They teach classes about him in schools. That came as a bit of a shock—tucked way down on the list of weird future stuff right below the fact that smoking is bad now, like really bad. Go figure.
No one knows he’s come back to life outside of Nick Fury, Natasha, and a few other people Fury keeps close to the chest. The incident in Times Square was a story on the evening news for a few days—a blip in the grand scheme of shit that happens in NYC. Local PD directed all questions to SHIELD and SHIELD declined comment. No one even thought to guess the ‘#fineassfelon’ was Steve Rogers, freshly defrosted nonagenarian. So far, he’s kept it that way, taking time to process the changed world around him before he lets it know that surprise! He’s still around.
That’s what he thinks of it as—processing—when he walks into a classroom at NYU and sinks into a desk at the back, his baseball cap low to hide his face. He takes out a notebook to blend in, though he immediately starts sketching the white board and the loopy black letters, ‘Captain America: Man or Myth?’
God if the serum would let him, he’d probably tear a muscle rolling his fucking eyes.
Other students file in and fill the desks around him. His eyes catch on one in particular. A little older than the others, chin-length dark hair, a jawline straight out of the pictures. Steve turns the page in his notebook and starts a new sketch without much thought.
“So today, we’re going to discuss the man behind the mask,” someone says, and Steve’s eyes flick up. The professor stands near the podium at the front holding up a worn book: the Wartime Letters of Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers. Steve shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Of all the embarrassing shit about him out there in the world, he didn’t realize his personal fucking correspondence was part of it.
He can think of one letter in particular, written to a guy he met in Italy. Nino. Fucking gorgeous Nino, whose family let them stay in their farmhouse, who leaned over during the middle of dinner and whispered in heavily accented English, ‘did that serum make anything else bigger, Captain?’ Steve had nearly choked to death on an olive.
The letters are pretty mild compared to what he’d wanted to say, but they’re still pretty affectionate. Sappy even. He cringes at the thought of fucking anyone, even his closest friends—hell, especially his closest friends—reading that.
Hey though, maybe they never found that letter in particular?
“Anyone have any thoughts?” the professor asks. A woman speaks immediately, like she's been waiting for hours for someone to ask.
“I do, sir. As a queer woman, I find some of this correspondence really surprising.” Steve glances up. He thought ‘queer’ was way, way out. Wasn’t that on the list? Then again, if she’s saying it about herself? What did Fury call it with that other word (the one Steve would never have used anyway)? Reclaiming?
“How so, Miss Barnes?”
“I learned so much about Captain America in high school and earlier on here at NYU, and never once… God, I mean, I know why, but it still irritates me that no one bothered to mention Captain America was queer.”
There’s an immediate uproar after that, one guy in particular practically yelling, “Oh, come the hell on!”
“Do you have something to add, Mr. Hodges?” And Steve vaguely wonders if there’s any relation. Probably not.
“Fucking Captain America ain’t a f-”
A sharp look from both the girl and from Mr. Jawline, and Steve swears he sees the latter move a couple inches, like he’s legitimately priming himself to leap out of his seat and pounce with all the fury of a cheetah tackling a gazelle.
“A-a, well, he’s not gay. He can’t be,” Hodges finishes.
“Why exactly can’t he be gay?” Miss Barnes asks. “Because it bothers you that your childhood hero liked men? Maybe you should ask yourself why you have such a problem with that.”
“Men just weren’t like that back then,” Hodges says and Steve has to suppress a snort of his own, though the derisive sound Miss Barnes makes would’ve probably covered it up. There weren’t rainbows painted on the crosswalks, but they were definitely like that back then.
“Oh honey,” she says, scowling.
“Alright, alright,” the professor steps in. “Let's back up. What do I always say when we’re making assumptions about history?”
“Back it up,” the class murmurs.
“Let’s move away from the fact of whether or not people were gay before the 1970s,” he says, smiling. “They were by the way, just so we’re all clear on that.”
“In a letter to an Italian,” Miss Barnes says, and Steve has to stop himself from groaning aloud. He focuses on getting the stubble on Mr. Jawline right instead. Miss Barnes keeps talking.
“Nino Ricci, whose family hosted the Commandos in their home before a raid on a Hydra base,” she says.
The professor waves his hand at her to keep going.
“‘I hope you know one of the hardest things about being in—censored—right now is that I'm not there with you. Somedays, it's hard to remember exactly what we are fighting for anyhow. Of course, I know what that is really, and I know it's the right thing. I just hope my men make it through to the end of the line even if I don't. Hey, maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to see that smile of yours again before this is all over. Yours, Steve Rogers.’” Miss Barnes closes her book, a million colored tabs of paper marking different places in the tome. Steve tries not to think too hard on what that means while he adds shadows to the hood of Mr. Jawline’s sweatshirt.
“That doesn’t mean shit,” Hodges says. “Of course he wanted to be back at the farmhouse away from the damn war. It’s not like he told the guy he couldn’t wait to get his dick on him again or whatever.”
A quiet “ugh” from Miss Barnes, followed by an even quieter sigh that seems to go on for at least a full ten seconds. Steve thinks of the other letter, the one he ripped to pieces because he knew the censors would have a seizure. Thank God it didn't end up in some book.
“Would anyone else like to contribute?” the professor asks.
Steve nearly breaks the lead clean off his pencil when Mr. Jawline actually speaks.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says, shifting in his seat. The girl looks at him, nodding a little. Encouraging.
“Care to elaborate, Mr. Barnes?”
Mr… wait are they? Dammit. Steve finds the cutest guy in the future and he’s fucking hitched.
Sometimes the serum hearing is a curse. He hears the nervous swallow and the slight uptick in heartbeat. God, Barnes is dying inside just trying to participate, but he’s doing it anyway.
“It doesn’t matter if he was gay,” Mr. Barnes says. “Captain America was a symbol. That was the whole point, right? He can be whatever people need him to be, and if they need someone to look up to who’s like them, then that’s okay. I mean, how many people out there have drawn Captain America as black or Muslim or female over the years? Cap can be just about anything.”
Steve genuinely smiles at that. Finally, someone fucking gets it. But Mr. Barnes doesn’t stop there. He smirks despite another little sputter of his heart.
“Now, Steve Rogers on the other hand. That guy sucked hella dick during the war, and that’s a FACT.”
True, but Jesus. Who the hell is this guy and where can Steve get one?
Miss—Mrs?—Barnes reaches over to high five him without even looking.
“Gross, he did not.” A girl this time. “Um, he literally had a thing with Peggy Carter, remember?”
“Um, bisexuality literally exists, Karen, remember?” Mr. Barnes says. Another high five.
“My name i-"
“Okay,” the professor interrupts. “We’ve hit today on a very important lesson when it comes to analyzing people from the past where their relationships are concerned. And you’ve all learned now that historians will always argue about it, more fiercely when what might be true doesn't align with their personal beliefs of what should be true. The sexuality of Steve Rogers has been hotly debated in academic circles for decades.”
Steve frowns down at his notebook, absentmindedly filling in strands of hair. It’s really really strange to think that he could stand up at that very moment and end decades of arguments over shit that’s nobody’s goddamn business.
“Some argue that the language was too vague for conclusions, others that it was vague because Rogers knew wartime censors would read it, and of course there’s the time-old argument that men were just more affectionate with friends in the past—this one will come up a lot as you study history in general. The relationship between Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens comes to mind.”
“And what’s your opinion, professor?” the female Barnes asks.
“Mine?” He smiles. “Same sex attraction is as old as human history, and trying to erase it is as old as the study of that history.”
“And Steve Rogers?” she asks.
“I think Mr. Barnes has the right idea.”
He doesn’t elaborate any further than that, moving on to other discussions about things like Steve’s scrappy nature and how his chronic pain pre-serum may have affected him as Captain America. Steve tunes out at that. There are way too many points being made about him that he doesn’t want to think about.
By the time people start packing up, he has a full profile of Mr. Barnes. And a burning desire to meet him, even if there isn’t a chance of anything beyond a conversation. He can give him the drawing, he decides. That’s not that weird.
They’re outside on the steps when he finally scrounges up enough nerve to say, “hey, Barnes, wait.”
Of course two heads turn around, because he’s walking with the girl Barnes, both of them talking animatedly about “that bigoted pile of goose dicks.”
“Uh, you, I mean,” Steve says, pointing at Mr. Barnes. And he knows he’s not meant to hear the whispered exchange between them. But he can’t help what he is.
“Want me to hang back, Buck?”
“Nah, Bex, go before you’re late. I'll be okay.”
And oh boy, is Steve not fucking prepared for him to turn around. It’s not like he hasn’t already looked at him, it’s just that he hasn’t looked at him head-on. He’s met with gray-blue eyes that laser focus on him, assessing him and trying to categorize him as a friendly or as a threat. That uptick in heartbeat again.
There’s something else too, a moment of confusion, of recognition swirling with doubt. He looks down at the cover of the book in his hand and back at Steve and back at the cover and-
“No,” he says. “That’s not even…”
“It’s even…” Steve shrugs, scratching at the back of his neck. Fury is going to murder him for this. But Steve has never been entirely rational when it comes to men who look like that. “Took a few hours and every hair dryer in New York City, but by golly, we did it. It’s a modern miracle, pal.”
“What the fuck?” Mr. Barnes whispers. “This is insane. Wait, fucking, wait… Are you the, you know, ‘hashtag fine ass felon?’ From Twitter?”
“Yeah, I guess I am. Look, I just wanted to say I really liked what you said back there, about Cap being a symbol for whoever needs him. You were right, and not a lot of people get that. Steve Rogers and Captain America aren’t always the same guy.”
“I…” A look of horror crosses his face. “Oh God. Shit, you heard all of that, huh?”
“Every word,” Steve says. Mr. Barnes shifts and grabs nervously at the strings on his sweatshirt.
“And that thing you said about me,” Steve starts, and Barnes looks away, mortified. Steve tries lighten the mood, tries to make his tone light and teasing. “About the other things I did in the war. Well, you weren't wrong, buddy.”
Steve watches gray-blue eyes widen, and Barnes starts coughing like he’s literally choked on his own breath. Barnes rapidly shifts his gaze from the sidewalk to a nearby building to Steve then back at the sidewalk.
“Here,” Steve says, trying to end his suffering a little sooner. He opens the notebook and carefully rips out the page. “I thought you might want this.”
He takes it, eyebrows knitting together while he studies it. And he’s really studying it too, every line and smudge.
“Wow. Th-thank you.”
"Sure," Steve says. "Kept me occupied when the conversation got a little too personal for me."
And that’s that. He turns to walk away, expecting that to be the end of it.
“Steve,” Mr. Barnes says, so quietly that anyone else would’ve just kept walking without even knowing he'd spoken. Steve stops and turns on his heel, raising his eyebrows.
“I’m Bucky by the way. Well, James actually if you- But don’t call me that.”
“Bucky,” Steve says, testing the way it feels in his mouth. And it feels like a name he should’ve known his whole life.
“Bucky.” He nods. “Retired army, current history major.”
“Steve Rogers,” he says, offering Bucky his hand. “Retired ice cube, current bisexual.”
That gets him a twitch of the lips and a little spark in those gray-blue eyes. And boy, that could get addictive fast.
“God, Bex is gonna flip shit,” he says.
“Bex is?” Steve asks, preparing himself for the let down. He hasn’t noticed a ring since they’ve been talking, but Bucky has a black glove on his left hand, and the girl wore one as well. He’ll have to ask Fury if it’s some kind of fashion thing.
Bucky points behind him to indicate the woman who was there a few minutes ago and then says the most glorious words Steve has heard all day.
“Rebecca. My little sister.”
Little sister. Steve could fucking sing. Now if he could only remember how the hell to be charming. Step one, all American smile. Okay, done. And step two?
“Dinner,” Steve says. Randomly, with approximately zero fucking context. He swears he can hear Gabe and Dernier fucking laughing at him from beyond the grave.
“Can I take you to dinner tonight?” Steve asks. Yes, that’s a little better. “And Rebecca can come too, obviously.”
No, no you moron. You can’t seduce a guy in front of his fucking sister.
Steve suppresses a smile, because of course there’s Nino shaking his head and saying “sure you can, tesoro.”
“You don’t have to do-”
“I’d like to,” Steve says. “Besides I’m not exactly drowning in friends right now, Bucky.”
Barnes chews that over, glancing back down at the drawing.
“Well, we’re in college so we’re not gonna turn down free food.” He shrugs and give Steve a sideways smile.
“Meet me back here at seven?” Steve asks, and Bucky nods.
Steve jolts awake a little after 5 a.m., disoriented as always. The glow of the alarm clock on his bedside table still throws him for a loop, but he needs it too. An automatic reminder that everything is fundamentally different.
He sighs, walking through a few mental exercises. Deep breath. What year is it? Where are you? Why is your bed so warm right now?
A soft sigh next to him, and Steve grins. Bucky.
His sister, it turned out, had not been much of a hindrance at all. She’d practically pushed Bucky into the cab behind Steve, smiling at him and telling him to ‘be safe.’ Bucky had buried his face in Steve’s neck at that, his forehead flushing hot against his throat.
The glove, it turns out, was hiding a prosthetic. For Bucky anyway. He can only guess about Rebecca. He’d peeled off his shirt and looked at Steve nervously. Like Steve would ever judge him for what he’s given. Like it has any impact on how stunning he is or how impossibly attactive it is when he pulls that bottom lip between his teeth.
Steve hadn’t reacted to it at all, grabbing Bucky around the middle and falling back onto the mattress, pulling him down on top of him. Soft skin and nipping teeth; laughter and “who knew Captain America was such a fucking punk?” Bucky almost cuts himself off on the last word with a groan that makes Steve’s whole body thrum.
After, when they’re both smiling lazily at the lofted ceiling, Steve turns and says, “not bad for a 95 year-old man, huh?”
“I should speak up in class more often.”
“You should always speak up,” Steve says. “You’ve got a lot to contribute, Buck.”
The look Bucky gives him is nothing but trouble. Because oh God, Steve is done for and he knows it already. A thought that repeats over and over until they manage to talk themselves to sleep.
A little after 5 a.m. now, and Bucky's curled against him, one warm arm slung over his middle, the prosthetic sitting on the bedside table, straps dangling over the side. A small hum on every other exhale, audible only because Steve is Steve. His heart thumps along, slow and steady.
Steve smiles softly and goes back to sleep.