He doesn't recognise Steve. He smiles woodenly and speaks with a soft accent, like he learned English watching movies, and he signs the papers Coulson gives him (green card application? Steve isn't sure how that works in the future) with his left hand, and he doesn't recognise Steve.
'This is not my fault,' Tony lies. 'It was supposed to be a joke! Christ.'
'Thanks to your joke,' says Coulson, 'we now have a code three-four-delta, with the variable being a Russian immigrant. We're checking his background right now, but it might take a while. Meanwhile, I suggest you civilian-proof the Tower. If any SHIELD intelligence is compromised, I will hurt you.'
Tony takes a step back.
'I can just move back to Brooklyn,' Steve says. 'We don't have to stay at the Tower.'
Coulson smiles. 'That won't be necessary, Cap. No concessions on your end should be required. Mr Stark and I will do everything in our power to make your honeymoon as smooth and enjoyable as possible.' He gives Tony a meaningful look, and the threat in his voice is pretty obvious.
'So you work for the government,' prompts the man who is not Bucky, whose visa identifies him as Dmitri Nikolayevich Zimin, who only smiled crookedly when eight complete strangers nearly broke their tongues trying to pronounce that. 'That's pretty cool.'
They're at Starbucks, the one Steve always passes on his way from the Tower to HQ. It's the most awkward date of Steve's life, and that's saying something: he's got a lot of awkward dates under his belt. Is it even normal to have a date after you're married? But the team decided since this guy travelled all the way from Moscow to make an honest man out of Steve, the two of them should at least give it a try.
Steve doesn't even know where to start. His conversation points are kind of limited to: you do realise this marriage is a practical joke, and you bear a striking resemblance to my best friend, who died in 1944.
'It pays the bills. So to speak,' he says instead.
There are probably undercover SHIELD agents stationed all over the place, undoubtedly authorised to shoot to kill if Steve lets slip any secrets, like for example oh, hey, did I mention I'm Captain America. But Steve is pretty good at keeping secrets: he managed to convince everyone that the shock, the solid five minutes he spent staring at his-name-is-not-Bucky in mute disbelief, it was all because, well. Mail-order spouses, goodness gracious. And if Steve is pretty good at keeping secrets, then he's amazing at playing the 'dumb 40s guy' card.
'What did you do back in Russia?' he asks, trying not to look like he's hiding behind his cup of coffee. 'Before — I mean, how did you — I mean…'
'You're asking how I ended up here,' his-name-is— Dmitri says. He shrugs with his right shoulder. 'I'm not even sure any more. I wanted to get out of the country.'
'By getting married to a stranger?'
Dmitri shrugs again. 'You seem like a good guy.'
Steve drops his eyes to his coffee.
He doesn't know what makes him take Dmitri to Brooklyn on that first day, and then to Coney Island. The whole time he's looking for a spark of recognition, anything, anything at all. He's out of luck on that front. Dmitri takes it all in, impressed but blank, somehow. He doesn't talk like Bucky and he doesn't laugh like Bucky, but the shadows in his eyes are the same.
Steve watches him like a revelation or a cypher, but he thinks he manages to be subtle about it. Dmitri doesn't move like Bucky, but there's something familiar about it anyway. A scarcity of gesture, a sharpness, like he's calculating each move, each step, without even thinking about it. He reminds Steve of Natasha, of all people. Everything about Dmitri seems careful. Measured.
But when he smiles — and all his smiles are small, lopsided — he's honest, Steve knows. He can tell.
'There's a spare bedroom,' Steve says that first evening, when they're back from Coney Island and trying to get warm again. 'I'll help you set it up.'
Dmitri snorts. 'Yeah, no, that's not how it works.' He shrugs out of his coat and curls his fingers in the front of Steve's hoodie, and pulls Steve to the bedroom, and kicks the door closed.
It's probably the most morally dodgy thing Steve has ever done in his entire life, but he doesn't say no. He doesn't say no, because a part of him is half-convinced this isn't even really happening. How could it? Bucky is dead, has been for almost seventy years, and this man who is not Bucky must be just a figment of Steve's broken, grieving mind.
Except it sure as hell feels real.
He wakes up alone, but when he steps out of the bedroom Dmitri is sitting cross-legged on the couch, hunched over an enormous mug of coffee.
'Hey,' he says. He lifts his right hand in a mock-salute.
'Hi,' says Steve, trying to breathe.
When Steve walks into the briefing room that morning, there's a moment of stunned silence from everyone at the table.
'Wow,' Bruce says, trying to hide his smile.
'This is it,' says Tony. 'I'm done. I am officially done, nothing will ever surprise me again. Everyone go home, it's over.'
Steve frowns. 'What? What are you talking about?'
'Nothing,' Fury snaps, but then he cracks the tiniest hint of a smirk. 'But try to look less happily fucked, Cap, you'll scare the interns.'
Steve blushes so hard it leaves him a little weak.
The whole thing is classified to hell and back, of course. Steve isn't allowed to talk about it to anyone save for the Avengers, Coulson and Fury, at least until Dmitri's background is traced and confirmed. Officially, Captain Rogers has a significant other whose identity is secret in order to protect them. Unofficially, Captain Rogers may or may not have a boyfriend and no one wants to talk about that.
Well, no one except Darcy.
'I always thought it'd be awesome if one of the Avengers was gay or bi,' she tells Steve in the mess hall, gesticulating with her fork. 'And I mean, if it was up to me I'd pick Natasha, because, you know, Natasha, but now that I know it's you? It's totally cool. I can't wait till it stops being a state secret, the Internet will go completely nuts.'
'Thanks,' says Steve. 'I kinda thought it'd be a bigger deal.'
'It's an enormous deal, you have no idea how many people take this as a personal offence, like you having a boyfriend is an insult to America or something, but no one will say that to your face, they're too scared you'll snap them like twigs.' Darcy smiles wistfully, then shakes her head. Steve doesn't even want to know what sort of violent fantasy she entertained. 'So when is it gonna be Bring Your Russian Boyfriend to Work Day?' She frowns. 'How did you guys even meet?'
Steve winces. 'It just…happened?'
'Maybe you were meant to be,' Darcy muses. 'Maybe you're some sort of star-crossed lovers meeting across incarnations and alternate universes, like Xena and Gabrielle. Maybe you are Xena and Gabrielle.'
'I'm pretty sure that only works in comic books.'
'You fought space invaders,' says Darcy. 'From outer space. So really, how unlikely are alternate universes?'
To be honest, she does have a point.
'Not to interrupt your wacky falling-in-love montage,' Bruce says, 'but I'm going to need more blood for analysis.'
Dmitri grins and rolls up his sleeve; he likes Bruce a lot, from what Steve can tell. He doesn't blink an eye when Bruce sticks him with a hypodermic needle, and he isn't really impressed by the amount of blood that ends up being liberated from him.
'Are you checking if I'm an alien or something?'
'Ahaha,' says Bruce, sounding a little strangled. 'No, of course not, why would I do that?'
And then he flees the room.
Steve wishes he had some way of comparing Bucky to this man who is not Bucky. He wishes he knew how Bucky would kiss him, if he'd do it deep and slow with his fingers hooked into the waistband of Steve's jeans, if he'd grin into Steve's mouth and pin his hands over his head. If he'd fist his hands in Steve's hair, if he'd drag Steve to the bedroom by the dog tags.
Dmitri does it, and Steve has no way of knowing if he should be looking for familiarity. It's unfair, it's downright wrong. Dmitri takes Steve as he is, seems to actually like him for whatever reason, seems to enjoy Steve's company and befriends the Avengers and he doesn't talk about freedom, but still there's something free about the unguarded expression he doesn't hide from Steve. There's something free about him when he smokes on the balcony, leaning back to look up at the night sky.
And Steve should be getting used to this, and take Dmitri Nikolayevich Zimin for who he really is — a guy from Moscow who wanted to get away, whose green card status is pending — except he doesn't. He can't.
He doesn't, and he can't, and it turns out he's right.
It's been two weeks since Dmitri showed up at the Tower; Steve is already used to sharing a bed. Neither of them snores, but Dmitri absolutely hogs the covers, like he can't ever get warm. Instead of fighting him for blankets, Steve just wraps himself around Dmitri. He's never cold, not with his body temperature elevated by the serum, but it just feels like something he should do. Dmitri doesn't mention it, so it must be okay.
It's been two weeks since Dmitri showed up at the Tower; Steve never believed in love at first sight, but then he doesn't really believe it's the first time they met, so no one is the wiser.
It's been two weeks since Dmitri showed up at the Tower, middle of the night, and Steve doesn't know what it is that wakes him up, but then someone pushes him off the bed and the night explodes in a deafening roar of gunfire.
There's a Glock in his bedside drawer, and Steve reaches for it, trying to stay under cover — the bed isn't reinforced or anything, there's feathers and torn fabric flying everywhere. He's not thinking, and then he is: Bucky. Bucky — no, Dmitri, Dmitri woke up first and realised what was happening and pushed Steve off the bed. Steve swallows and sets his jaw and doesn't let himself breathe fast.
When the first round is over, the silence falls everywhere heavier than any noise. Steve crawls to the other side of the bed, leans out just far enough to sweep the floor — eleven men, heavy armour, obviously know what they're doing. Steve tries to look for any insignia on their uniforms, anything to identify them. HYDRA, AIM, Hand, Ten Rings, anything. It's too dark to see.
He tries not to think about where Bucky — where Dmitri might be. He can only see the eleven attackers. One of them signs to split up, and Steve takes this chance to roll out from behind the bed, aim —
Someone growls in Russian, low and furious, and that's when Steve sees Dmitri.
Dmitri, because it sure as hell ain't Bucky.
He — and god, he's naked save for a pair of boxers, is he insane — vaults over the bed and gets into a crouch, then up on one hand to land a split-kick that takes out two men at once. The third one gets a knee to the trachea, and that's when the rest start to react. Steve watches mutely as Dmitri dodges bullets, faster than should be possible, spins on his hands and gets someone in the solar plexus, handsprings and vaults over the squad so he's at their backs, and before they even start to turn he has the tallest man in a chokehold, using him as a human shield and letting his own men execute him.
He doesn't even look human, nothing more than a machine, expression blank and eyes dead. And suddenly the careful, deliberate way he moves makes so much goddamn sense.
Someone takes out a pair of escrima sticks and Dmitri grabs them, yanks them out of the man's hands and slams them against the sides of his neck; the man falls, unconscious before he hits the ground. Escrima sticks against firearms, and against all odds Dmitri doesn't go down; he's as good as Natasha, maybe better.
He slips once, when there's three men left standing, because he's barefoot and steps into the pool of blood on the hardwood floor, and that's when Steve's instincts kick in. He dispatches the remaining three attackers with a bullet to the head. There's no time for a double tap because god help him, he only has one clip and he might need it.
He gets up slowly, making sure to telegraph all his moves. Dmitri stands in the centre of the room, still as death, not even out of breath. The bodies surround him like a morbid halo, dead or dying.
'Dmitri,' Steve says, and flinches when Dmitri turns.
There is blood on his face, smudged over his chest, and in his entire life Steve has never seen a human being look so devoid of all emotion. Dmitri cocks his head to one side and says a few words in Russian. He takes a step in Steve's direction.
Steve aims the gun at his heart. His hands don't shake. 'Easy there. I'm gonna need you to do as I say. Understand?'
Dmitri nods. He doesn't look like he even recognises Steve.
'Get down on your knees.' At that Dmitri raises an eyebrow, drily amused — oh, yeah, he recognises Steve all right. Steve doesn't let himself blush, or even think about the last time Dmitri was on his knees in front of him or the other way around. He gestures with the gun to the floor, and Dmitri drops down to his knees. 'Cross your ankles. Put your hands on top of your head.'
Gun unwavering, Steve backs away a couple steps until he can reach into the bedside drawer where his phone is. He presses the unlock button three times. He doesn't wait for the agent on the other end to introduce themselves.
'Perimeter breach at the Tower,' he barks into the handset. 'Situation contained. Send a cleanup team, and get me Phil Coulson.'
Before the agent can confirm, Steve throws away the phone. 'Backup's gonna be here soon,' he tells Dmitri. 'So while we wait, you wanna tell me who you really are?'
'I don't know,' Dmitri says. He sounds calm, given that he's half-naked, surrounded by dead bodies, and with a gun pointed straight at his centre of mass.
'Don't know if you want to tell me, or…?'
Dmitri doesn't even blink. 'Don't know who I really am.'
They let Steve stay in for the interrogation. He's grateful, actually; Fury doesn't owe him anything, and Dmitri — not a US citizen, not even a green card holder — he owes even less. Aside from the three of them there's Coulson, looking like he wants to set fire to something (and Steve is pretty sure Fury will chew him out for this whole mess, since he was in charge of checking out Dmitri's background and story), and Natasha, in case they need a translator.
Dmitri's hands and feet are cuffed to a chair, but at least they let him get dressed. He's wearing Steve's t-shirt. With everyone else standing, somehow he still manages to look kind of scary. The only time he lifts his eyes is to look at Steve. He doesn't acknowledge anyone else in the room, and when he answers questions he addresses his knees or the floor; he's calm, though, calmer than any of them, even Natasha.
The answers he gives are: he's not Chechen. He's not a mercenary. As far as he knows, he's Russian. He's not affiliated with any criminal or terrorist or government organisation. After a while, Fury taps his headset, listens to a report, nods at Coulson and leaves without another word. Steve has no idea what they talked about without talking, but Coulson's back goes a little straighter.
He crosses his arms over his chest. 'Is your name in fact Dmitri Nikolayevich Zimin?'
Dmitri closes his eyes. He replies in Russian.
'He doesn't know,' Natasha says. Her expression is blank, but Steve sees the tension in her shoulders. Before Coulson can open his mouth, Dmitri sighs and starts talking, unprompted. He pauses every once in a while to let Natasha catch up with her translation. 'He woke up six months ago in a hospital bed, in a facility near Murmansk. It was abandoned, no sign of what it was used for. He was alone there, and he had no memory. He found a file with his picture in it, that's where he got the name. But most of the pages were missing.'
Natasha listens for a moment, and then Dmitri says something that makes her catch her breath, take a step back. They talk, tense and hurried, and Natasha outright snaps at him. Slowly, emotion starts seeping into Dmitri's voice, and he fists his hands. Steve remembers how easily he killed eight men, and wonders if he could break the cuffs if he tried.
'Agent Romanoff,' Coulson warns. Steve puts a hand on her shoulder, and for a split second she looks like she might hit him, but then she sets her jaw. She scowls at Steve until he takes his hand away.
'The file was titled,' she says. 'It was titled Project Winter Soldier.'
Before Steve knows what's even happening, Coulson is yelling orders into his headset and a heavily armed SHIELD tactical team swarms the interrogation room, rifles aimed at Dmitri's heart.
They lead him away like an animal going to the slaughter; three men at the front, two flanking him and three at his back. His hands are tied, and this time the cuffs are reinforced and secured with a remote electric charge. The way Coulson and Natasha are watching Dmitri, Steve thinks it's possible they're afraid he could still get away if he put his mind to it.
Dmitri looks at Steve. He's the only one who does.
'Run this by me again,' Clint says around four in the morning, when he and Natasha and Steve are waiting for Fury's authorisation to see Dmitri (everyone calls him the Winter Soldier; Steve must be cursed or something, because as soon as he gets used to one name the man who isn't Bucky turns out to have another). 'The mail-order Russian bride Tony got you for a lark is the Winter Soldier.'
'Apparently,' Steve says. With his elbows resting on his knees and his face in his hands he doesn't see Clint's expression, but he has a pretty good idea.
'No, no, back up a little. You're married to the Winter Soldier.'
Steve sighs. 'That's just what I said.'
'This is unbelievable,' Clint announces. 'I can't fucking believe this. Aliens, sure. Norse gods, why not. But this is just too much.'
'I don't see what's so difficult to believe,' says Natasha. 'Department X was decommissioned in 1991, I remember hearing urban legends about it. The Winter Soldier was supposed to be their greatest accomplishment. A perfect weapon. I read somewhere that they put him in suspended animation between missions, that they could implant fake memories and even a personality, to fit his assignment.'
'You talk about him like he's a thing,' Steve says. He doesn't mean for it to come out so harsh, but Natasha doesn't seem to mind.
'That's what he is,' she says. She even sounds a little gentle. 'He's a weapon, and weapons are tools. Tools to be used.'
'The Winter Soldier,' Clint says, impressed. 'Man, I never thought I'd see him in real life. Hey, Cap. How's it feel to be married to the world's most notorious assassin?'
Steve doesn't reply, and he doesn't tell them this isn't who he sees when he looks at Dmitri.
'DNA tests show that he's genetically enhanced with something we have to assume is the USSR's attempt at replicating the supersoldier serum,' Coulson says two hours later when he steps out of Fury's office. 'Upped speed, stamina, reflexes; it looks like Department X tried a different angle than the SSR. We also have a lead on your attackers. Ex-Spetsnaz mercenaries. Possibly working for the Hand.'
Steve nods. 'You think they weren't there after me. You think they were after — after the Winter Soldier.'
'They likely tracked him down all the way from Russia,' says Coulson. 'When he got out of that Department X facility, some interested parties must have raced to get to him first.'
There's something else, though, something Steve has been wondering about. 'He protected me.'
'Yes,' Coulson agrees. His face is unreadable. 'Yes, he did.'
Later, there are MRI scans of Dmitri's brain. They show that Department X changed him in there, too. Microadjustments on a neurological level, Coulson says. Suppressed empathy and fear. Coulson asks: during the time they spent together, did Steve notice anything odd about Dmitri, anything atypical? (Shadows in his eyes; the way he looked free, watching the sky; the way he looked blank, in Brooklyn.)
No, Steve says. No, he was normal, and Steve's pretty good at reading people.
He goes over the reports that tell him very little and remembers Dmitri standing in the middle of the bedroom, like he was waiting for orders. Instead of orders, he got Steve. The first thing he did was push Steve off the bed, get him out of the line of fire. Steve has to focus on that, because otherwise he'll go insane.
He's allowed down to the basement level, where the cells are, in the early afternoon. Clint nodded off eventually, but Natasha couldn't; Steve wanted to ask her about the Winter Soldier, what she heard about him, what she heard about Department X. But she didn't look to be in a talkative mood, and Steve left her to her own memories.
The guards don't look very enthusiastic about the idea of letting Steve inside the cell, but Steve lets them think about it for a moment: which would they prefer, face Fury's wrath or disappoint Captain America, the people's champion, he who stands for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? (In Steve's head, nonsense like that is usually accompanied by the echo of USO propaganda songs.) Who could, if it came to that, wipe the floor with them — and has on occasion been known to get impulsive?
The guards think about that, and let him in. Steve kicks the door closed behind him; it would be too much to hope for privacy, with however many hidden cameras all over the room, but he appreciates the illusion, at least.
Dmitri is sitting cross-legged on the narrow bed. Now Steve knows why the way he moves seemed so familiar: he moves like a soldier. He moves like a killer. How the hell could Steve have missed that? Except he knows the answer, doesn't he. He missed that because Dmitri, or the Winter Soldier, is not Bucky — but good god, how Steve wants him to be.
'I'm sorry I got you into this mess,' Dmitri says. He's not angry, and he's smiling lopsidedly. There's a resigned edge to it, one that says he always thought things would end this way.
Steve lifts his shoulder in a shrug. 'I'm sorry I can't get you out of it.'
'You'd do that if you could?'
'In a heartbeat,' Steve says.
Dmitri gives him a long look, like he's not entirely sure Steve is serious. 'Why?' he asks finally.
Because he's Bucky. Because he's not Bucky, but Steve fell for him anyway. Because amnesiac and genetically altered, Dmitri is still the closest human connection Steve has had since he woke up in the future. He can't say any of that, not really; the words wouldn't ever make it out of his mouth before Steve fainted from embarrassment. So instead he shrugs, again, and settles on:
'In sickness and in health, remember?'
Which at least makes Dmitri laugh. He doesn't sound like Bucky, but neither does he sound like a weapon, a tool to be used.
Director Fury is seen on more than one occasion smiling from ear to ear.
Apparently, acquiring an asset such as the Winter Soldier has been his dream.
Steve is allowed to visit every day after the doctors and scientists are done. He's allowed to watch when they test the Winter Soldier: when they blindfold him and make him fight Natasha, and Clint, and Tony in the suit; when he stands up even though he should be in too much pain to breathe, to think; when he takes out any opponent they throw at him, with a ruthless efficiency and no regard for his own safety.
On day three, Natasha doesn't hold herself back. Dmitri doesn't make a sound when she shatters his collarbone, and she doesn't blink when he breaks both her arms. They're both half-dead when Fury orders them to stand down. Steve never saw anything like it. The training the two of them must have received —
Maybe Natasha was right, maybe some people can be made into weapons. If you remove a person's memories, if you take away who they are, if you limit their ability to feel sympathy and take away their ability to feel pain, what's left? But in that case, did Natasha mean herself too? Or does she believe humanity is something that can be learned, and re-learned?
When you remove a person's memories and who they are and their ability to feel pain, this is what's left: a smile, small and lopsided but honest. Tension in the shoulders that eases when Steve walks into the room.
Dmitri smirks. He pulls his t-shirt over his head, jumps on his cot and covers the camera in the corner of the cell. He's warm to the touch. Somehow, somehow, when he presses close to Steve and runs his hands up Steve's arms — somehow, Steve doesn't think about the way Dmitri's eyes drop to the side of his neck. To his pulse. What matters is that Dmitri doesn't act on whatever instinct it is that drives him; he just reaches up to tangle his fingers in Steve's hair and pull him down and kiss him.
'That's not the only camera,' Steve says against his mouth, but really, he doesn't care. Not when Dmitri has his dog tags wrapped around one hand, the other undoing Steve's pants. 'My superiors are probably watching this.'
'Then I guess you better put on a good show.'
Steve does. Nothing sordid, of course, but the truth is that he owes Dmitri one. Steve pushes him away, towards the bed, and waits for him to sit before he sinks to his knees.
'I remember,' Dmitri says on day eight, and Steve nearly passes out from relief. But no, there's still no sign of Bucky, and when Dmitri heaves a sigh and goes on, it's not about the war or Coney Island. It's the memories Steve thinks maybe he'd rather didn't recall.
'I remember it. Before every mission. They'd just…scramble everything. No name. No memory. They washed my brain so many times it's a miracle I can tie my fucking shoelaces.' They're lying on the cot, fully clothed in case someone walks in (the SHIELD agents who pull shifts guarding Dmitri's cell start joking about conjugal visits, but Steve doesn't mind). Now, Dmitri shifts around until he can straddle Steve's hips, with his hands pinning Steve's shoulders. 'Are you afraid?'
Steve raises his eyebrows. 'Nope.'
'When I look at you,' Dmitri says, 'I run through all the ways I could kill you. I watched you. A lot. I know what moves you're gonna make before you make them. I could do this,' and he moves one hand from Steve's shoulder to his neck, wraps his fingers around Steve's throat, not hard enough to choke him but enough that Steve feels it, feels a spike of adrenaline when Dmitri's eyes go a little bleaker. 'I can't not know. I can't not think about it. It's always there, and it's never going away.'
'I know,' Steve says. He didn't know it at first, but now he does. 'I'm not afraid of you.'
Dmitri takes his hand off Steve's throat. He leans back. 'Is there anything you are afraid of?'
Did the Winter Soldier pick Captain America because he knew it was his best chance of surviving?
Did Dmitri pick Steve because a part of him remembered?
Did Bucky pick Steve because he always picked him, in an alley when they were twelve, in an alley before he went off to war, in a bar in London, on a train in winter even when Steve couldn't reach him in time?
The docs all say that Dmitri will start remembering; that the reason he never did while he worked for the USSR is because they never gave him enough time to adjust. Thaw him and implant the memories they needed, then throw him back on ice before he could start thinking for himself.
Steve doesn't tell anyone that Dmitri is Bucky; not a single person, not a soul. He doesn't even know why, any more. At first, it's just that he was half-convinced he was going insane. Then — well, it didn't seem to matter, not with Dmitri being a whole new person, familiar around the edges but not enough. It'll probably explode in Steve's face when Dmitri remembers who he is and suddenly everyone will want to know why Captain Rogers neglected to mention the part where the world's deadliest assassin happens to be his dead best friend.
They'll cross that bridge when they get to it.
SHIELD wants Dmitri to be loyal, and he is, but not to them. He's loyal to Steve. No one quite knows what to do with that.
An intricate security system is installed in the Brooklyn apartment Steve lived in before moving into the Tower: a series of traps and sophisticated surveillance equipment, monitoring both Steve's and Dmitri's vital signs and biometrics. Infrared cameras tracking heat signatures. They're allowed to live there like everything is normal; they're allowed to play house for as long as they don't push their luck.
Fury gives Steve a trigger phrase he is to say in the event that the Winter Soldier becomes volatile, a verbal off switch that will put Dmitri to sleep.
'We're going on a road trip,' Steve decides three weeks later, when the air in the apartment feels suffocating and stale, when the black surveillance van parked outside the building is driving him nuts, when he thinks if he doesn't do something he'll just start screaming.
Dmitri lifts his eyes from the pulp horror he's been reading in bed. 'We are?'
'Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon?'
Dmitri shakes his head.
Steve packs sketchbooks, charcoal, pencils and the shield, just in case. Dmitri packs a gun. They're supposed to check in every two days, and Steve could kid himself there won't be anyone following them, but he's not naive. To hell with it, though. He doesn't want to run away; he just wants a little space for the two of them and no one else, and he wants Dmitri to remember — to adjust — without SHIELD breathing down their necks.
It's another three weeks, and Steve is driving, tapping his fingers on the wheel. He doesn't remember the words to the song but likes it anyway. Some guy called Springsteen. Seems okay. It's evening, too cold to roll down the windows; they did that in the morning, wind howling in their ears and the two of them laughing like kids.
Now, Dmitri is slowly drifting awake after sleeping for an hour or so. He comes to with a huge yawn, and pulls himself up to a sitting position. Steve watches him in the rearview mirror, and their eyes meet. Dmitri smiles, and it's — it's not small and lopsided. It's a Bucky smile.
'Didn't you throw up on me on the Cyclone that one time?' he asks, frowning a little.
Steve grins wide enough it hurts. 'Yeah,' he says. 'Yeah. I did.'
The odds might be stacked against them, but really, were they ever not? Behind them is the setting sun, because of course it is, otherwise it would be too romantic; behind them are also years and years, all lost, decades of ice and death and killing. They will still be there tomorrow, but Steve knows it's okay. There's no point in running. The only thing left is the wide open sky before them, and the two lanes that seem endless, that could go anywhere and everywhere, that will take them home.