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Best Man for the Job

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The apartment Rogers has in D.C is better than the one in New York. Lighter, more open. Brock ran surveillance on Cap's little New York apartment for a couple of weeks when he was first thawed out, on the little, cramped, dark space they gave him to exist in – as though he were in his own little world, consumed by memories and shadows, just the way they wanted.

This one's nicer.

But it doesn't mean Cap's better off – they seriously underestimated his capacity for stoic depression.

He seems worse most of the time in D.C; giving him more space only gives him more emptiness. He walks into his apartment and flicks on a light, puts on the same, worn out old LP, and sits in an armchair that looks old the same way he is, as he stares at a faded Harley Davidson poster without even seeing it. The armchair is new, actually – brand new. But it looks old, and it's the one piece of furniture that dwarfs him.

Sometimes he sits for hours, and the record plays on and on and on.

*

On sunny days, he goes to the café next door, picks out a table and sits and sketches the same mismatched buildings and streams of people while he picks at a Greek salad he doesn't want and sips a glass of wine he won't feel. Sometimes he'll order baklava or revanee instead, but he won't eat them until he's about to leave because he orders to be polite, to feel like he's got a reason to take up their space. And when he's about to leave, it's all gone in seconds because he's a child of the Depression and won't waste a crumb. And he goes back inside and sits in his huge living room, or gets a glass of milk and goes to bed. Sometimes he lies awake for hours and sleeps silently, sometimes he's out like a light and has nightmares the whole night through.

Sometimes he gets up to run without having slept at all.

*

On rainy days, he plays his record and sits by the window, scratching at a piece of paper with a hand-sharpened pencil. He doesn't have friends.

He doesn't have anyone.

*

Brock gets assigned to him. Simple as that.

One day, Pierce says he wants someone on Rogers, someone who knows Rogers. Brock doesn't volunteer but he catches Pierce's eye because he knows he's the ideal candidate, and Pierce just smiles a little, a face that's still handsome despite its age, and straightens his waistcoat.

“Well who else was I gonna ask?” he says.

Brock does his best not to show the swell of pride.

*

Rogers is dressed in a gray shirt and blue track pants, and looks instantly furious the second he opens the door to Rumlow's knocking. It's his game face, and Rumlow laughs because it's the quickest way to ease tension.

“Easy, big guy,” he says, holding his hands up as he tries to make his grin as welcoming as possible. “I'm not here to cause a scene – I go running on a morning, know you do too. Thought you might like some company.”

And Rogers looks him up and down.

Rumlow's dressed in a pair of black sweats and a black compression shirt with long sleeves and panels and gray accents that highlight the cut of his body and the extent of his muscles. His sneakers are white, and he's got a runner's water bottle in one hand. He knows he looks good.

“I can...” Rumlow says, letting his smile fall into acceptance as he leans back, points over his shoulder. Go, he doesn't say, if that's what you want.

“No, no,” Rogers says, because even if he wants Brock as far away from him as possible, he'd never tell him that – he's too nice a kid, and a kid is what he is. “That sounds good.”

Brock's almost twice his age and, sure, he can still hold his own. But Rogers is young and fit and taller than Brock and wider than Brock and there's no denying his perfection. He's an absolute specimen – a lot of people's idea of perfection.

Brock'll wait to get a look at him with his shirt off before he makes that decision for himself, but he's betting he won't be too disappointed.

“Then come on,” he says, smiling widely. “We'll go down Conneticut, around the circle. See how many times you can lap me.”

*

Rogers is not incapable of protecting himself.

Fury has them at some abandoned facility in Khartoum at four-thirty in the morning (because that's the ideal time to catch an enemy by surprise,) that isn't as abandoned as they've been led to believe, and Brock tracks the white-hot figure of Captain America blaze through the black and green maze on his screens, taking down enemy operative after enemy operative, climbing walls and turning somersaults and hurling his shield with enough strength to embed it in steel, before he sends the rest of the strike team in after him.

Cap's taking down the guards, the lookouts, the people who've been posted in order to raise the alarm. Those deeper inside will be the responsibility of Brock and his team, and Cap burns a path for them.

Rogers is not incapable of protecting himself, but he does insist on throwing his main form of defense away and depending on bent beams and crumbling plaster to get it back. And Brock is a trained marksman.

When the shield snicks through a wall on its second ricochet and Rogers is left with his arm out and his back turned to man whose machine gun could tear even a super-soldier in two, Brock's the one who double-taps him to the head, and Rogers – wild eyed and breathing hard – nods his thanks before the shield comes back through a broken office door with a soft tinkle of glass and a thud as it hits Rogers' gloved palm.

And when Rogers' expression changes in a split second from adrenalin-fueled gratitude to fury, Brock's the one still standing in the middle of the hallway when Rogers' shield passes by his head so close that it skims his hair, and still standing half a second later when the lackey who snuck up behind him fires his semi-automatic into the ceiling instead of the back of Brock's skull.

The shield sings as it passes him on the way back, and Brock would bet that his expression, as he gives his own nod of thanks, is probably entirely similar to the way Rogers' was not five seconds before.

It's not hard to want to look out for the guy – he's amazing to watch, incredibly talented, and a valuable addition to the team. Brock would be dead by now if Rogers were anybody else. It's not hard to like the guy, either – aside from the looks and the infectious smile, he's smart, he's got a smart mouth, and he's damned good at his job.

*

They stop at the café on the way back for a drink of juice on the way back from their next jog (sprint), and Rogers invites him up to hang around if he's got the time of day.

“I can't,” Brock tells him, and the little light in Rogers' eyes dims a little.

“Oh, that's...that's okay,” he says, and he's a terrible liar, taking a step back as he leans away – distancing himself through body language, and probably without even knowing he's doing it.

Which is a good sign, actually, and means he's reacting exactly the way Brock hoped he would.

“Uh, but can I take a rain check?” Brock says a moment later, hesitantly, just enough to seem shy.

Rogers looks so surprised and so hopeful as soon as words are out of Brock's mouth, as though he can't quite believe he's not being rejected outright.

“Y-Yeah!” he says, his smile broad and white as he nods, the biggest smile Brock's ever seen on him. “Yeah, sure. Any time, Rumlow.”

And he already says the name like he knows it well. Rumlow is an aurally pleasing name, so Brock's been told, and Rogers has an aurally pleasing voice. Affection suits it.

“Great,” Rumlow says, and then he jabs a thumb down the road. “I'm gonna head back. They were talking about an op yesterday, they wanna brief me. Mind if I rec you?”

Rogers looks painfully grateful. “That'd be great, Rumlow,” he says, and Brock shrugs.

“Want the job done right, you go with the best, right, big guy?” and he punches Rogers' enormous bicep and turns away as Rogers' cheeks turn a little pink. “See you around.”

“Sure,” Rogers says inadequately. “Yeah.”

When Brock glances back in the wing mirror of a parked car, Rogers is fumbling with his keys on his doorstep, but looking down the road after him, and Brock figures he can milk this for all it's worth.

He slows, turns back and looks, and Rogers startles at being caught staring, dropping his keys. Brock waits for him to pick them up and look back down the road before he smiles slowly and turns away.

Attraction isn't a difficult thing to fake, and Rogers has always been easy to hook. The first time they met, and shook hands, Rogers wasn't expecting to shake hands, and he was so careful and so surprised that Brock ended up with his right hand between both Rogers' paws before Rogers managed to catch himself.

The guy is lonely. It's not only understandable (because, Jesus Christ, who wouldn't be?) but it's also obvious, enough to be exploitable. All Rumlow has to do is time things right and give Rogers just enough to keep him coming back, and the rest will be like taking candy from a baby.

*

They watch the game because it's on, and Rogers has beer in his fridge because he invited Brock over. Brock sips at it good-naturedly and doesn't put his feet on Rogers' coffee table.

Cap isn't interested in the game, so Brock isn't either.

They talk to each other – about missions, about food, about people Rogers used to know. And he stops when it hurts too much, so Brock settles his hand on his shoulder to commiserate, and pretends not to notice how Rogers leans into it without even meaning to.

*

And it goes like this. Rogers sends Brock a text when he's free on the weekend, Brock calls in when he's got a little time.

They keep the game on in the background, or the radio on in the kitchen, and Rogers starts in on the little things. Brock would guess he doesn't even know he's doing it.

He cooks a meal when Brock shows up unannounced. They take a walk when Rogers doesn't feel up to a run. One evening, Brock switches on the record player while Rogers is in the kitchen, and turns up the A/C a little, and it takes maybe five minutes before Rogers' gaze grows distant and his words grow slow and tired.

He doesn't cry. It looks like he's had a lot of practice at not crying. It looks like the practice is the only thing that's stopping him crying right now. And when he says he's sorry, scrubs his hands over his face and leans forward where he's sitting next to Brock on the couch to hold his head in his hands, Brock rubs slow, soothing circles between his shoulder blades and says,

“it's okay, big guy. Happens to all of us. That's what friends are for.”

He knows Rogers will cling to the word 'friend' like a sailor to a life-preserver in the middle of a storm.

*

They train together, because there's no sense being a team if you've got no cohesion. Rogers is fast, so fast, and so just-plain-good at it that Brock knows his back is covered. And Rogers knows the value of having a good team at your back.

“My boys,” he says sometimes, “some of 'em didn't even speak the same language but we were all damn good at what we did. They were a damned good team, you'd have liked Dugan. He'd've like you.”

Brock figures this is a good step – getting Rogers to link them all in his mind. They've got a short guy who's good with explosives, they've got Rollins, who's a pretty good fit for Morita in terms of skill. Brock will take Dugan, any day of the week, because it tells him something else:

Rogers doesn't compare anyone to James Barnes.

Brock knows nobody can ever replace him, can ever stand in for him, can ever come close to him in Rogers' eyes, and that's when he goes to Pierce.

“He considers me a friend,” he says. “He calls me in the middle of the night when he has nightmares so we can talk about baseball until he feels better. He makes me salmon en croute when I show up and tell him I'm hungry. We take a walk down to the Lincoln memorial and look at the constellations when he gets homesick. I got stories about the Howling Commandos comin' outta my ears. He's got no idea.”

And Pierce tells him this is good, that the relationship can be exploited, and Brock takes his chance.

“I think I can swing a romantic involvement,” he says. “Pillowtalk's been effective in the past.”

Pierce considers it for a long time, and says eventually, “you're gonna need to make it count.”

And Brock says “I already thought of that, Sir. I'd like to request access to the Asset.”

*

The Winter Soldier isn't submissive – not willingly. Not without a few well-placed words.

But there are key phrases – Brock requested them, put in the paperwork, went through the right channels. He's got enough to work with. Enough that, when he's shown a small, secure room with no surveillance and pently of supplies, and the Winter Soldier, dead-eyed and fawning, is led in already compliant through the use of a few code words Brock doesn't have the clearance for, Brock knows he's made the right call.

He says a couple of things, waits for the programming to kick in, and then gets to work.

If you can call it work.

*

He keeps it to himself for a while, steps up the comfort thing so that a soothing hand between Rogers' shoulderblades becomes an arm around his shoulders. The calls that come at two and three and four in the morning turn to 'tell me what happened,' and stories of the old days instead of distractions. Salmon en croute becomes a three course meal over a game of baseball Brock deliberately spends staring into Rogers' eyes.

Brock's digging Rogers deeper into his own despair while he gives Rogers everything Rogers thinks he needs.

And one day they're talking about all the people Rogers left behind. He's naming the USO girls, and the conversation turns – because Brock spends half an hour meticulously steering it – towards Rogers' romantic ideals. His history. His sex life.

He mentions Barnes once, and cuts himself off. Brock doesn't push it.

When he says he thinks he'll be ready for a relationship soon, he hopes, Brock gives him a soft, subtle smile, looks him up and down and says,

“good.”

*

Summer makes his job easier.

He 'trips' when they're jogging by the lawns on the mall, and Rogers catches him. Or Rogers lets him fall and sits down next to him while they enjoy the sun.

Brock shows him 'a little place' he knows, where the lighting's low and the music's soft and the food is good and the tables are small. He doesn't hold Rogers' hand across the table. He does spend the whole night smiling, and as much of the night as possible with his gaze fixed on Rogers' face.

He declines the offer to come up for coffee.

“But can I take a rain check?” he says.

And they're still friends. This isn't some deeply romantic fuck up – this is the two of them enjoying each others' company. They still watch the game. It's just that Rogers isn't afraid to bump Brock's knee with his own. He's not afraid to clap Brock on the back of the shoulder with one massive hand.

He lets Brock take a shower back at his when Brock says “the water's down in my complex,” after a jog (still sprint) one morning. And in the sun that shines through Rogers' bedroom window, Brock stands dripping wet in nothing but one towel as he dries his hair with another.

Rogers is in the doorway when Brock takes the towel off his head, looking flushed and surprised and thoroughly aroused.

“How about that rain check?” Brock says, and Rogers shuts the bedroom door behind them.

*

Brock spends more time at Rogers' place.

For convenience, he says, before he spends the night as the little spoon.

Because it's close to work, he tells Rogers, before Rogers drifts off still half on top of him.

It'll save time when we run in the morning, he says, when they both know neither of them will be getting up early.

It's a good relationship, Brock thinks. It would be if it were real. Rogers doesn't see him like a fuckbuddy, but he doesn't view him as a boyfriend either. They're friends – Rogers always says it.

“You're a good friend,” or “I needed a friend like you,” or “thank God I've got a friend I can rely on” like it'll keep him afloat.

It's not sex, per se, although there's plenty of pleasure about it. Rogers is pretty close to perfection as far as Brock's concerned. He likes handjobs and banter, sometimes together. He likes jogging (always sprinting) and he likes watching Brock jerking off on the couch, likes reaching out and taking over for him when he says he's close.

He likes massages and eating popcorn in front of old movies.

He likes bruises on his neck and pinning Brock's wrists above his head.

Once or twice they step it up a little but if they fuck or they don't, it makes no difference. Rogers doesn't flinch at unexpected mercenaries any more. He knows Brock has his back.

*

“So what are you gonna call us?” Brock asks one day as they approach the dropzone, when Rogers is about to jump. “Don't we get a name too?”

“Screaming Strike?” Rollins suggests, because Rollins has been briefed and is a hell of a good actor.

And Rogers glances over the team, smiles a little wistfully at Brock.

“Lemme think about it,” he says.

*

Brock Rumlow's defining moment comes one evening after a tough call in Mandalay. Steve Rogers isn't the kind of guy who's good at that kind of call, because Steve Rogers is the kind of guy who'll save everyone he can at his own expense, and who wants to save everyone no matter what.

There wasn't a chance of that today.

They didn't lose anybody from the strike team, but somebody on their backup was getting a little close, digging in the wrong places back at HQ. And hadn't kept that information to themselves.

Bad intelligence, as far as Rogers ever knows, is what killed the two operatives on the secondary team. A lack of options, a mistake. They died because their information was wrong and they weren't smart enough to improvise.

Brock didn't have a hand in it in case Rogers could tell, but the strike team saw to it just as effectively. Comes from having a right hand man like Rollins. If you want the job done right, you go with the best man for it.

But he's sick as a dog about it, angry as hell, too. And when Brock follows him home, even when Rogers tells him not to, Rogers doesn't bother hiding it.

No, wait; he doesn't feel he needs to hide it.

He's hurt and angry and ashamed and anguished because he's lost more people, he's fucked up again, and Brock says “Let me in, Steve. I'll stay with you tonight.”

Rogers shakes his head.

“That's not a good idea,” he says, and Rumlow shrugs.

“I know what you need,” he says, “and maybe I need it too.”

And Rogers is angry, furious, and still so gentle.

They undress in a flurry of clothes and biting kisses, hands grasping as they stumble towards the bed. Rogers doesn't like his bed, Brock knows. Two weeks ago, Rogers said the thing had felt so soft to start with that he was glad he was finally getting used to it.

Brock had it replaced with a softer one while they were in Myanmar, turned up the A/C when Rogers pinned him to the wall.

But once they're down on the bed together, Rogers' desperation turns to the same starving need he's always had – he wants Brock's skin. He doesn't particularly care if he comes himself, but he wants to feel Brock.

Brock's learned a few things from the Asset.

Brock waits until Rogers is halfway there before he says, “s'okay, s'just you an' me,” against Rogers' throat with an accent he finds hard to replicate, and laces their fingers together.

Rogers shudders but says nothing, only goes at it a little harder.

Brock lets him keep going, twisting himself to touch just so because it's not a stretch once you figure it out.

Rogers makes a soft sound of desperation and says, “how,” on a breath, but nothing else.

And when he comes, teeth gritted like he's angry at himself for seeking comfort in another human being, Brock strokes the soft hair at the nape of Rogers' neck and drags his fingernails up Rogers' flank.

Rogers collapses next to him, covers his face with one hand and says, “I'm sorry.”

“Don't be sorry,” Brock tells him. “Its all right, Steve.”

And Rogers shakes his head though his doesn't move his arm away.

“Knew somebody who used to do that to me,” he says, and he doesn't clarify exactly who or exactly what, but Brock already knows.

Barnes.

Everything.

Brock doesn't tell him he knows. Instead, he says,

“I can stop,” and Rogers shakes his head.

“Don't,” he answers.

*

“You know,” Rogers says finally, the next time they're staring up at the stars by the Lincoln memorial, sitting on the grass by the trees, out of the way, “you'd've liked Bucky.”

Rogers doesn't say that Barnes would have liked him back, but it doesn't matter. Brock already knows Barnes doesn't.

Rogers leans against Brock and smiles a little sadly.

“I don't know what I'd do without a friend like you,” he says.

Brock presses a kiss to his shoulder, and they go back to watching the stars.