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swan song

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"So if you bit me," began Sam, circling around Steve. He studied him from every angle, which Steve usually hated but put up with anyway. He didn't mind it as much with Sam. Sam didn't -- didn't act like it was special. He just acted like he was insanely envious of Steve's ability to fly without a jet pack and hated him for it. That was fair.

"You'd have a damn big chunk taken out of your ass," said Steve.

Sam looked really disappointed, like he thought the ability to turn into a large, angry bird that shed feathers everywhere and waddled on land was the best thing ever.

"Believe me," said Steve, "it stinks, okay? It seriously stinks."

"But you have wings," said Sam, gesturing at the twelve-foot span folded up on Steve's back. "Real wings."

Steve's wings flared nervously, almost taking out his damn bookshelf again. Sam ducked out of the way and then looked at Steve again with raw covetousness. "Do you shift all the way like the canids and felids?"

"Yes," said Steve, folding his wings again. He needed to groom them, and he was not happy about the thought of spending six hours fussily arranging every wing shaft. Bucky had -- even when Steve was too weak to even shift, even when you could somehow tell he was the ugly duckling in a flock, Bucky had always groomed him. Smoothed his hair, stroked down the crooked useless line of his spine. It was better when Bucky did it.

You don't have to, Bucky.

You ever see me do something I don't want?

"Man," said Sam. "That must be something."

Steve shrugged. "It's not as useful as you might think. Swans are kind of --"

"Well, yeah," said Sam. "But you could stay up in the air for hours, right, and a pissed off swan isn't something I want to mess with, to be honest." He squints again. "Are you sure you can't bite me and turn me? We could be a duo. A swan crime-fighting duo."

"It's genetic," said Steve, exasperated. "It's not like -- it's not like wolves, you know? We're not predators. We'll protect our own but we're -- we're not aggressive if you stay out of our territory."

Sam studied him for a long moment and Steve shifted, looking away from him. "You're also monogamous," he said thoughtfully.

Steve bowed his head. It hurt, even now, a dull constant ache like a broken wing, that Bucky wasn't there. "My ma told me, I can only change one person."

"Yeah," said Sam, "I can see how that would work."