It was late when Sarah Rogers quietly let herself into the apartment. The hospital had kept her longer today, and the exhaustion seemed to reach deep into her bones.
There was a sandwich waiting for her under a chipped plate on the counter: Steve had obviously made it for her, ignoring her orders of strict bed rest. Still, she smiled at her son’s compassion. That was Steve, always thinking of others before himself.
But Sarah was too tired to even think of eating right now. She hung up her coat, kicked off her shoes and padded slowly towards her bedroom, with a mind to look in on Steve on the way. He was over the worst of the fever, now, and she hoped he’d managed to get to sleep.
Steve had been away from school for three weeks. He was a good sport about it—had to be, with all the illnesses he’d suffered in his short life so far—but she knew it was frustrating for a fourteen-year-old boy to be stuck in bed. A mother understood those things without having to ask.
Probably adding to Steve’s frustration was the fact that Bucky hadn’t been able to come around and see him. Sure, Bucky Barnes was a hale and hearty boy, no more likely to get sick than anyone else, but her nurse’s training told her infection control was paramount. Sarah had been adamant: no visits from Bucky while Steve was recovering.
She found Steve’s door ajar. Pushing it open, she was greeted by an equally irritating and heartwarming sight. Steve was lying on his back, one arm on the pillow, mouth open, chest rising and falling slowly. And beside him was Bucky, his larger frame squashed into the tiny bed, one arm thrown protectively over Steve’s chest.
She blinked away the tears in her eyes. Her gaze shifted to the slightly-open window, and she almost wanted to laugh at the image of a determined Bucky shimmying up the fire escape to be with her son. That boy could be an utter rascal, but he also had the world’s biggest heart, and Sarah couldn’t fault him for that.
She listened for a moment; it sounded like Steve was breathing easier. Sarah smiled in relief and made her way next door to bed.
Clearly, Bucky had disobeyed her, but chastisement could wait until the morning. For now, she’d let them sleep.
The truth was, she’d always seen how Bucky lit up Steve, smoothed away his rough, spiky edges. As far as Sarah was concerned, that made him something of a saint.
“How about a dance, gorgeous?”
The man caught her by the wrist. Young, he was. Red-haired and pallid, probably his first time shipping out to the front. She almost felt sorry for the poor kid, apart from the fact that he had hold of her and was breathing stale beer in her face.
“Get out of it,” she snapped, shrugging out of his grasp. “I'm working.”
Not bothered to wait for his reaction, she neatly sidestepped him with her tray of empty glasses, moving to set them on the bar.
Mary Atkinson met her father’s concerned face across the room and flashed him a smile. She could handle herself, he knew that. Drunks like the one she’d just encountered weren’t the worst of what a woman could expect in wartime, especially when she worked in her dad’s pub for a living.
She wiped down the bar with a cloth. When she looked up, her eyes were drawn to the group in the corner, the one with Captain America at the head of the table. They were a bit on the loud side, but they’d been pleasant and friendly when she served them. And of course, there was the captain himself. Mary had seen his posters and earnest newsreels—giggled over them with her girlfriends—but in person, Steve Rogers was even more handsome than she’d imagined. He’d been oddly shy when he ordered a round for his soldiers, and it had charmed her.
“Another whiskey, ma’am?” said a drawling voice.
It was tall, dark and brooding down the other end of the bar. He’d come in with Captain America’s group, but for some reason had chosen to sit apart from the others. It intrigued Mary.
“Of course, love,” she answered automatically, reaching for the bottle to refill his glass.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the drink. His lips curved into a practised smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
Mary met his gaze, and oh, the lad was lovely, those long eyelashes and dark hair that fell into his eyes. She felt herself blushing. He wasn’t like the other GIs she’d met: loud and boorish and flash with their cash, only interested in getting into her knickers.
The next second, he looked away, and she was a little crestfallen. She knew she looked nice tonight, but now she could see he had that thousand-yard stare, and didn’t begrudge him for not flirting with her. Mary wondered what duty he’d seen. What had happened to him to turn his pretty blue eyes so hollow.
It started out as nothing more than idle speculation on her part. That was, until she saw Captain America slide onto the bar stool next to him.
Her mysterious soldier visibly relaxed in his friend’s presence, and it warmed her heart. But then the captain leaned in and said something to him with a grin, and Mary thought her heart would break in two from what she saw. The poor boy’s face glowed, like he was looking at the best thing he’d ever seen in his life. She’d seen men look at their sweethearts like that.
Her suspicions were only confirmed when a beautiful lady in a red dress came in and talked to Captain America. It was like the lad had curled in on himself, his mouth set in tight lines and his eyes hollow and desperate. He was jealous, no doubt about it.
(At the same time, she sighed inwardly, because it was just her luck that Captain America would already be taken. Her friend Phyllis was going to be devastated; she had his postcards all over her bedroom wall).
Mary couldn’t look away. She watched the captain’s friend try to shoehorn himself into the conversation, the challenge in his eyes when he looked at the woman, as if to say I was here first.
“Mary!” Her dad’s sharp voice jolted her out of her staring. “Those glasses aren’t going to collect themselves.”
She turned away, still feeling terribly sorry for the boy who silently loved Captain America.
Later, when she went out the back to empty the bin, she heard soft sounds in the darkness. Probably some couple having a quick knee-trembler; that was common enough these days. War was war, and when death stared you in the face on a daily basis, propriety didn’t matter the way it once did.
Now, she wasn’t a pervert or anything, but she had half a mind to see who it was — probably that stupid lad she’d turned down earlier. It was after curfew, and the alley was pitch black, but as Mary’s eyes adjusted, she saw the shapes of what could only be Captain America and his tall, dark friend.
Well, more than a friend, by the looks of it. The captain had him pressed into the wall, and was dragging his lips over his neck. They were only kissing, mind, but she felt herself flushing from the inside out. She knew these things went on between men, but hearing about it and seeing it were two different things. It was the kind of passion she'd only seen in motion pictures.
Mary almost wanted to laugh, because she’d got it all wrong, thought that the dark-haired one was nursing a secret, tortured love for his friend. Turned out, it was a secret they shared.
Of course they’d know the consequences if they were caught, so there must be real desperation behind their need for each other.
It struck her as unthinkingly careless, to be doing this where any drunk soldier could stumble out of the wrong door and report the both of them. She wanted to tell them to take it somewhere more private, to warn them they needed to be more careful.
Instead, she silently crept back into the warmth of the pub, leaving them to it.
Jim Morita was no stranger to bad luck. After all, he spent every day mired in the sick irony of fighting for a nation that hated his countrymen.
But this was a whole other level of fucked-up. They’d found the village in smoking ruins, eerily quiet. Sadly, the Commandos had been too late this time. The strangest part was that there were no bodies to be seen. Whether the civilians had been obliterated by HYDRA’s gruesome weapons or taken prisoner, no-one knew.
In the aftermath, Gabe had got a fire going, and Dum Dum was telling filthy stories in an effort to make the rest of them laugh.
They were all trying their best to put a brave face on it, but senseless death took its toll on everyone, even Captain America and his Howling Commandos. The losses had hit everyone hard, but it was their fearless leader who seemed the most affected. Jim had watched Steve drop his shield on the ground with shaking hands and disappear into the night, alone.
He understood why Steve had left — they all did, and they let him go. He'd be back. Bucky was the only one who dared to follow him, and that wasn't surprising. After all, he was closest to Steve.
It wasn't long before Jim felt the need to seek some solitude of his own. When he got to his feet, nobody tried to stop him. Over the last months, the Commandos had all gotten to know each other pretty well, and they’d come to realise that when Jim Morita was in a black mood, you let him be.
The night air was freezing; his breath fogged in front of his face as he walked the debris-strewn streets. Once, there had been people here, who’d lived and breathed and loved. Now they were gone. Jim shuddered out a long breath, tucked his hands in his pockets and walked on.
There was a crumpled pack of smokes in his left pocket he’d forgotten about. He fumbled for a match to light it. The pull of smoke into his lungs was a familiar comfort.
He came to a church, the only building still standing though its roof was blown off and one of the walls had crumbled. It was if God had somehow spared it. Not that Jim was much of a believer, but war had a way of making you look for meaning in the strangest places.
His keen ears picked up on the sound of hushed voices coming from inside. Fearing a HYDRA presence they’d overlooked, he reached for his gun, moving to the small window on the right-hand side.
Seeing that it was only Steve, he felt his body sag with relief. Jim was about to call out to him, but then he really looked at him, and the words froze in his throat.
Steve was sitting there on the dusty church floor, hands wrapped around his knees, shaking. And there was Bucky, too, an arm around Steve, his head resting on his shoulder. He looked tired and wan, but he was entirely focused on his friend. That was Bucky all over. The man could be quiet— sullen, even— but when push came to shove, he’d walk through fire to save any of them. He was the kind of soldier you wanted at your side.
Just like Steve. Those two were peas in a pod, thought Jim as he watched the sad but curiously sweet scene unfold before him.
“I can’t, I can’t,” Steve was repeating over and over, quiet enough that it was a strain for Jim to hear it.
“It’s okay, Steve,” Bucky murmured, a softness bleeding into his tone that Jim had never heard before. It was the way you spoke to a skittish horse, a favourite pet. A lover.
Jim dropped the stub of his cigarette on the ground.
He knew he shouldn’t look. This was private, not meant for the eyes of anyone else. But he couldn’t tear his gaze away. He watched as Bucky pressed his lips to Steve’s hair, tender as anything, and felt like all the air had been punched from his lungs.
Alongside the shock, an odd sensation was bubbling up in his chest. Loneliness. There it was.
In a strange way, he was glad their captain had Bucky to take care of him. If that was what it took for Captain America to carry the weight of a war on his shoulders, then Jim wouldn’t say anything. He owed them that much.
A small smile came to his face as he walked away from the church, making sure to keep his tread quiet.
Insomnia wasn’t new for Natasha. She’d been a bad sleeper for a long time, was often plagued with nightmares about the person she used to be.
Of late, she’d taken to wandering the halls of the New Avengers facility like a ghost.
Sometimes, Bucky would join her. She didn’t need to ask what kept him up at night, but it was nice to have the company. In their numerous midnight wanderings, they’d gotten to know each other a bit. It was progress, considering the other two times they’d met, when he’d shot first and (hadn't) asked questions later. At least he was asking them now. He’d never done anything so crass as say sorry for the wounds he gave her—how could one apologise, when you were only doing what you’d been made to do?—and she appreciated that.
Of all people, she knew recovery didn’t come easy. Over the past six months, she’d watched Bucky thaw under Steve’s warmth and patience, turn from a halting, scared shell of a person into someone who was prepared to fight for his sense of self. He was doing his best, and that was all anyone could do.
Tonight, Natasha was alone, no Bucky. But that was good, she thought; hopefully he was sleeping peacefully in his bed.
Starting in the basement, she padded softly through the halls, past labs and weapons stores and training facilities. She got to all the way up to the thirteenth-floor stairwell before her stomach growled. There was a small kitchen and break room on the floor above for the researchers. Natasha headed there, appropriated someone’s package of instant oatmeal sachets and started fixing herself a midnight snack.
The microwave was still going when she heard slow breathing in the silence. She crept around the corner on socked feet to the rec area, not making a sound.
Oh. Oh. Natasha felt like she was going to cry, and that didn’t happen much.
Steve and Bucky were curled up on the couch together, an empty package of Oreos on the coffee table in front of them. It was one of the most adorable things she’d ever seen: the man who could take your head off with a shield and the super-assassin with a metal arm, all soft and warm and wrapped up in each other, a blanket tucked over them.
There were black crumbs at the corner of Bucky’s lip, and she had to resist the urge to lean in and brush them off with her thumb.
Natasha was vaguely grumpy about her insomniac buddy abandoning her for Steve, but really, she was okay with it. Truth be told, she was thrilled that Steve had finally acted on his feelings. She’d never had the heart to tell him his love for Bucky could probably be seen from space.
The microwave pinged. Steve stirred, making this soft little sound, and snuggled closer to Bucky, but he didn’t wake.
She swallowed; there was that aggravating urge to cry, again. Natasha wiped her eyes and headed back to the kitchen, shaking her head fondly.
Those two idiots. Yeah, she’d keep their secret. Not that it was much of a secret.
Sam had only wanted some orange juice.
The morning had started off well enough. He’d woken from an unusually good sleep, gone for a nice run around the woods at the perimeter of their base—upstate New York sure had some stunning countryside—and watched the sun come up over the treeline in a sweep of orange and purple.
Too bad he’d decided to head for the kitchen afterwards.
He opened the door to find Steve with his back to the counter, kissing Bucky. Bucky, who had a thigh shoved between Steve’s legs and two hands resting on his shoulders, tugging him closer. Bucky’s jeans were riding perilously low on his hips, almost like they were undone at the front.
Sam bit back his cry of surprise, just in time to watch Steve squeeze Bucky’s denim-covered ass. He couldn’t see Steve’s other hand. Slowly, it dawned on him that Bucky’s jeans were definitely unzipped, and judging by the sounds Bucky was making, Steve was —
Jesus. It was way, way too early in the morning to see this.
A noise approximating a dying giraffe slipped out of Sam before he could stop it. He was blushing, he could feel it, but the shock of what he was seeing made it impossible to move.
Sam was horrified.
(And really happy for them.)
(And kind of turned on, until his brain remembered it was Steve and Bucky and it got weird.)
They didn’t even notice him. Like a car crash in slow motion, Sam watched as Steve surged forward and kissed Bucky fiercely, moving his free hand up to tangle it in the bird’s nest of Bucky’s bed-head hair.
“God, I want you,” Steve said, throaty, and Bucky answered with a groan. He shifted against Steve, his pants sliding down to reveal the globes of his pale ass.
That snapped Sam back to himself. He backed out of the room slowly, keeping his lips pressed tight together even as his shoulders started to shake. He waited until he was a good few paces down the hallway, and then he laughed and laughed until he couldn’t breathe.
He reached for his phone and typed out a mass text to the rest of the Avengers: You were all right. I’m a dumbass. Rogers and Barnes ARE together. And then another, to Steve: You’d better deep-clean that kitchen, Rogers.
But he wasn’t going to hit send on either of them. Not yet. Grinning to himself, Sam slid the phone back into his pocket.
The way he saw it, Steve and Bucky had the right to enjoy each other a little longer before everyone knew. Or at least, Sam was going to warn them before telling the others. That was only fair.
(He had a feeling they all knew anyway.)