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The old hope is hardest to be lost

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He spent 25 years as a little guy and then 3 as Captain America, so when the pulse of light hits him and he's suddenly a foot shorter and wheezing, it doesn't even faze him. It's everybody else that freaks out.

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"Holy fuck, you're pocket-sized!" Clint crows as soon as they're told Steve's not in danger of keeling over dead. (No one believed him when he said it, but Stark and Banner team up with the only doctor Clint and Nat both trust and they figure out that it’ll wear off in a month at the latest. Steve’s not sure how but he’ll take their word for it.)

Steve feels better now than he ever did before the serum. And he can go for walks without being mobbed by people, so that’s a plus. He’s not allowed out on calls with the team, but he still has command via the coms, and while he keeps up with his training as much as he can, he’s got hours now that he didn’t before the pulse.

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“How did you even survive?” Stark demands while Steve is panting on the common area’s couch. This time, he was able to do 10 laps before he had to stop. He’s still got two weeks before he should be back to nor-- back. His post-serum body isn’t normal, it’s a gift.

“Bucky,” Steve gasps, tilting his head back to look at Stark.

Stark rolls his eyes. “Of course it took a cyborg-assassin to keep you alive.”

Steve doesn’t bother replying; he just tries to breathe.

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Scumbags don’t take a break just because Captain America is out of commission. He’s out restocking his art supplies (Natasha and Clint “borrowed” his charcoal and he’s given up on getting them back) when he sees a mugging. Of course he tries to chase the guy down.

Before, he’d have never caught up. Now, he does. And he actually does pretty well, until the guy kicks him in the ribs.

“Man, who the fuck are you?” the mugger shouts as Steve struggles back to his feet.

Steve laughs, dodging the guy’s next kick. One of the bystanders (an off-duty cop, Steve’s pretty sure) steps in to help as Steve says, “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”

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“I’m surprised you didn’t take him out,” Steve says when Bucky breaks into his room via the balcony. (Bucky’s on Steve’s always-admit list with Jarvis, but he likes the balcony more than the front door. Steve’s given up protesting. It makes Bucky happy, anyway.)

“You had him on the ropes,” Bucky says, throwing himself onto the couch beside Steve. Steve sets aside his sketchbook so that Bucky can sprawl over him.

These past few weeks, Steve has felt more at home than he had since the serum. He fits in Bucky’s arms again; Bucky can completely cover him. He knew he’d missed that; he just wasn’t aware of how much.

“We’ll have to step up the sparring,” Bucky says. “Get you back in fighting shape.”

Steve nods into his neck and sighs.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks.

Steve sighs again. “I just… a part of me doesn’t want it back,” he confesses. There is no one else in the world he’d dare admit it to, but this is Bucky. He knew Steve before. He and Peggy – but Peggy only ever knew him after Erskine chose him. Bucky was with him for his whole life.

Bucky twists so that he can look up at Steve. “You’re still you, Steve,” he says.

Steve just stares down at him, mouth open. Bucky smiles at him. “Aren’t you?”

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“Glad to have you back, Cap,” Clint says as they load onto Stark’s jet. Steve just smiles at him.