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intertwined

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intertwined

o woe is me, for i have lived with and without you
o woe is me, for i have found no pity in the eyes of the world.
o woe is me
o woe
o
my love
i lived for you
how shall i live without
my lord my god do not ask this of me
do not ask that i exist without air to breathe,
without my heart to beat?
i have lived so long
alone and so tired
my heart is shattered
in a thousand bitter pieces
and i refuse to gather them up.
those pieces earned their jagged edges,
i earned my place beside you in the earth.
lord above be kind,
send me to my rest
send me to my love,
send me to where i may speak,
here dead men tell no tales,
o woe is me
my love.

 

intertwined: prelude

[january 10th, 1943, a small catholic church in brooklyn]

 

His hands were shaking. So were his knees and calves. His whole body was shaking. It was late, the sun had set long ago, it was much too late for him to be out on his own, slight and obviously a target for anyone brave enough to break the ten commandments on the doorstep of the house of God, but he was already almost there and he was determined.

 

The church was empty when he arrived, the hours of confession nearly over. The bells had just finished ringing the hour of midnight, for the parishioners to return home for a rest before another long day of work. Steve entered, shaking, unsure even what he was looking to gain in confessing, on his way not from, but to work. He already knew that when he left, he wouldn’t be going home. He could already feel the ants crawling over his skin where everything felt wrong in anticipation of everyone who would feel wrong.

 

Steve almost tripped over his feet walking to the booth, ducked inside and shut the door. He pressed the tips of his shaking fingers to his forehead, to his chest, crossing them over his shoulders. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was two weeks ago.”

 

“Good evening, Steven,” he was greeted, Father Elliot’s voice as thick and calming as ever. “Have you come to tell me what has been truly bothering you?”

 

“I have.”

 

There was no backing out now.

 

“Tell me, my son. Know that God has sent his Son to die for your sins, be they great or be they small.”

 

Steve swallowed, he had to say it, he had to confess, it was killing him and he had to be reassured that God wasn’t doing this to him intentionally. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, the Bible said. He whispered the verse under his breath.

 

“This is true, my child.”

 

“I have not remained steadfast, Father.”

 

“The Lord knows your sin. It is his wish that you admit it to your brothers upon this earth that you might find the courage to turn your back on it amongst us.”

 

“I am poor, Father,” he whispered. He had to say it. It was literally killing him, his health had deteriorated so quickly that he had barely a year or two left to live, and though he knew that the only way he would gain absolution that night would be to commit to dying even in the streets, he had to say it. Part of him hoped for it. “I cannot find a job and I cannot find a wife who could provide for me. I am an unbonded Omega, and I have committed –”

 

His voice broke. His throat felt tight, yet he swallowed, and with shaking words, he breathed out his true confession.

 

“I am a prostitute.”

 

There it was. His filthy sin, exposed for judgment. On the other side of the divide, Father Elliot was quiet. He went on, then his words became rushed, falling and stumbling over each other as they spilled from his lips, finally telling someone , and he felt no better for it. “I lost my job when my mother fell ill. I had no way to cover rent, to buy food and medicine. I hate it. Every morning, I go home and I try to scrub all the scent from my skin, and it’s never enough, I feel so disgusting all the time, but I can’t stop. I know that it’s wrong, that I’m betraying my –”

 

His voice cracked. He didn’t want to know what Bucky would say, think, or even look like if he ever found out. “– my Alpha, myself and God, but living on the street would kill me. It’s already killing me.”

 

Father Elliot was quiet. Steve had been coming to confessions with him for three months now. He had finally admitted the real reason he needed to confess to a priest far away from his own home, in a church built for segregation and parishioners who were all just as poor and wretched as him, except they were folks who had been born and raised to sing praise while their wretched backs were whipped by even more wretched men and they sang praise to that day, and he felt no better for it. In fact, he felt worse. He sang doubts.

 

“I’m dying and living in sin and I cannot stop,” he said brokenly.

 

“To confess, you must be remorseful for your sins, my child.”

 

“I know, I –”

 

“You must be willing to turn your back on your sin.”

 

“I wish that I could,” Steve said, “I wish that there was another way out, but every way I turn, there’s another door slammed in my face. I tried the Army, they’re desperate enough for men that they’re taking Omegas, but they wouldn’t take me, ‘cause I’m dying. Either this kills me or I starve to death on the streets.”

 

“Do you know truly that you have no other option? You have spoken of your Alpha before, but you do not look to her for help?”

 

He clenched his jaw and let his head fall back against the wall of the confessional booth. Another thing he had yet to confess, and wasn’t tonight the perfect night?

 

“I don’t know where he is,” he answered softly. “He doesn’t want me.”

 

He heard Father Elliot suck a breath in slowly.

 

“I guess that’s another part of me that is in sin,” he said, now feeling numb with his own words. “I don’t know what to do. I’d be evicted and starve to death if I stopped, and I don’t know where my Alpha is, and if I did, I couldn’t be with him. It’s not like he was ever really mine, anyway. I haven’t seen him in years. Ten years, actually. Ten years ago today was the last time I saw him. When he left me behind.”

 

“How can you know that this man is your Alpha, then, child?”

 

“I’ve never loved anyone else. I tried.”

 

He looked up at the candles sending faint light over the confessional, dappering over the gilded dividing screen between himself and Father Elliot, and felt broken. He’d felt broken since the day Bucky left him.

 

“I feel like God has turned his back on me,” he whispered.

 

“The Lord loves you, Steven.”

 

“Does he? Does he love me even though I’m prostituting myself to survive? Does he love me even though my Alpha is a man and I myself am one? Does he love me if he has given me no choice?”

 

“First Peter, chapter two, verse twenty. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

 

“I am not doing good, Father,” Steve said quietly.

 

“I know, child. I cannot assuage your doubts or your fears. As a shepherd, I must advise my flock where I can, but I cannot win all their battles for them.”

 

“You’re telling me I have to stop,” Steve said. He knew this would come, he had expected it, he had almost hoped for it. This was his final option, but it was one he could not take for himself, for what good would it do to end one sin by committing another?

 

“No.”

 

Steve lifted his head, mouth falling slack. “What?”

 

“From the book of Joshua. Listen, my child, to the word of the Lord,” Father Elliot whispered, voice soft and gentle as a lamb, then began to read. “ Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

 

He knew the passage. He knew the story. Yet, as Father Elliot read, Steve’s blood ran cold once more, he felt his breath hitching in his throat, and tears stung at his eyes.

 

The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land. But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

 

The tears threatened to fall, but as Steve listened, they remained clinging to his lashes, his breath coming in short, sharp, shuddering intakes. He didn’t know what to think.

 

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.

 

Where was Father Elliot going with this? He had come half-expecting to be told that yes, he must cease his actions, half-dreading, and half-hoping that perhaps the Church could force his hand where he trembled and he could spend the rest of his short, miserable life in the streets feeling remorseful so that when he died, and it would be sooner rather than later as it was now, and it wouldn’t be suicide.

 

Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land. So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way. Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.“Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

 

He had expected to be read passages from Paul warning against sexual immorality, from the book of James telling him he must rejoice for his suffering, but there he was, listening to the story of Rahab, and he did not understand. He heard Father Elliot’s Bible fall shut. A single tear slipped from his lashes, began its slow track down his cold and clammy cheek. He did not understand what Father Elliot could mean by this.

 

“This is the word of the Lord for the people of the Lord,” Father Elliot concluded.

 

“Thanks be to God,” Steve recited numbly.

 

“One day, my child,” Father Elliot murmured, “you will find the door you seek. The Lord used Rahab, and the Lord shall use you.”

 

He had come to either receive the penance of starvation to gain absolution or to be rejected, but to be told that God was going to use him? How could the Lord use him , a man that was kneeling in his own grave and praying to be forgiven for something he could not stop, that had been rejected already by so many, by the one person that really only mattered to him? How could the Lord use him?

 

“You will enter my booth one day, brother of Rahab, and you shall receive absolution. Today is not that day. You will be able to turn your back on your sin, one day.”

 

“Are you allowed to tell me this?” Steve mumbled.

 

“I have my own confessions, my child. I cannot in all good conscience tell you to let yourself die in the streets. I can promise you, though, you will one day endure, and it will be gracious in the sight of God.”

 

“What about Bucky?” Steve asked, voice hasty and mind flying. “My Alpha?”

 

“I confess to you, then,” Father Elliot whispered back, “that I believe if a male Omega were not meant to bear children, then they would not exist. And if a female Alpha were not meant to conceive them, they would not exist. The fact of the matter is, the marriage of a male Omega and a female Alpha is an infertile one, and God bade us to be fruitful.”

 

Steve exhaled. A tear slipped from his eye. He was a broken man, perhaps, who had lost God and all else, but Father Elliot sounded like he’d lost God once before, and if the most resolute priest of the Catholic Churches in Brooklyn had once lost and found God, then a young man ill and in sin could do the same.

 

“Thank you, Father.”

 

“God be with you, my son. With you and your Alpha. I shall pray that you find him soon.”

 

He blinked, the tears falling freely. A wild sensation that could have been hope, had it not been so long since he last felt such a thing, tightened his chest but did not impair his breathing, made his heart stutter but not hurt, filled him until he was choking with it. He rose from the bench, and realized that he was no longer shaking.

 

“Thank you, Father.”

 

As he slipped out, he heard Father Elliot whisper: “You shall be in my prayers forever, o brother of Rahab.”

 

He walked with numb but steady feet from the church, his mind racing with every step. He could not fathom how Father Elliot could have done such a thing, to not only fail to insist that he cease his work – and his stomach twisted to think of it as something so simple as a job – but to promise that, like Rahab, the Lord would find a way to use him and that this would not be the end? He didn’t even know if he believed it.

 

He wanted to go home. He wanted to turn towards the heart of the city, not towards the harbor, but the rent was due on Monday. He wanted to vomit, but there was nothing in his stomach to vomit up. As he neared the docks, he forced himself to straighten his back. His fingers did not shake as they undid a button or two at his throat. His face arranged itself into an alluring smirk. The rent was due, and he needed to buy food.

 

The Alphas who worked at the stockyards were leaving the bars as he set himself up in his corner of 8th and New Haven Street across from a dive that was always rowdy and always had plenty of drunk men looking for something to warm them up. Steve leaned against a brick wall, the cold seeping through his coat, let his head fall back and his hips cant outwards, and repressed the urge to vomit once more. A group of loud men in Navy uniforms stumbled out just after he arrived, arms around each other and singing a sea shanty off-key. Steve forced himself to smile at them and wave a hand almost shyly. They wolf-whistled. He wanted to run.

 

“Look at that sweet lil’ thing!” one of them shouted.

 

“Hey, how much for a BJ, sugar?” another yelled. “It’s Frankie’s birthday!” Maybe he’d said Freddy, Steve couldn’t hear clearly. He didn’t care.

 

“You ain’t paying no hooker to blow me, Vince!” the third Alpha complained.

 

He wanted to run home.

 

“Two dollars,” Steve called back instead. He was cheap, he knew it, they knew it, and they crowed in delight while he felt disgusting.

 

Two of the sailors shoved the third across the street, the one called Vince throwing a couple of bills in his face, shouted obscenities and go get him, tiger ’s as the Alpha crossed the street. Steve forced the smile to stay on his face as the man neared him, his shadowed face already looking hungry.

 

“Hey, sailor,” he said evenly and held out his hand.

 

The man laid two ones into his palm, which Steve shoved into the inside pocket of his coat. He beckoned, stepping behind a wall, and the man followed. He forced himself to keep the smile as the man leaned back, forced himself to kneel down, forced himself not to gag at the taste nor to wince at the hands in his hair that pulled too hard. He forced himself to stay on his knees until the man came, forced himself not to grimace at the hot spurt of semen in his face, forced himself to smile sweetly up at whatever this man’s name was, otherwise he’d not get a tip, forced himself to purr: “Did I do good?”

 

“Oh, yeah, dollface,” the man said and stroked his cheek with a thumb. Steve forced himself not to jerk back. “You did great.”

 

And he forced himself to smile bashfully, though he couldn’t force a blush, took one of the handkerchiefs from his pocket and wiped his face clean, then the man, and stood up. The sailor didn’t look at him as he walked away, and Steve managed a few paces before his stomach lurched and he retched up bile and the traces of spunk that had gone down his throat. He wiped his face again with a second handkerchief, threw a mint in his mouth, and walked back out to force himself to smile at every Alpha that walked by.

 

He’d collected 43 dollars by the time the bars closed, ran out of handkerchiefs about an hour before that, and had to resort to reusing some of the dried ones. The night was over, he’d done fairly well, and he was just doing the top button of his shirt up again when it happened.

 

It happened almost every night he worked inevitably. Someone had just the right shoulders or the right style of hair, the same kind of laugh or swore the same way, and he’d go stiff and turn around, ready to run even if it meant he’d lose out on another five dollars just to escape, though he never did. He always froze up, unable to move or breath until he caught sight of the face of whoever it was. His brain would scream at him to run, and he wouldn’t move. It was never him, though. Steve was just paranoid.

 

The bouncer from the bar threw the Alpha out with exceptional force so that the man landed on his face in the gutter, shouting about a lifetime ban. Steve looked up and lost his breath, frozen in place with his fingers pushing the button halfway through its hole, and in that instant was convinced that the man getting to his feet was Bucky.

 

“Aw, to hell with you!” the man shouted.

 

“Yeah, same to you, pal!”

 

The Alpha turned and locked eyes with Steve, who felt his blood run cold for a second, then his shoulders sagged in both relief and disappointment when he saw the profile of a hooked nose that most certainly wasn’t Bucky’s.

 

“What’re you looking at?” the man snapped.

 

“Nothing,” Steve said hastily.

 

The man squinted at him, then strode over. Steve took a step back and ran into the wall and the man crowded his space, stinking of liquor and – he began to tremble, frightened and the scent doubling his urge to vomit – the beginnings of rut.

 

“How much, sweetheart?” the man rasped.

 

“I don’t do that,” Steve tried. The man grabbed his arm and he winced.

 

“Not even a little?” the man mocked, putting out his bottom lip in an attempt of a pout.

 

“You got the wrong Omega –”

 

“Oh, sure, you stink like forty different guys and I got the wrong one.”

 

Steve tried to pull away and the man tightened his grip. “I said no!”

 

“C’mon, baby boy, just a taste –”

 

Steve brought his knee up and into the man’s balls; the man dropped him to bend double and wheeze. He knew he ought to book it, but the idea of breaking the man’s nose appealed more to him. He’d never learned to run from a fight, not even after Bucky had left.

 

So he brought his fist back, and for his trouble, had his wrist caught easily by the man, who leered at him now and straightened up.

 

“Didn’t your mama teach you manners, boy?” the man hissed, grabbing the other arm and trapping him against the wall; Steve turned his head away from the man’s breath and tried to squirm away, but couldn’t. “A nice Alpha wants to take care’a you, you let him!”

 

“Let me go!”

 

“I don’t think so,” the man sneered.

 

“Hey!”

 

The second the man’s grip loosened, Steve tore from under him and pelted down the street. He heard a sharp whistle of a policeman behind him and doubled his speed, turning down a corner and ducking through an old fence even as his lungs began to falter, his heart kicked painfully, his joints screamed in protest, until he couldn’t breathe and had to drop against a wall to gasp for air that burned on its way down.

 

The whistle sounded again and Steve tried to take another step, but collapsed, coughing, trying to inhale and failing. A gloved hand grabbed his arm and hauled him up, the copper wrinkling his nose already at the obvious layers of scent on him.

 

“Geez, kid, tell me you came from a party or somethin’,” the cop said, “I don’t wanna arrest you, too.”

 

“Sure,” Steve rasped, then coughed again. He knew he wasn’t going to fool anyone.

 

“What’s the matter with you?” the cop asked, shaking him. His bones rattled like glass and he went dizzy, his knees almost buckling under him.

 

“Lots,” he mumbled honestly.

 

“I check your pockets, I’m not gonna find lots of cash?”

 

“I’m a waiter,” Steve choked out. “Tips.”

 

“Sure, kid,” the copper said pityingly.

 

“Catered a party,” he tried again, “rich folks, lots of cologne.”

 

“Yeah, you definitely smell like rich people’s cologne,” the cop muttered. “You gonna file a statement on that guy?”

 

“You gonna arrest me if I do?” Steve asked. He could almost breathe now, with the cop holding him up.

 

“Yeah,” the cop said again, as if he were sorry for it. “You’re obviously not a waiter.”

 

Steve tugged his arm away. “No thanks,” he said, staggering a little as he walked off.

 

The cop looked at him with pity. “You got someone waitin’ on you, at least? I don’t feel right just letting you scram at this time of night.”

 

“Sure,” Steve lied again. “My Alpha’s waiting. I’m a waiter, remember?”

 

“Yeah, your Alpha, not your pimp,” the cop muttered. “Right, get out of here before my sergeant comes and arrests you himself.”

 

Steve didn’t need to be told twice. He tugged his coat around him and walked as fast as he could with the cold stinging his still heaving lungs, taking as many corners as he could until he felt sure he was far enough away.

 

Then he bent and vomited for the hundredth time that night, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and walked with shaking legs the rest of the way to his dingy two-room apartment downtown. He’d smelled plenty of Alphas starting their ruts, just ending them, even a few in the middle, had been pinned against walls just like he’d been that night before, luckily just to get away with a knee to the nuts or an elbow to the nose, but it never got any better. Every Alpha’s rut always nauseated and terrified him even more than the thought of Bucky finding him on a street corner with the top two buttons of his shirt undone, it was why he knew there was no real hope for him to find another Alpha. He’d been Bucky’s since he was fourteen years old or longer, and anyone else trying to take his place would only sicken him – already sickened him.

 

He stuffed the money under his bed then tugged off his clothes the second he got home. Naked and shivering and uncaring, he tugged a metal tub out from the pantry and filled it with water from the sink, dropped the clothes in and added soap. They reeked of other Alphas, and if he left them overnight he’d never get the smell out. He’d had to burn a few shirts because of that when he’d first started nearly two years ago. He scrubbed them against a washing board, dumped the water and refilled it, scrubbed, dumped, refilled, until he ached and hardly felt the cold and the clothes smelled like soap alone. He dumped the water again, rinsed them in the sink, and hung over the inactive radiator. He then got into the shower and started scrubbing at himself with soap mixed with salt to make his skin raw until the water ran cold and he had to get out or risk another bout of pneumonia.

 

Finally, Steve donned long underwear in layers, two pairs of wool socks, and turned back his blankets. He reverently pulled on the coat that Bucky had left in his mother’s house ten years ago before climbing into bed and curling under his many blankets. The coat had long lost its perfume, eventually taking on Steve’s own scent in place of Bucky’s. He shut his eyes and shut down his head.

 

Brother of Rahab , Father Elliot had called him. As he fell asleep, he dreamed of Nazis invading New York and an American spy with Bucky’s face hunting for a safe place to hide.

 

The next morning, he dressed and collected the cash stuffed under his bed in an old coffee tin. Rent was $35, and with the money he’d been planning to tithe, he had just enough to buy bread after it was paid. He took another shower, this one barely lukewarm, dressed, and put the money in an envelope to place under the super’s door. On his way to the grocery store, he passed an enlistment station.

 

ALL MEN ACCEPTED, BETAS AND OMEGAS INCLUDED , the sign said. The Lord used Rahab, and the Lord will use you , Father Elliot had said.

 

He went in. He used a false address, since his last four tries had been given a 4F, and after the cold-faced recruitment officer reviewed his file, they told him to go sit in a room and closed the curtain behind him. Steve sat on a medical examination table, and felt that wild sensation like hope spark in his chest.

 

A man in a crisp but humble suit entered, holding what was obviously his file.

 

“So,” the man said in thickly accented English, “you want to go overseas, kill some Nazis?”

 

Steve blinked. “‘Scuse me?”

 

“My name is Dr. Abraham Erskine,” the man said, inclining his head lightly to him. “Tell me, Herr Rogers, where are you from? Is it New Haven? Or Queens?”

 

The spark turned into ice.

 

“Five exams, in five different districts,” Dr. Erskine continued

 

“That might not be the right file,” Steve tried, his heart kicking in his chest again.

 

“Oh, it is not the exams I am interested in,” Dr. Erskine cut him off, flipping the file closed. “It’s the five tries. Your records show that you are ill, Herr Rogers, very ill, yet you try five times to join the Army?”

 

Steve said nothing. Like with Father Elliot, he did not understand where Dr. Erskine was going with this.

 

“But you did not answer my question,” Dr. Erskine went on, “do you want to kill Nazis?”

 

“Is this a test?” he asked instead of answering.

 

Dr. Erskine looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Yes,” he said without hesitation.

 

For a second, he said nothing. When he had first heard that the Army was taking male Omegas, he had tried immediately to enlist without even thinking about why. Then he’d been 4F’d and had tried again at the risk of arrest for falsifying information. He’d kept trying.

 

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” he said finally. “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”

 

“But why try again and again?” Dr. Erskine pressed.

 

“I’m sick, sure,” Steve admitted. “Dying, actually. I’d rather go out doing good than doing nothing.”

 

Dr. Erskine nodded. “There are already so many big men fighting,” he mused, then nodded again, as if he had made up his mind, and Steve resigned to being rejected once more when he added on, “maybe now what we need is a little guy.”

 

His mouth nearly fell open. Dr. Erskine turned away, opening the curtain and saying: “I can offer you a chance, only a chance.”

 

“I’ll take it!” Steve said quickly. This was the door, the door Father Elliot had promised him, this was his absolution, his way out of the streets, to finally do something good with his life before it was over. He’d take anything at that point.

 

“Good,” Dr. Erskine said, “now, where is the little guy from, actually?”

 

“Brooklyn.”

 

Dr. Erskine stamped his file and held it out to him. “Congratulations, soldier. Welcome to Project Rebirth.”

 

*

 

[march 4th, 1945, somewhere off the coast of greenland]

 

The radio went dead on him, but he’d said his goodbyes so it no longer mattered. The water was drawing ever nearer and Steve shut his eyes just as the plane broke through the ice.

 

The glass burst, water rushed in, and he began to pray.

 

“Heavenly Father above, into your hands, I commend my immortal soul.”

 

Ice and freezing cold water swirled around his ankles.

 

“Holy Mary, pray for me. Saint Joseph, pray for me. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.”

 

The cold rose to his knees, then.

 

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

 

The tears on his cheek were so hot they seared him.

 

“I lived in iniquity and never received absolution.”

 

His fingers burned in the cold, his body shaking violently as the water rose past his hips.

 

“I traded one sin for another, adultery for lies.”

 

The cold squeezed around his chest.

 

“Father, I ask only one thing. I lost everything, I’m giving up all I have left. If heaven’s gates are not for me, let me see my Alpha smile one last time.”

 

The water rose to his chin, and he crossed himself with fingers already gone numb.

 

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I pray for a soldier’s Last Rites.”

 

The cold swept over him at last, but he embraced the arms of death like an old friend. The ocean swept away his tears, he breathed in salt and ice, felt his lungs burn in a way they hadn’t since the serum, thought of Bucky and of Rahab. A nation saved, a love won and lost, a soul redeemed, perhaps. He would know soon, as his body cried out for oxygen, his mind screamed, his vision dimmed.

 

In the end, it was like falling asleep. He could pretend that the weight of the ice on his back was Bucky, or perhaps it really was and God had sent an angel to ease his last moments. Had Rahab been given an angel when she died? Had she ever received absolution? He could ask, one way or another, ask her herself. Ask her if she had hated it as much as he did. If there had been one person that made the feeling of cheapness and filth go away. If she had scrubbed her skin raw and hated what was left on it even after that.

 

He drowned slowly. It was so cold, he felt ice crystallizing on his skin. The need for oxygen was an intense and physical pain, but at the same time, all he could think was that he’d be seeing Bucky soon.

 

See him smile.

 

Holy Mary, pray for me…

 

Let his arms smooth away the ice growing in his bones.

 

Buck’s supposed to take me dancing…

 

He was still praying, that he would open his eyes to Bucky’s face.

 

“... and the crowd knows, with one swing o’ his bat, this fella’s capable of making it a brand new game again…”

 

Steve opened his eyes.

 

“Just an absolutely gorgeous day here at Ebbet’s Field…”

 

There were cars honking. The hiss of a bus braking.

 

“The Philly’s have managed to tie it up…”

 

He saw a fan spinning lazily. Plaster ceiling tiles.

 

“But the Dodgers have three men up…”

 

He sat up slowly. He was in a hospital room, the window open and a light breeze coming through it. He turned his face towards the window, and caught the scent of…

 

Nothing?

 

“Rieser hits the third!”

 

Rieser quit in 1942 to go to war.

 

“Here comes the relay, but they won’t get it!”

 

He looked up as the door to the room opened and a woman dressed in a military uniform stepped inside. Steve glanced back at the radio, playing the same game he’d gone to on the 25th of May four years ago, to the window that sent in a breeze that smelled like absolutely nothing, then back at the woman’s too-wide tie and dark red lips. The last woman he’d seen wearing lipstick that color had been a drag queen.

 

“Where am I?” he asked before she could speak.

 

“In a recovery room in New York,” the woman answered. She had a perfect accent, vague enough to be anywhere in the States. Her hair was done weird, too, she was wearing a man’s tie done in a full windsor instead of half, and he could see the lines of her bra under her dress shirt.

 

“Where am I, really?”

 

The woman smiled and laughed softly. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

 

Steve fixed her with a hard look. “The game,” he said, “it’s from May 1941. I know, ‘cause I was there.”

 

The woman’s smile faded. Steve rose from the bed they’d put him on and took three steps towards her, glaring all the while. She took a step back and tried to smile again.

 

“I’m gonna ask you again,” he growled, “where am I?”

 

“Captain Rogers, please –”

 

“Who are you?” he barked.

 

The door behind her burst open again and two – shit , two men in tac gear like HYDRA agents forced themselves into the room. The woman scrammed and Steve wasted no time in attacking. They barreled towards him and he jumped out of the way, planted a roundhouse into one and sent him flying into the second man. Both broke through the wall with the window and a hard steel floor appeared to catch them. Steve leapt out through the hole, spared a glance for the projected New York skyline lighting up his body, and ran for it. How HYDRA had gotten him and why the fuck he was still alive – he had drowned , he had died – he didn’t have a fucking clue. He aimed for exit doors, knocked into people and walls, left dents in the plaster in many places, and kept running. He heard a clear voice above him, projected from some sort of PA system, calling: “All S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, we have a code 13, repeat, we have a code 13.”

 

He burst through doors and flew out into a crowded street. Cars honked and the air stank of exhaust and sweat and a million different people, but he kept running, taking turns, ducking through alleys that started looking more and more familiar, until –

 

His run slowed to a walk in the middle of Times Square. What looked like Times Square. What perhaps once been Times Square. He stopped to spin slowly on the spot as he gawked up at the massive things affixed to buildings, the brightly colored images that moved , like picture films, but in color ?

 

Several big black – Were they cars? They didn’t look like cars? They looked like fucking spaceships straight out of the comics; several of them surrounded him and more men piled out, the same tac gear, the full face masks of HYDRA, only slightly different, bulkier now, less leather, more fabric. He stared around at them all. How was he supposed to fight his way out when they had rifles and there were civilians everywhere?

 

“At ease, soldier.”

 

Steve whipped around and came face to face with a man in a leather trench coat and an eye patch. He blinked several times. The man was black. HYDRA were Nazis, Nazis didn’t work with black men. Who the fuck were these guys?

 

The black man in the eye patch strode up to him while he contemplated what the hell was going on, with a determined gait and steady expression. Was Steve actually dead? Was this some kind of sick joke by God? Was this fucking purgatory, being chased down by some racially inclusive version of HYDRA?

 

He kind of wanted to scream.

 

“Look, I’m sorry about that little show back there,” the black man said. “But we thought it best to break it to you slowly.”

 

Steve very, very, very much wanted to scream. Where was the fucking hellfire and chains the nuns had all threatened him with? Was he just being forced to relive his life, but without Bucky and with colored moving pictures that didn’t seem to have projectors of any kind?

 

The black man was just staring at him. Steve wished he could wake up, because that would mean that this wasn’t real. Fuck .

 

“Break what?”

 

“You been asleep, Cap,” the black man answered.

 

Steve felt his breath catching in his chest. No, no, he was dead, he wasn’t asleep, he died, he was supposed to die and see Bucky again, no, no, no –

 

“For almost seventy years.”

 

No, no, no, no, this isn’t fair! I did my job, I finished the mission, I gave myself my own fucking Last Rites, I can’t – I didn’t –

 

[october 8th, 2011, times square]

 

It’s not fair…

 

“You gonna be okay?” the black man prompted.

 

Steve looked around in desperation. Times Square was lit up in color like a Christmas tree, seventy years in the future, and he wasn’t dead.

 

It’s not fair , he wanted to say. It’s never fucking fair and this is bullshit it’s just bullshit and I just wanted to see Bucky again I’m really never gonna see him again…

 

“Yeah,” he said after a few seconds. Dr. Erskine had told him about side effects. He’d told him about the changes to his scent, the change to his stature and frame, the infertility, not the immunity to alcohol, but he’d covered enough of the side effects. He swallowed through his tight throat. “It’s just…”

 

Erskine had never told him he wouldn’t be able to die.

 

“I had a date.”

Chapter Text

intertwined: dead men tell no tales

 

Steven Grant Rogers was born July 4th, 1918. On June 22nd, 1943, Captain America was born. Then, beginning in November of that same year, Captain America shone brighter than a thousand suns, but only for a time. In the middle of January of 1945, Steven Grant Rogers died.

 

Captain America lived on.

 

Steven Rogers was born to Joseph and Sarah Rogers. His father, an Alpha and Army officer, died in the line of duty in April of 1919. His mother, an Omega, served as a midwife at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. From birth, his family and any who saw him assumed he would be a Beta. He was small, skinny, and had too many medical conditions to count before the age of 10. His mother could barely afford to keep him healthy on her nurse’s salary and the remains of her husband’s pension. Neighbors would click their tongues and whisper softly “poor boy, bless his heart, it’d be easier on his poor mother if he just died already.” Sarah Rogers firmly ignored all of these whispers, and no one dared whisper in earshot of Steven himself.

 

In the brownstone to the left of the Rogers, James Buchanan Barnes, nicknamed Bucky, was born on March 10th, 1917 to George and Winifred Barnes. He had one younger sister, Rebecca, born August 17th of 1920. His father, also an Alpha, was a retired veteran of the United States Army, and after his retirement worked in a bank, eventually rising to the position of manager. His mother, an Omega, worked as a teaching aid until his birth, at which point she stepped down to be a full-time mother. Sarah Rogers and Winifred Barnes met by coincidence, and the week after Mrs. Barnes was watching over wee Steven Rogers while his mother continued to work, out of pity, the poor woman had just lost her Alpha. Two-year-old James Barnes had looked at the small form of the ten-month-old Steven, then at his mother and had asked: “Can we keep him?”

 

Their friendship was an abridged tale recorded in every text on American history, the classic team, the original bromance, friends who had each others’ backs through thick ‘n’ thin, but even the most in-depth text lacked great chunks of the story. It was assumed that when Captain America entered the Azzano and rescued the men of 107th, he and Sergeant Barnes had never met, and those who knew better are now dead. In truth, Bucky and Steve had known each other all their lives, had been each other’s only friends in school for years, where Bucky stayed beside the sickly and smaller boy as no one else would. Their friendship was immediate and long-lasting, it was as if the boys gravitated to each other. Not a soul even stopped to think about the way Bucky always ran to Steve’s aid in a fight, the way Steve sometimes looked to Bucky before he did anything, the way that when no one was looking, Steve leaned on Bucky’s shoulder and Bucky smiled at nothing. No one looked, at least, before Steve presented as an Omega rather than a Beta.

 

Bucky presented as an Alpha at the age of 14 when Steve was just 12, but no one was surprised by this. Nearly all the boys turned out Alpha, and those that didn’t, turned out Beta. Steve presenting as an Omega, however, was unexpected. There were very few male Omegas in even the country at that time, let alone Brooklyn. Steve was 14, and Bucky was 15. The unfortunate situation was that the two were in the Rogers’ home alone when Steve’s first heat began.

 

It was January of 1933, the 10th. Sarah Rogers was busy at work at the hospital, and Steve and Bucky were baking gingerbread cookies for the church potluck. The scent of the gingerbread was too similar to the scent of an Omega beginning heat, and neither of them had ever smelled such a thing before.

 


 

 

“You alright, Stevie?” Bucky asked for the third time in the past fifteen minutes.

 

“‘M fine,” Steve answered, but he was holding onto the counters with white knuckles as his head felt light and his knees were shaking. His speech was slowed and soft, slightly slurred with his woozy feeling.

 

“Maybe you should sit down,” Bucky suggested.

 

Steve shook his head. “We gotta get these done,” he said instead, then reached out and picked up an egg to crack it into the bowl, however, his knees half buckled under his weight as he leaned to the side and his hands went boneless for a moment and instead of cracking the egg into the bowl, it slipped from his hands to break over the counter. He hissed a very quiet curse and grabbed the counter again.

 

“Alright, I’m getting you a chair,” Bucky insisted, touching Steve’s shoulder gently as he took a step away from him. “Just, hang tight, alright?”

 

Steve mumbled something in response, but Bucky was already hurrying out of the kitchen to fetch a chair from the dining room. Steve was prone to dizzy spells, Bucky knew, they were usually mild and lead to nothing further, but they sometimes resulted in terrible headaches, and Bucky hated to see Steve upset. He lifted a chair and carried it carefully back into the kitchen, where Steve had turned to lean his back against the counter, still gripping it with both hands. Bucky set the chair in front of him, then held out a hand to Steve in case he needed help. Steve, of course, was a little shit and wouldn’t take help even if his life depended on it, and he simply dropped ungracefully into the chair. Bucky rolled his eyes and stepped back in front of him to stand in front of the counter and the gingerbread dough.

 

“Just, tell me what I’ve gotta do,” Bucky said, flexing his wrists and cracking his knuckles at the same time.

 

“Not that, you jerk, to start,” Steve grumbled, “it’s so gross!”

 

“Shuddup and tell me what to put in the bowl, punk,” Bucky retorted.

 

Steve rolled his eyes. Bucky stuck his tongue out at him. Steve snorted, breaking into a smile and Bucky did as well, feeling accomplished. “It needs one more egg,” his friend explained. “But wipe up the one I dropped first.”

 

“Right,” Bucky answered, reaching for a rag before glancing at him as he wiped up the spill. The dizziness ought to be passing soon, Bucky figured, but Steve still looked woozy. It was just as well that Bucky made him sit down when he did, Steve may have fainted on him if he’d stayed standing much longer.

 

“And the last batch will have to come out of the oven soon,” Steve added as Bucky cleaned up the mess of the broken egg. Bucky gave a nod, intent on transporting the egg and shell to the sink.

 

“What’s after the egg?” Bucky asked.

 

“The flour mixture,” Steve answered, mumbling again. Bucky glanced at him again, finding him leaning his head on the counter. “Don’t dump it all in like you did last time, or you’ll be wiping more flour off the ceiling.”

 

“Flour defies gravity,” Bucky defended himself. He carefully cracked a new egg over the bowl, then tossed the shell into the trash can and began mixing the egg in with a spoon. “Next thing you know, they’ll be using it to reach the moon.”

 

Steve snorted again and Bucky smiled to himself as he beat the egg into the batter. The kitchen smelled heavily of the gingerbread in the oven, and not for the first time, Bucky took in a deep breath just to enjoy the spicy smell of cinnamon and the sweet scent of vanilla. Maybe it was just him, but the gingerbread smelled a bit more intense than it had earlier, not that Bucky was complaining. It was probably the fact that he was making so much of the stuff. He carefully picked up the bowl of flour and spices, then started to gently tip it into the wet ingredients.

 

“Careful,” Steve warned.

 

“I got it, I got it,” Bucky protested. “Don’t you worry, doll,” he added teasingly, just to see Steve blush.

 

“How many times do I gotta tell you not to call me that?” he said, and Bucky just grinned to himself in triumph at the rosy tint of Steve’s cheeks, then spilled a little of the flour onto the counter and winced. Steve snorted again. “Yeah, you got it, Buck.”

 

“Shuddup,” Bucky grumbled, beginning to mix it in. In the corner of his eye, he saw Steve roll his neck. Bucky set aside the now empty flour bowl as he kept up his cautious stirring. Soon, the dough was completely mixed together, and Bucky put it into the icebox to rest.

 

“The first batch should be done now,” Steve said, still mumbling as if his dizziness hadn't gone down. Bucky shot him a glance of concern, but turned away to open the oven and check the first batch of gingerbread.

 

“They look good,” Bucky said. His nose was filled with the gingerbread smell, even when he glanced over to Steve. He felt a little lightheaded himself, bending over like he was to check the oven, so knelt down to keep the blood from rushing to his head.

 

“Mmkay,” was Steve's answer. Bucky frowned, worried, but grabbed pot holders and took the cookies out of the oven. When he straightened up again and looked back at Steve, his friend had shut his eyes and was leaning on the counter again. He was breathing a little harder than he ought to have been. Bucky set the cookies aside hastily and knelt down in front of Steve to take his wrist and check his pulse. He was alarmed at how rapid it felt, then reached out and pressed a palm to his forehead.

 

“I think you've got a fever,” Bucky said softly.

 

“‘S just the cookies,” Steve muttered. Bucky dropped his hand to check the clock. Steve's mother wouldn't be back from the hospital for another couple of hours. “‘S hot in here,” Steve said in a slurred voice.

 

“I'm pretty sure it's a fever,” Bucky said, and Steve shook his head, eyes squeezing shut. “Hey,” he said, worried even more now at Steve’s sudden fatigue, and gently reached out a hand to knock his finger on the underside of Steve’s chin so he’d open his eyes and look at him, “wake up, sweetheart, you feeling okay?” He wasn’t even teasing anymore, but couldn’t help the pet name slip in his concern. “Do you want to go lay down?”

 

“No,” Steve muttered. He raised a hand and rubbed at the side of his neck, his eyes still shut tightly. He scratched at his neck gently.

 

Bucky went very tense very quickly, sniffing the air carefully. He could smell something abruptly, something sweeter than the gingerbread, something intense and delicious. Steve scratched again, the smell intensified, and Bucky inhaled a sharp breath, trying to catch the scent and memorize it.

 

“Honest, I feel weird,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky’s eyes went very wide as Steve scratched once more at the nape of his neck and Bucky realized what was happening. They'd learned about this in school, what the symptoms were and what it would smell like. As Steve scratched at his neck, Bucky thought that it smelled so much sweeter than his teachers had said it would…

 

“Stop that,” Bucky snapped. Steve opened his eyes and dropped his hand from his neck, a frown forming on his lips. Bucky felt like his heart was about to beat its way out of his chest. He swallowed thickly, his eyes fixed on Steve's neck; he wanted to surge up and bury his face in the nape of Steve’s neck, wanted to lick and kiss his way up to Steve’s mouth, wanted to hear him gasp and wanted to pleasure him. Though this was nothing new, Bucky always had the desire to get into Steve’s space and get his mouth on him somewhere in the back of his head, he never felt it so strongly than he did with Steve’s sweet scent filling his nose. Steve had to be going into heat, even though they’d all thought he was a Beta, there was no other explanation for the alluring scent now pouring from him in intoxicating waves.

 

“‘S’matter?” Steve mumbled.

 

“You… can't do that,” Bucky answered. He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it before doing it again anyway. He swallowed again, trying to come up with words. It smelled heavenly, so delicious that he could have just lapped it up for the rest of time; Bucky shook himself, trying to regain control over his senses.

 

“It itches,” Steve whined, his eyes falling shut again as his voice rose in octaves. Bucky shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, then Steve scratched again.

 

Bucky snatched Steve’s hand away from his neck, holding it tightly to stop him from scratching, from releasing so many pheromones into the air. “What's the matter with you?” Steve asked, and Bucky couldn't answer him. He shouldn't have grabbed his hand, he realized, but was pulling Steve's fingers to his nose even as he did and breathing in deeply the sweet scent left under his nails by the scratching, his eyes fluttering shut as he felt his blood roaring in his ears and roaring low in his body. “Bucky?”

 

Bucky hastily pushed Steve's hand away from him and fell backward onto his rear, hitting the floor hard as he half panted for breath; he was hard, but that wasn’t just the smell of heat, it was Steve in front of him and smelling of heat. His head swam and his cock twitched with growing interest at the thoughts suddenly rushing through his mind, of kissing Steve hard and sweet, of making him moan and scream Bucky’s name, of burying himself to the hilt in him and marking Steve as his. Steve was blinking at him, obviously confused but not as worried as he should have been. Bucky shook his head again, trying to think straight.

 

“Bucky?” Steve whispered, his voice high and upset. Bucky sat up again and grabbed his hands again, squeezing them in an effort to comfort him. “I feel weird,” he said again. “You don't look good, either. Your pupils are all big.”

 

Bucky swallowed. Steve's eyes were wide, but he kept blinking, as if he couldn't keep them open. Bucky, on the other hand, felt very alert and awake, and very on edge.

 

“I think I should go,” he said carefully.

 

“No!” Steve said hastily, making Bucky lean in more and then recoil. “I want you to stay. You should stay. I feel strange.”

 

“I think,” he started, but Steve pulled one of his hands away and pressed it against his cheek. His eyes shut and he took a shuddering breath, the scent filling his nose as he instinctively leaned into Steve’s touch as his friend rubbed the inside of his wrist against his face, and nothing Bucky had ever seen was as arousing as Steve marking him with his scent, this was the stuff of his wet dreams, the sort of thing Bucky fantasized over and felt guilty about after. Then he pulled back, grabbing Steve's hand and pushing it away from him. “I have to go. I think you're going into heat.”

 

Steve frowned at him and shook his head. “Don't be dumb, Bucky,” he mumbled, his eyes avoiding Bucky’s face. “I'm Beta, aren't I?”

 

“Obviously not,” Bucky said snarkily, “I can smell it on you. It smells… Oh, god it smells…”

 

Steve's eyes opened again and Bucky had to gulp down another breath laced through with the smell of heat. His brain was screaming at him to get up, to get away before Steve’s heat triggered anything in him, but he couldn't bring himself to. The smell was getting stronger, Bucky’s heartbeat was getting more and more erratic in his chest, even as the warning claxons were going off in his head, panicking about what he'd been warned about in school, that the smell of heat could put an Alpha into a rut.

 

“Bucky,” Steve mumbled, “are you okay?”

 

“I, um, I think…” Bucky tried to speak, but his throat kept closing on him and he kept having to swallow heavily air that was getting sweeter by the second. He wanted so bad to drag Steve down onto the floor with him and see if he tasted just as good as he smelled. “I should go.”

 

“No,” Steve said, upset. He grabbed his hands again and pulled them to him, his eyes going closed as if just holding Bucky’s hands were giving him comfort.

 

Rationally, Bucky knew he had to leave, he could not stay around Steve in heat, Steve was just his friend , they were both boys and Steve wasn’t even fifteen, yet Steve’s expression of fear wouldn't let him walk away. But without thinking about what he was doing, Bucky straightened up and pulled his hands away, making Steve whine an unhappy noise, just to push his arms under his friend's legs and back. He lifted Steve up, cradling him, and Steve curled into his collar. He made a second noise, this one one of contentment rather than displeasure, and Bucky’s heart leapt in his chest. The smell was so much stronger now, as Bucky carried Steve to the living room and carefully laid him down on the sofa. He meant to stand up and back away, but he ended up dropping to his knees and giving in to the urge to bury his nose in Steve's neck and just breathe. The smell filled his brain, his stomach twisting in a good way, the feeling that he had to leave finally going away to be replaced by the need to keep close to Steve's side.

 

“Bucky,” Steve mumbled, and Bucky grabbed his hands to squeeze them. “You're too far.”

 

“I'm right here, sweetheart,” Bucky said, but Steve was right, he needed to be closer. He carefully joined Steve on the couch, pulling him into his chest tightly and locking his arms around him. He kissed Steve's temple and inhaled deeply the sweet scent of his heat.

 

“You smell good,” Steve whispered, his breath falling on Bucky’s clavicle and sending a shiver through his skin. Steve wormed even closer, his leg pushing at Bucky’s until he let him slip his knee between his thighs. “Bucky,” he mumbled, a general whine of discontentment, and Bucky kissed his hair again. Steve tilted his head up, exposing his neck, and grabbed Bucky’s mouth in a rough kiss.

 

Bucky hadn't ever kissed anyone before, and neither had Steve, though neither of them really cared about something as trivial as first kisses at that time. Bucky held a hand in Steve's hair, the other clamped tightly around his waist, while Steve clutched his shirt with balled fists. The kiss was intense and hot, triggering a primal need in Bucky that he hadn't even felt before. He broke the kiss to get at Steve’s neck, dragging his nose and cheeks down it to rub his own scent into him. Steve let out a quiet whine, but this only encouraged Bucky, who mouthed kisses down the side of his neck, until his mouth fell on the place where, just beneath the skin, Steve’s scent gland was. He lapped his tongue over it, drawing a delicious noise from Steve’s mouth. Steve's leg, trapped between Bucky’s thighs, pushed upward as he continued to whine needily.

 

And the claxons in his head went off again. Steve's leg pushed at his groin, which was sending jolts of delight through him with every movement, the noises, the scent Steve made. Bucky could tell that he was falling into a rut, and something in him screamed that he couldn't let this escalate, Steve was much too young to be in heat let alone to be around Bucky in a rut. He had to get away from Steve, he couldn't let this happen, he could hurt Steve or worse, what if he bit him, what if he bonded him? He wanted so bad to sink his teeth into the scent gland at Steve’s neck, to claim him, to make him his –

 

Bucky pushed Steve's leg away from him. Steve pushed back, but Bucky hastily got up from the couch. Steve followed, grabbing his shirt and kissing him again. Bucky reacted on instinct, putting his arms around him and letting his scent cling to Steve's skin, then tore away again.

 

“Bucky,” Steve whined. Bucky shook his head jerkily, as Steve put his arms around his neck and tried to kiss him again. Bucky caught sight of the stairs and thought suddenly of the doors that locked by keys and could only be unlocked by those keys on the second floor. His plan formed in about two seconds, and he grabbed Steve by the waist, lifting him up easily. Steve responded by wrapping his legs around Bucky’s hips and Bucky nearly lost his resolve, but the panic in him succeeded in surviving. He ran up the stairs, Steve's face buried in his neck, and went for the first door he saw. He dropped Steve, gently despite his haste, onto the floor of the bathroom, then darted away and snatched the key off the counter.

 

“Bucky!” Steve shouted as he slammed the door. Bucky heard his fists hit the other side of the door as he jammed the key into the lock and turned it. Steve shouted again, panic entering his own voice, and Bucky ran to the nearest window, which he opened, then tossed the key out. It hit the ground with a clatter before slipping through a drain, and a passerby paused to look up at him. Bucky panted, the fresh air cool on his face, until he saw the passerby sniffing the air, the man's face going slack as he evidently recognized the smell drifting from the window. Bucky bared his teeth at the man, then slammed the window shut. He ran down to check the front door, locking the deadbolt, then found himself drawn back up the stairs. The smell was so intense, his feet carrying him without direction to the bathroom door.

 

“Let me out!” Steve demanded. Bucky sank to the floor, his heart heavy in his chest. “Please, Bucky!”

 

“I can't!” Bucky said, pleading with himself or Steve, he couldn't tell. “I don't want to hurt you, Stevie.”

 

“You'd never hurt me,” Steve insisted, “Bucky, please, it hurts!”

 

“I'm sorry,” Bucky answered, and he meant it. “I threw the key out, it went down a drain.”

 

“Please!” Steve begged.

 

“I can't!” Bucky repeated. Steve started to cry and Bucky immediately wished he hadn't dropped the only key down a storm drain, he shouldn't have done it, he had to be there for Steve, he had to comfort him, but he'd gotten scared and panicked. “I'm sorry, sweetheart.”

 

“You don't care,” Steve suddenly shouted, making Bucky jump away from the door, not even aware he had been leaning toward it. “You coward!”

 

“I didn't want to hurt you!” Bucky tried to explain.

 

“It hurts now!” Steve snapped, and he started crying again. “Bucky, I need you.”

 

“I'm sorry, baby, I’m sorry!” Bucky tried, and Steve just continued to cry. He was pressing against the door again, his palm flat against it as his forehead rested on it. He was torn, rationally knowing he couldn't trust himself with the scent of heat in his mind, but also instinctively knowing that he shouldn't have left his Omega like this.

 

That thought didn't even fully register in his mind, otherwise, Bucky would have likely panicked even further over his mind already trying to call Steve his.

 

Steve kept crying, and several times Bucky almost told him to back away from the door so he could break it down. Every time he got the urge, though, Bucky forced himself to stand up and start pacing. Steve's mother would be back before long, he knew she could help them. He would pace for a few minutes, but each time, he ended up sitting by the door again. Perhaps an hour went by, maybe one and a half, and Steve's crying quieted. Bucky wasn't sure how he could tell, but he knew Steve had fallen asleep out of the sheer exhaustion. He felt terrible, every urge in him screaming profanities at him for leaving Steve in the first place, and there were moments when he couldn't even remind himself of why he couldn't be with Steve.

 

Bucky pressed his back to the door and let his head fall back on it. His whole body was trembling, from the strain of keeping himself in check, from the rut and the delicious, sweet scent of heat, his heart kept clenching and stinging, stabbing pangs hit his chest every few seconds, and to make everything worse, he had a painfully hard erection that the smell of heat wouldn't let go down. He didn't think he could sleep, but he must have passed out from the exhaustion.

 

“Bucky! Get up!”

 

Bucky woke with a jerk to the sharp, female voice hissing at him. He looked around, and found Steve's mother standing over him, her whole posture tense and the smell of both fear and anger radiating from her. He scrambled to his feet and she hastily backed away, her hands raising the bat he hadn't noticed before. She had to be terrified, then, if she was prepared to attack him with a baseball bat.

 

“Where is Steve?” she demanded.

 

He pointed to the bathroom. “I locked it. The key’s in the storm drain.”

 

Mrs. Rogers half dropped her bat, her face going from tense worry to confusion. “You – What? You locked him in the bathroom?”

 

Bucky nodded, slack-jawed to her pinched, confused expression.

 

“Before or after he went into heat?” Mrs. Rogers demanded. “Before you went into a rut?”

 

“After,” he said. “I shouldn't have done it, he was crying so much after I did, but I was scared that I would hurt him.”

 

Mrs. Rogers gaped at him. “How?” she whispered. “How did you manage to control yourself enough to do that?”

 

Bucky shook his head, mouth slightly open, eyebrows raised and pinched together. He was afraid and she knew it. Mrs. Rogers stared at him longer, then, cautiously, lowered her bat.

 

“Go home,” she said. “Shut the door. I'll lock you out.”

 

Bucky swallowed. He glanced at the bathroom, not wanting to stray far from Steve even if he couldn't be with him, while at the same time, understanding that he had to obey Steve’s mother, for Steve’s own safety. Mrs. Rogers raised the bat again. “Go!” she insisted, and Bucky took half a step back. Some other emotion, something vastly different from the worry he'd been swimming in for the past two hours, gripped his chest and forced him to not only reverse the step back but take another one closer to the bathroom.

 

“I can't leave him,” he insisted. Mrs. Rogers’ expression tensed and she bared her teeth, a sharp and angry growl coming from her throat. Bucky knew she was just trying to protect her child, but he reacted in kind, baring his own teeth and growling back, his instinct to protect his Omega too strong to back down. Mrs. Rogers eyes went wide and she almost backed away, then held out the bat again and pointed behind him, towards Steve's bedroom.

 

“Go in there, then,” she said. “I'll lock you in there.”

 

Bucky hesitated. His palms pressed flat against the bathroom door, his instinct telling him to stand his ground and keep close to Steve, but Mrs. Rogers brandished the bat once again and he snapped out of it. Bucky lowered his head and stepped away from the bathroom, walking quickly to the smaller bedroom on that floor. The room smelled distinctly of Steve, and though he was farther away now, he could still smell the heat, and his mouth abruptly watered as he realized his mistake; he shouldn’t have left his Omega. He turned around, fully intending to run back out, but just as he did, Mrs. Rogers shut the door with a snap and the lock clicked. Bucky ran up to it and slammed his fists against the wood, shouting something incoherent, but the door held firm, though he heard a yelp of fright come from Mrs. Rogers.

 

Bucky sagged against the door, panting suddenly, then shook his head and tried to pull away. He couldn't do it, he had to control himself. He looked around, then collapsed onto Steve's bed and inhaled deeply. It did nothing to ease the suddenly intense ache in him.

 

*

 

Sarah Rogers knew something was wrong before she even mounted the front step. There was a scent lingering on the door, on the other side of it, at least, that sent a flutter of fear rippling through her chest. She darted up the steps and inserted her key, only to have the door hold instead of open when she twisted the handle. This was the second clue, Steve never locked the deadbolt while she was at work. Sarah unlocked the bolt with shaking fingers and shoved the door open.

 

The scent hit her hard and she was left gasping. The first thing she could smell was a rutting Alpha, which sent her running towards the stairs, grabbing a bat from the kitchen before she registered the scent of an Omega in heat. As soon as she did, however, she froze in place while her heart lurched. Her son had been home alone with the neighbors’ boy, Bucky, and the smell of heat definitely wasn't coming from him. She’d suspected that her son would present as an Omega ever since he’d turned thirteen and hadn’t presented as a Beta already, but to start a heat now, Steve was only fourteen, he was much too young to be in heat, let alone to be exposed to a rutting Alpha while in heat.

 

Sarah ran up the last of the stairs, expecting the worse and finding –

 

Bucky curled up in front of the bathroom door alone?

 

She stared in shock for a long moment. The smell of a rut was rolling off of him in waves, intense and almost sickening to her nose to smell such a young Alpha in a rut, but the smell of heat was just as intense there. How could Bucky possibly be alone like this? She didn’t understand, all logic said that he ought to have fought his hardest to get as close to the Omega in heat, yet there he was, alone on the floor.

 

Sarah held her bat up cautiously, ready to defend herself if necessary. “Bucky!” she hissed. “Get up!”

 

Bucky stirred, then jumped to his feet; Sarah took an instinctive step back as Bucky looked around with wide eyes, then focused on her. Now that he was awake, she could smell fear on him as well as the rut; it was a combination that almost made her want to gag, the acrid tang of fear melding with the spicy and sharp scent of a rut to make a smell that reminded her of garbage, but she held firm.

 

“Where is Steve?” she snapped.

 

Bucky stared at her for a second, then raised an arm and pointed to the closed bathroom door. She gave it a glance, then looked back to Bucky when he spoke.

 

“I locked him in. The key’s in the storm drain.”

 

Sarah blinked. She almost lowered her bat, then remembered to bring it back up. “You – What?” she said, confused even more than she had when she found Bucky alone. “You locked him in the bathroom?”

 

Bucky gave a nod. He looked terrified, but she needed answers.

 

“Before or after he went into heat? Before you went into a rut?”

 

“After,” Bucky said, and Sarah nearly dropped the bat in sheer astonishment. “I shouldn't have done it,” he added, and he sounded guilty now, “he was crying so much after I did it, but I was scared that I would hurt him.”

 

Sarah stared with an open mouth at him, at this young Alpha, probably experiencing his first ever rut, and had no clue how he had even thought to do such a thing let alone achieve it.

 

“How? How did you manage to control yourself enough to do that?”

 

Bucky shook his head at her, his terrified expression growing as did the smell of fear in him. Sarah examined him, evaluating, then carefully, gingerly, she lowered her bat.

 

“Go home,” she told him. She wasn’t sure if it would work, but if she could manage to get him away, she would be able to attend to her son. “Shut the door. I'll lock you out.”

 

When Bucky didn’t move but to look at the bathroom door, Sarah raised the bat again. “Go!” she snapped, hoping that she could threaten him into leaving. The boy took a step back, his eyes still on the bathroom, but then tensed and stepped forward again, not towards the stairs like she had hoped, but towards the bathroom. Sarah held her bat out, ready to strike, but Bucky just pressed his back to the bathroom door.

 

“I can’t leave him,” he said, his voice low and dangerous.

 

Sarah gritted her teeth, then bared them and let out a growl, hoping that the combination of an angry Omega and heavy blunt object would get him to back down, but instead, Bucky just showed her his teeth and growled back, surprising her into taking half a step back. She glanced around, then held her bat out at arm's’ length and gestured towards her son’s bedroom. “Go in there, then. I’ll lock you in.”

 

She waited. Bucky didn’t move at first, so she shook the bat at him, and then he moved. The boy ducked his head, almost in shame, and moved quickly into Steve’s bedroom. Sarah followed behind him, and the second he had entered the room, she grabbed the key from the lock and swung the door shut. Just before it closed, Bucky turned around, expression suddenly hostile, and Sarah slammed it in his face, locking it as fast as she could.

 

The sound of a body slamming against the door and Bucky shouting caused her to jump backwards, letting out a sound of fright. She stood, frozen, for a moment, but Bucky didn’t hit the door or yell again. She heard, instead, the quiet groaning of bed springs, and let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

 

With the rutting Alpha locked safely away, Sarah turned her attention to the bathroom. Bucky had said he’d thrown the key down a storm drain, and Sarah supposed that he’d thrown it out a window first, but there were spare keys to all the doors in her room that neither Bucky nor her son knew about. Dropping the bat in the hallway, she darted into her bedroom and pulled open the nightstand drawer, grabbing the ring of keys hidden in the back and walking back out quickly to the bathroom. She pressed her ear to the door, listened for sound, then at the silence within carefully unlocked it.

 

Sarah let out a sigh of relief. Steve was curled up on the rug, asleep despite reeking of heat pheromones. She bent down to gently shake his shoulder, but as she did, she caught the scent of something other than the heat and her son. Her fists clenched and her jaw tightened, recognizing the smell of Alpha on her child. Bucky must have scented him before he managed to lock Steve in the bathroom. She felt the urge to lock the bathroom again, then go into Steve’s room and scream at Bucky or worse for daring to touch her child enough to leave his scent on him, though she knew Bucky probably hadn’t been able to help it, when Steve stirred.

 

“Hey,” she said, softly despite the feelings of anger in her. Steve looked around, then at her, then sat up quickly and tried to peer over her shoulder. “It’s okay, darling, it’s Ma, it’s just me.”

 

“Where’s Bucky?” Steve mumbled.

 

“He’s locked in your room, it’s alright,” she assured him. “I know you’re scared –”

 

“I want Bucky,” Steve said, cutting her off, and Sarah faltered. Steve’s eyes were wide and watering already, and there was no telling how much pain he was in. She almost wanted to let him go to Bucky, just to make him stop feeling the pain, but she knew that that was the worst possible thing she could do to him then. He was too young, with puberty barely starting, there was no way he’d be able to handle a rutting Alpha, even one as young and apparently with as much self-control as Bucky.

 

“You’re going to have to go to my room, darling,” Sarah said to him, but her son only shook his head and started to cry harder. “I’m sorry, I can’t let you go to him!”

 

“It hurts!” Steve shouted, sobbing full-on now, but he collapsed into her arms and let her hold him even still. Sarah made little shushing noises, petting his hair and holding him tightly to her, hoping that her scent might calm him as it did when he was little, but he kept crying. She could remember how much her first heat hurt, but she’d had hers at seventeen, not at fourteen, and she’d already known she would end up as an Omega and had been prepared for it. Sarah pressed a kiss to her son’s hair, trying to focus on the problem at hand. There was no way she could let him go to Bucky, which meant he would have to ride out the heat on his own. She could give him painkillers, maybe, or some mild sedatives, but there was nothing more she could do for him.

 

Then, as if to make matters worse, the sound of fists banging on doors came from down the hall. Sarah stiffened, her attention jerking away from Steve, and in that moment he jumped up and ran away from her.

 

“Steve!” she shouted, but he was already running out of the bathroom. She leapt to her feet and skidded out into the hall, where Steve was trying valiantly to open the locked bedroom door.

 

“Let me in!” Steve was shouting.

 

“It’s locked, I can’t!” came Bucky’s muffled voice.

 

Sarah ran forward and grabbed Steve around the middle, physically lifting him even as he kicked and strained, and Steve let out a scream that almost made her drop him. Then there was a roar from the other side of the door and the whole wall shook as Bucky slammed into the door once again. She had never done well with angry Alphas, but Sarah hauled Steve away to her room despite the fear coursing through her while Steve cried and Bucky yelled. She dropped Steve onto her bed, then practically ran out while Steve scrambled off the bed, getting to the door just as she shut and locked it.

 

“Ma, let me out, please!”

 

“Let me go to him!”

 

Sarah shook herself, the onslaught of heat and rut pheromones turning her stomach, and she ran down to the first floor, barely making it to the downstairs bathroom which didn’t reek of heat before she retched and emptied her stomach into the toilet. She could still hear the banging and crying from upstairs, as she sank down to the floor, and had no clue what she could do. She spent a long time, just sitting there, not even realizing that she was crying herself. Eventually, she got up, rinsed her mouth, and walked with shaking knees to the front door. She locked the deadbolt behind her, then walked to the house on the other side of the alley where the Barnes’ lived.

 

She knocked once. The door opened after a minute, and Winifred Barnes immediately wrinkled her nose.

 

“Good God, Sarah, what happened?” Winifred asked, ushering her in. “Was there an incident at the hospital?”

 

Sarah shook her head, swallowing dry air, and Winifred frowned, pausing in the foyer.

 

“What happened?” Winifred asked. “Sarah? You’re not–”

“Not me,” she said hastily, then swallowed again. “I could use some coffee. Or wine. You probably will want some too.”

 

Winifred frowned more, then her eyes went wide and she gasped, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. “James!” she hissed from behind her fingers. “Is he –”

 

“They’re separated,” Sarah said hastily and Winifred’s eyes went, if possible, even wider. “They’re locked in separate rooms. I don’t think James is strong enough to break down the door –”

 

“Who?” Winifred demanded. “Who triggered it?”

 

Sarah’s lip trembled. She hitched a breath, blinking tears out of her eyes, then rubbed at them with her hands. “Steve,” she said softly.

 

Winifred slowly lowered her hands. “But… He’s only… We thought he was… He’s not… Is he?”

 

Sarah didn’t answer, just shook her head and hiccuped. Winifred took her by the arms and lead her into the kitchen, where Bucky’s younger sister, Rebecca, was sat with some homework. Rebecca looked up, her eyes widening, as Sarah and Winifred entered the room.

 

“Go upstairs, Becca,” Winifred said.

 

“What’s wrong?” Rebecca asked, not moving.

 

“I said, go upstairs,” Winifred repeated. Rebecca glanced between her mother and Sarah, then grabbed her homework and ran up the back stairs.

 

Winifred pushed Sarah into a chair, then pulled out a bottle from a high cabinet and two glasses. She poured what Sarah now recognized as bourbon into both, then pushed one in front of her before sitting down as well. “Start at the beginning,” Winifred said quietly.

 

Sarah swallowed again, then lifted the glass and drained it in one. Winifred refilled it without question, and Sarah pulled it to her again.

 

“I’m amazed that nothing happened,” she said, and Winifred visibly relaxed before going tense again. “Both of them, they were already in the middle of it when I got home, but somehow, Bucky managed to lock Steve into the bathroom and throw away the key before his rut got too bad for him to control. I tried to send him home, but he refused to go too far away from Steve, so I put him in Steve’s room. He’s locked in. Steve’s in my room, now, and he’s locked in, too.”

 

She paused and took another gulp of bourbon. Winifred didn’t say anything. “Before I put him in my room, though,” she whispered, “he was asleep in the bathroom. I woke him up, and he immediately began crying. He wanted Bucky, and when he started crying, Bucky started banging on the door to be let out. Then Steve ran out of the bathroom and tried to get into Bucky’s room, and when I grabbed him, Bucky… He let out this yell, it was horrible, Winnie. I never thought someone so young could let out such a sound,” Sarah paused, let out a shuddering breath, then looked Winifred in the eye and said, her voice trembling: “I almost unlocked the door and let Steve go to him, I was so frightened.”

 

Winifred pressed a hand over her mouth, her eyes tearing up. Sarah dropped her gaze to her glass of bourbon, then picked it up and drained it again. She stared at the now empty glass for a second, trying to find the right words to go on.

 

“When I found them, when I told Bucky to leave and he didn’t, I challenged him, threatened him, Winnie,” she said. “But he just challenged me back, as if I was threatening Steve, as if…”

 

She didn’t want to finish. Her child was too young for anyone to be thinking like that about him, not even his best friend. Winifred picked up her glass with a shaking hand and downed it as well.

 

“They’ve been friends their whole lives,” Winifred whispered. “That might explain it.”

 

“But they’ve never,” Sarah began, then backtracked. “I’ve never seen them behave… Like they… Have you?”

 

Winifred shook her head. “Bucky’s been protective of him, but I always thought it was because he’s so small and sickly.”

 

Sarah dropped her head into her hands, letting out a choked sob. “What’s this going to do to my baby?” she gasped. “He’s too young for a heat! Winnie, what if this is what does it? What if he can’t take it, what if it kills him?”

 

“Now, Sarah,” Winifred said firmly, grabbing her hands and pressing a palm to her cheek, “you listen to me. Your boy is one of the most stubborn and persistent children I’ve ever met.”

 

“You know how much the first heats hurts until you’re with your Alpha,” Sarah choked out. “But he’s so young, I’m afraid it would be so much worse if I let him!”

 

“You cannot let them,” Winifred stressed, shaking Sarah’s head a little to punctuate her point. “I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can allow my son to have an Omega at this age, especially not – I don’t know how you feel about it, but I don’t like the idea of a male Alpha with a male Omega, and it’s certainly not going to happen to my child today.”

 

“What do I do?” Sarah hissed. “I don’t dare go near Bucky again until this is over, but I don’t know how he’s going to cope with this on his own! He’s never been in a rut before, has he?”

 

Winifred shook her head. “I don’t like the thought of it any more than you do,” she said gravely, “but we’ll just have to let them wait it out.”

 

“That could take days!” Sarah gasped. “Before I was bonded with Joseph, my heats could last up to four days at a time!”

 

“There’s nothing else to be done,” Winifred insisted. “It’s not like there are suppressants for Omegas that young, and there aren’t any that can stop a heat once it’s already started.”

 

Sarah choked up again, pressing a hand over her mouth to hold back a sob. Winifred sighed and pulled her into a hug, gently stroking her hair as Sarah began to shake, crying into her shoulder. This was worse than her worst fear: She would have to intentionally leave her son to his pain until it was all over, and have no clue what it would do to his health afterwards. He’d just gotten over a bad case of pneumonia, not two weeks earlier, his immune system was highly compromised. And what if she couldn’t get him to eat, or drink? Before she’d started suppressants, before she’d bonded Joseph and given birth, she’d never been able to think of food or water while in heat, only of finding an Alpha and satiating herself. Not to mention Bucky, how was she going to manage to force him to eat or drink if every time she neared the door he roared like he had done when Steve cried out like that? It had taken everything in her not to just run away, to allow the Alpha to have what he wanted, to make her baby stop crying.

 

“It’ll be alright,” Winifred whispered.

 

Sarah only cried more. Winifred continued to rock her gently, stroking her hair and whispering gently to her, trying to comfort her like she would her own child, but Sarah’s fears of losing her son were extensive and wouldn’t be calmed easily. After a while, the front door opened again and Sarah straightened up, ceasing her sobbing to listen.

 

“Winnie, little loves, I’m home!” came a shout from the front of the house. Sarah stiffened; the smell of an Alpha so soon after her fright with Bucky a distinctly off-putting scent. George Barnes came into the kitchen, wearing a smile that immediately dropped when he saw Sarah’s tear-streaked face, the bottle of bourbon, and Winifred’s guarded expression. “What’s going on?” he asked.

 

“Steve presented,” Winifred said quietly.

 

George set down his briefcase, his own expression suspicious. “That’s usually a thing for celebration,” he said cautiously.

 

“He’s an Omega,” Winifred added.

 

Sarah burst into tears again and collapsed into Winifred’s arms, while George looked between the two of them, worry growing in him while Winifred tried to calm their neighbor. It was then that George noticed Rebecca sitting at the top of the stairs; he waved a hand at her with a sharp look, and she ran hastily out of sight. It occurred to him that Bucky ought to have been eavesdropping as well, if Rebecca was, and if Sarah Rogers was so worried about Steve’s presenting that she was in his kitchen and sobbing so much, then Bucky ought to be stamping around demanding something be done for his best friend. If he wasn’t in the kitchen making a fuss and he wasn’t eavesdropping, then…

 

George looked slowly to his Omega. “Where’s our son?” he asked quietly.

 

“Locked in Steve’s room,” Winifred said. “Steve’s locked in his mother’s room.”

 

George felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. He gaped at her, half not breathing, then looked around and took a step closer to the table. He smelt alcohol on his Omega and Sarah, but he could also smell something else on his neighbor. Something sweet and something sharp.

 

“Bucky’s in a rut?” he guessed. “Because Steve’s in heat?”

 

Winifred nodded. She was stroking Sarah’s hair, whose sobbing had only doubled.

 

“But Steve’s only fourteen!” George spluttered. “He’s too young!”

 

Winifred nodded again, her eyebrows high. Sarah’s sobs only continued, as George dropped into a chair, mumbling a quiet: “Oh.”

 

Winifred raised her eyebrows pointedly. George stared into nothing. Steve was already a very frail child, but obviously, Sarah was worried that the strain of a heat would kill him. Her fears were completely justified; just last year, a girl down the street experienced her first heat at 15, and the combination of fever and her inability to eat killed her. George glanced up at the stairs, and was relieved to see that Rebecca was definitely gone, instead of continuing to eavesdrop. His instincts urged him to comfort Sarah, to stop the sound of an Omega crying, but when he raised his hand to touch her back, Winifred’s eyes flashed and she shook her head. George dropped his hand, slouching in his seat. He looked away, then at the bourbon, then grabbed the glass closer to Winifred, refilled it, and downed it himself.

 

Sarah’s sobs faded to hiccups after a while. Winifred refilled her glass, and Sarah drank it gratefully before wiping her nose on a sleeve and rubbing the tears off her face. She glanced at him, then back at Winifred, her face and expression downcast.

 

“What are we going to do?” George asked.

 

“We’re going to wait it out,” Winifred answered. “I’d say we’d have to take Bucky home, but from what Sarah told me, that might make everything worse.”

 

“He’s not –” George started, and Winifred raised her eyebrows. He let out a groan. “Great,” he muttered, “he’s attached to him.”

 

Winifred raised her eyebrows again, and George realized that once Sarah was gone, he and his Omega would be having a very long, very serious discussion about this, but for the time being, it was tabled.

 

“I’ll go and stay over there,” Winifred announced, “so you can still go to work, Sarah.”

 

Sarah nodded, mumbling a thank you under her breath.

 

“After all, Bucky’s less likely to try and challenge me to get at Steve,” Winifred added, and George looked up sharply. “Which he did to Sarah, earlier.”

 

George exhaled heavily. Yes, they would be having a very serious discussion later.

 

“Should I come?” George asked. “I know the smell of any Omega other than Winnie in heat doesn’t affect me; his might even turn my stomach, he’s so young.”

 

Sarah shook her head. “I’ve seen what happens when a rutting Alpha is faced with another Alpha trying to keep them from what they want. It’s not a good idea.”

 

George nodded, half dropping his gaze. Sarah was a nurse, he’d take her word for it.

 

“I’ll see if I can get some nutritional pills for them,” he said instead, offering since he suspected Sarah couldn’t afford them, “so it won’t be as hard for you to get them to eat.”

 

“Thank you,” Sarah mumbled, and he gave her a soft smile. She didn’t meet his eye, so he pushed his chair a little further back. What had Bucky done, he wondered, if Sarah was nervous around him, her neighbor and friend for the past thirteen years?

 

“I should go check on them,” Sarah said, standing and visibly bracing herself. George rose as well, though did not approach her.

 

“We’ll be over with those pills later,” Winifred promised, and Sarah gave a nod. She turned, and left the kitchen, leaving behind the faint scent of panic. George looked at Winifred, whose stoic demeanor dropped and she darted around the table to throw her arms around him.

 

“It’ll be fine, Winnie,” he tried to assure her. “They’re locked in separate rooms, remember?”

 

“Oh, but what if they get out?” Winifred hissed into his shirt. “What if they get together, George? I don’t want my son with another boy, even if he is an Omega!”

 

George bit his tongue. Winifred was old-fashioned, sometimes, but over these things, she was really old-fashioned. He’d seen plenty of it during his days in the army, had even seen Alphas ride out their ruts with other Alphas, and while he didn’t like the idea of Bucky and Steve together, it was due to Steve’s age, not their shared gender; if Steve really was an Omega, then what did it matter?

 

“George, Sarah said Bucky was acting territorial!” Winifred added. “Territorial! And over-protective! As if Steve was his Omega!”

 

“Steve isn’t his Omega,” George assured her, “it’s just his first rut, his first time being exposed to a heat. When it dies down, everything will go back to normal.”

 

Winifred pulled back. “Like hell it will,” she snapped. “What happens the next time Steve ends up in heat? You and I both know that there’s no suppressants safe for Omegas under sixteen, and it’ll be another two years before Steve’s old enough to take them! Who knows what’ll happen if Bucky’s near him again the next time, or the time after that? I don’t want them seeing each other anymore!”

“Well, I’m sure we can find a way –”

 

“I think we should move,” Winifred said bluntly.

 

George gaped down at her. Winifred’s eyes and tone were completely serious. “Is that strictly necessary?”

 

“It’s the only way to guarantee it!” Winifred insisted. “You can take that transfer the bank’s been trying to get you to accept, we’ll move across town, have him change schools, keep him away from Steve.”

 

George couldn’t think of a response for a very long time. He searched Winifred’s face, but found nothing but genuine sincerity and worry there. Eventually, he swallowed and nodded.

 

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll move.”

 

*

 

It lasted three days. Sarah spent most of it on the couch on the first floor, earplugs stoppering her ears and though they managed to block out the majority of her son’s crying and pleading, they did nothing to keep out the occasional and frightening roars that came from Bucky. Winifred had offered to watch them so she could go to work, but there was no way Sarah could have been able to focus on her duties with her son in such a state, and in the end, Winifred didn’t end up coming other than to bring packs of nutritional supplements for the two boys.

 

Sarah was usually successful at getting Steve to drink water and take the pills, but when it came to Bucky, she left the pills and several bottles of water just inside the door only after warning him to back away. She’d caught a glimpse of him, sitting with his back to Steve’s bed, breathing heavily and shaking, and for a moment, she’d hesitated, then Bucky had looked up with this expression of resentment and she’d quickly shut the door. She didn’t cope well with angry Alphas.

 

Steve cried the entire time. Eventually, she was forced to just give him painkillers and sedatives with his nutritional supplements and hope that his fever wouldn’t reach critical levels. By the third day, he was exhausted enough that he just collapsed once the adrenaline from the heat wore out.

 

He survived, though, and that was what mattered to Sarah. She called Winifred to come and get her son, and she waited with her outside the door for the smell of his rut to fade. Once it did, Sarah unlocked the door and let her enter, then helped her carry Bucky out and back to their house. She was so relieved that her son was fine, she didn’t notice that the house was packed in boxes. She’d gone home and put Steve in his own room, where, half-unconscious, her son curled up into a tight ball on his bed, which she did notice still smelled heavily of Bucky. Exhausted herself, Sarah returned to her own room, stripped the bed, thrown the blankets aside to be washed or just plain burned, and then collapsed onto the couch again.

 

She woke up the next day to the sound of men shouting. Sarah slipped off the couch and parted the curtains in the kitchen window, looking out to find the source. There was a large truck outside the Barnes’s house, already nearly full with boxes. George and Winifred were outside, talking with some of the men, while the rest loaded boxes and furniture into the back of the truck. Watching it, Sarah’s blood ran cold. She ran upstairs just to make sure that her son was still asleep, then dressed and went outside.

 

Winifred spotted her and waved half-heartedly. Undaunted, Sarah strode up to them.

 

“What’s going on?” she asked.

 

“We’re moving,” Winifred said simply.

 

Sarah narrowed her eyes, her lips pressing into a thin line. “That’s obvious. What for?”

 

Winifred straightened her shoulders, matching her hostile stance, while behind her, George shook his head and turned away. “We’ve decided it’s in the best interest of the boys to keep them separate.”

 

Sarah’s eyebrows shot up. “You’ve decided? Have you even spoken to your son?”

 

“Sarah, I expect you’re just exhausted, when you’ve rested, you’ll realize that it wouldn’t be safe for them to remain friends.”

 

“Why the hell not?” Sarah burst out, making Winifred take half a step back before squaring her shoulders and glaring back at her. “You can’t seriously think that what happened is going to wreck their relationship beyond repair?”

 

“That’s not what we’re concerned about,” Winifred replied coldly, her eyebrows drawn tightly together as she spoke. “It’s in the best interest of your son’s safety if we keep Bucky away from him.”

 

“The hell it is,” Sarah snapped, “I know how to keep an Omega in heat safe, I’ve been doing it in hospitals for the past twenty years, and nothing Bucky could do to get at Steve the next time this happens would work.”

 

“Obviously you had a hard time managing it this time,” Winifred snapped, “or else you would have been able to just drag him home by the ear and then they wouldn’t have had to spend so much time soaking up each other’s scents!”

 

“You’re not worried about my son, Winifred Elizabeth Barnes, you’re worried yours has fallen for mine!” Sarah accused.

 

Winifred narrowed her eyes. “I am working in the best interests of –”

 

“Your son was in no danger,” Sarah cut her off, “and my son was only in danger because of his age. Their genders and whether or not they’re attracted to each other posed no harm to either of them, and letting Bucky stay in Steve’s room probably kept him saner than if I’d sent him home to wallow in his own smell!”

 

“I don’t want it happening again!” Winifred hissed.

 

“It won’t!”

 

“Because we’re moving!”

Sarah jammed a finger into Winifred’s chest, causing her to stumble, but before she could retort, George turned back to her with an angry look and took a step forward. She faltered, backing up, and Winifred crossed her arms over her chest, glaring.

 

“It’s better for both of them if they never see each other again,” Winifred declared.

 

Sarah clenched her jaw. She wished she could appeal to George, she knew he wasn’t as prejudiced as Winifred was, but now she’d threatened his Omega’s space, she knew there was no hope he might side with her, if there had been any to begin with. She could only think of Steve, of the way he’d curled up to soak in Bucky’s scent even once his heat had ended, and exhaled a heavy breath.

 

“You can think that,” she said, “but I promise you, I won’t stand in either boy’s way if they try to find each other again, and I can almost guarantee you, Bucky’s going to try and make his way back here one day.”

 

“Be that way, Sarah,” Winifred snapped. “Fortunately, we’re not stupid. We’ll make sure they never see each other again, I promise.”

 

Sarah bared her teeth in anger, then whipped around before Winifred could respond. She stormed back into her house, slamming the door behind her.

 

Steve was standing at the base of the stairs, hugging himself. He was wrapped in a jacket that Sarah hadn’t even realized that Bucky had left behind.

 

“What’s going on?” Steve muttered.

 

Sarah’s frame deflated completely. She moved forward and pulled him into a tight hug, and though at first he was stiff, her son relaxed into her embrace after a moment.

 

“This isn’t going to be easy,” she said quietly, and Steve stiffened again. “And I wish it wasn’t this way.”

 

Steve pulled back. “What’s going on?” he repeated, more forcefully this time.

 

“The Barnes’s are moving away,” she said, and Steve blinked, confused. “George’s job is making him transfer,” she lied hastily, “I’m sure Bucky meant to tell you, but he just didn’t have time.”

 

“He would have told me!” Steve insisted.

 

“They only found out a little while ago,” Sarah lied. “I’m sorry.”

 

Steve pulled away from her and started for the door, but stopped to cough and wheeze. Sarah grabbed the inhaler from the kitchen counter and fed it to him, rubbing his back. She heard an engine in the distance, several muffled voices, and the cough of an exhaust pipe as the truck took off. Steve sagged against her chest, his breath ragged, and clutched the jacket he was wearing about him tighter. Sarah kissed the top of his head, and hoped that somehow, Winnifred was just overreacting and Steve wasn’t losing his Alpha as well as his best friend.

 


 

 

The unfortunate situation was unfortunate in ways the history books could never conceive of even with the truth of how Rogers and Barnes really met. The world believed Captain America to be an Alpha, and so, the unfortunate boys who were separated to prevent the inevitable were forgotten. Captain America was lost to the ice on March the fourth of 1945, and with that, he became legend. He was mourned. He was immortalized. Stories were told and songs were sung, of the bravest Alpha, Captain America, and his band of strong men, the Howling Commandos. Steven Grant Rogers, however, faded, merely a footnote in historical texts reminding those who bothered to look that Captain America was once human just as they.

 

In a world that was set in its ways, no one wanted to hear about Steven Grant Rogers, the skinny, sickly Omega who never fully recovered from his first premature heat. They wanted to hear how Captain America overcame his weaknesses of his youth to become the Alpha who saved their nation. No one wanted to know the story of two souls God designed to align being separated and then returned only to be torn asunder once more. They talked of the chaste fondness between Captain America and Peggy Carter, a beautiful Omega who little Omegas everywhere could look up to. Especially, no one wanted to know that when no one was looking, Captain America sagged, and the arms that caught him were not of a pretty, Omega girl. No, the world wanted someone to look up to, someone they could paint and adjust the light until they were a person so devoid of human weakness and emotion that they weren’t anything more than a figurehead on an unattainable pedestal. They wanted a person they could nudge their young boys towards, say look see Captain America didn’t cry when he got hurt , point their daughters to, say Captain America would have never wanted an Omega who was bold , and Steven Grant Rogers was not that man. He was still the kid from Brooklyn who loved and lost, who did things out of desperation that horrified even him, who went to war with the intention of dying for his country before he died for his sins, who found a hope and watched it slip from his fingers and then couldn’t grieve until the lights were all out.

 

Steven Grant Rogers died in January of 1945 when he watched his Alpha fall from a train high in the air, and the world liked it that way. He was filed away into history, propaganda replacing actual records, everyone and anyone who did know took the knowledge to their graves, and even the greatest spies in the world could only assume the lies were true.

 

Yet, when Captain America was fished from the depths of seas off the coast of Greenland, it was still the case that no one wanted Steven Grant Rogers. Only Carter was still alive then, and by that time, years and her age had locked the truth so deeply into her mind that she couldn't speak of it if she wanted to. The world wanted Captain America. So Steven Grant Rogers remained dead, and on October 8th, 2011, Captain America was revived into a hollow man; barely a man, barely a living, breathing thing, Captain America was a ghost, empty and worn where once he gave light to any who would take it. Captain America was a ghost with lips stitched shut by threads made of film reels and war bond sales, silent and demure like he’d been taught to be as a boy but interpreted as strength. Silent, where his fists shook and his head bowed, silent, where history took liberties with his life and his love. Silent, because dead men tell no tales.

 

In the future, however, there are hollow men and women walking down the street every day. There are ghosts that get up in the morning, go to work, eat and drink, smoke and have vices of many kinds, that go to bed at night and awake the next morning still ghosts. There are people who love these ghosts, and there are enough people who care to drown out those still shouting that Alphas don’t cry. There are people trained to recognize the ghosts, to take their hands and lead them through doorways instead of walls. These people know well that ghosts can be anyone, even Captain America.

 

*

[the first words exchanged between captain america and sergeant barnes according to CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE HOWLING COMMANDOS assorted media.]

 

“Golly,” Sergeant Barnes gasped, in awe and starstruck by the super soldier they’d all been reading about, “you’re Captain America!”

 

“And you’re about to get blown up,” Captain America told the Sergeant as he unstrapped him from the table. “Come on, soldier, your men are waiting for you!”

 

[... though not the first words per se, this meeting was a little different]

 

“Bucky,” Captain America breathed.

 

Sergeant Barnes’s eyes fluttered open as Captain America hastened to release the restraints. He released the strap over his shoulders and Sergeant Barnes’ head turned, eyes glazed over, to squint at him.

 

“Is that…?” he mumbled the incomplete question.

 

“It’s me, it’s Steve,” Captain America answered.

 

“Steve,” Sergeant Barnes whispered, the corner of his lip curling up. “Hey, doll. I’m dreamin.’ That’s nice. You come to save me, Stevie?”

 

“You’re not dreaming. Come on, get up,” Captain America told him, tugging on his arms. Sergeant Barnes went, swinging his legs off the table, then he half collapsed into the captain's arms and his smile was replaced by a confused frown as first he looked at Captain America’s sternum, before lifting his head and gaze up and frowning even more. Captain America touched his face, then gripped his shoulder, searching him for injuries and finding scars littering his exposed skin.

 

“I thought you were dead,” he whispered.

 

“I thought you were smaller,” Sergeant Barnes muttered back.

 

*

[september 17th, 2014, the national mall]

 

It had been a normal morning, for about fifteen minutes. Sam Wilson got up, cracked his back, his neck, shook out his shoulders, and took a piss. He got ready for his run, heading out to the Lincoln Memorial to run laps around the pool just as dawn was slipping over the horizon, staining the sky pink. He liked it best when no one was around, it was easier for him to relax, to enjoy the simple act of breathing, running in a safe place.

 

On his third lap, he heard footsteps. Fast ones. Another time, Sam would have tensed up and looked over his shoulder, but he’d gotten better.

 

“On your left.”

 

A blur of a blonde white man went by on his left. Sam raised one eyebrow, wondering who decided to sprint at dawn. As he watched, the man rounded the corner, maintaining his speed, then reached the halfway point at the pool, and actually went around the other bend just as Sam was approaching the first corner. He shook his head, figuring the man would slow down, when, as he was turning the next corner:

“On your left.”

 

“Uh-huh,” he huffed. “On my left. Got it.”

 

Who did this white boy think he was, anyway, Sam thought, watching him round the corner and sprint on. The eighth time he heard the footsteps, behind him, though, he was getting a little bit fed up with it.

 

“Don’t say it,” he warned, “don’t say it, don’t –”

 

“On your left!”

 

He didn’t even sound out of breath!

 

“Come on!”

 

Sam wasn’t the most competitive guy, left that to Alphas usually, feeling comfortable in his position as one of the stereotypical chill and calming Betas, but the other runner had done at least ten miles, and he said “On your left” every single time, as if Sam couldn’t hear his footfalls going 90 miles an hour behind him. He put in a burst of speed, but he’d been going for almost half an hour already, and it didn’t last long. More like ten seconds.

 

“Dammit,” he hissed between pants, coming to a gradual stop. He collapsed beneath the shade of a tree, breathing heavily and feeling like he’d been run over by something. Probably this other guy.

 

Speak of the devil. Sam looked up, squinting a little, as the other runner came to a gentle stop in front of him. Maybe the sun was in his eyes, he thought, but this guy looked a helluva a lot like Captain America.

 

“Need a medic?”

 

Sam chuckled, squinting some more. “I need a new set of lungs,” he said. Definitely the model Alpha in half his history books. Made sense, he figured, breathing heavily still. At least Sam wasn’t just out of shape. “Dude, you just ran, like, thirteen miles in thirty minutes.”

 

“Really?” said Captain America, smiling like a cocky bastard. “Guess I got a late start.”

 

Sam had had his run, but he hadn’t had coffee yet. There were things that couldn’t affect him before coffee. Captain America, first, standing in front of him was one, and Captain America being sarcastic was apparently another.

 

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” he told him, “should take another lap.”

 

He glanced away for a second. Captain America was still standing there, still smiling like a cocky bastard. “Did you just do it?” he asked. “I’m assuming you just did it.”

 

Captain America let out a chuckle, shaking his head a little. Sam caught his breath again. Then:

 

“What unit were you in?”

 

Took one to know one, Sam figured, answering with: “58th pararescue. Now I’m working over at the VA.”

 

Captain America held out his hand to him, to help him up, and Sam took it.

 

“Sam Wilson,” he said.

 

“Steve Rogers,” Captain America answered.

 

Sam gave a nod, still squinting and leaning on his knees, still a bit out of breath. “Kinda put that together,” he said. Apparently, he was incapable of becoming starstruck before coffee, as well as fully capable of sassing Captain America. Go figure.

 

Standing up, Captain America wasn’t all that taller than him.

 

“Must’ve freaked you out, coming home after all that defrosting thing,” he said.

 

Captain Rogers glanced away, nodding. Avoiding eye contact. Stepping back, increasing the distance between them. “Yeah,” he answered, starting to turn away. “It was good to meet you, Sam.”

 

“It’s your bed, right?” Sam asked abruptly. Hadn’t even planned on it, it had just come out as the gears turned in his head, observations popping out for him to notice properly. He had dozens of model Alphas back at the VA who did that, kept their distance, avoided eye contact, that were uncomfortable the way he could tell, even without coffee, Captain Rogers was around new people. The Captain turned back, eyebrows raised.

 

“What’s that?”

 

Sam took a step forward. “Your bed. It’s too soft.”

 

Captain America’s eyebrows knit together in the center.

 

“When I was over there,” Sam explained, “I slept on the ground, used rocks for pillows like a caveman. Now I’m home, lying in my bed, and it’s like –”

 

He trailed off, running out of words, steam, and stick-to-it-ness with Captain America looking at him quizzically.

 

“Like lying on a marshmallow,” Captain Rogers finally said. Sam looked back, nodding. “Like I’m gonna sink right through to the floor.”

 

Then, before Sam could say anything else, the Captain added a question of his own. “How long?”

 

“Two tours,” he said. The Captain nodded. “You must miss the good ol’ days.”

 

Captain Rogers shrugged. “Things aren’t so bad. Food’s better, we used to boil everything. No polio’s good. Internet, so helpful. Been reading that a lot, trying to catch up.”

 

A thought occurred to him, and he raised a hand. “Marvin Gaye, 1972, Troubleman soundtrack.” The Captain gave a nod and a shrug as he went on, pulling something from his pocket. “Everything you missed, all in one album.”

 

“I’ll put it on the list,” the Captain said, smiling.

 

Sam gave a nod. He’d done his good deed of the day, then. Perhaps, after he’d had some coffee, he’d look back at this moment and freak out over meeting Captain America in the flesh, (and definitely puzzle over his behavior, body language, and wonder what he could have done to help) but right then, he was satisfied as the Captain wrote down his suggestion in a little book that looked well used. As he finished, Sam heard a sound like a phone, and the Captain pulled out the very object. Maybe he hadn’t expected Captain America to have a smartphone, but again, nothing phased him before coffee.

 

“Duty calls,” the Captain said, then held out a hand, and Sam felt a streak of pride that he’d managed to make the Captain comfortable enough for contact that wasn't strictly necessary as he took it and gave it a firm shake. “Thanks for the run,” he added, “if that’s what you call running.”

 

“Oh, that’s how it is?” Sam laughed

 

“That’s how it is,” Captain America said, grinning, then let go and turned again.

 

“Anytime you wanna stop by the VA,” Sam called out, making him turn back once again, “make me look awesome in front of the girl at the front desk, just let me know.”

 

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

 

Sam gave a nod. It couldn’t hurt, he figured. Captain America was an icon, he probably had all the best to help him adjust to the modern world. But, it couldn’t hurt.

 

He then heard a purring engine and a sleek black sports car pulled up to the curb, the window rolling down. Captain Rogers glanced at it, as the woman driving called out: “Hey, fellas.”

 

Sam smiled warmly, as she added: “Either one of you know where the Smithsonian is, I’m here to pick up a fossil.”

 

“That’s hilarious,” Captain Rogers said dryly and turned towards the car. Sam’s eyebrows rose as high as they could, grinning as the Captain shook his head and got into the car. He crouched a little, leaning on his knees to look the woman in the eye, nodding to her. He couldn’t tell if she was Omega, Beta, or Alpha from the curb, couldn’t smell her and couldn’t see anything to point in a particular direction, which happened to be how he liked his women. She was probably an Omega, considering about 15% of women were Alphas and 30% were Beta, but she was rolling with Captain America, so who knew?

 

“How you doing?” he asked, a little flirtatiously. Couldn’t hurt.

 

“Hey,” she said, pleasantly, not impressed. Didn’t hurt, Sam thought, still grinning.

 

Captain Rogers quirked his eyebrows for a second. “Can’t run everywhere,” he said.

 

“No, you can’t,” Sam agreed.

 

The window rolled up, and the car took off. Sam straightened up, watching it go.

 

“I just met Captain fuckin’ America,” he muttered to himself. “I just invited Captain fuckin’ America to the VA. Captain fuckin’ America took my suggestion about Marvin Gaye. Captain fuckin’ America.”

 

He stared after the car, disappearing into traffic. “I need some espresso,” he decided, and turned away. Captain fuckin’ America, most famous soldier to have ever lived, he thought. If he were gonna be into guys, Captain America would be the Alpha to flip him.

 

*

[The Hidden Romance of Captain America and Agent Carter]

 

“My, Captain,” Agent Carter said breathlessly, “you make an Omega want to forget propriety.”

 

“Aw, shucks, ma’am,” Captain America said with a blush and an easy smile, “you make an Alpha want to settle down.”

 

[but, the truth]

 

“The Barnes family reside at number 507 North Bulgaria Avenue in Queens. Your taxi driver will bring you there,” Agent Carter said in a crisp tone, “then to the hotel you're staying the night at. You will have thirty minutes. I'm sorry I couldn't find more.”

 

“Thank you, Agent Carter,” Captain America said in a mumble.

 

“Call me Peggy,” she said softly, then reached out and touched his arm. “You should know, I can tell what longing looks like.”

 

Captain America opened his mouth but Agent Carter shook her head at him. “You hid it well, and I doubt anyone else would have thought to look. But I remember what you said and didn't say before the serum. I offered you this because I knew you had someone, and the fact that it's a James and not a Jane means nothing to me.”

 

“I – Thank you,” he said softly. Agent Carter squeezed his shoulder.

 

“You should also know,” she added quietly, “that I know how you feel.”

 

*

[september 17th, 2014, the pacific ocean 42°21'49.7"N 145°14'26.2"W]

 

The Lemurian Star , a S.H.I.E.L.D. owned and operated ship, had been taken by pirates. Steve suited up, boarded a jet with STRIKE team and Natasha, and set off into the middle of the Pacific ocean. It had been barely morning in DC, but the sun hadn’t risen yet by the time they arrived. The leader of the STRIKE team, Agent Rumlow, a wiry and intimidating Alpha a head shorter than him, briefed them on the ride over on the situation. The pirates, French, 25 of them, and lead by some guy he’d never heard of but Interpol had apparently, were holding the technicians hostage aboard the ship for a ransom of 1.5 billion dollars, and among them was one field agent Jasper Sitwell. Rescue mission. Easy.

 

“I’ll sweep the deck, Nat, you kill the engines and wait for instructions, Rumlow, find the hostages, get ‘em out.”

 

Easy.

 

“Did you do anything fun on Saturday night?” Natasha asked him conversationally. They were putting on the last of their gear, the STRIKE team strapping on parachutes and him his helmet. Natasha was adjusting her smartwatch, watching the Alphas of the STRIKE team ready themselves with a calculating look in her eye. One of them, the youngest, glanced in her direction every few seconds, and had already been hit over the head by Rumlow once. Natasha didn’t seem to care, though. She’d been trained to cause such reactions, even if it wasn’t her current MO. Sometimes, Steve got jealous of her, of how she was allowed to use her status as an Omega to her advantage in a world that was meant to be stacked against her. When he’d been growing up, there had been no opportunities for Omegas in the military let alone intelligence agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. He ignored it, usually. His position was a lot different than hers. She’d been the product of a weaponization of Omegas, he a miracle of science blown out of proportion by propaganda.

 

“Nope,” he answered, strapping on his shield. Dead men don’t get out much. “Did you?”

 

“You know, if you asked out Lauren from statistics, the Beta with the curly green hair, she’d probably say yes.”

 

“Why don’t you ask her?” Steve said as he walked towards the opening gangway. “Nice countering, though.”

 

“You need to get out there, Rogers,” Natasha called after him.

 

“I’m getting out there,” he protested, spreading his hands and smiling at her. “Look, see, this is me, getting out there.”

 

He stepped off the gangway and into the air. He could almost hear Bucky in his ear, saying: “That was terrible. Should be ashamed of yourself, doll. And where’s your parachute, ya fuckin’ punk, you tryna to get yourself killed again?”

 

Steve spread his arms and legs as the wind whistled past his ears. The ship was in sight, another fifteen seconds and he’d be landing in the water. He flattened his arms to his body, tucking his legs above him, cutting the fall time in half. At the last second, he flipped over, putting his feet, toes pointed, towards the water, and hit with barely a splash.

 

“Bra-fuckin’-va, show-off,” Bucky would have said. If he were there.

 

He swam up to the darkened stern of the ship, climbing the sides, quick and silent, hopping over a railing and grabbing the passing guard in a chokehold easily, pressing down on the jugular as well as the trachea. The man spluttered, gasping for breath, as Steve counted to eight, then let go. The man slumped to the ground, unconscious. Steve held his ground, raising his nose and giving the air a cautious taste. The wind was to his face, bringing the trace scent of maybe half a dozen nearby guys. He smelled men, entirely; Alpha, maybe one Beta, no Omegas. They were all calm, one smelled a little like anger, but Steve doubted it had to do with him. He took off, finding two within thirty seconds. He swung his shield off his back and threw it, knocking out the first guy in a single stroke. The shield bounced off the wall and hit the other, knocking him down but not out, so Steve rebounded the shield onto the man’s head. With a dull thunk , the man dropped, and the shield bounced off, Steve returning it to his back and the magnets easily, walking off and tasting the air once more. The wind was to his back now, but he didn’t smell like anything thanks to five times the normal dose of suppressants and Erskine’s serum. He still picked up Beta scent and traces of the smell of anger, which he followed.

 

He found the Beta and the angered Alpha along with another Alpha a few yards down the port side. They went down easy, the angry Alpha, distracted, went first, followed by the Beta, and a roundhouse to the head of the second Alpha brought him down. Running, now, he knocked one man over the side of the ship, his shout alerting a man farther down, who didn’t turn in time to block his strike. Another one down. He kept on, finding two more men, alert and ready, one Alpha, one Beta, younger, barely twenty. He threw his shield at the Beta, knocking him to the ground, and the Alpha pulled a knife, which Steve relieved him of before taking him down. The Beta was reaching slowly, pained, for a fire alarm, and Steve threw the knife, pinning the Beta’s hand to the wall before he could reach the alarm. The man screamed, until Steve knocked him out and took back the knife. He went on.

 

The top deck was clear. He found three men, Alphas, pacing on the next level, and he vaulted over the railing, landing easily. The surprise stank from them, as he slammed one ten feet across into a wall, the man sliding down to slump on the ground. The shield knocked out the other two, and but by then a fourth and fifth pair of men down the deck had noticed and turned towards him. He flung the shield, hitting one, before striking and headbutting the other into unconsciousness. A sixth man appeared, running in, and Steve had to wrinkle his nose at what he guessed was several days of not showering. He landed a few blows, then tried one of Natasha’s moves, jumping up, into the man’s arms and flipping him easily, knocking him out with the shield once he was on the ground. And he was up again, moving.

 

“Real impressive there, Stevie, ya tryna make me jealous?” Bucky would have said.

 

He turned, finding a seventh man almost on him, and slammed the shield into his face. The man toppled, nose bleeding. Steve went to catch his breath, and smelled a new man. He went to turn, too late, to find a gun pointed at his back as a man shouted at him in French. He spoke minimal French, definitely not enough to tell what he had said, but the meaning was evident. He stopped, going still, thinking of a new plan.

 

Then he heard a swish of air and the crumple of a body, the gun hitting the floor. Steve turned around, finding Rumlow landing gracefully on his feet as his parachute drifted to the ground.

 

“Thanks,” he said, meaning it.

 

“And they call you the toughest Alpha on the block,” Rumlow joked. Steve shrugged a little.

 

The rest of the STRIKE team landed after that, Steve already turning away to head for the lower decks as Natasha caught up with him.

 

“How about that nurse who lives down the hall from you, she seems nice,” Natasha said, as if their conversation hadn’t been interrupted by Steve jumping out of a plane.

 

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Secure the engine room,” he told her, “then you can find me a date.”

 

“Is that a promise, Rogers?” Natasha asked, swinging over a railing.

 

“Nope,” he repeated, carrying on with the mission.

 

“Better not be, punk,” Bucky would have muttered.

 

Rumlow and his team split off to find the hostages as Natasha headed for the engine room. Steve, having cleared the deck, went looking for their leader, Batroc.

 

“We’re in position,” Rumlow said over the comms.

 

Steve had eyes on the bridge. Two men were inside, one at a computer terminal, and one sat in the captain’s chair, that one matching Batroc’s photo. Both of them were calm and unalarmed in appearance. He couldn’t smell them through the walls, though, and he figured he was near a vent, since what he did smell was fear and a jumbled mix of men, women, Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. He raised his wrist to his mouth, activating the comm-link.

 

“Natasha,” Steve murmured, “what’s your status?”

 

He released it, waiting. A second went by. “Natasha?” he repeated carefully.

 

“Hang on!” came Natasha’s voice, harried and irked. Steve waited, watching Batroc. Ten or fifteen seconds passed. He raised the comm-link again, going to call Natasha a third time, when it clipped. “Engine room secure.”

 

“On my mark,” he announced over the comms. Batroc’s guard was facing away from the window, Batroc himself looking in another direction. “Three.” The guard scratched at his nose, watching the computer. “Two.” Batroc rose from his chair to pace, appearing bored. “One.”

 

Steve launched himself forward, swinging down his shield and flinging it, spinning, into the windows of the bridge. Batroc dropped to the ground and the shield hit the man at the computer to embed itself in the opposite wall while Steve jumped through the window, almost landing on Batroc. The man jumped up and ran, Steve chasing after him after grabbing his shield from the wall. He lost sight of him, bursting out back onto the main deck to find it deserted.

 

“Hostages are en route to extract. Romanoff missed the rendezvous, Cap,” Rumlow called out. “Hostiles are still in play.”

 

“Batroc’s on the move,” Steve said into the comm. “Natasha, circle back to Rumlow, protect the hostages.”

 

Silence.

 

“Natasha?” he repeated.

 

Then a foot nearly collided with his head.

 

“Focus, wonderboy!” Bucky would have shouted at him.

 

He raised the shield in time to catch block Batroc’s strike, he dodged another, Batroc backing him up, until he fell, landing hard on his ass and Batroc flipped in the air, dealing a heavy kick down, his foot landing a mere six inches from Steve’s crotch. Steve looked down, then up, and made eye contact with Batroc.

 

“Hey, feets off!” Bucky would have interjected.

 

Steve jumped up, blocked another strike from Batroc, who proved to be very acrobatic in his attacks. A kick, another kick, a flip and kick. Batroc landed on the ground, sprung back up, twisted into another kick that Steve dodged. He landed a punch, grabbed him by the back of his belt and threw him over his shoulder, but Batroc just flipped backwards and landed on his feet, again, making eye contact with him. Steve took the second to breathe, as Batroc did as well.

 

“Je pensais que tu étais plus qu'un simple bouclier,” Batroc said calmly.

 

Steve hated French. Dernier had tried so hard to teach him, but he still hated it. Je was I, tu was you, bouclier was shield, simple, well he could guess the rest of the meaning from Batroc’s challenging smirk. He straightened his shoulders, squared up, and gave a nod. He swung the shield on his back, reached up and unclipped his helmet. Batroc smiled.

 

He knew enough to reply with: “Voyons voir.”

 

After that, Batroc did not look pleased. They both hesitated for a second, then Batroc swung, a punch that flew wide and Steve blocked easily, going for a jab to the gut. Batroc kicked, he jumped back, Batroc punched again, twice, the second strike catching him in a glancing blow to the shoulder. He hit him in the face, heard a crunch from Batroc’s nose, then Batroc kicked and Steve used that moment to sweep a leg under him. Batroc maintained balance, kicked at him again, which he dodged, his opponent running clear of him. Steve launched into a flip and brought his foot down on Batroc’s head, knocking him clear to the ground.

 

Bucky wouldn’t have said anything, but he would have given him a slow clap.

 

He waited, as Batroc shook himself and rose to his feet, then he charged, knocking Batroc back and taking him all the way to the opposite wall, crashing through a doorway and landing on top of Batroc on top of the door on the floor. The door skidded for a few feet, screeching, then came to a halt. He rose up, punched Batroc square in the jaw, then stopped, waiting for Batroc to stir, but the man was unconscious.

 

“Well, this is awkward.”

 

Steve sat up, looking to his left and finding Natasha bent over a computer station, calmly typing away, when she was supposed to be meeting up with Rumlow to escort the hostages out.

 

“What are you doing here?” he asked her sharply. He left Batroc on the ground; unconscious, he couldn’t do any more fancy flips.

 

“Backing up the hard drive,” Natasha answered him cheekily, “it’s a good habit to get into.”

Steve strode towards her, unimpressed and unamused, though she clearly was unaffected by his glare. “Rumlow needed your help, what the hell are you doing here?” he asked again, more insistent, but he didn’t really need an answer as he reached her. “You’re rescuing S.H.I.E.L.D. intel?”

 

“Language,” Natasha said calmly.

 

“Our mission is to rescue the hostages,” Steve snapped, “not gather data.”

 

“No, that’s your mission,” Natasha sighed. “My mission is to gather data.”

 

Steve glared as she snatched a USB drive up and turned to face him, smiling sweetly. “And you’ve done an excellent job of your mission,” she added, her tone condescendingly sweet.

 

Steve was no more amused or impressed as he had been two seconds ago, he grabbed her by the arm, fixing her with a stern look, which she raised her eyebrows at. “Rumlow needed help, you jeopardized the mission by taking on a side-quest.”

 

Her eyebrow lifted further up. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an exaggeration?”

 

He heard movement and turned in time to see Batroc running out the door, a grenade in hand. He raised his shield, deflecting it, then grabbed Natasha around the waist and together, they jumped over a row of computers, Natasha shooting out a nearby window, and landed on the other side, ducking behind the cover of the half-wall as the grenade went off behind.

 

Natasha let out a grunt of pain. “Okay, I get your point. That one’s my bad.”

 

Steve exhaled through his own pain, a stabbing sensation that indicated he’d pulled a muscle somewhere. “You’re damn right it is,” he hissed, getting up.

 

Rumlow got the hostages out, and with Natasha disobeying his orders to follow some secret mission Fury had elected to deal out without telling him, Batroc managed to escape. They went home, mission complete, and nobody was dead. Well, no one that wasn’t already dead.

Chapter Text

intertwined: in the earth

 

[The Howling Commandos are Born!: E1:S1 of Captain America and the Howling Commandos]

 

“What do you fellas say? You ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death?” Captain America himself asked, to cheers and lifted beers.

 

“I got one condition,” Dum-Dum Dugan said.

 

“What’s that?” Captain America replied gamely.

 

“You’re buying the next round.”

 

“Cheers to that!” Sergeant Barnes crowed.

 

[that one wasn’t that different]

 

“What d’ya fellas say?” Captain America himself asked.

 

“I say you’re insane,” Dum-Dum Dugan answered. “But as long as you’re buying, I ain’t complaining.”

 

“Cheers to that!” Jim Morita crowed. Captain America grinned and stepped aside to fetch their beers, then spotted Sergeant Barnes in the back of the tavern on his own. He approached, took a seat next to him, and offered the sergeant a playful smile.

 

“What about you?” he asked. “You ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death?”

 

“Hell no,” Sergeant Barnes laughed, then fixed Captain America with a look, a small and secret smile, eyes crinkling at the corners and love in the curl of his lips, a small and secret smile just for him. “That little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb to run away from a fight,” he said, “I’m followin’ him.”

 

The sergeant bumped their shoulders together, offered Captain America that small, secret smile that no one else would ever see. Captain America looked back with the same love, same smile, same secret just for him. “I just got one question,” he added.

 

“Shoot,” Captain America replied gamely.

 

“You’re keeping the outfit, right?”

 

*

[september 18th, a va center in dc]

 

Sam had met a couple of celebrities in his time. He’d run into Mike Rowe off of the Discovery Channel in a dinner somewhere in Maryland as a kid, gotten himself an autograph and promptly lost it before the year was out. Worked at a McDonald’s through high school, found Rihanna in his drive-thru at 3 in the morning on a Wednesday ordering a Happy Meal and an extra large diet Coke. Didn’t get her autograph, though. Captain America wasn’t the average celebrity, he was famous for being a good man, a soldier, a strong Alpha and a role model, but as Sam figured, the Captain had met plenty of the little guys in his lifetime that one more wouldn’t stick out.

 

He managed not to get too surprised to spot him sitting in the back of a meeting a day later, though. One of his vets was talking. A young Alpha, Tanya, completed one tour in Afghanistan, come home about six months ago. She’d been coming for a couple of months, hadn’t spoken much other than introducing herself at the start of every meeting. Sam was proud of her for talking, admitting that she’d mistaken a plastic shopping bag floating in the wind for an IED, and at the moment, that was more important than Captain America.

 

“Some stuff you leave there, some stuff you bring back,” he told her, kind and gentle, “it’s up to you how to carry it. Is it gonna be in a big suitcase? Or in a little man purse?”

 

There were a few chuckles. Tanya gave a weak smile, nodding her head understandingly. Sam gave the crowd a look over, his expression soft, gentle as ever, offering for someone else to speak. Most of them were Alphas, mostly men, a few women, a couple of Betas like him. One Omega, a woman. He’d only met a couple of male Omegas in his life, never found one in the military. All of them were folks who’d seen some shit, done some shit, had some shit done to them. It was hardest on the Alphas, though. The times were changing, but these were adults, and as kids, they’d been raised from the moment they presented to be strong, and that to be strong, that meant no weaknesses. Weakness meant fear, sadness, physical affection between anyone that wasn’t your bondmate, spouse, or both. Alpha girls get forced to become independent early on, Alpha boys learn to bottle up their emotions, vice versa and so on.

 

Sam had gotten a lot of that as a kid, his parents expecting him to turn out Alpha, and it took a lot to get over. Studies had been done as to why a disproportionate amount of military personnel were Alphas, and all showed correlations to how they’d been raised as kids to show no weakness. To model after the Great Captain America, a man who’d had no private life whatsoever, who had devoted his every breath to serving his country. His eyes landed on the man himself, after that thought, standing in the back and watching with a content expression.

 

He wondered if Captain America had been raised like that, too.

 

The meeting ended soon, with the Captain hanging in the back, out of sight from the others, and Sam said his goodbyes to everyone, promising to see them at the next meeting, offering handshakes and shoulder pats and even a hug or two to everyone who would take it. Most of them took the handshake, the newer ones avoided eye contact and dropped his hand after a few pumps. A couple took the pats on the shoulder, smiling as they looked him in the eye, and he smiled back. Only two or three ever took the hug, and only Big Joe ever let him hug him each week. Big Joe, about 5”5 and a built Alpha, smiled and touched his shoulder as he pulled back after a couple of seconds. Sam was proud of him, he was letting the hug last longer and longer each week. He offered a wave and a word to Tanya, who still hadn’t initiated any physical contact, gave a two-fingered salute to Leah, the Omega woman who’d been attending the meetings for almost a year, and started towards the back where Captain Rogers was lingering.

 

“Lookee here,” he said with a cheerful smile, a soft voice that wouldn’t carry, “if it isn’t the Running Man.”

 

The Captain dropped his gaze and chuckled, and Sam made himself busy with straightening pamphlets. He’d noticed newcomers seemed less nervous when he didn’t just stare at them.

 

“Caught the last couple of minutes,” the Captain said, pointing towards the front of the room. “It was pretty intense.”

 

“Well, we all got the same problems,” Sam promised him, giving him another smile and an encouraging nod. “We got guilt, regret, plenty of nightmares. It’s only human.”

 

Captain America looked away, but then back at him, though his gaze was somewhere around Sam’s left shoulder. “You lose someone?” he asked quietly.

 

Sam gave a nod, a slow one, with as much avoidance of eye contact as anyone else in the place. “My wingman,” he said, “Riley.”

 

He told him the story, they’d been flying out at night, a mission like every other, one second, his brother-in-arms had been there, the next second…

 

“There was nothing I could do. Felt like I was just there to watch. Wasn’t my fault,” he said honestly. It had taken him months, too, to admit he couldn’t have done something to save Riley. “But, it still felt like it for a long ass time.”

 

The Captain glanced around. “Sorry,”  he said, looking back at his shoes.

 

“After that, I had a really hard time finding a reason to be over there,” Sam added. Maybe he could prompt something out of him. Maybe he was shooting his mouth off for nothing, maybe he was reading all the signs wrong. But there was a good two or three feet between them, Captain America had his hands in his pockets and only looked Sam in the face when Sam wasn’t looking at him. Maybe Captain America had seen some shit and had some shit done to him, just like everyone else.

 

“You happy now?” the Captain asked. “Back in the world?”

 

Sam gave a shrug and a smile, looking around, and indeed, Cap looked at his face when he looked away. “Well, the number of people who order me around has dropped to about zero,” he said. Then he added, a little conspiratorially, “I don’t count my sister.”

 

Captain Rogers gave a chuckle, and Sam noticed his shoulders dropped a little, like he’d relaxed some of the tension in them.

 

“Hell yeah, I’m good,” Sam said, giving him an easy grin. “You thinking about getting out?”

 

Captain Rogers’s smile faded as he shook his head. Sam waited, patient, while the Captain gathered his thoughts.

 

“I don’t know,” he said finally. “To be honest, I don’t what I’d do with myself if I did.”

 

Sam pursed his lips. “Ultimate fighting?” he suggested. The Captain chuckled again, as he went on. “Just a great idea, off the top of my head. You already got the costume down.”

 

Captain Rogers looked away again, half of a smile on his face.

 

“You could do whatever you wanted to do,” Sam told him, a note of seriousness creeping into his voice, though he kept the easy smile and the gentle tone. “Whatever in the world.”

 

After a pause, he added: “What makes you happy?”

 

Captain America looked at him, then off into the distance, down, then back to him, smiling lightly. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

 

Sam nodded slowly, understandingly. Captain America was the man everyone grew up looking up to, an untouchable and unbreakable icon, and standing in front of him there, in a now empty hallway in a VA building, was another ghost named Steve Rogers. And damned if Sam wasn’t gonna do his best to help him.

 

“You been to Starbucks, yet?” Sam asked.

 

Steve Rogers, not just  Captain America, looked at him quizzically once again. “It’s a place I’ve heard of,” he said after a second.

 

“You like sweet shit?” Sam added, a grin growing on his face. “Starbucks has got the fanciest, frou-frou coffee in the world. It’s, like, artisan coffee.”

 

“Coffee I grew up drinking was always burnt,” Steve said, a chuckle escaping him.

 

“Come on,” Sam offered, “there’s one right across the road. My favorite barista’ll be in, she always gives me discounted cake pops.”

 

“Cake what?” Steve asked, but started to follow him anyway. Sam grinned to himself, mission one accomplished.

 

“It’s cake, on a stick,” Sam explained, “like a lollipop.”

 

“That’s the most extravagant thing I’ve heard of yet,” Steve remarked.

 

“Trust me, they’re the best thing to sort out a sweet tooth without messing up your six-pack,” he announced. “Long as you only get a couple a week.”

 

Steve laughed again, and Sam, feeling very accomplished with himself, lead him across the road. The store was deserted, a couple of baristas in bright green aprons standing behind the counter, chatting between the pair of them as they went, but as the bell rang as Sam opened the door, they stopped, looking up.

 

“Samuel!” shouted Macbeth.

 

“Sam!” echoed Ruth, a little quieter.

 

“How you doing, girls?” he asked them both brightly.

 

“I’m excellent,” Macbeth said, “what do you think of the new hair?”

 

She pulled her ponytail out from behind her head, showing off the bright pink color. Sam whistled appreciatively.

 

“Looks like bubble gum,” he said.

 

“But look!” Macbeth added, and spread the ponytail out, revealing a layer of blue, then a layer of yellow.

 

“Dude!” he laughed, having not expected that. “That’s sweet!”

 

“It’s the pan flag colors,” Macbeth said proudly, puffing up her chest and grinning. “Ruthie here won’t let me dye her hair rainbow to match me, though.”

 

“My mother would have a heart attack,” Ruth defended herself.

 

“Your mother would have a heart attack over a thousand things, your hair’s the least of it,” Macbeth argued.

 

Ruth rolled her eyes, then her gaze switched to behind Sam, to Steve Rogers. Her eyebrows shot up.

 

“So, what can I get you?” Macbeth asked. “Usual?”

 

“Yeah, and whatever my buddy Steve here’d like to get,” Sam said as Macbeth wrote out his order, venti iced mocha with toffee nut, which was technically a salted caramel mocha but it was April so they “didn’t have it in stock”, and looked back at Steve.

 

“I have no idea what any of these things are,” Steve said, looking at the menu.

 

“Neither did I until I started working here,” Macbeth said. Then her eyebrows shot up too. “Wait…”

 

“Are you Captain America?” Ruth asked cautiously, glancing up from where she’d been pouring milk into Sam’s cup.

 

Sam glanced back at them and hastily pressed a finger to his lips. Macbeth nodded quickly, understanding in a second his plea for them to not make a big deal.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said, sounding as if he’d rather have said no.

 

“Do you prefer sweet or savory?” Macbeth asked. She raised her eyebrows and added in a completely even tone: “You could try an iced Americano.”

 

Sam thinned his lips into a flat line in an effort not to laugh. He snorted briefly, however. Macbeth smiled slowly, while Ruth giggled behind the espresso bar. Steve, bless him, grinned broadly at Mac’s terrible pun.

 

“That was funny,” he declared.

 

“I can’t take credit,” Macbeth snorted, “I read it on Tumblr.”

 

“I don’t know what that is,” Steve told her.

 

Macbeth abruptly grinned.

 

“Ah!” Ruth called out. “No, you are not going to be the person to show Captain America Tumblr. No!”

 

“I shouldn’t,” Macbeth chuckled.

 

Steve looked at him, raising an eyebrow. Sam raised his hands in defense. “She’s actually refused to explain it to me as well, other than it’s a shitstorm.”

 

“Sam, language!” Ruth said.

 

Steve looked as if he were about to protest, and indeed, he was rolling his eyes, as Ruth added: “We have a wee infant here!” and pointed to Macbeth.

 

“I am seven-fucken-teen!” Macbeth declared.

 

Sam, chuckling, glanced at Steve, whose expression had mellowed a little, his eyebrows tightening, as if he hadn’t expected that. As if he hadn’t expected these kids to treat him like any normal person. It made Sam a little sad, and a little mad as well.

 

“Do you like chocolate?” Macbeth asked, after a heavy eye roll at Ruth.

 

“I do,” Steve said, brightening.

 

“How about a mocha?” Macbeth said. “Or a mocha frappuccino?”  Steve furrowed his eyebrows, and she added: “It’s like a milkshake.”

 

“Sure,” he said.

 

“Small, medium, or large?” Macbeth asked, reaching for cups.

 

“Small,” Steve started, but Sam waved a hand.

 

“Get a large if you want one, dude, it won’t kill you.”

 

“Large, I guess, then,” Steve said, shrugging. Macbeth smiled and scribbled out Starbucks gobble-de-gook onto a cup, writing in elegant print Steve at the top and handing it to Ruth, who took it and stepped over to the cold bar to make it.

 

“Cake pops?” Macbeth asked them.

 

“Cookie dough for me,” Sam said.

 

Steve stepped over towards the food case, looking at them. “Um,” he said. “Chocolate?”

 

“Yep!” Macbeth said brightly, pressing buttons on her register. She typed in something, and the total displayed dropped by a significant amount. Macbeth had sworn to him ages ago when he’d first started coming in that she did that for every veteran who came in, said it was her kind of Hail Mary. Sam appreciated it nonetheless, because venti iced mochas with toffee nut added were about six dollars during the off-season of the salted caramel mocha. He paid, and she stepped off to the side to place two cake pops into bags, which she handed to each of them.

 

Sam pulled his out and ate half in one bite, while Steve retrieved his and looked at it for a second before taking a comparatively much smaller bite.

 

“Good?” Macbeth asked, grinning.

 

“Yeah,” Steve said, nodding, and taking another, slightly larger bite.

 

Ruth walked over, holding out Sam’s mocha and Steve’s frap, both covered with whipped cream. “Here you are,” she said. Sam handed one to Steve, finishing his cake pop in another bite, as Ruth turned to face Sam. “Hey, you seen Frankie yet?”

 

Sam shook his head. Frankie was a homeless veteran, an Alpha man who he’d been told came in once or twice a week to take any pastries they’d be throwing out. Sam had met him once a few weeks back, offered him a seat at some meetings, and Frankie had said he’d think about it.

 

“I ain’t seen him since last Monday,” Macbeth said. “I hope he’s okay.”

 

“Me, too, Mac,” Sam said, a little sadly. “Me, too.”

 

Ruth stepped back to the espresso bar, and another customer entered, eyes glued to their phone. Sam lead Steve out, watching as he examined the drink Ruth had given him.

 

“This looks like it could feed a family for a week,” he said finally.

 

Sam shrugged. “It’s mostly sugar.”

 

Steve looked at him, shrugged, and took a sip. He raised his eyebrows, nodding and smiling. Sam smiled too, pleased with himself.

 

“One of the first things I did when I started getting better was go get myself one of these,” he said, shaking his drink a little. “Back when I first got home, I always felt like splurging on something like this was more than I deserved. I blamed myself for what happened to Riley, that he couldn't have simple pleasures any longer, figured I had to do some penance.”

 

Steve sipped at his drink, nodding and not looking at him.

 

“Spent a lotta time weeding my neighbor’s garden, actually,” Sam said. Steve glanced at him and he nodded back. “Old guy, had arthritis everywhere. Name was George. My first day back, he brought me these brownies. I never ate ‘em, but I felt bad for it, so I started offering to take care of his garden. He kept bringing me brownies, I kept leaving them someplace I could look at ‘em and feel guilty that Riley didn’t get to eat brownies anymore. About four or five months later, George brought in one last batch and a bottle of scotch, and he told me to sit down, have a drink, and listen.”

 

Sam paused, watching for Steve’s reaction. Steve only nodded, so he went on. “He told me about his brother. Died in the first year of World War II.”

 

Steve exhaled audibly, and Sam paused again, watching, waiting. Steve said nothing, though, and Sam thought that might be a good sign. “His name was John. John was the poster boy for their school, grandma’s favorite, had a lovely sweetheart named Alice. He was an Alpha, but George wasn’t, so John got drafted, and George stayed home. John died, Alice ended up marrying another Alpha, and George ended up feeling like if he’d been there, he could’ve changed something. Saved his brother.”

 

“They started taking Omegas, in ‘42, though,” Steve muttered.

 

Sam gave a shake of his head. “He was a Beta, not an Omega. Betas and Omegas both weren’t included in enlistment at first, so George signed up voluntarily after John died, ended up in Austria. Lost a lot of friends there. But when the war ended, he went home, and spent time doing penance; cause they died and he didn’t. So, he sat me down, he told me all this, and then he looked me in the eye and he asked me if someone else had been there, someone else lost their friend, would I blame them? I said, no, of course not, and George pushed a brownie into my hand and told me to stop blaming myself then.”

 

Sam looked at Steve, smiling. “That was my first step to recovery, eating that brownie. Then drinking an entire bottle of scotch and crying my eyes out.”

 

Steve chuckled again, the kind of chuckle Sam had noticed his vets giving when they weren’t sure what else to do.

 

“What happened to George?” Steve asked after a second.

 

“Died in his sleep, about a year ago,” Sam answered. “He stopped doing penance after about thirty years, and ‘cause of him, I stopped after less than three. I work with these guys so I can be someone’s George, and if even one guy stops doing penance and starts letting themselves heal, I can die in my sleep a happy man, one day, too.”

 

Steve nodded again, looking at his drink.

 

“Too sweet?” Sam asked.

 

“No,” Steve said, then shrugged. “Nothing.”

 

Sam nodded. He knew better than to push. He looked out at the road, the Washington Monument in the distance catching his eye, and he remembered what the woman in the car had said the day before.

 

“You been to the Smithsonian at all?” he asked. “Seen your exhibit?”

 

Steve shook his head. “They offered me a private tour, when I got back. I didn’t want anyone to go to the trouble.”

 

Sam shrugged. “You could still go. Exhibit’s free.”

 

Steve raised an eyebrow. “And how would I avoid the dozens of museum-goers asking for autographs?”

 

“Wear a hat,” Sam suggested. “Nobody’s gonna expect Captain America to wear a hat indoors. It’s bad manners.”

 

Steve laughed, a laugh that sounded a bit more genuine than anything else Sam had heard out of him the whole day. He looked away, the same direction as Sam, and shrugged.

 

“The world is your oyster, man,” Sam said. “You do you.”

 

Steve nodded, smiling, and Sam stepped a little in front of him, offering him a handshake. Steve glanced down, then took it.

 

“You come back anytime you like,” Sam told him, then pulled out a card, one with his phone number, email, address, and office hours, handing it to Steve. “My door’s always open, office or home. I can’t cook for shit, but I make a mean cocktail.”

 

Steve offered him a smile and tucked the card into his pocket. “I might just do that.” Sam nodded and turned to go. He crossed the street, re-entered the VA building, and walked into his office. He sat down on the edge of his desk, then pulled out his phone and stared at it for a second. He’d had all the history lessons, been to the Smithsonian more than once – his niece adored museums for some reason. He knew Steve Rogers lost a friend in combat, just a couple of months before Rogers himself sacrificed himself to the ice.

 

Any other vet, he’d be looking for signs that Steve blamed himself without question. That he carried his friend’s life on his back still. That he was doing the penance Sam had once done. That maybe, his sacrifice wasn’t so much martyrdom than it was survivor’s guilt. It was the first thing they looked for in vets who lost friends

 

Sam had just never thought he’d be looking for those signs in Captain America. And maybe that was the problem. He had to look at Steve Rogers, and looking at Steve Rogers, he saw a ghost with all the signs.

 

He just wasn’t sure what he could do to help.

 

*

[Captain America Helps The Victims of the Front Lines!]

 

“Here, little girl, where’s your mother?” Captain America asked a small child, lost in the midst of an evacuation.

 

“I don’t know,” the little girl answered tearfully. She clutched to her Bucky Bear and looked up at Captain America with big eyes. “Can you help me find her?”

 

“Hey, of course, sweetheart, here, Agent Carter can help you out, she’s real nice, she’ll help you find your mother.”

 

[close, but not quite]

 

“Hey, sweetheart, where’s your mama?” Captain America asked a small child, lost in the midst of an evacuation.

 

“Je ne parle pas anglais,” the little girl answered tearfully. She clutched her teddy bear to her and looked up at Captain America with big eyes. “Je ne peux pas trouver ma mère. Aidez-moi, s'il vous plaît.”

 

“Uh, I don’t speak much French, neither, sweetheart, but lemme try. Je aider vous mère.”

 

“Votre français est mauvais,” the little girl said. Behind Captain America, Private Gabe Jones laughed.

 

“Oui, son français est très mauvais,” he said to her and she brightened. “Nous allons vous aider.”

 

He took her hand and led her away. Captain America straightened up, he’d been kneeling to seem less scary to the child, a sort of sad smile on his face and Sergeant Barnes approached on his right side, to lean in and whisper in his ear: “One day, sweetheart.”

 

*

[september 18th, the smithsonian national museum of american history]

 

Steve had only gone to see Sam after talking with Fury, having hoped to have some of his faith in humanity restored, and it had, quite a bit. Sam’s words kept repeating in his mind, and at first, he hadn’t intended to take Sam’s advice, but there he was, walking towards the Smithsonian, wearing a baseball cap he’d bought from a tourist stand. There he was, going up the steps, entering the museum, following the signs with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER in big, bold letters.

 

“A symbol to the nation. A hero to the world. The story of Captain America is one of honor, bravery, and sacrifice.”

 

He found himself looking at himself, before Erskine’s serum. A pre-recorded narration accompanied every part of the exhibit, and standing in front of the holographic image of himself, he found his stomach twisting.

 

“Denied enlistment due to poor health, Steven Grant Rogers was chosen for a program unique in the annals of American warfare. As a child, Rogers suffered from malnutrition, asthma, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and much more, all of which lead to delayed presenting as an Alpha…”

 

It wasn’t anything new. Steve had known when he signed up for Erskine’s project that he would lose many of the qualities of an Omega. He’d probably never be able to bear children, as unlikely as it had been to begin with. His scent had changed some, becoming sharper, his stature alone lead people to assume he was an Alpha. When Captain America was born, he’d known that he wouldn’t be allowed to be an Omega.

 

What made him sick was the little children, listening, pointing and saying “Wow!” as their parents held them up to look at 5”2 and 94 pound Steven Grant Rogers, the littlest Alpha. The parents, who said to their young sons, “See, you can be like him one day! You can wear a fake heart on your sleeve and hide all the rest of your thoughts and emotions behind closed doors like a good Alpha!”

 

What else had history changed, he wondered?

 

He turned away, and found a young boy, in a tee shirt with his shield on its front, staring at him, silent. Steve gave him a smile and pressed a finger to his lips. The little boy nodded, his face still awestruck. Steve stepped onward.

 

His old bike was there. His belongings had been recovered, furniture found after his landlord had thrown it out after he'd been evicted. The radio and the ragged sofa, his mother’s rocking chair, behind glass or marked off with velvet ropes. There were photos of an all-Alpha school he'd never gone to, but with his grades and clubs attached, some comics he’d drawn that had been published on the very last pages of the smaller papers. Hanging on a mannequin, faded and worn, was a jacket that the signs claimed his father had given to him. He hadn’t asked for it back. It didn’t smell like much of anything anymore, nor did it fit him. It stopped fitting him after the serum, where before it had always hung on his bony shoulders past his hips, but he'd still kept it, even after he'd been reunited with its original owner. He let the museum keep it, let them think it had belonged to a young Joseph Rogers and had been bequeathed to a young Steve Rogers when old Joseph Rogers succumbed to mustard gas. Let the museum say what they wanted, like they did for everything else.

 

The Howling Commandos, their faces filling up an entire wall, with mannequins in their old uniforms in front. His very first suit was there, his very first shield. He wondered if the script was still on the back.

 

He didn’t want to look at Bucky’s face, but he turned, and found himself looking directly at him. A glass wall, his best friend and lover’s face filling up six feet of space, unsmiling, serious.

 

“Why the fuck did they pick that picture?” Bucky would have said. “They should’ve gone with one of me smilin’.”

 

He would have gone silent, though, as they approached. As Steve, alone, approached.

 

“Captain Rogers met Sergeant Barnes for the first time when he rescued him from the Azzano single-handedly, and from that point forward, the pair were inseparable.”

 

There was no way to explain their childhood friendship and then separation, Steve guessed, without serious questions. When he died, when he really died, not just on the inside, when his body finally caught up with his heart, him and Bucky would be left straightened by history. Apart from himself, the only person left alive that knew the truth was Peggy, and Peggy… Peggy didn’t really know much of anything any longer.

 

“Barnes is the only Howling Commando to give his life in service of his country.”

 

Steve’s gaze drifted to the ground. Steve had tried to give his life in service. He’d just fucked it up.

 

“I’d like to see the faces of those old stuffy historians when they find out we was inseparable in bed as well as in battle,” Bucky would have said.

 

But Bucky couldn’t say. No one would ever know that Captain America was an Omega, no one would ever know that he had failed to save the life of not only his best friend, but his Alpha, no one would ever know anything.

 

He left. He didn’t bother to look at the rest of the exhibit, he’d seen enough. He didn’t want to know if the history books said he’d had the hots for Peggy, he didn’t want to know if whether or not they talked about how useless his act had been at the beginning, if they erased how Dernier and Gabe had been lovers, too, if Gabe had been relabelled as an Alpha instead of a Beta as well; they probably had, but he didn’t want to know. What good would it do?

 

He walked for a long time, around the Mall and the monuments, then found his way back to the VA building where he’d left his bike. He felt like talking to Peggy, to someone who didn’t have stars in their eyes for the first super soldier. Well, Sam didn’t, he treated him like he was a regular guy, but he didn’t know the truth.

 

Peggy was awake when he arrived. She smiled at him, and he felt the instant relief that this time, at least, she hadn’t forgotten that he was alive since he last left.

 

“Hello,” she said quietly as he took a seat at her bedside. “How are you, darling?”

 

“Great,” he answered her. “How’ve you been?”

 

“Oh, just fine,” Peggy answered. “How’s Bucky?”

 

Steve forced his smile to stay. “He’s fine,” he said.

 

“No little ones yet?” she asked him. “I’d like to be godmother, you know.”

 

“No, not yet.”

 

Peggy hummed. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought Bucky was still alive, nor the first time she forgot that Steve couldn’t have children. He kept his smile warm and bright, though, like most times, he was regretting coming in the first place.

 

“Did you meet my husband, Steve? You saved his life, you know.”

 

“I know,” he answered. Her husband had died before he woke up.

 

“He’s such a sweet man. Like you, but with a less foul mouth.”

 

Steve laughed, as Peggy smiled at him, then reached out and brushed his cheek with her hand.

 

“You seem so sad, darling,” she whispered. “What is it?”

 

Steve just smiled at her, his shoulders rolling in a gentle shrug. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

 

Peggy’s smile was probably just as sad as his was, as her hand returned to the bed and her eyes shut as she sighed gently. Steve braced himself, if she opened them and had forgotten he was alive.

 

She looked back at him, her smile still there and still sad.

 

“You miss him, don’t you?” she said quietly.

 

Steve’s shoulders dropped as he let out his breath. He hadn’t thought she’d remember something.

 

“I can see it, it’s alright,” Peggy murmured. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

“I know, Pegs,” Steve answered.

 

“You’ll find him,” Peggy promised, and Steve wasn’t sure what she was remembering anymore. “You’ll find him, you’ll save him. You’ll be alright. You can go to France, get married. They don’t mind there.”

 

Steve picked up her hand, squeezing it. “Yeah. I’ve been learning some French, just in case.”

 

“It’ll be all alright,” Peggy promised him. She squeezed his hand weakly, her eyes sliding shut again. Steve worried his bottom lip, waiting. Her eyes opened slowly, fluttering, flitting about the room until they landed on him, and suddenly were welling with tears. “Steve!” she whispered, her voice full of pure delight. “You’re alive!”

 

“Yeah, I’m here,” he said, and it took all he had to keep his voice steady. “Couldn’t leave my best girl, not when she owes me a dance.”

 

Peggy smiled, her eyes watery, squeezing his hand weakly again. “Got to teach you how not to step on your dearie’s toes,” she said sadly.

 

“Buck’ll be so grateful,” Steve murmured.

 

Peggy hummed and her eyes fell shut once more. She must be tired, he figured, and he’d had enough emotions for the afternoon, so when the nurse stuck her head in to check on them, he got up and allowed her to check Peggy’s vitals. He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead before leaving, wondering if the next time she’d remember anything at all.

 

And if his cheeks were wet when he pulled his bike into the garage, well, the wind had been strong on the highway.

 

The nurse who lived down the hall from him who seemed nice to Natasha, Sharon, was just stepping out as he walked in, a basket of unfolded clothes in her arms and a phone tucked under her ear. Natasha was right, Sharon was nice. She was a Beta, had dimples and a musical laugh, and perhaps she and Steve could have been or could be good friends. But what Natasha meant… It couldn’t happen. He paused in the hallway, giving her a smile.

 

“My aunt,” she said to him, dropping the phone into her basket. “Bit of an insomniac.”

 

He nodded, then, against his better judgment, he said: “You know, if you’d like, you’re welcome to use my machine. Might be a bit cheaper than the one in the basement.”

 

Sharon raised her eyebrows, appearing appraising. “Well, what’s it cost?”

 

Steve shrugged. “Cup of coffee? A chat?”

 

He knew he sounded pathetic. Bucky had been the charming one, not him.

 

“Hey, no charming on my watch, mister,” Bucky would have told him. That hadn’t been what he meant, but Bucky would’ve winked and teased him anyway. Probably would've slapped him on the ass, too, just to make him blush.

 

“Well, thank you,” Sharon said, the no thank you plain in her tone, and Steve didn’t blame her. “But, I’ve already got a load down there, and I don’t think you want my scrubs in your washer, I just finished a rotation in the infectious disease ward, so…”

 

She trailed off. Steve nodded, giving her another smile. “Right, I’ll keep my distance.”

 

“Well, hopefully not too much,” Sharon added, smiling a little.

 

Steve gave a nod, unsure of how to respond to that. That hadn’t been what he meant.

 

“It’s those baby blues, no one can resist ‘em, doll,” Bucky would have warned him.

 

He turned away, pulling out his keys, and noticed it even before Sharon called out: “Oh, I think you left your radio on?”

 

He glanced back at her. “Thanks,” he said, and she nodded, then disappeared down the stairs. Steve turned back to the door, where the old big band jazz music was clearly audible, and considered his options. It was probably an ambush. There was no way to know how many might be waiting just through his door.

 

“Don’t do somethin’ stupid, punk,” Bucky would have really warned him.

 

He did the stupid thing. He got onto the fire escape and climbed into his apartment through a window, the one he had taken care of so it didn’t squeak. He grabbed his shield off the ground and took careful steps towards the front door. Whoever had turned on his record player had turned it on loud, an advantage for him, as it muffled his footsteps, but conversely, prevented him from hearing anything beyond the corner. He checked the air and smelled nothing. Didn’t mean no one was there, more likely, it meant it was someone on suppressants.

 

He checked around the corner. And found no gun, knives, or any weapon pointed at him. No, he found a figure sat in the armchair in the corner.

 

Steve gripped his shield even as he recognized Fury, angry now, not over Fury letting himself into his apartment, but that Fury sat in that chair.

 

It was the only thing he’d asked the Smithsonian to give back to him, recovered from the storage unit his mother’s landlord had put it in. The only thing from his past he kept around in the present. That was Bucky’s chair, had remained Bucky’s chair even after he moved away, even after he died, and there was Fury, casually sitting in it without a care.

 

“I don’t recall inviting you over,” Steve announced coldly.

 

“My Omega kicked me out,” Fury answered, cooly. Steve didn’t trust him for a second. “Thought she’d prefer I stay with a friend than at some hotel somewhere.”

 

“I didn’t know you were married,” Steve replied. “Or that we were friends.”

 

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

 

Steve wasn’t amused, as he stepped forward to flick the light switch. “I guess friendship’s changed since the 40’s, too,” he said, his tone ever cold, and turned on the light.

 

Fury looked like he’d been in a car accident. His face was covered in cuts, some still bleeding, bruises as well. Fury raised a hand carefully, stiffly, his ribs were probably broken or bruised, and switched off the lamp Steve had just turned on. Steve didn’t trust Fury, and now he certainly wasn’t trusting the situation. Fury then held up his phone, casually showing him two words:

 

Ears everywhere.

 

He’d been right to be suspicious. He highly doubted that Fury really was married, it had to be that something was seriously wrong and he was talking in riddles on purpose, throwing off whoever was listening. It was a statement to how much Steve was already riled up that he didn’t react at all Fury informing him that his apartment was bugged.

 

“I’m sorry I had to intrude uninvited but I had no place else to hole up,” Fury said calmly, pulling the phone back for a second, only to show it to him again, this time, Shield compromised.

 

Steve said nothing for a second, thinking. Fury waited, betraying no emotion, just as collected as he had been when Steve had walked in.

 

“Who else knows? About your wife?” he asked finally.

 

Fury put the phone away, then stood, slowly as if it pained him. He entered something on his phone, then held it back to where he could see it, saying: “Just my friends.”

 

You and me.

 

“Like I said, I wasn’t aware we were friends.”

 

Fury nodded slowly, as if he understood completely where Steve was coming from. “It depends on you,” he said.

 

And then a bullet burst through the wall and Fury was on the ground with a shout of pain. Steve ducked behind his shield automatically, waiting for another shot that didn’t come. He grabbed Fury and hauled him around the corner, holding his shield behind him to catch any other gunshots. Fury coughed, the sound gross and gurgling, as if there was, and in all likelihood there really was, blood pooling in his lungs. The director caught his hand, his fingers digging into the sensitive skin of Steve’s wrist, catching a scent gland under the nails, enough to make him wince.

 

Then he pulled his hand back, dropping it to the ground, and a thin object sat in Steve’s palm.

 

“Trust no one,” Fury choked out. His head fell against the floor with a thud as he winced in pain, and behind, Steve heard two loud bangs; the door hitting the wall after being broken down. He gripped his shield again, approaching the corner, when a woman’s voice rang out.

 

“Captain Rogers?”

 

Wary, but not threatening. Steve could smell fear, the faint trace of Beta. He peered around the corner as Sharon walked in, a gun held level at his living room.

 

“Captain, I’m Agent 13, S.H.I.E.L.D Special Service,” she said. “I was assigned to protect you.”

 

“On whose orders?” Steve demanded as Sharon rounded the corner, catching sight of Fury on the ground.

 

“His,” she said, dropping down to check Fury’s pulse. Steve checked the corner again as Sharon radioed in to someone, words he wasn’t listening to. Through the blinds, he saw a glimmer of metal on the roof of the next building.

 

“Tell them I’m in pursuit,” Steve told her, and made a running start for the window. He heard Sharon shout after him as he raised the shield and went through the glass. He went through another window, landing on the top floor of the building, he rolled into a sprint; through an artistic glass part of the roof, he saw a man running across the roof; long hair, muscled, from this distance, hard to tell height or weight. Steve burst through doors as he ran down the corridors, losing sight of his target but heading for the other end of the building. He reached a window and a dead end just as the shooter vaulted off the roof, rolling into a run on the roof of another building, and Steve went through the window, shield first, without a second thought. On the roof, he threw the shield, aiming perfectly for the shooter’s head.

 

Then the shooter spun and caught the shield in his left hand. The sound of metal hitting metal rang, through the air, reverberating enough to make his left ear, ever sensitive, fill with a pinging pain, as Steve made eye contact with the shooter.

 

The shooter eyes were painted black, a mask covering his face from the cheekbones down. The hair was unkempt, dark, the eyes a blue almost gray. His clothes were black tactical gear, leather and probably Kevlar. The hand holding Steve’s shield was gloved, but there was no mistaking that from the shoulder down it was made from a metal he didn’t recognize. For a second, the shooter was still, a warning in his eyes, then he flung the shield back at him, the arm moving too fluidly for comfort; in his distraction, it hit him in the stomach and sent him sliding back several feet, the air knocked from his lungs, and when he looked up, the shooter was gone. He ran to the edge of the building, jumping onto the ledge, and saw nothing.

 

There were sirens headed his way. The street below was deserted, and even with the wind on his face, Steve couldn’t catch a scent other than garbage and asphalt. He turned, defeated, and headed back to his apartment building.

 

Fury was being loaded into an ambulance when he walked up, Sharon, still dressed in scrubs, was talking with Agent Hill, who waved him over.

 

“Lost him,” he said before she could start. “Six foot, maybe two hundred pounds, built like a freight train. Dark hair, shoulder length, pale blue eyes. Oh, and he had a metal arm.”

 

Hill blinked at him, as did Sharon. The women exchanged glances, then Hill, adjusting her stance, uncrossed her arms and held out a hand.

 

“So, you got a good look at him,” she started. “Could you describe him to a sketch artist?”

 

Another time, Steve would have drawn the man himself. But he shook his head, sending Hill’s shoulders visibly drooping. “His eyes were painted black and he wore a mask that covered most of his face.”

 

“Metal arm is pretty distinctive,” Sharon mumbled.

 

Steve rubbed at his eyes, suddenly very tired and sore. “I think there was a red star painted on it, on the shoulder.”

 

“Shouldn’t be too hard to find,” Sharon reasoned.

 

Hill said nothing, just stared into the back of the ambulance as the EMTs prepared to go. Steve watched one strap an oxygen mask over Fury’s head. The doors to the ambulance closed, the sirens resuming their wails, and Hill shook herself, turning.

 

“I’m going to the hospital,” she said. “Rogers, you’re with me.”

 

Steve followed her without question, leaving Sharon behind, standing with her arms crossed over her pastel pink scrubs, watching Fury’s ambulance pull away.

 

He was barely aware of the ride to the hospital, barely aware of running in to where doctors were already operating on Fury. He barely noticed Natasha coming to his side.

 

“Will he make it?” she asked quietly.

 

He said nothing. The equipment inside the operating room beeped, Fury’s chest rising shallowly and falling quickly.

 

“Tell me about the shooter,” Natasha said after a second.

 

“Fast,” he answered tiredly. “Strong. His left arm was prosthetic, made of metal. He caught my shield easily.”

 

Natasha let out a heavy exhale.

 

Hill neared the window, leaning on the ledge as she watched with them, Fury’s life slipping away.

 

“Ballistics came back,” she said after a second. “Three slugs, no rifling.”

 

“Soviet-made,” Natasha answered immediately.

 

Hill glanced at her, nodding. The equipment inside began beeping more loudly, faster, higher pitched. The heart monitor dropped to a few beats, then started to flatline. A doctor grabbed defibrillator, Fury’s body jumped off the table, and the monitor spiked then flatlined again. Hill turned away from the window, the doctor trying the defibrillator again, and though Fury’s body jumped a second time, the monitor remained flatlined.

 

“Call it,” the doctor said.

 

“Time of death, 1:48.”

 

Steve stepped away from the window as well. His hands went into his pocket, and closed on the object Fury had given him. He slipped it out, looking at it.

 

It was the USB drive Natasha had taken from the Lemurian Star .

 

They put him in a white room, covered with a sheet. Natasha spent several minutes just staring at him, her arms crossed over her chest, an expression he’d never seen her wear before, some strange mix of anger and pain. He stood in the back, unable to process much or say anything, just watching her stand there. Despite the fact that she was on suppressants just like every other agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., he smelled the rage on her, the grief. He’d smelled the same scent on himself plenty of times, while hers was weighted more heavily in anger. Fury had been like a mentor to her, he knew, after she’d changed sides from the Soviet Union to S.H.I.E.L.D. Like a father.

 

Hill came in, whispering to him, “We need to take him.”

 

He only nodded. They probably had to examine his body, whatever they needed to do, Natasha had to go. He stepped forward, hesitantly reaching out for her shoulder, but spoke her name before he touched her. She stiffened under his hand for a second, then relaxed her shoulders.

 

“We gotta go,” he said softly to her.

 

She nodded, emotionless suddenly. She touched a hand to Fury’s head, at first gentle, like a child reaching out for comfort, then yanked it away as if burned, turned on her heel, and marched out. Steve didn’t look at Hill as he followed her, his eyes on the points of her heels as they clicked loudly on the hospital floor. In the hallway, she stopped and rounded on him abruptly.

 

“What was Fury doing in your apartment?”

 

Steve sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. His fingers clenched over the USB drive.

 

Trust no one.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Natasha’s lips pressed into a thin line. Her eyes were sharp, digging into his gaze with cold determination, and after a second, he broke eye contact, feeling tired and uncomfortable, like he was being shoved under a microscope and analyzed.

 

“Rogers,” a male voice came from behind him; he turned, spotting Rumlow striding towards him. “You’re wanted back at HQ.”

 

“Just give me a second,” he started, but Rumlow barked out: “Now,” and he gritted his teeth. He looked back at Natasha, who was suddenly smiling.

 

“You’re a shitty liar,” she said, then strode off.

 

Steve pulled his hands from his pockets, resting them on his hips as he looked away, around the hallway. There was a man doing maintenance on a vending machine to his left, the front of the case open. The USB weighed heavily in his pockets, Fury’s last words ringing in his head. S.H.I.E.L.D. was compromised.

 

The man stepped away to check his cart for something, and in the split second his back was turned, Steve slipped the USB behind a row of Hubba Bubba chewing gum, the shadows blending its shape perfectly with the bubble gum in front of it.

 

He found Rumlow at the end of the hallway, waiting for him. He nodded to him, Rumlow nodding back.

 

“STRIKE, out!”

 

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., he moved robotically. Suited up, swung his shield onto his back, laced his boots, tightened his gloves, took his dose of suppressants when his timer beeped at him angrily. He kept thinking about the shooter, the way the metal arm moved too fast for any prosthetic he’d ever seen, the warning look in those pale eyes. The way the hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks.

 

“You’re to report to Secretary Pierce, Cap,” Rumlow informed him. “He wants to debrief you personally.”

 

“Got it,” he answered. Robotically, moving on auto-pilot, expressionless and emotionless. It was something he’d perfected since he’d woken up, letting his stance and face reflect the deadness inside. It made him appear intimidating, apparently. People mistook it for intensity somehow.

 

Sharon was leaving Pierce’s office as he approached. She nodded to him, greeting him.

 

“Captain Rogers.”

 

“Neighbor,” he answered shortly.

 

“Oh, yeah, that’ll show her, nice job, Stevie,” Bucky would have said.

 

Secretary Pierce met him with a smile and held out a hand, that Steve took and shook briefly. The man was shorter than him by a head, older, in his sixties or seventies maybe, though with today’s cosmetics, Steve couldn’t be sure. An Alpha, obviously, one who was apparently wealthy enough to afford tailored silk suits. Steve didn’t like rich people typically; he doubted that Pierce would be an exception.

 

“Captain,” he said pleasantly, “good to finally meet you, I’m Alexander Pierce.”

 

“It’s an honor,” Steve said flatly. He didn’t mean it, he was hardly trying at being polite.

 

“The honor’s all mine, Cap,” Pierce answered, stepping back through the doorway of his office. “My father served in the 101st, you know. Come in.”

 

Steve followed him in, taking in the sleek, minimalist furniture, the scattered pieces of matching post-postmodern art (a trend he still didn’t get, even after extensive research), and Pierce pointing him towards a ring of seats in the corner. There were glossy photographs on the low table in the center, the first of a younger Fury and a younger Pierce.

 

“That photo was taken five years after Fury and I first met,” Pierce said, walking over to the other side of the room, setting down his jacket. He kept talking, telling Steve a story about Fury, another hostage situation, but Steve wasn’t listening very much. Something about Pierce made the little hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He wasn’t sure if it was the way he spoke, as if they were close friends despite having never met before that morning, or the way Steve could tell he wasn’t on any sort of suppressant, or even the way his hair was artificially sculpted. The man set him on edge, his easy-going smile even causing suspicion in him. He had no reason to trust Pierce, he had been in charge of the man in charge, of a massive-scale intelligence network that was now compromised. Steve remembered Fury’s story about his grandfather. How he had liked people, but he never trusted them.

 

He was starting to understand why Fury was the same.

 

“He saved the lives of over half a dozen political officers, including my daughter.”

 

“So you gave him a promotion,” Steve replied.

 

“And I never had any cause to regret it,” Pierce said, in a heavy tone that implied that when he said he had never had a cause, he meant in the past. That things had somehow changed now. “Captain, why was Nick in your apartment last night?”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve lied once again.

 

“Did you know the place was bugged?” Pierce asked.

 

“Yes,” Steve answered shortly, “‘cause Nick told me.”

 

Pierce gave him a calculating look, his eyes slightly narrowed. “Did he tell you that he was the one who had it bugged?”

 

He hadn’t, but Steve had figured it. He kept his expression flat, bordering on disapproving for effect, staring at Pierce, who after a second, sighed and leaned back in his chair. He glanced at the screen behind him, then leaned over and tapped at a glass tablet, saying: “I’d like you to take a look at this.”

 

A video feed appeared, showing Batroc and a man walking behind him. Steve glanced at it, at Pierce, then back.

 

“Is that live?”

 

“Yeah, they picked him up in a not-so-safe safe house in Algiers.”

 

Steve turned back to the video, watching Batroc stare downward rather than at the camera. His face was badly bruised, the colors indicating the injury had been sustained within the past few days. They were in the right spots to be the blows Steve had dealt, though Steve decided not to assume Pierce was telling him the truth.

 

“You think he’s a suspect?” he asked. “Assassination’s not exactly his line of work.”

 

“No,” Pierce said. “It’s more complicated than that. He was hired anonymously through email to attack the Lemurian Star , paid through wireless services. The money was run through seventeen different fictitious accounts, the last one going to a holding company, it was registered to a Jacob Beech.”

 

Pierce picked up a file as he spoke, handing it to Steve as he finished. “Am I s’posed to know who that is?” he asked tiredly, having run into thousands of names that were apparently known everywhere.

 

“No, Beech passed away six years ago,” Pierce said and Steve glanced back at him before opening the file. “His last address was 1435 Elmhurst Drive. When I first met Nick, his mother lived at 1437.”

 

Steve looked up, finding Pierce looking at him with complete seriousness. “Are you saying Fury hired the pirates?” he asked him dryly. “Why?”

 

“What we’re thinking,” Pierce began, “was that the hijacking was a cover for the acquisition and sale of classified S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence. Sale went sour, and that lead to Nick’s death.”

 

Steve looked away. This wasn’t sitting right with him, Pierce’s nonchalant manner, Fury’s hissed warning, the convenient paper trail. Trust no one , Fury had said.

 

“If you really knew Nick Fury,” Steve said, letting the file fall shut, “you’d know that wasn’t the case.”

 

Pierce gave a sad nod. “Why do think we’re talking?”

 

Pierce rose to his feet, his hands tucking behind his back, walking over to a picture window while Steve watched him cautiously. “See, I took a seat on the council, not because I wanted to, but because Nick asked me to. We were both realists. We both knew that despite all the diplomacy and handshakes and rhetoric, if we wanted to make a difference, change things for the better, sometimes building a new world meant that we’d have to tear the old one down.”

 

He looked back at him, as Steve stood up and made his choice, he wasn’t going to trust this man, not with his pretty words that he’d heard plenty of times before, Pierce taking a step closer, that calculating look back in his eye. “We knew that that makes enemies. Makes people uncomfortable. The same people who’ve got the nerve to call you dirty because you’re willing to stick your hands in the mud in order to build something better, and the idea that those people could be happy today?”

 

Steve said nothing, did nothing, kept his face neutral. Pierce was right. There had been plenty of times when he’d put his hands in the mud when he’d had no other choice. There had been times he’d set gone to knees in the mud, but he wasn’t going to give Pierce the benefit of a response. Pierce let out a short, humorless chuckle. “That makes me really, really angry.”

 

Steve maintained eye contact as Pierce stopped speaking. The truth was that he was dirty, he’d made mistakes in the past, sure. But the solution that Pierce had come to, whatever it was, he knew wasn’t the right one. The solution was to take a shower, and thinking of Project Insight, he suspected Pierce wanted to build a laser. He stood with his hands at his belt, assessing the layout of the room, marking out exits, evaluating the distance between the two of them in his peripheral vision. Pierce gave a slow, short nod, his gaze burning into Steve’s, who didn’t look away.

 

“Captain, I don’t think Nick being in your apartment was a coincidence,” Pierce informed him. “And I don’t think you do, either. So I’m going to ask again, why was he there?”

 

“He told me not to trust anyone,” Steve answered evasively.

 

Pierce narrowed his eyes. “I wonder,” he replied quietly, “if he included himself?”

 

Steve quirked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry,” he told him, “those were his last words.”

 

Pierce, finally, did not have a response. Steve gave another nod and turned away, picking up his shield and letting fall onto the magnets on the back of his uniform. At the door, Pierce called out to him again, and he turned back.

 

“Somebody murdered my friend,” the secretary said. “And I’m going to find out why. Anyone gets in my way, they’re going to regret it.”

 

Pierce’s gaze was intense, challenging. Steve did not respond. “Anyone,” he repeated, warningly.

 

Steve gave a final, curt nod. “Understood,” he said, and walked out.

 

He walked to the elevators, as robotic and emotionless as he’d gone in, waited for it to arrive, got in and walked to the rear, leaning on a railing and looking out at the water. “Operations control,” he told the computer after it verified his identity.

 

“Confirmed,” the computer answered.

 

The doors began to shut, then he heard them halt. Voices, multiple talking. He turned his head barely, picking out the scents and voices he recognized, Rumlow was among them.

 

“Forensics,” Rumlow said, and the others went quiet. He turned, nodding and greeting them. Rumlow turned to him as the doors shut. “Evidence found some fibers on the roof they want me to see, you want me to get the TAC team ready?”

 

He couldn’t know if Rumlow was compromised as well.

 

“Nah,” he said calmly, “let’s see what they’ve found first.”

 

“Right,” Rumlow answered, turning back to face the doors.

 

He had two men with him, one the rookie they’d taken to the Star . Steve glanced over both of them, both Rumlow and the older agent appeared casual, but the rookie had his hand close to a thigh holster.

 

Steve’s jaw tightened, and he relaxed it. Times like these, he was more grateful that the combination of all suppressants he took and the effects of Erskine’s serum made his scent glands practically nonfunctional. The rookie smelled nervous, Rumlow and the third agent calm, but they wouldn’t be able to tell that Steve was gearing to defend himself by smell alone.

 

The elevator stopped several floors down, more agents, these in suits, getting in. With Rumlow and his buddies, there were now five Alphas and three Betas in the elevator, all with tense shoulders and relaxed expressions.

 

Rumlow turned to him again. “Sorry about what happened with Fury. Messed up, man.”

 

“Thank you,” he said calmly, putting more gratitude in his voice. Rumlow nodded, looking away again. The elevator stopped once again, three more Alphas, including the sour-faced Agent Rollins, getting on. Steve looked around, resisting the urge to sigh. The elevator doors shut and resumed its descent. The rookie was getting more nervous, outwardly calm as can be, but Steve’s heightened sense of smell picked up on his fear. The three new Alphas smelled like sweat, like they’d just come from the gym. One of the suits was tugging at his collar.

 

“Before we get started,” said Steve in a flat tone, “does anyone want to get out?”

 

No one moved. The rookie froze in fact. For a second, at least, until Rollins spun around, shock stick in hand, and slammed it into the window right where Steve’s head had been before he ducked; he knocked it out of Rollins’ grip and it clattered to the floor, inactive. An agent slammed the emergency lock on the side panel of the elevator and it froze in the air. Several men grabbed him by the arms and throat, a couple of agents revealing the handles of their briefcases to be magnetic cuffs, which they slammed against his wrists that were being held up by other agents.

 

Someone’s forearm was pressing against his trachea, making it hard for him to breath, and Steve wondered if whoever was doing it had bothered to remember he had spent the first 25 years of his life having trouble breathing they would have bothered to half-suffocate him then. The cuffs, though, those were the problem. The magnets were incredibly strong, and it took all he had to just to hold his hands steady. It wasn’t enough, though.

 

He ripped his wrist far enough away from the metal bar above his head, kicked an Alpha in the knee and sent him to the ground. He crushed the one holding his throat against the wall, slammed him into the guy on his right, kicked the legs out from under the guy on his left, and flung one cuff off his wrist; it hit the wall high above their heads with a clang. Rumlow put a roundhouse to his hand, the one still in the magnet cuff, and it struck the wall metal beam with another echoing clang. He tried to pull his arm off, then looked up to see Rumlow holding the shock stick. He blocked the first strike, and it hit wide on the glass, but Rumlow caught him on the second strike.

 

The volts went out in waves over his back, his whole body vibrating, muscles contracting, until he threw Rumlow off of him in time to strike another Alpha in the face with the palm of his hand. One of them came at him with a second shock stick, but he grabbed his arm and jabbed it into the gut of another agent, who passed out almost immediately. He backhanded the Alpha with the second shock stick, knocking him out, then leapt up onto the wall, kicking two more agents in the face as he went, to pry the magnet off the metal. He flew backwards with the exertion of it, landing on his feet to elbow one Alpha in the face and another in the gut. Rumlow got to his feet, now holding both of the shock sticks, the last man standing.

 

“Whoa, big guy,” Rumlow said, his voice casual, as if this situation was the exact opposite of an entire team trying to take him down in an elevator. Rumlow gave him an easy but fatigued smile, and drew back the shock stick. “It’s nothing personal!”

 

He swung, once, and Steve dodged, catching his right hand. Rumlow jabbed the left one into his gut, which he smacked away before kneeing him in return. The shock stick came back up, Rumlow’s face twisted in a demented grin, and Steve landed a blow on his jaw, sending him flying back, before throwing him up to hit the ceiling and land on the ground, unmoving.

 

“Kinda feels personal,” he exhaled. He stepped on the edge of his shield, flipping it up and catching it, then hit the magnetized cuff and broke it off of his wrist easily.

 

“That’s my fella,” Bucky would have said with a proud grin.

 

Steve disabled the emergency lock and the elevator resumed. He took the time to catch his breath, until it stopped and the doors opened to reveal a hallway full of agents pointing guns at him.

 

“Drop the shield, put your hands in the air!” one shouted.

 

Steve did nothing of the sort. He spun around, hitting and breaking the glass wall of the elevator and slicing the cables that held the elevator up. The doors shut automatically as the elevator dropped, going several floors before emergence breaks caught it. He pried open the doors, but more agents were rushing at him, so he let the doors shut and looked around for an exit route.

 

He was still at least fifty floors above the ground. Fuck his life.

 

“Get this door open!” a voice shouted.

 

This was gonna hurt. Steve raised his shield, then went out the window. He fell for about ten seconds before he went through a glass roof of the lobby below, hitting the ground, shield first, a few seconds later to screams and cries of surprise. He probably had crushed several bones in the fall, felt like he’d pulverized his entire spinal column, at least, as he pushed himself up, slicing his knuckles on bits of broken glass. He got to his feet, unsteady as his head swam from the rush for a few seconds, and then broke into as fast of a run as he could, heading for the garage and his bike.

 

More agents shot at him, bullets he either dodged or deflected, as he ran to his bike and threw himself astride it. The engine roared to life and he gunned the throttle, tearing out of the garage to jump his bike over the closing emergency gates. A quinjet was waiting for him on the road out, a PA system warning him to stand down and firing the turrets after less than a second. He dodged the spray of bullets, ripping his shield off his back and throwing it. It curved into the left turbine of the jet, he pulled the bike up onto its front wheel, flipping it and launching himself up, into the air, landing on the jet’s wing to yank his shield from the turbine.

 

He slammed the edge into another critical point, the jet tipped and nearly threw him off, but he swung upward, landing on his feet on the back of the fuselage. He threw the shield again, to ping off the fins and curve through the air, then ran off the aft of the jet, leaping to catch his shield and land on the roadway. His ankles shook with the impact, he’d probably fractured a few more bones, but he walked away as the quinjet crashed into a ball of flame. His bike was damaged, but drivable. He lifted it up, swung his leg over, and took off.

 

He grabbed a change of clothes from a donations bin a mile south of HQ. He shoved his uniform into a dumpster, but hid the shield someplace safe. The bike he left in an alley, choosing to walk on foot to the hospital where Fury had been taken. He kept the hood of the jacket up, his eyes on the ground, and disappeared into the crowd, another ghost among the multitudes.

 

When he got to the hospital, he walked in like he was meant to be there, and no one noticed him. The vending machine was on the third floor, he took the stairs, avoiding cameras. The hallway where it was located was full of nurses, all too busy to spare him a glance. He stopped in front of the vending machine, eyes raising, and found slot 510, between the Doublemint gum and the Eclipse mints where the Hubba Bubba ought to have been, empty.

 

Natasha appeared in the reflection of the glass, blowing a bright pink bubble. He turned, then grabbed her by the waist and shoved her into a deserted room.

 

“Where is it?” he demanded.

 

“Safe,” she answered, which was not the answer he was looking for; he bared his teeth at her, threateningly, only for her to keep her gaze level. “Where did you get it?” Natasha demanded in return.

 

“Why would I tell you?” Steve asked, his teeth gritting, but Natasha was speaking again before he even finished.

 

“Fury gave it to you? Why?”

 

“What’s on it?” he countered.

 

“I don’t know,” she said, and he pushed her harder into the wall, baring his teeth once again, this time, getting her to duck her chin, defensively, but at least showing that his threat was coming across. “I only act like I know everything, Rogers.”

 

“I’ll bet you knew Fury hired those guys to hijack the ship,” Steve guessed. Natasha, for all her coolness, looked troubled.

 

“It makes sense,” she said, as if she didn’t want it to, “the ship was dirty, Fury needed a way in, so –”

 

He grabbed the front of her shirt, pressing her against the wall, enough to make it hurt a little, and turning his tone sharper, he spat: “I’m not gonna ask you again!” in a pale imitation of an Alpha voice, enough that Natasha ought to assume he wanted to use it but was resisting the urge.

 

Natasha’s eyes searched his face. She worked her jaw, then checked the room, the exits, looking for cameras, before her eyes settled back on his. He clenched his jaw, gaze hard.

 

“I know who killed Fury,” she said finally.

 

He did not relax his grip on her shoulders, kept his jaw tight, and waited for her to go on.

 

“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists,” she said, her tone rushed, eyes searching the room again, “just a warning they told the children of the Red Room to keep us in line. The ones who do know he’s real, call him the Winter Soldier. He’s got over fifty credited assassinations in the last fifty years.”

 

“So, he’s a ghost story,” Steve replied.

 

Natasha scanned the room again, her eyes flitting back to him for the barest of seconds. “Five years ago, I was escorting an engineer in Iran. Someone shot out my tires near Odessa, I lost control, we went straight over a cliff, I pulled us out.”

 

She paused, taking a breath, licked her lips, hesitating. “But he was there. I was covering my engineer, so he shot him, straight through me.”

 

She lifted the hem of her shirt, his eyes flicked down long enough to see the ugly scar above her hip.

 

“Soviet slug,” Natasha finished. “No rifling.”

 

She quirked an eyebrow then. “Bye, bye bikinis,” she added.

 

“Yeah, I bet you look terrible in ‘em now,” Steve said dryly.

 

Natasha flicked her eyebrows up once more, the only indication she’d felt his comment amusing. “Going after him is a dead end, no one’s seen his face and lived, you’ll never catch his scent, and if you do, it’s already too late, he’s got you.” She lifted the USB. “Like you said, he’s a ghost story.”

 

Steve dropped her. She landed back on her feet, her chin dropping to cover her throat as her eyes lifted to hold his gaze. She kept the USB in her hands, waiting.

 

“So, what’ll it be, Cap?” she asked.

 

He plucked it from her hand, keeping his gaze locked on hers and harsh. She didn’t cow under it, held it, looking up at him with her chin defiantly lowered as she refused to submit. It was what he expected of her, what he would do in her position, but he didn’t have time for her games. “I know my way around ghosts,” he answered finally.

 

Natasha gave a nod. “Let’s go,” she said and pushed off the wall. “First stop, getting you a better disguise.”

 

She had a dropbox stowed in the city, supplied with fake passports, clothes, cash and credit cards. Steve was amazed that she even had clothes that fit him, let alone an entire disguise premade for him, complete with a backpack big enough to stow his shield in after they’d fetched it from his hiding place.

 

“I have one for everyone necessary,” she said shortly when he’d asked, then shoved a pair of glasses on his face. “Don’t question it.”

 

The clothes felt all wrong, the jeans were tight, the shoes stiff, and it was all stuff he’d never normally wear, which was exactly what they needed, even if he felt like his ass was on display for the whole world to see.

 

“It’s an amazing ass, Stevie, the world should appreciate it a little more,” Bucky would have laughed. “Only a little, though, it’s my ass to appreciate.”

 

She took him to a shopping center, which felt much too open and exposed for him. He kept glancing over his shoulder, until Natasha snapped at him to cut it out.

 

“The first rule of being on the run is don’t run, walk,” she insisted.

 

“If I run in these shoes, they’ll fall off,” he grumbled.

 

Natasha lead him into an Apple store, going straight for a display of laptops in the back. She held out her hand to him, not looking, and after a second, wiggled her fingers.

 

“What?” he hissed.

 

“The drive,” she hissed back.

 

“Oh,” he said, and pulled it out of his pocket, dropping it into her open palm.

 

She entered a few commands on the laptop, downloaded something and started a program he didn’t recognize, entering more commands, typing at lightning fast speeds.

 

“It’s got a level six homing program, so as soon as I boot this up, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s gonna figure out where we are.”

 

“How much time do we have?” he asked, scanning the room for suspicious movement.

 

“About nine minutes from,” Natasha murmured, then shoved the drive in, “now.”

 

Steve kept an eye out as she started hacking her way into the drive. After a minute, she made a disgruntled noise and he turned back to her, looking at the laptop and having no clue what she was doing.

 

“Fury was right about the ship,” she said, “someone definitely wanted to keep something hidden. There’s some sort of AI protecting the information though, it keeps rewriting itself to ignore my commands.”

 

“Can you override it?” he suggested.

 

“The person who designed this was slightly smarter than me,” Natasha admitted, sounding very irked at having to do so. “Slightly,” she added defensively.

 

Steve scanned the room again. All civilians still, all clear. It had been four minutes, 17 seconds.

 

“I think I can try running a tracer,” Natasha mused, “it’s a program to track infectious malware, if I can’t access the file, I can figure out where it came from.”

 

“Can I help you guys with anything?”

 

Steve and Natasha both turned around as a man with long, long blonde hair wearing a staff shirt walked up to them, smiling politely. Natasha echoed the smile, wrapping her arm around Steve’s waist and pressing a hand to his chest, saying: “Oh, my Alpha and I are just looking for honeymoon destinations.”

 

Steve did his best not to appear extremely uncomfortable with Natasha’s hand resting directly on top of his nipple, giving the Apple employee a short smile. “Yeah, we’re getting married.”

 

“Congratulations,” the Apple employee said warmly as Natasha turned back to the computer; Steve caught his scent, Beta, calm, faint trace of marijuana. “Where are you guys thinking about going?”

 

Steve looked back at the computer as the program highlighted a location. “New Jersey,” he said hesitantly.

 

“Ah,” the Apple employee said. Steve could tell he was judging them. He looked back at him, smiling tightly again. The employee narrowed his eyes, looking at him quizzically, and Steve swallowed, his fists clenching, but then: “I have the exact same glasses,” the employee said, sounding very pleased with his observation.

 

“Wow, you guys are like twins,” Natasha commented wryly.

 

“Yeah, I wish,” the man laughed, looked Steve up and down, gestured to him and winked. “Specimen,” he said, grinning.

 

Steve smiled weakly. The Apple employee laughed again, then raised his name tag, saying: “If you guys need anything, I’ve been Aaron,” and he walked away.

 

Steve turned back to the computer, swallowing once more.

 

“Told ya, punk,” Bucky would have said.

 

“How about him, he seems nice,” Natasha quipped, typing rapidly once more.

 

“You literally just told him I’m engaged,” Steve sighed.

 

“It’s fine, just tell him I died, he’ll fall over himself to comfort you,” she said, making Steve raise his eyebrows. “Bonus points if I died saving you from aliens or some shit.”

 

“Can we focus on getting this?” Steve asked. “You’ve got three minutes, 48 seconds.”

 

“Bet you like beard burn,” Natasha added.

 

“45 seconds,” Steve reminded her.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, typing once again. “Relax.”

 

Steve leaned in, watching the program triangulating, then:

 

“Got it,” Natasha said. Steve was still leaning in, as she glanced up, searching his face again. “You know it?” she asked cautiously.

 

“I used to,” he answered, just as cautious. “Let’s go.”

 

He pulled out the USB, Natasha deleted everything she’d done, and they got out of there. On their way out, Steve caught sight of two men in S.H.I.E.L.D. jackets walking across the hall. He used the reflections off metal pillars to check behind them, finding two more.

 

“Two units, standard tag team, 11 and 5 o’clock, approaching fast,” he said softly to Natasha. “If they make us, I’ll engage, you go for the south escalator.”

 

“Put your arm around me and laugh at something I said,” Natasha answered quickly.

 

“What?”

 

“Do it!”

 

Steve slung his arm around her shoulders, tucking her into his side and dropping his face towards hers, grinning and laughing. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents walked right past them.

 

Natasha steered him towards escalators, and with his most recent experience in an elevator, he was fine with that. At the top, he spotted Rumlow on his way up, looking in another direction, face thoroughly beat up, he noted with a bit of relish. Natasha saw him, too, apparently, as she turned to face him and said: “Kiss me.”

 

“What?” he echoed.

 

“Public displays of affection make people very uncomfortable,” she insisted.

 

“Yes, they do,” Steve agreed emphatically.

 

He didn’t have time to say anything else, since Natasha grabbed him by the neck and hauled his face down to meet hers. Her lips smashed against his, he froze in place, then forced himself to put his hands at her waist, playing the part though he very much wanted to recoil. He was reminded fiercely of being a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter and being crushed against a wall by guys who wanted more than just a fuck or blowjob, except, he reminded himself intentionally, Natasha was just trying to keep their cover. It didn’t help the feeling like being sucker-punched. After several long seconds, she let go of him, turning back around as if nothing had happened.

 

“You still uncomfortable?” Natasha asked cooly.

 

Steve resisted the urge to wipe his mouth. “That’s not exactly the word I’d use,” he grumbled.

 

“Now I know you’re tryna make me jealous,” Bucky would have said.

 

They exited the shopping center with no further trouble, and from there, Natasha evaluated the parking lot.

 

“There’ll be a bus in about ten minutes,” she said, “but I don’t want to wait that long.”

 

“Me neither,” Steve said. He scanned the parking lot, looking for more S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and a good car.

 

“I’ve got a van stashed about three miles from here,” Natasha said. Steve grabbed her hand and started walking, pulling her along behind him. “And we’re going to do what instead?” she asked.

 

“Follow me,” he muttered, eyes searching.

 

There was an unlocked Chevy pickup parked almost all the way in the back by a line of trees, the driver’s side door covered by the shade. Steve pulled her around that side, told her: “Keep watch,” and opened the door. He ducked under the steering wheel, feeling around for wires, then yanked off the glasses and tossed them out of his way.

 

“Stealing a car, I like it,” Natasha commented.

 

“Shuddup and lemme focus.”

 

“Your accent gets worse when you’re annoyed.”

 

“Whatchu callin’ worse?” Steve muttered.

 

“Just letting you know, informing you of your tells.”

 

“Thanks,” he said grumblingly, “now, shuddup, and lemme focus.”

 

It took a couple of minutes, cars having been updated since 1945, but after a few small shocks, the engine turned and began to purr happily.

 

“Get in,” he told her, climbing into the driver’s seat.

 

“I’d rather drive,” she said immediately.

 

“I hotwired the car,” he said, “I drive.”

 

Natasha pouted. Or did her version of a pout. She thinned out her lips and wrinkled her nose, then turned on her heel and walked around to the passenger’s side, getting in and shutting her door loudly. Steve took off the parking brake, put the truck in drive, and pulled out. Once they were safely out of the city, Natasha visibly relaxed, leaning her chair back and pushing back her hood.

 

They were entering New Jersey when she broke the silence.

 

“Where did Captain America learn how to hotwire a car?”

 

“Nazi Germany,” he answered, glancing at her, “and we’re borrowing it, so take your feet off the dash.”

 

Natasha gave him a look, then pulled her feet off of the dashboard.

 

“Alright, I have a question for you,” she announced. “You don’t have to answer, though, if you don’t, it kind of is an answer.”

 

“What?” he asked, wanting her to get over it.

 

He could hear her smirking when she finally did ask her question.

 

“Was that your first kiss since 1945?”

 

Steve exhaled through his mouth and worked his jaw, loosening it as he checked his mirrors. He glanced at Natasha, and she was, in fact, smirking. It grew the longer he stayed silent.

 

“That bad?” he asked, trying to deflect.

 

“I didn’t say that,” Natasha said, her smirk still audible in her voice.

 

“It kinda sounds like that’s what you meant,” he argued.

 

“Was it?” Natasha insisted.

 

“Yes,” he snapped.

 

When she said nothing, he looked back at her briefly. Her smirk was gone.

 

“Why?”

 

Steve clenched his jaw briefly, swallowing a sharp reply of because I watched Bucky fall off a moving train over a hundred feet in the air and tried my damndest to join him .

 

“Nobody I wanna kiss,” he said instead.

 

“Really? It’s not for lack of volunteers, I know that. There’s nobody special?”

 

He scoffed, checked the mirrors, no cars on their tail that had been there too long, and Natasha prodded him in the side.

 

“Gotta be someone,” she said.

 

“Believe it or not, it’s kind of hard to find someone with shared life experience,” he said.

 

Natasha was watching him, an evaluative sheen to the way she was smiling. “So there was someone,” she said. “Are the scandalous rumors from way back when true, you had a thing for Agent Carter?”

 

“No,” Steve answered, his tone sharp. “And stop asking.”

 

“I hit a nerve?”

 

“Try ten.”

 

“Oh, so there was someone really special then.”

 

“Drop it, please,” he asked, sighing.

 

Natasha fell silent. He glanced back towards her, finding her expression neutral.

 

“I feel that,” she said, looking out the window.

 

Steve didn’t ask what she meant. She didn’t clarify. They drove in silence, almost for another hour, finally reaching their destination as the sun was beginning to set.

 

Steve cut the engine and opened his door, yet Natasha didn’t. He glanced at her and found her watching him again.

 

“Were you bonded?” she asked abruptly.

 

Steve’s eyebrows shot up. “People don’t just ask those kinds of questions –!”

 

“Were you?” she repeated, neutral.

 

He gaped at her, looked away, sighed and got out. “No,” he said, and slammed the door.

 

Natasha got out, walking around to meet him at the front of the truck. “This is it,” he told her, the subject dropped.

 

“The file came from these coordinates,” she said, examining the rusted, chain link fence marking the borders of Camp Lehigh before them.

 

“So did I,” he said.

 

The sun dipped fully over the horizon as they entered and Natasha pulled out her phone to scan for whatever she was looking for, while he told her what he could about his time at Camp Lehigh. He had to leave out lots of details, like how he’d been practically quarantined on one portion of the camp with the other male Omegas so the Alphas didn’t get tempted to try anything, and Natasha didn’t press. Lehigh had been reverted back to a regular boot camp not long after he’d left it, after Project Rebirth had taken its candidate and the Army didn’t need Omegas anymore. His eyes swept the grounds as the shadows pooled and gathered at the edges. He hadn’t been back since the serum.

 

“This is a dead end,” Natasha said finally. “Zero heat signatures, zero waves, not even radio.”

 

She shoved her phone into her pocket, sighing in defeat. “Whoever wrote the file must have used a router to throw people off.”

 

Steve swept the area once more. Barracks, mess hall, a bunker. Familiar places, all of them. Then his gaze snapped back to the bunker and his eyes narrowed slightly, his eyebrows furrowing. He glanced back at the barracks, then started towards the bunker.

 

“What is it?” Natasha asked, jumping down to follow him.

 

“Army regulations forbid storing munitions within five hundred yards of the barracks,” he told her. “This building is in the wrong place.”

 

His shield took care of the lock, and they were inside. Steve flipped a switch, half not expecting anything to happen, but the building lit up, and on the far wall was the logo of S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

In a back room, they found old shelves, filing cabinets, and black and white photographs of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard, Peggy, people Steve hadn’t met before the ice and were dead by the time he came out of it. They walked down the length of the room, examining the shelves covered in dust and cobwebs.

 

He stopped in front of one. There was a gap between it and the one on its side, behind it, a seam. He got a good grip on it and pulled, revealing an elevator.

 

Natasha used her phone to check the keypad for fingerprints, then entered the code marked on it. They entered, the elevator reeking of dust, and it closed automatically. There were just two buttons, and Steve pressed the bottom of the two. The elevator groaned, then began to slowly lower itself, machinery screeching and clanking as it went down. It stopped, the doors opened, and they stepped out, walking into a massive room. The lights turned on as they entered, something Steve didn’t trust, not even after spending plenty of time in Stark’s tower where JARVIS was behind every corner. There were huge, towering blocks that Steve recognized after a second’s squinting as early computers, the kind he’d seen in photos of the moon landing operation in 1969.

 

“This tech is ancient, this can’t be the origin of the data,” Natasha said in confusion as they walked in. There was a raised platform in the center of the room, a terminal with a single chair covered in cobwebs tucked under it. As they stepped onto it, Steve spotted the only object not covered in dust, a sleek, black USB tower. Natasha raised an eyebrow at it, then pulled the USB drive from her pocket. She looked at him, and he nodded. She plugged it in.

 

The computers lit up. And so did the rest of the room, showing that the underground base was much bigger than Steve had estimated, and filled, filled, to the brim with the same, ancient computer towers. The terminal in front of them blipped, a camera lifting and scanning the room slowly before stopping, pointed in their direction, green text appearing on the monitor, text that that was read aloud by a robotic voice.

 

“Initiate system?”

 

Steve and Natasha exchanged glances, then she stepped forward and typed yes onto a decrepit looking keyboard. The computers whirred louder, fans turning on and spinning, sending dust flying, something that once would have sent him into fits of coughing but now left him unaffected. The monitor before them lit up with green once again, not text this time, but single pixels, until the faint image of a face in round glasses appeared, abstract, on the screen.

 

“Rogers,” it said, “Steven Grant. Born 1918.”

 

The accent was German, or something like it. The sense of unease that had slipped into him as the lights switched on with no command grew steadily while the camera panned to Natasha.

 

“Romanoff, Natalia Alianovna. Born 1984.”

 

“It’s a recording,” Natasha said, puzzled.

 

“I am not a recording, fraulein,” the computer said.

 

The accent was German, and the voice was one he knew, had heard only a few times, but haunted his dreams day in and day out.

 

“I may not be the man I was when the Captain took me prisoner in 1945, but I am.”

 

A second monitor lit up, a newspaper photo of Arnim Zola displayed. Steve’s hands balled into fists, his heartbeat increasing in his chest; he had captured Zola, he had told Colonel Phillips to see Zola killed , and Phillips had looked him in the eye and lied to him.

 

“You know this thing?” Natasha demanded.

 

Steve stepped off the platform, looking for something he could break and see the computer destroyed, answering her: “Arnim Zola was a German scientist working for the Red Skull. He was supposed to be dead.”

 

“First correction,” Zola declared, his computerized voice sending chills down Steve’s spine, “I am Swiss. Second, look at me. I have never been more alive.”

 

“I said, you were supposed to be dead,” Steve snapped. “Phillips promised me he was going to throw you out of a moving plane over the Atlantic.”

 

Natasha shot him a wide-eyed look, one he ignored.

 

“I was deemed to be useful,” Zola retorted.

 

“How did you get here?” Steve asked, coming back up to stand on the platform.

 

“In 1972, I received a terminal diagnosis. Science could not save my body. My mind, however, that was worth saving; on two hundred databanks. Captain, you are standing in my brain.”

 

“Right, but why didn’t Phillips throw you out that fucking plane?”

 

“Testy, Captain?”

 

“I don’t like being lied to,” Steve growled.

 

Natasha grabbed his arm, her eyebrows raised, a question in her eyes. This, too, he ignored, pulling away to glare at the green pixels of Zola’s face.

 

“As I said, I was deemed to be useful. I was invited.”

 

“Operation Paperclip,” Natasha said, catching his attention and making him turn away from Zola, “after World War II, S.H.I.E.L.D. recruited German scientists with strategic value.”

 

“And nobody stopped to think that was a stupid idea?” Steve snapped.

 

“Temper, temper, Captain. Then again, you do seem to have trouble controlling your Alpha urges.”

 

Steve raised his shield, a snarl on his lips. “Tell me why I shouldn’t just give in to those urges and start smashing all your databanks, Zola.”

 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Zola chuckled, the sound becoming twisted and perverted by the old speaker system. “S.H.I.E.L.D. thought I could help their cause, as some sort of penance. But while I aided them, I also helped my own cause.”

 

“HYDRA died with the Red Skull,” Steve said.

 

“Cut off one head,” Zola said, and the pixels on the screen split to show two faces, “two more shall grow in its place.”

 

“Prove it,” he snapped.

 

“Accessing archive.”

 

The pixels vanished, the monitor flashing, then an old film reel, showing first the face of Johann Schmidt, appearing on the screen, as Zola narrated the rise of HYDRA, its fall, and then its rebirth inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. Images flashed on the screen, propaganda, the Nazis of the Third Reich marching in lines, Steve’s own face, an arm made of metal stamped with a red star. Throughout it, Steve’s fists gripped his shield tighter, and it took all he had not to just start smashing things until he could get what information he needed out of Zola.

 

“That’s impossible, S.H.I.E.L.D. would have stopped you.”

 

“Accidents,” a news headline declaring the death of Howard Stark appeared, “will happen. HYDRA created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom for its safety.”

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be,” Fury had said.

 

“We both knew that despite all the diplomacy and handshakes and rhetoric, if we wanted to make a difference, change things for the better, sometimes building a new world meant that we’d have to tear the old one down.”

 

A satellite labeled Insight appeared, followed by the hundreds of turrets that could neutralize over two thousand threats in less than a minute.

 

“Your death, Captain,” Zola declared, “amounts to the same as your life: A zero-sum.”

 

His fist swung and the monitor shattered. Zola’s face reappeared on the second monitor, unaffected. Steve’s breathing was coming fast and heavy, his blood roared in his ears, he had died for his country so he could be with Bucky; Bucky had died for his country, and it had all been for nothing!

 

“As I was saying,” Zola said cooly.

 

“What’s on this drive?” Steve demanded. There were bits of glass in his knuckles. He’d pick them out later.

 

“Project Insight requires insight,” Zola answered. “So I wrote an algorithm.”

 

“What does it do?” Natasha asked.

 

“The answer to your question is fascinating, unfortunately, you shall be too dead to hear it.”

 

Steve whipped around as the elevator began to close; he threw his shield, but too late, it bounced off the doors and rebounded, not even knocking over a row of databank dominoes as it went.

 

“We got incoming, Cap!” Natasha called. “Short-range ballistics, thirty seconds tops.”

 

“Who fired it?”

 

She made eye contact. There was fear in her gaze. “S.H.I.E.L.D.”

 

“I am afraid I have been stalling, Captain,” Zola said calmly.

 

Steve looked around, desperate for anything; there were metal grates on the floors, ventilation, something, whatever; he grabbed one and ripped it off, reached out for Natasha and found her there in a second.

 

“Admit it, it is better this way, Captain.”

 

They leapt into the hole remaining, Steve holding his shield over his head as he blocked Natasha’s body with his own.

 

“We are, both of us, out of time.”

 

Later, he didn’t remember much after the missile struck. Pain. Flashes of light. Crashing, rubble falling, chaos. But somehow, he dug himself and Natasha out, stayed out of sight while S.H.I.E.L.D. agents started to swarm the destruction left behind. Natasha smelled like blood and fear, stinking in his enhanced sense of smell. He pulled a pack of pills from his pocket, fast-acting suppressants, and jammed half of them into her mouth. She swallowed, half-conscious, then slumped against his body. Within minutes, the smell of fear began to dissipate as the suppressants took over her system. He tucked her under a slab of concrete, burying her in rubble and dust, scattered more over his footprints as he holed himself up nearby. He heard footsteps approaching, and through the reek of dust, smelled Rumlow.

 

“Call in the Asset,” Rumlow’s voice said. The footsteps retreated.

 

He waited an hour after the sound of choppers and the scent of Alphas had faded before climbing out. Natasha was still unconscious when he dragged her out; he slung her over his shoulder and started walking. The Chevy he’d borrowed had been destroyed, but there was a highway not too far off, and where there was a highway, there’d be gas stations, and plenty of people stupid enough to leave their cars unlocked. It took almost another hour, but he found a small sedan outside an Exxon, tucked Natasha in the passenger seat, hotwired it, and got out of there before anyone knew what was happening. Around Baltimore, he dumped the car, went into a drugstore and stole a first aid kit, patched Natasha up as best he could and stole a second car. He switched again just before they hit DC, Natasha coming to finally, then dumped it in the middle of the city.

 

Natasha looked around them, the sunrise had just begun, and the streets were mostly empty. She fixed Steve with a look, still holding her left side, she’d probably bruised some ribs.

 

“What do we do now?” she asked hoarsely.

 

“I know a guy,” he said. He put an arm around her waist, protective and supportive. “He’s ex-Air Force, never worked with S.H.I.E.L.D.”

 

“Sounds good to me, Cap,” Natasha murmured.

 

Sam’s address was on the card he’d given him last they’d met. They arrived about an hour after dawn, going to the back door. He knocked, waited. The blinds drew up, revealing Sam, sweaty and apparently just returned from a run. Sam slid open the door, nodding to him and Natasha.

 

“You guys alright?” he asked.

 

“I’m sorry about this,” Steve said, ignoring the question. They weren’t alright, obviously. “We need a place to lie low.”

 

“Everyone we know is trying to kill us,” Natasha added.

 

Sam gave a nod, then stepped back. “Not everyone.”

 

Natasha went in first, and out of habit, Steve scanned the area for dangers; weapons, explosives, tasting the air and looking for the scent of anything out of place. The house was modest, the kitchen clean and fairly empty, an open bottle of orange juice on the counter. He couldn’t smell anything except Sam, Beta, sweat, and something that was probably the orange juice.

 

Sam showed them to a guest room, gave them towels and fresh clothes. Offered Natasha a pair of sweats and a tank top he said belonged to his sister, Steve jeans and a shirt that smelled like Sam himself, so they were probably his own. Steve let Natasha take first shower, falling back on the bed and letting himself just breathe, finally really process what had happened. He stared up at the ceiling for a long time. When Natasha got out, scrubbing at her hair with a towel, he went in, stripped and got into the shower. Once the water was on, he leaned against the wall and let his head fall back, the dampness on his face not the shower’s spray.

 


 

 

“Remember that time I made you ride the Cyclone at Coney Island?” Bucky asked. The wind howled in their ears as they stood on the edge of a cliff, hundreds of feet in the air.

 

“Yeah, and I threw up?” Steve answered. He’d been twelve, Bucky fourteen. He’d thrown up quite a lot.

 

Bucky turned to him, a gentle, easy grin on his lips. “This isn’t revenge, is it?”

 

Steve grinned back, as Bucky closed the distance between them and wound an arm around his waist. “What would I do that for?” he teased.

 

Bucky’s grin widened and he leaned in and kissed him sweetly him on the mouth.

 

“Alright, loverboys, that’s the signal, let’s get going,” Gabe announced.

 

“One more for luck,” Bucky said, and caught one last kiss from him. He took a second to rub his fingers along his wrist, picking up Steve’s scent and dropping his own, then stepped back and mounted the zip line. He jumped, disappearing quickly into the snow.

 

“If you die, just let us know!” Gabe called as Steve prepared to follow.

 

“I just died!” Bucky’s voice came from the distance.

 

“Ha, fucking, ha!” Steve shouted back, and jumped after him.

 


 

 

Up until yesterday, that had been his last kiss since 1945. The last kiss he’d had from Bucky, the last time Bucky had scented him, the last time he’d heard his Alpha laugh or seen him smile, last time for a lot of things. Gabe apologized for joking about it, about death, later, after they’d gotten back to base and Steve finished his third bottle of whiskey. He couldn’t get drunk anymore, apparently, which was something Erskine hadn’t warned him about. He’d consumed an entire case of single malt, and was stone cold sober when he was done.

 

They’d succeeded in capturing Zola, Colonel Phillips had given him a fucking steak and interrogated him, when all Steve wanted to do was march in there and put a bullet between the bastard’s eyes. Not that he could explain it to Phillips, of course. It was obvious if you looked that Steve was mourning someone that was more than just a friend, and if he wanted to stay under the radar, he couldn’t just point it out to the colonel. When it was over, and Steve gearing up for his next mission, he’d pulled Phillips aside and requested bluntly that Zola pay for the loss of his team member. An eye for an eye, he had said.

 

“There’ll be an accident on our flight over to London,” Phillips had replied calmly, and Steve had realized that Phillips knew more than he let on. “A life for a life.”

 

But Zola had not been shoved out of a plane. Zola had been invited into S.H.I.E.L.D. with open arms. Bucky had died for nothing, and Steve had failed to die for nothing. For a brief moment, he wondered whether it would have been better that they not survive the missile, but it was a selfish thought, one he didn’t harbor long. Natasha didn’t deserve that end, and besides, he had a mission to complete. He wasn’t going to let Bucky’s death be in vain much longer.

 

When he exited the bathroom, dressed and façade reapplied, he found Natasha sitting on the bed, still drying her hair.

 

“You okay?” he asked.

 

She nodded. She didn’t look at him, her gaze fixed on the wall, her face blank. He walked over to her, sitting down on a chair and offering her a gentle smile.

 

“You sure?”

 

“I really think I ought to be asking you that,” Natasha murmured.

 

“Habit,” he said. “Taking care of people makes me feel better.”

 

She didn’t smile. She looked at him, at the towel in her hands, then back up, looking him in the eye. “When I first joined S.H.I.E.L.D., I thought I was going straight. Guess I just traded in the KGB for HYDRA. I thought I knew whose lies I was telling –” her gaze dropped “ – but I guess I can’t tell the difference anymore.”

 

Steve held out a hand, and when she remained still, he set it on her shoulder, trying to give her some kind of comfort in the simplest of touches.

 

“We were all fooled,” he said quietly. “I promise.”

 

Natasha lifted her gaze once again, her expression suddenly hard. “I owe you,” she murmured.

 

“It’s okay,” he told her.

 

“If it was the other way around,” she started, “and it was up to me to save your life – and be honest with me. Would you trust me to do it?”

 

“Now, I would,” Steve answered.

 

She nodded slowly. He added: “And I’m always honest.”

 

Another lie. Natasha, though, she let out a small chuckle and set her hand on top of his, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You seem awfully chipper for someone who just found out they died for nothing,” she said.

 

He smiled at her. He’d had years of practice with this smile, the honest-to-God, good Catholic boy look he always gave people when they poked at his cover.

 

“Well…” He withdrew his hand and leaned back, looking at the wall and then back at her. “Guess I can always just try again.”

 

Natasha nodded again, her smile turning sad as the both of them dropped each other’s gazes and let out their breaths.

 

Sam stuck his head into the room. “I made breakfast,” he said. “If you guys eat that sorta thing.”

 

Back in the kitchen, Sam had made eggs and poured glasses of orange juice. Steve took out the packet of suppressants and punched out what remained of the pills, throwing them in his mouth and swallowing. Natasha glanced between it and him, then raised her eyebrows in a silent question. He shook his head; it was the same suppressant for Alphas and Omegas, fortunately, so if she did ask, he wouldn’t have her worrying about how Alpha suppressants might affect her system. She might ask why he took over the counter suppressants and ten at a time instead of a single pill crafted just for him by prescription. That would be a little harder to explain.

 

Sam made toast while Natasha drank two glasses of orange juice and Steve consumed half the eggs. Sam said nothing, just raised an eyebrow and made more eggs to go with the toast. Steve pushed the plate of toast towards Natasha, raising an eyebrow at her when she shook her head. Finally, she picked up one, nibbled on it for a minute, then took decent sized bites and finished it.

 

She broke the silence after that.

 

“The question now is who at S.H.I.E.L.D. has the power to launch a domestic missile strike.”

 

Again, Sam did not comment, but looked up from where he was spreading butter on his own toast.

 

“Pierce,” Steve said.

 

“Yeah, who happens to be sitting at the top of the most secure tower in the world,” Natasha grumbled, displeased, taking a second piece of toast.

 

“Well, he’s not workin’ alone,” Steve decided, “Zola’s algorithm was on the Lemurian Star .”

 

The missile strike would have destroyed his databanks, he thought. It made him feel a little better. A life for a life, at last.

 

“So was Jasper Sitwell,” Natasha said suddenly.

 

He paused, Natasha watching him, lips slightly parted, eyebrows furrowed. He dropped his gaze to his eggs, thinking, pushing them around with his fork.

 

“So, the new question, how do the two most wanted people on the eastern seaboard kidnap a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in broad daylight?” Steve posed.

 

“The answer is,” Sam said, breaking the two of them from their thoughts, dropping a file in front of Steve, “you don’t.”

 

“What’s this?” he asked, already picking it up and scanning it.

 

“Call it a resumé,” Sam answered.

 

Natasha read aloud the mission report while Steve picked up a photograph, Sam and another guy, both in sunglasses, dressed for combat.

 

“This Riley?” he asked him, looking up.

 

Sam nodded.

 

“Heard they couldn’t bring in the choppers because of RPG’s,” Natasha finished. She looked at Sam as well, her eyebrows pinched together in the center, the way they did when she was unsure of the answers and didn’t like it. “What did you use, a stealth suit?”

 

“No,” Sam told her, picking up the second file.

 

Opening it, Steve found a photograph, again, of Sam, but from the back, so the camera could capture the massive set of metallic wings. Sam was about thirty feet off the ground, too. Lifting the photo, he read a description of the wings; EXO-7 Falcon, a prototype advanced flight suit developed by, naturally, Stark Industries. He flicked his eyes back up to Sam.

 

“I thought you said you were a pilot,” he asked, more than a little stunned. The Internet was one thing. Smartphones, laptops, another. Hell, Stark’s fancy suit with propulsion that allowed him to fly, but actual technology that made men into birds? Was he dreaming?

 

“I never said pilot,” Sam laughed.

 

Steve looked back to the file, slowly shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to do this,” he said finally. “You got out for a reason.”

 

“My friend needs my help,” Sam replied. “No better reason to get back in.”

 

Steve gave a nod. It had been a long time since he’d had a friend that wasn’t a spy.

 

“Where can we get one of these?”

 

“Last one’s at Fort Meade, behind three steal walls and guards.”

 

Steve gave a glance at Natasha, then dropped the file back onto the table. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

 

Four hours later, they were in position. Natasha and himself were waiting on a rooftop, Natasha equipped with essentially a fancy laser pointer that she wouldn’t let Steve point – “Have you had training as a sniper, Rogers, we need steady hands here!” – waiting for Sam to make the drop. Barely five minutes later, Agent Sitwell stepped onto the roof, and Steve grabbed him by the shoulders to pull him around to face him, giving him a shove forward and backing him up towards the roof.

 

“Tell me about Zola’s algorithm.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sitwell insisted.

 

“What were you doing on the Lemurian Star , then?” Steve countered.

 

“I was throwing up,” Sitwell tried, then his heels hit the ledge of the roof and he stumbled, grabbing on to Steve’s shoulders to balance himself.

 

Steve grabbed the lapels of his expensive suit jacket and let him hang. He smelled like champagne and fear, a particularly off-putting combination. He bared his teeth, Sitwell’s jacket straining where his weight was tottering on the edge, yet Sitwell smiled nervously.

 

“Is this meant to insinuate that you’re going to throw me off the roof?” he asked, tone steady. “Because that’s not really Captain America’s style.”

 

Steve set his expression flat. “You’re right,” he decided, and pulled him back, releasing him, brushing invisible dust off his shoulders. He took a step back, nodding to Natasha. “It’s hers.”

 

Natasha planted her boot in Sitwell’s expensive tie. He screamed, loudly. Steve heard the scream fading, as he dropped half the building’s length, then the sound of metal moving.

 

“So, you gave me half a pack of suppressants,” Natasha said conversationally, Sitwell’s scream continuing to fade. “Over the counter ones.”

 

“Regular dose is two pills, I gave you five.”

 

“And you only took five this morning. Is that going to be a problem?”

 

Steve didn’t have time to answer, as Sitwell’s scream was getting louder once again, and Sam burst over the edge of the roof, tossing Sitwell, still screaming, onto it before landing. Steve walked over to Sitwell, who was already getting up, and didn’t even have to ask a second time.

 

“Zola’s algorithm, it’s a program!” Sitwell shouted; the smell of fear clogged Steve’s nose, making him wrinkle it in displeasure. “It finds Insight’s targets!”

 

“What targets?” Steve asked.

 

“A – a doctor in Bangkok, a rebel in the Czech Republic, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City!” Sitwell paused for breath, on his hands and knees on the rooftop, stuttering, blabbering, anything to avoid getting shoved off the roof a second time. “You, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, anyone who’s a threat to HYDRA! Now, and in the future.”

 

“Future?” Steve questioned. Sitwell didn’t answer, taking time to pant, and Steve planted a foot in his side, dropping it over Sitwell’s sternum and pressing down. He could almost hear his ribs creaking. “How can it know?”

 

“Bank records!” Sitwell hissed. “Medical records, phone calls, search history, damn SAT scores! The 21st century is a digital book, Zola’s algorithm reads it, evaluates the past to predict the future.”

 

“Then what?” Steve asked.

 

Sitwell’s eyes were glazing over, his glasses askew on his nose. “Pierce is gonna kill me,” he whispered, not answering him.

 

“Then what?” Steve demanded, putting more pressure on on Sitwell’s sternum until he winced.

 

“Insight helicarrier scratches people off the list!”

 

Steve lifted a little bit of the pressure, jaw tight.

 

“A few million at a time,” Sitwell whispered, eyes falling shut. He swallowed visibly, then slumped.

 

“Did you kill him?” Natasha asked casually.

 

“He fainted,” Steve said, lifting his foot. “I wasn’t gonna kill him,” he added, as if it should have been obvious. He bent down, pulled Sitwell up and over his shoulders. “Let’s go.”

 

“What’s the plan, Cap?” Sam asked as they were leaving the roof.

 

“Take down Insight,” Steve called back.

 

“I’m driving,” Sam shouted.

 

“Shotgun,” Steve said automatically.

 

“Children,” Natasha murmured as they started a new flight of stairs.

 

Sitwell didn’t wake up until they were back in the car, already on the highway and heading for S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Steve smelled the fear doubling before he saw Sitwell stirring, heard him let out a quiet whimper and flicked his eyes to the rearview mirror to watch him.

 

“HYRDA doesn’t like leaks,” Sitwell hissed.

 

“So put a cork in it,” Sam snapped.

 

Natasha leaned forward. “Insight launches in 16 hours, we’re cutting it a little close here.”

 

“I know. We’ll use Sitwell to bypass DNA to access the helicarriers directly.”

 

“What?” Sitwell barked. “That is a terrible, terrible –”

 

His words were cut off by his window smashing as a hand grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked him out the window. Steve twisted around while Sitwell flew across the highway, screaming until he slammed into the front of a semi. Natasha jumped from the back seat to the front, deftly avoiding stepping on Steve’s crotch while she got out of the way and the heavy sound of boots came from the roof. Steve grabbed the gearshift and shoved the car in park; they slammed into a stop and whoever was on the roof was launched forward, spinning, landing on their feet and grabbing the concrete of the road to stop themselves.

 

The metal fingers created gouges in the road, sparks flying. Fury’s killer, the Winter Soldier, jerked his head up, hair flying in his face, to look directly at them.

 

The Winter Soldier stood up, calmly, coldly, and stood there, still. Steve’s heart pounded in his ear. Natasha raised a gun, then a car slammed into their rear and the gun fell from her hands, the car skidding forward as the tires screeched and burning rubber filled his nose; the Winter Soldier jumped, twisting, grabbing the windshield to flip himself and land flat on the roof of the car, his feet shattering the rear window. Sam changed gears and stepped on the gas, then the Winter soldier put his hand through the roof and ripped the steering wheel right off.

 

“Shit!” Sam screamed.

 

Steve braced his shield against his door as the car careened out of control, grabbed Sam, and threw his weight against the door; it gave and they flew out as the car flipped and spun in the air. The door skidded to a stop on the highway, pain shooting through Steve’s shoulders, but they were fine. Sam jumped up, Natasha twisting away from him, as he looked up and saw the Winter Soldier jumping off the hood of the jeep that had rammed them. The mask and tactical goggles covered his entire face, only his forehead visible, but the way he moved was methodical, undaunted by any of what had just happened. He took a weapon from a man who’d just gotten out; Steve scrambled to his feet, raised his shield, and shoved Natasha out of the way as a missile struck the center of his shield and he was blown backwards. He flew for several yards, crashing through the windows of a bus that tipped and fell as he hit the ground. He shoved himself onto an elbow, shouting for the civilians to get off and get to cover. He braced himself, grunting as the pain in his shoulders doubled. He’d definitely broken a rib or two. Maybe ten.

 

Bullets rained through the bus’s floor; he rolled out the emergency window in the rear, grabbing his shield in time to block the spray of bullets going towards him. Four shooters, Alphas, male; one dropped as he ran in their direction, taken down from above by Sam, he saw after a quick glance up, two more fell by the ricochet of bullets off his shield, the third stopped shooting as he jumped onto the hood of the car he was standing on, in time for Steve to flip, grab his head, and bring him crashing down onto the car’s roof with a heavy crunch. Blood began to pool, but Steve didn’t have time to do much other than ensure he wasn’t going to get back up.

 

Sam shouted from the bridge, “Go, I got this!” and Steve took off running. He took out another HYDRA agent, shouting for the remaining civilians to get to cover, then another. The Winter Soldier was out of sight, so was Natasha. He couldn’t catch a scent of anything, just smoke, fire, gunpowder, fear. He heard explosions behind him, turned, and spotted the silver arm down the road. He took off running again, the Winter Soldier turning to face him, raised his shield and dropped to his knees as the Soldier raised the metal fist and brought it down on the crest of his shield; the metal rang, like a gong struck, and Steve tried to go for the Soldier’s legs, only to get kicked away, rolling in time to bring the shield back up to block a spray of bullets.

 

The Winter Soldier tossed aside his rifle, pulling two more semi-automatic pistols from his belt. Steve ducked behind a car, bullets flying over his head. He came back out, keeping his head and torso covered by the shield, running to get into melee range with the Soldier. He still couldn’t catch even a trace of a scent, not even sweat, telling him that the Soldier was probably dosed to the ears on suppressants like him.

 

Less like him, however. His mind raced back to the half dose he’d taken just hours before as he realized he could smell something, but that it was coming from himself. He didn’t have time to think about it, though, the bullets paused and he swung the shield up, aiming for the Soldier’s head, only to be blocked. The soldier tried to flip him, but he twisted, landing on his feet. The Soldier had his shield now, and as Steve jerked his head up from the ground, they made eye contact.

 

His tactical goggles had come off. There was no emotion in the Winter Soldier’s eyes. Not even battle-rage. They were dead, empty pools of pale gray-blue that unhelpfully reminded Steve of Bucky.

 

He rushed him again, the Soldier threw the shield and Steve dodged it; it sliced into the back of a van and he kept running. The Soldier drew a knife, flipped it, and tried to bring it down on Steve’s collar, but he blocked it. The Soldier’s knife flashed, flying, flipping, as he expertly attempted to cut Steve into ribbons; Steve caught him in the face with a fist, spun and placed a roundhouse to his chest, sending him flying backwards into a car. He ran up and drove his knee into the Soldier’s chest, grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the ground. The Soldier came back up immediately, swung his fists, Steve blocked, he tried to kick, the Soldier dodged. The metal fist grabbed him by the throat and lifted him off the ground, the fingers squeezing, bringing him close. The eyes were just as dead, while Steve tried to pry himself out of the Soldier’s grip, black spots appearing at the edges of his vision.

 

Then the Soldier threw him, he landed on the roof of a car and flipped off of it, landing on the ground. The Soldier came back, drawing back the metal fist, and Steve rolled out of the way in time for him to put a crater in the asphalt. Steve twisted to his feet, attacked, got thrown against a van, blocked the knife the Soldier had just drawn, it sliced through the metal exterior of the van; they slide sideways, the knife slicing through the van as if it were paper, Steve got the Soldier off balance and threw him to the ground, getting his leg swept and falling as well. He jumped up, grabbed his shield from the rear of the van, blocked a strike, another, knocked the knife from the Soldier’s hand and caught the edge of his shield on the metal plates of the silver arm.

 

It whirred and groaned, and Steve took the opportunity to smash his shield into the Soldier’s face, then grabbed his mask, swept his legs, and flipped him. The Winter Soldier went flying, the mask clattered to the ground and the Soldier landed, back to him.

 

Steve’s blood roared in his ears. The suppressants he’d taken that morning were already wearing off, he could smell the fear on his own skin, the sweat, the unmistakable scent of Omega.

 

The Soldier came to his feet, the arm whirring still. He turned, and Steve nearly dropped the shield. It felt like time had come to a stop, the world frozen so that the two of them could just stand there, Steve slack-jawed and numbed by shock at the so very familiar and long ago dead face that had been hidden by the mask.

 

“Bucky?” he exhaled.

 

The Winter Soldier’s eyes reminded him of Bucky’s because those were Bucky’s eyes, and that was Bucky’s mouth, that was Bucky’s nose, thick caterpillar eyebrows and high cheekbones and defined jaw, that was Bucky’s face. But looking at him, Bucky didn’t smile, didn’t cock an eyebrow, didn’t turn and say sarcastically “Took you long enough to figure it out, dumbass,” didn’t even blink.

 

“Who the hell is Bucky?” his Alpha answered in an emotionless tone that hit Steve harder than any strike the Winter Soldier had managed to land. As if he didn’t care who Bucky was, who Steve was, as if he was just as dead inside as Steve was and couldn’t bring back his ghost to inhabit his body the way he had done, and attacked again.

 

The knife flashed and Steve saw openings, but all he could do was block. He smacked the knife from Bucky’s hand, the shield was pulled from his grip, and a fist curled around his throat again. His back slammed against a car, he choked, strained, and gasped out: “Bucky, it’s me!”

 

Bucky’s face showed no emotion. He leaned in, increasing the pressure on Steve’s throat. Then, his nose twitched. The fingers relaxed a little, Steve gasped for breath, and something stirred in Bucky’s eyes.

 

“It’s me!” Steve hissed out. “It’s Stevie!”

 

The hand dropped him. Bucky’s eyes were wide, not recognition, but confusion. He took half a step back, as Steve gasped for breath, staring at him, lips parting slightly.

 

Steve dropped his head against the van, and for the first time since January of 1945, he submitted to someone, lifting his chin to bare his throat.

 

“What are you doing?” Bucky demanded, like he was scolding Steve, like he was about to tell him off, call him a moron, just like he would when Steve did something stupid, just before he kissed him and told him to be more careful, I kinda want to keep you around, asshole , Bucky would have said. Had said. Should be saying that very second. “I’m trying to kill you!”

“You can’t kill me,” Steve said, his voice hoarse. “I’m Steve, your Steve.”

 

“I don’t know you!” Bucky insisted, but he was stepping closer again, hands at his side, confused still.

 

“You know me,” Steve said. “Remember, the gingerbread.”

 

It was as much as he could get out, panting for breath, but Bucky crowded in closer to him, not his hands going for Steve’s throat now, but his face. Steve’s eyes shut as Bucky buried his nose in the nape of his neck, chills going down his spine. The flesh hand reached up, cupping his jaw, pressing to his pulse, a thumb caressed his lower lip; it was all he could do to resist the urge to suck it into his mouth.

 

“Remember,” Steve whispered, his lips brushing Bucky’s thumb and sending sparks out from the touch. “The gingerbread.”

 

Bucky’s breath was hot on his neck as he pressed in closer, nuzzling his neck, scenting him. There was relief pooling in his heart, warmth spreading throughout his entire body from the tips of Bucky’s fingers where they brushed his skin, even if he didn’t have time or thought to spare as to how Bucky had survived the fall, how he was there, in front of him, alive, why he’d become the Winter Soldier; all he could focus on was Bucky’s hand at his pulse, his face pressed to his neck, his mouth open and breathing heavily on his skin. Lips that hadn’t touched him in 70 years pressed to his jaw, dragging down, landing at the spot where his neck met with his clavicle, the scent gland under his skin sparking with sensation as the tongue lapped at it gently, pulling Steve’s scent, sweet like gingerbread, from his skin.

 

“Mine,” Bucky growled, making Steve’s stomach flip.

 

A gunshot went off and Bucky jerked from him. His eyes were wide with horror, then he vaulted up the side of the van, Steve twisting to jump up after him, vanishing before Steve could get up.

 

“No!” he screamed, voice twisted like torture. “Come back!”

 

“Cap!” Natasha shouted.

 

Steve spun, almost slipping off the top of the van. Natasha was holding a pistol with the wrong hand, her brow knit together, watching him, confused by him. He leapt off the top of the van, knowing that the anger that had swelled in him was easily smelled, knowing that the traces of Bucky’s scent remained on his skin, knowing that he smelled nothing like an Alpha, and he ran towards her, snatching the gun from her grip and baring his teeth at her face.

 

“What did you do?!”

 

“He was choking you!” Natasha insisted. Her eyes were widening with horror, now, too, her gaze flicking to his neck; she had to be able to smell the faint scent of Alpha on his skin, the stronger scent of Omega under it. “Cap –”

 

“He wasn’t going to hurt me!” Steve shouted, Natasha taking a step back, but he wasn’t letting her get away, he crowded her space, spitting angry words, not thinking about what he was saying, only that she had shot at his Alpha! “He was scenting me, he was remembering!”

 

“Oh, god,” Natasha was murmuring, “oh, god, oh, god, oh –”

 

“Did you even think before you pulled the trigger? Did you just shoot blindly, did you not see?”

 

“You’re not an Alpha,” Natasha whispered.

 

“I’m not a fucking Alpha,” Steve growled. He threw the gun away before he could turn it on her, taking a step back, face twisted into a harsh glare. “You just shot my Alpha.”

 

“Oh, god,” Natasha whispered again.

 

“Hands in the air, on your knees!”

 

He hadn’t heard the running footsteps, smelled the oncoming HYDRA agents, he’d left his back undefended and now there was a gun pressing into it. Steve lifted his hands, slowly, lowered himself onto his knees. An Alpha kicked Natasha in the back of the leg, forcing her to the ground, as she continued to stare, open-mouthed at him.

 

Rumlow stepped in front of him, face twisted with disgust. He grabbed Steve’s jaw with his hand, yanking it up, and he spat in his face.

 

“And they call you the toughest Alpha on the block,” he growled.

 

“More of an Alpha than you’ve ever been,” Steve said back.

 

Rumlow back-handed him; Steve hit the ground, someone grabbing his hands, planting a foot in his back, and cuffed his wrists, tighter than necessary. He was hauled to his feet, dragged by masked agents to a van, thrown in with Natasha. Sam was already in there, bloodied, but otherwise appearing alright. Natasha, Steve finally noticed, was pale, and not just from her shock. Her shoulder was bleeding heavily, she looked dizzy and nauseous. There were a pair of guards, wearing full helmets, in the back of the van, wielding shock sticks.

 

Sam’s gaze met his. He said nothing, and Steve didn’t need him to. The HYDRA agents were all staring at him as well, the ones who’d shoved him in, lingering until Rumlow shouted at them to get moving.

 

The anger that had surged in him over Natasha shooting Bucky had faded by then, as the van began to move, sending them rattling in their seats. It was quickly being replaced by a numb sensation, a mixture of horror, relief, and the urge to just break down and cry. He didn’t know what had happened, he didn’t know how Bucky had lived, but Bucky obviously remembered nothing but Steve’s scent, not his name, not his own name. It was a miracle Bucky even remembered his scent; they’d never bonded, they’d never been able to, for fear of being thrown out of the Army or worse. It was a miracle Bucky was alive, even as an operative of HYDRA, but how was he going to get him back?

 

“Steve?” Sam asked softly. “Are you – You’re –”

 

“Quiet,” one of the guards snapped.

 

Sam looked at the guards, then back at Steve, then whispered something under his breath, his gaze searching the van. It landed on Natasha, then he swallowed visibly and looked back at the guards.

 

“We need to get a doctor for her, something, please,” Sam begged them.

 

The second guard, the silent one, activated their shock stick, holding it threateningly towards Sam. Sam shrank back, nose twisted in frustration and anger, and the guard flipped the shock stick in their hand.

 

Then slammed it into the other guard.

 

“What the –” Sam burst out as the first guard convulsed, finally slumping against the wall.

 

The guard lifted off their helmet.

 

“Ah,” Maria Hill sighed in relief, “that thing was squeezing my brain.”

 

“Hill?” Natasha murmured.

 

“The answer to everything is 42,” Agent Hill responded.

 

“What?” Steve said.

 

“Uh,” Sam added.

 

“Thank god,” Natasha hissed. “Welcome to the restaurant at the end of the universe.”

 

“I don’t get it,” Sam announced as Maria pulled a device from her gear.

 

“Me neither,” Steve muttered, though he cared significantly less.

 

“Password,” Hill said, as if they were both idiots for not automatically understanding. “Confirmation that it’s us.”

 

She slipped off her bench and held up the device. Then she stopped, looked at Sam, then at Natasha.

 

“Who’s this guy?”

 

“Later,” Steve snapped. “You got a plan to get us out?”

 

Hill nodded, shrugging, then pressed a button on her device. A bright red beam of light came from the end, and she slowly drew it in a circle on the floor of the van. Upon completing it, she gave it a jab, and it fell right out.

 

“Follow me!” she called and jumped.

 

Steve went without thinking. He landed in a sewer drain, realizing that the van above them had stopped in a tunnel, allowing for them to get out without much difficulty, followed by Sam and Natasha. Hill produced bolt cutters and snapped the chains of their handcuffs, allowing them movement of their arms even if the cuffs were still attached.

 

“This way!” Hill called, breaking into a jog and heading down the sewer.

 

It stank, like all sewers do, but Steve ignored it to follow behind Hill. She lead them down several twists and corners, finally stopping at a ladder, climbing it up and pushing aside a manhole cover. Steve followed her, turning to help Natasha out, who had gone even paler.

 

“I’ve got bandages,” Hill shouted, Steve turned, spotting another van, Hill leaning out the back. He wrapped an arm around Natasha’s waist, helping her to Hill, then lifted her to sit on the edge of the van. Hill shoved aside her shirt and jacket, applying gauze.

 

“That will have to do until we get there,” she said.

 

“Where are we going?” Steve asked immediately.

 

“You’ll see when we get there,” she said, stepping back to cross to the front of the van. She jabbed a finger in his direction, though, adding: “And you’re going to have to tell me why you smell like an Omega before we go anywhere.”

 

“It’s him,” Natasha called as Hill climbed into the driver’s seat. Steve helped her get up and crawl farther into the van, Sam following them in. “His suppressants wore off.”

 

Hill looked at him in the rearview mirror. “Every file on you says Alpha,” she said. Her hand was on the ignition, but she was still. “Why?”

 

Steve answered her in a flat tone. “Captain America is an Alpha. Steve Rogers is an Omega.”

 

“That’s fucked up,” Sam whispered. “Man, that is so fucked up!”

 

“Why are there no files to confirm that?” Hill demanded.

 

“All my records before Erskine’s serum were destroyed and replaced with fake ones,” Steve snapped. “It’s why all the college textbooks aren’t obligated to mention that I had HIV as well as every other disease in the book.”

 

Sam was staring at him, wide-eyed. Natasha’s eyes were shut tightly, her lips the color of paper. Hill’s eyes were hard in the rearview mirror.

 

“Why?” she repeated.

 

“It was the 40’s,” Steve sighed. “The closest we had to equality was allowing Omegas to enlist voluntarily for Project Rebirth, which was how I got in in the first place. Captain America was a symbol, a leader, so he had to be an Alpha, didn’t matter what I was.”

 

“That is so fucked up,” Sam whispered.

 

Hill cranked the ignition. Steve fell back against the wall, his own eyes sliding shut as he swallowed the urge to cry.

 

Fingers gripped his forearm.

 

“I’m sorry,” Natasha murmured. “That I shot him.”

 

“What?” Sam said.

 

Steve clenched his jaw, swallowing a sharp retort. “You didn’t know,” he said finally.

 

“You should know,” Natasha added, her voice as hoarse as his, “the Winter Soldier trained the children of the Red Room. I don’t know how the KGB got him, maybe HYDRA loaned him, I don't know, he was just there to frighten us.”

 

He nodded stiffly. Natasha’s fingers slipped from his arm.

 

“Why’s she sorry she shot who?” Sam demanded.

 

“She shot Bucky,” Steve muttered.

 

“Say what now?” Sam said.

 

Steve opened his eyes, meeting Sam’s confused gaze. “The Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes,” he said. “My Alpha.”

 

Sam’s eyebrows shot up, his mouth falling open. Steve could feel Hill’s gaze on him, but he didn’t care.

 

“How?” Sam whispered. “He died in the 40’s!”

 

“January 1945,” Steve said. “I don’t know what day it was. We didn’t have calendars.”

 

Wouldn’t it have been the best and cruelest irony if it had been the tenth?

 

Then, his eyes went wide and he smacked himself in the forehead. “Zola!” he spat. “Zola fucking experimented on him!”

 

“I feel like a broken record,” Sam said, “what?”

 

“He captured Bucky’s unit in Italy,” Steve answered, “he took Bucky and did stuff to him, I don’t know, I never asked him, he never told me. That has to be how he survived.”

 

“That’s so fucked up,” Sam repeated hoarsely.

 

Steve didn’t say anything more. His head fell against the wall again. Bucky’s scent was fading from his skin already.

 

Tears slipped from his eyes and he shoved them away angrily. He’d done enough crying in the past three years, there wasn’t time for them anymore.

 

“Hey,” Sam said softly.

 

“What?” Steve muttered.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

Steve figured what he meant. He took a long, shuddering breath, and rubbed at his eyes with a hand. He could cry later.

 

“ETA thirty minutes,” Hill announced.

 

“Steve,” Natasha murmured. He lifted his head. “I need you to put pressure…” Her voice trailed off and her hand slipped from her shoulder. Steve pulled her back to his side and clamped a hand to the wound. Natasha’s head lolled against his shoulder.

 

“Don’t pass out on me,” he told her.

 

“‘M not gonna pass out,” she muttered in response.

 

“Eyes open,” Steve instructed.

 

Natasha exhaled heavily, opening her eyes to stare at the roof of the van. “Sam,” she grumbled.

 

“What?” Sam repeated, the fourth time in as many minutes.

 

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral,” Natasha hissed.

 

Steve blinked. So did Sam, but after a second, he answered her. “Animal.”

 

“Is it bigger than a rifle?”

 

“Like, lengthwise?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Definitely.”

 

Steve didn’t know what they were doing. He didn’t care. Natasha maintained consciousness, asking Sam yes or no questions, until finally, Sam said: “That’s twenty.”

 

“What is it?” Natasha mumbled.

 

“Steve Rogers,” Sam told her, and she let out a dry laugh.

 

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral,” she repeated.

 

It felt like hours, especially with Sam’s repetitive yeses and nos, but finally, Hill brought the van to a stop and cut the engine. She came around to help Natasha get out, holding on to her until Steve clambered out and could support her weight again. Hill led them towards a massive dam, inside and into a corridor with blinking lights. A man, Alpha by the faint scent, wearing a suit and glasses came running out as they entered.

 

“GSW, she’s lost about a pint, maybe more,” Hill called.

 

“Let me take her,” he answered.

 

“She’ll want to see him first,” Hill said.

 

“Who?” Natasha asked blearily.

 

The man, a doctor by the smell of anesthetic and vinyl, and Hill lead them into a room, the one the man had left from. Inside, Natasha sagged against Steve’s body as they saw the hospital bed and the man in it.

 

“About damn time,” Fury said calmly.

 

“You were dead,” Steve insisted. The doctor approached them, and Steve helped Natasha to a chair so he could look at her shoulder.

 

“Almost,” Fury mumbled. He was hooked up to monitors and an IV, but looked a lot better than he had been when he was dead. “Lacerated spinal column, cracked sternum, shattered collarbone, one hell of a headache. Not enough to kill me.”

 

“Don’t forget your collapsed lung,” the doctor piped up.

 

“Let’s not forget that,” Fury said dryly.

 

“But the doctors pronounced you dead, you flatlined,” Steve said, not even sure why he was arguing. Too many people come back from the dead, maybe.

 

“Tetrodotoxin B,” Fury answered. “Slows heart rate to one beat per minute. Banner developed it for stress, didn’t work so well for him, but pretty damn useful for faking your death.”

 

He raised a hand. “Can’t kill somebody who’s already dead, after all.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Steve demanded.

 

“The attempt on his life had to look successful,” Hill answered. “The only people who know he’s alive are in this room.”

 

“Tell me why I should trust you,” Steve asked.

 

“You got another option?” Fury countered.

 

“You willing to help us take down Project Insight?” Steve parried back.

 

Fury raised the hand again, pointing to a table nearby; Steve’s gaze flicked to it, spotting a metal case sat on its surface. “Got all you need right there,” Fury told him. “Now, I have a question for you.”

 

Steve crossed his arms over his chest.

 

“My brain’s telling me that there’s two Omegas in this room,” Fury posed. “But my nose is saying three.”

 

Fury watched him, his expression non-judgmental, cool, even, but perhaps he was just up to his ears in painkillers, too much to care. “You want to tell me why that is?”

 

“Doesn’t feel good, does it?” Steve asked, just to be difficult. “Being in the dark.”

 

Fury narrowed his eye at him, the corners of his lips turning down, but after a second, he huffed and nodded. “No,” he grumbled, “it doesn’t.”

 

“Wasn’t my choice,” Steve answered the question bitterly. “That was the deal when I signed up for Project Rebirth, they didn’t want Omegas to think they had a chance at being powerful.”

 

Did he regret it by then? Maybe. But it had saved Bucky’s life, saved his own life. He never had the answer to that question, not anymore.

 

“Who else knows?” Fury demanded.

 

Steve exhaled a heavy breath, looking around and not knowing what for. “Until this morning, nobody alive. Peggy, but she can't remember much of anything these days. The Howlies knew, maybe they told their families, I don't know.”

 

“Now?”

 

Steve's jaw tensed. “The whole of HYDRA, probably. The suppressants wore off before they showed up.”

 

Fury was silent for a while. Finally, he let out a long breath through his nose, expression reverting back to neutral, and decided: “That’s fucked up.”

 

“‘S what I said,” Sam muttered.

 

Fury turned his head. His eyebrows scrunched together and he looked at Hill, pointing a finger towards Sam. “Who’s this dude?”

 

Hill opened her mouth, then frowned and looked at Sam as well. “Captain Rogers?” she asked.

 

“I’m Sam Wilson,” Sam announced before Steve could answer. “Former 58th pararescue, EXO-7 Falcon prototype pilot, capable of speaking for himself.”

 

Hill looked at Fury, nodding.

 

“Who brought you along?” Fury asked.

 

“I did,” Steve answered. “He’s the only person I knew I could trust other than Natasha.”

 

“You don’t trust me, then?”

 

Steve considered him. “I don’t distrust you,” he decided eventually.

 

Fury, again, was silent for a time, before he slowly smiled and chuckled softly. “Seems like you’re getting the hang of this business,” he said. “Speaking of, let’s talk business.”

Chapter Text

intertwined: lord above, be kind

 

[date unknown, location unknown]

 

Error. Error. Conflict. Mission unsuccessful. Mission endangered.

 

“Remember, gingerbread…”

 

There is a child. No, a teenager. He is small, sickly. He smells sweet, he smells delicious; the asset wants to bask in that scent. Correction. The asset wanted to bask in that scent. Stevie, Steve, babydoll, I love you, I need you, Stevie – Error. Conflict.

 

The asset feels pain , but it is not any pain the asset has ever endured. No, the error is not a physical sensation. The asset’s heart rate is out of normal range, beating too quickly. The asset’s lungs are heaving, but the asset is not under any strain. The asset wants to find gingerbread, the asset must find him, the asset must bury his nose in gingerbread’s neck and not come back up for air. Where is he, I need him, I need Steve, fuck, I don’t know where he is, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck –

 

Error. Conflict.

 

With a sickening jolt, the asset is aware that he has experienced this sensation before. Vivid, he recalls – the asset does not recall the asset is informed the asset is dispatched and the asset is returned to cryostasis the asset does not have the requirements to recall – running through a street so hard his lungs burn and his legs scream, but running all the same. There is the skinny child, surrounded by three, much larger and much older men, no, these are boys as well, it is the asset who is smaller and younger, but the asset could not have been small or young the asset did not have the capacity to be small or young. The asset recalls his stuttering heart, his lungs begging for air but he shouts as loud as he can at them. The asset remembers having fists plunge into his face, but then kicking back and fighting dirty – this, at least, is familiar to the asset – until the boys run away. Stevie, you okay, pal? The asset had then drawn the skinny child into his arms and steadied him until his coughing and wheezing breaths were more even and he could walk a straight line. Back home, there you go, I got you. The asset has never remembered things before, the asset does not require memories. The asset was born to serve HYDRA, the asset was made to do so. The asset is not something capable of memory, not something like this.

 

Error. The asset can hardly breathe with the sensation. The asset must calm himself, but instinctively he knows the only way to do so would be to wrap his arms around his Omega, to breathe in deep that scent like gingerbread. This has happened before. The asset has never been able to find gingerbread, then. The asset recalls now, again – error, such a strange feeling, but the asset does not feel – a time when he had felt this pinching of the chest, too trapped, too constricted, had run, had escaped . Why would he escape? What was he escaping? He hadn’t found his Omega, hadn’t found gingerbread, though. Conflict. The asset does not have an Omega. The asset knows of Omegas. The asset knows he is an Alpha, but he is not the same, he is not something that has the ability to have an Omega. The asset is something else. The asset is a weapon, weapons do not have love. He does not require an Omega. The asset needs gingerbread. Stevie, I need – Error.

 

“Look at me,” a doctor snaps. The asset looks. “Mission report.”

 

The asset cannot answer. The asset is meant to answer, but, suddenly, fiercely, the asset does not want to answer. The asset clenches his jaw and defies the doctor. He is met with a slap to the face. This motherfucker – There is pain, but it is of no consequence. Description of “this motherfucker” is not accurate.

 

“Mission report,” the doctor spits.

 

“Mission unsuccessful,” the asset answers. “Targets underestimated.”

 

The asset should tell the doctors that the targets could have been subdued, no, no, the asset must say nothing, he cannot endanger gingerbread. The asset does not protect, the asset eliminates, but the asset will not fucking eliminate Steve . He must find gingerbread, he must protect him, mission start, conflict, mission incomplete: Eliminate Rogers, Steven Grant, eliminate, Romanoff, Natalia Alianovna. Error. Override: NO WAY IN FUCKING HELL, YOU SONS OF BITCHES!

 

Error: Logic unsound.

 

“I don’t care, I want him back out there, now!”

 

“Sir, the longer he’s out of cryo, the more unstable he gets, we should wipe him –”

 

“I don’t have time for that, Insight goes up tonight , I need Rogers dead!”

 

Override: OVER MY DEAD BODY, SHITHEAD! Conflict.

 

“Sir, I cannot recommend this –”

 

“Fix the damn arm and get him back out there in thirty minutes!”

 

“Sir, wiping him will only take two hours –”

 

“Did I stutter, doctor?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“Soldier, report.”

 

The asset does not look. “Ready to comply,” he says. He is lying .

 

“You are to eliminate Steve Rogers. Publically.”

 

Mission resumed: Eliminate Rogers, Steven Grant. Conflict.

 

“Do not allow him to stop the launch of Insight.”

 

The asset does not have feelings. The asset is not capable of emotion. Emotion is for people. The asset is not part of that. The asset feels , and it is terrifying.

 

“Confirm, Soldier.”

 

“Confirmed,” the asset says. He is lying.

 

Mission start: Ensure launch of Project Insight. Mission terminated, no, mission rejected : Eliminate Rogers, Steven Grant.

 

Override: Stevie, I gotta get Stevie, I gotta protect him I gotta save his dumb ass from whatever shit he’s tryna pull I gotta save Steve; oh god, Stevie, baby, oh god oh god oh god oh –

 

Mission start: Protect Gingerbread.

 

*

[A Friend Mourned: E1:S9, Captain America and the Howling Commandos]

 

“To Barnes,” Captain America said stoically, and his men all raised their glasses in tribute.

 

“To the best sniper the world’s ever seen,” Dum-Dum Dugan professed.

 

“To the best wingman I ever had,” Dernier said, a bit tearful.

 

“To the best friend I had in ages,” Private Gabe Jones toasted.

 

[but history never liked it when its pawns were queer]

 

“To Sarge,” Dum-Dum toasted softly.

 

“To one hell of a sniper,” Dernier sighed.

 

“To a good man,” Gabe murmured.

 

Captain America did not want to toast. He didn’t even raise his glass. He was too lost in grief.

 

“To Bucky,” he whispered brokenly.

 

*

[september 20th, somewhere west of washington, d.c.]

 

“Insight’s launch has been pushed forward,” Hill reported. “The helicarriers go the air at 5 p.m. today.”

 

“We’ve got to get to them,” Steve said. “Zola’s algorithm –”

 

“I know,” Fury interrupted. He had moved to the table, the IV still in his arm. Natasha had been bandaged and given painkillers, mild ones, just acetaminophen. Steve felt like he was going to vibrate out of his skin, half out of his mind with panic over Bucky, half determined to stop Insight, and with Bucky's scent fading from his skin, his neck felt like it was on fire, like he was going through withdrawal after just one touch. He’d never felt more numb or more alive.

 

“This is the plan,” Hill announced, opening the case and turning it to show them three computer chips. “At three thousand feet, the helicarriers will triangulate with Insight satellites and compile targets.”

 

“In order to keep that from happening, you’re going to have to breach the helicarriers and swap their targeting blades with ours,” Fury continued, pointing to the chips in the case. “Once that happens, we’ll be able to override their commands and cause them to self-destruct.”

 

“And the satellites?” Steve asked.

 

“Boom,” Fury answered.

 

“Just one or two won’t cut it, though,” Hill went on. “All three of them have to be prevented from linking with the satellites, otherwise, a whole lot of people are going to die.”

 

“Assume everyone aboard those helicarriers is HYDRA,” Fury advised them. “Until they tell you otherwise, they’re hostile.”

 

Steve nodded stiffly.

 

“Once we get these server blades in and Insight is terminated, we can work on salvaging what’s left.”

 

“No,” Steve interrupted.

 

Fury leaned back in his chair. “You got other plans, Captain?”

 

“We’re not just taking down the helicarriers, we’re taking down S.H.I.E.L.D., too.”

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is –” Fury started, but Steve interrupted again.

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised,” he insisted. “HYDRA has been growing inside it for seventy years, there’s no way to guarantee that each and every HYDRA cell is destroyed without S.H.I.E.L.D. going down.”

 

Fury set his jaw, his single eye giving Steve a look of anger.

 

“How are you going to take down HYDRA without S.H.I.E.L.D.?” he demanded.

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised,” Steve repeated, “this is how it ends, Fury, HYDRA grew right under your nose and you never noticed –”

 

“Why do you think we’re meeting in this cave?” Fury snapped. “I noticed!”

 

“How many people died before you did?” Steve asked.

 

Fury exhaled, sharp, through his nose, looked at Hill, then back at him. “I didn’t know about Barnes. I didn’t know he was your Alpha, or that HYDRA had him,” he started.

 

“Even if you did, would you have told me?” Steve demanded back. “This is how it ends, Fury!”

 

“Are you sure you’re not compromised as well, Captain?” Fury asked quietly.

 

Steve took a step back, nostrils flaring and muscles tensing. “Do you think I was compromised when Bucky died on me all those years ago?” he snapped. “When I still kept going until I took down the Red Skull? When I fucking got back up after the Valkyrie and jumped right back into battle when you asked me to? Just because I’m not a real Alpha, doesn’t mean I cannot control my emotions when it comes to Bucky, don’t treat me like I can’t!”

 

“If Barnes was standing between you and those server blades,” Fury asked sharply, “would you do what has to be done?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Even if it means killing him?”

 

Steve clenched his jaw. “Bucky doesn’t remember –” he started quietly. Fury kept looking at him with his one eye narrowed, distrusting, like he was just another sad and simpering Omega, teary and weak, but he knew better, he knew, he’d fucking done this before. “Yes. I would complete my mission. I would kill him if I had to, I would finish the job, and then I would follow him.”

 

He pretended not to notice Natasha’s head turn sharply, or the way Sam sucked in a breath; he kept his gaze level on Fury’s, who made no reaction. He’d done this before, sacrifice hadn’t worked then, but he was not going to do this all over again. He’d see it through this time.

 

“What if the world still needed you?” he asked.

 

“Then the world can find another hero,” Steve said flatly.

 

Fury glared at him, but Steve didn’t care. He’d done this song and dance once already, he’d completed his mission, he’d prayed for a soldier’s last rites, begged just to see Bucky one last time, and woken up seventy years in the future in a world that was even less willing to see him as he truly was.

 

“S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, it all goes,” Steve concluded. If Bucky goes, I go.

 

Fury glanced at Hill, who slowly shook her head.

 

“He’s right,” Hill said quietly.

 

Fury’s expression didn’t change, he glanced at Natasha, then at Sam.

 

“Don’t look at me,” Sam defended with a shrug. “I do what he does, only slower.”

 

Fury’s eyes flicked back to Steve, hard and unreadable. Finally, he leaned back in his chair once more. “Alright,” he said softly. Bowingly, in a symbolic way, to give the control over to someone lesser than he. Because of course Fury now assumed Steve something smaller, something with less power, even if he was submitting to him. “Looks like you’re giving the orders now, Captain.”

 

He gave a nod. He’d take it. “Wheels up in thirty,” he said quietly, and walked out.

 

He made his way back outside, up to the top of the dam where he found himself looking out over the water. Natasha needed time to heal, they had three hours until Insight’s launch, they were less than an hour out of the city. Natasha needed the rest, though, and thirty minutes was all he could give her.

 

It was all he could give himself.

 

With the wind on his left, he smelled Sam before he heard him. He walked up beside him, hands in his pockets, looking out over the water as well. They were silent a while, Steve unwilling to open his mouth, Sam, perhaps, waiting for him to do so.

 

“Did you really meet when you rescued him?” Sam asked. Maybe he hadn’t been waiting. Maybe he’d waited enough.

 

“No,” Steve answered softly, the word almost a sigh. “We met when we were kids. His family moved into the house next to mine not long after my dad died. His mother used to babysit me while mine worked.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“I presented at 14,” he said. He’d thought if he ever told the story no one knew, he’d be a bit more broken up about it. But at this point, he’d run out of energy to bother. “Ma thought the heat was gonna kill me. Bucky was with me. She locked us in separate rooms, since I was too young to be with him or even in a heat in the first place. Bucky’s ma didn’t like that we were both guys, so she made him move away. Whole family upped and left.”

 

Sam nodded, slow, understanding. “Did he go into a rut?”

 

Steve nodded, too.

 

“You met again, after he got captured, then?”

 

“That part’s true,” Steve said. “Before I got sent overseas, Peggy helped me find where they'd moved to, Rebecca ended up telling me that Bucky was already over there, that he'd joined the 107th, he's the only reason I went to the Azzano in the first place. They left out that after we got back to camp, he spent the night in my tent. We couldn’t bond, it wasn’t allowed, but nobody was gonna care who smelled like who.”

 


 

 

Bucky looked nervous, like he wanted to run back out but at the same time couldn’t move his feet. Steve couldn’t meet his eye, either. It was like all the shame he’d been hiding for the past year or two was piling up on his back again, the remorse he’d thought he’d confessed to and done his penance for, tripled now that he was face to face with the very person he’d betrayed with his selfish desire to not starve to death. He wished Bucky would get mad at him, almost, even though Bucky had no clue what Steve had done, even though, from what Rebecca had told him after he’d tracked her down, Bucky didn’t want him anymore. Anything to keep him from looking at Steve like he didn’t know what he was seeing.

 

“What happened?” Bucky asked softly, almost too quiet to hear over the distant cheers and celebrating of the other soldiers.

 

“I joined the Army,” Steve muttered.

 

“I meant,” Bucky snapped, his voice abruptly sharp, and Steve cringed away from it, then from his own reaction, “why’re you –?” Bucky gestured vaguely to Steve’s body. His voice lost its sharp edge as he deflated some. “I don’t even know. Did you have a growth spurt or somethin’?”

 

Steve swallowed. He definitely couldn’t meet Bucky’s eye, then, though he could feel Bucky’s gaze boring into him. “There was a scientist. Dr. Erskine. He had this serum, designed to enhance people. It worked really well.”

 

Bucky took a step forward. “You’re telling me,” he murmured, voice quiet in a way that Steve couldn’t tell was dangerous or upset, “you signed up to be a lab rat?”

 

“Kinda?” Steve muttered.

 

Bucky strode towards him; Steve looked up in time for Bucky to grab him by the shoulders and shake them, his eyes wild, pupils wide. “What if it killed you?” he hissed; his voice was both, then, Steve figured. “What were you thinking?”

 

“I was gonna die anyway,” Steve snapped, suddenly angry himself and he knocked Bucky’s hands off his shoulders. Bucky had left him, Bucky had known all along where to find him and in all those years, he’d never come looking for him, he didn’t have the right to be angry at him, he was not  Steve’s Alpha anymore. “I had maybe a year left, the serum cured me of the half a dozen fatal diseases, the asthma, allergies, my heart defect, some VD doctors couldn’t identify, everything.”

 

“You – wait,” Bucky grabbed his shoulders again, looking like he was about to be sick. “Steve, you had what –”

 

“I joined the Army so I could die for my country before I died for my sins,” Steve spat out. “That’s what I was thinking.”

 

Bucky let go of him, taking a step back, but Steve wasn’t done, Bucky’s eyes were wide in shock and they should be, he should feel horrified for what he’d left Steve to do, he had no right to judge him, he had had no choice .

 

“Ma got the consumption two years ago,” he started, his voice fast, sharp and angry, “the hospital bills were more than either of us could cover, and when my boss found out she had TB, he fired me ‘cause he didn’t want me to spread it. I couldn’t pay the rent or Ma’s bills, then she died and I couldn’t even afford a pine box for her, they put her in a fucking unmarked grave with the suicide victims and homeless overdoses. I tried to find an Alpha and no one wanted me, sick and skinny and never able to have kids without dying myself, oh, and of the five female Alphas I found, all of ‘em could tell that I already had an Alpha, but he wasn’t around, was he, so I went to the docks.”

 

Bucky’s entire face was drawn in one long line, mouth open and eyes huge, and from that look, he knew what Steve meant. Omegas didn’t work at the shipyards. They only went to the docks for one thing.

 

Above all, the Church preached fidelity. Between bondmates, there was meant to be nothing but the utmost faithfulness. Their relationship, their love and their intimacy were precious, to be guarded jealously like a dragon with its hoard. It was a slap in the face of God himself to betray that. Anybody who’d looked in the right light at little James Barnes and Steven Rogers would have seen that they were made for each other, the way Bucky mirrored his father’s care for his mother when helping Steve off his scraped knees, the look Steve would give Bucky that would get him to sit still long enough for the school teachers to leave them alone. Anybody who’d looked with the right angle at the growing boys would see that they gravitated towards each other, long before either of them presented, how Bucky always had an arm slung over Steve’s shoulders and Steve always looked for Bucky when he entered a room. In that moment, only the ghost of what was left after ten years apart and too much shit on both sides was in Bucky’s wide and sickened eyes, in Steve’s resolution built upon crushed foundations, and what he said next was a slap in the face to both.

 

“I spent almost two years getting two dollars for giving head and five for getting fucked,” Steve hissed. His voice was venomous as any snake and with as much intent to strike, to wound, to let out the bottled up hurt he’d been keeping and stewing in for more than ten years and let it lash deep into the very object of sleepless nights and oceans formed by tears. With his every word, Bucky took a staggering step back, flinching with every wound, the lashes of Steve’s snarling words striking true with as much force behind them as a bolt of lightning.

 

“It was another three dollars for each extra time they came, sometimes they’d throw a penny or two at me and pretend it was a tip, they’d call me dollface and sugar ,” he spat the words that Bucky used to jokingly call him like they were wounds he’d gotten himself, making Bucky wince in ways that were satisfying in a sick sense to him. “They’d leave bruises in the shapes of their fingers, it was disgusting and degrading as all shit. Then I got sick from it, too. I couldn’t pay rent, I still have debts from Ma getting sick, I was this close to being evicted and doctors gave me a year, they didn’t even know what was killing me. I felt sure I was going to be another one of those unidentified bodies in a back alley one day, I felt sure God turned his back on me, I knew you had turned your back on me. Then I met Erskine, he told me he had a way out, and I took it.”

 

Bucky’s legs hit Steve’s cot and he fell onto it. Steve glared at him, his cheeks wet from tears angry and just plain sad. Bucky looked horrified, and Steve thought that he should. He was waiting for Bucky to run out back out his tent and never come back again. Steve wasn’t much of an Omega anymore, not with his long frame and massive shoulders, didn’t look like one and hardly smelled like one, enough that he could pass as just an Alpha on suppressants who’d had sex in the past 24 hours until you got up close, and Bucky wasn’t his Alpha anymore, either, not after what Bucky had done, what Steve had done. Whatever God had made to be between the two of them had been destroyed by the revolving door of Alphas that had paid to take what should have been Bucky’s and left to wither and decay long ago. He fully expected Bucky to stand up and leave, and to never see the back of him again.

 

He didn’t expect him to blink away tears too.

 

“I’m sorry,” he croaked, avoiding Steve’s eye and looking like he’d been hit by a train, and the fact that he wasn’t just leaving or angry with him made Steve’s own hackles raise higher and his teeth grit, that Bucky was just sitting there looking broken like it really was his fault that Steve had chosen to become a whore, that he wasn’t swelling with the same righteous fury that the nuns always said Alphas would if their Omega betrayed them; it made Steve want to shake him and scream more until he did.

 

But Bucky didn’t get mad. He didn’t swell. He deflated, he shook his head in sorrow like he was the one confessing and not Steve. “I should’ve been there, I was s’posed to take care of you. I’m so sorry, Stevie.”

 

“Don’t,” Steve spat. “You left, you didn’t want me either, don’t Stevie me!”

 

“I didn’t want to hurt you again!” Bucky burst out. “You were too young, I shouldn’t have – I should’ve controlled myself; I thought you were better off without me.”

 

“I – Wait.”

 

Bucky blinked, eyes wet. Steve was deflating now, all his bravado and anger draining right out of him as quickly as it came, though he was trying hard to stay mad at him, he was confused. Just before he’d been sent overseas to take the show to the soldiers, Peggy had asked if there was anyone he wanted to talk to, and there really had only been one person. She’d helped him track down where the Barnes had moved to. Rebecca had answered his knocking and told him before he could even open his mouth that he wouldn’t find what he was looking for there. That Bucky had been drafted overseas, and wouldn’t come to his call even if he’d been there in the first place. Rebecca had grown blunt in ten years, she’d said it so calmly as if she hadn’t cared that her words would break Steve’s heart. “He’s not yours no more, Rogers. He’s no one’s. Go home, find somebody better, that’s what he’d say to you.”

 

Now, Steve didn’t know what to say, so he shook his head to clear it and tried a question. “What do you mean, hurt me again?”

 

Bucky swallowed, shamed. “When you presented. I got to you, I – I could’ve killed you.”

 

“You locked me in the fucking bathroom!” Steve said. “You wouldn’t touch me!”

 

Then Bucky was frowning as well, his forehead creasing and lips turning down at the corners. “No, I busted out, when I was rutting, I got out and got to you. I –”

 

“Who told you that?” Steve asked. He wasn’t angry anymore, not at Bucky. It made sense now, Rebecca’s cold “find somebody better” , that made so much more sense! He must have told her to do it, if he had really thought he’d hurt him, he must have told her to keep Steve away if he ever showed up. “You never touched me, Buck, who told you that?”

 

“My mother,” he mumbled. Steve almost let out a laugh at how much it made sense now. Of course, of course! Winifred Barnes had never liked how close friends they were, she’d always looked down at them dirty when Bucky even brushed Steve’s body by accident. Young boys didn’t need to be so affectionate, she’d say. Of course!

 

Bucky was looking at him with screwed up eyes still, twice as confused while Steve felt lighter than air suddenly. Bucky hadn’t really left him, after all. “Wait, but – She said –”

“You didn’t touch me,” Steve insisted. “I kissed you, you scented me, then you locked me in the bathroom and threw the key out ‘cause you knew I was too young.”

 

“That’s why we had to leave, so I wasn’t a danger to you anymore,” Bucky insisted.

 

“Bucky, you never touched me,” Steve repeated. “I always thought you left because your dad was transferred to another bank. I thought…” He stopped. God, he’d done so much, thinking that it would never matter because Bucky didn’t want him. He might have been over six feet and two hundred pounds of pure muscle, but right then, Steve felt as small and ill as he had been sitting in the confessional booths of Saint Michael’s telling his every sin to a God he hadn’t thought would forgive him, and thinking that it wouldn’t even matter if the Lord did or didn’t because there was no way Bucky could either.  

 

“No,” Bucky muttered. He stood up abruptly, looking at him with a wild thing that could have been hope in his eyes. “I didn’t hurt you?”

 

It came out as a question about something entirely more, though.

 

“No,” Steve answered. Bucky said nothing, mouth open and eyes glazed over while Steve licked his lips. The tent felt hot, his skin was definitely flushed, heart beating quick in his ribs. He’d done so much…

 

“Bucky?”

 

Bucky was stepping towards him, hesitant, cautious. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I should’ve been there for you. I was scared, I was a coward. I’m so, so sorry, Stevie.”

 

Steve swallowed. “I forgive you. Can you… Can you forgive –”

 

“‘Course. You said it yourself, you didn’t have a choice.”

 

Steve let out all the air in his lungs. He might just begin to cry.

 

Bucky held out his arms, ever hesitant. “Please?”

 

Steve stepped into them, falling against Bucky’s chest and burying his face in his shoulder. Bucky’s arms encircled him, holding him tightly, Bucky’s lips pressing against his hair. He hadn’t felt so light in years, like the hole that had been left in him when Bucky left was sucking all the life out of him but now that he was back where he belonged, it was filled up and he didn’t need to struggle against its weight anymore. He let out a little sigh of relief. Bucky didn’t care what he’d done. The Bible said God loved like that, but up until that second with his Alpha holding him as tight as if he’d never left, Steve had never believed anyone could love unconditionally, forgivingly, like that.

 

“’M so sorry, baby,” Bucky whispered. “I won’t leave you again, I promise, I’ll take care of you.”

 

Steve nodded into his neck, adding a half-hearted threat of: “You'd better, jerk.”

 

"’Course I will,” Bucky chuckled, his arms tightening a little around his body. “I got you, I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, punk,” he whispered.

 

It was a very quiet vow, one Steve didn’t even need to repeat aloud to make, and in the tents and trenches of World War II, with death everywhere and so many souls broken in half, it was good enough. They didn’t need a chaplain, a preacher, even a justice of the peace, they didn’t need to have and to hold, to love and cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer; all they needed was each other’s promise, that it would be ‘til the end of the line for them, and with God as their only witness, it was enough.

 


 

 

“We were gonna go to Paris, after the war,” Steve admitted, the story no one knew so the propaganda could be effective finally told and finished, “it wasn’t such a big deal, male Omegas and Alphas. We could’ve bonded there. Gotten married for real, all that.”

 

“You only had him a couple of years,” Sam murmured.

 

Steve drew in a breath, nodding. They’d always talked about after the war, the whole team, like it was a fairytale pipe dream none of them could ever hope to have but none of them wanted to even think that there was a chance they wouldn’t make it out whole to get it. His team had made it out, though. Gabe moved to France to be with Dernier. Falsworth and Pinky ended up neighbors and married to a set of sisters. Junior went to college and became a lawyer. Dum Dum got to marry his girl in the flashiest, grandest wedding a poor kid out of whatever they called Hoovervilles in Roanoke, Virginia ever had. Morita had gone home to God knows what after the internment camps, Steve had never found out, but gotten to have his happy ending eventually. Happy Sam married his sweetheart and they had enough kids that the whole team could have a godchild, like they’d always joked Steve and Bucky would. They’d joked here and there, I’ll do this and I’ll have that , never said anything about what might happen if. They’d quit it after Bucky died. Vanished, got captured again, whatever it had turned out to be. Then Steve had sent the Valkyrie into the Arctic and the war had been over by the year’s end, and they’d all gotten their happy endings. Steve didn’t want to think about what had happened to Bucky once HYDRA had gotten him.

 

“I worry,” Sam went on, “that now, the Winter Soldier…” Sam turned to face him, expression serious while at the same time gentle. Steve didn’t meet his eye. “He might not be the kind you take in. He might be the kind you stop.”

 

Steve let out the breath.

 

“He might not remember anything, or just not enough to know you.”

 

“He knows me,” Steve murmured.

 

“But what if he doesn't?” Sam pressed. “Did you mean what you said to Fury? If you have to take him down, you're going with him?”

 

“He knows me,” Steve insisted. “I saw it in his eyes. He doesn't know my name, who I am, who he is, but he knows me.”

 

“If it's not enough, Steve? Did you mean that?”

 

“I lost him once,” Steve snapped, “and the world moved on when it lost me. It'll keep on turning.”

 

Sam exhaled, looking around and like a caged animal. “Steve, you're talking suicide, there's nothing –?”

 

“Why do you think I didn't look for another option to keep the Valkyrie from destroying New York?” Steve snapped. “There is nothing. But Bucky knows me. It has to be enough.”

 

Sam worried his lip, unfolded his arms and held out a hand, hovering over his shoulder. It took a second for Steve to recognize that he was waiting for permission, and he nodded. Sam's hand fell, heavy, squeezing his shoulder in a way that otherwise would have been comforting, had Steve not been so wrung out.

 

“I'm sorry,” he murmured. “It'll be enough.”

 

Steve dropped his head, sucking in another breath and trying to tamp down his rapidly beating heart.

 

“You really had HIV?” Sam abruptly asked.

 

Steve gave a shrug. “Probably. They didn't know what it was back then, but all the symptoms match far as I can tell. Can never be sure.”

 

“Man,” Sam whispered. “I feel like I gotta call my mom and thank her for giving me a good life. I'm sorry that happened to you, Steve. I promise, things are better now. People don't have to resort to things like that if they don't want to, we got all kinds of things…”

 

“I know,” he murmured, “I know.”

 

“You think, when all this is over, you'll want to correct the history books?”

 

Steve paused. He hadn't even considered that before, but perhaps, if the secret was going to get out anyway that Captain America was an Omega, perhaps…

 

“I don't know,” he said finally. “I kept it all secret for so long, Bucky was really the only person who ever knew everything I had to do back then. I don't know if I'd be able to tell the whole world.”

 

Sam squeezed his shoulder again. “We're gonna get your boy back,” he promised. “I got some of the best psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists on speed-dial, we'll get your boy back and we'll give him the help he needs. You, too, if you're up for it.”

 

Steve just shrugged. Sam's hand dropped from his shoulder, and for a second, he missed the contact. “I don't know. Right now, I just want to focus on Insight.”

 

Sam gave a firm nod. “Aye, aye, Captain,” he said kindly. “I'll go check on Natasha.”

 

“We leave in ten minutes,” Steve decided. “So suit up.”

 

“Aye, aye.”

 

As Sam's footsteps retreated, Steve set his gaze back on the water.

 

“I'm still with you til the end of the line, Buck,” he whispered.

 

Natasha was able to go. Her shoulder would still be stiff, she’d have to hold herself different and take greater care to shield her right side, but she could fight. Fortunately, the plan allowed her a little more time to relax. Hill loaded them up in her van again, an SUV now that Steve really looked at it, behind tinted windows and reinforced walls. He didn’t have his suit, but he knew where one was. The exhibit was open, being the middle of the day, but a distraction by Natasha, dressed as museum staff, gave Steve the time he needed to get the suit and get out in less than five minutes. No one looked at him, no one saw past his scent, he hardly needed sunglasses. They left the SUV a few blocks away from S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, going on foot the rest of the way in two teams; Natasha and Hill were similar enough to pass as sisters as long as they laughed and smiled enough. Steve was with Sam, and with Steve smelling like an Omega it was a good cover to have Sam’s arm wrapped around Steve’s waist. It was necessary, but Steve had spent so long shying away from any touch that wasn’t Bucky’s, that the nine minutes walking at Sam’s side left him feeling caged. Sam sent him apologetic glances when he could, but it wasn’t his fault.

 

They slipped into a group of tourists for the last half mile. Once they had crossed the perimeter, Sam and Steve slipped into some bushes to take out their equipment; Sam’s suit had been stowed in a backpack, Steve’s in a small leather satchel. The underside of the bush was cramped, but the suit fit the same as it had done three years ago, seventy, really. And if he closed his eyes and pretended, he could almost catch a whiff of Bucky on the cuffs.

 

Getting in wasn’t easy. It wasn’t all that hard, either. They slipped in an old ventilation shaft, coming out around the 8th floor when it ended. A man in glasses dropped a huge stack of papers and a ceramic coffee mug, which shattered, when Steve stepped out of the air vent, but didn’t cry out. Steve pressed a finger to his lips and the man gave a deft nod. The next two they encountered, changing vents on the 21st floor, tried to pull guns, but two swift whacks with his shield dropped them unconscious. Sam helped him shove them in a storage closet, and they went on.

 

“We meet in communications,” Steve had told Hill. “Natasha, infiltrate the council meeting. Don’t blow your cover until you have to. And go for knockouts before you go for the kill, alright?”

 

Natasha had nodded, her expression hard and shoulder visibly stiff. Just as she had begun to pull away, Steve had grabbed her good arm and stopped her. She had raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

 

“I don’t come out of there,” he had said softly, “you’re in charge. Got it?”

 

Natasha had just looked at him for a long moment, as if she were going to try and talk him out of it. Then, she had nodded once again, and then she was gone. Steve knew Sam had heard him, knew he had pretended otherwise, and they had moved on.

 

The communications center was in the very middle of the building, located on the 30th floor. It had only one entrance, an elevator that required a keycode, but once Hill rendezvoused with them, she entered a secret master code Fury had programmed himself for such emergencies. The actual door to it could only be opened from the inside, so Hill used her phone to send out an electrical disturbance to cause the techs inside to assume a malfunction in the relay dish, which was outside the comm center. Hill and Sam trained their guns on the door, and when it opened, a single shocked tech met them.

 

“‘Scuse us,” Steve asked calmly.

 

“Oh, shit,” the tech squeaked, shoving his hands in the air. “Yeah, go ahead.” He took a hasty step back, nodding them in, offering no resistance. Hill, armed with a tranq gun, took out the two armed guards, and the rest of the techs inside happily allowed Sam to lock them in a closet. Steve activated the PA.

 

“Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.”

 

He took a small breath and depressed the button once more.

 

“This is Steve Rogers. I know you’ve heard a lot about me in the past day or so, some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you knew the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been taken over by HYDRA. Alexander Pierce is their leader, the STRIKE and Insight crew are HYDRA as well. I don’t know how many more. I know they’re in the building. They could be standing right next to you.”

 

Steve paused, inhaling, counting to three, allowing for those listening to process what he had just said.

 

“They’ve almost got what they want: Absolute control. They shot Nick Fury. They tried to kill my friends. Tried to kill me. It’s not going to stop there. If you launch the Insight helicarriers, HYDRA will be able to take out anyone who stands in their way. Anyone. Your neighbor, your sister, your kids, anyone who they deem a threat to themselves. That means people like me. HYDRA believes the world is better off under its thumb, better off with no power over themselves, over their lives.”

 

The flow of words ebbed and came, not leaving him for longer than a second, but he paused again, letting the words sink in.

 

“I know I’m asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high. It always has been.”

 

“Steve! I can’t –”

 

“Hold on!”

 

“It won’t hold you and me both, Stevie!”

 

“Don’t let go, don’t you dare let go, Buck, you promised me, you promised –”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“BUCKY! NO!”

 

“It’s a price I’m willing to pay.”

 

“Steve, please, there has to be another way, you can save New York and yourself!”

 

“I don’t have time. It’s the end of the line for me, Pegs.”

 

“Steve…”

 

“I’ll say “hi” to Bucky for you, yeah? Don’t forget, you owe me dancing lessons.”

 

“I’ll be there, I promise…”

 

“And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”

 

He turned off the PA, stepping back. He felt Sam’s hand on his shoulder and turned.

 

“Did you write that down first,” his friend asked with a smile, “or was it just off the top of your head?”

 

“Top of my head,” he said and tried for a smile. “They gave me lessons.”

 

“They gave you lessons?” Sam laughed. “On how to speak patriotically on a whim?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve said. “Sorta. They made me do improv and acting lessons. It was shit.”

 

Sam chuckled, squeezing his shoulder. “Now, that’s something that should be in the history books.”

 

“Now we wait,” Hill said quietly.

 

“Now we wait,” Steve agreed.

 

It took less than a minute. Steve sucked in a breath like he’d been punched in the gut when the warning claxons in the comm center went off, the large red letters over Insight’s status as grounded flashing OVERRIDE OVERRIDE OVERRIDE

 

“Get to those carriers!” Hill snapped, already on the move to try and stop them from the comm center. “Now, Cap!”

 

“Let’s go!” Steve shouted, making a break for the door.

 

“Right behind you, Steve!”

 

The flashing word was burned into his eyes as he ran. OVERRIDE OVERRIDE OVERRIDE –

 

*

[date unknown, the shores of the potomac river]

 

Override. Conflict: Protect Gingerbread, Ensure launch of Insight. Error.

 

The asset sees Target Rogers, Steven Grant running, a man with wings at his heels. They are being shot at, but the asset cannot move. Conflict: Ensure launch of Insight, Target Gingerbread is being stupid. No, Stevie is being stupid, he’s gonna get himself a new set-a-holes and they’re not gonna be the fun kind neither, I gotta watch his six – Conflict: Target Rogers, Steven Grant is attempting to stop the launch of Insight. Override: ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME HERE, TO HELL WITH INSIGHT – Denied, logic unsound.

 

The asset emerges from the shadows. He has lost sight of Target Rogers, Steven Grant, lost track of time while conflicting missions created errors. There are pilots, shouting about scrambling air support for Captain Rogers. The asset starts shooting missiles, taking down jets, then kills the last pilot and climbs into the only remaining jet himself. He must gain access to Insight, that’s where Target Gingerbread is most likely to be. The asset is capable of piloting it, when the fuck did I learn how to fly a plane I don’t remember this I can remember the Hunchback of Queens hitting me with a ruler over fucken bubble gum and I don't get to know where I learned to fly a plane? This is bullshit! Insight must be launched. The asset must protect gingerbread, but Insight must be launched.

 

A sudden voice bursts into his ear and the asset nearly drops the controls to clutch at his head in pain; motherfucking cocksucker, go shove a pinecone up your ass – Override, inconsequential.

 

“Soldier, do not allow Captain America to stop Insight! Terminate Captain America, terminate the fucker in the wings, terminate, now!”

 

“Confirmed,” the asset answers. He does not know what Captain America is. He recalls a costume, red, white, and blue, the American flag. The “fucker in the wings” is easy enough to understand. Mission start: Terminate Captain America. Terminate the fucker in the wings. Mission continue: Ensure launch of Insight, Protect Gingerbread. Error, potential conflict: How the hell am I supposed to remember all this shit what the fuck am I even doing I DON’T KNOW HOW TO FLY A FUCKING PLANE!

 

The asset’s head hurts. It is of no consequence.

 

The asset spots Target: the fucker in the wings first. He curves the jet, intending to ram the target and take him out while he has the time to spare, when he spots a blur of blue falling through the air. The asset lifts his eyes, squinting, wait is that WAIT STEVE STEVIE WHAT THE SHIT ARE YOU DOING SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT –

 

Target: the fucker in the wings catches Target Captain America. The asset rams the controls forward. Wait wait hang on what am I doing shit no no stop it STOP!

 

The asset’s head collides with the windscreen of the jet. He presses the flesh palm to it, wincing, then has to grab the controls to steady the jet once again. Target: the fucker in the wings and Target Captain America have vanished. Override: WHAT THE FUCK DID I THINK I WAS DOING?

 

The asset’s head is aching. One eye is impaired. It is of minor consequence. What was I doing?

 

The asset spies the blur of blue, Target: the fucker in the wings is carrying Target Captain America towards Insight helicarrier India November dash Zero Three, so the asset curves the jet towards the carrier. The landing is rough, and not long after the asset has jumped out it explodes. It is of no consequence. The asset prowls, scanning, searching.

 

“... you know, you’re a lot heavier than you look.”

 

The asset runs. He collides with Target Captain America, sending him flying and off the edge of the carrier. Target Captain America: Presumed eliminated.

 

Then, there is a shout of “STEVE!” behind him and Target: the fucker in the wings appears in the corner of his eye. The asset lunges with the metal hand, grabbing firm upon the left wing of Target: the fucker in the wings as he tries to fly out to rescue Target Captain America, whom he had called Steve – Error wait SHIT WHERE –

 

Override: The asset does not have time for this. The asset throws Target: the fucker in the wings backwards with a roar, and Target: the fucker in the wings pulls out a pair of semi-automatic pistols as he catches himself mid-air. The asset twists out of the spray of bullets, taking cover until the sound of gunfire ceases. He checks, finds Target: the fucker in the wings soaring past, and throws a grappling hook in his direction; it connects, and the asset yanks hard upon the chain. Target: the fucker in the wings hits the ground with a yell, tries to rise to his feet, but the asset yanks once again and the wing he has snagged rips off. He runs up, plants a foot into Target: the fucker in the wings’ chest as he rises, and sends him over the edge. Target: the fucker in the wings: Presumed eliminated. Mission: Ensure launch of Insight, secure.

 

The asset strides to the edge. Target: the fucker in the wings has deployed a parachute. This motherfucker… Target: the fucker in the wings: Alive. Target: the fucker in the wings, however, no longer poses a threat to the launch of Insight. The asset can eliminate him later. Another sweep of the eyes, the left one hiding a painful throb in his head, and the asset sees Target Captain America standing on a ledge of the carrier, alive. This motherfucker? Target Captain America does not see him, and breaks into a run. The asset will meet him at his goal. He turns away from the edge, moving quickly, efficiently despite the pain in his head.

 

Target Captain America reaches the servers moments after the asset. The asset is standing, waiting, and Target Captain America comes to a slow stop five meters from him.

 

Target Captain America has crystalline blue eyes.

 

“People are going to die, Buck,” Target Captain America says.

 

The asset does not react. He is… confused? The asset is confused. Huh, this is new. Error: Target behavior abnormal. Target Captain America addresses him with “buck,” an adjective that has never been applied to the asset before. He is not a deer. He is a weapon. Target Captain America’s face is not frightened. It is tired. His voice is not harsh. It is soft. Target Captain America has crystalline blue eyes. Wait. Wait, wait, hold on, don’t move!

 

“I can’t let that happen,” Target Captain America tells him.

 

Cognition error. Target Captain America has crystalline blue eyes, soft pink lips, broad shoulders and firm lines, there is a minute scar on his chin from when some piss-drunk Alphas mistook him for a girl and tried to pick him up when he was walking home I was almost too late they’d gotten violent when he didn’t cooperate they knocked him down and he hit his chin on the edge of Mrs. Talley’s front step I broke one of ‘em’s noses and they ran off – Error, possible conflict: Eliminate Captain America –

 

“Please don’t make me do this,” Target Captain America begs.

 

Behavior abnormal. Tone, pleading, reminiscent of mothers begging for their children to be spared, adults for their bondmates, behavior abnormal, Target Captain America is crying?

 

“What are you waiting for?!” a voice shouts in the comm link in his ear. “Kill him! Kill him now!”

 

The asset must eliminate Target Captain America. The asset does not have time for errors.

 

Target Captain America flings his shield, and the battle is resumed. The asset deflects it with the metal arm, only for it to ricochet and Target Captain America to catch it again. I like that shield I gotta get me one of those – Override: Inconsequential.

 

Target Captain America bullrushes him, and the asset draws his pistols. He ducks Target Captain America’s attempt to knock him down with the shield and fires both pistols, pulling the triggers twice each, but all four bullets are deflected by the shield, the shield, which slams into his upper body seconds later and sends him flying. The wind changes, the asset catches a faint scent. Error. Possible conflict: Eliminate Captain America, Protect – Override: Ensure launch of Project Insight.

 

The asset rises to his feet and draws a knife. Target Captain America looks at him, behavior abnormal, the expression is not something the asset recognizes. He attacks with the knife, the strikes are all blocked. Target Captain America is not attacking in return, behavior pattern recognized, unwillingness to fight back. The asset attacks harder, fight back you idiot I’m trying to kill you! , Target Captain America hits him with the flat of the shield, sending him tumbling backward once more. When he stands, Target Captain America is accessing the servers. The asset rushes him once more, his knife sends sparks flying when it strikes the shield, but it does not make purchase on Target Captain America. The wind is to the asset’s back, he cannot smell if Target Captain America is afraid, but the eyes look terrified. Target Captain America kicks him, hard, his boots slide across the ground, and Target Captain America removes a single server blade from the databank.

 

Warning, mission endangered: Ensure launch of Insight. The asset lunges, bringing back the metal fist, and Target Captain America turns in time to catch it with the shield. The metal vibrating hurts the asset’s ears, the headache behind his eye suddenly triples in intensity. Warning: Efficiency endangered. Target Captain America shoves him away from the servers, and finally, he swings in an attack, finally, I was wondering when you’d develop a sense of self-preservation. Reminds me of another guy, you’d like him, big lunk o’ stupidity – Override: Inconsequential. The asset blocks, Target Captain America swings again, he ducks, Target Captain America’s fist collides with his head.

 

The pain behind his eye is unbearable. He lets out a scream and rushes at his target, who hits the railing and pitches backward. Target Captain America’s fingers close on the front of the asset’s jacket, the asset’s weight shifts. They are falling, they land hard and the air is knocked from the asset’s lungs. The asset tries to bring his fist back in a punch, yelling, sucking air in and –

 

Gingerbread.

 

The asset stops. Target Captain America’s shield slams into his face. The asset falls back, screaming again, as Target Captain America lunges for something; a small server blade slips off the ledge they landed on, and Target Captain America jumps after it. The asset stands, shaking, chest tight, heart rate exceeding normal parameters. Oh, no, oh, no, no, no, Steve!

 

The asset jumps after Target Captain America. The asset must confirm, the asset cannot risk the launch of Insight, but the asset must confirm .

 

Target Captain America has retrieved the server blade and is trying to climb back to the main servers. The asset lunges blindly for him, but Target Captain America swings his shield and knocks him back. His head hits the ground with a crack, the pain, the pain is so intense his vision winks out; he crawls to his hands and knees, his head is splitting, cognition error: Where am I? What am I doing?

 

He sees the shield. Mission resumed: Eliminate Captain America. The asset grabs it, throws it, it hits Target Captain America and he falls back onto the glass floor. The asset stands, Target Captain America throws the shield back, and the asset blocks it with the metal arm. He draws a knife, closing in, two strikes blocked, the third leaves the knife close to Target Captain America’s shoulder. The asset doubles the strength; the arm whirs and the knife cuts deep into Target Captain America’s chest. The asset smells blood and something sweet. Potential conflict, Protect Ginger– Override: Ensure launch of Insight. Mission resumed: Ensure launch of Insight. Target Captain America throws him off, the server blade clatters to the ground. The asset must destroy it. He attacks, but is blocked, then lunges for the server blade.

 

Target Captain America grabs him by the throat, the asset chokes as Target Captain America lifts him off the ground, then Target Captain America is throwing him back to the ground, face down, his flesh arm tucked under Target Captain America’s and Target Captain America plants his hand on the flesh shoulder. Target Captain America shouts something, the asset’s fingers tighten on the server blade. Pain rips through his shoulder, the asset grits his teeth, the pain mounts and there is a loud, sickening pop; his flesh shoulder is dislocated.

 

The asset struggles, then Target Captain America has him in a headlock and is cutting off his air supply. Target Captain America falls to the ground, the asset landing on top of him, Target Captain America’s arm curled around his neck and squeezing steadily. The asset chokes, tries to inhale, kicking and trying to grab anything with the metal hand, but Target Captain America clamps the metal arm between his knees. There is a loud snap and a crackling whir from the arm. Black spots appear in his vision. Warning: aw, shit, I get myself killed, Stevie’ll kill me in the afterlife. Through the snatches of air, he smells – Conflict: Protect Gingerbread.

 

The asset stops struggling. Target Gingerbread, underneath him, relaxes his hold on him slightly, but the asset does not resist. The asset cannot risk harming Target Gingerbread, not now, he does not even know if Target Captain America and Target Gingerbread are the same or if the lack of oxygen played tricks on his mind. Target Gingerbread releases him, he gasps for breath and inhales deeply the sweet scent like gingerbread, letting the server blade fall from his grasp as he drinks it in and the knot in his chest begins to slowly come undone.

 

Then Target Gingerbread shoves him off of him, the asset falling to the ground, and snatches up the server blade. Conflict: Ensure launch of Insight. Warning: The knot of panic – Panic? This is new, too. – is growing again. Override: Ensure launch of Insight. The asset fumbles for his gun, snatching it up and twisting, shooting the second he sees the blur of blue. Target Captain America (Target Gingerbread?) stumbles on the ledge they had fallen on, the asset gets to his feet, the metal hand aiming the gun, but Target Captain America runs on despite the bullet in his leg. This motherfucker!

 

The asset shoots again, as Target Captain America is climbing back up to the server platform. Target Captain America loses grip on one hand, yet keeps going. The asset bares his teeth, a primal show of frustration, as the metal hand clicks and whirs, multiple structural malfunctions preventing him from shooting accurately. Target Captain America gains the server platform, the asset stumbling, trying to find a better line of sight, finds it, fires. Captain America recoils, dropping to the ground, the asset’s shot successfully striking him in the gut.

 

Target Captain America gets back up. The asset cannot fathom how he is still standing, even why he does not just give in, but Target Captain America is back on his feet and slamming the server blade into place before the asset can fire again. The wind shifts, and the gun clatters from the asset’s fingers even as Target Gingerbread, Target Captain America, Target Rogers, Steven Grant, all the same individual; as he crumples to the ground.

 

Mission failed: Ensure launch of Insight. Mission failed: Protect Gingerbread.

 

Oh, god, no, no, I didn’t – No! I didn’t mean to, no!

 

He is knocked from his feet as the helicarrier rumbles and quakes, his head smacking against the ground once more. Cognition error.

 

*

[september 20th, over the potomac]

 

“Fire now,” Steve hissed into the comm. He was bleeding out, the pain almost too much. “Hill, fire now.”

 

“But, Steve –”

 

“Fire now!” Steve spat. His head slumped against the servers. Somewhere below him, Bucky was probably getting back up to finish him.

 

“Firing,” Hill whispered.

 

He heard the guns going off, felt the helicarrier shaking beneath him. He stumbled to his feet, staggered to the railing and looked out, trying to find Bucky, and at first, saw nothing. The guns ripped through the helicarrier, debris was falling everywhere. He heard a scream, his stomach twisting around the bullet; Bucky was pinned beneath a fallen beam. Swallowing blood, Steve climbed over the railing, heard the crashing of the helicarriers colliding with each other and the debris falling to the river below them, but Bucky’s screams slowly began to wash all other noises out. He landed on the glass, stumbling, then staggered towards him. Bucky had stopped screaming, was struggling with the beam, then he noticed Steve stumbling towards him. Bucky grunted with the effort, failing, and Steve bent to grip the edges of the beam. His face twisted as pain shot through his entire body, his hands and arms and back all straining to get the beam off of Bucky. Bucky twisted, squirmed free, and Steve dropped the beam with a yell.

 

Bucky was on his hands and knees on the glass, his face angled away from Steve. The wind pushed his hair into his eyes as he lifted himself up, turning to look at him with conflicted eyes.

 

Better than dead eyes.

 

“You know me,” Steve gasped out.

 

Bucky pushed himself up, and swung his metal arm in a fist. “No, I don’t!”

 

The blow was sloppy, one Steve could have easily deflected, but Insight had been stopped and this was his last chance. He let the punch land, let Bucky knock him down and just got back up.

 

“Bucky,” he said, the words sounding strangled even to him, “you’ve known me your whole life.”

 

Bucky’s chest heaved. He let out another roar and swung his fist, hitting him in the face and sending him flying to the floor. He twisted up, but didn’t fight back. “Your name is James Buchanan Barnes.”

 

“Shut up!”

 

The metal fist swung again, his helmet flew off as Steve fell to the ground and spat out blood. He pushed himself to his feet, facing Bucky with bloodied lips and chin raised, completely submissive, open, foolish and trusting, he knew.

 

“I’m not going to fight you,” he rasped. The shield slipped from his fingers, falling through a broken pane to the water beneath them as Bucky stared at him with wide, wild eyes. “You’re my Alpha.”

 

“No, I’m not!” Bucky roared and charged, grabbing Steve by the waist and knocking them both to the ground. His flesh hand curled in the front of his uniform, the metal fist raised as he looked down on him with a face twisted by rage.

 

“You’re my mission,” he spat, and the fist swung. Steve lay there, Bucky’s fist pounding into his face, yet he refused to move. There were tears welling up in his eyes from the pain, pain that was physical and more. Bucky let out another yell, a demented, dark sound that made Steve’s heart stutter, the words repeating as he punched and punched and punched.

 

He drew his fist back, but it didn’t come down again. Steve’s eyes were hardly open now, his mouth filled with blood, but he managed to swallow it and look into Bucky’s eyes, as he finally, finally, gave up all hope. All he saw in them was a vast nothingness.

 

“Then finish it,” he choked. “Cause I’m with you, Buck, ‘til the end of the line. This is it.”

 

The floor gave way beneath him and Steve slipped from Bucky’s grasp, his own mind slipping rapidly into unconsciousness. The last thing he saw was Bucky’s face, his eyes filled with horror. The last thing he heard was Bucky’s voice, screaming:

“NO!”

 

As he plunged into the icy river, Steve thought it fitting, that the last word either of them ever heard was the other screaming out in pain. As he died, he saw a hand, reaching out for his. Perhaps God would be kinder to him this time.

Chapter Text

intertwined: o woe, my love

 

[date unknown, falling]

 

The asset did not know what panic felt like. Do I?  The asset had caused panic, in others. Did I?  He had smelled it on their skin. He had never felt panic. Have I?  Before now.

 

The surface of the water broke under his hands, freezing, inconsequential. His Omega was sinking into the deep, the dark blue of the water blending with the blue of his suit. His hands closed on his uniform, and he pulled up.

 

Steve’s head lolled onto his shoulder when they broke the water’s surface again. The asset could not release his grip on him to check his pulse, so he used his mouth, feeling with his lips under Steve’s jaw while his head lolled backwards like a marionette with its strings cut. The sensation of panic lessened a little when he felt the gentle beat beneath his lips.

 

Steve was heavy, the asset’s limbs grew stiff and painful, inconsequential. He swam until he could stand, letting Steve float as he dragged him across the water’s surface towards the riverbank. The grit and sand crunched under his boots. The asset laid Steve gently on the bank and fell to his knees beside him.

 

Mission resumed: Protect Gingerbread. Threat: The asset.

 

His fists were clenched on Steve’s uniform, his head resting on his shoulder. Steve smelled sweet, sweeter than he should, and though the water was freezing cold, his skin was warm. For now, the asset could not leave him, the injuries and growing fever overrode the asset’s threat level. He had to take Steve to a safe place, he had to keep Steve safe, until this fever or whatever passed, then he would have to bring Steve to a safer place and leave. He would leave, and he would not go back. The asset wanted to keep Steve, to hold him close until the end of time, but no, no, the asset could not keep him, the asset was a risk to him, the asset could not endanger his Omega any longer.

 

He would protect him from afar. That was as much as the asset could do to atone for what he had done. For the moment, he had to ensure his Omega would survive the asset’s sins. He lifted his Omega into his arms and carried him to the vehicle he had stolen earlier. He had to find a safe house, somewhere far from HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. alike. His own skin felt flushed, the smell of gingerbread was growing under the asset’s nose.

 

He tucked his Omega into the back seat of the car, and when Steve began to shiver, the asset removed his soaking wet clothes. His skin was broken and bruised in many places, the asset blamed himself, this was his fault, he did this to his Omega, the asset would need to be lashed for it later; lashed, not just beaten, lashed until skin cleaved from bone and then some. His mistakes nearly cost his Omega’s life, there was no pain that could even begin to inflict enough punishment for what he had done. But not then, not while Steve was overheated and shivering and bleeding still. He couldn’t even consider who would punish him at this point, he couldn’t go back to HYDRA, they would only try to take his Omega from him. Perhaps he’d have to punish himself.

 

There was a blanket in the trunk, and with this, he wrapped Steve tightly. There was a first aid kit in the trunk as well, and the asset carefully removed the bullets he’d put in his Omega’s body, bandaged the wounds, and cursed himself. He stripped himself of his own clothes, throwing out anything that could be a tracker, throwing out the comm that had been wrapped around his ear and taking back only his boots, jacket, pants, his torn and stained shirt, and the gun. He balled up Steve’s uniform, cleaned of electronics, and locked it into the trunk, got into the driver’s seat, and turned the engine. He angled the rearview mirror towards Steve. The panic was growing in the asset again, but seeing his Omega slowly breathing was enough to keep him from becoming disabled.

 

He drove; there was a safe house in Virginia that had been abandoned since 1974, hidden within the forests around the Appalachian Mountains. He did not know how long ago 1974 was, but knew that it had been left long enough that no one would think to look for them there. The drive took almost two hours, the sun setting just as they arrived, and Steve had not yet regained consciousness. The asset drew the gun, locked the car with Steve still inside, and left to secure the area. The outside of the building was clear, no smell but the forest and the clean air, no sound but gentle crickets. Inside, it was deserted and smelled of dust and mold. There was only one floor, one room. There was a fireplace, two windows, fogged over with dust and grime. There was a bed covered in a sheet, a table, two chairs, cabinets and a refrigerator that was empty and dark. It was sufficient.

 

The asset returned to the car and carefully lifted Steve from the backseat. He carried him inside, shifted the sheet off of the bed and laid him down. Steve shivered again, and the asset adjusted the blanket. The sheet was musty, more canvas than bedclothes, so he discarded it and searched the cabinets for blankets. He found them, then draped a thick blanket and a quilt over Steve’s body. He tucked a pillow under his head, knowing that they were preferred for sleeping. For a second, the asset sank to his knees and let his head fall against Steve’s shoulder, and the knot of panic began to unwind, strand by strand.

 

The single room house was still cold, however, so the asset rose before it was even close to being gone and went in search of firewood. Upon finding it, he built a fire in the grate, coaxing it into a gentle blaze, then shuttered the windows, locked the door, and sat down in a chair by the fire, where he could see Steve’s face. The panic began to grow again.

 

The asset added more wood to the fire before Steve woke. The asset heard him groan and stiffened, jerking his head to face him, waiting for something to go wrong. Yet Steve only lifted his head, blinked, and looked around. He saw the asset and frowned.

 

“Where am I?” he murmured.

 

“Safe house,” the asset answered. “North-west Virginia, Appalachian Trail.”

 

Steve blinked and his frown deepened. “I… What happened?”

 

The asset was more aware of panic now. He felt a strange emotion in addition to the panic, a tightness to his chest, a prickle to his nose, watering of the eyes. It took him a second to identify it as both shame and regret.

 

“I pulled you from the river,” the asset said quietly. “I am… sorry.”

 

Steve sat up, pressing a hand to his face and rubbing at his eyes. He seemed to realize that he was naked, his face turning pink, and he pulled the blankets around his lap. “Do you know who I am?” he asked after a second.

 

“Rogers, Steven Grant,” the asset answered automatically. “Male. Reported Alpha, truthfully an Omega.”

 

My Omega.

 

The asset ignored the thought, he couldn’t keep him, Steve couldn’t be his any longer, and continued. “Alias, Captain America. Born July 4th, 1918. Presumed dead March 4th, 1945. Discovered alive 2011.”

 

“Do you remember me?” Steve asked, tone hardening.

 

The asset hesitated. He knew pieces; he remembered a very small child, large blue eyes and hair so pale it was almost white. A smile missing the two front teeth, not because of a blow, but because the child was just losing his baby teeth. A boy, coughing, panic making it even harder for him to breath. He remembered rubbing gentle circles in the boy’s chest, saying quiet words, and feeling panicked himself. Steve seemed to make the asset panic a lot.

 

“Do you know who you are?” Steve asked when the asset did not answer.

 

“I am the Winter Soldier,” the asset murmured.

 

“Do you know what your name is?”

 

“Bucky?” the asset guessed. “You called me that.”

 

Steve leaned back a little on the bed. Good, the asset thought, he shouldn’t strain himself.

 

“What do you remember?” Steve asked him.

 

“Flashes,” the asset said. “Incomplete.” He stopped, took a breath, and whispered: “Was I… a child?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve said thickly. “Yeah, Buck, you were a kid once. We were both kids.”

 

Error. The asset could not have been a child. The asset was not a person. The asset was the Winter Soldier. He could not be a person. A person didn’t kill as the Winter Soldier did. A person did not execute parents in front of their children, blow up buildings with pregnant Omegas inside, slowly kill an innocent to extract information from their bondmate. The asset was a weapon, not a person.

 

Steve looked at him like he was.

 

“What am I?” the asset whispered.

 

“You’re James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve said. He’d said it earlier. The asset felt that twist of regret and shame again, he’d said it earlier and the asset had only hurt him. “You’re an Alpha. You’re a man.”

 

“I am a man?”

 

The asset was a person?

 

“You’re my Alpha,” Steve repeated.

 

“I know that, dumbass,” the asset snapped, the words automatic. He reeled, horrified, yet Steve did not appear upset, he looked comforted? “I should not have said that,” the asset said. “Why are you smiling?”

 

Steve dropped back onto his pillows, a stupid, shit-eating grin on his face like the asset had just offered to blow him. Logic error: Meaning of ‘blow him’ unclear. The asset did not understand.

 

“It’s okay, Buck,” Steve murmured, his eyes shutting. “It’s our thing. We insult each other. Been doing it since we were kids.”

 

A sudden thought occurred to the asset. If the asset was once a child, then he was now a man. And if he had once been a child but was now a man, he should be aging. Steve should be aging. If 1974 was long enough ago that this safe house was forgotten by HYDRA, 1918 was even longer. When had the asset even been born, if he had been born and not made? The asset should be much older than he is, so should Steve. Clarification: The serum given to Rogers, Steven Grant in 1943 allowed rapid regeneration of the cells. Rogers, Steven Grant did not age. That did not explain why the asset was unaged.

 

“What year is it?” the asset asked.

 

“2014,” Steve answered.

 

“How old am I?”

 

Steve opened his eyes again. God, I could drown in those eyes, those beautiful eyes, Stevie, I’m so sorry, baby, I’m so, so sorry, I promised to take care of you and what do I do? Beat your face in. Stevie, why aren’t you running?

 

“I think ninety something,” Steve mumbled. “But, you look my age. Whatever Zola did to you probably was something like Erskine’s serum. An attempt to replicate it, maybe.”

 

Zola. The asset’s chest clenched and he was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of being strapped down too tightly to a metal table, a needle attached to his arm, his left arm, a flesh arm, a rodent-like man leaning over him, round glasses flashing. “Ohhh, yes, Sergeant Barnes, this will do quite nicely.”

 

The asset lunged for him, but his hands found only air.

 

“Bucky, Buck, it’s okay, you’re okay, you’re safe, you’re in Virginia, you’re in a safe house with Steve, you’re okay!”

 

Bucky’s breath came in long, heavy gulps. Steve was kneeling in front of him, stark naked and uncaring, his hands pressed to the Bucky’s chest and metal shoulder. Cognition error. The asset was not a person. Barnes, James Buchanan might be.

 

“I got you,” Steve promised.

 

“I got you.” “Got you, Stevie!” “Gotcha!” “Ha, got you now, ya little shit.” “I got you, I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, punk.”

 

Bucky slid off the chair and enveloped Steve in his arms. He was shaking uncontrollably, – physical error, efficiency severely compromised – and after a second, he realized he was crying. Steve’s arms were tight around him, they should have made him feel trapped but somehow did the exact opposite. Bucky buried his face in the crook of Steve’s neck, drinking in the smell of gingerbread as his heart rate slowly decreased.

 

“You’re okay, Buck,” Steve whispered.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bucky choked out. Critical error, severe damage done to his Omega, his fault, his fault, his fault his fault, oh god, baby, what did I do to you, why are you here, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault

 

“I forgive you,” Steve answered him. Lips pressed against his ear. “I forgive you.”

 

“You shouldn’t,” Bucky said, and hiccupped. “God, Stevie, I could’ve killed you, I would’ve! You should’ve put a bullet between my eyes, left me there and gone and found someone better for you, anybody could be better than me, Stevie, I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

 

Steve’s arms tensed around him, then he pulled back and pressed his hands to Bucky’s cheeks, framing them, forcing the asset to look him in the eye. “I forgive you,” he repeated firmly. “I don’t blame you, Buck. You weren’t in control of yourself.”

 

“I’m not in control, I’m never in control, Stevie, I could’ve killed you –”

 

“You will be,” Steve promised, and Bucky sucked in a breath, lip trembling still. “You know how I know? ‘Cause you’re here, you’re with me, you’re calling me Stevie and you wouldn’t have done that unless you were getting control back.”

 

“I was s’posed to take care of you,” Bucky said, his voice hoarse. “You’re my Omega, I’m supposed to protect you, I couldn’t see past targets and missions, I knew you were mine and I couldn’t see it right in front of my face, I’m so sorry, Stevie.”

 

Steve pulled him back in, tucking him against his chest and pressing his lips against his ear once more. “It’s okay,” he murmured. “I forgive you.”

 

The asset did not cry, a weapon had no need of tears, but if Barnes, James Buchanan was a person, then Barnes, James Buchanan could cry. He cried, his limbs and Steve’s tangled together, and Steve held him like a lifeline. Bucky’s head hurt like hell, it was full of fragments and horror, he could see every person he’d ever killed, every woman every man every child, their faces were all slack and bloodless in his mind, but Steve held onto him like he was just another frightened child, another victim of the regime, whispered in his ear things that Bucky hardly registered, his warmth and scent slowly calming his tears. He’d been so cold so long.

 

“It’s gonna be okay,” Steve promised, but Bucky wasn’t sure how it could ever be okay. Steve said he forgave him, but Bucky couldn’t forgive himself. “We’re gonna be okay. Times are different now, you know, two guys can bond and get married and nobody looks sideways at ‘em. Soldiers can go to safe places and talk about all the shit they’ve seen and nobody calls ‘em weak for it. People don’t blame poverty on someone’s morals and they don’t turn their nose up on somebody who can’t afford food or rent, they help them. Hey, chocolate’s not rationed no more either, Buck.”

 

Bucky swallowed, sucking back mucus and taking shuddering breaths. “You used to hoard it,” he rasped. “Whenever your ma gave you your bit for the month, you hid it under the bed. You gave it all to Becca when she broke her leg.”

 

“Yeah, I did.”

 

“I don’t remember who Becca was,” he whispered. “I don’t know when she broke her leg.”

 

“She was your little sister. Still is, she’s still alive. I’ll tell you what you don’t know,” Steve promised. “I’ll help you remember. I got you. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line.”

 

Bucky remembered the promise. He remembered Steve whispering it, hoarse, slipping from his grip and falling to the river, but he remembered making it in the first place. Remembered he’d done something, something horrible, nowhere near as bad as what he’d done now, but he’d sworn to Steve a long time ago to stick with him ‘til the end of the line.

 

“That was a marriage vow,” he murmured. “Wasn’t it?”

 

“Something like that,” Steve answered. His voice was bittersweet, and Bucky’s chest twisted again, regret, shame. He’d done this. This was his fault.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bucky repeated. “I broke it.”

 

“We both broke it before, Buck. You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”

 

Bucky nosed at Steve’s neck, inhaling and letting his scent wash over him. It was a sweet and comforting perfume, it made him think of curling against his back in the cold and in the heat, holding on tight no matter what. It made him remember clenching his fists, too, watching from afar while Steve nervously tried to pretend to be something he wasn’t. But why had that happened? Clarification: Captain America was an Alpha, so was he, that just wasn’t done. But, no, Steve, clutching onto him and smelling sweet, was an Omega.

 

“Why did you pretend to be an Alpha?”

 

“It was the Army. They started me out as a mascot, then made me a symbol of the war. It had to be an Alpha.”

 

So he had clenched his fists and pretended to be something he wasn’t, too, then. Steve was his, Steve was not his bondmate, but Steve was still somehow wholly his and his alone; Bucky was Steve’s, yet mission: Protect Gingerbread required the asset’s distance, the asset was a threat to his Omega, and with his nose buried in Steve’s neck, Bucky forgot that.

 

He put his mouth on the nape of Steve’s neck, the divot between his clavicle, the trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid, licked and sucked at his scent gland until Steve let out a quiet breath.

 

“Mine,” he whispered, not a growl, almost a question, certainly a promise, and bit gently.

 

Steve’s skin was getting hotter under his hands, and Bucky’s own body felt much too warm. Steve’s breath was coming heavier, harder, Bucky’s mouth continuing its devotion to his scent gland.

 

“Bucky,” Steve murmured, “Buck, you gotta know, I’m probably going into heat.”

 

Heat, the period of time wherein Omegas became particularly fertile, characterized by increased sex drive, increased body temperature, and release of certain pheromones deemed highly attractive to compatible Alphas, capable of causing said Alphas to begin rut, and upsetting to other Omegas, or, in the case of compatible pairs, occasionally triggered by severe emotional distress in one or both. Bucky thought his Omega was the best thing he’d ever smelled, he had to take care of him, make him feel good and make him happy.

 

Steve arched his neck, to bare his throat to Bucky’s mouth, and it sent a hot chill through his stomach; this was his to have, his to hold, his to cherish in sickness and in health, no one could take Steve from him. He nuzzled Steve’s neck, pulling his lips up and down it, kissed his pulse and licked at his scent gland once again. Steve pulled on his shoulders, leaning back, and Bucky went with him to the floor, keeping his mouth on Steve’s neck. Steve made a quiet noise, a beautiful noise, his knees lifting around Bucky’s hips.

 

“If you’re planning on keeping on doing that, you’re gonna be overdressed,” Steve whispered. Bucky sat up and tugged off his jacket, then went right back to sucking on Steve’s neck. He tasted like spun sugar, caramel and salt taffy, Bucky could never get enough. With a whine, Steve lifted his hips up to press against him and Bucky responded in kind, carefully grinding down and pulling another beautiful noise from Steve’s lips.

 

“Kiss me,” Steve demanded and Bucky did. His lips tasted even better, Bucky kept pressing their hips together, he’d keep doing it as long as Steve kept making those noises, he sounded like heaven and tasted like sugar, Bucky would do anything to keep him feeling good. He hadn’t even realized he was speaking until Steve laughed, an erotic sound, and murmured back: “Still running off your mouth, Buck, like you always did.”

 

“Gotta keep reminding you that you drive me wild, babydoll,” he promised, words that came to his lips without processing. A vague thought came to his head, error, risk assessment of his actions proved this a terrible idea, but he pushed the thought away and kept kissing Steve. He remembered this, this was familiar, this was comforting, this was his past, and right then, it didn’t matter that it couldn’t be his future.

 

“I need you,” Steve whispered, teary and breathless and broken, “I’ve missed you so much, Buck, I thought I’d die of missing you, I love you, I need you.”

 

“I got you,” Bucky promised, and, oh, wasn’t he just as broken, and weren’t they a pair? “I love you, too, Stevie. I got you.”

 

When Steve jerked his hips back up, he gasped out: “Bucky, ‘m definitely in heat, need you inside me, need you to knot me, need you, Buck, I need you.”

 

“I got you,” he promised again and his fingers shook when they went to his belt, “‘til the end of the line, Stevie.”

 

At some point, they got off the floor and into the bed. Steve cried out as Bucky fucked him, words tumbling from his lips that were half unrecognizable, and, somehow, there were tears of relief mixed in with the moans and gasps of breath. Bucky sank his teeth into the gland at Steve’s neck, his knot swelled and Steve babbled nonsense, and when it was over it only started back up again. Three days later, Bucky woke up at midnight wrapped around his Omega, their scents, their skin, their limbs, all intertwined. Steve was almost fully healed and no longer smelling of heat, and the asset forced himself to get up, to take the sleeping Steve back to the car, and drive until he found the safer place where he could protect his Omega from afar.

 

Target: the fucker in the wings, just that, since Bucky still didn’t know his name, came to the back door when Bucky chucked a rock at it to find Steve wrapped in a blanket and groggy. Bucky watched from the roof of a neighboring house while Target: the fucker in the wings got Steve dressed and bit back the urge to run in and stop it, then followed them to a hospital. He had done right in trusting Target: the fucker in the wings, as they went to a public hospital and not one run by S.H.I.E.L.D. or HYDRA. Bucky stole suppressants from a medical station, taking a few and swallowing them dry, and stuck into the ventilation systems. Steve passed out again after arriving at the hospital and wasn’t very coherent to begin with. Bucky watched as Target: the fucker in the wings sank into a chair on Steve’s left, drank coffee and remained awake. He could trust Target: the fucker in the wings. Target: the fucker in the wings had Steve’s back when Bucky didn’t.

 

Bucky left the hospital, entered Target: the fucker in the wing’s house and made sure it was clear of listening devices, cameras, or anything that shouldn’t be there. He saw a folder on the table, a photograph of Target: the fucker in the wings and a second man, dressed in combat fatigues. He found Target: the fucker in the wings’ dog tags next, stared at them for a minute. Wilson, Samuel Thomas was Target: the fucker in the wing’s name. He was a Beta, no threat to Steve. Bucky was the threat. He left the house the same as he’d found it, no trace of his entrance, no scent left behind. He could conduct surveillance from the roofs nearby, the woods in the rear, or across the street. The neighborhood was busy enough that as long as he took care not to use the same car twice, his presence wouldn’t be noticed.

 

He waited on a different roof until Wilson, Samuel Thomas’s car returned. The sun set and rose while he waited, his body became stiff with the cold, but he held his position. He let out the breath he didn’t even notice he was holding when Steve stepped out of the passenger seat, healthy and safe. Bucky could trust Wilson, Samuel Thomas to do what he could not trust himself to.

 

He barely felt the sense of betrayal that didn’t belong to him under his own feeling of shame and panic. Watching as Steve entered Wilson, Samuel Thomas’s house, Bucky barely knew he’d bonded Steve.

 

The irony of the unfortunate situation was, Sam didn’t know either. Thanks to Erskine’s serum causing his cells to regenerate at such rapid rates, Steve still smelled like an unbonded Omega.

 


 

Steven Grant Rogers was born on July 4th, 1918, and James Buchanan Barnes was born on March 10th, 1917.

 

Anyone who looked at them in the right light knew that little Steven belonged tucked under the arm of little James.

 

Anyone who took the time to see the signs knew that young James belonged in the hands of young Steven.

 

Anyone who bothered to watch Captain Rogers speak to Sergeant Barnes, bothered to watch and then forget the rhetorics they’d been fed since childhood, would see that they were simply meant to reside by each other’s sides.

 

In a small, segregated Catholic church in Brooklyn, Father Elliot prayed for the soul of the brother of Rahab, that God would not have been so cruel as to take James from Steven and leave him to grieve for the rest of his prolonged life, but blessed are those who remain steadfast under trial.

 

Blessed, said the Lord, are the meek. Blessed are the ones who turn the other cheek. Blessed are the children of God who forget that they are still his children, those who forget they were once children at all. Blessed are the star-crossed and the traumatized, and blessed are Steven and James.