his men, though, and they had pulled off unlikelier feats. Once they were on the train, he trusted it would be simple. The scientist was supposed to be with only a guard or two and they could definitely take them out.

It’s only when Steve and Bucky are alone inside the train, that Steve starts to suspect that this mission may be more than he had planned for. His worries are confirmed when the door slams shut unexpectedly, separating him and Bucky, leaving them each with a HYDRA soldier of their own. Steve manages to take his man out and breaks his way into Bucky’s compartment to help him take out his. Before they can celebrate, there’s another HYDRA soldier.

Steve instinctively jumps in front of Bucky, putting himself and his shield before his best friend. The shot ricochets off his shield, creating a gaping hole in the train and knocking Steve to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Steve sees Bucky grab his shield as he starts shooting. The HYDRA soldier shoots again and Bucky goes flying. Steve grabs his shield and throws it, knocking the HYDRA soldier out.

Fuck. Where’s Bucky? Bucky’s hanging on to the blasted-out wall of the train.

“Bucky! Hang on!”

Bucky’s eyes are wide as he scrambles to keep his grip even as the train wall falls apart. Steve climbs out on to the wall and extends his hand.

“Grab my hand!”

As Bucky reaches out, the railing he was holding onto finally gives and time seems to slow. Steve can see Bucky reaching towards him, notices when the railing gives and sees the look in Bucky’s eyes when he realizes he’s going to fall. There’s nothing Steve can do but desperately grip onto the train wall. He hears someone shouting and distantly realizes it must be him.

It takes both an eon and an instant for Bucky to fall. Every moment is burned into Steve’s brain, and yet it was all over in a moment; there was nothing he could do.

Bucky fell. Bucky was gone.

Chapter Text

They capture the scientist but it feels like even he can tell that Steve’s heart isn’t really in it anymore. They keep on telling him about all the intelligence they’re getting from the scientist, that Bucky sacrificed himself for a noble cause, but it’s not worth it. No intelligence is worth Bucky. No cause is worth Bucky. Steve insists on writing the letter to Bucky’s family himself. He hates that he can’t tell them in person, but he types the letter, having to restart three times when his tears smudge the ink beyond recognition. 

They search the area under the tracks, continuing far longer than they would for someone other than Captain America’s best friend. But, eventually they give up, long after the remaining Commandos have relocated to their sort-of home base in London. 

Steve takes to walking the streets, imagining Bucky by his side. One night, he finds himself in the bombed-out shell of the very bar where the Commandos had formed. It seems like lifetimes ago now. He’s drinking even though he can’t get drunk. If the haze of alcohol won’t soothe his pain, the burn of whiskey might help distract him. 

Somehow Peggy finds him, in this bombed-out bar, drinking for the pain of it. 

“Did you tell him?” she asks. Thank god she knows; thank god someone is asking the right questions. 

Every muscle in his body seems to give out. “Yes,” he says, barely more than a whisper, his breath visible in the air. 

“And what did he say?” she prompts gently, putting an arm around his shoulders as she sits down next to him.

“He — he —” Steve starts to cry, burrowing into Peggy’s smaller frame. 

“Did he say yes?”

Steve just sobs harder in reply. It really was the final irony, wasn’t it? Not only was he in love with his best friend but the second he was able to tell him, Bucky was taken away from him. That’s how Steve knows that he really is an abomination. No one can love him. Anyone who does will just get hurt. That’s what happened to his Ma and Erskine and now that Bucky’s gone he knows that it’s true — he’s just not meant to be loved. 

Peggy tries to tell him he’s wrong, whispers sweet nothings. But he slowly pushes her away — to keep her safe, he tells himself. He edges her out of his life, focusing on getting ready, focusing on killing HYDRA. The only thing he allows himself to keep of her is a picture in his compass. He looks at it when he thinks he might go to her, might let her in again. It reminds him to keep her safe. Keep her away from him. 

~~~

It’s hard to make himself care that there’s a good chance he’ll be dead soon. Nothing good has come of Steve Rogers, so who would care if he died? It’s what makes him put the commandos on what is likely a suicide mission. They all know that’s what it is. HYDRA has missiles for every major city. What could make them think they could take them on all by themselves? But they also know that if they didn’t go, Steve would try to take them on all by himself.

All too soon, Steve finds himself on his motorcycle, driving directly towards the front door of the final HYDRA base. He can hear Bucky’s voice in his ear telling him not to do it. Trying to convince him that it’s not worth it to lay down his life. He tunes it out, steeling himself as the HYDRA agents come up behind him. He manages to evade them but doesn’t manage to tune out the fact that it’s Bucky’s voice that tells him to duck when a bullet flies too close to his head. Before he knows it, it’s just him and a base full of HYDRA soldiers, and everything becomes instinct as he jumps off his bike. Instinct, it turns out, isn’t a match for numbers. Or weapons. 

In fact, Steve was counting on it. When he ends up on his knees in front of the Red Skull, he’s counting down the minutes until his men come to join him. And there they are, with perfect timing, mowing down the HYDRA soldiers as the Red Skull runs away. Steve figures the signal must have been given for the bulk of the Allied troops to storm the base, but he only has one job here. He has to get the Red Skull. He chases him down the hall, dodging blasts of blue light that he doesn’t want to test how the serum will react to. 

He throws his shield around a bend in the corridor, lodging it in a closing door. Just as he approaches the corner, a man, wielding two flamethrowers. The corridor is filled with fire, singing the tips of Steve’s hair. He hides in the wall, cursing having thrown his shield when suddenly there’s a shot and the man is dead, and the fire with him. Steve turns to look at who it was, and of course, it was Peggy. 

“You’re late.”

They share a moment. She knows how much it means to him to have anyone at all. But she also knows they don’t have time for this right now. 

“Weren’t you about to…?”

She’s right. He may have missed his moment. He watches the HYDRA agents start to climb the ladder to the plane, only to get shot down. In the time it takes him to reach the plane, Red Skull has already started moving. He starts running. He knows he can’t outrun a plane, but it’s the only thing he can do. He keeps on running, and for a moment he thinks he may actually be gaining on it, but then it slips away and he knows they’ve lost. 

A car screeches up behind him because of course, Peggy had seven backup plans ready. 

“Get in!”

Steve thinks if, during basic training, Colonel Phillips saw where they were now, he’d have a heart attack. Steve thinks if, during basic training, he saw where they were now he’d have a heart attack. But he doesn’t have time to reflect. They’re racing along, faster than any car he’s been in before — it must be a Stark car. And then he knows it’s a Stark car because the Colonel pushes a button and then there are turbo engines shooting fire out of the car and then suddenly they’re gaining on the plane. 

“Keep it steady!”, Steve says, standing up in the car. He’s going to get into that plane, no matter what it takes. 

“Wait!”

And suddenly Peggy is kissing him. It isn’t a romantic kiss, but it’s the only way she knows how to tell him she loves him in that moment. 

Steve straps his shield to his back, ducking under the whirling propellers of the plane, and prepares himself to jump.

Chapter Text

He manages to grab onto the small landing wheel, and thanks God when he’s brought up safely as the plane gains altitude. He finds his way into the hold where he sees a missile, bigger than any he’d seen before, labeled “New York”. He finds himself filled with the rage he’d been keeping bottled away since Bucky died. Angry and efficient, Steven manages to take out most of the HYDRA soldiers, managing to release the still inactive “Chicago” missile and send what would normally be a worrying number of HYDRA soldiers plummeting to their deaths through the resulting hole.  

One of the HYDRA soldiers manages to jump into the New York-bound missile’s cockpit. He releases the missile and leaves the plane. Without even thinking Steve is jumping onto the missile, riding it while still fighting another soldier. The soldier in the cockpit tries to buck them off, twisting and turning, but Steve manages to hang on tight. The HYDRA soldier isn’t so lucky, and his face gets splattered with blood as his body is mangled by the spinning propeller blades. 

The other HYDRA soldier seems to think he suffered the same fate, and starts to eject himself from the cockpit. Steve quickly takes his place, fumbling with the controls as he tries to avoid being shot. He manages to whip around behind the plane and land — crash is more like it — in the now empty cargo hold. Somehow he knows that it’s only him and the Red Skull left on the plane. He retrieves his shield and makes his way to the cockpit. 

Upon first glance, it seems to be empty, but the flash of blue light that he barely manages to block tels him that’s not so. He and the Red Skull scuffle back and forth, too well matched for the fight to be interesting. Or at least that’s what he thinks until the plane starts spinning. He’s tossed around, and he supposes the Red Skull must be too, but at least the HYDRA leader seems to know how to fix the problem. Steve is able to see flashes of him making his way over to the cockpit, and then everything stabilizes again. The Red Skull starts shooting at him, and Steve is blocking it with his shield. And then Steve throws his shield, but instead of just hitting the Red Skull he waits until he’s in line with the glowing blue thing that seems to be the source of power for the HYDRA weapons. 

And then the world turns blue. Blue light is being shot in every direction, crackling in the air. The Red Skull picks up a small box emitting a steady stream of blue, and Steve can only watch as he is melted away, turned into nothingness by it.  

~~~

And then it's over. Before he can get to it, the box melts through who knows how many layers of metal and falls through the sky. 

He sits down in the pilot’s seat and manages to find the radio.

“Come in. This is Captain Rogers. Do you read me?”

He’s ready to repeat it when he hears —

“Captain Rogers, what is your lo-”

And then Jim’s voice is cut off by the voice he needed to hear at that moment.

“Steve, is that you are you all right?”

Thank God Peggy’s okay. 

“Schmidt’s dead.”

“What about the plane?”

“That’s a little bit tougher to explain.”

 “Give me your coordinates, I’ll find you a safe landing site.”

“There’s not going to be a safe landing. But I can try to force it down.” 

As he’s saying it Steve realizes he’s going to have to go down with the plane. 

 “I’ll get Howard on the line, he’ll know what to do.”

“There’s no time for that! This thing’s moving too fast and it’s heading for New York. I gotta put her in the water.”

“Please, don’t do this. W-We have time. We can work it out.”

“Right now I’m in the middle of nowhere. If I wait any longer a lot of people are gonna die.”

Steven can hear the pain in her voice, but he knows she’ll be better for it. Sure, she’ll be sad for a bit but this way she won’t have to suffer the same way everyone else who loved him has suffered. 

“Peggy, it’s my choice.”

If she were there with him, he’s sure she would smack him in the back of the head and tell him it was a stupid choice. But she wasn’t with him. 

He takes the compass with her picture and puts it in front of him. He’s doing this to save lives, but he’s also sure this will save her life.  

He steers the plane downwards, breaking through the clouds, exposing the unforgiving ice below. 

“Peggy?”

“I’m here.”

“I'm gonna need a rain check on that dance.”

“All right. A week, next Saturday, at the Arts and Battledress.”

He has no idea where that is but he says it anyway:

“You got it.”

“8:00 on the dot. Don't you dare be late. Understood?”

“You know, I still don't know how to dance.”

“I'll show you how. Just be there.”

“We'll have the band play something slow. I'd hate to step on your feet.”

He waits for her reply. 

“Peggy?”’

Fuck this means he’s about to die, doesn’t it? He’s plummeting towards the ice, too fast to be controlled. He can hear the wind in his ears, and the last thing he thinks is, At least I’ll get to see Bucky again.

And then everything goes black.

Chapter Text

Steve wakes up looking at a clean white ceiling. He wasn’t supposed to wake up. Is this heaven? Where’s Bucky?

He sits up. There’s a baseball game playing on the radio. He seems to be in a hospital, but he’s fully clothed, on top of the sheets, shoes and all. He realizes this must mean someone has dressed him, that someone, or many people know. He files that away to deal with later — he doesn’t expect they’ll try and deal with that first thing. As he sits up on the bed a woman walks in. 

Immediately he can tell something is off. Her hair is too long, and worn too loose. Her tie seems wrong, and her shirt doesn’t seem to fit right. As if to confirm everything else, he is able to register that the game he’s listening to is one that he was at — not something happening then. 

“Where am I?”

“You’re in a recovery room in New York City.”

He doesn’t believe her for a second. 

“Where am I, really?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

 “The game. It’s from May, 1941. I know ‘cause I was there.”

He watches the realization dawn on her face, all faux kindness gone. 

“I’m going to ask you again. Where am I?”

“Captain Rogers,” she almost whispers.

“Who are you?!”

All of a sudden there are soldiers behind her and he whips into action. He breaks down the wall all too easily just to find that his hospital room was a facade New York skyline and all. 

He hears her yelling after him but he doesn’t care. 

He finds himself in what looks like an office building. But her warning is playing on the speakers, and soon the men are chasing after him as well. 

 He goes out onto the street, weaving through cars and people alike until he takes a minute to look up. He’s somewhere brighter, louder and busier than any place he’s been before. 

Before he has a chance to get his bearings, several black cars pull up and a voice calls to him. 

“At ease, soldier!”

A black man with an eye patch is approaching him. From the way the other soldiers look at him, it’s clear he’s in charge. 

“Look, I’m sorry about that little show back there, but we thought it was best to break it to you slowly.”

“Break what?”

“You’ve been asleep, Cap. For almost seventy years.”

Steve doesn’t believe him, but the swirling lights and honking horns of the city around him can only confirm what the man is saying. He tries to take it all in, tries to understand his reality crashing down around his ears.

“You going to be okay?”

He realizes he hasn’t spoken yet. He’s barely in charge when he hears his own voice say, “Yeah, I just — I had a date.”

~~~

Once he’s acquainted himself with the idea that he is in fact in the 21st century, Steve has to deal with the knowledge that at least one, if not more people have seen him naked and now know his secret. 

He suspects it was something a lot of people would’ve wanted to do. After all, in the 40s, especially with his tighter uniform, there was speculation about the size of his dick. Sometimes he stuck a sock down there, not really for anyone else but just for him. But most of the time he had made his peace with that part of his body. 

Director Fury, as he comes to know the man who revealed the truth about his location, assures him that only two people know his truth — an Agent Maria Hill, and himself. Steve doesn’t know this Agent Hill, but he gets the impression that while he can’t trust Director Fury, it’s definitely in the director’s best interest to keep his secret. It won’t look good for the whole world to know that Captain America is secretly a freak. 

Steve allows only the minimum amount of 21st century catch-up from SHIELD before he goes to find Agent Hill. 

He finds her office with little trouble and knocks on the door. 

“Agent Hill?”

“Yes? Oh, Captain Rogers, please come on in!”

He enters and closes the door behind him. Her office is meticulous and impersonal, save for a single, framed photo of Hill and another woman. Must be her sister, Steve thinks to himself. 

“Hi, Agent Hill. I wanted to talk to you about…”

Fuck. Is there a tactful way to say you know my darkest secret and that I’m actually a freak?

“I want to talk to you about something Agent Fury says you learned about me when preparing me to come out of the ice.”

She looks away from her computer and moves to sit on the stiff grey couch she has next to her desk. She gestures for Steve to join her. 

“I figured you would want to talk about that. Now, there’s a couple of ways we can go about revealing to the press your true identity. Honestly, I think it will generally be seen a positive empowering light…”

She keeps on talking and it dawns on Steve that Agent Hill, and Fury by extension, think he’s a woman and that he dressed as a man in order to enlist. God, he wishes that were the case. 

“Agent Hill,” he gently interrupts her. 

“Yes, Captain Rogers?”

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m not a woman. Even though I was born a girl, I realized that…”

He can see the wheels turning in her head. 

“Oh! Oh hmm…”

“Agent Hill?”

“This is going to be a little more complicated than I thought.”

Chapter Text

After talking with Maria, Steve has learned two things. One, there’s a whole community of people like him, and there’s a word for it: “transgender”. Two, under no circumstances, does SHIELD want him to reveal his secret to the world. 

When they thought he was a girl, they had a way they could spin it. It was progressive, but not so much so that they would alienate middle America. He’d be a part of breaking down the patriarchy (another new term he’d learned), but he would still be a known entity. Apparently, someone had already been tasked with designing a Captain America uniform with a skirt, an idea that he found completely impractical never mind something he would never wear. 

After his conversation with Agent Hill, he went to his grey, SHIELD-issued apartment, opened what he had learned was called a “laptop” and looked up all he could about transgender people. 

He learned that there were genders other than man and woman. He thought about whether he might be one of those genders but decided that, at least for now, man worked for him. 

He saw countless videos of people transitioning and sharing it with the world. He saw people taking testosterone and estrogen. After seeing a couple of those videos, he couldn’t help but say aloud, “Hi, I’m Steve Rogers, and this is my voice zero days on testosterone.”

Just saying that to his empty apartment welcomed the possibility that one day his voice would like he thought it was in his head. 

Steve saw people who had gotten surgery on their chest, even heard stories of people who had been able to change their genitalia with surgery. All of this was overwhelming to him, especially considering he had never met another person like him before. 

But amid the joyous videos of transition, he also learned about the violence. There was so much violence towards people like him. Honestly, most of the violence was towards people who didn’t look like him much at all, they were women and most of them weren’t white. But he felt a kinship towards them, felt their violence as his own.

Now that he knows he can, Steve aches to start his transition. But SHIELD won’t allow it. Not yet, they say. His voice is too recognizable, his silhouette too distinct for him to change anything before reintroducing himself to the world. 

~~~

Three months after Steve wakes up, SHIELD holds a press conference on his behalf. According to everyone he talks to, some of whom don’t even recognize him in plainclothes, this is the biggest press conference since Tony Stark revealed himself to be Iron Man. 

When he hears about Tony Stark, he begins to wonder about Howard, and Peggy, and the Commandos. Only Peggy and Gabe are still alive, but they seem to be in relatively good health, so he puts off meeting them until he’s up to it. He’s accepted what happened to him, but he thinks seeing either of them, old and having lived full lives without him might break him in a way he can’t afford right now. 

He does write letters to both of them and he’s sure SHIELD makes them sign some sort of contract ensuring they won’t say anything to anyone about it. 

He’s backstage at the press event when he begins to doubt himself. What’s the point of coming back into the public eye if he’s going to have to do the same shit he’s always done and hated? Why should he become their dancing monkey again?

But before he knows it he’s on the stage and he’s saying the words on the screen in front of him. 

“Hi, you probably know me. I’m Steve Rogers but you might know me better as Captain America. Many of you have heard the story of how my plane went down…”

Later, at the after-party, he kicks himself for not having gone off-script. But what would he have said? 

“Hi, I’m Captain America. I’m transgender and I’m here to ruin your childhood and any remaining hope you still had in the American Dream.”

At the party, he shmoozes with the appropriate people but he can’t help but notice that so many of those higher-ups seem to be the same type of person that was in charge in the 40s. He thought something was supposed to have changed. He looks longingly at the few people present who dare to break the mold, but dares not spend too much time with them — he hears what they say behind their backs. 

Steve manages to get into a rhythm. He spends his days working out, jogging and boxing and spends his nights reading up on the seventy years he missed. He doesn’t let on to SHIELD how much he’s learned — he knows he’ll be able to get away with more the longer he keeps up this naive persona. 

He’s plagued by loneliness, but he tells himself it’s for the best. Everyone who has ever gotten close to him has suffered for it and he doesn’t want to subject more people to that. Life seems to lose its color, fading to the muted browns and greys people in this century seem to love to ascribe to Steve’s childhood. 

But every couple of weeks he won’t be able to resist the urge and he’ll find himself watching more videos of transition, trying to fill that aching hole that’s persisted ever since he knew he could change himself to be the way he always felt he should. And with those videos, just for a few hours, the world will fill with color again. He’s able to see the person he wants to be. But he has to wait.

He pushes it down and pushes on. It’s what he needs to do to survive. 

Chapter Text

He’s in the gym one day when Director Fury walks in. He pretends he doesn’t see him and keeps on punching the bag until he breaks it. He has so much more anger in him than he did before he went to sleep. Anger over Bucky, anger over what the world is now, anger over not being able to make his own choices about his body. He’s been funneling that anger into working out for months, terrified of what his body would look like if he lost even a single pound of serum-added muscle. 

“Trouble sleeping?”, Fury says. 

If only it were that simple.

“Slept for seventy years, sir. I think I’ve had my fill.”

He doesn’t stop punching the bag. Whatever Fury wants he knows it’s not the only thing he needs to for his life to be better. 

“Then you should be out, celebrating, seeing the world.”

Ha. Yeah. Like SHIELD would let him wander willy nilly. Like he can go out in public without being strategic about not causing a commotion.

“When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up -- they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

He keeps punching the bag. 

“We’ve made some mistakes along the way, some very recently,” Fury says, walking closer to him. Steve thinks that’s the closest he can come to an apology, but maybe he’s reading into it. 

“You here with a mission, sir?”

“I am.”

“Trying to get me back into the world?”

“I’m trying to save it,” Fury says, handing him a folder.

Well, that’s good enough for Steve. He may not trust and definitely resents Director Fury, but he also knows that Fury respects him enough to not call him back to the field without a threat that requires his abilities. 

When Fury tells him it’s the Tesseract, HYDRA’s secret weapon he doesn’t even have it in him to be surprised. Fury says some cryptic shit he can’t be bothered to figure out -- he’s sure it’ll be in plain words in the briefing packet. 

He goes back to his apartment and there’s the briefing… tablet? It’s completely clear so he’s not sure if it qualifies, but he doesn’t have a better word for it. He packs up a bag and goes to the car waiting downstairs. They drive to a small airport where a SHIELD plane picks him and an agent up. Steve pours over the briefing, he knew a lot fo the broad strokes from his attempts to catch up on the past 70 years, but now he’s learning the real, classified truth. 

He spends more time than he’d like to admit reading the article about Tony Stark. He knows if he were there then he could’ve been a father to Howards son after he and Maria were killed. It hurts his heart to think about what he’s been through, not to mention it being more than a little bit bizarre that the son of one of his closest friends is older than him, and older than he ever got to see Howard. 

He’s starting the portion of the briefing on a Dr. Banner when the pilot lets them know they’re almost at the base. 

“So, this Doctor Banner was trying to replicate the serum they used on me?” he asks, knowing the answer, but it seems like the agent wants to make conversation -- he’s been pacing the entire flight. 

“A lot of people were. You were the world’s first superhero. Banner thought Gamma radiation might hold the key to unlocking Erskine’s original formula,” Coulson replies. Steve felt like they took enough blood from him to replicate the formula ten times over, but clearly they couldn’t make whatever jump Erksine had made all those years ago. 

“Didn’t really go his way, did it?”

“Not so much. When he’s not that thing though, guy’s like a Stephen Hawking.”

Steve just looks at him blankly. He likes to play up not knowing references, especially around SHIELD agents. It makes them feel guilty somehow, that they couldn’t find him sooner. It’s like they’ve all forgotten that he was trained by Peggy, but if they’re underestimating him, it means he has the advantage. 

He tries to keep in a smile as Coulson stammers out a response.

“He’s like a- smart person. I gotta say, it’s an honor to meet you, officially. I sort of met you, I mean, I watched you while you were sleeping. I mean, I was, I was present, while you were unconscious from the ice.”

Well, that makes him feel extremely violated. Why was he watching him anyway, if their plan was to have that weird skit he was subjected to anyway?

“You know it’s really- it’s just a huge honor to have you on board- it’s…”

Okay, now he has to save this guy. 

“Well, I hope I’m the man for the job.”

“Oh you are, absolutely. Ah- we made some modifications to the uniform.”

Steve tenses, remembering the discussion of the skirt uniform.

Coulson continues, not noticing Steve’s reaction “I had a little design input.”

“The uniform? Aren’t the...,” he tries to find a way to ask if they’re going to force him to wear a skirt. 

“...stars and stripes a little...old-fashioned?”

He decides that’s good enough when Coulson replies with some bullshit about nostalgia. Nostalgia means no one knows his secret. Nostalgia means he’s safe. 

Chapter Text

The plane lands on the aircraft carrier and Steve feels remarkably at ease. No matter how much the times have changed, war is always the same. They have bigger guns, and new enemies, but this is what he knows. 

He recognizes Agent Romanoff from her file as she meets him and Agent Coulson as they exit the plane. Coulson leaves them and he’s struck by how much the agent reminds him of Peggy. 

“It was quite the buzz around here, finding you in the ice. Thought Coulson was gonna swoon. Did he ask you to sign his Captain America trading cards yet?”

“Trading cards?” Steve asks. He honestly doesn’t know all the crap they put his face on during the war. 

“They’re vintage. He’s very proud.”

There’s a smile hinting at the edge of her mouth that makes Steve want to like her.

As they make their way across the deck, he sees Dr. Banner, looking almost comically out of place. 

Steve gets his attention, “Doctor Banner.”

Banner walks over to them. 

“Oh, yeah. Hi. They told me you’d be coming.”

He seems casual, but Steve can see Banner’s eyes running over his body, analyzing. 

He’s deliberate with his next words. He knows all about being used as a weapon when he doesn’t want to be, knows all about feeling like a freak. 

“Word is you can find the cube.”

He sees Banner relax slightly. 

“That the only word on me?”

“Only word I care about.”

Steve knows he’s made the right choice — not that it was that hard to figure out from the info in Banner's file — when Banner makes actual small talk. 

“Must be strange for you, all of this.”

“Well, this is actually kind of familiar.”

He’s ready to go into a little spiel about how war is really the same as its always been when Romanoff interrupts him. 

“Gentlemen, you might wanna step inside in a minute. It’s gonna get a little had to breathe.”

He and Banner walk to the edge of the ship and see propellers spinning.

“Is this a submarine?”

“Really, they want me in a submerged pressurized metal container?”

Clearly Banner knows how to make light of his reality. 

Instead of sinking, the ship starts to rise.

“Oh no, this is much worse,” Banner says, and Steve can’t help but agree when, a few moments after they make it to the bridge, Fury gives the order for the ship to vanish. 

~~~

Fury and Romanoff talk to Banner about tracking the Tesseract. He’s only half-listening. Half because he doesn’t understand all the science, and half because this is the perfect time to wander aimlessly and plausibly peek at people’s screens. It seems Romanoff’s priority isn’t finding the Tessarect but saving someone, a codename “Hawkeye” who seems to have been deliberately left out of Steve’s briefing. 

He’s sitting on the bridge, trying to look as clueless as possible when Coulson walks up to him. Doesn’t the man have to work? At least Hill has kept busy after a terse nod of acknowledgment. 

“I hate to bother you but — would you mind? I have, uh, Captain America trading cards that I would love if you would sign. I mean, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No, no it’s fine,” Steve replies. He’s never been a big fan of hero worship, even when it’s not directed at him, so he hopes Coulson’s going to get over it soon. 

“It’s a vintage set. Took me a couple of years to collect them all. Near mint, slight boxing around the edges but-”

Thankfully, one of the other agents interrupts him. They’ve found the guy who took the Tesseract. It seems too easy, like he’s asking for them to come to him. Why would he let himself be exposed that thoroughly? Loki got all the way there without them knowing so he clearly knows what he’s doing. He’s in Germany, which Steve thinks is a little too perfect for Captain America’s return to battle but he can’t argue with it. 

Led by Coulson, who is still overeager, he makes his way to the room where his uniform is. They’ve dressed the mannequin in it to display it, which confuses him because then he has to undress the mannequin which makes the whole affair take twice as long as it should. 

He’s reassured to find they’ve kept much of the original design, but the material feels sturdier, yet also more flexible to him. It’s probably some overengineered bulletproof fabric he doesn’t need, but it moves easily which is what matters to him. They’ve given his shield a new coat of paint since the war, but it still feels as balanced as ever, an extension of his body. 

They fly to Germany faster than he thought was possible, but he also was having a hard time keeping track of the carrier’s location while he was on it. 

He arrives just in time to drop in front of an otherwise deadly blue blast of light from Loki’s scepter. Sometimes he just has perfect timing. He should make sure that the old man gets recognition for what he did there. It was brave, and stupid, and important.

“You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.”

Loki recognizes him and he doesn’t know why he’s surprised. Of course, aliens know who he is. 

“The soldier,” he chuckles. “The man out of time.”

“I’m not the one who’s out of time.”

The plane flies up behind him and he can hear Romanoff’s voice, slightly distorted. 

“Loki, drop the weapon and stand down.”

Predictably, Loki fires a beam of blue light towards the jet, but it swerves out of the way. Steve throws his shield and manages to hit Loki square in the face. He catches his shield and runs up to him as the crowd parts around him, punching him in the jaw. 

They exchange a few punches, but Loki manages to knock Steve’s shield away. He holds his scepter to Steve’s head.

“Kneel.”

“Not today,” Steve says and jumps up and kicks him in the chest. Sometimes it’s great to be a superhero and do things like that. 

They exchange blows and Steve is on the floor when Romanoff’s jet is suddenly playing music. He’s confused until he sees Iron Man flying up. From what he read about Stark, he shouldn’t be surprised. 

Stark hits Loki in the chest with a blast of… something and Loki falls to his back while Stark lands on the ground. 

Stark makes about a dozen smaller weapons appear from his suit and aims them all at Loki saying, “Make a move, reindeer games.”

What does that even mean? Steve gets to his feet and joins Stark.

Loki slowly raises his hands as his clothes glow and change. 

“Good move,” Stark says, returning his weapons to the armor. 

“Mr. Stark.”

“Captain.”

By now the square has emptied of all the civilians, so they’re able to land the jet and hustle Loki on board. 

It all seems too easy. It was too easy to find him, and now it was too easy to capture him. It shouldn’t be this simple. It’s never this simple.

Chapter Text

Once the plane is in the air, he tells Stark. 

“I don’t like it.”

“What? Rock of Ages giving up so easily?”

Steve ignores the reference he’s clearly missing. 

“I don’t remember it being that easy. This guy packs a wallop.”

“Still, you are pretty spry, for an older fellow. What’s your thing? Pilates?”

Stark is completely missing the point. 

“What?”

“It’s like calisthenics. You might have missed a couple of things. Y’know, doing time as a Capsicle.”

Steve decides to change the subject. 

“Fury didn’t tell me he was calling you in,” Steve lied. Stark clearly wants to have the upper hand here. 

“Yeah, there’s a lot of things Fury doesn’t tell you,” Stark said. 

Steve was counting on it. He was hoping Stark had figured some of them out. 

There’s a flash of lighting and the plane shakes with thunder. Steve can hear Romanoff and the co-pilot talking about it, confused. But what’s more interesting is how shaken Loki looks by it. The man had been silent, impassive, unreadable until this point. 

“What’s the matter? Scared of a little lightning?”

“I’m not overly fond of what follows.”

What follows turns out to land on their plane a few seconds later, making a resounding thunk and jolting the small plane with the added weight. 

Both Steve and Stark suit up out of instinct. Stark pushes some buttons and opens the rear of the plane.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks. 

Stark walks forward, as if to jump out of the plane, but a man with long blonde hair and a cape lands inside the plane before he can. 

When he attacks Stark with a giant hammer, Steve figures out this must be Thor. 

Thor grabs Loki and jumps out of the plane into the storm. 

“Now there’s that guy,” Stark says, getting up. 

“Another Asgardian?” Romanoff shouts back over the wind. 

Steve thought Thor was supposed to be on their side. “That guy’s a friendly?”

“Doesn’t matter. If he frees Loki, or kills him, the Tesseract’s lost,” Stark says, moving towards the open end of the plane. 

What is he doing? They need to regroup for at least a second. 

“Stark, we need a plan of attack.”

“I have a plan. Attack!”

And with that, Stark jumps out of the plane. God, he’s going to get on Steve’s nerves. He grabs a parachute and starts strapping in. 

“I’d sit this one out, Cap,” Romanoff says from the cockpit. 

“I don’t see how I can.”

Stark is going to do something stupid and die. Or cause an interplanetary war. 

“These guys come from legend, they’re basically gods.”

“There’s only one God ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”

Actually, Steve’s not too sure of that. But he couldn’t let on in 1945, so he doesn’t let on now. 

He grabs his shield and jumps out of the plane head first. Bucky would kill him for this. 

~~~

Steve lands, detangles himself from his parachute and follows the sounds of battle. Thor and Stark are going all out and Loki is nowhere to be seen. 

Steve throws his shield between the two of them. 

“Hey! That’s enough.”

He jumps down to where the two of them are. 

“Now I don’t know what you plan on doing here -”

“I’ve come here to put an end to Loki’s schemes!”, Thor interrupts him. 

“Then prove it. Put that hammer down.”

“Uh, yeah! No! Bad call, he loves his hammer—”

Tony is cut off by hammer to the face and Steve can’t say he didn’t deserve it. 

“You want me to put hammer down?”

Thor jumps and Steve just has enough time to raise his shield so the hammer doesn’t crush his skull. The boom makes Steve’s ears hurt and he’s sure that if it weren’t for the serum he wouldn’t be able to hear at all. The trees around them are levelled and Thor was thrown back, through the air. 

They all slowly get to their feet. 

“Are we done here?”, Steve asks. 

They all silently nod. 

Thor goes to fetch Loki and they sit in silence in what must be the most awkward plane ride in history the rest of the way back to the carrier. Of all of them, Loki seems the least displeased to be there and Steve needs to figure out why. 

~~~

Steve watches Loki and Fury interact and his need to figure out what Loki actually wants only grows. He doesn’t know how Fury seems to be convinced that he and Stark capture Loki so quickly. Loki’s definitely more powerful than the Red Skull was and he went down way more easily. 

“He really grows on you, doesn’t he?”, Banner quips. 

“Loki’s gonna drag this out. So Thor, what’s his play?”

“He has an army called the Chitauri. They’re not of Asgard, nor any world known. He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth, in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract.”

“An army, from outer space?”

One day he would like to firmly remind everyone that he was not trained for this. He was trained to fight people. Who had guns. That fired bullets. 

“So, he’s building another portal. That’s what he needs Erik Selvig for,” Banner says. 

“Selvig?”, Thor asks.

“He’s an astrophysicist.”

“He’s a friend.”

Steve’s honestly surprised Thor told them that. Any kind of personal relationship is not in the SHIELD file. 

“Loki has them under some kind of spell…” Her eyes go distant before she continues. “...along with one of ours.”

That must be the Hawkeye she was trying to track earlier. 

“I wanna know why Loki let us take him. He’s not leading an army from here,” Steve says. Why doesn’t this rub anyone else the wrong way?

“I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.”

Banner’s not wrong, but there’s something off about the whole thing. But before he can find a middle ground, Thor speaks up. 

“Have care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason but he is of Asgard, and he is my brother.”

His brother ? That might be a good thing to lead with. 

“He killed eighty people in two days,” Natasha says, barely looking up from her screen. 

“He’s adopted?”

Steve has to hold back a grin. But he has a persona to keep up. He doesn’t know or trust these people, so he’s just going to give them what they expect for as long as he can. 

Stark walks in and starts talking so quickly and with so much jargon that Steve can’t really keep up. He doesn’t feel bad, though, since it seems the only other person in the room who can is Banner. 

The general gist is Loki is trying to make a portal to let his army through and he needs a power source. That still doesn’t explain what he’s doing happily sitting in their glass prison, though. 

Tony has said something that has to be deliberately stupid to Banner when Fury walks in.

“Doctor Banner is only here to track the Cube. I was hoping you might join him,” he says to Stark.

“I’d start with that stick of his. It may be magical but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon,” Steve says. Those flashes of blue light have taken out too many good men — he’s not going to forget them soon. 

“I don’t know about that, but it is powered by the Cube. And I like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys.”

Thor looks confused. 

“Monkeys? I do not understand—”

“I do!”, Steve says, more loudly than he should have. He’d seen the film more times than he’d care to admit, and that was before he learned what a “Friend of Dorothy” was.

The room goes quiet. Everyone is staring at him. 

“I— I understood that reference.”

No one laughs and Steve misses Bucky so badly. He misses all of them, Peggy, Howard, and the commandos. He’s so alone now, and because he was Captain America first to everyone it’s probably going to stay that way.

Chapter Text

He’s going to check in on Stark and Banner’s progress when he sees Stark zap Banner. 

“Hey! Are you nuts?”

“Jury’s out! You really have got a lid on it, haven’t you? What’s your secret? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, huge bag of weed?”

Does Stark really not realize that if Banner didn’t “have a lid on it” they could have both died. Well, Stark could have died, Steve has no doubt he would at the very least survive whatever the Hulk could do to him. And there he is, just snacking and laughing. 

“Is everything a joke to you?”

“Funny things are.” 

“Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn’t funny. No offense, Doc.”

Steve actually likes Bruce -- he doesn’t want to make him feel unwelcome. It’s not his fault he turns into a monster. Well, technically it is, but that’s beside the point. 

“No it’s alright. I wouldn’t have come aboard if I couldn’t handle pointy things.”

He’s glad that Bruce knows his limits but Stark also needs to not deliberately push his buttons. 

“You’re tip-toeing, big man. You need to strut,” Stark says to Banner. 

“And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark.”

“You think I’m not? Why did Fury call us in? Why now, why not before? What isn’t he telling us? I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables.”

He’s making a good point. It’s not the one that Steve wants him to, but it’s a good one nonetheless. 

“You think Fury’s hiding something?”

“He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets. It’s bugging him to, isn’t it?”

“Uhhhh aahh,” Banner is trying so hard not to get involved it’s a little funny. “I just wanna finish my work here and--”

But Steve wants to know what he thinks. He interrupts him. 

“Doctor?”

“ ‘A warm light for all mankind,’ Loki’s jab at Fury about the Cube.”

What about it?

“I heard it.” 

“Well, I think that was meant for you.” He gestures to Stark, who just offers him one of the snacks he’s been eating the whole time. He continues, “Even if Barton didn’t tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news.”

“The Stark Tower? That big ugly--”

He was waiting to see how far Stark would let him go before he was hurt. The look on his face is comically exaggerated. “--building in New York?,” he finishes.  

“It’s powered by an arc reactor, self-sustaining energy source. That building will run itself for, what, a year?”

“It’s just the prototype.”

He turns to Steve, bragging, “I’m kind of the only name in clean energy right now, that’s what he’s getting at.”

One day, Steve’s going to punch him in the face and it’s going to be very satisfying. 

“So, why didn’t SHIELD bring him in on the Tesseract project? What are they even doing in the energy business in the first place?”

“I should probably look into that as soon as my decryption program finishes breaking into all of SHIELD’s secure files.”

And that’s why Stark is useful to Steve. He may be an obnoxious jerk, but he has the same disrespect for the rules that made Howard one of his closest friends. 

“I’m sorry did you say?”

“JARVIS has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours I’ll know every dirty secret SHIELD has ever tried to hide. Blueberry?”

Steve ignores the proffered fruit. 

“Yet you’re confused about why they didn’t want you around.”

“An intelligence organization that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome.”

That’s an understatement. 

“I think Loki’s trying to wind us up. This is a man who means to start a war and if we don’t stay focused he’ll succeed. We have orders, we should follow them.”

Or at least look like we’re following them. Until they get in his way. It’s worked so far. 

“Following’s not really my style.” 

“And you’re all about style, aren’t you?”

“Out of the people in this room, which one is, A, wearing a spangly outfit and, B, not of use?”

Steve bristles. Thankfully, it’s Banner who speaks next. 

“Steve, tell me none of this smells a little funky to you?”

All he can say as he turns on his heel is, “Just find the Cube.”

~~~

Steve makes his way down to the lowest deck he can find, the one he’s sure SHIELD is using for the storage of anything they don’t want anyone to find. 

He walks down the dark hallway until he gets to a door that he can tell is too thick to not have something important behind it. He scrambles for a minute and then remembers that he’s Captain America. So he literally pulls the door open. It’s hard but it happens. He walks through the doorway to find a storage room. He thinks he hears someone coming, so he jumps up to a walkway above him, silently waiting until they leave. 

When he’s sure he’s alone, he jumps back down, reading the labels on the boxes, being careful not to touch anything. 

The fancier boxes all seem to be part of something called “Phase Two.” He doesn’t know what Phase One was but it sure doesn’t sound good. 

He forces one of the larger boxes open and there, nestled in foam, is Steve’s worst nightmare. He had many bad memories of the war, but few of them paralleled the horror of seeing a flash of blue light and knowing the person who was hit would never be seen again. These weren’t just weapons. He wonders what Peggy would think, knowing the organization he helped create was now creating the very things she worked to wipe off the face of the Earth. 

Steve stares at the weapon for a while longer, seething. 

Okay, he decides. No more following orders. 



Chapter Text

Steve actually thinks Stark is impressed with him when he slams the weapon down on the table. They do all realize that he became Captain America by disobeying commands, right?

He lied to try to enlist and then went behind enemy lines against orders to save Bucky. What happened in the past 70 years that let them forget that neither of those things should’ve gone well for him? What made them think that either of those things couldn’t’ve killed him? If the wrong doctor had been there, or if one HYDRA soldier had better aim, he could’ve been dead. 

Fury turns to him. “Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract. This does not mean that we’re--”

Stark cuts him off, but Steve already knows he’s lying. If it was just for research, they wouldn’t have it up in the air with them right now. 

“I’m sorry, Nick.”

He turns his screen towards him. Evidently, the program has finished decrypting the files. 

“What were you lying?”

Okay, Tony might be growing on him. But Fury’s certainly not. There are plans for a missile on the screen and if he had not been raised for the first quarter of his life to be an obedient housewife, he would’ve already snapped. 

“Did you know about this?”

Bruce is asking Romanoff, who just walked in. 

“You wanna think about removing yourself from this environment, doctor?”

She dances away from his question the way her years of training taught her to. 

Bruce chuckles, “I was in Calcutta, I was pretty well removed.”

“Loki’s manipulating you.”

“And you’ve been doing what exactly?”

“You didn’t come here because I bat my eyelashes at you.” 

“Yes, and I’m not leaving because suddenly you get a little twitchy. I’d like to know why SHIELD is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction.”

Fury interrupts, pointing at Thor. 

“Because of him.”

“Me?” 

“Last year, Earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that leveled a small town. We learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.”

“My people want nothing but peace with your planet.” 

“But you’re not the only people out there, are you? And, you’re not the only threat. The world’s filling up with people who can’t be matched, they can’t be controlled.”

And that’s it, Steve has to interrupt. 

“Like you controlled the cube??”

Thor says what might be the worst thing he could’ve said, “Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is the signal to all the realms that the earth is ready for a higher form of war.”

“A higher form?!”

Steve doesn’t know who he’s supposed to be the angriest at here. Somehow Tony is losing. Fury is gaining serious ground every time he speaks. 

“You forced our hand! We had to come up with some--”

“Nuclear deterrent! ’Cause that always calms everything right down.”

Steve hasn’t been in the 21st century long, but even he knows that if Tony Stark is ever acting as a voice of reason, then somethings gone horribly, terribly wrong. 

“Remind me again how you made your fortune, Stark?”, Fury replies, anger gleaming in his eyes. 

How can they all not see that if he could’ve, Fury would’ve pulled Stark into the middle of this mess? 

“And then he made a choice and stuck to it.” Steve doesn’t know how he’s suddenly defending Stark. He continues, “If he hadn’t, there’s no doubt you would’ve had him in on this from the beginning.”

Stark is looking at Steve like he can’t quite believe what’s happening. 

“I know the people who made SHIELD. I know the ideals they fought for and what they wanted to create. And this isn’t it. This is everything they wanted to fight against.”

“The world has changed in the past seventy years, Captain. There are new things to consider, things the founders of SHIELD could not even fathom.”

Steve indicates the weapon still on the table between them, “They could fathom this .”

“And what was SHIELD even doing creating weapons from the Tesseract in the first place? Especially since your understanding of the thing is so limited that when your lead scientist was captured you had no way to track it other than to call in a human time-bomb — no offense Doctor — and someone who you called, I’m quoting here, too volatile, self-obsessed, and impulsive to be a valuable team member.”

“Why are we here anyway, Director? What reason is there that we have to do our work here on your flying base instead of in one of the dozens of labs you have around the world? I’d say you’re tempting fate, a bit.”

Romanoff stays pointedly silent, turning to look at Fury. Fury’s saved from answering by the computers beeping, indicating the search for the Tesseract is over. 

Unfortunately, a moment later everything explodes. 

~~~

Steve gets up the second he can, grateful to still be in uniform. He puts out a hand to Stark, who takes it. 

“Get your suit.”

Stark goes running without another word. Steve puts his headpiece back on and can hear Hill and Fury talking on coms. One of their engines was hit. They’re going to have to fix it in the air. 

He makes his way over to the engine and just as he arrives at the gaping hole in the side of the ship, Stark flies up. 

“Stark! I’m here!”

“Good. Let’s see what we have to work with.”

Stark flies over to the engineer and begins to fiddle with the engine. After a few moments, he tells Steve to open the control panel above him. Steve swings himself up there and pulls out the panel. Okay he may be used to the 21st century, but he’s not that used to it. 

“It looks like some kind of… computer?”

“Well you’re not wrong.”

Steve shakes his head, chuckling. “What am I looking for, then?”

“You should be seeing a series of switches. If any of them are switched up, it means one of the relays has blown.”

“Okay, they all look good to me,” Steve says, pushing the panel back in. “What’s our next move?”

“Even if I clear the rotors, this thing won’t re-engage without a jump. I’m gonna have to get in there and push.”

Is he crazy?

“If that things gets up to speed, you’ll be shredded!”

“Then stay in the control unit and reverse polarity long enough to disengage maglev and that should—”

“Speak English! Please!”

“See that red lever?”

Steve looks to his right. There it is. There’s a gaping hole between him and it, but nothing a serum-enhanced jump can’t make. Tony continues, “It’ll slow the rotors down long enough for me to get out. Stand by it, wait for my word.”

Steve jumps over to the lever, landing roughly, but not too bad considering he’s jumping a distance he shouldn’t be able to with no run up on a flying aircraft carrier that may soon be plummeting to the ground. He hangs out there for a few moments and watches the lights emitting from where Stark is working. 

Just as Stark starts to turn the propellor, the bad guys show up. Typical. Stark is yelling for him to pull the lever and he’s moving as quickly as he can, trying so hard not to kill Howard Stark’s kid. He manages to pull it, and he must be fine because Stark flies out just a moment later, flying directly into the guy that had been shooting at him. 

They have a few moments of celebration, despite everything, despite Loki flying away unscathed. And then Fury brings them all back to earth. 

“Agent Coulson is down.”

Sometimes Steve gets used to being a hero. But it never lasts too long. Before long, someone always gets hurt, makes him wonder what’s really important. 

Chapter Text

Steve and Tony are the only ones left. Fury sits them down at a big, gleaming conference table and starts to speak. For a whole second, Steve believes that it might be genuine. But then Fury throws the cards on the table. The cards that Steve didn’t sign because they were in Agent Coulson’s locker. Someone took them time to spatter them with blood, still wet and streaking on the glass table. Bile rises in Steve’s throat, but this isn’t the time. 

Fury keeps going, talking about the Avenger’s Initiative and brushing over the fact that SHIELD was creating the very thing they had been founded to destroy. When Tony walks out, Steve can’t blame him. He sits there for long after Fury leaves, turning Coulson’s cards over in his hands, figuring out his next move.  

Fury definitely wants them to become a team. Wants to force them into being something they aren’t meant to be. Steve wants to fight him on it, but he also sees the need, sees the enemy that only they can fight. 

He finds Stark at the hole where Loki’s prison used to be, where Coulson died. 

 “Was he married?”

“No. There was a… a cellist, I think. “

“I’m sorry,” Steve says. “He seemed like a good man.”

“He was an idiot.”

Steve huffs out a laugh. 

“You see what Fury’s trying to do here, don’t you?”

“Honestly, old man, I’m surprised you do. I thought you were completely convinced by that card trick.”

“The cards were in his locker when he died. Whatever Fury’s trying to do doesn’t make Loki any less of a threat. Loki needs a power source. If we can put together a list--”

“He made it personal,” Tony interrupts. Steve doesn’t know if he means Fury or Loki. 

“That’s not the point.”

“That is the point. That’s Loki’s point. He hit us all right where we live. Why?”

“To tear us apart.”

“Divide and conquer, yeah that’s great, but he knows he has to take us out to win. He wants to beat us, and wants to be seen doing it. He wants an audience.”

“Right, I caught his act in Stuttgart.”

“That’s just previews, this is opening night. And Loki, he’s a full-tilt diva. He wants flowers, he wants parades, he wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered. Son of a bitch.”

Steve can’t help himself from chuckling quietly. “I knew that eyesore was going to bite you in the ass.”

“Hey screw you. Hold on, did Captain America just say ass?”

“Stark I’ve been saying worse things since before you were born. I was in the army.”

“But you’re all…”

He makes an exaggerated frowning face. 

“I’m all what?”

“All, ‘No, son, that’s not what the founding fathers would have wanted. Why don’t you find a more wholesome pastime, like baseball?”  

Steve can’t help but laugh at the impression. He forces himself to become faux serious. 

“Stark, I hate to break it to you, but the people in history books were actual people. Who occasionally say things like ass.”

“Asshole.”

But Stark has a grin on his face that Steve can’t help but return. Looks like he might finally find a friend in this century. 

~~~

Stark went off to fix the damage his suit had suffered in his battle with the propellor, while Steve went to fetch Romanoff from her quarters.

“Time to go.”

“Go where?”

“I’ll tell you on the way. Can you fly one of those jets?”

“I can.”

It wasn’t Romanoff who’d spoken. Standing in her quarters was a newly un-brainwashed Clint Barton. Steve wasn’t completely convinced that a strong hit on the head had been enough to free him from Loki, but he was surprised to find that he trusted Romanoff. And if she was wrong, he trusted her to fix it. Huh. That was new. He’d deal with that later. 

“You’ve got a suit?”

“Yeah,” Barton replied.

“Then suit up.”

They met Steve in the lab when they were ready, and he filled them in as they made their way to the jet of their choosing. He almost felt bad for the poor, unsuspecting technician who tried to stop them, but couldn’t quite muster it when he was how easily he folded when Steve turned on his Captain America voice. 

They arrive only a few minutes after Stark, but by that point, the sky has opened up and the aliens are attacking them.

Chapter Text

If there’s one thing Steve knows how to do it’s fight. He’s been fighting since before he ever had a chance of winning, and after the serum and the war, he rarely loses any more. Once they arrive in New York, the battle passes in a blur. It should be different than the war, given that he’s fighting against actual aliens, but more than anything, Steve misses Bucky. He misses having a sniper he can trust to always have his back, but more than that he just misses his best friend. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to go into a fight without missing him. 

If he hadn’t already started to trust him, Tony would have earned his trust when he flew into that portal with the missile, no return trip planned. And when he wouldn’t shut up about shawarma, even when he was lying on the floor, having just fallen from space, Steve couldn’t keep the grin off his face. 

They do get shawarma after the battle, and, as they eat in companionable silence, Steve starts to think he might finally be able to move on, might finally be able to find a place he can call his own in this new world. 

But before he knows it, they’re all off in different directions, Thor back to Asgard to take care of Loki and the Tessarect, Clint and Natasha back to Shield, and Tony and Bruce to Stark Tower. Steve stays in his apartment in Brooklyn and helps rebuild New York. He wears a baseball cap and speaks softly, and he isn’t recognized once. 

Before long, though, he starts getting restless, finds himself back at the gym punching the bag. 

To his surprise it’s Stark who finds him there one night, the line of broken bags almost enough to make Steve want to stop. 

“Hey, Capsicle”

“I’ve asked you not to call me that,” Steve says, barely pausing for a moment. 

“I know, but I’ve asked you to dinner three times, so I will when you will.”

“Stark, I don’t need your pity.”

“Pity? I don’t know what 21st century you’re living in but pity gets you a nice gift basket, not an invite to dinner at the tower, much less three. Besides, Brucie misses you.”

That makes Steve stop. He’s breathing heavily. 

Before he can reply, Tony is already walking out the door. 

“Tuesday, 7pm. Don’t be late.”

~~~

And so somehow Steve finds himself at Tony’s on Tuesday. And Wednesday. By Thursday, even he can’t deny that they get along. And by Friday he might actually call them friends. Sure, Tony is more annoying than any friend he’s ever had before, but he’s also more annoying than any other person he’s spoken to before. At the very least, Steve and Bruce are developing a private language solely based on sighs and pointed looks. 

And for all Tony’s, well Tony-ness, Steve can’t deny that he trusts the guy, they get along, and for whatever reason Tony actually seems to like him too. It’s pretty obvious the first few nights that Steve’s out of practice making new friends -- by his count he hasn’t done it since Peggy -- but before long the ice breaks and Steve starts to accept that this is actually happening. 

A few months go by. He spends his days rebuilding the city, his nights in the tower, his Brooklyn apartment practically abandoned. He fends off Fury’s and Natasha’s efforts to work for SHIELD -- after what he learned on the helicarrier, he won’t be opening that door anytime soon. He gets comfortable.

One night, they’re on the couch in Tony’s penthouse, talking about nothing after yet another fruitless attempt to get Steve drunk for longer than five minutes when Tony, who’s been drunk for five hours at least asks him a question. 

“So, what’s your deep dark secret, then?”

Steve panics, but steadies his breathing, tries to hide it.

“What do you mean?

“It’s been what, six months, and we haven’t had a heart to heart yet. Usually I can just get you drunk, but that clearly hasn’t been working so I figured I’d try a more straightforward approach. Steve Rogers, O Captain my Captain, what is your deep dark secret?”

Steve feels like his brain is whiting out. “What makes you so sure that I have a deep dark secret?”

“You don’t let anyone get near you with a ten foot pole. Sure you let me and Brucie pretend, but you’re always one step back, your guard is always up. Now I know a thing or two about repressed trauma and repressed feelings and let me tell you… You always think it’s going to ruin everything the second you say it out loud. But it just makes it a real thing. And you can deal with real things. Did I mention Pepper is having me see a therapist? Turns out there’s a lot of fucked up shit going on in there.”

He points to his head and continues when Steve just looks at him. 

“A lot of fucked up shit but a lot of genius too. It tends to work like that, doesn’t it? Well anyway my father never loved me and my parents died before I could develop an independent sense of self and understanding of my place in the world.”

Steve just looks at him. He can feel his heart racing in his ears. 

“I did one, now you.”

Steve can’t make himself talk.

“Capsicle…”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Ah so he does speak!”

Steve works his lips, trying to find the words. Is he really going to do this? Can he do this? He knows in theory that things are supposed to be better now, but everyone he’s told has told him to keep it secret. So how much has really changed?

But everyone he’s told has worked for SHIELD, so he supposes they can’t be that credible. 

Before he can think himself out of it he says it. It’s almost a whisper, but he says it out loud. 

“I’m transgender.”

Chapter Text

Tony is silent for a few long moments. Steve wants to curl up and die. 

“Huh.”

Oh god, is he going to start crying?

“That’s why no one could ever find your birth certificate.”

Steve just nods, unable to speak.

Steve can’t make himself look at Tony. Can’t make himself talk any more for fear he’ll break down and start crying. 

“Aw Steve.”

Steve feels a warm hand on his shoulder, Tony’s arm around him. 

Tony puts his head in Steve’s field of view, making eye contact and it takes everything Steve has not to look away. 

“Thank you for telling me.”

And then Steve is crying. 

He doesn’t know how long he cries for, but he knows that the whole time there’s a pair of warm arms around him, rubbing his back. 

When he’s all cried out, he hears Tony murmuring into his hair, “Anything you want, I’ll make it happen for you. Anything you want.”

~~~

Steve is sure that when he went to bed the night before, Tony was not an expert in transgender healthcare. Yet, when he wakes up, he finds a carefully prepared packet of information, annotated in Tony’s handwriting with jokes and asides. 

He almost cries again before he even starts reading it. He puts it down and decides to make some breakfast, heading to the communal kitchen in the hopes of seeing a stranger and feeling less like he’s been broken open for everyone to look at. 

Bruce is absentmindedly eating cereal when he walks in, the spoon non-moving in his hand as he pondered the screen in front of him. 

“You want eggs, Bruce?”

He just grunts, which Steve has learned means yes. And on the few occasions it hasn’t, hey, he’s a supersoldier, he can always use more calories. 

He scrambles the eggs, then just kind of stares into the fridge, still not used to the options they have now. He’s contemplating the difference between greek and icelandic yogurt when Tony walks in. 

Ever since he and Bruce moved into the tower, he would guess Tony takes half of his meals, and most of his breakfasts, in the common dining area, with Pepper joining him if she’s around. Luckily, she’s at a meeting in London right now, so it’s only a terrifyingly energetic Tony Stark that Steve has to deal with right now. 

“Mornin’, kids. Do we have plans for today? I was hoping to blow some things up in the lab as we try to revolutionize the very idea of the car. Brucie?”

The other scientist lets a smile break over his face. “I could, uh, I could get behind that.”

“Steve! My man!”

Tony claps him on the back like Steve hadn’t spent a couple hours crying in his arms the night before. 

“You going out to rebuild again today? I don’t know if you heard, but Bruce and I are going to blow things up later.”

“I’m alright, Tony. Thanks.”

They eat breakfast in companionable silence, the quiet din of the news only barely louder than Bruce’s cereal crunching. 

Steve cleans up breakfast, but doesn’t leave the tower to join his usual rebuilding group in Brooklyn. Instead, he heads back to his quarters, picks up Tony’s packet and reads. 

Most of it is stuff he has already found out on the internet. But Tony has also taken the time to cobble together a transgender history. He didn’t even know that existed. He learns about Christine Jorgensen and Billy Tipton. He learns about the trailblazers, like Marsha P Johnson, and he learns about why he’ll never meet most of them. He doesn’t know why he never thought to look for it before -- if he had known in the 40s that he wasn’t the only one, everything would’ve been so much easier. Even through the things that are harder to read he can see the parts that Tony underlined, making small jokes in the margins when the topic allows for it. He learns more about his options with healthcare but he also knows it might all be for nothing with the serum. For all he knows, he might inject himself with testosterone and the serum will just eat it up. He might cut open his chest and have it be back there the next morning. And isn’t that worse?

He texts Tony.

Tony, Thanks for the packet but I don’t think I’m ready to try anything just yet. Thanks for being a good friend, Steve

He reads over the message and winces, but forces himself to hit “send” anyway, closing his eyes as he does. 

His phone has barely made the little “whoosh” sound to let him know he sent the message before he’s receiving Tony’s reply in the form of a nearly incomprehensible string of heart emojis.

Steve lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding in. 

Chapter Text

Tony Stark is the kind of guy who likes to do things. He sees a problem and he wants to fix it. While Tony definitely understands Steve’s hesitations about medical transition, once he knew that that was something Steve wanted, he didn’t see the point in waiting. 

He doesn’t push Steve about it very often, but every so often a file will appear under Steve’s door with information about some doctor or group that Tony wants him to consider vetting. But Steve’s just not ready yet. He’s barely used to his body since the serum, not to mention he’s only coming up on a year of being in the 21st century.

About a month after Steve told him, Tony convinced him it didn’t make sense to keep Bruce out of the loop. Somehow, Steve’s irrefutable evidence that everyone he’s ever told had died had turned out to be pretty refutable. And anyway, the Hulk was practically indestructible, right?

They’re all sitting in the lab, Tony and Bruce on a Steve-enforced pizza break when Steve realizes he’s going to tell him. It hits him all at once, as he wordlessly hands over the box to Bruce. He tries not to panic, but he’s sure he doesn’t hide it, and Tony and Bruce are too kind to say anything. 

A little while later, Tony’s called dibs on the last slice of pizza and it all comes out in a rush. 

“Bruce you should know this and Tony already knows but you should know I’m trans.”

Tony freezes, pizza halfway to his mouth as what Steve said sinks in. Then he absolutely beams at him, white teeth gleaming. 

Bruce’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t say anything for a moment. His brow furrows, considering. 

“Well I guess this is an appropriate time to tell you I’m bi, then?”

“Brucie!”

Tony is on his feet, waving the slice of pizza threateningly. 

“How could you not tell me this?! I thought we were science bros!! Here I go telling you all my secrets, and thinking you’re telling me yours when you’ve been keeping this from me the whole time. I’ve been trying to make you date someone for months. Months . And you didn’t bother to tell me I could’ve been setting you up with dudes too?! Okay, so what’s going to happen is --”

Tony starts to tap on his phone and then freezes as Steve and Bruce lock eyes and descend into laughter.

“No, this is not fair! You don’t realize what you did to me!”

But Steve and Bruce are gone, Steve’s hand clasped to his chest, his entire body shaking. Steve doesn’t think he’s ever seen Bruce laugh this hard. 

“What’s so funny, huh?”

Neither of them can quite talk yet. Steve thinks he can feel tears start to pick at the corners of his eyes. 

“It’s just…” he wheezes out, feeling like his asthma came back. 

“We both…” Bruce tries.

“You just…”

“We both just came out and you managed to make it about you!”

Steve and Bruce fall into another bout of laughter and Tony splutters.

“I didn’t -- I mean -- I was just -- I’m sorry, I just”

“Tony, it’s okay,” Steve says, hopefully reassuringly. 

“We know you didn’t mean anything by it. We only found it funny because it was so -- you.”

“Being selfish is just so me ?”

Tony actually seems hurt. Steve tries to pull the smile off his face. 

“Most people wouldn't respond to their friend coming out by being miffed they hadn’t been able to set them up with people other than women. It’s very… Tony. And it was very nice to hear, though I doubt you’ll have more success just because your pool isn’t limited.”

A smile is creeping onto Tony’s face again.

“We’ll see about that.”

~~~

Everything changed after Bruce came out, but also somehow nothing changed. Everything that Steve had read about modern queer culture seemed to be focused on parties and parades, and being loud and in the center of attention. Bruce wasn’t that. And that meant Steve didn’t have to be that either. He didn’t know what he wanted to be, but Bruce meant that he had a choice now. 

The morning after Bruce came out to them, Steve woke up to a piece of paper pushed under his door. It was a list of movies and a list of dates. Apparently, he was woefully ignorant and if both of Tony’s best friends were queer he sure as hell wasn’t going to be the best informed of them. 

Tony tries to get them to watch what he assures them is the most popular thing in queer culture right now. It’s a TV show called “Drag Race” and, while Steve can see why other people would like it, he just doesn’t get it. It’s too loud, too big, just too much. When he tells Tony as much, he doesn’t get far, and Bruce has to step in. 

Instead, Bruce suggests a television series called Sense8 , which, even though it takes a while for Steve to understand all of what’s going on, he really loves. It makes him feel whole, and connected. He doesn’t know why they have so many orgies, but he doesn’t mind. 

Bruce puts an arm around him and he leans into it. He thinks of Bucky and the happier he feels the more Steve misses him. It’s like he’s being ripped in two. The more he comes to love this new time, the more he feels like he’s betraying Bucky, betraying Peggy. Tears prick in the corners of his eyes and he lets Bruce think it’s because of the show. 

When the episode ends, Bruce clicks off the TV and they sit alone in the blue light of the screen, Bruce’s arm still rubbing comforting circles on Steve’s shoulder. Steve turns to look at Bruce, and the tears come strong. 

Bruce gathers him in his arms and tangles his fingers in Steve’s hair. 

They don’t speak. 

When Steve finally stills, Bruce pulls away. 

Steve doesn’t look up, trying to bury himself back in Bruce’s wet shirt. 

“Hey, look at me.”

Steve looked up, his watery blue eyes meeting Bruce’s brown. 

“I’m here for you, you know that? And when you want to talk I’m here to listen. Even if you just want to talk about a funny joke you saw on the internet. It doesn’t all have to be big talks about big things. If something’s important to you I’ll listen.”

Steve nods. 

“I’ll, uh, I’ll listen too. I know Tony’s a little a lot some of the time. I mean I love him but sometimes… Anyway I’m here for you too, Bruce.”

“Wanna watch another episode?”

“You bet.”

Chapter Text

Steve doesn’t know how he survived for a week without Tony and Bruce in his life, much less for months. It’s not like it was with Bucky -- he doesn’t think anything will be like that -- but it’s good. 

They all have good days and they all have bad days. On Steve’s good days he goes for a run along the Hudson all the way from midtown to the Bronx and back. On his bad days he punches the bag. On the really bad ones, he doesn’t get out of bed. 

Usually either Bruce or Tony will find him and climb under the covers with him, their warm arms wrapping around him. 

He tries so hard not to feel guilty when they spend hours there with him, but he knows he would do the same for them. 

Bruce tries to suggest therapy, but Steve’s not ready to trust someone like that. Not ready to trust anyone but them with his secret. 

So instead he draws. He draws what he remembers from the war, and he draws what’s in front of him. 

There are more drawings of pieces of Iron Man armour than Steve would like to admit, but what else is he supposed to do when he’s hanging out in the lab with Tony?

They get into a rhythm, and Steve breathes a little easier. 

It’s almost a year to the day that Steve accepted Tony’s dinner invitation that SHIELD reaches out to him. 

He doesn’t feel any guilt when he says no. 

~~~

Steve has started to accept that he’ll always be Captain America. Even if he never puts on the suit, even if he never does a public event again, he’ll always be Captain America in the 21st century. 

He finds it nearly impossible to make friends, most people too shy and shell-shocked by Captain America to see Steve. And the couple times he’s gotten close, they’ve failed the background check, Tony finding some secret ill intent they had in pursuing a friendship with Steve. 

He’s lonely. And it hurts. But it won’t get better if he wallows in it. 

Helping rebuild the city helped with that, but it’s gotten to the point where they don’t need volunteers. They’ll probably neve turn away Captain America, and Steve knows that. He wants to use being Captain America for good, and he doesn’t know how. 

He researches non-profits and organizers and reaches out to see if he can help. And if he reaches out to a few more LGBTQ groups than he really should, only he knows that. 

When he shows up at the meetings or the protests, he can almost guarantee a half dozen reporters will too. He never answers questions, always just saying he’s here to help out and turning the floor over to the organizers. In the beginning, they still try to make stories about him, but he gives them so little, eventually he’s able to force them to do some real reporting. 

It gets to the point where he’s keeping a couple spare sets of clothes in Tony’s DC apartment. Bruce sometimes comes down when he’s there, but most of the time it’s him  alone, and sometimes he lets himself pretend he’s not Captain America and he can just be Steve. He still can’t bring himself to visit Peggy. Though he feels the pull stronger when he’s in DC, he can’t make himself do it just yet. 

There’s no gym in Tony’s apartment and Steve won’t let him build one, so he takes to running in the mornings when he’s in DC. He starts early, before the sun rises, and runs until he can’t feel anything other than his feet against the concrete and his blood in his ears. 

It’s early enough that he’s usually alone on his path, so he’s surprised to see someone else on his path. 

“On your left,” he says as he passes him. 

Steve notices the guy is wearing an Air National Guard sweatshirt as he passes him. When he comes up behind him again 15 minutes later, he can only blame his ingrained Army and Air Force rivalry on him saying it again. 

“On your left.”

It has the intended effect. 

“Uh-huh. On my left. Got it.”

Even as he runs, Steve feels a smile creep onto his face. 

Steve finds a place to loop around, just to make sure he catches him before he’s done for the day. The guy must hear him coming.

“Don’t say it. Don’t  you say it.”

“On your left.”

“Come on!”

Steve speeds up as he runs away from him. 

To his surprise, the guy is still there catching his breath under a tree, when he gets to that part of the loop again -- without cheating this time. 

“Need a medic?”

“I need a new set of lungs,” he says and Steve thanks Erksine yet again for his. 

“Dude, you just ran like 13 miles in 30 minutes.”

“I guess I got a late start.”

“Really? You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take another lap.”

The guy is actually joking with him. Maybe he hasn’t recognized him yet. 

“Did you just take it? I assume you just took it.”

“What unit you with?”

“58th Pararescue. But now I’m working down at the VA. Sam Wilson.”

He extends a hand up and Steve uses it to pull him up. 

“Steve Rogers.”

“I kinda put that together.”

There’s an awkward moment as Steve doesn’t know what to say. 

“Must have freaked you out, coming home after the whole defrosting thing.”

And that’s why he doesn’t normally talk to people in the street. 

“It takes some getting used to. Good to meet you, Sam.”

He starts to walk away but Sam calls after him. 

“It’s your bed, right?”

“What’s that?”

“Your bed. It’s too soft. When I was over there, I’d sleep on the ground, use rock for pillows like a caveman. Now I’m home, lying in my bed, and it’s like--”

“Lying on a marshmallow.”

Huh. Steve had just thought it was a 21st century thing. People seemed to forget he was in a war. Guess it was a war thing. 

“Feel like I’m gonna sink right to the floor.”

Sam smiles and nods at that. 

“How long?”

“Two tours. You must miss the good old days, huh?”

“Well, things aren’t so bad. Food’s a lot better. We used to boil everything. No polio is good. Internet, so helpful. I’ve been reading that a lot trying to catch up.”

“Marvin Gaye. 1972. Trouble Man soundtrack.”

Steve takes out his phone, opening the note with his running list of things to catch up on. 

“Everything you missed jammed into one album.”

“I’ll put it on the list.”

He does, and gets a text at the same time. It’s from the leader of the rally he’s going to later today.

“All right, Sam, duty calls. Thanks for the run.”

They shake hands as Steve continues. “If that’s what you want to call running.”

“Oh, that’s how it is?”

“Oh, that’s how it is. Okay.”

Steve starts to head off. 

“Anytime you want to stop by the VA, make me look awesome in front of the girl at the front desk, just let me know.”

For some reason, Sam’s request doesn’t rub Steve the wrong way like he would expect it to.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

As he jogs back to Tony’s apartment he feels lighter somehow, but also more anchored, grounded. 

He actually will stop by the VA, he thinks.

Chapter Text

It ends up that he can’t stop by the VA until the end of the week. In that time, Tony does a full background check and Sam passes it with flying colors. 

Tony announces this in typical Tony fashion. This beautiful man is clearly the long-lost fourth member of our group of tragically handsome, tragically troubled misfits

As he’s reading the text, his phone buzzes again. 

Or I guess you two can just fuck if that’s more your speed 😏

Steve has to stop himself from snorting out loud when he gets the text. He’s sitting in on a lobbying meeting in support of Planned Parenthood and it takes all of his self control to keep composure. It’s not that he doesn’t find Sam attractive, but they’re so far from that being a possibility that he won’t let himself consider it. 

By the time he finally has time to go to the VA, Steve’s sure Sam has forgotten about him. He’s sure he’s just become a good story to tell about that one time he went running with Captain America. 

Steve gets let in to the VA building with the address from Tony texted him. He’d refused to read any of Sam’s file, fearing it would ruin whatever friendship he thought might bloom between them. 

The, admittedly cute, girl at the front desk lets him know what room to wait outside for Sam. As he sits on the bench outside, he can hear some of the people inside sharing their stories. 

He’s intrigued, but feels like he’s violating their privacy. He wouldn’t be able to hear them without the serum, and they’re only sharing because they think they’re in a safe place. He puts in some earbuds and listens to his iPod. Initially, he’d filled it up with his favorite music from before he shipped out, but found it made him homesick. He’s still mostly listening to jazz, but he’s following the trajectory of where it went when he went into the ice. Nowadays, he’s listening to a lot of Coltrane. 

He lets the music wash over him. 

People start to file out of the room, but he studiously looks at his phone and they ignore him. When the rush ends, he opens the door, and there’s Sam cleaning up. 

“Look who it is, the running man.”

He sounds tired, like the jokes are taking more effort after the meeting. 

“Seemed pretty intense in there.”

“Yeah, brother. We all got the same problems.”

Steve ignores the burst of joy he gets from being called brother. He also ignores the stab of pain from knowing he does actually have more problems than some. 

Sam continues.

“Guilt. Regret.”

“You lose someone?”

“My wingman. Riley. Flying a night mission. Standard PJ rescue op. Nothing we hadn’t done a thousand times before. Until and RPG knocked Riley’s dumb ass out of the sky.”

He states the facts as they are. Steve can see in his eyes how important Riley was to him. Who knows how many meetings Sam has told this story in. Steve can see in his eyes it still matters. 

“Nothing I could do. It’s like I was up there just to watch.”

“I’m sorry.”

It’s all Steve can think to say, and he knows it’s not enough. 

Sam continues as if Steve hadn’t said anything.

“After that, I had a really hard time finding a reason for being over there, you know?”

Steve does know. But he also knows that he’s not ready to talk about that yet. 

“But you’re happy now, back in the world?”

Sam seems to recognize Steve’s steering of the conversation. 

“Hey, the number of people giving me orders is down to about… zero? So, hell yeah. Are you out? I know I haven’t seen anything on the news since New York, but...”

Steve’s quiet for a few moments. 

“Yeah. I’m out.”

“How’s that going, man?”

“It’s hard. It’s complicated.”

“Do you have someone to talk to about everything?”

Steve’s quiet again. 

“Just to clarify dude, I’m not offering. Well, I am offering, but strictly as a friend. But I could recommend a few people. If you wanted someone to talk to.”

“Yeah. That’d be nice.”

“Sweet. Do you know what you want to do, now that you’re out?”

Steve thinks about it. 

“Seriously, you can do whatever you want to do. What makes you happy?”

Before the war, he would say that drawing made him happy, Bucky made him happy. Standing up for the little guy made him happy. Now he has Tony, and Bruce, and maybe even Sam, but he doesn’t feel settled. Doesn’t feel at home. Won’t let himself feel at home. 

“I don’t know.”

~~~

Sam and Steve end up getting Thai food and head back to Sam’s apartment to squeeze onto the couch to watch a movie. Sam lets Steve pick, so he decides to watch Beauty and the Beast . It’s Steve’s favorite of the new Disney films he’s seen.

 Sam seems genuinely excited by the choice, which lets Steve release some tension. Too many people he has met in the 21st century are convinced he has to be a paragon of masculinity and it makes them uncomfortable that he’s not. And even if he were, he doesn’t see what’s so feminine about Disney anyway. Back when he’d watch movies with Bucky, they weren’t made for boys or girls -- they were just movies. 

They’ve been able to keep up a steady banter throughout the night, dancing around sensitive subjects, letting the other see just enough of their wounds to know there’s something there. 

It’s nice, and he’s able to let himself relax in the way he’s usually only able to with Bruce or Tony. 

Late that night, long after Steve had left Sam’s place, he was still awake. Their conversation at the VA was stuck in his head. If he’s not going to work for SHIELD, if he’s not going to be a soldier, what is he going to do? What can he do?

Sure, there was a world where he might’ve aspired to be an artist but now no matter what he does it will be colored with the red, white, and blue of Captain America. How can he figure out what to do as Steve Rogers when the world can only see him as Captain America?

He tosses and turns the whole night with nothing to show for it. 

Chapter Text

It’s a few weeks before Steve can find another excuse to go back to DC. In those weeks, Sam and Steve are nearly constantly talking. They text throughout the day, mostly Steve distracting Sam with jokes to get him through his day. 

In addition to working at the VA on administrative tasks, and acting as a support group leader, Sam is also taking classes to get his masters in social work. He told Steve about when he first got back from Afghanistan, how lost he was, still reeling from the loss of Riley and unable to find a place for himself in civilian life. He started going to therapy, both solo and group, and after a lot of introspection was able to find what his next steps were. 

“It’s not easy,” he tells Steve one afternoon. They’re eating pizza with some mindless TV on in the background. It feels good to do something normal with a friend.  

“But it gets easier. Sometimes I feel like I’ve moved on, and sometimes I wake up screaming Riley’s name. It is what it is. But finding something meaningful to do helps. And working out, man. You would not believe what endorphins do to you.”

Steve chuckles at that, but privately something is released. It’s hard to say how often he wakes up with Bucky’s name on his lips, thinking he’s still on that damn train. 

Despite everything he’s seen in the war, that’s the image that sticks with him. The one he can’t shake. And it feels so wrong to have seen everything he’s seen, to have been a part of so much death and to pick one, make one life worth more than all the others. 

“Believe me, I know all about the restorative powers of exercise. Not sure Tony appreciates the number of punching bags I’ve broken.”

“Dude, you break punching bags?”

Steve chuckles bashfully. 

“Man, I gotta get me some of that super juice.”

“It seems like a waste now, to not fight anymore.”

“Dude, you did your time. More than. And you said you’d come back if the aliens attack again. Us normals can handle the other stuff.”

He lets Sam’s words comfort him, and bumps their shoulders together. 

“Want to go for a run?”

“No. No, Steve, don’t do this to me.”

Steve grins, reaching for his shoes.

“Steve you ass! How anyone believes Captain America is a goody two shoes is absolutely ridiculous!”

Steve is out the door before Sam has his shoes tied, smiling harder than someone running has any right to.

~~~

After a couple weeks of needling, Steve finally accepts that Sam might actually be right about therapy. 

He gets him to send over a list of therapists, which he forwards to Tony for background checks before reading a single name. 

A few days later, he gets a substantially shorter list back from Tony. There’s an surprising amount of overlap between therapists that specialize in working with veterans and working with queer people. While he likes Sam, he’s not quite ready to tell him that yet, so he can’t ask for him to narrow down his search.

In the end, though, he picks a therapist in New York. He has JARVIS schedule the appointment for him, deciding the Tower is not only where he feels safest, but the best way to make it discreet that Captain America is going to therapy.

He’s nervous the day of his first appointment, but he also knows he doesn’t have to tell them everything right away. 

His therapist’s name is Nic and he can tell they’re surprised to be asked to be Captain America’s therapist. There’s some initial awkwardness about the Captain America of it all, but Nic finds ways to talk about it that make it about Steve and not really about Captain America. Steve decides he likes Nic. 

He comes out of his first session, not lighter, not better, but able to see how one day he might be. They mostly talked about his life in the 21st century, with Nic promising (threatening?) to make him talk about his past in future sessions. 

He looks at his phone as he comes out of the session and is surprised to see a secure message from Romanov. As he swipes the message to open it, he gets another. 

SHIELD is down. 

The new message is coordinates of a location in New Jersey. 

Fuck. He knew the Tesseract weapons were a bad sign. Sometimes he really hates to be right. 

He doesn’t even think to ask Tony and Bruce if they want to help before he’s jumped on his bike.

On the way, he has JARVIS send a quick message explaining where he is to Tony and Bruce. He knows this isn’t their battle, but it’s his. It has to be -- for Peggy. For all the good people and all the lives saved by SHIELD. 

He still can’t make himself visit her. But there’s nothing that will ever stop him fighting for her.

Chapter Text

He arrives at the location before Natasha. He’s surprised he doesn’t recognize it before he sees the sign, but then again it has been 70 years. It’s overgrown and unkempt but is unmistakably Camp Lehigh. He’s not prepared for the flood of memories of his training, of Dr. Erskine, of Peggy. He remembers the snide comments of the other men. He remembers being used to it. Now, no one would dare talk to him like that. Wouldn’t dare call him a faggot, fairy, queer. Wouldn’t know they were right when they did. 

Honestly, he might have them to thank that he finds the building to go into. If he’d had friends during basic, he might’ve spent fewer of his evenings reading and re-reading the regulations. 

They break into the building Steve identifies as violating munition storage regulations. They turn on the lights and Steve hates that he isn’t surprised to see the SHIELD eagle on the wall. 

They go into the office and there are pictures on the wall. 

“There’s Stark’s father.”

“Howard,” Steve says, correcting without thinking about it. 

“Who’s the girl?”

Steve stays quiet. There’s no way Natasha had been working for SHIELD for this many years without knowing who Peggy was. And if she really was that irresponsible, then she didn’t deserve to know. 

He wanders further into the office and sees a bookcase. It looks off, and sure enough, when he pulls on it the whole thing slides open to reveal an elevator. Natasha types in the code, and the elevator brings them further down. 

As they walk into the room, the lights flicker on around them. Steve still doesn’t know much about computers but he knows enough to be able to confidently say that these computers are out of date. 

“This can’t be the data point, this technology is ancient.”

Yet as they walk up to it, there is an item on the desk that seems to be free of the layer of dust covering everything else in the room. Its clean black lines and gently flickering blue LED are both very out of place.

Natasha plugs in a USB stick and the whole room activates. The machines on either side of them start whirring. 

The computer comes to life. Initiate system?

Natasha types in “Y-E-S spells yes.”

The screen flickers and a voice comes out. “Rogers, S, born 1918.”

The voice seems familiar, but Steve can’t think about it now. Why didn’t it just call him Steve? Natasha turns to look at him, but anything she might’ve said is cut off when the computer speaks again.

“Romanoff, Natalia Alianovna born 1984.”

“It must be some kind of recording,” Natasha says.”

The voice keeps on talking, but Steve is barely processing the words, he’s thinking so quickly. Who could know his secret? Who could know? He had been so careful. 

And then the computer tells him. It’s Zola. Fucking Zola. The man that Bucky died to capture. It didn’t seem worth it then, and it definitely doesn’t seem worth it now. 

The more he learns, the angrier he gets. He had been ready to make the ultimate sacrifice because he thought it would destroy HYDRA forever. But instead he just created a false hope, a false sense of security that allowed SHIELD to be infiltrated by the enemy. 

The machine just keeps on talking, and Steve is seeing red. He punches the screen and for a second, feels better. But then Zola just shows up on another screen. 

“What’s on this drive?”

“Project Insight requires insight. So, I wrote an algorithm.”

Natasha steps in front of Steve. “What kind of algorithm? What does it do?”

“The answer to your question is fascinating. Unfortunately, you shall be too dead to hear it.”

With that, the doors to the elevator slam shut. Steve tries to throw his shield to stop them, but it just ricochets off. 

“Steve, we got a bogey. Short range ballistic. 30 seconds tops.”

“Who fired it?”

“SHIELD.”

The computer speaks up again but Steve’s not listening. He looks around the room. The grate in the floor. He opens it up and pulls Natasha in after him, shield over their heads, as the room explodes around them. 

Steve doesn’t know how long he waits as debris rains down around them. Eventually, it’s quiet, and he begins the process of digging them out. 

When he gets free, it’s in a sea of rubble. Natasha seems to be unconscious, so he picks her up and they make their way out, hiding in shadows so the clean-up team doesn’t see them.