It’s not like Stella didn’t know.
SHIELD put her up in a sterile apartment, all polished neutrals and faux comforts, but it had a computer and a wifi connection and well -- she always was a fast learner, even before. With shaking fingers and a chill in her bones, still, she swallows the anxiety down and types her name into the search engine.
Captain Stella Rogers, lesbian? is one of Google’s first search recommendations for her name, every time, no matter how you misspell it. Her hands jerk, an old instinct, knocking over a mug of coffee, spilling it all over the carpet but the mess goes unnoticed, cold unease settling in her gut. It unfolds before her, every last word of it, her private life dissected and torn apart by people who’ve never met her, never met Peggy or Bucky, and it is invasive and shattering and much, much too soon.
Stella closes her eyes and can still feel Bucky’s hand, outstretched. She can still taste Peggy on her lips and all she can think is, that shouldn’t have been their last kiss, it was only ever supposed to be the first.
If she were a man, well.
If she were a man, they’d have called her straight and closed the books on it.
But she’s not and so instead, there is this, this gross invasion of her privacy, splashed across the computer screen in black and white and it is not, it is not that she is ashamed because she has never been ashamed, not a day in her life, but there is a bitterness in the back of her throat that tastes like grief and it’s never going away.
Stella takes a slow, steadying breath before closing the tab, before slamming the laptop shut. She draws her sweater around her like the settling of armor and goes to pour herself another cup of coffee.
Everyone knows the story of Stella Rogers, the tiny slip of a girl who was never meant to be anything more than a nurse until a HYDRA agent shot Gilmore Hodge in cold blood, changing the course of history.
Equally infamous is the story of Sergeant Jean “Bucky” Barnes of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Barnes, a singularly talented codebreaker and smart-mouthed sharp-shooter, who was captured while on assignment within the 107th Infantry Division during Operation Avalanche in 1943.
There’s a lot that’s been speculated upon regarding the details of how and why Stella Rogers decided to risk life and limb to go behind enemy lines in Italy in 1943.
But in the end, what matters is this: Stella Rogers walked out of that camp in Azzano a chorus girl and walked back into it a war hero. She saved over four hundred men alongside her childhood best friend, Bucky Barnes. SSR’s subsequent decision to form the Howling Commandos, with Rogers at the head and Barnes at her right hand was so unpopular that it could have been political suicide if it weren’t for the fact that it worked so damn well.
Well-loved and admired amongst most soldiers, Rogers was controversial on the homefront, which led to the creation of one of the more inconsistent and ineffective PR campaigns in American history. Amidst fears that the WAAC was breeding lesbian behavior, Captain Rogers appeared in film reels talking about her sweetheart, Arnie Roth, who was serving in the South Pacific at the time.
They wanted her to appear feminine but tough. They wanted men to want her but not want her too much. Rest assured, the virgin/whore dichotomy was as alive and well in 1944 as it is today.
In the years since Rogers’s death, speculation as to the true nature of her relationships with Barnes and SSR Agent Margaret Carter turned equal parts titillating and nasty, doubly so when word got out in 1977 that Arnie Roth was a homosexual. Many staunchly refuse to call her a hero, citing her untimely death as proof that women had no business in the war in the first place.
The LGBT community remains equally torn on Rogers. Do they embrace a figure who is, for all intents and purposes, one of the greatest American war heroes in our nation’s history? Or do they reject her for all of the problems that her confused legacy presents?
Sixty-five years later, Captain Rogers still confounds.
[Excerpts from America’s Sweetheart: The Life, Times and Loves of Stella Rogers]
They give her a uniform that is more costume than armor, bright and fitted and nothing she would have ever chosen for herself. Stella shrugs it on, peeling the red, white and blue kevlar over muscles that she still can’t believe are hers, and tries not to hear Bucky in her mind.
She tries not to hear that low, raspy laugh, looks like ya finally found the right outfit for that name of yours, huh, Rogers?, tries not to feel the weight of Bucky’s arm slung around her waist, Bucky’s chin tucked over her shoulder as they stood in front of a full-length mirror admiring the new uniform that Howard had made her.
She tries not to think about what came next -- about Bucky, about Bucky’s legs wrapped around Stella’s waist and kisses that tasted like lipstick and coffee grounds, about words and promises whispered low and filthy.
She tries but she fails, fails, fails.
“Yeah, well, I know men with none of that worth ten of you.”
Stark smirks, something nasty lurking in the edges of his lips. “Not my father, then, huh?”
Stella crosses her arms over her chest, hating the stretch and pull of the kevlar, hating the face of a man who is too familiar and not familiar enough. “What?”
“My father, Howard. You know, about yea high,” Stark says, making a wide, expressive gesture that only raises Stella’s hackles even further. “He made weapons. Made you too, come to think of it. He never stopped searching for you. I always wondered -- was he screwing you? A little wartime hanky-panky, a fuck in the trenches? Or is it true what they say, that you’re a dy -- ”
Stella’s fist hits Stark square in the jaw and Stark hits the deck.
Natasha Romanoff is all sharp edges, contained and closed off, but there is something familiar in the stubborn tilt of her jaw, in the steadying, assessing gaze she turns skywards and that ruthlessness, that is all Peggy, and for the first time since waking up, Stella is a little less lost.
“Sure about this?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun.”
In the end, it’s not that people are talking about about her private life, her sexuality, that bothers Stella.
It’s that it’s all anyone can talk about -- that’s the part that she can’t stand. She is an artist and a soldier and a daughter and a nurse and a damn scrappy little fool who used to pick fights with strangers harassing drag queens.
With her own two hands, she has stemmed the blood from a gunshot wound and she has painted and she has built sculptures and she has lived a life, varied and hard but as true as she could live it, and all anyone cares about is who she was fucking seventy years ago.
Bucky used to borrow her younger brother’s best suit and get all dolled up, smart and sharp, with bright red lipstick to boot. They’d go dancing, the two of them, Bucky’s hands warm on Stella’s waist, the cheap beer that they’d buy with money pooled together making Stella a little warmer, a little light-headed. Arnie and his fella, a sailor with tattoos that Bucky was always envious of, would go with them. Stella thinks about those nights a lot, these days.
How they were saving up money to get a bigger place, how Bucky was aiming at college one day with all those straight As of hers.
They had family and friends, they had lives and plans that were cut too short and now all they are are words on a page, black and white speculations in a textbook.
She’d prefer it if they left her out of the books altogether.
Pepper Potts asks her to stay in New York, after, offers her a position at Stark Industries and maybe it’s all for show, a play at an apology in Stark’s place, or maybe it’s genuine but either way, Stella’s not interested. There are public trappings to this job, of course -- she was a chorus girl, once, and she’s studied Stark’s file several times over, she knows what this means, what implications are left unsaid.
Nick Fury offers her a new suit and a new mission, offers her a strike team co-led with Romanoff and a chance to stay off the grid.
Stella moves to DC and doesn’t look back.
While conspiracy theorists still have plenty to say on the subject, general consensus accepts that the Captain America seen fighting on that fateful day at the Battle of New York is indeed Captain Stella Rogers, born 1918 in Brooklyn, New York, and not some new-fangled imposter or as some put forward, a highly effective government clone.
Rumor has it that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reached out to Captain America but as of now, there’s been no further official acknowledgement of Captain Rogers by anyone currently affiliated with the Ellis administration.
Several dedicated nonprofits, namely a series of veterans organizations, are clamoring for something more official, with an eye towards a Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to Captain Rogers but while the curators at the Smithsonian remain interested and dedicated to the project, the plans are still bogged down in interest group bickering.
Captain Rogers, for her money, remains strictly under the radar. Tips get sent into news outlets every day, claiming that she’s been spotted at a number of locations throughout Washington, D.C., including Kramerbooks and the World War II Memorial. However, Captain Rogers has yet to speak to the press regarding her apparent resurrection, forcing the media to further speculate in her stead.
With the reception that Captain Rogers’s received so far, revealing a devastatingly misogynistic slant to how this nation decides to pick and choose which heroes it will embrace and throw adoration at and which it will summarily shunt to the side, really, who can blame her?
[Excerpts from “New York: One Year Later” by Christine Everhart]
Sam Wilson’s hand is warm and sweaty beneath Stella’s and her smile is wide and bright and inviting and she looks straight through Stella and sees things that Stella couldn’t even put into words herself.
Later, Peggy’s hand will be wrinkled and soft, prominent veins snaking throughout, showing all the years between them and as Stella tightens her grip, as she mutters raw, desperate words about dancing, always dancing, she will imagine that these hands of hers are covered in blood, slick and hot and stark evidence of all the lives that she couldn’t save, starting with Bucky, and she will wonder how Sam could shake this hand of hers and smile all the way through it.
WASHINGTON POST LIVE TICKER: CHAOS IN THE DISTRICT
11 AM EST: 24 hours after SHIELD puts out an APB on Captain Stella Rogers, Codename: Captain America, there is a mass shooting on a bridge near Rosslyn. Civilian casualties reported, Captain Rogers spotted at the scene alongside two other women, both late twenties/early thirties.
11:30 AM EST: Police at the scene claim that Captain Rogers was not affiliated with the shooter, that Captain Rogers and her companions appeared to be fending off the attacking forces and attempting to minimize the casualties.
12 PM EST: DC Metropolitan Police recommends that anyone in Southwest DC remain in their homes or in their offices until further notice. Stay off the roads.
2 PM EST: Helicarriers are hitting the Triskelion and crashing into the Potomac River. Reported mass chaos, hospitals preparing for severe casualties.
Repeat: There are several helicarriers and they are crashing into the Triskelion. If you’re in the area, please remain inside.
3 PM EST: SHIELD IS HYDRA.
“Do me a favor. Call that nurse?”
A smile tugs at the corners of Stella’s lips. “She’s not a nurse.”
“And you’re not a SHIELD agent.”
Natasha reaches up, pressing a soft kiss to Stella’s cheek and Stella smirks, thinking to herself, second kiss since 1945. “Be careful, Rogers. I won’t tell you not to go. But -- I’ve been there, where she is now. It’s not an easy thread to pull on.”
“Nothing about my life’s been easy, Nat. I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself if it started,” Stella says.
Natasha opens her mouth as if to say something before shaking her head slightly and snapping it shut. They understand each other a little better now, Stella realizes, maybe a whole lot better than she ever would’ve guessed.
Instead, Natasha just gives a mock salute before tucking her black leather jacket closer into her and walking away, heavy boots pressing into the ground and the sharp scent of grass trailing after her.
Sam runs a hand over her closely cropped hair and gives Stella a wry, self-deprecating grin. “So. You’re going after your girl, then?”
Stella lets the faded, brown folder fall open in her hands, lets her fingers brush across the photo of Bucky pinned to the corner, gives herself the small, quiet moment of grief, of hurt. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that they were ever as young as Bucky is in this picture. “You don’t have to come with me.”
Sam gives Stella a pointed look, a small, tight movement that speaks volumes. Stella remembers that Sam has a folder of her own, a gravestone carved into her heart marked Riley, and it would be a practice in futility because any words against it are gonna get ignored and this fight of hers, the fight to keep herself locked away, kept separate from the rest of the world -- maybe it’s a fight worth losing, for once.
“Let’s get started.”
April 15th 2014, 3:24:50 pm · an hour ago
There’s a lot in those leaked files and others who are far more familiar with discussions of internet policy and the moral dilemmas of national security have deconstructed them far better than I ever could, here and here but I want to focus on today as I sit here with my pos laptop using up all my Corner Bakery free wifi minutes is this: all the ways in which we have all let two of our best feminist (and possibly queer?) heroes down.
Because we have. We’ve let Captain Rogers down with the lukewarm, if not downright hostile reception we have awarded her in the past few years as cherry on top of the shitty, conflicting legacy cake that she woke up to.
And we, as a nation, have monumentally fucked up with Sergeant Barnes. There are serious, serious trigger warnings required for the shit that was done to Bucky Barnes, really ladies and gents and everyone in between, mind those warnings before you choose to dive into those files, but if you’re okay to do it and you’re brave enough, here’s the question you should be asking once you’re done: how is it possible for a famous war hero to have been a POW in the hands of a major terrorist organization for so long and nobody knew? No, really, how the fuck is that even possible?
You gals know me, I’m not exactly pro-military (hey, remember my rant on Iron Man and the military industrial complex? yowza, did I get some anon hate for that one!) but the fact is, we should be singing Rogers and Barnes’s praises for all that they’ve sacrificed for us. So that’s what I propose we do. Write a letter, call a senator, share a tweet. Knit something, whatever.
Whatever it is you do, don’t be shy about it.
Btw, on a less serious note -- anyone know the name of Captain Rogers’s friend, the one with the wings? Because cute as hell, am I right or am I right?
Alright, this is districtfeminist signing out, let’s get this ball rolling.
Bucky finds her, in the end.
Stella is fast asleep in the guest room of Sam’s apartment and sure, yeah, the bed is too soft, still, but after months on the road and so many motel rooms, she’s starting to learn to welcome too soft. It’s only been a few hours since she toed off her boots and collapsed onto the bed but the slow, long creaking sound of a window being opened snaps Stella awake in seconds.
Her shield is sitting on Sam’s kitchen table and Stella swears to herself softly.
Bucky creeps just inside the window, easing it shut with a soft snick. Her long, dark brown hair falls messily into her eyes, dragged forward by the dark grey hoodie pulled over her head, both hair and sweatshirt alike damp from the spring rain. There are deep, dark circles under her eyes but her gaze is sharp and knowing and Bucky, mere shadows of the Winter Soldier’s blankness left behind.
“Hey, Buck,” Stella whispers.
“Hey, Stella,” Bucky says, and her voice croaks, as if from disuse. “Been a while.”
Stella snorts, in spite of herself. “Yeah. Yeah, it has. Are you -- are you….” Are you okay almost forms in her throat but they are small, useless words compared to the enormity of what’s been done to Bucky. “How are you?”
Bucky perches on the edge of Stella’s bed. Her shoulders shrug and Stella can hear the soft, mechanical whirring of the metal arm. “You know,” Bucky starts, lips twisting in a wry, familiar twist that makes Stella’s chest ache. “I think I’ve been worse, Rogers.”
“You look like you could use some sleep.”
“Always the charmer, huh, Stella,” Bucky says but there’s something like a smile, there, and it’s the best victory Stella’s had in a good, long time.
Stella lifts up the sheets wordlessly, shifting back to make room. Bucky tugs off her boots, lining them up beneath the window before slipping into the space between Stella and the edge of the bed. Stella stills, waiting, and they are mere inches apart but it might as well be miles. Bucky huffs, reaching back to pull Stella’s arm over her waist and Stella moves closer, so that their bodies are lined together and there’s not an inch where they’re not touching.
Bucky is quiet for a minute and Stella almost thinks that she’s not gonna answer but then, “well, the way I figure it is -- if the whole Internet thinks we’re hidin’ away somewhere screwin’, it might as well be true, right?”
Stella laughs into Bucky’s hair, pushing it aside to press a kiss to the nape of Bucky’s neck. “Go to sleep, jerk.”
[INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, WITH SPECIAL GUEST STAR CAPTAIN STELLA ROGERS]
Captain Rogers sits, visibly nervous, toying with what looks like a Claddagh ring on her finger. There’s a coffee, black, no sugar, sitting in front of her.
RM: Welcome to the show, Captain Rogers.
SR: Thanks, Rachel, I’m happy to be here.
RM: Are you? ‘Cause you kind of look like you might want to run for the door.
SR: Well...maybe happy isn’t the right word. But necessary, certainly.
RM: Well, we’re happy to have you here. It’s a real honor. And a surprise, I must say -- people were starting to wonder if you’d ever speak publicly.
SR: I wasn’t ready yet.
RM: But you are now?
Captain Rogers looks down at the ring on her hand and smiles, a gentle, happy smile that belies her nervousness.
SR: Yeah, you know, I really am.