Thor is the only Avenger radiating calm. Tony’s foot is tapping, Clint’s jaw is twitching, Bruce is absent to avoid undue stress, and even Natasha’s fingers are white where they grip the armrests of her chair. As for Steve, he’s handling the stress by furrowing his brow and crossing his arms. Across the long, SHIELD emblem-embossed conference table, the Winter Soldier is sitting and staring like all of the wary attention on him is normal.
“I need you to understand, Soldier, that this is not a request typically made by SHIELD. We do not make a practice of hiring independent contractors, especially not those with your profile.” Hill barely pauses before continuing on to her description of what an important mission this is, one that requires two world-ranked snipers rather than one world-ranked sniper and the second best that SHIELD has to offer, but the Soldier lifts his metal hand a few inches off the table to stop her while she takes a breath.
She pauses, and the whole room holds its collective breath to hear the first words out of the Soldier’s covered mouth.
“Profile?” he asks, more of a statement than a question.
Steve feels the Soldier’s eyes on him for a chilling moment, assessing behind the dark sunglasses, before the Soldier flicks his gaze to the next Avenger. Steve remembers Clint telling Tony just this morning that wearing sunglasses inside makes you look like a douchebag, but Clint looks uncomfortable enough by the idea of working with the Soldier that Steve doubts he’ll be forthcoming about his opinions.
“Your profile, Soldier,” Fury says when it becomes clear that Hill’s searching for the right words; Steve has been through several missions with Maria since SHIELD defrosted him three years ago, and he doesn’t think that he’s ever seen her so flustered. “Is that of a dangerous, unstable gun-for-hire who will go right back on the threat list as soon as you complete your work for us. You’ve been on our radar for several years, usually working for people we don’t like. We know about most, if not all, of your missions, and you’re responsible for extensive losses to SHIELD property and personnel. So you’ll have to excuse the chilly reception; the Avengers aren’t exactly doing cartwheels at the chance to work with you.”
The Soldier nods briefly and places his hand – Steve can’t stop staring at the way the overhead lights glint off the metal, and he reflexively picks up his pen and starts to sketch on the mission details in front of him – back on the table.
When it becomes clear that the Soldier doesn’t intend to raise any more questions, Hill pretends the interruption didn’t happen and charges forward. Steve notices the tension in her voice as she very purposefully doesn’t rush through the mission details.
The Soldier nods when Hill or Fury look to him for confirmation, but he doesn’t say anything else.
The plan is outlined: Iron Man and Thor will fly into the MODOK compound and create a destructive diversion while Captain American and the Black Widow enter the main factory from the roof and free a group of SHIELD engineers being held by AIM. Each team will have its own sniper for covering fire; Hawkeye will be in the tree line above the compound to cover Team Alpha, while the Winter Soldier covers Team Beta from the rafters. The logistics play to each sniper’s strengths, but Steve’s convinced that Tony’s tantrum about not being able to do his job with those ‘beady little psychopath eyes’ boring into the back of his helmet had also influenced the assignments.
Steve doesn’t mind having the Soldier on his six; he’d done his research before agreeing as team leader to contract the Winter Soldier, and nothing in the extensive files SHIELD keeps on the assassin suggest that he has any personal ill will towards Steve or his team. The Soldier is simply a very talented (possibly the most talented, though it’s a sore subject at the Tower) hitman whose loyalty points in the same direction that his bank account flows. Steve’s known people to do better, but he’s also known people to do worse.
This doesn’t mean that it’s a pleasant experience to sit across from the man, knowing his eyes are running over Steve and his teammates, assessing strengths, weaknesses, and threats, likely thinking of at least a dozen ways to incapacitate all of them in the event that this turns out to be a trap. Steve would really like to think that he doesn’t work for the type of organization which lulls its prey into complacency with over two hours of briefings and paperwork, but he knows that he does, and, despite his trained stillness, the Soldier likely knows it too. He’s been on alert since he walked into the building, and the Avengers’ instincts have responded in turn.
But they really do need a sniper of his abilities on this mission. Apart from Clint, SHIELD doesn’t have anyone whom Steve trusts with the lives of his team; he’ll take the hired killer who’s never been known to miss his mark, no matter what people say in the break room.
The meeting wraps up and the Soldier finally talks again, telling Fury what ammo he plans to use and requesting that the money for supplies be deposited into his account so that he can outfit himself. His voice is more quiet than Steve would have expected; it has an interesting tonelessness that obscures both emotions and any hint of an accent. All that Steve can read from him is menacing professionalism. The metal arm doesn’t come off the table again until the Soldier gets up to leave.
Steve looks down and sees that he’s attempted to shade the glints and shadows on the metal arm with a common ink pen. The results are rough to say the least. He moves to tuck the papers back into his briefing folder when the Soldier’s suddenly standing right at Steve’s elbow and tilting his gaze down at Steve.
All of the tolerant thoughts Steve’s been harboring toward the Soldier disappear; his body registers threat and his muscles tense for a fight.
The Soldier’s right hand – the non-metal one, but still covered in a glove – shoots forward to flip the folder back open. He runs his index finger over the drawing briefly before efficiently picking up the paper, tucking it into his own folder, and walking out of the room.
Steve’s eyebrow raises on its own, and he turns to see the same look on the other Avengers’ faces.
“What does Steve have in his folder that I don’t have in mine?” Tony turns on Fury, while Natasha frowns privately at Steve, to which he shrugs.
“I drew the schematics for his arm on one of my briefing documents. I guess he didn’t like us having that,” Steve says, refusing to admit that he’d been doodling on his very official and important paperwork. He legitimately has no idea what piqued the Soldier’s interest in his little drawing.
Fury looks like he’s going to call Steve out anyway, so Steve clears his throat and leads his team back to the Tower.
The Soldier sits quietly in the corner of the Quinjet while the other five members of the team argue about what movie they’re going to show Steve after the mission. In keeping with the MODOK theme, Tony wants to watch Pacific Rim, though he’ll probably spend most of the movie explaining the differences between real technology and science fiction to Steve.
Thor’s accrued a list of battle movies from somewhere and wants to watch Saving Private Ryan despite Steve’s insistence that WWII movies are, at best, whitewashed fairy tales and, at worst, outright lies.
Clint wants to watch something called “Bond.” He’s not so much describing his pick as saying, “It’s BOND, man. Bond,” over and over.
Natasha’s noticeably absent from the conversation, and is choosing to spend the flight glaring at the Winter Soldier with her jaw shifted to one side.
Steve gets her alone before the mission and crosses his arms, waiting for her to break. Because it’s Natasha, she only breaks voluntarily, but her glare is barely derisive when she admits: “I just have a weird feeling about him.”
“Do you think he’s going to compromise the mission?” Steve asks thoughtfully, because Natasha’s gut feelings should always be treated like bright red warning signs.
“I don’t think so. I just get this thought when I look at him, that I know him from somewhere. But I don’t remember. And the only part of my past that I don’t remember is when I was with the Red Room.” She catches Steve’s eye and lowers her voice, even though he’s read the next part in her briefing: “Twenty years ago.”
“Think he also looks young for his age?” Steve asks, choosing to allude to Natasha’s infinity serum rather than her spotty career with the Red Room.
“I was wondering that, but look at the top of his head.” Steve does, and his enhanced vision sees what Natasha means: gray hairs; not a lot, but a few peppered throughout his otherwise chestnut hair. The color reminds him of Bucky’s hair, though Steve half-smiles thinking of Bucky ever growing his hair out like a dame’s. Maybe if he lost a bet.
“The Red Room injected Widows with the infinity serum in their late teens or early twenties, but a report I read a few years ago suggested that it also de-aged anyone who appeared to be beyond their physical prime. This guy doesn’t have it.”
“So what other explanations can we come up with? Are there other ways to keep someone from aging for two-plus decades?”
“You mean besides crashing their plane into a glacier like a fucking moron?” she asks, pulling one of her cheeks up into what Steve knows is really a friendly expression.
“Shut up. Is he a threat?” he asks, ignoring the jibe.
“No, it’s impossible. For him to be Red Room, anyway. I’m just poking too hard at that blank in my memory.”
“Well, poke later, we’re coming up on the drop point.”
The Soldier stands immediately, and Steve realizes that he probably heard the entire exchange. There’s no time to do anything but motion him over and run through the Beta Team extraction plan one last time.
The pilot opens the drop doors. Steve steps up to the ramp’s ledge and feels the wind buffeting him from every side. He feels Natasha’s presence at his left and the Soldier’s presence at his right, and when he gives the jump order, all three of them step forward in unison and plummet toward the trees below.
“It makes me want to pledge allegiance every time I see you do that, Cap,” comes Tony’s voice through Steve’s comm, but Steve’s busy counting the seconds via the pulse in his ears, and he pulls the cord on his parachute to skim over the trees and drop down to land in a small clearing he’d spotted from the plane.
The Soldier touches down less than half a second later, equally as light and controlled, and Natasha hits the ground with a jog soon after.
She looks completely furious to have earned the least graceful landing, and Steve smirks at her. He feels like the Soldier is probably doing the same thing beneath the heavy mask across the bottom two-thirds of his face.
“You were military?” he asks the Soldier as he unhooks and stows his parachute. The Soldier does the dead-eyed staring thing, and then bends down to begin the preliminary assembly of his rifle. Steve lets it roll off him – he’s not actually trying to make friends in the middle of a rescue mission, just complimenting the guy on his technique – and gives the team a minute to establish their land gear.
Then they head out.
It’s over an hour of walking, and Steve feels like the goose at the front of a perfect “v.” He remembers approximate formations from the war, but these days he tends to herd the Avengers along like a border collie nipping at unruly sheep. Natasha and the Soldier flank him perfectly; the quiet rhythm of their footsteps in sync lulls him into battle calm.
He appreciates it in the moment. The Avengers are a great team, and he’s proud to lead them, but sometimes they’re too…loud. Flashy. Disorganized. And no, he’s not just thinking about Tony. But the Avengers have so many redeeming qualities that Steve wouldn’t change much about them. It’s simply a nice change of pace from the Avengers’ usual pre-battle pop-tarts and bickering.
The compound comes into sight, and Steve disturbs the peaceful vibe to speak into his comm.
“Cap, Widow, and Frosty in sight. Two miles out. Begin OP, over,” he orders. He turns to grimace bashfully at the Soldier as he sees Tony and Thor blur past into the compound to create an explosive diversion. “Sorry. I was outnumbered when we picked your codename.”
The Soldier stares and shrugs. “I’ve had worse,” he speaks up, surprising Steve.
They pick up their pace now that the crashes and booms coming from the compound will cover the sound of their approach, and within ten minutes, all three are over the compound wall and climbing on top of a dumpster (because even AIM has garbage) to make the jump to the roof.
Steve gives Natasha a boost and turns to offer the same assist to the Soldier, but he’s already propelling himself onto the roof with a force that reminds Steve more of himself than it reminds him of any normal person he’s even seen jump, even highly-trained operatives.
Clearly, the Soldier is an enigma. Between the Red Room look-alike potential, military-perfect parachuting skills, and super soldier jumping, he’s a many layered individual, and Steve is intrigued. It isn’t, however, important to the mission, so he puts it out of mind.
Beta Team creeps through the facility, and when they approach the reactor room where the SHIELD engineers are being held, Steve signals for Natasha to stay back with him so the Soldier can get into position. Steve gets a firm nod from the Soldier before he vanishes into the dark, winding hallways ahead of them.
Steve uses the emergency sirens claxoning throughout the facility to count five minutes before he leads Natasha into the main room. At some point in the interim, he hears four long pips and twelve short pips on his comm; the Soldier spots four MODOK and twelve AIM agents in the room. It could be worse.
They slip through the door.
The MODOK surround the engineers while the helmeted AIM agents shuffle around the room and fret over wall-mounted computers, no doubt watching the battle footage from outside. Steve sees a tiny Thor on one of the screens swinging Mjolnir and cackling, which makes Steve’s fingers itch to get in on the action as well. He looks at Natasha and they both nod before she’s running and jumping on the back of an AIM agent, zapping him with her widow’s bite. Steve swings the shield around and sends it flying into a MODOK.
An AIM agent turns and rushes at Steve, but the yellow form hits the ground, courtesy of the Soldier from high up in the rafters, before it reaches him.
Steve doesn’t even see where the Soldier is; they had agreed that he would find the best vantage point in the room using his own judgment, and the bullet had come from Steve’s right. He orients himself so that the Soldier is on his six and grabs his shield on the rebound. He sidesteps to draw the attention of two MODOK, who charge at him angrily, while noticing that Natasha has set up shop on the other side of the room with the remaining two MODOK.
Fighting two MODOK requires all of Steve’s attention, but the things are big and bulky enough that he can sidestep them without too much trouble. They also lack the planning to launch a joint attack on him, while Steve has the Soldier guarding his back. This is how Steve knows he’s going to win.
The MODOK don’t realize they’re outmaneuvered, so they don’t hand themselves over. Steve hasn’t had a chance to really fight for a few weeks, so he throws himself into the fray, flinging his shield at the MODOK and showering them with kicks and punches. He uses one as a springboard to bodyslam the other, and he angles the shield precisely to pierce the MODOK armor and expose their wiring, which he promptly tears.
He’s got one ugly crab-robot thing on the ground and is using its leg to bludgeon the other when the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he hears a shot resonate from behind him. He looks up to see that the Soldier has risked exposing himself by inching out of his hiding place and shooting the third MODOK creeping up on Steve from behind.
He squints up at the Soldier and salutes, feeling déjà vu sweep over him as he remembers Bucky doing the same thing to save him. Bucky would tell him he’s an idiot who can’t watch his own ass in battle, and also that he should stop letting his mind wander during fights, so he puts aside the memories.
He takes down the surprise MODOK, goes back to what he was doing with the leg, and by the time all three MODOK are out of commission, Natasha has taken hers down and is gathering up the prisoners. The AIM agents who chose not to flee when they realized there was a sniper in the ceiling are scattered around the room, bleeding.
“What took you so long, Rogers?” she quips, and he ignores her in favor of bending down and snapping the zip tie holding an engineer’s ankles together.
They get the prisoners on their feet and Steve starts talking about the helicopters that are coming to evacuate them when Tony suddenly yells in his ear: “Energy signature moving towards you in the building, guys. Looks like one AIM-douche and one rocket-launcher or bazooka or something nasty.”
Steve turns to see the locked, sealed doors blast open, an AIM agent on the other side. He flips backwards to grab his shield off the ground, but the rocket-launcher isn’t pointed at him. The AIM agent starts shooting the computers and machinery hooked up to the walls, destroying evidence like a tried-and-true AIM goon.
It takes Steve the length of three shots to disable the agent across the room. He hears metal twisting and things falling behind him, so he looks back and sees that part of the ceiling has been shot; the beams where the Winter Soldier was perching are actively collapsing to the floor.
He sees the Soldier’s body hang in midair for a moment along with the other ceiling debris, and then everything is hitting the floor six stories below. Steve’s pulse skips in fear for a member of his team, even a temporary and rather creepy member, and he sprints to the Soldier.
“Natasha, get the prisoners out,” he orders, and then he lifts a slab of concrete off the Soldier’s leg and pats his body down, looking for injuries. The Soldier flinches when Steve’s hand brushes below his knee.
“Get the fuck off me,” the Soldier growls.
Satisfied that he’s at least in one piece, Steve looks up at his face and notices that the fall has knocked off his sunglasses, leaving only his muzzle-like mask in place. The Soldier’s eyes are a soft shade of blue that belies his hardened nature, and Steve feels like the wind has been knocked out of him, too, when he momentarily thinks he’s seeing Bucky’s eyes staring up at him from the rubble-strewn floor.
Everything is going to remind him of Bucky: this he knows, and he’s made his peace with it. He just can’t let it interfere with his ability to concentrate on the here and now, and right at this moment, he needs to move the Soldier out of the facility before any more of the ceiling falls or more destruction-happy AIM agents show up.
“Can you move?” he asks, angling himself to pick up the Soldier under his back and his knees.
The Soldier pushes himself up on to his elbows and makes to put weight on his legs, but he hisses before he can shift into a crouch. “Leg definitely broken, a few ribs too probably.”
Steve’s sure that the damage is more extensive than what he’s claiming; after all, the guy fell six stories. He should be dead by normal human physiology. The injury pattern makes him think again that this guy is scientifically enhanced in some way for some purpose. So, he asks the Soldier as he slowly helps him stand on his good leg: “What powers you got?”
The Soldier shoves at him ineffectually, so Steve keeps going. “It’s obvious you’ve got super-human strength. I’m not judging you; I got some of that myself. I’m just wondering how you came by it.”
The Soldier shrugs, and Steve would think he’s being blown off if he wasn’t still looking into the Soldier’s black paint-smeared eyes. His eyes are unfocused and a little lost, and Steve thinks the Soldier might not know where the super strength and abilities came from either. It’s a sad thought because it suggests a lack of agency on the Soldier’s part, not unlike what Natasha has gone through, but the Soldier is pushing him away with more energy before Steve can say anything else.
“I can walk on my own,” he growls through his teeth, gritting them and looking like it’s shooting through him every time he puts weight on the broken bone. Steve hears the wounded pride in his voice and backs off, but bends over to pick up the Soldier’s rifle.
“Give me that,” the Soldier orders him. Steve can hear the scowl in his voice.
“Buddy, you’re either letting me carry your gear or I’m carrying you. Your choice,” Steve says with a shrug.
The Soldier grumbles under his breath in a language that probably isn’t English as he and Steve leave the facility and walk the half-mile to the helicopters. It takes a while because of the Soldier’s injury, but Steve tries to distract him by talking about the fight.
The Soldier has plenty of comments to make about Steve’s fighting style, believing it to be unnecessarily risky and showy; when Steve has taken enough abuse, he tries to sway the Soldier back into his favor by complimenting his rifle. “This is a nice gun. What kind is it?”
“If you have to ask, you don’t deserve one,” the Soldier informs him tartly.
“I didn’t say I wanted one; I’ve already got a beaut of a weapon.”
“Fuck your Frisbee, do you even know how to shoot?”
“No, where’s the shooting button?” Steve pretends to be an absolute dope with the gun, and somewhere in the back of his head, it registers that the American people would probably not take kindly to Captain America being so blithe about gun safety. But he’s amusing the Soldier, which is preventing him from dwelling exclusively on his leg, so it’s worth it.
Steve thinks he could like the guy, if he were going to be around much longer than the mission. He’s already saved Steve, and he’s gutsy like some of Steve’s Commandos back in the war; he wouldn’t mind keeping the guy around.
Even though he knows they won’t. The Soldier has a contract with a hard end, and getting the prisoners back to SHIELD is that end.
“You know, I don’t usually let people hold my gun,” the Soldier baits him, innuendo and challenge both clear in his voice.
“I’m a special boy,” Steve says sarcastically, and the Soldier barks a laugh.
“Well, I’ll grant that you don’t have a red, white, and blue stick up your ass like I expected.”
“This ass is property of the United States Army. Anything that goes in it needs prior approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The Soldier laughs again and runs his eyes over Steve speculatively.
Those damn blue eyes. Steve’s equally pulled towards them and repulsed by what they remind him of. He sets his gaze forward and walks the Soldier the rest of the way to the pick-up spot, gets him settled in and his gun disassembled, and then goes to rendezvous with his team on Shield 1.
They spend the flight home split between continuing the movie conversation from earlier and wanting to know about Steve’s conversation with the Soldier.
“All I’m saying is, what could you two possibly have in common? Exchanging tips and techniques for that ramrod posture?” Tony demands.
“Yeah, you’re not exactly a social butterfly, Cap,” Clint adds.
“We talked about the fight and about his rifle. Why is this so interesting to you?” Steve asks. He’s thrown by their sudden interest and, for reasons he has yet to examine, on the defensive.
“Because he’s scary,” Tony throws out bluntly. “He’s like a scary wolf, and you’re an innocent little golden retriever. It’s weird.”
“Because your hobbies include playing Bingo with little white-haired ladies, and his hobbies include assassinating world leaders,” Clint chimes in again.
“Because-” Tony’s warming up to an irritating rant, but Thor breaks into the conversation.
“Because, friend Rogers,” he booms, “Many a conversation have we had in the Avengers’ mighty Tower about your lack of connections in this world that seems so new to you. It may seem strange to us to see you exhibiting battlefield camaraderie with the Soldier of Winter, but this is just because we do not know who you count among your acquaintances besides ourselves. Forgive our assumptions,” he finishes with a flourish that on anyone else would look ridiculous, and Natasha snickers at the blanched look on Tony and Clint’s faces.
“You don’t need to fuss over me behind my back. I’m fine,” Steve answers tiredly.
The other Avengers still think he’s mad, and he winds up getting the choice of the movie after the debrief.
Steve picks Gone with the Wind because he never got to finish it in 1939 when Bucky had gotten bored and dragged them out of the theater. If he also picks it because it’s nearly four hours long and he’s maybe a little irritated that the team is talking about him when he’s not around, then that’s his business.
He doesn’t see the Soldier again; they debrief separately.
Three weeks later, Steve wonders if the Soldier’s leg has healed yet. He’s sitting on his Brooklyn apartment patio, trying to find the motivation to get up and go over to the Tower for movie night.
It’s not his team that causes his reluctance; Steve really does appreciate the Avengers’ attempts to educate him about pop culture and befriend him, and he likes each of his teammates individually in addition to their group chemistry.
It’s just that it takes a lot of energy to hang out with a group of people who share very few life experiences with Steve and try to find common ground every second. It’s easier when they’re on a mission or in a fight, and things like civilian safety and the best way to incapacitate a robot are common ground enough. It’s not so easy when Natasha wants to hound him about dating, and Tony wants to chatter about an app on his smartphone; when Thor wants to connect over their common outsider status; when Bruce wants to teach him to meditate to release his frustrations; when Clint…actually, Clint probably asks the least from him.
Steve really wants to stay in his apartment, cook something for dinner, and watch a baseball game. However, he chooses instead not to have a repeat of Iron Man appearing on his balcony and demanding his presence for team bonding, so he puts on his jacket and rides his motorcycle to Avengers Tower.
Tony has provided each of the Avengers with quarters in his Tower, but Bruce is the only one who lives there full-time. Steve prefers to stay close to his old neighborhood, and the others have professional and social obligations which don’t always keep them in New York. Even tonight, Thor is in Asgard (professional obligation) and Bruce is with Betty (social obligation), so it’s just the four remaining Avengers settling onto Tony’s huge couch with pizza and beer to watch The Hobbit.
Clint’s trying to provide backstory from the Lord of the Rings movies, and when Steve tells him that he read the book back in 1937, Clint informs him that this somehow isn’t enough backstory. Apparently, despite the fact that they made films out of the sequels to The Hobbit, one must be familiar with the sequels to understand The Hobbit movie.
This sounds asinine, but so do the plots of most movies Steve watches, so he goes with it and eats almost two pizzas.
The movie is alright, though it doesn’t do justice to most of Steve’s favorite parts, and he thinks about leaving when the credits roll. Instead, he accepts the beer that Tony hands him and shifts his weight on the couch.
The team wants to know his opinion, so they talk about that for a while, and then the focus shifts to other parts of Steve’s life because he’s too polite to up and leave when his friends are asking personal questions:
“How’s running going?”
“Is the apartment good?”
“Done anything cool on your bike lately?”
“Which baseball team do they like again? Yeah, how are they doing?”
Steve’s sure that he’s answered these questions before, some of them virtually verbatim, but he has so few things to talk about besides work these days. They’re trying, they like him enough to try, and he feels the same way about them. He lets himself get pulled into another hour of small talk.
Inevitably, Tony wants to show him how to use a GPS app to track his runs and Natasha wants to set him up with a girl in munitions, so he leaves around one in the morning, preventing the night from turning into a slumber party.
He dismisses Natasha’s advice as he points his bike towards Brooklyn. She’s convinced that he’s mourning for Peggy in her youth and that all he needs to do to get “back in the saddle” is go on a few Natasha-arranged dates with a few young ladies, and he’ll remember that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Or something like that.
Steve cares deeply about Peggy, even now when she barely remembers him, but most of their wartime romance had been a fable invented by her as a parting gift. It doesn’t surprise him that the Army had gone through his and Bucky’s belongings after they died in the war, and too many letters and sketches that painted an unsavory picture of the relationship between the men had been recovered. Steve knows that Peggy had not only taken care of the evidence, but spun a romance between herself and Steve that certainly convinced the writers of textbooks and makers of documentaries for decades to come.
So it’s not about pining, and it’s not even about the fact that Steve doesn’t love women the way men are supposed to (or the way he was told men were supposed to; the future doesn’t always disappoint). His reluctance to date is more about the fact that strangers are amazed at what he does and doesn’t know, and he feels like he’s constantly being laughed or gawked at when he talks.
In the 30s, he knew where to find company in Brooklyn that wasn’t interested in talking. He hasn’t tried anything similar yet in the modern world, but once he gets it in his head, his pulse thrums with the anticipation. He pulls his motorcycle over and takes out the SHIELD-issued, tiny phone. Struggling with the small letters and periodically looking over his shoulder, he conducts an internet search for what he understands to be the correct terminology: “Gay men New York City.”
His search returns thousands of possibilities, and Steve wades through websites advertising dating services that he will never use because the thought of meeting someone through the phone is ridiculous. He finds what he’s looking for in the form of a list of clubs and their addresses, and he chooses one nearby. Once he’s committed to the idea, his chest clenches with familiar nervousness, and the memory of squaring his shoulders to walk into his first backdoor queer club on the lower east side brushes over him. Or his second, or third; it never stopped being risky to go to those places.
It’s risky now, too. Even though queerness has been decriminalized, Steve knows enough to understand that it isn’t universally accepted. And even people who do accept it might be less accepting when it comes to an American icon of upright moral behavior. He addresses this concern by buying a fedora from a street vendor still operating this late at night. He takes his coat off and slips out of his button-down shirt in an alley, leaving him in just a white tank top, and he hides the clothing behind a dumpster.
The club he’s picked wants to check his ID, which he obviously can’t show to them because “Steve Rogers” is a common but recognizable name. He knows it’s cheating, but he flexes his pecs a few times and watches the doorman’s eyes drop to chest-level. He thinks he understands the old comics where a man’s eyes would pop out of his head to stare a woman’s chest, and she would say something snappy like, “Eyes up here, Buster!” It doesn’t stop him from flexing until the doorman swallows and waves him through.
The inside of the club is colorful and loud, and Steve is so happy for these people that they don’t have to avoid attracting too much attention in this city. The atmosphere is, like most things in this century, overwhelming in technology and waste and volume, so he skirts the walls of the club, attracting many pairs of eyes as he walks.
There were never this many choices before, and even if Steve got to have his pick of interested men, they were never really the person he wanted. He’d only resort to going out to look for company when Bucky was going steady with a dame.
Sometimes, Bucky was unswervingly Steve’s, devoted and loving and ready to risk jail time for quick kiss in an alley.
But other times, Bucky would scent danger and push him away, convinced he was no good for Steve, that the two of the needed to save face and date some girls before anyone caught on, and that being together was pointless because they could never have anything like a normal life together. And back to chasing skirt Bucky’d go.
It always stung when Bucky went back to the dance halls and to smelling like perfume and alcohol. Steve doesn’t even remember if he started seeking other men out because he was honestly lonely or because he was trying to make Bucky red with jealousy. It was probably a mix of both those bitter emotions, but he’d found enough solace to wait Bucky out.
He’s shaken out of his memories when one of the interested sets of eyes belongs to a skinny, brunet boy whose jaw and crossed arms remind him of the face in his mind. The boy doesn’t have the build that Bucky had developed as a teenager from manual labor and hardy Irish genes, and his eyes are brown, but there’s enough of a resemblance that Steve thinks he’s found what he wants.
He walks up to the boy and leans against the wall next to him, raising an eyebrow in the protocol he remembers all too well. He can speak a whole silent language of requests and agreements, and despite the relative acceptance of queer people in 2014, his language must still be relevant enough that it gets through. The boy follows him from the club and back to the alley where his coat’s stashed behind a dumpster.
Steve doesn’t have a rubber or any slick, and his big body still is confused about whether it wants to give or receive. It had just seemed natural when Bucky was taller and broader that Steve would take it, but then Erskine’s procedure had transformed him, and they’d tried it the other way. Steve’s still not over the thrill of how much Bucky had loved it, and how much he’d pushed for it every time they were alone. But they didn’t get a lot of alone time, and Steve still isn’t sure which way he prefers.
But he knows that he likes to get his cock sucked and suck someone else’s just fine.
He pushes the boy against the wall and drops to his knees, knocking the hat off as he slides his forehead down the boy’s chest.
“Wow, you’re like really hot,” he speaks, and his voice isn’t deep like Bucky’s; it’s kind of nasally. Talking definitely isn’t necessary right now anyway. Steve attempts to show him this by pulling open the button on his jeans and yanking his zipper down before swallowing the hardening cock in front of him.
He can’t help but compare the boy to Bucky again, and it just makes the nostalgia more intense. The cock tickling his soft palate is longer than Steve was anticipating, but it has none of Bucky’s girth. He wants to stretch his lips around it and choke a little bit, but he’s not having any trouble getting the whole thing in his mouth and down his throat.
He shoves the boy’s hips back from where they’re trying to curl towards Steve’s face, and bobs his whole torso back and forth, tasting little spurts of precum every time he pulls back and lets the head bump up against the inside of his lips.
The boy is talking again, but it’s not the kind of talking that needs a response, so Steve focuses on the taste and the weight of the cock. It’s not as delicious as, say, the pizza and beer from earlier, but he’s always loved the possibilities of this. He can be totally in control; he can make a man figuratively fall apart from feeling so good.
Fingers clench in Steve’s hair, but he’s not going to have a problem swallowing, so he lets the boy come in his mouth. Leaning backwards and letting the damp, softening cock fall out of his mouth, he looks up at the boy and silently asks if he’s going to take a turn. Steve’s been hard since the boy followed him outside, but now he’s straining against his jeans.
“Give me a second,” the boy wheezes. It reminds Steve of the asthma that used to inhibit him and of the many breaks he’d have to take when making love with Bucky. But the boy catches his breath momentarily, and they switch positions.
Steve drops his head back against the brick wall and scrapes his arms against it, mixing a little pain in with his pleasure. The boy’s mouth feels so good as he hollows his cheeks to suck Steve. He can’t fit all of Steve in his mouth, but he’s creative with his hands. It’s very nice. Steve isn’t surprised that Bucky flashes into his head again and that’s when he comes.
He feels bad that he didn’t warn the boy, and he uses his tank top to help him clean up where some of Steve’s come has dribbled out of his mouth.
He walks the boy back to the club because he’s concerned about the area, and he speaks for the first time to thank him earnestly, wish him a good night. Looking a little starry-eyed, the boy blurts out that his name is Tyler and he absolutely needs Steve’s number, or at least his grindr username. Steve only smiles at him and walks away.
He pulls the motorcycle into his building’s parking lot and sees that it’s just past two AM. Assuming that he was successful in programing the DVR today, he should have a baseball game to watch. He’s hungry again too, so he’ll whip something up.
He feels easy and loose as he walks up the stairs and reflects on what a good night it’s been all around, but it’s also shuffled his thoughts and left several feelings about Bucky on top of the pile. He knows those thoughts will hurt when he’s alone with them in bed, but maybe it’s worth the comfort he found briefly in that alley.
His SHIELD babysitter, Kate, is stumbling around the landing of their floor with her laundry when he reaches it. Like always, he doesn’t call her on her spying tactics.
“Oh hey, Steve, you’re out late,” she comments, shifting the laundry basket from one hip to another.
He shrugs, leather jacket back in place on his shoulders. “I was just walking around Brooklyn a bit, thinking. I’m in for the night though.” He tries to give her a terribly innocent look, and it works well enough that she doesn’t press him for details.
That’s for the best, because Steve doesn’t think SHIELD needs to know a damn thing about his personal life. He says goodnight to Kate and goes into his apartment.
He cues up the baseball game and watches while he eats. It’s an exciting game, but he only half pays attention, letting his mind wander idly. He thinks about Tyler, Bucky, his teammates, and, when the commentators discuss a player’s injured leg, the Winter Soldier. He wonders if the Soldier’s healed yet and what’s he’s been doing since the mission.
No one at SHIELD thinks the arms-dealer is a big enough deal to justify sending two Avengers, so Steve gets to go on a rare solo mission.
It’s going very well when he’s knocking the dealer's guards unconscious, but apparently the man had suspected that something beyond the abilities of a regular protection detail might come for him, because a high-caliber bullet pings off his shield and comes centimeters from ricocheting off into Steve’s jaw.
He looks up, and the Winter Soldier is aiming at him from on top of the dealer’s lavish garage. He’s glad to see that the Soldier’s standing perfectly upright without appearing to favor either of his legs. Of course, he’s uncomfortable as well, because he knows that the Soldier could have already put him down. Really, the warning shot was a kindness.
This was one of the things that the team talked about before agreeing to contract the Soldier for the AIM mission a few months back. The mission would require them to trust the Soldier almost completely, but they were aware that they would probably meet him again as a foe in the not-so-distant future, and they’d have to be prepared to take him down if necessary.
“Hey,” he calls, dropping the shield and letting go of the guard he’d been about to toss against the garage door. The man stumbles away as Steve waits for the Soldier to respond. “How’s that gun doing? Does it miss me?”
The Soldier’s wearing the mask that covers the lower part of his face along with the combat sunglasses, so Steve can’t read his expression. He hopes he’s not about to get shot.
“Get off my client’s property,” the Soldier orders.
“How’s your leg?” Steve asks, raising his hands and walking closer. He’s nervous about the Soldier’s trigger finger, but Bucky had always told Steve that the more scared he was, the more stupid he became. So, he continues trying to strike up a conversation with his adversary. “Did SHIELD set it, or did you get your own guys to do it? Assuming that you have guys. Maybe someone like you works alone.”
“Seriously, go the fuck away. I was hired specifically to shoot people like you.”
Steve is only a few feet from the garage now, and the rifle is still trained on him. “Sorry, man, my orders are to bring this guy in.”
“He really isn’t worth your life, Captain,” the Soldier retorts.
“I’m not trying to get shot, but I can’t let him keep pumping his guns into kids’ hands. Three gang members under sixteen have died this week alone because of him.” Steve lets his honesty show in his voice, because he’s pretty sure now that the Soldier isn’t going to shoot him. Maybe he can form some sort of compromise with him so they both walk away from this.
“Guns don’t kill people, Captain, people kill people.” The Soldier is definitely grinning now; Steve can hear it in his voice. “Please note that I have a gun, and you are a person who can be killed by a gun. Probably.”
“Let’s talk. What are you being paid to do?”
“Protect Roman Witowski’s life. Seriously, I don’t hate you, but I will put a bullet in you. You need to leave.”
“So if I capture him and take him back to SHIELD, will it violate your contract?”
“If I destroy his house and all the guns in it, will it violate your contract?”
“Yes.” And that sounds like frustration; Steve probably doesn’t have much longer before the Soldier at least shoots him in a non-vital organ to get rid of him.
“If I put a GPS transmitter in that big SUV over there, will it violate your contract?”
The Soldier is quiet for a moment. “Technically no.”
“Okay, great, here’s what I’m going to do.” Steve uses his shield to smash the cameras pointing at the driveway and plants a GPS on the underside of the SUV. The license plate confirms it as at least one of Witoswki’s transport vehicles, so SHIELD can access the data later and find the source of the guns. It’s not exactly what he was briefed to do, but it will get similar results.
The Soldier keeps his gun on Steve the entire time, but makes no move to stop him. Steve finishes his work, and faces the Soldier again. “So, the leg, you never said.”
“Good, I’m glad. You still need to tell me how a broken leg was the worst you got out of that fall sometime.”
The Soldier aims and fires a bullet that strikes the ground a solid foot away from Steve.
“Fine, I’m going. Thanks for knowing your contract really well.”
Steve walks back to his vehicle parked down the private road, and when he looks back, there’s no sign of the Soldier.
Steve gets pulled into Fury’s office the next day. He’s preparing his best disappointed American Icon face in the event that he’s in trouble for adjusting the mission parameters, but Fury doesn’t lead with anything related to the mission. Instead, he glares at Steve like he’s trying to figure something out, and Steve finally caves and asks Fury why he’s sitting in front of him.
“Our sources in the criminal underworld reported something very interesting to me last night. Any chance you know what it might be?”
Steve does not. He’s already told SHIELD about the GPS tracker and the encounter with the Winter Soldier. He didn’t report all of their discussion because it makes Steve look like he needs a psych evaluation, but he covered the important things.
“There’s been a change to the Winter Soldier’s profile. He’s not known for having a lot of no-flys, mostly just kids and even that has stipulations. But he put the word out to his clients that he will not shoot Captain America.” Fury folds his hands and looks furious that he can’t explain the Soldier’s actions. “Want to explain that to me, Steven?”
Steve’s confident that Fury has never addressed him by his full name before, so this must be eating at him. “As I reported in my debrief regarding the AIM mission two months ago, I helped the Winter Soldier exit the facility and make the rendezvous point after he was injured. I also had the opportunity to engage him at Witowski’s home, and I did not. Professional gratitude, maybe?”
A muscle works in Fury’s jaw. Steve’s so used to seeing him angry, however, that he’s not terribly phased by these tics.
“Captain, the Winter Soldier is not an ally. He’s an enemy combatant unless we bring him through the approved SHIELD channels, and even then, he reverts back to being an enemy upon completion of his mission. You are not cleared to…” Fury pauses. “Fraternize with him. He’s extremely dangerous.”
Steve smiles as he remembers the warning shots. “I assure you, Sir, no fraternization happened. I’m as in the dark as you are about why he changed his profile. Maybe he wants to kill me himself.”
Fury kicks him out of his office and calls Hill on his computer to come in for a threat analysis.
By the end of the day, everyone at SHIELD knows that the Winter Soldier has singled out Steve to either protect him or to kill him. Steve knows of at least one pool going on, and he follows the betting results with interest.
Steve’s curiosity gets the better of him, and he starts to spend the nights he isn’t working, hanging with the team, or screwing guys in back alleys on looking for the signs of the Soldier.
He keeps an ear to the ground about criminal activity and looks for jobs that the Soldier might take. He runs through the few details he knows about the Soldier and tries to guess where he shelters and stocks up on supplies.
He’s not completely sure why his curiosity is so piqued, but the Soldier is heavy on his mind. Steve can’t definitively categorize their interactions as flirtatious, or challenging, or dangerous, but they were interesting. And the Soldier showed trust in Steve without much reason to; it intrigues Steve.
His search doesn’t leave a lot of time to spend at his apartment, and Steve’s sure that Kate’s reporting to Fury that he’s up to something. No one has said anything to him, however, and he’s careful to check that he’s not followed or tracked.
By the time he finds the Soldier, it’s been nearly six months since they sat across a conference table from each other and the Soldier stole Steve’s drawing, which he thinks will be a good conversation opener the next time they talk.
The Avengers (minus the Hulk, plus Falcon) are dropping from a helicopter onto the roof of Victor von Doom’s hotel when Steve sees the metal arm several hundred feet away.
“On your ten!” he calls to his team, and everyone points their weapons of choice at the Soldier. Even if he is better than Clint, there’s no way he could shoot all six of them down before being killed himself.
“Cap, get out of here, we’ll handle this,” Clint says to Steve.
Steve’s already putting his shield on his back and moving forward. Every member of his team hisses at him, but keep their weapons pointed at the soldier.
“Protection detail again?” Steve asks the Soldier as he approaches. His voice is loud enough that the team can probably hear him, but the Soldier’s reply is not.
“You need to leave. I can’t make a deal with you this time.”
“Contract too tight?”
“Contract unrelated; you’re here to steal back whatever Doom took from Richards, right?”
Fury had assured them that no one knew Reed Richards’ highly unstable attempt at the Infinity serum had been taken from his lab; clearly Steve’s getting crap intelligence. “Yes. Are you here to stop me?”
“No, I’m here to kill someone in Doom’s posse.” That makes Steve pause. “Look, I’ve been hunting this guy for weeks. I promise he’s a really bad seed and you’d like the world a little better without him in it. But if you idiots break in, you’ll inevitably start a big fight and break a lot of shit, and he’ll escape. Can you come back tomorrow and steal your chemical thing?”
“You’re seriously asking the Avengers to come back tomorrow?” Steve asks. He’s standing only about a yard from the Soldier now, and without the sunglasses, the Soldier’s eyes are so shockingly blue over the mask.
“Yes. I’ll owe you one.”
“How about I go in with you without my loud, non-stealthy team?” he asks. Those eyes are very intense when they glare.
“Stand them down and come quickly. My window of opportunity isn’t that big.”
Steve jogs back to his team, and, of course, they think it’s a bad idea.
“Have you lost your goddamn mind? He wants to kill you,” Sam says.
“Or not,” Tony adds. Tony’s on one side of the betting pool while Sam’s on the other.
“Look, if I’m not back in thirty minutes, you can come after me. This seems like a better plan than all six of us going in. The only reason we’re all here is because it’s a Doom mission. Let me go assess the situation and see if I need backup.”
They’re still protesting as Steve jogs back to the Soldier in time to see him rip a safety hatch off the roof with his metal arm.
“Was that welded shut?” Steve asks slowly.
“Shut up and follow me.”
The pair make their way through a series of emergency stairwells and service hallways. The Soldier seems to know exactly where he’s going, and even though Steve has also memorized the floor plans of the hotel, he lets the Soldier lead.
They get to the room above Doom’s suite, and Steve looks at the balcony. It looks like he can use it to assess the room below and possibly use Doom’s balcony as a point of entry.
The Soldier throws him a quick salute to communicate that he’s going off on his own, but Steve can’t let him leave without at least urging him not to take a man’s life senselessly. He opens his mouth to suggest threatening or imprisonment, both tactics that Steve favors before assassination, and the Soldier reads it on his face immediately.
“Fucking A, I knew you were going to do this.”
Steve moves to block the Soldier from exiting the room, and the Soldier’s piercing blue eyes glare at him over the mask. “Get out of my way.” The Soldier draws a gun on Steve and holds it inches from the star on Steve’s chest with the flesh and blood hand.
“I thought you didn’t shoot Captain America.”
“Not on anyone else’s dime.” He clicks the safety off.
“Let’s talk about this.”
“Captain, my window is getting smaller and smaller. Can we talk about this later?”
“No, we can’t, because I’ve been looking for you for months and you’re going to disappear again after you kill that guy.”
Steve freezes and blinks when he realizes that his reasoning for stalling the Soldier is tied to wanting to see him as much as it is to the mercy he knows the Soldier won’t show for his target. Maybe, Steve suspects, he’s already conceded this time.
But he really does want to see the Soldier again.
“How have you been looking for me? I haven’t even been in New York,” the Soldier argues. He checks his watch and winces. “I’ll meet you later, just let me do my job.”
“I don’t believe you,” Steve accuses. The Soldier narrows his eyes.
“Why have you been looking for me?” he demands. Steve thinks it over without producing a good answer. He still doesn’t know himself, but his mind screams against letting the Soldier slip through his fingers.
“If you actually tell me where I can find you later, you might find out,” he says.
“Brooklyn Navy Yard, 3:30 tonight,” the Soldier offers after a moment of thought.
Whatever Steve is going to stay next, he doesn’t get to, because the Soldier punches him in the face with his metal arm.
It takes Steve enough time to gather his thoughts through the fog of the concussion that the Soldier is long gone by the time he hears Natasha yelling at him through his ear comm.
“Steve, where are you? Report back immediately.”
He grimaces as he touches the device in his ear. “Widow, I’m in the suite above Doom’s; give me a minute to do some recon from the balcony.”
“Where’s the Soldier?” Tony asks.
“We parted ways,” Steve says through gritted teeth as he ignores his headache and peers over the balcony.
Steve does end up calling in his team members for back-up, and after Thor smashes the enforced windows to Doom’s suite, Falcon flies in and grabs the case of serum. Clint and Natasha creep through the air vents and take out Doom’s henchmen, while Steve and Tony fight a gaggle of Doombots in the suite’s living room. They make so much noise that Steve bets no one will realize an assassination was taking place elsewhere in the building until much, much later.
The debrief takes several hours, mostly because Fury and Hill keep coming at Steve for going into the building alone with the Winter Soldier.
Steve explains their tentative partnership up until “Brooklyn Navy Yard, 3:30 tonight,” which he doesn’t feel is relevant.
The team wants to have dinner and video games after the debrief, and Steve goes along with it because he can’t think of anything else to kill the time until his rendezvous. He refuses to play Call of Duty, but he’s much better at Grand Theft Auto than anyone anticipates. He shrugs and runs over a digital prostitute; he’s always been good at tasks requiring hand-eye coordination.
Steve leaves with about an hour to make it to the Navy Yard. There’s still plenty of traffic for the late hour, so he takes every short cut he knows, ducking down side streets and squeezing past parked cars. The air is cold against his skin, but he feels warm enough from the mix of nerves and excitement in his gut.
He pulls his bike up to a set of dilapidated gates, finally leaving most of the traffic behind. Making sure that he doesn’t see any headlights, he climbs over the gates and makes his way towards what’s left of Admiral’s Row.
Most of the townhouses have been torn down, but a few facades are still standing and Steve’s gut instincts turn him in their direction. He ignores the “Keep Out” signs and climbs over rubble and trash to make his way into the houses. He’s a few minutes early, so he sits on a part of the stairs that looks like it will take his weight and watches the front door.
Fewer than five minutes pass before the Winter Soldier walks into the room from the back of the house.
“Captain,” he calls, and Steve can barely see his face because there’s no moon and no streetlights around.
When the Soldier comes closer, however, Steve sees skin where he normally just sees a black mask. His heart does a funny lurch when he thinks that he’s going to see the Soldier’s face, probably because just his eyes remind Steve of Bucky, but he squints through the dark and realizes that the Soldier’s wearing a different mask.
It’s a domino mask that obscures the features above his nose, but his mouth and nose are uncovered for the first time in Steve’s presence. And it’s probably just because he’s only seeing bits and pieces of the Soldier’s face at a time, but those lips and that jawline are like looking at a photograph of Bucky even in the dark.
“Soldier,” Steve replies, and then hesitates. “Is there anything I can call you besides ‘Soldier?’”
“Call me Steve,” he replies anyway.
The Soldier moves to lean against the wall at the foot of Steve’s stairs, and they size each other up for a few minutes.
“Did you get your mark?” Steve finally asks.
The Soldier nods.
Steve wants to say something that will dissuade him from killing for a living and persuade him that doing the bidding of whatever organization can afford him probably means that he takes some good lives, but Steve’s not sure that he can broach such topics with the friends he keeps and the organization that he works for. It’s possible that he himself doesn’t entirely have the moral high ground in that conversation; there’s blood on Steve’s hands that he knows could have been avoided, and he’s followed orders even when he questioned the ethics behind them.
He’s deep in thought about what he wants to say to the Soldier now that he’s in the same room with him, but the Soldier gets irritated with his silence first.
“What do you want from me, Steve?”
Steve shivers a little to hear his name in the Soldier’s deep, raspy voice. It doesn’t sound like Bucky, or like anyone Steve knows because the Soldier’s voice is a study in dialect-free syllables, but something about the tone strikes a nerve deep within him.
“I’m not really sure,” he says. The real reason is still gnawing at his mind, almost realized and fleshed out, but he doesn’t trust the Soldier with that type of admission. Not when he doesn’t know the Soldier’s hand in this. “I’m just…I just want to know things about you.”
The Soldier doesn’t let him get away with such a wishy-washy answer: “Most of the people who know things about me are dead. I don’t really think you want to go down that path. What do you actually want?”
“Why did you make me one of your no-flys? Can you tell me that without killing me?”
“Nope.” He smiles darkly, and Steve gets to see that smile for the first time. He’s fascinated with the Soldier’s mouth, and he decides that, yes, he knows why he’s drawn to the heightened sense of risk around the Soldier. There’s no longer a question in his mind — he wants to reach out and touch. The Soldier’s messy, wispy hair; his muscled chest; the pink curve of his lips that both is and isn’t Bucky’s; even the gorgeously intricate metal arm — he wants them under his fingertips.
The issue now isn’t what he wants. Now, the issue is if he can reach without losing a hand.
“Can you tell me why you haven’t shot me yet, despite the fact that you threaten to every time we meet?” Steve pushes himself off the stairs and stands at the base directly in front of the Soldier.
With Steve’s height, he naturally stands taller than the Soldier, but the Soldier’s leaning backwards against the wall slightly and increasing the gap between them. Steve leans forward and slowly places his hands on the wall on either side of the Soldier’s head.
The Soldier quirks an eyebrow, but doesn’t make to move away. Something thrums through Steve when he reads it as confirmation that the Soldier’s on the same page as he is about what’s going to happen next.
“Nope. Privileged information. How’s your face?” the Soldier responds, looking at the barely-noticeable swelling around Steve’s eye, which had purpled with bruising earlier in the evening.
“I’m sorry, that’s privileged,” Steve says as he leans forward slowly, making it clear what he’s about to do, and kisses him.
He gives the Soldier a second to kiss him back or punch him again, and his relief is palpable when the Soldier bites at his mouth and brings his metal hand up to Steve’s neck to hold him in place.
Steve’s mind flickers back to something Tony had told him before the original Winter Soldier mission; he can’t recall the exact number of pounds per square inch that Tony had estimated the arm could exhibit, but he remembers the warning that Tony had given out. Steve knows that the Soldier could crush his neck, and he’s not sure how even the super-soldier serum would fare against a severed spinal cord.
It’s dangerous in a way that not much is dangerous to Steve these days, and thrilling in a way that the 21st century hasn’t been able to offer him. He digs his fingers into the leather gear covering the Soldier’s back and forces his head against the wall with the brunt of his kisses.
Since Erskine’s procedure, Steve hasn’t been able to really throw his full strength into sex because it was so easy to hurt his partner. Even with Bucky, he’d twisted his friend’s wrist once and left huge, blooming bruises on multiple occasions because it took him several tries to learn how to bring their bodies together without crushing Bucky’s. He’s been overly cautious with everyone else he’s slept with as a result.
But he doesn’t have to hold back with the Soldier. If the man can fall six stories and get up with a broken leg, then he can handle Steve.
He grabs at the Soldier’s thighs and lifts him against the wall, grinding their cocks together through the texture of their pants. It isn’t anywhere near enough, so he reaches down and undoes first the Soldier’s fastenings and then his own. He pulls out the Soldier’s cock — decent length and appealingly thick — and aligns it with his own before gripping them both in his right hand and grinding them together.
His left hand comes up to grab the Soldier’s side, and the Soldier’s supporting himself against the wall solely by gripping the outsides of Steve’s thighs with his own. His metal hand’s in Steve’s hair and his flesh hand’s clutching Steve’s jaw, thumb digging into the lining of Steve’s mouth to hold it open as he fucks his tongue against Steve’s.
It’s the most intense sex that Steve has ever had, and there’s not even any penetration. It reminds him of his teenage fumblings with Bucky, but with so much more muscle and vigor and violence in the equation. It’s so much feeling, and Steve is so used to only feeling trickles of emotions in this century. His brain struggles to handle all of the pressure; he keeps isolating parts of his body and experiencing the waves of pleasurepain through his legs or his cheek or his cock before flipping to a new body part and concentrating all of his attention on it.
The Soldier comes first, mewling almost frantically, but as soon as Steve has something warm and slippery to rut into, he follows. Both of them are breathing raggedly, gripping handholds on each other’s body, and Steve is trying to clamp down on the anguish welling up in his stomach that it’s over and done. Then the Soldier digs into one of the many pockets in his leather pants and comes up with a small, nondescript tub of what turns out to be Vaseline.
“How long do you need?” he asks Steve, still panting, and Steve can’t do anything but press their foreheads together.
It takes them each a few minutes to get hard again with their stamina, and their panting turns into wet, nipping kisses. Then Steve grabs the Soldier’s shoulders and turns him around to lean his forearms against the wall. He has a brief moment of wondering if the Soldier wants it this way; he handed the vaseline to Steve, but everything about him screams dominant.
But then the Soldier kicks his black pants further down his legs and arches his back. Feeling like he’s in a daze, hot and sweaty with his nerves still lit up from the first orgasm, Steve twists the plastic lid off the vaseline and scoops out a thick smear.
He bites at the Soldier’s neck and shoves his face into the dark curtain of his hair as he preps him. He’s never been so hard as he is when he pulls two fingers out of the Soldier to add a third, and the Soldier swears at him, saying, “Fucking get inside me right now or I’ll shoot you.”
Steve’s not an idiot, so he does as he’s told. He runs his tacky fingers over his painfully hard cock and lines up with the Soldier’s hole. He’s shiny from the prep and twitching as the head of Steve’s cock brushes against the coil of muscle, and Steve pushes inside, popping his jaw as his mouth stretches in an O.
It’s as hard and razor-sharp as the first time. Steve grips the Soldier’s shoulders and hammers inward and downward while the Soldier hisses and pushes back against him with a force that would topple over an ordinary man. Steve almost loses his balance more than once, even with his super-strength, but he anchors himself to the Soldier by gripping hard enough to bruise through the combat leathers.
The Soldier puts his metal hand through the wall, and Steve draws blood when he bites down on the Soldier’s neck too hard, but it’s all part of the frenzy.
The second orgasm is even more shattering than the first. Steve feels lit up like Avengers Tower but also so grounded to the moment. The drifting, rudderless sensation he’s so used to dissipates momentarily as his belly clenches, and he rides out the hot-cold flush of his nervous system, his seed spilling into the Soldier’s body and slicking the way even more. He instantly misses the Soldier’s body when he pulls away, but the Soldier turns and gets his hands on Steve’s shoulders, and they prop each other up while they come down.
They slump together on the floor as Steve makes a half-hearted effort to pull his pants up to his waist. He turns his head and licks at the wound on the Soldier’s neck, not minding the tang of blood; the Soldier moans at the sloppy first-aid. Steve tucks his head into the curve of the Soldier’s neck once the blood is cleaned.
He must doze off for a few minutes because when he comes back to himself, the Soldier is standing up and shoving Steve away. Steve watches him redress lazily, processing.
“Where are you going?” he asks hoarsely as the Soldier’s fingers run over his many buckles and make sure that everything is fastened and in place.
“It’s almost five. I have a plane to catch,” he says brusquely.
“No,” Steve tries to order, even though falling asleep in the condemned housing unit really isn’t an option.
“I’ll see you when I see you.” He turns to leave, but Steve grabs the closest part of him, which happens to be his ankle. “Let go or I’ll fucking shoot you.”
“When and where are we meeting next?” Steve demands. Because it’s obvious that this needs to happen again.
“Christ, we’re not going steady, Captain,” the Soldier sneers at him.
“When and where?” Steve repeats. It doesn’t cross his mind for a second that the Soldier won’t want to revisit this.
“I’ll be back in about a week. Let go,” the Soldier growls, this time less annoyed and more angry.
“Yonkers power plant, one week from now. Same time,” Steve demands, and the Soldier looks down at him for a moment before kicking Steve hard in the ribs.
“Fine.” He looks over his shoulder at Steve as he leaves. The domino mask makes it hard again to read his expression.
Steve manages to compose himself and pull on his clothing.
The motorcycle ride back to his apartment takes way too long when his muscles are this loose and his thoughts are this fast. Even Kate isn’t in the hallway with laundry when he gets home, and when he falls into bed, he expects to be hit with alternating waves of panic and nostalgia.
He falls into a dreamless sleep within seconds.
As impressive as Steve’s pre-dawn vision is, there’s so much trash and debris on the ground at the power plant that he can’t help kicking a bottle or a glass shard with every step, rendering his walk through the derelict power plant a loud and messy one.
He also hasn’t spotted the Soldier after twenty minutes and several partial laps of the place, and he’s starting to get anxious.
He’s spent the past week alternately flushing with excitement whenever the thought of the Soldier in the abandoned Navy Yard house had flitted through his mind, and cringing when he remembers the multiple Soldier-related briefings he’s sat through in the past five days.
According to SHIELD sources in the Middle East, a familiar assassin clad in black leather and a robotic, star-bearing arm has been spotted skirting the security checkpoints at a highly important peace summit in Pakistan. The same peace summit which had turned up a dead Israeli-friendly provincial governor with a double tap (soviet slugs, no rifling) to the back of the head.
All SHIELD agents are supposed to call it in if they see the Soldier and take him in when backup arrives. Steve’s anxiety that the Soldier might be a no-show stems as much from the fact that simply trying to meet up with him is a direct violation of orders as it does from the fact that he’s really, REALLY looking forward to getting his hands on the Soldier again.
He’s craving the sense of mooring that descended on him in the hours after their last encounter, not to mention the feeling of another body against his that can match him in force for once. If the Soldier has stood him up, he’s going to be at least a little upset for a few days.
It seems his hopes are higher than he’d intended for this encounter, against his better judgement. And, if he has been stood up, then their tacit understanding is over. He promises to himself that he’ll arrest the Soldier on sight the next time he does run into him.
Hell, if he does show up, Steve should probably still arrest him and take him in for questioning...after he gets a taste.
“Anyone there?” he calls, cognizant for the first time that he doesn’t have a name to call into the dark. He can’t exactly call ‘Winter Soldier’ because it’s not even a title so much as it is a description. “You’d better be there.”
“Steve,” says a voice from behind him.
Steve stops walking and turns his head to face the spot where he’d been standing only seconds ago. “How long have you been behind me?”
He can’t see the Soldier’s face because the muzzle-like mask is back. The trade-off means that he can see the Soldier’s eyes better, though the entire upper half of his face seems to be smeared with something black and streaky. He still thinks the Soldier is smirking even though he has no evidence to support it.
“A few minutes. You’re like a herd of elephants.”
Steve opens his mouth to protest, but the Soldier is taking several silent steps forward and pushing into Steve’s personal space. He gets a hand on Steve’s shoulder and hesitates for a second.
“I’m assuming you want to fuck again?” he asks, and Steve grabs his hips in both hands and pulls their groins together in answer.
“No, I want to talk about the Pakistani governor you killed,” he deadpans, knowing that he should want to talk about that, but he’s not going to. He bends down to kiss the Soldier, but the heavy mask stops him.
“This has to come off,” he demands, already moving one of his hands from the Soldier’s sturdy hip to the back of his head where the clasp must be.
The Soldier barely telegraphs his punch despite their closeness. It catches Steve in the jaw, and he tastes a blooming of blood on his tongue.
“First, we are not discussing my work. If you’re playing some sort of seduction game where you keep me occupied until your people get here to ambush me, I’ll cut your dick off.” He sounds so serious that Steve’s aforementioned dick, previously so focused on swelling up and filling out his khakis, wilts a little. “Second, the mask stays on. Get the fuck over it. Or don’t.”
Steve wants to protest that he needs to taste the Soldier’s mouth again and sink his teeth into that bottom lip that reminds him distantly of Bucky’s pout, but the Soldier’s pushing their bodies back together and pulling Steve’s face down to tuck into the Soldier’s neck. There’s a curtain of hair in the way, and his neck is sweaty and not exactly clean, but Steve latches onto it with a tiny groan. He can still taste the blood in his mouth, and it mingles with the sweat and dirt of the Soldier’s neck. It’s disgusting and still the most visceral thing Steve’s tasted in ages.
He runs his hands over the Soldier’s back and ass, and he feels the Soldier’s dissimilar hands pushing his jacket off his shoulders and pulling apart his plaid shirt with little plinks as the plastic buttons hit the junk strewn across the ground.
Distantly, he can feel the Soldier walking them backwards until he’s pushed to his knees on something softer than the ground he’s gotten used to.
While the Soldier’s fingers work at the fastenings of his own black pants, Steve takes a quick survey of his surroundings just to see where they’ve ended up. He’s kneeling on some sort of wool blanket, folded into a long, thin rectangle not unlike Steve’s camp bedding from the war. The surrounding trash is slightly different from what Steve had seen in other areas of the plant; there are more food wrappers and empty cans and bottles, and Steve can see a few hypodermic needles sticking into the ground just feet from where he’s kneeling.
“Please tell me this isn’t where you’re staying.”
The Soldier has his cock out, and he grabs the back of Steve’s head to pull him forward. Steve opens his mouth and lets the cock slide in until he chokes a bit with his nose almost touching the Soldier’s curly thatch of hair.
“You picked the place, idiot,” the Soldier retorts as he fists his flesh hand in Steve’s short hair and pulls him back and forth. Steve lets him control the pace, exhilarated that he’s actually strong enough to yank Steve back and forth with his arm alone. “I’m also concerned about your opinion of me if you think this is my shit.”
Steve shrugs and lets the mystery of whose bed they’re using go. It’s nowhere as consuming as the feel of the Soldier on his tongue and stretching Steve’s jaw with the fullness of the Soldier’s cock.
The Soldier continues to pull Steve up and down his cock, and Steve’s throat makes wet, swallowing noises with each pull. He can feel saliva trickling down his chin, a tell-tale sign that he’s been on his knees and loving it for an extended period of time. He normally wouldn’t care, but he remembers that he’s expected at the Tower for a breakfast meeting, and he tries to wipe at his drool before it makes its way down to the collar of his undershirt. Then he recalls the destroyed buttons and realizes he’s going to have to go home to change anyway, so he can afford to get a little messy and arrive a few minutes late for breakfast.
When the change in the Soldier’s stance gives away that he’s about to come, Steve pulls off slightly and wraps one hand around the Soldier’s balls and one around his shaft. As he squeezes and pumps with both hands, the Soldier begins to shoot, and Steve lets the head of his cock rest on his lips so that the Soldier can see his come flooding Steve’s mouth and following the path of the saliva on his chin.
“Fuck, I didn’t know you could do that,” the Soldier pants.
Steve assumes that he means Steve and his goody image specifically, not the general possibility.
While the Soldier catches his breath, Steve reaches up to grab at his waist and throw him to the ground beside his own legs.
The Soldier instantly spreads his legs and Steve helps him kick off the black pants, tossing them a few feet away next to an empty beer bottle.
“For the record, I picked a better place than you did,” the Soldier says as Steve shoves his legs apart and licks a line down his softening cock, over his ball sack, and stopping just before reaching his hole. “Oh hell no. Get your tongue in there, Captain,” the Soldier orders. His voice is wrecked but still authoritative, and Steve complies, licking and arrowing his tongue inside until the Soldier’s muscles relax.
“Is that enough?” Steve asks. His voice sounds just as destroyed as the Soldier’s, and he’s nowhere close to coming. His cock aches to be touched, already leaking just from the taste of the Soldier’s skin and cock and ass.
The Soldier hands him the little container in response. “Your lizard tongue isn’t that long,” he gripes, voice hitching as Steve presses his slick finger teasingly against the Soldier’s hole without breaching the ring of muscle.
The Soldier is already spit-wet and loose, but Steve takes his time and slowly scissors his fingers to the tune of the Soldier’s curses and moans before slicking up his own neglected, ramrod cock and shoving inside.
The Soldier makes pretty noises beneath his mask, and Steve wishes that he could lap up every whine and moan as it trips out of his mouth. He settles for pulling the Soldier’s legs around his hips and pushing his fingertips into the Soldier’s torso with the intent of leaving bruises. He likes the idea of the Soldier finding Steve’s fingerprints on him while getting ready for his next nefarious assignment.
Speaking of, Steve remembers his heavy thoughts before the Soldier had revealed himself. He’s not sure he has it in him to arrest the Soldier after this, but he can at least mix some business with his pleasure. He’ll sleep better that way.
“So. The Pakistani governor,” he starts as he pistons his hips. Let it never be said that Captain America can’t multitask.
“Are you fucking shitting me? We have to do this now?” the Soldier bites through a groan.
“You’re not going anywhere, and I want to know who paid you to kill him,” Steve tells him, ignoring the tremors in his own voice.
“You’re not that good, Spangles. I can get up and leave; I’ve already come,” the Soldier tells him flatly. His eyes are practically closed, and he doesn’t make a move except to wrap his legs tighter around Stee.
Steve focuses on drilling his cock against the Soldier’s prostate over and over, turning his protests into a low moan. “Just tell me the name, and I can talk about how good you feel on my cock instead.”
“Make me come again, and I’ll tell you the name,” the Soldier counters.
Steve isn’t sure if the offer is made in earnest, but he likes this challenge, so he stops talking in favor of screwing into the Soldier again and again. He takes the Soldier’s cock, which has become hard and red again during their conversation, into his left hand and jerks it in counterpoint to the movement of his hips.
Steve’s senses narrow to take in only his body, the Soldier’s body, and the delicious friction between them. He knows there are probably other people in the power plant, perhaps the owners of this blanket. And he knows there are noises - drafts of air and hums of underground piping and scurrying of rats. But he can’t see or hear anything besides the Soldier’s eyes and their mingled breath, and he lets the sensory blackout happen.
The Soldier comes over his abdomen a few minutes later, and Steve follows without pulling out.
“Name,” he demands as he slumps over the Soldier’s body and feels the legs loosen around his waist. External stimuli start to trickle back in, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the man underneath him.
“Aaroah Mizrahi,” he says, and Steve is surprised that he’s acquiesced so easily. He doesn’t recognize the name, but he’s sure that Fury will. Except it’s out of character for the Soldier to betray an employer, much less to make Steve’s life easy.
“I somehow don’t believe you. You tend to not surrender your employers,” he tells the Soldier as he finally rolls off his body. Without sitting up, they begin to pull their clothing back into place, limbs brushing and tangling as they locate their clothes in the mess.
“I don’t like the guy; he talked about me like I was a piece of equipment,” the Soldier growls, and Steve feels a curl of fear in his gut. He’s never heard this tone from the Soldier before; he sounds as cold and deadly as his SHIELD file suggests he is.
Steve has been so invested in finding out things about the Soldier not included in that file, like the noise that he makes when he’s being rimmed or the taste of sweat where his neck meets his shoulder, that he’s been overlooking the facts which can be found in the file.
“Also, there’s nothing in the contract saying that I can’t give him up after the job is done. Sometimes they put that in there.”
“I’m learning a lot about how to make a contract with you,” Steve tells him as he gives up on the plaid shirt and leaves it on the ground. Maybe the person or persons who usually sleep here can get some use out of it, button-less though it is.
“You lookin’ to have someone offed?” the Soldier asks him as both men stand and Steve pops his back. “Because I can get you a discount.”
“Nah, I have a different style of conflict resolution” he says. There’s an awkward moment where it’s suddenly clear that they’re done here, and Steve isn’t sure what to say this time when he isn’t trying to persuade the Soldier not to leave.
“Well, thanks. I’m leaving now before I contract something from this very romantic getaway spot.” He turns to go, and Steve moves forward to walk with him. “Now it’s awkward, because I’ve already said goodbye.”
“I think you know what I’m going to ask you,” Steve says without acknowledging him. He falls into step beside the Soldier but makes much more noise as he walks.
“I already gave you the guy’s name,” the Soldier says with a sigh.
“When can I see you again?”
The Soldier stops and turns to look at him warily. “That’s not a good idea, and you know it.”
“It didn’t stop us the last two times,” Steve argues with a shrug, feigning casualness.
“What exactly do you want? I was kidding about the romantic getaway; there’s no chemistry or anything here, Steve.”
Personally, Steve disagrees about the chemistry, but he gets the Soldier’s point about anything relationship-wise. He’s not hanging any hopes on the Soldier besides the desire for a good roll in the hay (or other paraphernalia).
“I’m not looking for anything permanent or meaningful. We just have good sex,” he says bluntly.
“There’s a lot of good sex out there if you know where to look.”
“I have looked.” Steve goes for honesty. “And you’ve got to know how it is. Everyone is breakable. We’re not. I have the serum, and whatever you have, it’s working for you. Besides, I bet that whatever your story is, you don’t find a lot of people who get where you’re coming from when you look for company.”
“Maybe I do. Maybe I know all the assassin clubs. Anyway, we don’t actually have too many shared life experiences.”
“We have enough. We don’t live safe lives,” Steve tells him, and then goes back to his original point. “When can I see you again?”
The Soldier starts walking again and appears to be thinking. “I don’t know. My next few jobs don’t have hard ends.”
The Soldier sighs.
“You’re a pain in the ass. Fine. Next month.” He names a date that Steve commits to memory, and then tells him: “JMZ Lowline station. There’s a set of offices; you’ll have to pick the lock.” He bends down to pick up a twisted piece of metal from the ground, and before Steve can say anything, he swings it at his head.
The metal connects, and Steve’s head snaps back. His eyes water and he disorients himself for a minute as he crouches down and pushes the pain away. He opens his eyes to see that the Soldier is gone.
“I wasn’t going to follow you, jerk,” he yells. He has no doubt that the Soldier wanted to prevent him from seeing in which direction he headed.
By the time Steve gets back to his bike, he only has a dull headache. He drives home and takes a hot shower before heading back out, and he flashes between smiling and scowling at the thought of his hour spent with the Soldier.
When he gets to the Tower for a meeting over coffee and bagels, he’s the most alert Avenger. Even Natasha’s voice is a bit hushed as they spread out their plans for an offensive attack against this week’s threat to New York. Steve’s not only awake but in a really good mood, and the other Avengers notice with a mix of jealousy and amusement.
“I’m guessing you got laid last night,” Tony jokes at one point when Steve mimics the sound that the lasers will make against Tony’s suit.
He pretends to stammer at the thought, which makes the team laugh, because he wants to keep private things private.
Before getting on the Quinjet, he pulls Hill aside and tells her who the Soldier claimed had hired him to kill the man at the peace summit. He tells her that it might be unreliable, or it might not be, and mentions an anonymous source when she questions how he got the info.
It pans out. SHIELD collects Mizrahi within 24-hours, and Steve doesn’t know whether or not he expected the Soldier’s intel to be true. He doesn’t know what it means that the Soldier will attack him but won’t, so far, lie to him. The only thing he does know is that he’s very prepared to compromise himself again for more information.
Steve meets the Soldier in the employee bathroom of Lowline park rail terminal a month later. Several sets of curious eyes watch him as he makes his way through the dusty beams, and he resolves to come back later with food and blankets for the people unfortunate enough to take shelter here.
He picks the lock with ease, lets himself into the abandoned offices. He hears water running from several rooms away and follows the noise, unsure whether it’s the Soldier or another poor soul looking for a roof and four walls.
The door to the small bathroom/locker room is ajar, and Steve pushes it open to see a metal arm attached to strong, scarred shoulders standing under the spray of the shower. The Soldier’s long hair is wet and matted against his skull, and he’s facing the wall and exposing his pale, firm ass to Steve. He’s seen the arm and the crude way it attaches to the Soldier’s torso the first time they’d done this, but it’s more jarring from a distance.
The Soldier turns, and Steve sees that he’s gone with the domino mask today. Steve wishes that he could see his whole face at least once, because all of these features in isolation (just his mouth, just his eyes) look a bit like Bucky’s features, and he can’t help but put the pieces together into the whole that he knows. It’s obvious that the Soldier is a handsome man, and Steve would like to actually see the man he’s intimate with instead of secretly assigning him his dead lover’s face for lack of an actual image.
“Started without me,” he prods while stripping off his SHIELD uniform. He actually hadn’t been sure that he would make it here on time because of a situation with a missing submarine, and he’d had to cut a debrief short by feigning a blunt trauma-enforced headache.
“I needed the shower. You should be grateful,” is the Soldier’s only comment before Steve’s naked and pressing him against the wall.
Steve jumps back a second later. “That’s frigid,” he says, teeth chattering.
The Soldier shrugs. “No hot water, Genius.”
Steve isn’t sure how he’s managing to stay still under the icy water. Cold as it is, it makes things pleasantly slippery, so Steve gingerly steps his body back under the water. He kisses the Soldier, murmuring, “Warm me up,” against his lips as he enjoys the change in masks, and the Soldier snorts ungracefully.
“Sap,” he accuses.
Steve gets his fingers stuck in the Soldier’s knotted hair and slides his teeth up and down the Soldier’s neck. He makes a fist in the hair and then shoves the Soldier’s head towards the hard tile of the wall, stopping centimeters from smashing his skull against it.
“What the—” the Soldier yelps, furious.
“That’s for clocking me upside the head at Yonkers,” Steve says, pulling the Soldier back to him and nuzzling into the spot he’d almost smashed. “I’d advise you not to hurt me as a diversionary tactic again. I don’t care where you go when we’re finished here, but I don’t sleep with people who treat me like a punching bag.”
The memory burns behind his eyes: the quiet man he’d met at the docks when Bucky was in his Italian girl phase, the perfect month of furtive courting, and the rage in the man’s eye when he’d had four drinks too many and Steve told him he wasn’t moving out of the apartment he shared with another male. The man’s fists against Steve’s face, and later, the look in Bucky’s eyes when Steve couldn’t get through the lie about some thugs on the street without tearing up.
Later, Bucky had come home with blood on his shirt.
Steve jerks himself back to the present. “Also, I can break you as much as you can break me. So, let’s not.”
The Soldier stares at him warily, regarding him with something that looks close enough to respect. “Not just a sap, huh,” the Soldier mutters after a minute of stillness interrupted only by the continuous spatter of water against the tile.
Steve shrugs with as much nonchalance as he can muster while pushing the painful memories aside. The mood goes tense as he stands his ground, waiting for some sort of acknowledgement from the Soldier.
“Fine,” the Soldier clips as the moment stretches. He grabs Steve’s jaw slightly softer than Steve’s come to expect from him, and it’s enough of an effort that Steve goes with it. He lets the Soldier haul him in for a barrage of brutal kisses and lets himself forget about everything except the rough, raw mouth against his.
Steve spots the little container of vaseline resting on the indented shelf of the shower, and he turns the Soldier around and preps him without another word. They don’t talk as the Soldier braces against the wall and Steve thrusts into him from behind, hands bracketing him against the slick wall tiles.
Steve kicks at the Soldier’s bare feet to spread his legs further apart, and the Soldier lets him. His hands slide down the tiles as his stance widens enough that Steve has to bend his knees slightly, and Steve holds back a whimper when the Soldier finally drops his hands from the wall and splays them against the floor, effectively folding himself in half.
Steve comes and draws an orgasm out of the Soldier by angling him just right and reaching around to jerk the Soldier’s cock.
The Soldier falls to his knees as his come mingles with the rivulets of water flowing through the grooves in the shower floor, and he turns around to lap at Steve’s cock. He does a much more thorough job of cleaning Steve up than the showerhead does, and under his tongue, Steve feels the blood rush back to his cock.
He grabs under the Soldier’s armpits, and pulls him up and into a uncoordinated kiss. Then Steve pushes his back against the wall and lifts the Soldier’s left leg, pulling it up and resting the Soldier’s ankle on his shoulder.
“You have very high hopes for my flexibility,” the Soldier mumbles sarcastically with a raised eyebrow as Steve pushes back inside, relying on the residual slick of the vaseline and his come to ease his way inside.
“Most of the assassins I know can do the splits like nobody’s business. Turns out you’re no different,” Steve huffs as his hand skirts the seam of the Soldier’s metal shoulder and brushes against his nipple instead.
The Soldier doesn’t need a hand on his cock to come this time, and Steve follows him over the edge when he sees the Soldier’s eyes go dark and hazy.
The Soldier actually whines when Steve drops his leg, and he hits the lever to turn off the water as he backs away reluctantly. Without the rain-like sound of water against tile, the bathroom is quiet, and Steve already misses it as awareness of the world around him floods back in.
When they pull their clothes back onto their wet bodies, the Soldier mumbles, “Sorry for punching you. Aggression is a habit.”
Steve takes the delayed apology with a quick raise of his eyebrows. He’s hit with the impression suddenly that the soldier is a personality in flux, and that he’s cut loose from some moorings that used to hold him. He can’t say what exactly makes him think this, but he feels certain that the soldier used to be different, and he’s gradually analyzing his behavior and adapting.
“Next Friday,” the Soldier offers without being prompted, and Steve’s pulse quickens when he realizes that he didn’t have to argue with the Soldier or even bring it up. He proposes Flushing-Meadows Park because he guesses that it’s his turn to name a location.
He lets the Soldier leave first, thankfully without attacking him this time, and gives him a minute to clear off to wherever he’s going before heading out himself.
He collapses onto his couch when he gets home and decides to see what’s on 21st century TV at four in the morning because he’s in a good mood. Even the inane programming and elongated commercials can’t dampen the buzz beneath his skin, and as he lets himself fall asleep without cleaning himself up or dragging himself to bed, he thinks that it’s a good thing he likes to explore New York City by himself so much. Otherwise, he wouldn’t know so many relatively empty, anonymous places to meet the Soldier.
His last thought before he falls asleep is that the Soldier must do the same thing.
They meet in Flushing-Meadows Park where they’re more exposed than they’ve yet been. Steve has super-hearing, though, and the Soldier has impeccable instincts, so they’re alright.
Steve sits on a concrete bench and pulls the Soldier between his legs, holding his hair back in a loose ponytail while the Soldier’s warm mouth slips up and down his cock. He runs his tongue over the vein which looks engorged and angry when Steve’s aroused, and it reminds Steve of something that Bucky used to do, even when Steve was in his smaller body.
Then the Soldier climbs into his lap and rocks their groins together with Steve’s jeans and the Soldier’s combat leathers pushed down to their knees and forgotten about before either of them can fully disrobe. Steve is so sensitive that he comes again before the Soldier has come at all. He makes it up to him by getting his fingers spit-wet and shoving two of them into the Soldier so he has something to rock back on, a trick that Bucky had invented for Steve and then come to love himself.
When the Soldier comes, Steve rubs their collective mess into the Soldier’s thighs lazily and perhaps, if he’s examining these darker impulses, a little territorially.
“What’s this one from?” he asks as his thumb skirts a nasty scar which looks dangerously close to the Soldier’s femoral artery. It’s the most personal question he’s asked yet, and the Soldier gives him a look like he’s confused that Steve would even ask.
“I don’t get scars, and I lost all my old ones, so I’m curious,” Steve says disarmingly.
“How did you lose your old scars?” the Soldier asks. He sounds genuinely curious, but it doesn’t escape Steve that he’s also taking the focus off of himself.
“The serum that made me strong. It also gave me perfect health. I used to be little and weak, and I had a dozen scars if I had one.”
The Soldier doesn’t give away whether or not he’d known this, but he waits a beat and then says, “Katana. Long time ago. I’d already done my job when a rear guard showed up.”
Steve nods and accepts the answer. He doesn’t try to push for any more.
They leave the park together, and Steve climbs onto his bike while the Soldier leans against the fence and watches him.
“Two weeks. Dead Horse Bay parking lot,” the Soldier orders confidently.
Steve gives a salute and fires up the bike. As he kicks the stand and drives off, he sees in his mirror that the Soldier is still leaning up against the fence, waiting for Steve to disappear before making a move towards wherever he goes when he’s not on a mission or with Steve.
At some point on the ride home, Steve stops reliving the night with a grin and starts thinking about just how much he compares the Soldier to Bucky. They’re different in nearly every way, but there are enough similarities that he knows he isn’t being fair to the Soldier. It’s not like they have the type of relationship where the Soldier would be jealous, far from it, but it still feels to Steve like he’s being dishonest when he sees echoes of Bucky in the Soldier’s face, or in a move that Bucky used to use, or in something that used to drive Bucky crazy.
Additionally, Steve knows that it’s weighing him down to slip so frequently into thinking that Bucky is within arms’ reach; he misses his friend a little more each time, and he’s not “coping with the loss” as Sam has talked with him about when skirting around the edges of Steve’s many issues.
Learning about the Soldier’s scar was good for him. He knows Bucky’s scars better than his own former ones, and Bucky certainly didn’t have a scar at the junction of his leg and his pelvis like the Soldier does.
He decides that while the Soldier will likely hate it, Steve wants to know more about who the Soldier is and how different he is from Bucky. They probably have nothing in common besides their coloring, but Steve is incapable of separating the two sometimes because he just doesn’t know enough about the Soldier: he shades him with his memories of Bucky.
Steve asks to see the Soldier’s file again at SHIELD the next day, and Fury looks at him with suspicion. Steve knows without a doubt that his anonymous source tip didn’t stay with Hill, as loyal as she is to Fury, and he keeps his face blank and innocent while he requests a copy for his personal use.
“Why the sudden interest in our friend?” Fury asks him, and Steve flicks through the file, looking for any new additions since the AIM mission.
“Heard about a murder on the news and thought it might be him.” It’s not; the news story had gone on to report that bloody fingerprints were found by the victim, and it’s as likely that the Soldier would leave fingerprints at a crime scene as Fury is to put on an apron and keep house for the Avengers. The file doesn’t hold a lot of new information, but Steve’s interested in the original specs on the arm and the rough timeline of the Soldier’s career.
“Need I remind you about our fraternization policy?” Fury asks, and Steve blinks.
“No, Sir. I’m still not fraternizing with the Winter Soldier. I’ll let you know anything changes,” he responds politely.
The file doesn’t contain anything new. Steve reorients himself with the strength of the metal arm (though the file, of course, doesn’t say how gentle the metal fingers can be when they’re wrapped around a cock) and goes over the timeline without spotting anything else.
According to SHIELD, the Winter Soldier has been active for the past seven years, which is five years longer than Steve’s been out of the ice. He shows up most often in North America and almost never in Soviet countries. There’s a note that he’s known to use Soviet-made ammunition, so Steve has the start of what might be a real, actual fact about the Soldier.
They meet in the Dead Horse Bay parking lot. A rainstorm is brewing, so it’s just them and an abandoned car.
The Soldier picks the lock so they can climb into the backseat after Steve has already bent the Soldier over the hood of the car and drilled into him once, and they exchange lazy kisses and blowjobs as the rain beats down on the roof of the derelict sedan.
“Give me something to call you,” Steve demands hoarsely when the Soldier is catching his breath after coming down Steve’s throat. “It doesn’t have to be anywhere close to your real name, just something to think of you as.”
The Soldier frowns at him, and then tells him, “Vanya.”
Steve heart thuds at the clue; it’s another thing that confirms the Soldier might be Russian, or at least from the Soviet bloc. He doesn’t have an accent, though, and his English is so natural that Steve doubts the way the details are lining up could actually be true. But Bucky certainly wasn’t Russian. Bucky was a Brooklyn boy from hearty Irish stock.
“Not what I was expecting,” he says a minute later, because he’s already told the Soldier his own name.
“What were you expecting? Was it his name?” Vanya asks with a tone that Steve can’t read in his voice, and it’s Steve’s turn to frown.
“Who?” he asks dumbly.
“I don’t know who — the guy that I remind you of,” Vanya says all too knowingly.
Steve’s taken aback because Vanya’s pinpointed exactly what he’s been feeling lately, but he has no idea how Vanya would know. Steve hasn’t said anything. “Uh, my fella,” he answers after a beat. “Back in my time period. You don’t really remind me of him, just sometimes with— sorry, how did you know?”
Vanya smirks and dammit, it’s right off of Bucky’s lips. “I’m an excellent judge of what makes people tick,” Vanya says. “You like fucking me, but you sometimes want me to be someone else. So what happened to him? He got old and you didn’t?”
Steve wishes it were true. He’d take Bucky as an old man now without batting an eye. But, of course, it isn’t. “Died in the war. Not long before I did. I don’t wish you were him, I just get flashbacks sometimes.”
“What’s his name?” Vanya asks, propping his back up against Steve’s bare chest and examining the nails on his flesh hand. He bites at a ragged piece of cuticle and tears it off as Steve blinks away the surrealness of talking openly about Bucky with his...whatever Vanya is to him. For a moment, he debates telling Vanya to shut up, but it’s obvious that Vanya doesn’t care enough to judge. And some part of Steve is straining to talk about it.
“His name was Bucky,” Steve uses the past tense without the pain screaming through his chest, which feels like progress. He turns his head to peer through the fogged window glass at the murky lights in the distance. “For what it’s worth, I didn’t have this with him. He was always worried about someone finding out about us, and his idea of hiding it was to sleep with as many girls as he could charm.”
“Well, I can’t pretend that you’re the only one I’m fucking, and I think that meeting in the shittiest, most deserted places we can scrounge up in the city certainly counts as ‘hiding it.’ But other than that, it’s completely different,” Vanya says, coolly sarcastic.
Steve turns his head back to Vanya a little sharper than he means to when Vanya freely admits that he’s sleeping with other people. They hardly have a monogamous arrangement, but Steve hasn’t felt the need to find anyone else to be intimate with since he and Vanya started what, admittedly, is a strange series of break-ins and clandestine meetings. There’s no reason he should expect Vanya to take the same comfort in it that he does, though, so he pushes the thought aside.
“That’s part of it. This is just sex. With Bucky, it was sometimes sex, and sometimes this weird friendship where we were both denying what we wanted. He was pretty fickle, never had his mind made up about us. You’re the opposite. This is simple and we know exactly what we want from each other.” To prove it, Steve snakes his hand down Vanya’s firm abs and takes his cock in hand.
Several minutes of harsh breathing and the slick sound of skin against skin later, Vanya keens and comes over Steve’s hand. Steve holds his fingers up to Vanya’s mouth to lick them clean.
Vanya doesn’t disappoint, and the visual is too wanton to meditate on sad thoughts any longer. “Well, I’m sorry that your Bucky was such a tool. I’m also sorry his name was so ridiculously stupid.”
Steve has to grin at that. “Most people know who Bucky Barnes is. He was written into the Captain America comics as a sidekick, and people still talk about him. Not about what we were, though, just how great a ‘hero’s best friend’ he was. I’m surprised you don’t know who he is,” Steve says thoughtfully, making another note against Vanya being American.
“Well, I don’t. I don’t actually know that much about you either. I haven’t done any new research since our mission almost a year ago.”
“You know all the important stuff,” Steve says honestly, and he pushes Vanya away from his chest so that he can find his underwear in the pile of clothes on the floor. Vanya takes his cue and begins dressing again. “I don’t really want to walk in this rain. What do you think are the chances of this car actually having gas in it?” Vanya asks a minute later as he laces up his boots. The question makes Steve remember that he shouldn’t ride his bike home in the rain for safety reasons. He voices this, and Vanya climbs into the front seat with purpose.
“Let’s see if we got lucky.” He rummages around underneath the steering column while Steve absentmindedly reaches over the seat and draws little designs on Vanya’s back with his index finger.
“Hey, what’d you ever do with my drawing?” he asks suddenly.
“What?” Vanya says distractedly.
“The drawing of your arm, from that AIM mission.”
“Oh. I have it in a safety deposit box somewhere.” Lights flicker on the dashboard.
The lights turn on completely, the radio with them. It blares an interesting saxophone melody, which shuts off when Vanya slams his fist into the dashboard.
“I really have no clue. I just found it interesting. I put it with some other shit I have about the arm and how they—” He cuts himself off, and a minute later, the car roars to life. There’s only ¼ a tank of gas, but they’re already in Brooklyn.
“Thanks. Now get out of my car,” he tells Vanya.
Vanya lets out a laugh at his brass before rearranging his face into the scowl he always seems to plaster on after Steve’s broken through his walls and amused him.
“Oh. Before I let you drive this stolen car back to yours, I’m going to be away for a while. Like several months. I really have no clue when I’ll be back.”
“Don’t kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it,” Steve comments, because he’s under no delusions about what Vanya will be doing. He’s still equally uncomfortable with what Vanya does for a living and with how similar their jobs are. He spends a lot of time rationalizing that he can overlook Vanya’s faults because no one else can make him feel this content in this strange century, but he supposes that this rationalization is the very essence of the non-fraternization policy.
“I’ll let you know when I’m back in New York,” Vanya tells him, and then he’s out of the car and jogging away.
They’ve never communicated apart from their pre-arranged meetings, and Steve doesn’t know how Vanya plans to get in touch with him. He feels unsettled leaving the location without knowing when and where they’ll be meeting next; it’s the first time he’s had to do it.
He drives the stolen car back to his apartment and parks it illegally on the street so that it will be towed away.
It’s gone when he leaves the apartment the next day, and when he convinces Clint to give him a lift to his motorcycle, Clint stares at him with a suspicious look on his face.
“What were you doing out here?”
“Nothing Fury would approve of,” Steve answers, quite truthfully.
Nearly three months later, Steve walks into his apartment after a series of team training exercises to find Vanya eating a protein bar at his kitchen counter.
“Um, no. It’s not okay for you to break into my apartment,” Steve says, legitimate anger flaring and fading quickly in the face of getting to see Vanya on what he’d thought would be a slow night of reading and sketching, maybe some weight training if he got really bored.
Vanya doesn’t look even a little sorry beneath his domino mask, and the anger resurges.
“That shitty lock is basically an invitation to come in and go through your meager belongings,” Vanya tells him while chewing, and Steve makes a face.
He doesn’t deny that his belongings can be correctly described as ‘meager.’ The apartment was furnished by SHIELD with sturdy, comfortable furniture, and someone (does SHIELD have interior designers?) had felt the need to put up a few generic decorations. There’s a twisted metal piece on the wall above his sofa, a painting of a hazy harbor landscape in his hallway, and a humongous clock in his kitchen. Anyone who knows him could instantly tell that he didn’t pick these things; his only attempt at decorating is old, tattered pictures of his parents and a grainy shot of him and Bucky in secondhand frames in the bedroom.
In keeping with the Spartan decoration, Steve doesn’t have many possessions besides his kitchen things, clothing, and some momentos. Tony had surrendered a bulky trunk with most of Steve’s and Bucky’s war possessions, in addition to some knick-knacks that Howard had managed to track down from Bucky’s cousins — like sketchbooks, the aforementioned pictures, and some articles of clothing that neither of them would wear again for various reasons.
His team members, and Darcy, are constantly urging him to go shopping, fill in the place, collect clutter like everyone else in the 21st century seems so eager to do. Steve had made one attempt; he bought a potted plant with unnecessarily confusing care directions, and had no inclination to repeat the experience.
“That plant is really fucking dead,” Vanya comments.
“It is not okay,” Steve blusters again, finally moving from the entryway into the living room to set his shield down.
“I was just so eager to see you,” Vanya tells him in a light, teasing tone as he takes a few steps toward Steve and leans against the living room wall.
“I refuse to believe that someone with your capabilities couldn’t think of another way to get a message to me,” Steve maintains, refusing to reach for Vanya first and validate his method of entry.
Vanya sighs and drops the lightness from his voice. “Either kick me out or cut out the self-righteous bullshit. I haven’t gotten my rocks off in months, and I can find somebody else,” he says plainly.
Steve’s fuming with annoyance — that Vanya has invaded his home, and then that he expects Steve to be grateful for the chance to jump into bed with him. But a smile keeps threatening to break through anyway.
It wouldn’t be altogether correct to say that he’d missed Vanya, but he also wasn’t unaffected by his absence. The thought has been lurking in the back of his mind for the past month that Vanya would be back in New York soon, and he’s daydreamed his way through more than one meeting by thinking about what he wants to do to Vanya the next time he sees him.
Steve says nothing and heads for his bedroom, waiting for Vanya to figure it out. He strips off his layered shirts and folds them, placing them on a chair in the corner of his room, and turns to see Vanya peering cautiously into the space.
“Does this mean I’m forgiven?”
Steve’s pants hit the floor, and he bends down to pick them up and fold them as well. His boxers and socks are the last things to go, and then he walks the long way around the bed to his nightstand and takes out a bottle of slick. He falls backwards onto the bed and maneuvers himself to lie on his back with his feet facing Vanya.
Vanya looks like he still doesn’t know if Steve is inviting him to come into the room or not, and it’s endearing.
Steve spills some of the bottle’s contents into his palm, snaps the lid back on, and tosses it to Vanya.
“Get yourself ready,” he tells Vanya as he wraps his slick hand around his own cock and spreads the lubrication up and down its length. Steve isn’t soft by any means - hasn’t been since he discovered Vanya in his apartment - but he feels himself harden as Vanya’s eyes lock on his moving hand.
Vanya tears himself out of his clothes without Steve’s precision and lets them lie where they drop. He walks towards Steve and perches on the edge of the bed, one hand reaching behind himself to push his fingers into his own body. He stares at Steve’s slick-shiny cock and bites his lip as Steve finds his own eyes drawn toward something very different on Vanya’s body.
Vanya’s shoulder and leg display purpled scarring that Steve can immediately tell is from the effect of super-healing on bullet wounds. Vanya sees where his gaze is trained and scowls even as he lets out a little moan. Steve’s willing to bet that he’s already up to three fingers.
“Don’t,” he orders.
“Shut me up then,” Steve encourages, and Vanya slides his fingers out of himself to crawl forward and straddle Steve’s hips. He positions himself on Steve’s cock and and sinks down. Steve feels something familiar unlock inside his chest, and he runs his eyes greedily over Vanya’s face and torso as his mouth falls open on a hitching gasp.
Steve gets a hand on the back of Vanya’s neck and sits up, propping himself up with his other hand behind his back. He kisses Vanya with enough force to make both their lips flush white, uses his grip on Vanya’s neck to yank him flush against Steve’s body.
Vanya’s thighs pump as he rides Steve, and when Steve decides that he has to get a hand on them, it’s like touching warm steel. He trails his fingers up and down Vanya’s thighs, and then they drift of their own accord back to Vanya’s hole where Steve touches curiously at the place where they meet.
“I promise you, that won’t fit,” Vanya pants against his mouth.
Steve wasn’t trying for that, but the mental image makes him even harder. “I’ll bet I could stretch you further. Make you take my fingers and my cock,” Steve tells him, embarrassed that these words are coming from him.
Dirty talk had always been Bucky’s domain, not his, and to be honest, he’s stealing one of Bucky’s lines. He remembers just how hot that line had been on a cold night in a cold winter, and he thinks that Vanya’s appreciating it just as much if his choked moan is anything to go by.
“How the fuck do people think you’re so goddamn pure?” Vanya hisses as Steve pushes at his hole and feels the contraction on his cock.
Steve moves his hand back to the bed and uses the extra leverage to thrust up into Vanya.
Vanya’s moaning and practically whimpering, more wanton and helpless than Steve has ever seen him. He’s slipped his flesh hand around his own cock, and his metal hand clutches at Steve’s shoulder. Steve thinks of the hand-shaped bruise he’ll bear tomorrow and wonders how his team would react if he showed up at movie night with the mark.
“People see what they want to,” Steve answers vaguely, not enough blood in his brain to come up with a better response. His words aren’t the only thing suffering; he’s kissing Vanya with all the coordination of a teenager, but Vanya’s kisses are equivocally messy, and Steve briefly wonders what Vanya was like as an adolescent before pushing his forehead into Vanya’s shoulder and huffing a laugh against his scars.
Vanya pushes him off by heaving his own chest, and Steve wonders if he has something against Steve interacting with the scars and the joint between his body and the metal.
Vanya grasps for words: “What would they say if they saw me here, riding you, like this.”
“Well, I’d say, get out of my bedroom.”
Vanya laughs and comes while he’s laughing, gasping at the unexpected combination. He slumps forward into Steve’s chest, and Steve wraps his arms around him and thrusts up into his pliant body as Vanya hums and Steve feels it through their touching throats.
Steve leans back and lets his head hit the pillow, and Vanya curls against his chest. It’s the only cute thing Steve’s ever seen him do, and he stupidly tells him as much.
“Shut the fuck up,” Vanya says, rolling off of Steve and pinning Steve’s arm to the bed.
“Where have you been the past three months?” Steve asks after a pause. They’ve been staring at each other long enough to make something well up in Steve’s chest, and he wants to interrupt it — but he’s also curious. Was it one long mission, a series of missions, or something else?
“On holiday,” Vanya deflects, but he’s not really trying to deceive Steve.
“I’ve been keeping an ear out, but I haven’t heard of any high profile murders. You losing your touch?” Steve teases to glean more intel.
“No,” Vanya says definitively, and it’s another piece of information.
“Who shot you?” Steve pushes his luck by asking.
Vanya adjusts himself so that he can glare at Steve. “I don’t come to you for conversation, Steve.”
It actually stings a bit, being dismissed that quickly. “You’re in my apartment, in my bed, ruining my plans for the night,” Steve fibs slightly. “So, the least you can do is indulge my craving for pillow talk.”
“I’m sorry, what exciting and important plans did I force you to cancel?”
“I’m sorry,” he fires back, “it actually sounds like you’re trying to engage me in dialogue.”
Steve thinks they’re at an impasse, neither of them talking for several minutes, until Vanya sighs.
“I had to take care of some personal things.”
“So not a professional hit?”
Vanya shakes his head slightly.
“Oh. And these personal things are what shot you?”
Steve almost points out that it looks like they’d succeeded, but he doesn’t want to push Vanya. His pillow talk comment had been sarcastic, but he’s enjoying the sloppy, post-sex sprawl and the warmth of Vanya’s body next to his.
He enjoys the feeling for another ten minutes before his growling stomach reminds him that he hasn’t eaten dinner yet, and he wonders if a protein bar was all that Vanya had taken from his kitchen.
He sighs and gets up, pulling his boxers and undershirt back on before walking out to the kitchen.
Vanya raises his head and huffs in annoyance.
Steve doesn’t ask if Vanya wants anything to eat because he’s not trying to coddle him. He does make sure that he dumps enough pasta for two large appetites into the pot of boiling water.
He hears the sounds of Vanya getting up and shuffling around the apartment. He goes into the bathroom and comes out a minute later, which is even more humanizing than their loosely-defined cuddling earlier. He walks back into the bedroom and returns having put his pants back on but nothing else.
“Is this Bucky?” he asks, and Steve turns to see that he’s holding the picture frame Steve had found at an antique store in Brooklyn, one of the only stores that doesn’t overwhelm him.
“Yeah,” is all that Steve answers. The picture is one of the two of them from the war. An official photographer had lined up the Commandos and snapped dozens of official shots, but he’d also taken this picture of Bucky’s arm around Steve, leaning in to impart some Barnes wisdom while Steve looked incredulously amused at whatever Bucky had been saying.
Steve thinks it was about how to pick up French girls without speaking a lick of their language, but they’d had a lot of similar conversations. He doesn’t know for sure. He wishes the picture wasn’t so grainy or that Bucky’s head was turned more towards the camera, but it’s the only picture that exists of the two of them where they’re touching.
“Not bad. I’d fuck him.”
Steve knows that he was Bucky’s only guy, the fear of discovery always a specter haunting Bucky’s relationships, but he always likes to hear Bucky complimented. “Go put that back. Don’t go through my stuff,” he commands with fake gruffness.
He doesn’t care much about the paltry ‘stuff’ he owns, and Vanya knows it, so he doesn’t take the order seriously. The next time Steve turns around, Vanya is still bare-chested and sitting on Steve’s sofa, reading Steve’s mail.
“Why don’t you get bills?”
“My employer pays them.”
Vanya nods. “I figured. I checked the place for bugs when I got here, didn’t know how much surveillance SHIELD keeps its stooges under.”
Steve opts not to get into a debate about the organization for which he works, partially because he’s not sure how much he would defend it, and tests the pasta by throwing a piece at the wall.
“Holy. Shit. What is this?” Vanya asks a minute later. He sounds almost gleeful, and its certainly a tone that Steve’s never heard from him before.
“What’s what?” Steve asks nervously. Because anything that makes Vanya sound like that can’t be good.
“‘Come discover the man behind the legend: Captain America, the true American Hero.’ What is this?” Vanya asks in the same tone.
Steve remembers hearing about the museum a few months ago and politely declining to actively participate in it, but he’d purposefully forgotten about it. He grabs the flier out of Vanya’s hands and turns it over to see a note in Pepper’s handwriting stuck to the back.
‘Steve – You should give this a try, it’s actually quite inspiring. PS – Tony took me there on a date,’ it reads. He snorts.
“So this is kind of embarrassing, but I have a museum exhibit about me,” he says with a purposefully casual shrug.
“Why?” Vanya looks truly dumbfounded, and Steve loves that he’s as baffled by the attention as Steve is. It seems like they’re the only two these days.
“I sure don’t know. You can put that in the recycling pile.” He goes back to the pasta, and this time, it passes the wall test. He dishes half of it out into a large bowl and dumps some reheated pasta sauce on top of it. It’s hardly a testament to his culinary skills, but he’s not trying to impress his guest.
“There’s enough if you want some,” he tells Vanya casually, and sure enough, Vanya pads over to the kitchen and makes himself a heaping plate of spaghetti.
Steve flicks through the rest of his mail, none of which is interesting, and Vanya returns to the living room to sit a few feet away on the sofa. He even puts his feet on Steve’s coffee table, completing the domestic look.
“What kind of stuff is at your museum?” he asks Steve because for some reason, he can’t let the flier go.
“It’s not my museum; it’s the Smithsonian. And I don’t know. Probably my old uniforms. Maybe some war footage.” He flushes. “Probably some ridiculous propaganda I was in.”
“You’re embarrassed.” Vanya seems to like this.
“It was embarrassing.”
Words cannot describe the humiliation of Steve’s early days as Captain America, so he starts to recite the stump speech about Series E defense bonds which will forever be burned into his memory. He gets three lines in, keeping his tone serious and dripping with patriotism, and Vanya laughs and drops spaghetti onto his own bare chest. Sauce smears across his nipple, and Steve is looking forward to the next round.
“I might have to go see this thing,” Vanya tells him.
“There are probably metal detectors in the museum,” Steve replies.
Vanya throws the fallen noodle at him.
Unfortunately, Steve’s hopes for a second round don’t come to fruition, and Vanya immediately redresses after tossing his bowl into the sink.
“Second round?” Steve asks him hopefully.
“Sorry, I have an appointment with a potential employer.”
Steve thinks that it sends the wrong message about Vanya’s services for him to show up to a meeting with well-fucked hair and swollen lips, but it’s not his business. “Are you going to leave the country any time soon?” he asks.
“Not in the cards right now. I can probably meet you next Sunday.”
Steve agrees after mentally checking the date, and he starts to think about a place for them. He’s discarded a few ideas when he realizes that there’s no reason why Vanya can’t come to his apartment again now that he’s found it, however that happened.
“How about you just come here. Novel idea,” he suggests.
“Bad idea. Even if your apartment isn’t bugged, you have people watching your moves,” Vanya accuses.
“And they’re better than you?” Steve challenges.
Vanya grits his teeth predictably. “Of course not.”
“Okay, come here then. You have to admit, the use of a bed was pretty awesome.”
Vanya doesn’t disagree, and he heads for the door.
“Oh, Vanya. Don’t you dare break in again,” Steve warns him. He gets a wicked grin before the door clicks shut.
He reads a bit and cleans up. He doesn’t really mind that Vanya left until he gets into bed and realizes that the sheets smell a little earthy and a little spicy. It doesn’t remind him of anything in particular, but it smells good, and his dreams are soft and nostalgic.
Steve strolls up to his apartment building the following Saturday carrying several plastic grocery bags on his forearms. It’s dusk, and he hopes that he’s made it home before Vanya gets there and lets himself in through what Natasha assures him is a state-of-the-art deadbolt. It’s the principle of the thing; Steve likes the privacy of his apartment away from the Tower, and he can’t have that privacy if assassins waltz into his living space as they please.
Despite his misgivings about Vanya’s lock picking abilities, Steve whistles to himself in anticipation of seeing Vanya. He’s been staying in his quarters at the Tower for most of the past week so he could be on-call for the latest Norman Osborne attempted take-over, but he’s already cleared this night off with Hill and his teammates; he’s looking forward to unwinding. He’s more relaxed around his teammates after another year, and they around him, but being with people twenty-four/seven is still a trying experience.
He holds his key fob up to the door sensor to get into his building, and a hand on the back of his neck almost makes him drop the groceries.
Vanya winks at him and pulls the door open. He’s dressed in a dark blue, almost black, sweatshirt, and the hood is pulled low over his eyes, obscuring his domino mask. It’s definitely a good idea because Steve doesn’t know how extensive Kate’s surveillance of the building is. There’s probably a camera on them right now.
“Thank you for not breaking in,” Steve tells him as he recovers from his surprise and walks through the door, Vanya following at his heels. “I’m very proud of you for resisting the criminal urge.”
“It just gave me the chance to indulge another one of my hobbies — parking lot lurking,” Vanya tells him with mock-seriousness.
Steve laughs as they exit the stairwell and walk onto his floor. He already feels lighter than he’s been all week. They walk past Kate’s door, and whatever surveillance she’s running must alert her to the fact that Steve has a non-Avenger guest, because Steve hears the tumblers on her door turning.
He stops and motions Vanya to go ahead with a jerk of his chin and tosses the keys to him as Kate comes out onto the landing. Predictably, she has a laundry basket in her hands.
“Hey! I haven’t seen you around all week!” she gushes as she cranes her neck to get a look at the figure past Steve. He hears his door opening and closing behind him as Vanya lets himself in to Steve’s apartment.
“Yeah, work’s been killer. How’ve things been around here?” he asks politely.
“Pretty boring, actually.”
Steve’s sure they have been; it doesn’t seem likely that Kate has responsibilities outside of monitoring and protecting him. “Listen, I was going to ask you if you wanted to do something later, maybe a movie, but I see you have a friend over.”
She wants information so badly that Steve knows he has to give her something to head her off before she gets too curious.
“Yeah, just a friend from the VA. My friend Sam might be over, too. I’ll take a rain check on the movie.” He beams at her and quickly turns to go. Behind him, he hears her taking the laundry back into her apartment, and he’s sure that she’s scribbling something about him down in a notebook.
Inside his own apartment, he sets the bags on the kitchen island and looks around for Vanya. Steve finds him in his bedroom, staring at the photographs on Steve’s bureau for no apparent reason.
Vanya turns to look at him and pushes his hood back. He’s wearing an expression that Steve can’t place, and the mask isn’t helping.
“I’m making myself some dinner, you want some?”
Vanya shrugs and turns back to the pictures. It’s very strange — Steve swears he was in a great mood just a moment ago.
Vanya nods, clearly still rattled by something.
“Is there any reason you’re staring down those photos?”
“No,” Vanya snaps, and then backtracks when Steve eyes him warily. “I went to your fucking museum today.”
“It’s not my museum,” Steve reminds him. And then: “Did you see any of those people in the exhibit?”
“Yeah,” Vanya says shortly.
“Who?” Steve asks curiously because he doesn’t know what’s been included and he’s too embarrassed to go look.
“This couple and him.” Vanya indicates the aged photographs.
“Those would be my parents, and you know that’s Bucky. It makes sense that there’s a lot of stuff on Bucky, but I wasn’t sure how much they had on my family.”
Vanya looks off into a corner, and Steve internally shrugs at his mood.
“It wasn’t much. Lots of things to read,” Vanya tells him distractedly. He turns his head suddenly to stare at Steve. “Is this all you have?”
“All I have of my family?”
Vanya opens and then shuts his mouth. “Yeah,” he says a beat later.
“I actually have this old trunk of stuff that was in Stark’s old house. I knew his old man during the war, and he went—” He stops because Vanya’s already walking towards the guest room where Steve keeps the trunk; he guesses that Vanya remembers where it is from his last investigation of Steve’s apartment.
Steve sighs, unable to parse Vanya’s mood, and heads for his kitchen.
“I’m making fried chicken,” he tells Vanya as he passes the guest room.
Vanya already has the trunk open. Steve can hear him rummaging around inside. At least there’s nothing too valuable in there.
Steve enjoys the process of warming up the oil, coating the chicken in flour, and listening to the sound it makes as it sizzles and crisps. Vanya doesn’t emerge from the guest room until Steve’s finished.
“There’s chicken if you want some,” he calls, settling himself in front of the TV to catch part of a football game. He’s not a fan of football, and he doesn’t have a particular team that he roots for, but it’s enough entertainment while he eats.
A minute later, Vanya comes out of the guest room. He takes a piece of chicken without bothering with a plate, and stares at it. Then he starts to wolf it down hungrily. He ends up eating everything on the sheet, and Steve mentally pats himself on the back for his cooking.
Vanya eventually moves to sit with him on the couch, and Steve finishes his food, enjoying the casual proximity. Then he pulls Vanya down on top of his body. They exchange greasy kisses and grind against each other until they both come. Steve slips his hands under Vanya’s shirts and feels the shifting of muscle beneath his palms. He’s completely enamored with Vanya’s body; no one has ever felt this strong, this powerful under his hands before.
After their first orgasms, they shuck their pants off and Steve reaches into his pocket for the new bottle of slick he’d picked up at the grocery store earlier. It’s the fancy kind that warms up, and it’s more than worth it to see Vanya’s expression as the heat begins to register inside his body.
Steve manhandles Vanya onto his back and pulls his calves up to rest on Steve’s shoulders. He grins as Vanya scowls at the vulnerable position, and he pushes into him; the mix of Vanya’s smooth warmth and the artificial heat from the slick make him flush.
Vanya gets on board with the position soon enough and locks his legs around Steve’s neck, nearly making his vision tunnel from the lack of oxygen. Undeterred, Steve thrusts into him clumsily and wildly, knocking throw pillows to the floor and shifting the couch slightly closer to the wall. When Vanya realizes what he’s doing and releases Steve with a confused apology, Steve gasps and comes, the oxygen re-entering his bloodstream in tingling waves.
At some point, Steve picks Vanya up and carries him, snarling, into the bedroom. Normally they have time for two orgasms before Vanya runs out on him, but apparently he doesn’t have anywhere to be tonight.
Steve tosses him down on the bed and pushes into him from behind, Vanya on all fours and encouraging him with nonsense about the museum: “Fuck, saw what you used to look like. I’d break that guy in half — not that he wasn’t fucking sexy, but so small, Steve. Shit, can’t get over how big you are with him in my head — fuck me with that huge, Nazi-fighting cock.” His body jerks back and forth from the force of Steve’s hips.
Steve’s flushed red, more from Vanya’s words than true exertion, although he does feel like he’s run at least a half marathon by now.
“Shut up or I’ll stop,” Steve threatens as a drop of sweat falls from his neck onto Vanya’s sculpted ass. Steve wants to lick it up, but he can’t bend that way, so he watches raptly it as it slides over the arch of Vanya’s cheek and disappears.
“Shit, that super-soldier serum is good for more than fighting,” Vanya hisses as Steve gets a hand on his cock to distract him.
The serum certainly is good for more than fighting — after Steve comes, he flops on the bed next to Vanya, and Vanya scrambles onto him to ride him to Steve’s fourth orgasm of the night. That shouldn’t be possible, and he’s never tested it before — but it happens.
What they don’t talk about is how Vanya matched him orgasm-for-orgasm. There’s obviously something in him not dissimilar to the serum, and it’s one more clue that doesn’t add up to anything yet.
Steve’s completely sated and exhausted by the time Vanya rolls onto his side and they face each other wordlessly. Whatever was going on in his head earlier appears to be gone as he stares at Steve through hooded eyes. His mask is slightly crooked, and Steve thinks about adjusting it. He telegraphs enough of his intention that Vanya flinches back from him.
“Steve, no,” he tells him, trying to be gruff but coming out sleepy.
“Sorry, I wasn’t going to mess with it. Is there a reason you’re so adamant about keeping it on, though?” Steve asks, biting his lip.
“I don’t want anyone to know what I look like,” Vanya answers bluntly. “Sorry, even you.”
Vanya adjusts the mask himself and leaves the question between them for a moment. “It’s helpful for covert work to have a face that nobody knows.”
“So, nobody has ever seen you without a mask on? Sounds improbable,” Steve says skeptically.
“Almost no one. Alive, anyway.” He says it with a touch of finality that makes Steve pretty sure he knows what happens to people who have seen Vanya’s face. He contemplates making a joke about how Steve doesn’t want Vanya to kill him, but it falls flat even in his own mind.
He closes his eyes instead and allows himself the pleasure of focusing on his own breathing to the exclusion of everything else. He’s too good at this exercise, and he falls asleep within five minutes.
It’s either very early or very late when Steve wakes up next, and Vanya is out cold beside him. He rubs the heel of his hand against his eyes and thinks about waking Vanya up. He doesn’t care that Vanya’s still there, but they certainly haven’t talked about it, and he doesn’t know if Vanya has anywhere he needs to be.
He ends up falling back to sleep without making a decision, and when he wakes up around six, Vanya’s gone.
There’s a note on the counter with a date and time written in handwriting that doesn’t seem to know how precise or messy it wants to be.
Steve’s pretty confident that he’ll be home on the date named by Vanya’s note (which might still be in his wallet three weeks later), but then Magneto strikes and the X-Men call in the Avengers and Steve’s covered in blood (some of it’s his own, but not all of it) on the other side of the world. He guiltily watches the dashboard clock on the Quinjet register 2:00 EST, and he has no way to contact Vanya.
It’s a monumental flaw in their strange relationship. Besides the note, they’ve never communicated outside of face-to-face situations, and it’s been working for them so long that they never developed a contingency plan in the event that one of them is unable to make their meeting.
Steve knows realistically that Vanya probably staked-out his parking lot long enough to know that Steve wasn’t coming and then left. Vanya’s one of the least emotional people that Steve knows, and he knows a lot of testosterone-laden guys and one terrifyingly stoic Russian; he hardly thinks that Vanya’s going to be upset. Pissed off, maybe, but nothing along the sad spectrum.
And Vanya will obviously understand. He spends roughly as much time as Steve does traveling the world to deal with threats, though in different ways. There’s absolutely no way that he could contact Vanya if he wanted to. Where would he even start to get ahold of him on a mission like this?
Despite these things that Steve knows to be true, he still feels like a world-class jerk for being the one to miss their meeting without even making an attempt to let Vanya know.
His thoughts turn nervous as he starts to wonder whether he’ll ever see Vanya again now that he’s broken their chain of interaction. Will Vanya make the effort to seek Steve out? Will Steve be able to find him?
The idea of Vanya’s presence in his life suddenly, quietly ending unsettles him. He doesn’t like it, but it’s out of his hands for the time being. He forces himself to give his full concentration to the battle at hand.
When he returns to New York, he’s held up another two days in debriefs and medical treatment. He’s broken a few bones and gotten his share of scrapes and bruises, but his most serious injury comes from impaling his side on a broken metal strut.
Tired and bandaged, Steve returns to his apartment exactly a week after the missed rendezvous. An irrational part of him hopes that Vanya will be in his kitchen again, cockily eating Steve’s food and bragging about how easy it is to bypass SHIELD’s attempts at security.
He’s not there, obviously, so Kate serves as his welcome wagon instead. She clearly knows what he’s been doing, and it’s kind of sweet how determined she is to maintain her act, so Steve lets her baby him a bit as he settles on his couch and she warms him up some soup. Just for a few minutes.
“Oh man, these traveling assignments must be hell on you, Steve! Here, put this rice bag on your side — it looks like you’re tense there. Don’t worry, I’m a nurse, I know what I’m doing. Drink this all, and then here’s a bowl of ice chips for you to munch on. Can you prop yourself up with a pillow so I can bring you your soup? Awesome. You’re so brave. Working away from home, I mean,” she chatters around him as he sinks into his couch.
Steve feigns falling asleep to send Kate on her way. He really does appreciate the check-in and the soup; he should probably get around to discovering her real name one of these days.
Steve actually does fall asleep eventually, and when he wakes up, he feels sturdy enough to move around the apartment and do his normal homebody activities, cooking and tidying up. He keeps himself busy with chores and hobbies, resolutely not thinking about Vanya.
He’s already conducted a sweep of the apartment to see if anything has been moved or any notes have appeared, and there’s nothing. So Steve doesn’t know what to do besides stay put in the last place he and Vanya were supposed to meet.
Four days drag by, and Steve finally convinces himself to let it go; he’ll see Vanya on a mission at some point, and they can talk then. He’s gone months without seeing Vanya in the past.
But in just four days, he’s already back to being crankier and lonelier than he’s felt in months, almost like he felt when he was first unfrozen and introduced to the cacophony of 21st century life.
He makes plans with Tony and Bruce to go over to the Tower first thing in the morning and hang out with them in their labs, determined to get out of the apartment and enjoy the company of people other than Kate.
He’s locking up at night on the fourth day, about to get into bed and read for a bit, when he hears two sharp raps on his front door. It’s different from Kate’s frenetic knocking, and he knows who he hopes it is, but steels himself for a teammate.
Vanya’s leaning against the alcove wall outside of his door when he opens it. He’s wearing the lower face mask today and his eyes are predictably smudged. He’s staring intently at Steve, looking neither glad nor distraught to see him, and Steve silently holds the door open for Vanya to slip by.
“Sorry, I got held up. Magneto stuff…” Steve explains, not sure how much of an apology he owes Vanya, or whether Vanya wants an apology at all.
Vanya’s eyes scan up and down Steve, and they pick up on the bandaging underneath his t-shirt.
“Not badly. Some organ damage, lost a decent amount of blood, but I’m mostly recovered.” Vanya nods and steps closer, and it’s when he’s pushing into Steve’s space that Steve notices the heavy scent of sweat and gunpowder. Steve looks at Vanya’s clothing and sees that he’s dressed in full-out heavy combat leathers, and when Steve looks closer, he can see blood spatter faintly flecking the black fabric.
He realizes that Vanya’s probably just come from a mission, and instead of heading back to wherever he stays, he’s come to Steve. Something warm drops into Steve’s stomach at the knowledge that he’s not alone in being…more attached than he’d anticipated.
“I can’t stay; I have to go take care of some stuff. I just wanted to check in,” Vanya tells him.
“What do you need to take care of?” Steve asks as he wipes at the black smudging around Vanya’s eyes with his thumb.
“Get cleaned up, for starters.” Vanya doesn’t exactly lean into the touch, but he hovers within touching distance despite already telling Steve that this isn’t going to turn sexual.
“You can shower here if you want. I’ll leave you to it,” Steve offers, reaching around to rest his fingertips on the crest of Vanya’s ass.
“I’d have to get right back into these clothes.”
“I can lend you…” It starts to sound ridiculous to him then, so he smiles and huffs out a laugh. He squeezes Vanya’s ass regretfully, pulls back, and lightly punches his flesh shoulder. “Scram. Just tell me when I can see you again.”
“Tomorrow night?” Vanya asks hopefully.
“Okay,” Steve agrees quickly. Tomorrow is soon, and he’s more than okay with it. He’s just surprised that Vanya’s pushing for it. “And I really am sorry about not making it last week.”
“S’alright. Doesn’t matter,” Vanya tells him with a shrug. Only, Steve’s starting to suspect, it does. They’re both clearly unhappy and unsettled by the missed encounter.
Steve obviously knows what it means when two people start to miss each other like this. What’s less clear is where things can go from here. Steve could stand to redraw some of the lines he has with Vanya, but Vanya’s so shrouded in mystery, and it’s like pulling teeth to learn the most basic details about him. Steve still barely knows the man he’s sleeping with — he knows a hundred ways to make Vanya come, but nothing below the surface.
He gets a twisting feeling in his gut as Vanya covers his eyes and then he feels Vanya’s lips against his with a jolt of surprise. When Vanya takes his hand off Steve’s eyes, he’s already pulled the mask back into place, and he looks at Steve one last time before leaving the way he came.
It doesn’t seem likely that a man with Vanya’s secrets has anywhere to take a relationship like theirs. There’s what they have now, and there’s nothing. There probably isn’t a version in which they redraw those lines and it becomes anything more.
So Steve tamps down the things he’s on the verge of feeling. All it would do is ruin a good thing, and this is far too good to give up.
Another near run-in with Kate makes Vanya change his point of entry from the front door to Steve’s balcony. He still waits for permission to enter, which Steve appreciates, but he crouches in the shadows of Steve’s patio furniture until Steve lets him in. Steve never has any sense of how long Vanya’s been waiting for him to open the door.
The days get colder, and the weather starts to inconvenience the city. Even the bad guys are less inclined to take over New York in the sleet, so the Avengers have a bit of a respite. Steve spends more time at the VA with Sam, the Tower gym with Natasha and Clint, and SHIELD headquarters with Hill and Fury, analyzing footage of the Avengers’ battles over the previous few months.
He even starts co-teaching an art class for foster kids through the state, and the looks on the kids’ faces when they realize who their teacher is going to be is compensation enough. Hundreds of parents try to get their children into Steve Rogers’ art class, but it’s only open to foster kids, giving them a rare privilege over their peers and an accompanying sense of pride.
The cold makes Steve’s bones ache in a way that he’s never talked about to anyone; it could be residual ache from the serum that had stretched him out like taffy in a matter of minutes, or it could be psychological after crashing a plane to his certain death in the ice and then sleeping for decades. Whatever it is, Steve bundles up and doesn’t spend any more time than he needs to in transit between his meetings, classes, and practice sessions.
And every two weeks or so, he hears the soft metallic clink of Vanya climbing onto his balcony, which goes a long way towards chasing away the cold.
On the night he’s late coming home from an intense sparring session with Natasha, Clint, and Thor, it’s snowing what will eventually accumulate to four inches. He hustles up the stairs and into his apartment, hoping to jump into a hot shower before Vanya arrives. He kicks his wet shoes off as he enters the apartment and fills the kettle at the sink before heading for his bathroom.
Something on the balcony catches his eye, and he almost trips as he changes direction mid-stride. Vanya’s sitting on one of his patio chairs, his feet on a small table, and he’s covered with at least half an inch of snow. He’s not moving, and he’s not shaking the snow off of his body, but Steve can see little puffs of breath emitting from his mouth. He’s back in the domino mask and wearing black, which makes the snow stand out even more against his person.
Steve fumbles in his hurry to unlock the balcony door, and he moves out onto the snowy balcony in his socked feet. “Woah, come inside.”
Vanya’s eyes flick up to him, but he doesn’t move.
Steve feels a chill that has nothing to do with the cold when he thinks of how stoic Vanya looks sitting there. He looks trained. And he’s got to be nearly hypothermic by now, even with whatever version of the serum he has.
“Vanya, come on.” Steve gets a hand on Vanya’s arm and tugs.
Vanya stands up stiffly and goes with him.
Steve pulls him into the apartment and slams the door shut, then brushes snow off of Vanya haphazardly.It lands on the floor, will probably soak his carpet in a few minutes. “How long have you been out there?” Steve asks with concern.
“‘Bout thirty,” Vanya tells him.
Steve finally catches a look at the clock in his kitchen and sees that it’s almost an hour later than he’d believed it to be. He knows he’s behaved like a world-class jerk for the second time to Vanya, and he makes a decision.
“Next time, just come in, idiot,” he says as he grips Vanya’s flesh hand in both of his and tries to warm up the icy digits.
“I’m not allowed to,” Vanya says with a tiny smile, the snow in his hair falling in his face and running like tears as it melts against his warming skin.
“You’re allowed to now. Don’t abuse it,” he warns when Vanya grins.
“Let’s get you in bed and directly apply some body heat,” he tells Vanya then, and when they’ve trekked back to Steve’s bedroom, he painstakingly peels Vanya out of wet, stiff layers of clothing. He tries to get a towel for Vanya’s hair, but Vanya throws it on the ground and kisses Steve, his tongue like ice.
They start out slowly, but Vanya gradually gets the feeling back in his limbs and then his digits, and he comes alive as his body, bionic arm included, warms up. By the time Steve comes against Vanya’s thigh, Vanya’s frantically clutching at his back and scratching lines with jagged fingernails which will heal before they finish. He’s shivering, but that’s better than being too numb to shiver, and keening up into Steve.
He keeps moving over Vanya’s body, making contact with as much flesh as he can get, enjoying the other side of this. It’d been him shivering underneath Bucky many, many times, and Steve associates a certain degree of intimacy with being able to do this for Vanya.
He keeps fucking into his body even during the stretch of heightened sensitivity that serves as his serum-enhanced refractory period, rubbing Vanya’s body all over, inside and out. He cocoons himself around Vanya so that Vanya’s lying on his arms, and when Vanya grins gratefully at him, he smiles back.
“A Plus,” Vanya drawls, his eyes half-shut, when Steve finally pulls out.
He disentangles himself from Vanya and steps into his underwear before heading for the kitchen.
“I feel like I just got wham-bam-thank-you-ma’amed,” Vanya’s complaint drifts down the hallway.
“Stay there,” Steve calls back. He finishes his earlier task of boiling water and making hot chocolate, setting up a mug for Vanya as well even though he can’t imagine Vanya has much of a sweet tooth.
He takes both mugs back into the bedroom and sets Vanya’s on the nightstand. “If you’re not a chocolate fan, you can go make tea or coffee instead.”
Vanya rolls to the edge of the bed and picks up the mug, sniffing at it before taking a sip. “It’s fine.”
They drink in silence, and the taste makes Steve think of words and faces long gone. A few months ago, he would have kept the thought to himself, but now he finds himself murmuring aloud to Vanya: “My mother used to make hot chocolate in the winter. Probably didn’t have the money to, but it was the only thing that could warm me up. Bet it saved my life, as sick as I’d get.”
Vanya hums in acknowledgement, but doesn’t add to the conversation.
Steve suddenly gets curious. “You got parents? Or any sort of family?” It seems like a simple yes-or-no question, and Steve obviously isn’t expecting details by now. His eyes catch the sudden tension in Vanya’s shoulders as he shrugs.
It’s on the tip of Steve’s tongue to chide him, eyebrow raised, for not knowing if he has family or not. Then a weight drops into his stomach as he realizes that, for someone like Vanya, not knowing what happened to your family is probably a very real possibility. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive. I…I hope nothing happened to them,” he blusters.
“I don’t know them, or who they would be. I read—” Vanya blurts out, then stops. A beat later, he adds onto the thought: “I think I’m an orphan. Or was an orphan.”
It’s a strange speech, and Steve doesn’t know what to say. The curiosity is still riding him, though, and he’s encouraged by the fact that Vanya’s talking about himself at all. Maybe he’s wrong — maybe it’s just a matter of time before Vanya opens up.
“What do you mean you were an orphan? You’re not anymore?” he digs.
“No,” Vanya tells him warily and doesn’t provide any more information.
“What did you read?” Steve continues, prodding at the edges of Vanya’s revelation.
Vanya’s out-and-out glaring at him now. “I’m not talking about this.”
“Why not? Who exactly am I going to tell?” Steve says wryly.
“Leave it,” Vanya tells him. The sharpness is his tone is buried underneath something, so Steve doesn’t pick up on it as quickly as he should.
“You’re so sensitive about your identity. Your mask, your secret past. I don’t actually give a damn about who you are, you know,” Steve tells him.
Vanya starts to get out of bed, and Steve grabs him and pulls him back to his body. The mug in Vanya’s hand thuds to the ground, hopefully empty.
“No, don’t go,” Steve tells him and leans forward for a brutal kiss.
It devolves back into sex surprisingly quickly with their mutual frustration fueling another round of clutching and pounding. Vanya’s warm now, flushed with activity instead of frigid, and his hair is damp under Steve’s fingers. Vanya’s metal hand digs into Steve’s ass as he thrusts, urging him forward and staining his skin with fingerprint-shaped bruises deep enough to linger for an entire hour; Vanya will be long gone by the time they fade.
They come within seconds of each other, and then Vanya’s shoving Steve away, throwing his clothes back on without his usual precision, and leaving. Now it’s Steve’s turn to feel like he’s been tossed aside, but instead of going into the kitchen and puttering around, Vanya slams the balcony door behind him as he leaves.
Steve doesn’t see Vanya for almost a month, but he slinks back eventually. Steve wonders how long this will last and what might be capable of breaking their bizarre bond, because nothing’s worked so far, even scratching at Vanya’s imposed boundaries.
They continue to plan their meetings in advance, but every once in a while, Vanya will surprise Steve by dropping by. He doesn’t try to spend more time at home specifically in the hopes of seeing Vanya, but he doesn’t volunteer to be away on missions for long stretches of time either.
A close-to-home mission in neighboring Philadelphia turns into a zombie-filled nightmare, and Steve’s held up for several days, even with the X-Men returning the favor and helping out.
When he finally gets home, he’s covered with an unspeakable layer of grime, and he’s seen so much in the way of grossness that he wants to just be away from people for a while. However, as he comes in through the door, he sees Vanya stretched out on his couch. The television is on and reporting live from the scene in Philadelphia post-zombie outbreak.
He and Vanya lock eyes, and Steve nods at him but doesn’t break stride on his way to the shower. He stands and eventually sits under the hot spray for 45 minutes before finally feeling like himself again.
Wrapping a towel around his waist, he returns to the living room and settles into the couch next to Vanya.
“This shit is crazy,” Vanya tells him, still watching footage of the clean-up.
“I was there,” Steve tells him, dropping his head against the back of the couch.
“I know you were there, I saw it in HD. How bad did it smell? Because the commentators kept talking about that.”
Steve describes the attack to Vanya, who asks plenty of questions about the zombies themselves before starting to ask about Steve’s role in the mess like: “When that one zombie fired a machine gun at you, did it hit you? It looked like it hit your leg.” And: “Did you land okay when you fell off that building?” (jumped, Steve had jumped). And: “I couldn’t see through the smoke, were you near any of the grenades?”
When Steve’s finally able to look past the surreal quality to his life, he notices that Vanya’s questions have an undertone of worry to them. Even though Steve’s sitting with him, whole and mobile, Vanya keeps remembering moments on TV when he’d wondered if Steve was hurt and asking about them.
Eventually, Vanya exhausts all of the times that Steve had been injured, or at least appeared to be so from the cameras’ vantage. They talk about the Avengers’ and Mutants’ performance, and Vanya doles out grades based on the footage he’d seen. Steve agrees with some of his assessments, but he won’t allow Vanya to give Clint a “D” because the zombies seemed immune to arrows.
“Obviously, the camera crews didn’t pick up on the fact that Clint was fighting the zombies in the warehouse hand-to-hand. Seriously, he got closer than any of us,” Steve argues for the archer.
“Only because he had no other cards. You have that goofy Frisbee at least.”
Steve ignores the jab at his shield and continues to defend Clint. “Some of his trick arrows worked, but he saved those until the end. Clint’s an excellent fighter, and he kept the mutants safe while they did their magic thing.” Steve, personally, doesn’t have a lot of respect for most of Xavier’s people, barring Logan. Powers seem great and all, but you gotta know how to block a punch.
“He still seems like the weak link in the Avengers to me, and not just from this battle. When I worked with you guys last year, I wasn’t impressed.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “He was doing the exact same thing that you were doing.”
“I was doing it better. I was inside the fucking facility. He was in a tree.”
Steve doesn’t mention how much Clint loves trees. “You’re full of it. Clint’s earned his place on the Avengers. He’s a good fighter and a good friend.”
“Didn’t he turn on you in the battle of New York?” Vanya accuses with a frown.
“That wasn’t his fault! Loki brainwashed him and made him work against us. He didn’t do those things knowingly, and Natasha solved the problem by knocking him in the head,” Steve insists.
“I one-hundred percent understand where the guy is coming from. But on the whole, not impressed.”
Steve gives up, and then replays the comment in his head. “You know where he’s coming from. Been hit in the head a lot?” he asks, searching for more.
“Shut up.” Vanya gets up and stretches.
“Or did something similar happen to you?” he guesses, suddenly realizing the significance of that shared detail.
“I’ll be in the bedroom, naked, whenever you’re done idly speculating,” Vanya tosses coldly over his shoulder as he heads for the hallway. Steve only has to consider it for a second before joining him.
Steve still feels disgusting after being splattered with brains and blood and other zombie fluids, so he pins Vanya’s hands to the bed and litters his body with licks and little bites on each swell of muscle that Steve’s mouth discovers. It’s when he’s biting at the swell of Vanya’s hip, and then laving the mark with his tongue, that he becomes obsessed with the different tastes that make up Vanya’s body. The crooks of his elbows, arms, and knees taste sweet and soft; the skin on his built chest tastes faintly salty; his scars taste hot and nutty. Steve thinks in a fit of metaphor that he could live off this alone, and even he has to admit that it’s so much better than Bucky’s mingled taste of dock sweat and the cheap chemicals from his pungent cologne.
He finally pushes Vanya face-first into the wall over his bed and tells him to hang on to the headboard. He fucks into Vanya and wonders if Kate can hear it through the walls before he forget to think about anything or anyone besides the man underneath him.
He wakes up the next morning and experiences some disorientation as soon as he opens his eyes. He quickly realizes that it’s because he’s lying with his head at the foot of his bed, so the room is backwards to him. Vanya is also fast asleep beside him, snoring a little too loudly to be endearing, and Steve remembers Vanya making a mess of come all over his pillow and wrestling about it until Steve had turned their bodies around and they’d fallen asleep lazily making out.
Even in sleep, Vanya’s mask is perfectly in place; Steve’s given up wondering what’s underneath it. He smoothes Vanya’s hair into place as he gets dressed and heads into the apartment proper, hungry enough to eat everything in his fridge. He makes himself a sandwich to tide himself over before he pulls out the flour and starts making the homemade pancakes that he usually forgoes for boxed mix whenever he’s alone for breakfast.
He actually can’t recall the last time he had a breakfast guest, and Vanya’s never spent a full night in Steve’s apartment, so he wants to make something worth eating. Half an hour into his endeavors, Vanya comes out of the bedroom, fully dressed, and leans against the counter next to Steve.
“Morning,” Steve says as he leans down to kiss him, “Did you sleep okay?”
Something twitches in Vanya’s cheek. “Sure,” he says blandly. There’s an undercurrent of irritation that Steve ignores, used to Vanya’s habitual grumpiness.
“I’m making pancakes. There’s also fruit, and bacon, and coffee in the carafe. Help yourself.” Vanya runs his eyes over the items on the island as Steve points them out. Steve’s in too good of a mood to let Vanya’s habitual grumpiness ruin his morning, though.
“I had the weirdest dream about you. We were at a circus like the ones I used to go to as a kid, and then you decided—”
“Fucking A, shut the hell up,” Vanya snaps, and that finally does it for Steve’s mood.
He blinks at Vanya, his mouth still hanging open, because it’s suddenly clear that there’s a bigger problem than Vanya’s usual terseness and Steve is completely in the dark.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, bemused, and Vanya glares at the pancakes suspiciously. He picks one up with his hand, brings it closer to his face for inspection, and then throws it across the room. He must enjoy it, because he shoves the whole platter of pancakes after it, and it crashes against the opposite wall.
Steve goes from bewildered to angry in a second. “Seriously, the hell is your problem?” he barks, grabbing Vanya’s arm and holding on a little too tightly. He doesn’t really want to hurt him, but he’s positive that Vanya’s going to run off any minute now and disappear on him for another stretch of time.
Vanya struggles briefly, but Steve doesn’t let him go. “I killed a couple a while back just like this. She got up early and made pancakes; he came out into the kitchen, and everything was made. She kissed him, and he made a plate, and they called each other sweetheart and darling and I fucking killed them and what are we doing,” Vanya spits at him, gaining and then losing momentum.
Steve has to play back the words in his head a few times, and they still don’t make sense or explain Vanya’s reaction. “So you don’t like pancakes?” he asks, going for levity. It doesn’t change the murderous expression on Vanya’s face, so he adds, “You’re seriously out of line here.”
“I’m going,” Vanya tells him.
“No, you’re going to explain to me what you’re in a snit about and what it has to do with one of your hits.” He finally lets go of Vanya’s arms and crosses his own against his chest.
“This isn’t for me. I need to leave,” Vanya scowls.
“What isn’t for you? What are you talking about? What’s going on in your head right now?” Steve demands, angry and frantic.
“You keep trying to do this, and you know I can’t handle it,” Vanya hisses at him.
“What?” Steve throws his hands in the air and instantly regrets his dramatics. “What am I trying to do?”
“Act like we’re in a relationship! I don’t do relationships,” Vanya shoots back as Steve interrupts.
“I have never been possessive of you, demanded your time, or made any sort of formal claim towards you. So tell me, how do I act like we’re in a relationship?”
“You ask me invasive things all the time. You’re always poking and prodding, trying to peel me back and learn my business!” Vanya’s voice is getting loud again, and Steve thinks again of wondering if Kate could hear them the night before.
“We’ve been sleeping together for over a year, and I asked you a few questions about your parents! You’re completely insane if you see that as ‘invasive.’ I’ve had more personal conversations with the damn butcher!” Steve yells back, matching him in tone and volume. Because he’s not in the wrong here — he’s thought about this over and over, and he’s been incredibly careful not to push Vanya into something he doesn’t want. It’s falling apart anyway, but it’s not fair that Vanya doesn’t see how Steve’s tried.
“I can’t do this. I’ve seen this coming for a while, but this is it. We are not a couple, and I think you’ve lost sight of that,” Vanya tells him, quieter, with a fatalistic shake of his head. It’s just as infuriating.
“I don’t think we’re a couple, Vanya! I get that you have some weird association with relationships and pancakes because of your incredibly fucked-up lifestyle, but I wasn’t trying to say anything with them; I was trying to make breakfast because I’m hungry.” Steve typically doesn’t swear, not because he’s a bastion of purity, but because he believes in saving that kind of language for moments when he’s beyond angry and they’ll carry more weight than if he peppered them throughout his speech. But if there ever was a moment to curse a blue streak, it’s now.
Vanya pauses at the curse, but then he sets his jaw and continues spewing nonsense: “The pancakes aren’t important. It’s everything — spending the night, breakfast, a good morning kiss. I liked what we had going for a while, but it’s changing — you’re changing it — and I’m done with it.”
“You’ve changed this just as much as I have, if not more. You come to me, not the other way around. You drop by right after you’ve finished missions because you missed me. You camp out on my couch and watch the news for two days because you’re worried about me. You’re the one in control here, and you can’t bullshit me about how much I’m getting attached. You’re just running scared because you don’t want to be the type of person who has relationships and weak points. News flash: you do.” Steve takes a breath after he finishes. He’s never put any of this into words before, but the rightness of the words settles on him as he speaks.
He puts another feeling together into words, and says it before Vanya can say something back: “And you’re not alone in this, Idiot. You’re my weak point, too. Do you know how long I spent feeling like the modern world didn’t fit into my grooves, was just scraping away at me, before you showed up?” He recognizes that he’s crowding into Vanya’s space and practically growling at him, so he steps back and takes a deep breath. “And I don’t get why that’s so terrifying to you. Guys like us don’t get a lot of connections. Don’t fuck this up because it’s too normal for your liking.”
“You’re proving my point. This has gone way too far, and I’m sorry that you thought you finally had a ‘connection.’ If you want to think of this as a relationship, well, relationships end.” Vanya throws out the barbed words dispassionately, then he slides past Steve and walks towards the door to the balcony.
“This is absolutely not over,” Steve tells him heatedly.
“Haven’t you ever been dumped before, Steve? You don’t get to decide that.”
And that finally makes the pain break through the anger, because, of course, Steve has been dumped before. By someone he loved, even — and Vanya knows that. He’s just going for the low blow; it makes Steve nasty. “I just doubt your abilities to stay away from me long-term,” he goads.
Vanya turns back and his eyes flash, and Steve steps around the island in fighting posture. Then they’re kissing frantically, yanking at each other’s clothing and stumbling around Steve’s apartment, blind to walls and furniture.
A minute later, they’re kissing against a door jamb that Steve thinks leads to the hall bathroom, and Vanya’s hands are gripping Steve’s ass through his sweatpants. He can feel the hard line of Vanya’s cock against his through several layers of fabric and he pushes his leg between Vanya’s to grind their cocks together. Vanya growls ferally and bites Steve’s neck hard enough to break the skin, and Steve licks the taste of his own blood out of Vanya’s mouth.
“This is the last time,” Vanya mutters in Steve’s ear.
“We both know it’s not,” Steve smiles humorlessly into the crook of Vanya’s neck. He’s almost positive that Vanya is expecting Steve to bite him back, but he holds out and sucks a bruise into his neck instead.
Vanya roughly pinches Steve’s nipple with the metal hand for the mark, and Steve comes in his underwear. He feels Vanya shudder underneath him, doing the same. Steve gets his wits together and then grabs Vanya’s chin in his hand, tilting it up so he can look into Vanya’s murky blue eyes.
“That’s why you won’t be able to stay away from me. I don’t care who or how many people you sleep with. They’re not going to be me.” He releases Vanya’s chin and draws himself up to his full height, looking down at Vanya and using his inches to loom.
They stare at each other, just breathing, in the vacuum left by Steve’s words. Steve’s thoughts fly rapidly, egging him on and then pulling him back in turn. Vanya glares daggers at him and breaks the silence after several minutes. By that point, Steve’s calmed down and started to regret his words.
“I’ve always liked challenges,” Vanya sneers.
Steve winces. He’s screwed up — they’re both sending out some mixed signals, but his ultimate goal isn’t to drive Vanya away. So he hedges.
“Okay, tell you what,” he forces himself to back off. “This morning has made it pretty clear that we need to cool things down and take a break. We probably should take a few months off from this.”
Steve adjust his sweatpants and walks backwards to his kitchen. He steps on the pancake-and-ceramic mess on the floor, and he feels his foot start to bleed as the plate shard slices through the skin. Vanya’s eyes go to the blood starting to pool around his foot.
“We can meet up at some point and reevaluate after we’ve had some time to cool down and think about what we want,” Steve adds, trying to salvage...something.
He turns and heads for the first aid kit in his pantry, and he forces himself not to look at Vanya. He’s on edge that Vanya’s about to say something that will reject Steve’s offer and permanently dissolve their bond, and he devotes several anxious minutes to carefully studying and cleaning his cut.
When he looks up, the balcony door is hanging open, and Vanya is gone without accepting or rejecting Steve’s terms.
The day after Vanya leaves without a clue as to when or if he’ll come back, Steve’s called into Fury’s office.
“Yes, sir?” he asks Fury, and Hill walks around Fury’s desk to place several glossy photographs of the Winter Soldier entering or leaving Steve’s apartment on the surface in front of him. Steve stares at them for a moment.
“You guys have impeccable timing,” he says with a wry smile.
He’s sure that he’s in all kinds of trouble, and the irony of getting discovered the day after the dissolution of whatever was between them is frustrating. At this point, there’s nothing he can do.
“Would you like to construct a narrative to go with these pictures, Cap, or should I tell you my own theory?” Fury asks caustically.
Steve sighs. He has no idea if he’s being shown the extent of what SHIELD has on him and Vanya, so he’s not going to embarrass himself by being caught in a lie.
“The Winter Soldier and I had a non-professional relationship for approximately sixteen months. It was very recently terminated. In conducting this relationship, I violated an official directive not to fraternize with the Winter Soldier. These photographs are of him entering or leaving my residence at 616 Brubaker Way, Apartment 4C,” he reports.
Fury blinks and looks pissed. “And what was the nature of this non-professional relationship?”
“Primarily sexual,” Steve tells him baldly. Fury doesn’t give anything away, but Hill’s eyebrows shoot straight up. “Occasionally social.”
“Did you at any point individually contract the Winter Soldier’s help on any SHIELD missions?"
“Did you at any point provide aid to the Winter Soldier in his own line of work?”
Fury stares him down. “Did you ever leave the country with the Winter Soldier or for the purpose of meeting the Winter Soldier?”
“Did you participate in any activities deemed illegal by the United States of America or the State of New York with the Winter Soldier?”
“Some trespassing. Stole a car once, but it was abandoned, and I took care of it.”
“Did any enemy agencies contact you because of your association with the Winter Soldier?”
“Did you commit any violent acts with or for the Winter Soldier?”
“Did the Winter Soldier at any point exhibit violent behavior towards you?”
Steve is willing to twist the truth a little on this one, if only because it’s contextual. “Nothing I wasn’t okay with.”
“So basically, you two were fuck buddies.”
Steve nods in the affirmative.
“For sixteen months.”
He nods again.
“Cap, you talk to any of the Avengers, there’s not one who’s had more than one relationship lasting sixteen months. People in this line of work don’t have relationships that last sixteen months.” Fury rubs his head above the eye patch strap. "So you’ll have to forgive me when I don’t believe you about how lah-di-dah casual it was.”
“It was. It was casual. It was sporadic, transient, and certainly not monogamous,” Steve says placidly, holding back on any bitterness he might feel.
“I’m sorry, are we just ignoring the elephant in the room?” Hill asks.
Steve blinks innocently at her, and Fury scowls.
“Ms. Hill, as Rogers’ employers, we’re not permitted to ask him directly about his sexual orientation. Make an inference.”
“I’m gay, by 21st century standards,” Steve tells her helpfully.
“Right,” she says with a confused nod.
“Obviously that’s alright with us,” Fury tells them both. “We’re led by a disabled black guy and a woman. We’re progressive. Moving on.”
“Sorry, I just…is this new?” Hill asks.
Steve can’t help but be amused by Fury’s look of long suffering annoyance.
“It’s not new. Some people in the Army and the SSR helped hush it up,” Steve tells her.
“The matter at fucking hand, children, is to what degree Captain Rogers’s safety has been compromised. Cap, you’re claiming that this relationship is ended?”
“As of when?”
Fury gives him a look, and Steve knows that his doubts about the casualness of the fraternization are alive and well.
“And during the relationship, he had full access to your apartment?” Both of them are looking at Steve with disapproval now.
“He never had a key. He’s a master criminal and perfectly capable of breaking in. He respected my wishes not to do that until I gave him permission to enter at any time.”
Fury and Hill wince like Steve’s done the worst thing someone in his situation could do. Steve feels the need to defend Vanya, and the trust that he had placed in him, but tamps it down.
“So he’s been in your apartment unsupervised. Do you keep anything confidential in your apartment?” Fury questions.
“No. I keep that all in my room at the Tower.”
Hill lets out a breath like at least Steve isn’t a complete idiot. He’d like to say that he’d thought ahead and realized that storing confidential items at his personal residence with a non-SHIELD authorized person roaming around was a poor decision, but really, he just kept his work materials closer to his meetings.
“Is there anything dangerous or debilitating in your apartment to which he’s had access?” Fury continues.
“I can’t think of anything.”
“Could he have planted anything there?”
“I’m sure Kate would have found it by now,” he says, not without some snark for the first time in this interrogation.
The conversation goes on for another hour, Fury and Hill asking nuanced questions to suss out every possible way Steve’s association with the Winter Soldier could be damaging to Steve, the Avengers, or SHIELD. At some point, Steve gets tired of answering the same question about his personal safety around Vanya over and over again.
“Look, he’s had plenty of opportunities to kill me. I know full well that he’s capable of grisly things, but he and I have — had — an alliance, and he’s not dangerous to me.” Steve assumes that this is still true.
“Maybe I know something that you don’t, Cap,” Fury tells him.
Steve narrows his eyes and sizes up Fury. He can’t tell if the director is bluffing or not, but he knows that threatening him won’t get him anywhere except benched. “Sir, if you’ve exhausted your questions, I’m supposed to be training with Romanov and Barton right now,” he says as he stands up.
“We haven’t talked about the consequences of violating the fraternization order yet, Cap.”
Steve forces himself to maintain his military posture. He waits.
“40 hours of desk duty, starting next week. I hope you like filing,” Fury tells him.
Then Steve’s cursorily dismissed, and he heads for the training facilities.
It takes a day for the rumor mill to fire up, and less than a week for every SHIELD agent to know that Captain America has owned up to having a sexual relationship with the mysterious, emotionless independent contractor SHIELD hired once and never again. The one who wears all black. Yeah, the one with the robot arm. What the fuck happened there??
No one asks Steve directly. Instead, they just shoot him furtive gazes in the hallways and in meetings. A few people are disgusted, a few more are impressed, and most are just baffled. Steve tries to be above the situation and not seek out any more details that people are spinning and adjusting.
Tony’s the first person to directly confront him about it. They’re sitting around Tony’s living room, post-team meeting, and Steve feels Tony sit down next to him on the long couch. He knows that Tony’s going to bring it up, and he waits for it with a mingled sense of dread and relief.
“Steve, my good sir. Is it true that you’ve been dipping your wick into our raccoon-eyed friend?” he asks while typing away on his tablet. Steve isn’t under any illusions, though, that Tony isn’t paying attention to his reaction.
“Humh?” Steve’s able to stall because he’s in the middle of a contest with Thor to see who can take the biggest bite out of their hamburgers. Steve appreciates Thor even more at the moment, because Thor’s made comments at various points indicating that to lie with one’s war brothers is actually a sign of masculinity, rather than the opposite, so Steve knows that Thor doesn’t give a damn.
Bruce’s too polite and understanding to ask, but Steve’s been waiting for Tony, Natasha, or Clint to say something for days.
“Giving him the beef injection? Burying the bone? Having your pole varnished? Parking your yacht in his harbor? Roasting the—”
“What is this game! I must know of it,” Thor demands.
“Thor, you were playing a game with me,” Steve points out, and Thor holds up the crescent-moon slice of burger left on his plate.
“I am afraid that I have already bested you, my friend. Though there was a moment when I doubted. You are truly a man of large proportions.”
“That’s what the Winter Soldier said. Hey, Thor, there’s your game!” Tony announces gleefully.
Natasha unfolds herself gracefully from the window seat and approaches them to cuff Tony on the head. “So it’s true?” she directs at Steve, more serious.
“Well. I’m warmed by the level of trust you had in us to share such a personal detail about yourself, Steve.”
At no point had it crossed Steve’s mind to tell his teammates about Vanya. It’s only now that the possibility occurs to him. He wonders now what that says about him. “Sorry for not telling you. It —” he hesitates. “It’s always been something that I couldn’t tell the people around me, even the ones I was close to. I still haven’t adjusted to how open the world is now.”
Playing up 40s oppression is a trump card, and luckily, everyone lets it go. They clap him on the back and tell him that he’s cool with them, and he’s struck by the fact that these people actually do love him and want him to be himself. Appreciation and belonging well up in his chest, and he dives into planning the next movie night. Tony wants to show something called Brokeback Mountain “in honor of Steve,” and he’s so caught up in being happy with his friends that he okays everything Tony wants to do.
The movie is a tearjerker, though Steve could do without Tony’s questioning him whenever a gay love scene happens on screen: “Is that really how it works?” “Which one is you, Cap?” “Is that a euphemism?”
Steve has to threaten to tell Tony about the time Howard had gone with him to a drag club in London to shut him up.
People eventually relax around Steve, and in an unexpected silver lining, appear to regard him as more human-like now that he’s done something to muck up his infallible image. They crack jokes around him that they wouldn’t have before, and he hasn’t heard, “Cap will be disappointed in you,” used to admonish anyone in a while.
Fury continues to direct the brunt of his displeasure towards Steve in meetings, which is a nice break for Tony. Steve still can’t figure out if Fury knows something about Vanya that he’s not sharing, and he brainstorms during a particularly boring meeting about ammo. Then Coulson clears his throat across the table from Steve, and instantly, Steve has his best idea yet.
He spends a few weeks increasing the amount of idle chit-chat he engages in with Coulson, and it’s only mildly embarrassing how excited the man gets when Steve remembers details about his life and asks follow-up questions during subsequent conversations.
One day when they’re having coffee as Steve perches on the edge of Coulson’s desk, he thinks the moment is ripe and goes for it. “So, I guess you heard about me and the Winter Soldier,” he says.
Coulson’s eyes widen slightly and he nods.
“Yes, there was, uh, a senior-level agent meeting about it.”
“I figured. That’s Fury’s style. Everyone knows a little, but only he knows the whole picture. It’s great from an intelligence management perspective.”
Coulson nods again and tries to change the subject to whether Steve will be teaching his art class again.
“It’s a little grating when it’s your life that Fury’s spreading into pieces, and even you don’t have them all, but everyone’s probably been there.”
Coulson agrees smoothly. He’s not giving Steve anything here.
“I mean, I’m thinking about getting back with him. But Fury knows something about him that he’s keeping from me, and I don’t know what to do. If I decide—”
“Captain Rogers, I know what you’re doing,” Coulson finally tells him. “As big a fan as I am, I’m not stupid.”
Steve blusters and apologizes, assuring Coulson that he thinks so such thing. He leaves Coulson’s office after several more minutes of groveling and thinks that he should have enlisted Natasha’s help on this. She’s more loyal to Fury than to him, but maybe he’d just denied her another chance to be a friend.
However, the next time he sees Coulson in the hallway leading to the shooting ranges, he hands Steve an unmarked folder.
“In the interest of your personal safety, if you’re thinking about renewing your relationship with codename Winter Soldier, there are some things you should know.” The folder isn’t that heavy, but it’s got several documents inside it.
“Who knows about this?” Steve asks before Coulson continues on his way to the elevator bank.
“Just a few senior members of SHIELD. Don’t spread it around that I told you; if your punishment is desk duty, then I can’t imagine what Fury will do to me.”
Steve keeps the folder tucked into the back of his pants while he shoots through the hearts of paper targets and for the rest of the day after that, unwilling to let it out of his sight for even a moment. As soon as he gets home, he puts the folder down on the marble island and takes a deep breath.
He opens the folder and sees a series of text documents, some yellowed and typewritten, others more recent. He spends thirty minutes reading.
SHIELD has a record of the Winter Soldier being active for the past eight years, but there are a series of documents which predate his emergence onto the international stage. Shadowy reports of a man called “the Winter Soldier,” “Codename Winter Soldier,” “Comrade Winter Soldier,” and, strangely, “The American,” are compiled into a set of documents. Each report highlights a familiar detail — the metal arm, the mask, the black combat leathers, the preferred rifle, the type of slugs.
What’s truly alarming is that these reports date back to the 1950s, with at least one report from every intermediate decade. The estimated age of the man gets older with each report, starting from early 20s, but it’s nowhere near the actual amount of time passing.
Steve frowns and flips to the next set of documents.
It’s a schematic for something called a “cryofreeze chamber,” and it looks unpleasant. The original schematic was in a Cyrillic language, so the English words layered on top of whited-out text are somewhat difficult to read. Steve manages to make out that the chamber is intended to freeze “subjects,” (people, he realizes with a chill) for years at a time; the precise settings of the cryofreeze process allow the subjects to be revived at any point in the future after a dethawing/acclimatization process.
It reminds Steve of cheesy Science Fiction, but then he’s turning the page and there are pictures. Most of the pictures make it impossible to tell who's sorry, frozen body is inside the insidious-looking chamber, but in two pictures, he can make out lanky brown hair and a familiar jaw.
His stomach sinks. Jesus, did this happen to Vanya? Is this the source of the dark, secretive details of his past? Is it actually him in there? Did the cryofreeze actually work? It would explain the sixty years of reported killings if they could actually throw him in that thing and take him out, un-aged, whenever they needed him.
And who is ‘they?’ Who the hell did this to Vanya? He uses his phone to look up some of the places named in the schematic document, and he learns that they’re Russian.
Russian towns, Cyrillic text, soviet slugs, avoiding the former USSR, ‘Vanya.’ The clues that Steve’s been collecting are aligning.
But it still doesn’t make sense. Why would Vanya work for the Russians, who sound specifically like the Red Room that Natasha’s told him about before if the tortuous machine is anything to go by? Why would he subject himself to being frozen and unfrozen over and over again? It doesn’t sound like the Vanya that Steve knows.
There last item in the folder is a half sheet of paper with a rougher schematic for a different machine. Steve studies the cramped handwriting, lucking out that it’s in English, before he sees the word that almost makes him vomit: “Brainwash.”
Red Room, indeed. Natasha’s told Steve about the false memories and the erasure that she’d been subjected to in the Red Room, and more details click into place.
Vanya not knowing if he had a family.
Vanya’s comment about understanding what Loki put Clint through.
Oh god, it makes sense. It makes terrible, horrifying sense.
So many clues are falling into place that Steve can’t find the ground to deny what the folder is telling him.
Vanya had basically told him that he’d killed the people who knew his face.
Aggression is a habit; sorry.
Natasha recognizing Vanya from her own time as a brainwashed assassin.
The bastardized super-soldier serum.
Somehow, Vanya got away from the people who made him forget, made him fight, and then froze him to repeat when desirable. He killed some (all?) of them, he left Russia, and he came to New York (why New York?) eight years ago. And then he kept doing what he knew how to do, but for himself this time.
Steve knows why Fury didn’t want this information to become public. They don’t want to make an enemy of the Winter Soldier, and knowing this much about his background would certainly do that. He doesn’t want people to know his face or his name or anything personal about him. It’s likely that he doesn’t even know a lot about himself. This has been suppressed for a reason.
And even now that Steve can see a more complete picture of Vanya than he’s ever gotten, he’s not sure if it was right for Coulson to give this to him. Putting together so many of his clues about Vanya helps him uncover so much, but in doing so Steve has to admit that he barely knows the man.
Steve refuses to pine. Part of this decision is influenced by the fact that everyone knows about Vanya now, so everyone will know he’s pining, and that’s embarrassing as hell; the other motivator is that he genuinely knows he could derail over this, and there’s no way Vanya will appreciate that kind of weakness.
He takes every mission that comes across Fury’s desk, makes plans with at least one of the Avengers or Sam every day, and throws himself into volunteer work. He also completely overhauls the SHIELD paper filing system and gets several agents in on triaging files from multiple buildings while Fury glowers at him from the doorway.
For two months, Steve keeps busy, and doesn’t leave himself with too much time to think about Vanya. If he doesn’t exhaust himself during the day, then he’ll wind up falling asleep wondering if he’ll ever seen Vanya again, if the silence on Vanya’s end means he’s been hurt or killed, or if maybe Vanya really wasn’t bluffing when he said he was done.
It’s best not to think about it and move on. If Vanya comes back, he comes back. If Vanya’s an unrepeatable chapter in Steve’s life, it shouldn’t matter, because Steve’s made sure his life is full of friends, meaningful and exhilarating fights, and helping people.
The Avengers are called to the conference room on a Wednesday to talk about an upcoming mission. SHIELD has learned about a small Skrull presence in Nevada, likely as some sort of front guard. Worse than the extraterrestrials, however, is the cult of human followers and worshippers who have gathered around the Skrull compound. They apparently think that the Skrull are going to really take over the planet this time, so they’re devoting their lives to serving the Skrull a bit prematurely in the hopes that their loyalty will win them bonus points.
With over one hundred armed and deluded humans guarding the compound, the mission is two-fold. First, the Avengers will have to incapacitate the humans with tranquilizers while being stealthy enough not to alert the Skrull to their presence. Then, they’ll have to take on the Skrull themselves without hurting any of the people.
It’s a big mission, one that calls for as many hands on deck as possible (but not the X-men, for several reasons). Sam gets recruited, along with Luke Cage, Jessica Drew, and Kate Bishop. Fury’s even going for the tranquilizing part of the mission, and he wants to add a 12th member: another marksman.
“Our threat analysis tells us that this is going to be a tricky one. We’re throwing around the idea of contracting the Winter Soldier again.” Every eye in the room swivels to Steve, and he very carefully studies the meeting agenda in front of him. “Would anyone on this mission have a problem with that?”
It’s nice of Fury to ask before going ahead and making the call, but then again, Fury’s not really showing sympathy for Steve’s feelings; he’s asking if working with the Winter Soldier will compromise Steve. Steve has refused to talk about the details surrounding the morning he and Vanya had decided to cool things off, so no one knows how amendable Steve is to working with him.
If he’s honest, Steve’s heart pounds at the opportunity to see Vanya, but he schools his expression and doesn’t let himself react emotionally, at least not on the surface. “I agree that he’d be a valuable asset to the mission,” Steve says instead.
Fury measures him up before nodding.
Steve checks himself every time his thoughts wander over the next few days. There’s no guarantee Vanya will take the mission; he’s a busy guy, and maybe he’ll refuse to work with Steve now, lest Steve get too couple-y during a shootout. His thoughts wander a lot, though, and it starts to seem like a futile endeavor.
The other Avengers can’t keep from needling at it either.
“So, what’s the Winter Soldier like?” Clint asks him one day.
Steve blinks and struggles how to put Vanya into words. “Um, he’s. He’s an intense guy. Funny, kind sometimes, but always ready to throw a punch or say something smart.” It does nothing to capture Vanya, how gracefully he wears his violence or how seamlessly he slides from mood to mood, all of them vehement.
Steve doesn’t learn if Vanya’s accepted the contract until they have their first team meeting a week after Fury proposed the idea. There are twelve chairs around the table when Steve and Bruce walk in together, though it doesn’t mean anything. Hill could be attending as a non-involved advisor.
Steve and Bruce take the seats next to Tony and Natasha. Clint walks in a minute later with Kate on his heels, and they’re already arguing. Luke and Jessica show up first, and Sam and Thor drift in before Fury. One seat at the table is conspicuously empty.
Fury glares at the seat and starts the meeting promptly at 14:00 as the memo had said. He’s going over the parameters of the mission and reviewing information that all of them already know when the door crashes open and Vanya walks in. Most of the people around the table are dressed casually: Bruce is in jeans and a Captain American shirt, and Steve is wearing khaki cargo shorts; Vanya looks battle-ready in his gear, and he’s wearing the lower face mask, though his eyes are clean and uncovered.
His eyes sweep across the table and spend exactly as much time on Steve as they do on anyone else, then he goes to the empty seat, which is between Thor and Luke. He looks small sitting between the two of them, and Steve thinks that he rests the metal arm on the table to counteract the effect.
“Winter Soldier, thank you for joining us. Promptness is mandatory throughout this mission, due to the sheer number of participants and combatants.”
Vanya says nothing, and Steve didn’t really expect him to.
Steve focuses on Fury as he lays out everyone’s roles. Everyone will be armed with a tranq gun for the first part of the mission, then the four shooters (Clint, Kate, Fury, and Vanya) will cover the rest of them, ready to immobilize any overlooked humans, while Steve leads the ground team to the Skrull.
The meeting takes several hours, and Tony has pastries delivered just to piss of Fury. Everyone except Fury and Vanya ends up eating several, and Steve catches Vanya’s eyes on him as he bites into a French cruller.
Vanya doesn’t talk much, but his input is required on a few tactical areas, and he has good ideas. When he suggests a different way to format the initial strike teams, it’s the only point in the meeting where Fury outright abandons the original idea and writes Vanya’s plan on the whiteboard.
Eventually, all the wrinkles have been ironed out, and they’re set to board the Quinjet in two days. Fury dismisses them, and Vanya is the first one out of the room.
The meeting hadn’t been an indication of whether the working relationship between Steve and Vanya’s going to be awkward or not, because there hadn’t been any opportunities for them to directly interact. Steve’s hoping they’ll work together as seamlessly as they had on the AIM mission, because they’re both professionals, and having a beef with a teammate can be dangerous for everyone.
He gets his confirmation that, professionally, he and Vanya are solid when they’re filing onto the Quinjet and getting ready to take off. Steve’s having an issue with one of his red combat boots, and he’s bending over to adjust it and re-tie it when he feels eyes on him. He turns and sees Vanya appreciating the curve of his spandex-covered ass. Steve gives him an unimpressed look, and Vanya’s eyes crinkle slightly in a way that someone familiar with his face can tell means he’s grinning behind the mask.
Vanya sits down on the passenger bench in the corner, as far as he can get from the others. Admittedly, it’s a little chummy on the Quinjet, and even Fury is in a social mood. Steve swears to himself that he’s just interested in team cohesion, in keeping one of his soldiers from isolating himself in these critical pre-mission moments, when he takes the seat next to Vanya as they settle in and prepare for takeoff.
Vanya ignores Steve when he sits down, so Steve takes out his mission notes and flips through them, looking again at the compound blueprints and the mission outline.
“I know we were told that they didn’t have cameras inside, but if they did, where do you think they’d be?” he asks Vanya quietly, and Vanya thinks for a moment before tapping his metal finger in certain corners and passageways of the blueprints.
They talk in undertones for the first half of the flight, never straying from the topic of the mission, as Steve’s teammates’ eyes burrow into him.
The second half of the flight, everyone is quiet, finding their headspace and mentally preparing themselves for what they’ll find on the ground.
While the Skrull-lovers are armed to the teeth, none of them seem familiar with how to work their weapons, and it’s easy to spread out in small teams and tranq them. The fact that most of the people are camped outside, while the Skrull hunker down inside their fortress, makes it a quick exercise to incapacitate most of them before they have to deal with the Skrull at all.
Eventually, the compound registers that something is happening outside, and they send out the humans who actually know how to shoot. This makes things a little trickier, and they have to rough these guys up more than their inept compatriots, but the team makes it inside the compound without killing any people. That’s always a marker of a good mission.
Inside, Steve, Sam, and Clint jog down a dingy hallway, with Clint leading and shooting a tranquilizer at any humans who pop out of side rooms. They reach the staircase that leads to the underground lair where most of the Skrull are hiding out and doing science experiments, and Steve looks up to see Vanya perching on a higher level and ready to shoot. He’s got the tranq gun in his real hand and a revolver in his metal hand, and if it were anyone else, Steve would worry about a mistake being made.
Flanked by Sam and Clint, Steve bursts into the basement room. His team is the first to arrive, and the Skrull are ready for them. The Avengers scatter as green, glowing cannonball-shaped bursts of energy are shot in their direction, and Steve tosses his tranq gun aside to pull the shield off his back.
The fight finally feels real when he has the shield in his hands, and he deflects energy bursts while rushing at the Skrull.
Fury, Natasha, and Thor burst into the basement through another door, and Steve knows that Kate’s behind them, guarding that stairwell. Tony, Jessica, Luke, and Bruce should be in the transmission room on the upper level by now, and Steve hopes that Bruce is smashing away happily.
Fury and Clint take their places in the corners of the room to provide covering fire while everyone else picks a Skrull and goes for it. Steve finds himself with three Skrulls, somewhat unfairly, and he concentrates on bashing them in their goblin-like faces. A fourth joins the melee at some point, and he slashes at Steve’s knees with some kind of laser-whip which cuts through the enforced fabric and freaks Steve out a little. He quickly scans the areas for backup, but all of the Avengers are occupied; it’s clear that their intelligence underestimated how many Skrulls were in in this facility.
Clint switches to arrows and takes down one of Steve’s attackers, but they’re so quick that he can’t get another hit in. A Skrull hits Steve in the chest with the equivalent of sonic brass knuckles, and he doubles over, feeling like his sternum is broken.
The next second, there’s a dark blur above Steve, and Vanya is in the fray and jumping on a Skrull’s shoulders. He strangles the alien using just his legs while emptying a clip directly into another Skrull’s face at point blank.
Steve straightens up and slams the shield into the brain of the Skrull who’d hit him, and the green body finally goes down. Vanya drops his two in the next minute, and Steve sees Clint behind him rushing into the stairwell to cover Vanya’s abandoned post. Vanya retreats to the corner, but he doesn’t stay there for long, rushing at the next Skrull who tries to kill Steve.
Steve’s never seen him fight like this before.
At the end, they’re essentially double-teaming the Skrull, luring their enemies to one of them while the other attacks from behind.
When all the Skrull are dead or unconscious, the team drags their bodies unto a row and cuffs the survivors for transport to wherever SHIELD puts their captured ilk. No one says much as they tiredly coordinate extraction. Fury looks pissed that the Winter Soldier changed the plan, but Steve would have been screwed without Vanya’s help, and he knows it. For all of Clint’s help, he’s neither as ruthless or as skilled as Vanya.
Multiple aircrafts show up with a bevy of agents to sort out the human situation and take care of the Skrull, and the team ends up flying back to New York piecemeal. Steve’s looking forward to seeing Vanya at the debrief the next day, but he doesn’t show. No one knows where he is, and Steve regrets missing his chance to thank Vanya and make sure he was alright back at the site in Nevada.
More months pass without hearing a word from Vanya, and no one at SHIELD proposes contracting him again. The missions they’re getting aren’t of the caliber that would require a fighter like Vanya, but Steve thinks that upper management is also pissed that Vanya skipped out on the debrief. SHIELD loves their debriefs.
He’s not even sure why Vanya blew the meeting off, and he wonders if he’s being egotistical when he decides that maybe he had something to do with it. He and Vanya had been so in-sync during the fight that Steve had, again, been subjected to a round of questioning about his activities with Vanya. People find it difficult to believe that they’d never fought like that before, as practiced as they looked.
The truth of the matter is simply that they're both good fighters, and they have a particular awareness of each other. But most people don’t accept that, and the rumor mill starts up again. The Captain America-Winter Soldier team quickly achieves legend status, and most of SHIELD watches the video footage from Iron Man’s helmet before Steve learns about its existence and downloads a copy from the server.
Watching the footage of the two of them sends a thrill down Steve’s spine, and he finds himself reaching down to cup his groin. He guiltily looks at the wall he shares with Kate but he’s done far more sexual things with her only a few yards away; he turns back to the video footage and slips his hand into his jeans.
He deletes the video immediately after, feeling ridiculous for pleasuring himself to what is, after all, just a battle scene. At the same time, it feels too intimate to keep, even on his personal laptop.
And he’s a little afraid he’ll obsess over it.
Life continues on as normal, and Steve’s riding the subway to one of the soup kitchens where he volunteers one day when his eReader dies. He grumbles at himself for not checking the battery, and puts the device back in his duffel. He’s been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, absorbing information about what the world had been doing while he slept, and he’s cranky for the loss of his book right when President Kennedy had been about to go to Dallas. The authors were foreshadowing something big, and Steve really wants to know what it is.
Not being able to read forces him to study the other passengers to pass the time, which is also fun, so he’s in a better mood already by the time the train pulls into Rockaway. It isn’t his stop yet, so he just runs his eyes over the people pushing their way on and off the train. Outside the window, he sees a man in Columbia sweatshirt and a backpack walking down the platform, and he glances at him idly, maybe a bit appreciatively, before his whole body jolts and his life changes.
Because the man is Bucky.
He leaves his duffel and pushes through the mass of people in the car, prying the doors open as they start to close on him. He takes off running the direction that Bucky was headed, his heart not so much beating as leaping against his chest frantically and his hands shaking.
He spots Bucky as he exits to the street, and runs up to him, yanking his arm to spin him around.
Oh god, it is Bucky. It’s his face, aged only a few years since Steve had last seen him, and he’s scowling at Steve and Steve knows that scowl. He opens his mouth and chokes on air, unsure what he wants to say first.
“What the fuck?” Bucky barks at him, and it’s not his voice.
Steve frowns. Bucky’s accent is missing, replaced by smooth, void syllables. The out-of-place detail makes Steve step back and take a closer look.
The man’s hair is actually longer than Bucky’s, and it’s pulled back into a ponytail that Steve hadn’t noticed at first. He also looks wider in the shoulders than Bucky, stronger, and more serious.
“I’m busy here, Steve.”
Bucky saying his name sends a wave of relief crashing over him, because obviously it’s him, Steve knows him! Then Bucky is shoving a finger against his chest, and Steve looks down to see that the digit is silver and hard.
It’s not Bucky.
Only without his mask, Vanya is Bucky’s twin. The differences that Steve’s already catalogued have nothing on the fact that Steve knows this face; he loves this face.
“Bucky,” he finally speaks with certainty. Somehow the only two people that Steve has ever loved are the same man. His head spins.
“I’m tailing someone. Get away from me now without making a scene,” Bucky hisses as Steve’s brain starts making connections.
The Soldier’s first activity in the 1950s, only a few years after Bucky’s fall.
The Soldier’s initial estimated age only a few years older than Bucky had been when he died.
The Soldier’s affinity for Steve when there was no evidence that he had a soft spot for anyone else.
The evidence in the folder suggesting that he’d been brainwashed.
And, maybe, Vanya’s reaction to the picture of Bucky and his subsequent interest in the museum and Steve’s trunk.
“Vanya, you’re him,” he says stupidly.
“Fuck, Steve, not now.” He’s not denying whatever Steve’s trying to say, or acknowledging that Steve called him ‘Bucky.’
Head spinning, Steve feels a sense of déjà vu. He and Vanya, who is still a very real presence even now that Steve is mentally layering Bucky on top of him, have been in this position before.
“I’ll go if you meet me later. Navy Yard, three o’clock,” he says faintly, proposing the terms they’d come up with so long ago.
Steve pulls back to let Vanya hurry off, hunching his shoulders and hiding his metal arm in his sleeve like a regular college student might.
Steve spends the rest of the day in a blur. He’s afraid that if he talks to anyone, he’s never going to shut up, and he’s irrationally, hysterically afraid that someone will use logic to talk him out of his realization. He doesn’t know if there are enough facts out there to back up what he knows his his gut to be true: Vanya is Bucky.
He gets to the abandoned houses in the Navy Yard hours early. They’re even more derelict than they were before, but there’s enough still standing to give some shelter from passing eyes.
He passes the time by watching Bucky’s fall over and over again in his mind. What did he miss?
Vanya...Bucky seems to have some version of the serum, and Steve can think of one organization who wanted that serum desperately: Hydra. The same Hydra that held Bucky hostage as a prisoner of war and did experiments that Bucky would never tell Steve about except in vague terms.
But he talked about needles. And he talked about pain. And suddenly, Steve wonders how he missed the fact that the man he called the love of his life was a serum recipient, and he didn’t even know.
He thinks about the train yet again, this time focusing on the surroundings rather than Bucky’s suspended body. There was a river beneath him in the gorge. Is that how he did it? Fell into the river and survived? It’s possible, depending on how he landed. Feet-first, and it’s very possible. Especially with serum.
And Steve didn’t look for him. His eyes flood with hot, shameful tears.
He knows it’s evident that he’s been crying when Vanya shows up.
“What do you want?” he asks Steve, standing several feet from him. He’s wearing the lower mask, but Steve can see his eyes clearly, and just...nothing really makes sense right now. He’s seen Bucky in Vanya’s features before, but the eyes see what the mind believes, and he’d been blinded by the certainty of Bucky’s death.
Steve stands up, dust and rubble clinging to his pants, and he moves forward into Vanya’s space. “I need to see,” Steve whispers as he reaches around Vanya’s head to unbuckle the mask. Vanya tenses, but he doesn’t do anything to stop Steve.
Looking at Bucky’s face again, his whole face, is like air. Steve’s been choking all afternoon and evening, and only now can he breathe again. He drops the mask to the dirty floor and takes Bucky’s face in his hands.
His eyes are wary, but beyond that, Steve can’t read what he’s thinking. There’s something flickering beneath the caution on his face.
“Do you know?” Steve finally asks him.
“Do I know what?” Bucky answers stubbornly.
“Do you know who you are?” Steve asks. He can hear the desperation in his own voice.
“I’m not who you think I am.”
“I think you’re Bucky Barnes.”
Bucky swallows, and Steve presses their foreheads together, still holding on to his cheeks and stroking the hollows of his eyes. “I. I think I was,” Bucky tells him. “But obviously not anymore.”
“Do you remember being him?”
“Some things. I don’t remember a lot of facts, but I remember a lot of feelings.” Bucky turns his head so Steve is leaning against his temple. “I remember some stuff about you. I remember some stuff about the war. I remember dying, or at least the fucking terror that went with it.”
“Do you remember what happened after you died?” Steve asks, starting to cry again.
“It’s patchy. Most of what I know, I learned from Red Room files.”
So he was Red Room. Steve’s going to find any member of the Red Room who’s still alive and burn them to the ground. He has to shake his head to clear away the visions of pain and smoke before he can ask another question.
“When did you start remembering?”
“I’ve been remembering some things ever since I killed my handlers and escaped from them. Maybe before, maybe that’s why I did it.”
“Did you…did you know who you were to me all along?” He watches one of his quiet tears slip down a snarl of Bucky’s hair.
“No. I didn’t figure out who Bucky was until you told me. I’ve been learning about him since I first suspected. But I don’t have a lot of his memories. Mostly just feelings,” he says again.
Steve pulls away from him and looks at him in the dim starlight. Despite the fact that he’s crying and stewing in a terrible mix of confusion and anger and sadness, this is the happiest moment of his life. Nothing good could ever happen to him again, and he’d carry this — the fact that he and Bucky found each other almost a century after they’d been born — to warm him to the end of his days. Or he’d die here, on this spot, and live this moment for eternity.
He pulls Bucky to him and kisses him sweetly, a prelude to the tempest of emotions that he’s about to pour into the kiss. Bucky only responds for a moment before pushing Steve back.
“No, Steve.” Steve’s blood freezes, and everything comes to a halt. “This doesn’t change anything.”
Steve’s mouth drops open, and he struggles to process the words. “Of course it does. What? What are you talking about?” he pleads.
“Everything I said to you in your kitchen four months ago still stands,” Bucky tells him softly but firmly.
Steve feels like acid is burning through his brain. He remembers being happy a minute ago, and wonders what it felt like. “You can’t…you’re Bucky. You need to be with me,” he sputters through the knot in his throat.
“Fuck, Steve. That’s now how this works. I’m not Bucky like you want me to be. I’m his shell, with a whole different person inside,” Bucky tells him. He still sounds sad but determined, and Steve thinks of the many times this man has walked away from him under different names. “I can’t be with you as Bucky because I’ll never measure up to your memories, and I can’t be with you as Vanya because you still want things from me that I can’t give you. It’s still over.”
He grabs blindly onto Bucky and doesn’t let Bucky fight him off.
“No. I need you,” Steve insists through gritted teeth to hold back the sobs welling in his chest.
“Yes, Steve. You need to get it.” Bucky laughs there, not unkindly, but it still tears through Steve like barbed wire. “You can’t rewrite history. I’ve seen you through Bucky’s feelings, and there’s a lot of pain and loss there. You weren’t a perfect couple. There were reasons why you couldn’t be with him either.”
Bucky kisses him then, and Steve’s hold loosens, overwhelmed. Bucky uses it to slip away from Steve.
“You need to let both of us go,” he tosses over his shoulder as he leaves.
Steve stands where he’s been abandoned, pulse thudding in his temple. He feels the tears in his eyes — blood hot and heavy — slide down his face in rivulets, and a scream wells up in his chest. He doesn’t want Bucky to hear it, though — doesn’t want to show any more weakness. So he stuffs his knuckles into his mouth and chokes on it, letting only a strained keen escape his throat and his self-made gag.
Suddenly, he realizes that they’ve flipped the usual script. Vanya’s walking away, not Steve, because he’s not worried this time that Steve will follow him.
But unlike the other times, Steve wants to follow him. He wants to know where Vanya goes, and where he is on the grounds right now. He doesn’t even think he wants to chase after him for another round of rejection, but he wants to know the secret of how Vanya moves through the city. He needs to know everything about him; he’s been in the dark for so long.
He straightens out of his hunch and looks wildly for the door. Then, instead, he takes off for the stairs at a run. He flies up the first flight and finds the second. It’s less structurally sound up here, and the wall of the second flight of stairs is exposed and rotted. He puts his foot through one of the decaying stairs and has to frantically grab for the bannister, which he pulls loose from the wall.
He stumbles onto the landing of the third floor and sees a recent skylight by virtue of the roof caving in. He grabs the sturdiest looking beam and pulls himself up onto the shaky roof and into the pre-dawn air. He violently wipes his eyes free of tears and scans the Navy Yard like he’s in the War and looking for movement with life-or-death consequences for him and his unit.
He sees a shadow moving near the east gate, and he squints at it. A second later, he sees taillights flare up, and then a vehicle pushes the gates open and turns sharply onto the access road. It passes under a street light as it moves away from Steve, and all he can see is a black sports car, not unlike the one Natasha drives, heading for Vinegar Hill.
He watches the point where it disappears into the dark distance long after he rationally knows it’s gone. So he knows one more secret — Vanya drives, parks, and leaves to the west — but it does nothing for the turmoil in his mind. He shuffles back to the third floor landing and then looks down at the staircase. He can see the gap in the stairs that he created on his way up, and the half-attached banister.
He reaches for the banister and yanks the remaining fastenings from the wall. He hurls the end of the banister down onto the stairs and breaks more, and then he angrily and uncaringly jumps after it.
Steve crashes through the staircase and falls to the flight below. This one holds up better, but he feels it shaking as he runs down the remaining stairs into the wall where he and Vanya fucked for the first time. There’s still a fist-shaped indent where Vanya punched the drywall, and Steve kicks the wall, blotting out the hole with a much larger one of his own.
Feeling a little like Bruce, Steve smashes his way through the rest of the dilapidated house. He rips a door off the hinges, throws a floorboard through a miraculously intact window, and punches at support beams until his knuckles bleed. A shower of dust and bits of brick falls on him as he plants his hands against the central wall and heaves.
He climbs out of the rubble gashed, bruised, and filthy. He pants as he takes several steps away from the wreckage and turns around to look.
The house was falling down anyway; Steve just helped it along. He looks at the bleeding sores on his knuckles and can practically see his serum burning through the tetanus.
He does feel a little better; although, as the dust settles, he closes his eyes and feels the stirrings of regret. It was a childish thing to do — destroying the site of his heartbreak like that would change the fact itself.
He knows it doesn’t change it. It doesn’t change anything, except now there’s one fewer house on Admiral’s Row.
He searches his brain for something else mindless and occupying to do, and he climbs back on his motorcycle.
Sunrise finds Steve, healed but still dirty, kneeling beside Bucky’s empty grave in Washington, DC.
It’s hard to be in New York with Bucky there too, somewhere, not wanting him.
Steve goes through the motions of being modern Steve Rogers — he trains with his team, attends social events, and fights the good fight whenever it comes to his city. He starts to befriend Kate and learns that her name is really Sharon. He visits with Peggy and manages not to end up at Bucky’s grave every time he goes to DC. He even volunteers to help with the planning of his museum exhibit when it becomes a travelling attraction and starts to move through major US cities.
For all appearances, he’s doing swimmingly. His friends and coworkers comment on his enthusiastic training regimen and his newfound love for Scandal. They try to introduce Steve to the guy they know in Accounting or Marketing or Munitions. They love his Ice Bucket Challenge video, and they all share their Pins with him when he reveals that he can sew just about anything.
But they don’t know about the Navy Yard — and they don’t know that Bucky is alive, well, and hiding from Steve.
He doesn’t know what he’ll do or say when they run into each other again, but they obviously will. It’s happened enough times in the past.
Or maybe Bucky won’t let it happen again. Maybe he’ll work — is working — to stay in Steve’s blind spot, to avoid another confrontation. Maybe he’ll stay away out of deference for Steve’s feelings, or maybe he’ll do it so Steve doesn’t cause a scene, plead his case, or reveal Bucky’s existence.
Steve won’t. If he sees Bucky again, he’ll leave it alone and be professional. That as much he knows — he’s done his breaking down, and he’s forced himself past it.
But that sure as hell doesn’t mean he’s doing swimmingly.
Bucky must be concerned enough about Steve’s reaction because he doesn’t materialize. One month passes, and then another, and there’s no sign of him. Steve drives himself to the edge looking for signs of Bucky without deliberately looking, but there’s nothing.
He doesn’t want to get in Bucky’s way like this, preventing him from moving freely for Steve’s sake. But he also doesn’t know how long he can live like this, looking without meaning to look at the edges of his vision, jeopardizing his safety and his team’s on missions by scouting the parameters for the Soldier — as a friend or a foe — and lying awake at night with the photograph of Bucky’s eyes on him and the knowledge that Bucky was in this room, in this bed, and he still wants to live a life completely devoid of Steve.
After two months, Steve admits defeat; it hurts too much, and he needs to get out of there. Not forever, and not by severing all ties. He’ll probably always end up back in Brooklyn, but he asks a shocked Coulson to scout some other opportunities for him.
His teammates look like he’s betrayed them when he turns his costume in for Sam to wear.
“Steve, we want to support you, but we need to understand. What. Happened?” Natasha asks.
Steve shakes his head and feels his throat clench. He doesn’t have the words in his vocabulary to explain how it’s impossible for him to be Captain America when his partner — not to mention his lover — has abandoned him.
He starts working for the international SHIELD branch of the United Nations World Security Council and gets the codename “Nomad.” The Kevlar-reinforced outfit they provide for him reminds him of his Cap outfit, only blue and gold. It has a cape which he immediately nixes, and a very deep V-neck, which he convinces his new handlers to forgo as a safety hazard. It’s completely impractical and inane to have his chest exposed and everything else covered in Kevlar.
There’s also a mask that reminds him of Vanya’s domino mask. He doesn’t wear it most of the time, because he’s already one of the most recognizable costumed fighters in the world. It doesn’t really matter if people know his identity.
Steve likes the work. He does it without counting the days, and when someone tells him that he’s been with them for a year, he thinks absently that it means he’s known Vanya more than half the time he’s been out of the ice.
He gets to save a lot of people and stop a lot of bad guys. It’s clear from this vantage point that the United States is grossly over-represented in terms of superheroes, but villains prey on innocent people all around the world. He never realized how unevenly distributed SHIELD’s resources were, and he thinks of asking some of his former teammates to join him in being based outside of the States.
It’s still difficult for his friends in New York to come to grips with the fact that Captain America is an expatriate, but he’s talked to them a few times, and they seem bewildered but happy to hear from him.
He doesn’t get a lot of time off, and when he does, he likes to travel around whatever country he’s stationed in. Occasionally he’ll drop off UN radar for a few days, and when that happens, his handlers know not to ask too many questions. Steve’s gradually hunting down the remnants of the Red Room in retribution for what they’ve done to Bucky and also Natasha, but the Red Room is already extremely splintered, and many key players have already been assassinated. Steve sometimes thinks he’s following in Bucky’s footsteps.
He’s sent to Mexico because one of the biggest Cartels there secures themselves some sort of super-villain body guard, and the authorities can’t do a thing to stop them. They’re expanding power and taking over towns faster than people can flee, and the first envoy from the Security Council comes back with a bullet centimeters away from her spinal cord.
It’s a warning shot, and a highly skilled one. The information on the Cartel’s bodyguard is shady, but it’s clearly someone they need to tread lightly around. So, Steve’s sent in when he finishes a mission in Malaysia.
He skirts the Cartel’s main compound, knocking out guards and avoiding the cameras. He hoists himself over the gates and lands on a cobblestone drive, drawing his Glock as he plants his feet. He feels eyes on him immediately, and looks up into the masked face of the killer bodyguard.
It’s Vanya. Steve wonders how he didn’t pick up on that in the briefings when the enemy was described to him. He used to consider himself a moderately intelligent man, but where Vanya is concerned, he’s an idiot.
Steve’s mission is to take down the Soldier at all costs, and the Soldier’s mission is to kill anyone who tries to get past the perimeter. They’re warily regarding each other from several yards away, each poised to attack.
They’ve never directly been pitted against each other like this; this is the first time they’re each other’s missions.
Steve obviously isn’t going to attack Vanya, but giving that up this early would be foolish, so he keeps his weapon up and his weight crouched.
They’re thirty feet apart, both standing on the drive. Steve scans the area but doesn’t pick up anyone else in the vicinity. He assumes that Vanya picked him up as soon as he came out of the jungle a mile away.
“The fuck are you wearing?” Vanya asks him after they’ve stared each other down.
“The fuck are you killing innocent people to protect crime lords?” Steve retorts.
“It’s a job,” Vanya says vaguely. He doesn’t sound emotionally invested in this conversation, so Steve stows his own feelings for the mission.
“You’re constantly taking shady jobs, and I know they pay well. What the hell do you need all this blood money for? You have three outfits,” Steve tells him. He holsters his weapon and moves forward.
Vanya doesn’t do the same. “Stay back, Captain,” Vanya warns him with as little emotion as he’s ever given away.
“It’s Nomad now,” Steve informs him.
“Yeah, I read that in the papers. It surprised me. You’re the most patriotic person I know.” And finally, a crack in his armor — he sneers at Steve, but it’s oddly warming.
“You don’t need to wear a flag, any flag, to do the right thing,” Steve tells him. “You’re doing the wrong thing. I don’t even think you know why.” He stops only a few feet from Vanya. The end of his a rifle is still pointing right at Steve’s Kevlar-covered heart. It won’t be enough to stop the bullet from a rifle like that, though.
“Stand down, Steve,” Vanya tells him, and he sounds like he’s pleading a little.
Steve steps up so that his chest’s touching the end of the rifle. “You can go ahead and shoot me, if fulfilling this contract is really that important to you,” Steve tells him baldly. He’s risking a lot for the belief that Bucky...Vanya...whoever it is behind the trigger won’t hurt him. And if he will...well, if Steve lives in a world where Vanya...Bucky will shoot him, then he’s probably not much for that world.
“Steve,” Vanya says, sound more irritated than anything else.
“Go ahead. Take the shot.”
“Steve.” He lowers the weapon, and then Steve thinks that Vanya’s changed his mind because a gunshot rings out and he feels the bruising force of a bullet hit him in the side. Luckily, the uniform stops this one.
He whips his head sideways to see a man standing across the courtyard, pointing a gun at him. Before Steve can duck to avoid the second shot, Vanya turns his rifle onto the Cartel guy and shoots him through the head.
Voices start to yell as the man bleeds on the bricks, and Vanya turns back to Steve.
“This is one hundred percent your fucking fault,” he gripes, and then he’s grabbing Steve’s arm and they’re running, the two of them, and dodging the bullets that start to rain down.
“¿Qué carajo estas haciendo?” a man yells as he steps in their path.
Vanya whips around to fire at two men who’ve appeared on the roof with machine guns, so Steve dodges the man’s knife and hits him in the back of the head. He looks up to see a jeep heading for them, and he reaches for the shield that isn’t there.
He pulls out his Glock instead and shoots the tires out, dodging bullets from the men in the keep as he runs toward them. He hears Vanya on his heels providing covering fire, and the world slots back into place with Bucky on his flank.
“¡Atrapa al guardaespaldas!” a voice announces over a PA system as Steve jumps onto the hood of the jeep and flips over the windshield to kick the driver and passenger unconscious. He grabs one of their guns so he can shoot with both hands.
“You know, if you hadn’t made the jeep undriveable, we could be flying out of here at 90 miles an hour,” Vanya gripes as he runs up along the side of the jeep.
Steve gets rid of the passenger and jumps down. There’s an alarm sounding now, and more people yelling and spilling out of the compound with guns.
“You’re telling me you don’t have an emergency exit?” Steve asks with a confident smile. He sees a well-aimed bullet glinting in the sunlight as it sails towards Vanya’s head, and Steve pushes him aside, so that the bullet glances off the GPS and scanner on his wrist.
“I might have something,” Vanya hedges as he sprints through the guarded checkpoint, firing his Sig-Sauer and shattering the glass guardbox. Whoever’s inside ducks down, wisely, and Steve leans over the edge of the box to pistolwhip the shoddy lookout.
They jump the outer gate and head for the treeline, bullets straining for their heels. Steve feels exhilarated as Vanya leads him to a nondescript brown car, and he helps Vanya brush off the branches and leaves deliberately hiding it before climbing inside and trusting.
“Another bridge burned,” Vanya mumbles as they find and follow the dirt road through the jungle.
Steve watches the rearview mirror for vehicles until long after they’re clear of the trees.
Vanya takes him to a shoddy hotel room one city over and starts scrambling to pack up his belongings.
It’s more of him than Steve’s ever seen: the rumpled bed where he’d slept the night before; the toothbrush sitting in a cup in the bathroom; the duffel bag of mostly black clothing and spare cartridges. Steve tries to be helpful and moves to the nightstand to pick up several phones and a tattered book. It’s got a Russian title and plain blue cover, which tells him nothing about its contents. It’s a little startling, however, that Bucky chooses reading material in Russian over English.
He opens the book to confirm that the text inside is in Russian, and the bookmark slips out onto the bed. It’s a picture of Steve and Bucky in uniform printed on plain computer paper, folded so that the picture is the only visible part. He looks at it for a second before Vanya shoves him, hard, and grabs the picture from his hands.
Without saying a word, Vanya throws the picture and the book into the duffel bag, but his eyes are expressive above the mask and Steve thinks he’s almost embarrassed.
“This really isn’t how I saw this mission going this morning,” Steve tells Vanya.
Vanya zips up the bag and tucks the remaining phones on the nightstand into his many pockets. “You need to get out of here,” he tells Steve gruffly. “You stopped me, which I’m guessing was your mission, so go.”
“Are you going to be in a lot of trouble for, well, shooting the people who gave you the contract?” Steve asks.
“Yes,” Vanya says with feeling.
“How much trouble?”
“A whole fucking lot. I need to lie low for a while,” Vanya growls.
But Steve’s still riding high off their escape and how they’d worked together to cover each other, and he feels bold. “Yeah, you should probably get off this continent.” Steve picks up the duffel bag before Vanya can, and walks out of the room ahead of him.
Vanya has a weapons case disguised as a guitar case, so he can’t make a grab for the duffel. “Give me my bag,” he growls dangerously.
“You know what’s a good place to lie low? Germany,” Steve offers. He waits for Vanya to bite.
“What the fuck’s in Germany?” Vanya asks after a grumpy minute of silence.
“Me. And a pretty sweet safe house,” Steve answers.
Vanya stares at him. “You live in Germany? Are you shitting me?” He starts out incredulous and is laughing by the end of the sentence.
Steve smiles at him and laughs along. “I know, right? It’s totally ironic. But it’s a lot different from the last time we were there,” he says as Vanya continues to cackle at him. “And it’s pretty cool. No one will think to look for you with the former Captain America in Berlin.”
They’re outside of the hotel now and Vanya pulls him into an alley. He’s no longer laughing.
“You know I can’t go with you, Steve,” Vanya says with that uncomfortably familiar tone. It’s sad and determined in equal measures.
“Why not? You couldn’t shoot me,” Steve reminds him.
“That’s different,” Vanya insists.
“Maybe. But things are different now than what they were a year ago. Much different from what they were seventy years ago. I just want to help you, as a friend.” He pauses and then adds. “I’ve missed you, as a friend.”
“What does that mean?” Vanya asks skeptically.
“Bucky and I managed to find a way to still be friends, best friends, apart from our feelings for each other. Vanya and I never did, but I think I’m ready to try with him.” Steve takes out his communicator and lets his thumb hover over the button which will bring his transport to him in minutes.
“Plus, if you don’t say yes, you’re never getting back your duffel,” he says with more confidence than he feels.
Vanya stares at him. “Is this a ploy to arrest me?” he asks.
“It wouldn’t be a very good one. You have the weapons, and I have your underwear,” Steve offers. Vanya finally cracks a smile — Steve can see it in his eyes. “When have you known me to actually take you in like I’m supposed to?” Steve adds, more serious.
Vanya’s eyes assess him over the mask, but finally, he nods. “Just for a few days. And just because I don’t have a safehouse in Germany,” he curtly outlines his terms. The impression of a smile hasn’t left his eyes, though.
Steve lets him stipulate whatever he wants, because it’s Bucky and he’s not pushing Steve away.
His handlers have a lot of questions for why he’s captured the Soldier instead of incapacitating him, and why he’s not restrained if he’s captured.
“Can we please be left alone?” Steve asks them, taking his seat on the plane.
Vanya stalks to the seat across from him and sits down. Steve arches an eyebrow in the agents’ direction, and they back off. Without a figure like Fury managing him now, Steve has a lot more autonomy than he’d ever had in the Avengers.
“Want to play chess?” he asks Vanya, and when he nods, Steve grabs his iPad and sets it up.
“Not what I thought you meant,” Vanya says wryly.
“Sorry, I don’t usually go into battle with a full chess set.” Steve was always better than Bucky at chess, and Vanya’s no prodigy, so he wins several games before Vanya wants to play something different.
Vanya’s very good at Words with Friends, but he gets angry when he’s only allowed to play English words.
When they get back to the safehouse where Steve’s been living for three months, Steve makes it clear that Vanya gets his own room and isn’t expected to share with Steve. Vanya goes to shower while Steve decides on macaroni and cheese for dinner, one of Bucky’s old favorites, but with the addition of all sorts of fancy cheeses they hadn’t been able to afford in the 30s.
Vanya pads out of the bathroom in soft black pants and a grey tank top, and Steve catches himself before his mouth starts watering by shoving a piece of cheese in his mouth.
But even better than the casual, comfortable clothes Steve’s never seen him wear before is the fact that he’s mask-less. This makes him look almost a little shy, and Steve smiles a friendly, platonic smile before stirring the cheese mixture on the stove.
“Have you heard anything from the Cartel?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Vanya answers simply.
“On a scale of one to ten, how worried about them should we be?” Steve asks, bracing himself for the answer.
“About point five.”
Steve turns back, surprised, and Vanya is grinning. “How much of that is fact, and how much is bravado?”
“Mostly all fact. They don’t have a presence anywhere outside of the Americas. And they don’t have anyone who can take me down,” Vanya brags.
“They have guns that could hurt you,” Steve points out.
“In a manner of speaking,” Vanya tells him.
Steve rolls his eyes. “If you’re not worried about them now that you’ve gotten out of Mexico, why’d you come with me?” He’d meant to tease Vanya, but he instantly realizes that it’s a bad idea. If Vanya doesn’t fully understand his own motivations to be with Steve, then Steve should definitely not be prodding at them.
But Vanya just shrugs. “Some asshole wouldn’t give me back my duffel.”
Steve laughs so hard that he has to put the spoon down, and while he’s laughing, Vanya steps into his space and kisses his open mouth.
The humor dies instantly, and Steve wraps his arms around Vanya and pulls him in, kissing him on the lips and all over his finally bare face. He almost puts a hand behind him on the burner when he tries to steady himself in the face of Vanya attacking his neck, and he leans against the sink instead of the stove without breaking contact with Vanya’s tongue.
He leans back a few minutes later and smiles nervously at Vanya.
“I really did just mean to be your friend,” he tells him.
Instantly, Vanya is out of his arms and several feet away. “Sorry,” he blurts, and Steve steps forward, pulling him into his arms again.
“I don’t mind, idiot. I just thought...I mean, you were pretty clear about why you didn’t want to be with me.”
It stings to say, but Vanya’s close enough to feel and smell, and he wonders if it’s even true anymore. It’s been over a year, coming up on a year and a half. Steve’s suddenly dying to know, but he fights for control before it spills out of him and spooks Vanya. “What do you want?” he asks when he’s given himself enough time for several overeager responses to cycle through his mind. “I’m up for whatever you want, but you’ve got to let me know what it is. You know you’ve always caught me off guard when you change the rules on me.”
“I want,” Vanya starts and then stops. He’s seemingly exercising as much caution as Steve is, but it’s maddening from this side. “I’ve been remembering more lately,” Vanya finally tells him. Steve’s core tenses.
“What have you been remembering?” he says slowly and what he hopes is encouragingly.
“I missed you for a while after we…well, I figured out that what I’m feeling as Vanya sometimes triggers memories from when I was feeling that way as Bucky.”
Steve nods. He’s done his research ever since he saw the SHIELD file, but he still doesn’t know enough about brainwashing to know if what Vanya is feeling is normal or good. He feels helpless standing in front of the man he loves, hearing him talk about it.
“And Bucky missed you a lot,” Vanya says. “He missed you when he went to war, but he also missed you when you were across the room from him and he wouldn't let himself go to you.”
Steve blinks and feels his eyes get hot. He’d never known for sure what Bucky was feeling back then, whether he was feeling anything like Steve felt when they weren’t together.
“So, I’m remembering how shitty he’d felt, and these pictures start coming back me. What he’d — I’d — been doing when I felt…when he felt like that. And I started to remember some things about the war and some things about Brooklyn.”
“Can you…do you remember the happy times, too?” Steve asks him, suddenly furious that the Red Room had taken all of Bucky’s beautiful memories and left only the dark ones in his head.
“Other stuff came back with those memories, and then other stuff came back with that. It’s like a chain; everything has to link to something else.”
“So yeah, I remember some of the good stuff.”
“How much?” Steve asks insensitively, but needing to know.
“I don’t think I remember much. I had a couple decades stored up in my head before I fell, right?”
Steve’s heart breaks. “You remember falling?” he asks in a whisper.
“Yeah, I do.” Vanya pushes his head forward into the crook of Steve’s neck and shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Steve tells him.
“Anyway, when you asked me to come with you, I just thought it’d maybe jog more things loose.”
“Is it helping?”
Vanya huffs against his neck. “I just got here.” He pulls his head back. “But yeah. I wasn’t planning on doing this with you, but I saw you making mac and cheese, and I’m kissing you just like that.”
“Does this mean you,” Steve starts, but Vanya physically puts a hand over his mouth to shush him.
“Maybe. I don’t know. Can I just spend some time with you, get my bearings around you as both Bucky and Vanya before you make me answer that?”
Steve kisses his temple and lets him go. “Of course. Just know that I don’t see you as two different people — at least, not anymore. Although, it would be great if you would tell me what name you actually want to be called.”
Vanya clearly arranges his mouth in the shape of a ‘V,’ and then stops. “Let’s try Bucky, just as an experiment,” he requests.
Steve grins at him and goes back to the stovetop where the milk is steaming.
They stay up late that night sitting on Bucky’s bed and talking. Bucky asks dozens of questions, some of them just for confirmation and some of them to fill an annoying gap in his memory. Steve is an expert at all things Bucky, and he’s happy to tell him what kinds of candy he liked and what his favorite songs had been each year.
They talk until Steve falls asleep next to him, his leg still on the floor next to the bed because he hadn’t wanted to crowd Bucky.
In the morning, Steve wakes up and the safe house is empty but for him.
He stomps around in an increasingly foul mood, looking in all the rooms to confirm this and eventually hurling a glass into the wall to vent a tiny part of his frustration.
“Dammit Bucky…Vanya,” he curses to the room. “Why do you always do this?”
He cleans up the glass shards, full of self-loathing for yet again letting this same man reel him in and toss him back. He makes all sorts of celibacy resolutions: he’s done, absolutely fucking done with Bucky-Vanya and his fickle ways. He is done having his heart broken by the same man over and over since 1933.
When he’s throwing the glass shards in the waste bin, he notices that there’s a piece of paper on the counter that wasn’t there last night. He almost chooses not to read it because he’s not interested in why Bucky’s bailing on him this time, but curiosity wins out and he runs his eyes over the words.
It reads: “Fury called me in — needed another sniper. Trying to maintain my good relations with him in case I want a permanent job. Sorry to run out on you — I know I’m a jerk — but I’ll be back in a week. Call me if you need me/want to bitch me out,” and below the text, there’s an international phone number.
Steve has never had any way to contact the Soldier before. It’s always been a whirlwind of running into each other and making plans in person, but he has in his hands a concrete way to get ahold of him any time he wants or needs.
Steve’s never been so floored by a series of numbers in his life.
He smiles as he punches them into his cell phone, thinking that maybe, this time, their story is going to end differently.