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When Steve was five, they had a box of crayons. Mama looked at his apples and oranges and stick-figure friends, and got a strange, soft look on her face that worried Steve.

He’d done something wrong, but didn’t know what.

 

When Steve was seven, they told him he was colour blind. Mama got him a special box of colours that were crumbly and left dust on his fingers. She said they would look the same to him as they would to everyone else.

 

At eight, he asked Bucky what colour his own eyes were. He knew they were light, but was it green? Or blue? Bucky had looked at his eyes for a long time, then gone to the library. Steve didn’t get his answer for a week, when Buck stuttered out a poem after school, about pirates in the Caribbean. Steve’s eyes were blue, like the sea.

 

At the recruitment office, they showed him photos of camouflaged men and he picked out every one, the ‘colour’ was wrong.

“It’s the contrast, the luminescence? People with colour can’t see it, because the colour is distracting,” Steve explained, trying to make the dubious sergeant see. “I can draw maps, accurate to fifty yards--”

“Can you run fifty yards?”

Steve fell silent, listening to the whistle in his chest, and they showed him the door.

 

At camp Lehigh, he stole a flag the same shade as Peggy’s lips. It might have been red, but might have been dark green, and he didn’t bother to ask, because Peggy was beautiful and his heart hurt all along his left arm.

 

In Brooklyn, after running down a Hydra assassin, after learning what red looks like from Erskine’s blood, he realised that cabs were yellow , and ‘white’ must be this colour his hands had become, and his eyes must be the colour of the sky reflected on the water, because Bucky had said so. He looked in the mirror, later, and laughed until he had to sit and find airmail paper to write the punk a letter.

 

The USO had this keen thing, these lights that could be any colour you could name. Jimmy told him they were called ‘gels’, and they were the richest, strongest colour he'd seen so far. When they shone on the stage, everything was one colour, red, or orange or green, and they had feelings : blue was cold, and sad, and orange was warm and comfortable, red, hot and dangerous, and Steve had had no idea how much feeling there was in a colour. The next day, he went out and found half a set of crayons, traded for them with a kid, for half a pad of paper. Steve tore his pad carefully along the spine, and the kid broke each crayon just as carefully down the middle, so they could both make pictures in every colour. Steve signed the pad of paper in royal blue, same as his uniform, "Captain America", with a cheesy little star instead of the 'A'.

 

Peggy's cheeks were blushed gently pink, and Phillip's grizzled skin was rich tan with age spots in brown, and Bucky's eyes were blue grey, like the clear winter sky over the Hydra base he’d pulled him from.

 

Fire and blood looked nothing alike, but both were too bright and too dangerous. Too much red, too like the Skull’s twisted face.

 

When Bucky fell, after, it didn’t matter how many colours he could finally see, the world was grey and dead and flattened.

 

The sea ice had no colour, but Peggy’s voice sounded like the sharp blue, cold blue, of snow out of a clear sky. He tried to think warm thoughts, orange and sunlight and egg-yolk yellow, so his last words wouldn’t cause pain, but he couldn’t conjure anything but the receding blue-grey flashes of Bucky’s eyes.

The weightless feeling of the steep dive felt like he’d jumped after Bucky after all.