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Good Morning, Heartache, What's New?

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Prelude: Symphony 5 (III. Romanza)

- by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1943.

 

Oh hey, there it is. His old pal, pain. He didn't give it the slip after all. It's right behind his breastbone; a sucking void of fierce, burning hurt. Grief. Erskine was kind, and good, and now he's dead. The only man who believed in Steve, who wanted to give Steve a chance. The first person since Bucky to fight for him.

Steve looks up from Erskine’s body. He doesn't even remember that he's not five foot four anymore. He doesn't run after the spy because he's Captain America. He isn’t Captain America yet -- that doesn’t come until later. He runs after the spy because he's Steve Rogers.

Nothing that matters has changed.

 

1: Speak Low

Speak low when you speak, love
Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon
Speak low when you speak, love
Our moment is swift, like ships adrift, we're swept apart, too soon

- by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, 1943

 


 

I asked for an army and all I got was you.
You are not enough.

 


 

Steve hasn’t really had time to sketch since he started Basic, but he does now. It takes him a while to get the feel for it again. His hands are just the same -- he always had big hands for his frame, with long fingers. But now, the muscles underneath are stronger. He breaks a lot of pencils at first.

He draws the company -- Helen and Lucille and Grace and Gladys and all the other girls. He fills his sketchbook with their stretching, their warmup routines.  He sketches the complicated rigs that hold up the curtains, the curlicues of architectural detailing around the stages. He draws a lot of comics. Steve Monkey has a Captain America costume now. He tries not to make the comics too bitter and satirical. He’s gonna get to travel in a way he and Buck could only ever dream of, back in the day. He should be grateful. He’s gotta remember to be grateful.

Not that he’s gonna get to see the sights or anything. It’ll be mostly hotels and the back-ends of theaters, the occasional fancy party with Brandt -- but not until Steve gets some elocution lessons and learns to keep his mouth shut about things like labor unions and Jim Crow.

He’s got a real paycheck now, too. And since he’s living on Uncle Sam’s dime, he gets to send some money back to Winnie, just the way that Bucky does. There’s even some leftover. He gets a bank account, for cryin’ out loud.

He buys some watercolors with some of the cash leftover from his first paycheck and discovers that he still doesn’t quite have the feel for how the colors go together. He knows how to mix the paint, but his old tricks for faking his way through the color wheel -- they don’t work anymore. There are too many shades, and they all look strange to him. Beautiful, but different. He’s going to have to start from the ground up. Again.

 


 

I don't know if I can do this.

Nothing to it. Sell a few bonds,
bonds buy bullets, bullets kill
Nazis. Bing bang boom. You're
an American hero.

 


 

They start with troupe of about twenty girls plus Steve and Jimmy, the guy who plays Hitler. They're are the only guys in greasepaint, which makes them natural allies. They become actual friends after Steve accidentally does hit him one time. The punch knocks Jimmy out cold for real and sends his fake mustache flying all the way across the stage. They crack up about it later, and Steve buys him a drink. Turns out Jimmy's got a wife out in Queens and a heart condition that keeps him off the front lines. Steve can empathize with that.

Steve learns his lines. Turns out that, in the end, learning the words isn’t the problem. His memory is better than he remembers. He discovers, to his alarm, that he doesn’t need the cue cards in the end. After only one performance, the words are in his memory like they’re carved into stone. It occurs to him, with a thrill of anxiety, that he can remember every conversation he’s had since he got out of Stark’s machine. He can remember the exact sound that Hydra assassin made as he choked to death. He used to lose his keys in his coat pocket, but he can remember everything, now. With perfect clarity.

He tries not to think about it too much.

So learning his lines isn’t the problem. The problem is that Steve’s stiff as a board and awkward as anything. The director says he needs more “oomph” and that he should “come on like Gangbusters” and then they’ll be golden. Trouble is, Steve doesn’t know how to do any of that.

Jimmy does, though. He acts it out for Steve -- the confident smile, the swagger, the winks and the intonation. Eye contact. Stand tall. Look easy in your own skin. It’s a little weird to watch him doing that while still dressed up in his own costume, but it works. Steve discovers that he only needs to see something once, and then he can imitate it with terrifying accuracy.

Long story short: Steve Rogers learns how to be Captain America from Hitler.

 


 

It's just not how I pictured getting there.

The senator's got a lot
of pull up on the hill.
You play ball with us,
you'll be leading your
own platoon in no time.
Take the shield.

 


 

The original company of twenty something grows to forty something, and Steve learns all their names and faces without even trying. He discovers that he can sketch them in perfect detail, even if it’s been weeks since he saw them last. He can remember, with absurd accuracy, over forty chorus girls after only being introduced once.

He still can’t talk to them without tripping over his own feet, but he supposes there must be some constants in the universe. It’s almost reassuring, given all the other… changes.

No one had thought to warn him that health would bring its own… complications. He remembers laughing at Buck a lot, when they were sixteen, and Bucky couldn’t stop talking about girls, about fooling around, about sex. Like Bucky couldn’t think about anything else.

Well, Steve’s not laughing now.

Steve’s not sixteen, but for the first time in his damn life, he can jerk off without being vaguely worried that he’s gonna give himself a coronary. Not that that ever stopped him, but... Now he’s surrounded by beautiful, half-naked women almost all day, every day. He’s only human. He doesn’t give himself a coronary. He maybe gives himself a cramp.

 

And then there’s Carter.

God, Carter.

He dreams about her in her uniform. He dreams about her with that gun. He dreams about her red lips and the way she throws a punch and the way she looked at him after he jumped on the grenade, like he was the best thing she’d ever seen. He dreams about the way she looked at him when he came out of the machine. Her fingers, just brushing his chest. Jesus. 

He dreams about that day, back at Lehigh, when she found him with a bloodied nose and said: Who taught you to throw a punch? And then pulled him aside to show him how to take down someone twice your size. (He doesn’t need to do that anymore, probably. He hasn’t tried Bucky’s jab-jab-cross on anyone yet -- he’s not sure he wants to, he might take their head off.) But back when he was a skinny asthmatic, Agent Carter had taken him into the training room, and showed him how to redirect a punch into a throw, how to turn an opponent’s weight against them. And then she’d hitched up her skirt and shown him how to put a knee right into someone’s gut, hard enough to bring down a 200 pound boxer. He dreams about that: her army-issue skirt hitched up, a glimpse of the silky slip underneath, and the dark straps of a thigh holster against her creamy skin. 

But more than that, more than any of that, he dreams about her smirking at him from the front of an army jeep, looking like she could just eat him up. The feeling of the flag in his fingers, triumph in his chest, tipping his helmet back and feeling the smirk on his face. And Peggy Carter -- Agent Carter, looking at him, like skinny little nobody Steven Grant Rogers was someone she wanted to commandeer for her own personal use.

In his dreams, she does.

 

For a while, he thinks that maybe the serum sorted out his crooked desires along with his crooked spine. He doesn’t know what to think about that.

But then, when he's in Kansas, one of Bucky's letters catches up to him with a rare glimpse of life at the front; it turns out that the army, like show biz, is a lot of sitting around doing nothing, and Steve can almost feel Bucky sitting next to him, sprawled out and bored, smoking, maybe, head tipped back. He swears he can smell the Lucky Strikes and he misses Buck so much it's like a gut punch.

That night he dreams about his last night with Bucky, a heady what if scenario where Bucky leans in and presses a boozy kiss to Steve’s mouth, and pins him to the bed, and he’s all over Steve, holding him down and taking what he wants, like what he wants is Steve. Steve’s skinny chest and thin arms and stupid stuttering heart. His big, warm hands keep Steve still, his weight holds Steve down. Steve can’t move, can’t do anything but lie there and let Bucky have every inch of him. He doesn’t even know what he wants, exactly. He wants everything, he wants Bucky, he wants-- 

-- He wakes up. He’s panting and hard, staring at the ceiling of the motel room. Jimmy is snoring in the next bed and Steve feels awful, feels like the worst kind of pervert, but he can’t help it.

He gets out of bed, creeps into the bathroom, and locks the door behind him before he… takes care of himself. He closes his eyes and tries to recapture that feeling, that feeling of Bucky all over him, the smell of him… It doesn’t take long. He has to bite the meaty part of his hand to keep from crying out.

He can only really think about it after, when he’s coming down from the high of it, less wound-up. He steadies his breathing and turns on the taps to clean up.

He’s relieved. Not just because of… well. That. But despite everything, despite the fact that he knows it’s wrong, he’s relieved that he still wants Bucky like that. He feels guilty about feeling relieved but he feels guilty about most things. It’s not like he’s magically stopped being Catholic.

But God help him, the whole world is changed around him, he’s changed. He has to look hard to see any Steve Rogers at all in the mirror these days. Those are still his eyes, he’s pretty sure. That’s still his sour, frowning mouth. The little creases on his forehead, they haven’t changed. His heavy brows, his crooked nose. But it’s still surreal to see those familiar features slapped haphazardly above a broad jaw and even broader shoulders. He thinks his hair is more golden, but he can't be sure, because his eyes may look the same to other folks, but they don't see the same.

Wanting Bucky is something that has been a part of him since he was a teenager. He’s glad the serum didn’t take that away from him. He’s fiercely, defiantly glad about it, even if that is a bit twisted.

It doesn’t occur to him until he turns off the taps that, as usual, he was small in the dream. He usually is in his dreams, that’s normal. He was small, and Bucky had held him down on the bed.

Bucky wouldn’t be able to do that now, unless Steve let him.

He could hold Bucky down instead, he realizes, with an electric lurch in his guts.

Steve looks down at himself. “Oh come on,” he says, exasperated. 

 

After that, he wakes up from shameful dreams about Bucky just about as often as he wakes up from shameful dreams about Carter. It’s all just the same, really. He figures it’s not too much of a sin if he never acts on it. If anything, he almost feels more guilty for dreaming about Carter, because he should have more respect for her somehow. Bucky, he’s pretty sure, would shrug it off and not care too much, if Steve could find a way to tell him and make him understand. Bucky would probably laugh, and gently tease him, just to prove that it isn’t a big deal. There aren’t many boundaries left between them. They’ve known each other too long. Bucky would be nice about it, Steve thinks. He’d let Steve down easy.

But Carter -- Carter demands respect. Every inch of her, from her wide-planted feet to her squared shoulders to her red, red lips -- she radiates confidence like a sun radiates light. Steve envies her that confidence, like every inch of her is saying Don’t You Know Who I Am? with capital letters and everything, and all the while daring you to try something, just daring you and…

Heck. He’s head over heels for her, and he knows it. It’s admiration and desire and attraction and simply wanting to know her better, to get to know her -- it’s all bundled clumsily together and dumped into his lap like a squirming bag of puppies. It’s not exactly the same as how he feels about Bucky; he’s loved Bucky for so long that it’s a well-worn groove in his soul, a tune he’s always going to know, as familiar to him as the streets of Brooklyn. But the fluttering in his chest, the tight feeling he gets in his guts when he thinks about them -- either of ‘em… It’s just the same.

The most obvious difference is that he dreams about Carter in lurid, intimidating technicolor.

 


 

Cut! Guys, don’t look at the camera!

 


 

Now the Barneses are getting letters from him as well as Bucky. He could maybe get clearance to tell them some of what happened, but he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t know how to tell them that he’s Captain America now.

If he’s honest, he doesn’t want them to know about it. They are a little piece of normal in his life. He’s humiliating himself in front of a live audience three times a week, he doesn’t recognize the person in the mirror half the time, and even the cover of his old sketchbook is an overwhelming shade he’s never seen before. It’s green like Emerald City, green as the leaves on the trees, green as envy. The next one he buys is black, with a blue spine.

These days, he gives out smiles like they’re candy: big charming ones and aw-shucks-ma’am-bashful ones and soft, sincere ones but none of them are his. The only time he smiles like himself is when one of the Barneses’ letters catch up with him, sometimes with a letter from Bucky tucked inside.

Bucky knows that he’s doing work for the war, but like the Barneses, he thinks it’s propaganda work. That much is true. They know that it’s classified. That much is also true. They assume he’s doing art and design work, and he doesn’t tell them otherwise. If they think it’s weird that his work has got him traveling all over, they don’t say anything about it.

Bucky’s letters from the front are always slow to arrive, and they hardly say anything except maybe the odd funny story about the guys in his unit -- how some guy called Dugan lost his helmet and started wearing a bowler instead, or how they found this cat that won’t stop following Buck around, sleeping on his back while he’s waiting for a shot, pawing at the trigger guard when he’s cleaning his rifle, and mewling pitifully outside his tent when it rains. Reminds me of someone, Bucky says in one letter.

It seems like the men in Buck’s unit are real great guys, actually, and like maybe Bucky’s doing okay over there, and Steve...

Steve is so jealous he could spit, even though he hates himself for it. But he can’t help it. It all seems even more wrong now. Bucky’s over there, and Steve’s stuck here. Bucky didn’t even want to go to war. And now Steve’s got everything he ever wanted: he’s strong and healthy and he’s in the army, and he still can’t get to the front. The irony may kill him.

 

And then, one day, this:

 

Dear Steve,

Hope you’re okay, wherever you are, and that your work, whatever it is, is going well. Judith can stand on her own two feet now, though she sways like she’s been going at Bucky’s hooch. We haven’t gotten any more letters from him, but he said that he might be out of touch for a bit. We’re not worried.

We’re all busy as bees here in Brooklyn. Joanie and Susan are still working at the munitions factory. Becca’s job keeps her busy too, so I am spending a whole lot of quality time with my favorite grandbaby. There doesn’t seem to be time for anything that ain’t sleeping or eating or working anymore. I don’t know how long it’s been since we went to the pictures. But that’s fine. Just now, all that’s showing are Captain America movies, and George can’t stand them.

It’s starting to get cold here. I found a pair of gloves that looked like they might fit you, so I’m sending them along. Stay warm, Steven. We miss you like hell around here.

Yours,

Ma Barnes

 

Steve’s breath hitches in his chest. He reads the middle of the letter again, and again. All that’s showing are Captain America movies, and George can’t stand them. They must have seen the posters, of course they had. George can’t stand them. It must've been one of his stupid shorts -- those damn propaganda flicks they filmed in LA.

They hadn’t recognized him. But… of course they hadn't. He was wearing a mask, and the rest of him… well. Of course they hadn't recognized him.

He isn’t sure whether to be relieved or horrified. Perhaps he can be a little of both. He didn’t want his name out there -- he’d said as much when they started all this. Maybe if he gets to be a real soldier, he can be Captain Rogers, but he never wants his name attached to this farce.

He pulls out the gloves -- worn brown leather, carefully wrapped in newspaper, with lining inside. His hands are the same size they always were: big and long-fingered. An artist’s hands, his Ma had said. Like a puppy’s paws, Bucky had teased. He’s finally grown into them.

The gloves fit perfectly, and that eases some of the tight ache behind his breastbone. Some things are the same. Some things are still recognizably his.

He wears them for the rest of the tour.

 


 

He’s still wearing them when he finally gets back to New York, the company having swelled to almost a hundred girls, and him, and still Jimmy in his his fake mustache and exaggerated glare. Now, in the finale, Steve lifts a motorcycle over his head, and every time he does, he marvels at the strength of his new body, and how little good it does. Selling war bonds is fine, and he’d rather be doing that than doing nothing, but… he feels intensely helpless.

 

“You’re a New Yorker, aren't you, Steve?” says Bernadette-call-me-Bernie. She and Steve are out back of the theater, waiting. A lot of show biz is waiting, Steve has learned. The parking lot behind the theater is empty, and Bernie has been teaching Steve how to ride the motorcycle. Bernie joined the company in LA, and has never been to New York, and is getting advice from some of the veterans on what to do on her day off.

Steve cuts the engine and kicks out the stand. He thinks he’s got the hang of how to drive the thing now. He shrugs and nods. He got elocution lessons out in LA, his accent’s more or less gone now, but being back home again… Some of the new girls noticed the Brooklyn coming out.

“So? What’s worth seeing?”

Steve scratches the back of his head. He thinks of Brooklyn, of Flatbush Avenue, of the Barnes house out in Vinegar Hill. He thinks of Prospect Park and of going down to the river to sketch the bridge in the sunset. He thinks of Bucky’s shoulder bumping against his, and sitting out on a fire escape. “Dunno,” he says. “Statue of Liberty?”

“Yeah? What’s it like?”

He smiles and shrugs. “Well…”

She cottons on at once. “Hang on a minute. Captain America has never seen the Statue of Liberty?”  Bernie looks horrified. “Steven.”

“I’ve seen it. From. A distance.” He shrugs. “I always meant to go, but, I don’t know. It was always right there. Figured I could go another time. She’s not going anywhere, is she?”

Bernie puts a hand on her hip and smiles, slow and white and wide. “Well what do you say, sweetheart? You want to come with me?”

Steve feels his face going warm. Mostly, the girls seem to have agreed to keep their paws off Steve, seeing as how there’s, like, a hundred of them. (It makes Steve think of Orpheus, torn to shreds by his frustrated admirers, but Steve doesn’t like to think of himself as Orpheus. Not ever.) Still, sometimes one of the girls will decide to be bold, and Bernie, who rides motorcycles and smokes things that ain’t always cigarettes, is nothing if not bold.

Steve thinks of Carter. He thinks, irrationally, of bumping into Winnie, or Jeanie, or Susan, or Becca, or George. He thinks of Bucky, lying in a trench somewhere in Europe, in the mud, with bullets and bombs hitting the dirt all around him. “Can’t,” he says, which is not a lie. “Gotta meet with some muckity mucks in midtown that day,” which is technically accurate, even though the meeting wouldn’t stop him from having enough time to visit the Statue of Liberty with Bernadette-call-me-Bernie. “Sorry,” he says, which is just plain true.

She just shrugs one shoulder. “Ah well. Can’t blame a gal for trying.”

“Try Coney Island,” Steve suggests, with mischief. “The Cyclone’s a real blast.”

 

After the show, he’s sitting in his hotel room in New York, feeling absurdly homesick. He’s so close to Brooklyn, and yet so far away. He’s changed so much, he can’t go back. He thinks about going to see the Barneses, about telling them everything that’s happened, but…

Then he’d have to explain why he’s strong and healthy and not in Europe, fighting the Nazis and doing everything he can to keep Bucky safe.

He doesn’t think he could face them, like this.

 


 

He leaves New York with a fresh determination to get to Europe. He sells it hard to Brandt, to anyone who will listen. He should go overseas, he insists. Morale of the troops, he tells  them. Good for everyone, he says.

 

But then he actually gets there, and he doesn’t know what he’d imagined but… it wasn’t this.

He’d known, intellectually, but being there is something else. Seeing it is something else. And he feels like more of a fool than ever, more useless than ever. Men are dying here, leaving pieces of themselves in the mud and what is he doing? What good is he doing?

All the power in his shiny new body and still not able to help.

He can’t imagine feeling more useless than he does right now.

 

He’s wrong, of course.

 


 

I understand you're "America's New Hope?"

Bond sales take a ten percent
bump in every state I visit.

Is that Senator Brandt I hear?

At least he's got me doin' this.
Phillips would have had be stuck in lab.

 


 

 

“And these are your only two options? A lab rat or a dancing monkey?”

He follows her gaze to the open page of his sketchbook. He says nothing, because how is he supposed to explain himself? The only thing worse than feeling this helpless is feeling this helpless in front of her. “You were meant for more than this, you know?”

Her face is so earnest. Those big, beautiful eyes, those red lips, those dark brows lifted in just the faintest suggestion of a challenge. Christ. She believes in him. She believes in him.

She doesn’t know him, though. Meant for more than this? He wasn’t meant for anything. He was meant to die when he was a kid, when he was a teen, before he turned 25. He isn’t meant for anything. He’s alive in defiance of what he was meant for. He’s been given everything he ever dreamed of and he’s still the unluckiest bastard ever born.

Schlemiel, schlimazel, he hears, in Bucky’s voice, and it hits him like a punch right to the middle of his chest.

“What?” she says, gently challenging.

He wants to tell her, he thinks. He wants to make her see -- he wasn’t meant for this, he’s just making do. But he doesn’t know how to put it into words. The great irony of his existence. The feeling of it is too big. If this were Bucky, he'd make a joke. So he says: “You know for the longest time I dreamed about coming overseas and being on the front lines. Serving my country. I finally get everything I wanted, and I'm wearing tights.”

A van beeps behind them and they turn to look. It’s an ambulance, and suddenly Steve feels like the worst kind of ungrateful. Guilt is an air raid siren in his head. Quit feelin’ sorry for yourself, Rogers, what the fuck is wrong with you? He swallows, watching the stretchers being unloaded. “They look like they've been through hell.”

“These men more than most.”

He looks up at her, inquiring.

She sighs, like maybe she shouldn’t be telling him this, but… “Schmidt sent out a force to Azzano. Two hundred men went up against him and less than fifty returned. Your audience contained what was left of the one-oh-seventh--”

The rest of the sentence doesn’t even register.

Let it not be said that Steve is a man without priorities. He is a man who is full to the brim of priorities. His internal filing cabinet is packed with priorities, all neatly labeled and sorted, but…

If guilt is an air raid siren in Steve’s head, then Bucky is an actual air raid. His priorities? Vaporized. His guilt? Fled for the shelters. His loyalty, his duty, his dubious respect for chain of command? Nowhere to be found.

There’s just Bucky.

Or, more accurately, the explosion happening in Steve’s head, where Bucky should be.

“The one-oh-seventh?” Steve repeats. He needs to be sure. He needs to be sure.

She cocks her head, concerned. “What?”

 


 

You heard the Colonel,
your friend is most likely
dead.

You don't know that.

Even so, he's devising a
strategy. If he detects…

By the time he's done that,
it could be too late!

Steve!

You told me you thought
I was meant for more than this.
Did you mean that?

Every word.

 


 

It’s still an ongoing explosion in Steve’s head when they leave the camp. What if he’s dead? What if he’s hurt? What if--

Peg’s got some kind of portable radio, with a headset, and she’s having a loud conversation that’s half argument, half negotiation with whoever’s on the other end. He misses a fair bit of it, mostly because Bucky, but partially because he’s a bit nervous to be going AWOL like this. He keeps waiting for someone to stop them, but no one questions a man in a jeep, with captain’s insignia and an SSR hellcat in the back, swearing over the radio at some…

“Complete and utter prick,” Peggy mutters as she finishes the call. She turns off the portable radio and climbs over into the front seat. Steve has to work real hard not to look at her legs when she hitches up her skirt like that. She squirms a bit to settle herself and straighten her skirt out.

“Who is?” Steve asks, fixing his eyes back on the road.

“Our pilot,” she says. “Stay on this road, there’s an airstrip a few miles up ahead, he’ll meet us there.”

“You got us a pilot? Is that…”

“We’re not commandeering military resources. He’s a civilian. He’s just…” she sighs. “Mental. He’ll do it.”

Steve casts a glance at her. “For a price?” he guesses, by the sour twist to her mouth.

“Undoubtedly.”

“Agent Carter, I--”

“If you’re about to apologize or say something equally foolish let me remind you that you are atrocious at talking to women and would do better to keep your mouth shut.”

Steve closes his mouth. But after a moment, she sighs. “I'm sorry, that was cruel.”

“No crueler than me dragging you into this mess.” The guilt siren is starting up in his head again, on top of everything else.

“You didn’t drag me into anything,” she informs him primly. “But it’s adorable that you think you could.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He glances over at her, and catches her looking back, with that look like she gave him when he got the flag at Lehigh. He can feel heat creeping up the back of his neck.

She looks away. So does he. “Tell me about your friend. This fellow I’m throwing away my promising career for,” she says, light and bright. “He must be quite something.”

“He's…” Steve says, and for a moment he’s stymied by vocabulary. “He’s my best friend,” he says at last. “I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him.”

“He saved your life?” Peggy says, curious.

“Every damn day, from the time I was about twelve. Guy like me -- like I was, I mean, before all--” he waves a hand down at himself, “--this. I was...” He struggles again. “He was…” Bucky was an invitation to family dinner when Steve couldn’t afford food. Bucky was a hand pulling him back from trouble. Bucky was oxygen when Steve couldn’t breathe. “Bucky’s always had my back.”

The silence stretches out between them. “Bucky?” She says, at last, the single word full of gentle disbelief.

Steve laughs out loud. “James Buchanan,” he says. “There were eight kids called James on his block alone. Everyone got nicknames.”

“What was yours?”

Steve laughs. “Um. Mostly folks didn’t talk to me enough to need to call me anything. Bucky used to call me Stevie. Or Steve-o. Or Sunshine, I hated that.” Why is he telling her this? Why?

“My brother Michael used to call me Lady Lancelot,” she says. “I pretended to hate it.”

Steve looks over at her again, and she’s smiling at him, a bit sadly. He wants to ask more about this brother, but then the Jeep bounces and squeaks over a pothole and he looks back at the road. He’s not actually much of a driver. He had a coupla lessons driving that motorcycle around the parking lot, and a few times he helped the truck drivers moving set pieces, but driving a Jeep down a dirt track is real different.

“Lady Lancelot, huh?” Steve says.

“Mm. I was always pretending to be a knight in shining armor, saving the damsel in distress. Michael used to play at being the monster. Or Merlin. Whatever I needed to be the hero. Later, he helped me get a job at the SOE. Which led to me getting a job with MI5. Which led to this.” When he steals a look at her, she’s looking steadily at him, stony-hard and intent on his face.

Steve swallows, and almost crashes the Jeep again. He looks back at the road. “Agent Carter--”

“Please. We’re going AWOL together, you can call me Peggy.”

“Peggy. This is -- what you’re doing for me, I can’t thank you enough, but I hate to think of you getting into any kinda trouble on account of--”

“Steven, will you listen to what I’m telling you,” she says, exasperated. “I almost turned down that SOE job. Sometimes I wonder, if I hadn’t, if I’d started there earlier, gone farther and faster and refused to let anyone hold me back… Maybe I could’ve saved him.”

Steve’s breath catches. “Peggy--” he starts.

Then her small hand is gripping his forearm, surprisingly strong and tight. “I know what it’s like to lose someone -- to lose family. So I’m telling you now: Go farther. Go faster. Don’t let anyone hold you back. Especially not yourself.”

He looks over at her again, and thinks he’d like nothing better than to slam on the brakes, lean across the gearbox and kiss her right on her red, red lips. He doesn’t do it, of course, but he thinks about it. And she smiles back at him at him like she could eat him alive.

 


 

Who are you supposed to be?

I’m… Captain America.

… I beg your pardon?