Something unassuming about Steve Rogers:
He absolutely despised New York City.
The city smelled like piss and crawled with assholes who had no moral compass. It wreaked of capitalistic scandals swept under the rug and drowned in the disillusioned and the unfortunate many swimming in poverty. It trapped people there. Steve Rogers: Brooklyn-born-and-raised. Steve Rogers: Brooklyn-born-and-died.
He hated this city and how it seemed to crawl with nostalgia- how it so desperately tried to suck him back into the past. Which was something that he completely, 100%, could not afford.
His least favorite place in the city? The subway.
The subway screamed of everything that had changed in seventy fucking years, although it was just reminiscent enough of the past to be painful. The thing that hadn't changed about the subway was that everyone viciously ignored each other, which was, unsurprisingly, the only thing Steve actually liked about the subway.
Naturally, it was the place he'd spent the most time in so far in the twenty-first century. He liked to torture himself that way.
He sat with his back pressed to the corner, staring blankly out the dark window.
His open sketchbook sat forgotten, propped up on his bent knee. He didn't want to think about the page that was open to the world right now.
The subway rolled to a shuddering, loud stop, and Steve let his eyes flick over the crowd. Correction: Steve liked two things about the subway. The ignoring-everyone thing and the blessed anonymity. Everyone blended into one single mass, moving together and apart in the signature dance of Pedestrians of New York.
Steve catalogued all the new people who had entered the subway, seeing if they were threats. After a quick scan, he returned to staring blankly into the middle distance. His head thunked back onto the wall behind him, and he closed his eyes for a fraction of a second.
He blinked a few times and returned his gaze to the window, still not looking at anything.
A man sat in the seat next to him, and Steve dutifully ignored him (because it was the one fucking thing that would never change about New Yorkers), but the man cleared his throat kind of pointedly. Steve frowned at him. He was looking at Steve expectantly. Must be a tourist. Steve shifted a little bit so that the guy wouldn't be able to see his sketchbook.
"Hi," he said, and Steve blinked a few times. Because it was one thing to acknowledge someone on the subway, but it was an entirely different thing to actually speak to someone on the subway. "So, I'm with Humans of New York, and I was wondering if I could use this picture of you for our website."
Steve's eyes flicked to the man's camera and back up to his face. The man was moving like he was going to show the picture he'd taken to Steve. Steve looked down at the screen at the picture of himself. He looked so... sad.
He cleared his throat. "What's Humans of New York?" he asked, trying to smooth out the bitter twist of his mouth.
The man smiled. "It's a project where we walk around photographing random people to showcase online. We usually try to pull a quote out of them too," he said lightly.
Steve frowned. "I have to say something quote-worthy?" he asked.
"You'd be surprised how many mundane statements can be quote-worthy."
Steve stared down at the floor and said, "Yeah, sure," because he was trying to learn how to be more accepting towards the social protocol that came with the Internet.
"Cool!" the man said brightly. He tapped a few things on his phone and said, "What's your favorite thing about the city?"
Steve's lips ticked upwards, but the movement had no feeling. Despite himself, he glanced down at the sketch of Bucky balanced in his lap. "Can I answer a different question?"
"Yeah, sure," the man said, unfazed. "What's your happiest memory?"
Steve laughed humorlessly. "Can you ask another different question?"
The man blinked, and there was pity in his eyes. "Oh. Okay. Yeah. Um. So, where are you headed to?" He nodded at the subway, as if acknowledging it. It was like an insatiable being, snaking underneath the city’s skin, demanding passengers as a means of sustenance. All Hail the Great Subway.
"Nowhere," Steve said with a shrug.
"What d'you mean?"
Steve shrank in on himself a little bit. "I just kind of sit here a lot of the time," Steve said, gesturing vaguely.
"Can I ask why?"
Steve swallowed and closed his sketchbook before he could look at Bucky's face again. "It helps me remember where and when I am."
The man nodded, although he couldn't possibly understand. He looked at the sketchbook. "Do you draw?"
"A little," Steve said noncommittally. Usually, he'd sit down and draw random people on the subway. It helped him feel more connected to the world, which was dumb, but Steve mostly felt removed from everything. The muted sensation of his surroundings would sharpen to a focused amplification. It was the only time things became sharp and grounded again. He had stopped drawing today when he'd absentmindedly sketched out Bucky's familiar face.
The man seemed to sense that his questions weren't gonna get more answered than that. "Thank you for your time," he said, standing with that bright, unfazed smile.
Steve stayed on the subway for eight more spots before he got off and walked the rest of the way to Brooklyn.
Steve got a text from Natasha with a link to a Twitter post.
Steve clicked on the link and was immediately faced with that picture of himself, staring blankly out the window, looking tense and distant. The photograph was artistically framed, and the only light available in the subway spilled into the other half of the picture, leaving Steve in a faded corner.
“I just kind of sit here a lot of the time. It helps me remember where and when I am.”
Steve stared at the post for a long time, not bothering to read the comments that said shit like, wait is that captain america????
After a long moment, he clicked on the Humans of New York page and followed them.
Bucky Barnes flipped through his worn notebook a few times before he found the page that he was looking for.
He relaxed slightly, reading the details over and over again. Brooklyn in the Great Depression, the page was titled in a messy, hurried scrawl. It had lots of notes about the way Steve looked before the serum. Before the War had stepped in and fucked everything up.
Bucky ignored the smell of garbage juice and piss as he sat in the alley, his backpack wedged between him and a brick wall, gloves on either of his hands, a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.
That’s right. Steve’s jawline had been sharp before the serum. Just more narrow and delicate. A gallery-worthy kind of beauty. Not any less gallery-worthy than Steve’s current jaw-line, but different. He scratched down a crude note. Another thing that he wouldn’t forget if he managed to keep these fucking notebooks.
Bucky traced a finger over the page and let the notebook fall shut around his pen, pulling his knees to his chest to press the notebook against his heart. He wrapped his arms around his knees and sighed.
“Hey,” someone said, stepping into the alley.
Bucky watched the man warily.
“Can I take a picture of you? It’s for Humans of New York.”
Bucky frowned at him. “Is that another one of those Internet things?”
The man laughed, eyes sparkling. “Yeah. It’s another one of those Internet things,” he confirmed.
Bucky thought about it. On the one hand, it could alert Hydra or Steve to his location. On the other hand, Bucky could be out of the country before they had time to find him. “Uh,” he said. The man was looking at him expectantly, and Bucky shifted uncomfortably. “Uh. Sure.” He cleared his throat and tried for a Bucky Barnes smirk. “Make sure to get my good side.”
The guy laughed and snapped a few pictures with rapid clicks of the shutter. “We also usually try to get quotes to put on our website,” he explained as he came to sit down next to Bucky. “How are you?”
Bucky shrugged. “I’m okay,” he said. He wasn’t currently being brainwashed or tortured, so that was a major improval from the rest of his life.
“You from the city?”
“Yeah. Grew up in Brooklyn, but I was away for a while.”
“Why’d you come back?”
Bucky stared down at his knees and thought of Steve. Instead of saying, Captain America’s sad eyes are really compelling, he said, “Well, there’s this guy.”
The man raised his eyebrows, clearly intrigued.
“And he’s here. I fucking hate this city with a passion, but this guy lives here, and he’s my fucking heart. So, I can’t leave while my heart’s still here,” Bucky explained. Maybe he should let Steve find him through the Internet after all.
“That’s so sweet,” the guy said.
“Not really,” Bucky muttered, thinking of the last time they’d seen each other. Yeah. Being brainwashed to kill your favorite person in the entire world. So sweet.
“I think it is,” the guy said loyally.
Bucky huffed a laugh. “Thanks,” he said dryly.
The guy got to his feet. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your- whatever you were doing. Thank you for your time.”
“You’re welcome,” Bucky said, trying to figure out what the fuck he was going to do next.
Steve was hanging out in Tony’s lab, throwing various things at the walls to try and make dents and cracks in the structure while Tony watched in supreme delight.
Steve threw a chair and a big piece of drywall crumbled to the floor. Nice.
Tony laughed loudly, almost falling over. “You’re so ridiculous,” he gasped.
Steve shrugged and turned to a mostly empty table. He could totally knock out half the wall with that.
He was just about to do so when a loud beep came from one of Tony’s things. Tony moseyed over to a screen and said, “What up, J?”
“One of our facial recognition programs picked something up,” Jarvis said, managing to sound hesitant. “You may want to show Captain Rogers.”
Steve wandered over to the screen as Tony tapped on a few things. Then, a Twitter post appeared, and Steve almost fell over in shock.
Bucky sat with his back to the wall, a baseball cap throwing shadows onto his face as he stared at the camera with a deadly, humorless smile. He was- he was wearing a jacket. God, he was keeping himself warm. He was keeping himself warm.
“Steve?” Tony said.
Steve covered his mouth with his hand. “He’s wearing a jacket,” he said, his voice all choked like he was about to fucking cry or something humiliating like that.
“Did you read the caption?”
Steve forced himself to tear his eyes away from Bucky’s face (he looked like he was staring right at Steve) and down to the caption.
“Well, there’s this guy. And he’s here. I fucking hate this city with a passion, but this guy lives here, and he’s my fucking heart. So, I can’t leave while my heart’s still here.”
Steve read the lines over, numb with incomprehension. Had- had Bucky just called Steve his heart?
“Where is he?” Steve demanded.
Tony gave him a look before giving him a rough address that he had pulled from some sort of coding something. “Be careful. Don’t get your hopes up. He’s probably not there anymore.”
Steve nodded and tore out of the building.
After a week of searching in a mile radius from the address Tony had given him, Steve tiredly sat down at on the subway that would take him back to his apartment, staring blankly at his own wrists.
Someone sat down next to him. Steve didn’t look up, but his muscles started to relax like a subconscious reflex as a shoulder pressed solidly into his.
The person nudged him.
Steve glanced over.
He blinked a few times. “Buck,” he croaked, frozen in spot.
“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky said softly. “You saw my Internet thing?”
Steve stared at Bucky, his eyes roving restlessly over his face, trying to rememorize everything in case this was ripped away from him again. “What?” he said, realizing he hadn’t registered what Bucky had said.
“My Internet thing.”
Steve blinked again. “You- you can’t just- disappear for a whole fucking year- and then- and then just come out of nowhere-“ to his horror, his voice was wobbly and thick with emotion and he couldn’t stop it- “with your fucking, ‘He’s my fucking heart,’ shit on a fucking website, you complete fucking asshole.”
Bucky looked at him guiltily. “Sorry.”
“Shut the fuck up and don’t apologize.”
Steve reached out, and Bucky met him halfway for the first goddamn hug they’d had in over seventy years. They melted into each other’s bodies, Bucky pressing his face into Steve’s neck.
“Did you mean it?” Steve asked roughly.
“Yeah. You’ve always been my heart,” Bucky mumbled into his neck, clinging.
It was as good a thing as ever to label them. They were goddamn soulmates. Each other’s heart. It was accurate. “I missed you so much,” Steve whispered, trying not to fucking cry because that would be fucking embarrassing.
“I’m never leaving again,” Bucky said darkly. “’Til the end of the fucking line.”
They stayed on the subway for a long time.
Natasha was tapping at her phone, walking slightly in front of Steve and Bucky in Central Park.
“Hey, Nat. Buck and I are gonna go get some ice cream,” Steve said, pushing at Bucky’s shoulder.
Natasha didn’t even look up. “Chocolate,” she said.
Bucky rolled his eyes and linked his metal fingers with Steve’s, pulling him to the ice cream stand. “You good?” Bucky asked, squeezing his hand.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He brought Bucky’s hand up to press a kiss to the knuckles. Bucky sighed, but he was secretly pleased. “I was just thinking about leaving.”
Bucky frowned. “Leaving?”
“Yeah. Like. Moving away form New York. I tried it once. A little while after the Battle of New York. That’s why I was in DC. It didn’t really work. The city’s always sorta had me imprisoned here.”
Bucky nodded, completely understanding. “Okay.”
“I think the only way I could successfully leave is with you,” Steve went on. “I go where you go.”
Bucky smiled softly. “Where, then?”
“Somewhere no one will ever be able to find us,” Steve said immediately.
“I’ll be sure to think of something.”
They bought their ice creams and strolled back over to where Natasha was waiting, a weird expression on her face.
“What’s up?” Steve asked, concerned.
“I think I just got poached by the fucking website that put you two on your first date,” she said, sounding vaguely disturbed.
“The Humans of New York thing?” Bucky asked dryly.
Natasha nodded. “Yup. The Biologically Thirty-Years-Old-Ish World War II Veterans Online Dating Association.”
Steve snorted inelegantly and asked, “Did he make you say something?”
“What was it?”
“I’m not telling you.”
[Photo: A redheaded woman glares down at her phone while pedestrians move in a wide bubble around her, making her look similar to a pillar of rock in the middle of a gushing river.]
“I’m waiting for my friends to stop making declarations of undying love for each other and hoping they get me my goddamn ice cream sometime this century.”