Steve wakes up with a start, breathing harsh and quick, as if he’d run a race, as if he’d chased something , his skin covered with a fine sweat and tangled not only in the sheets, but in nightmares half-remembered. There’s no noise in the room, nothing that would speak of a threat and yet he finds himself blindly reaching- first for the shield tucked away at the side of his bed but then passing it over, going for the wallet resting on the nightstand and turning on the light once he’s found it.
It’s a cheap thing, bought at a corner store in Brooklyn, but sturdy enough and with a whole series of pockets and compartments to sort various stuff into. There’s one little pocket on the inside, safely secured with a zipper, that he hasn’t opened in a long, long time.
He does so now, takes out the slightly scratched SIM card, holds it in the palm of his hand, chest squeezed tight.
Phone was still in the trash can when the fight was over. Had no clue why, but I almost cried when I saw it and then picked through the pieces. Found the SIM card, still intact, curled up with it in bed and held on to it as if it was a lifeline, just running on instinct. Blacked out, tucked it away in a safe place once I woke up again. Tried to forget it, but hot-tailed it to DC, told the others I had a lead, tore through the hospital, didn’t stop there either, but Brock was gone. There’s probably still a hospital company manager or three who aren’t too fond of Captain America anymore- I might have gotten a bit....tetchy.
He carefully puts the SIM card back into the wallet, turns off the light and lies back down, and tries to go back to sleep. He doesn’t have much luck. There’s a dull and heavy feeling in his chest, and he spends these moments with his eyelids closed like drapes, shutting the world out, feeling the warm thud of a heart that’s not quite his own, breath that still comes as alien as it comes easy.
There’s words he needs to say, things he needs to do, to make it right again , but right now, all he can do is hang on and forge ahead. It’s a choice every day, and he makes it, just like when his breath was reedy and his body ached and it was stubbornness more than anything that would bring him out of his bed, that and the promise of the bright light that was Bucky, daring him to come out and have a good time. But Bucky is a long way off- alive and safe, but out of reach, and so is Brock.
It’s not all bad, though- and when he finally gives up and opens his eyes for good, he’s rewarded by new notifications when he checks his phone. Like yesterday and every day of this tour before, it’s the oddest contrast, waking up alone at the grey of dawn, but with an added tingling warmth all over and a hundred little tidbits of his mates and his son waiting for him like bread-crumbs. He’s not sure if he’ll ever get used to it.
Today, there’s new pictures of little Benji smiling at the camera as he holds on to Brock’s calloused finger, gummy and pink. Later in the day there might be a call from Bucky, who’s not up for much real talking yet, but who listens to him vent, and quietly laughs when Steve snarks about meeting up with stiff-necked generals who act like clones of stiff-necked generals from over 70 years ago.
It’s tender, like the first crocuses peeking out through the snow, and just as fragile. He doesn’t sleep easy at night, tossing and turning, but… he’s also had worse where it comes to fighting to stay in touch with a mate that was out of reach.
More than a lifetime ago- damned if it doesn’t feel like just yesterday- when Bucky was shipping out, Steve’d gotten up in the middle of the night to sneak a single package into his duffle bag, carefully wrapped in a special scent-preserving bag he’d saved up for for weeks, the last thing he could do before his then-not-quite mate went to war. Mail was slow and money was low… he had no idea when and if he could get his almost-bonded omega another one. Not like he’d had that many options.
And the statistics from the front lines, the survival rates for snipers- they were bad . After Bucky’d left, he’d woken from nightmares near every other night, endless visions of Bucky being shot, bleeding out somewhere in the mud, alone , and he’d creep out into the floor’s hallway, where the bathroom was, and he’d puke his guts out, trying not to wake the neighbors on the other side of the paper-thin walls.
And Bucky wasn’t the only reason he wanted to, had to go, but...in the streets, he’d ducked his head and walked faster when he heard people talking about the few other omegas in the neighborhood that were shipping out. For them, since it wasn’t combat, with none of them having the gift for mayhem that Bucky did- nurses and pencil-pushers, support staff got to have their alphas by their sides, ready to have their mates’ back and protect them. Steve had cursed his body for being so frail that they wouldn’t even let him enlist to do paperwork . Especially not since....
“Whadda ya want?” one recruitment officer had asked. “That bond a’ yours ain’t even done proper. He’s probably gonna find a real alpha over there, nice n’ strong, to be his mate. Let the boy go if ya really love him, he can do better’n you. ‘S for the best, believe me.”
He’d left, shaking. Lingered a bit too long on Brooklyn Bridge and stared at the dark waters. He’d gone home, a speech all prepared and a thousand times rehearsed about how he was letting Buck go, breaking things up, that it was all for the best, but he’d hadn’t even gotten out a dozen words when Buck shushed him, told him it’d be alright, just you wait Stevie .
Buck’s smile at their handfasting ceremony, brief though it was and even though they were running into the jaws of hell at the time, had lit everything up like a shooting star, brilliant and bright and gone far too quickly.
The tightness around Peggy’s eyes when they left for the Red Skull’s fortress had only confirmed what he knew, that he was a dead man walking, even though he knew she’d do what she could to hold him back from the brink.
Things had moved fast when they thawed him out, duty the fuel that fired him up when really, all he was running on was fumes. But smoke and sparks, plus the odd celebratory fireworks for saving the world a few times over, also meant that he missed the point where he started to feel truly warm again, whenever a certain brunette passed through his orbit.
And now we’re almost back to square one. With a promise of a maybe-future dangled like a carrot in front of us, and fucking separated yet again. So yeah. For all that I got dues to pay, they fucking owe me, and Bucky too, and I’ll be damned if I let them run us ragged and milk me like a cow.
Especially while they desperately need a few moments of solid, grounded peace. A chance to get down to the business of slow and careful untangling the mess HYDRA left them with.
The glad-handing will keep for a bit.
One passably polite phone call later, all things considered, and he’s managed to get the next twelve hours off.
And Steve has a perfectly reasonable idea, like most of them on the surface. Go back to where he’d found both his omegas, pack up more of the things they’d collected there for themselves, and bring them back as a kind of pre-holiday surprise. It just so happens he’ll need a little bit of a local guide or two, to tell him what and how and where to look.
One phone call got him the time off- another gets him permission to take Brock and Buck, provided he’s ready to take with added security once the Quinjet leaves Stark Tower, and a stash of supplies ready to be transported, mission-ready. A third phone-call, and Bucky makes a great co-conspirator, and his rich, raspy laugh down the line tells Steve that this is the right way to go- and maybe even just in the nick of time.
Yeah, I got this- you come get us, handsome, we’ll be turned out nice.
As security goes, Sharon is engaged in some small-town investigations, tracking down every lead- either Sam or Clint might be more readily available, and maybe less inclined to shoot daggers with their eyes.
He takes a few more minutes to finalize his arrangements, slips into his jacket when a knock on the door announces the presence of Danny, his personal aide and also somewhat handler on this leg of the journey, hand-picked by Maria Hill herself.
A few short moments later, he’s out the door and headed to the roof where the cloaked Quinjet is waiting, while Danny double checks with him that the supplies he already had loaded into the Jet will be sufficient for the day. They got boxes and packing material, blankets and a cot for Benji to rest in in case the cabin got damaged and isn’t habitable, a crate of assorted water, lemonade, juice and milk, a bag of groceries so they can cook lunch on site and a hamper with assorted pastries and sandwiches from the bakery down the road that Danny picked up personally.
“You really HAVE to try their Kouign-Amann, they’re utterly decadent . I also got you a mix of sweet and savoury, you got maple pull-aparts, bacon quiche, seeded ham ‘n cheese croissants, assorted macarons, strawberry rhubarb coffee cake… I am NOT making the mistake of underestimating super-soldier metabolism ever again . I watched you eat when you didn’t have an appetite and also when you DID and holy shit, eating competitions are GROSS, but if you ever decided to sign up for Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, even Joey Chestnut wouldn’t have a chance.”
Steve raises an eyebrow and grins. “Noted. And thanks for helping me out here, it’s very much appreciated.”
The blond beta just shrugs, an impish smile on his face. “Eh, comes with the job, and frankly, I could use the break too. Not a super-soldier here and man, they have been running us ragged. Just remember to be back by 12 p.m. Cinderella, or rather, since the next stop is San Fran, 10 p.m. for that talk you’re giving at the Business Strategy Conference.”
“I’ll be there with bells on. You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Danny says. “You get used to a certain amount of jet-setting, working where I do- but I’ll admit, the Quinjet’s a step up from the usual!”
Brock has only ever been a morning person by necessity. He did it, and did it well, but the time when he had to be at briefings or maneuvers by 6AM is past, now, and adjusting to the fluctuating schedule of an infant has only encouraged his long-suppressed habits of just… sleeping in, when he can. It’s not like he’s got to be anywhere, aside from some painfully reasonably-timed interview sessions- once Benji’s had his 4AM feed, it’s easy to just slip back into the covers and indulge in the quiet and the warm.
Jamie’s usually the one up and about in the early dawn, either ghosting around or, just sometimes, whistling something old and sweet while he rustles through last night’s baked goods. He’s been here more mornings than not, lately, slowly coming back to himself in ways that make Brock ache with just a little bit of pride- not deserved, not for himself, but just thankful to see his old works undone.
Today, Brock can hear him in the kitchen, and the whirring of the coffee machine as it spins to life.
“Torment me from afar, why don’tcha,” he grumbles, lurching upright and rubbing at one of his eyes. There’s a set of clothes on the foot of the bed, a little more color than the usual stark (ha), S.H.I.E.L.D-gray sweats. Brock peers at them, what looks like a- passably cute, he’ll give it that, top for a nursing omega, though completely out of step with what had been his usual style. And actual pants with a zipper, dark enough to not show stains, which is as much of a priority in his new life as in his old.
Huh. Maybe James was trying to tell him something. Let a little color into his life again.
Benji burbles himself awake, and Brock gets him ready for the day before tossing on the new outfit with a barely-cautious sniff, finding them clean and unscented. The smell of coffee and the sounds of kitchen-use are starting to lure him out, and it’ll be nice to spend the morning with Jamie at the table with him.
Before he’s out the door to their nest though, there’s the sound of the door to their apartment opening and closing.
Huh. A little early for Barton or Wilson to pick me up.
But then Jamie’s muttering a Hey babe and the answering Mornin’ sweetheart sends hot and cold tingles up Brock’s spine.
There’s a muffled conversation starting up of Where do you want me to set this down? and Can you get the milk from the fridge? and the tinkling of plates and cutlery to go with it.
Why that’s so shocking, Brock couldn’t say-
-oh, you can say it.
Why would Steve come back here? After all that bloodletting, poking into a wound and leaving it raw to bleed clean-
Maybe he finished up early. Maybe he missed Jamie and Ben. Maybe, maybe, maybe Santa Claus has come early, who even knows what’s up and what’s down anymore?
Brock steps through to the kitchen, Benji snug in the crook of his arm, and faces down the sight of Steve and Bucky putting breakfast together. Lets his tongue run a little sharp, not sure how to trust the vision in front of him.
“Got yourself some shore-leave, huh?”
Steve turns, gives him that little half-smile and
, he hasn’t seen
in ages. Flip-flops in his stomach, and the mellower, satisfied-cat blink that Jamie brings to the party reminds him to breathe, to stroke his son’s warm back in his sling and to ground, ground himself like the twitching live wire he feels himself to be.
“Something like that- more of a field trip, though. Just for a few hours. You wanna come?”
Just like that, huh?
Of course, things are never “just like that”, there’s always some kind of hitch, some line to buy into, hook, line and sinker. And this is Steve Rogers, Captain fucking America they’re talking about, so this simple offer shouldn’t raise his hackles the way it does- but.
He’s taken his share of marks on happy little “field trips”, and not all of them made it back alive.
Mentally, as an ugly little side-note to himself, he thinks of a not so shallow grave or three he needs to let Kruger know about later. It’ll keep his jailers busy, cleaning up the messes he made, and it’s hard to shake the feeling of If you have to try and stay alive and you have to give them something true, give them something that doesn’t matter much anymore first. That’s one of the mantras they drill into you during interrogation training.
Anyway, the families are gonna be happy that they can finally lay them to rest. Good deed of the day.
He looks at Steve, thinks about what Captain America would say to that kind of logic, what Steve would say, and can feel his shoulders tighten. Walks over to Benji’s little rolling bassinet, lays him down in it, pulls the whole thing up to the table and sits down, letting his kid still play with his fingers.
“Yeah, a field trip would be lovely.”
He doesn’t look up as he says it. Let Rogers make of that what he may.
“I figured we could pick up some of the things we left behind,” Steve says, unruffled. “Fly out and retrieve some nesting material after breakfast. You guys had a pretty cozy setup, it would be a shame to let it go to waste.”
The alpha gestures to a basket on the counter, big enough to hold a body (folded up small) and brimming with Good Smells. Bucky’s pulling up a wrapped pastry, something that looks expensive and, judging by his expression biting into it, tastes incredible.
“Maybe even have some lunch while we’re out there. And what we don’t finish during breakfast, we can take with.”
Just like that.
Brock doesn’t have the time to puff up with indignation, doesn’t let himself show it- this sort of thing was just about against The Rules he’d put up between them, back when they’d been an agent and a mark ( but not that kind of mark ), and he’d wanted to pretend like he had some kind of high ground, not permitting a smitten special agent who outranked him when brought in to court -court him. Just, you know, hang out a little. Split the check. Fool around. Nothing serious, nothing real .
Keep telling yourself that, and you’ll have your ten impossible things before breakfast, easy-peasy.
“You sure this is what you wanna do with your vacation? With me?”
Just like that.
It’s kind of a novel sensation to have cards on the table like this- it renders most of his old tricks moot, though he can’t help but try and keep a running count in his head.
Brock focuses on Benji, breathing in the Good Smells from across the table, watching the broad shadows of his mates about their business from the corner of his eye. Little man is too small to appreciate these kinds of mornings, yet, and the thought that he could grow to get used to it, grow up with it- well.
Those kinds of thoughts are scary and appealing all at once, looming shapes of leviathans breeching under the surface.
“You sure about that?” Give Steve one more chance to save face, right his course and keep this professional.
“Brock,” his alpha says, crossing around the border of the table with a tiny plate of coffee-cake in his hand. Push and peace-offering all at once. “You ever known me to waffle?” The machine dings, and Steve sets the plate down, walks over and pulls him out a perfect, steaming cup of decaf and sets that down too within his reach.
“Besides, we need your eye- it was your space, you know it best.”
You know where the tiger-traps are.
But that’s not what Steve says , and with him smiling all soft and easy in the mid-morning sun, Brock finds he wants to believe him. Golden boy, all done up spiffy for the tour he should be doing, the tour he’s cut short to visit them. It’s not the full-on hands-on-hips USO sparkle, but damn close, if it weren’t for the melancholy in his eyes only just cutting through the sweet, like coffee in a chocolate frosting.
“Well then. Guess I better come with.”
Brock gives over making faces at Benji and sits down, picks up the fork that’s been provided and starts in, little bites at a time, on the breakfast pastry that Steve had slipped him. Leaning against the counter, wild-haired but clean-shaven, Jamie’s ears-deep in his own cup of coffee and grinning around the lip of his mug.
“Thank you. If you wanted to stay, I’d understand, but we’d miss your company.”
The noise Brock makes is more of a noncommittal grunt, but Steve can live with that.
As he picks up one of the quiches, Brock finishes off the coffee-cake and reaches for one of the kouign-amann, starts munching on it with the same kind of gusto as Bucky had earlier. He looks so much better than the last time Steve saw him. There’s a shine to his eyes, bright in the mid-morning light, he’s only got a light stubble, the even kind you get when you shave regularly, and his cheeks are no longer hollowed out. Good.
Brock's widened hips have also acquired a soft roundness, a perfect counterbalance to his breasts which have turned beautifully plump and for a moment, Steve can’t help but think about how they would fit his hands oh so neatly.
Get a grip Rogers. You’re not here for that.
And if he keeps looking at Brock like this, the former Agent will notice, if he hasn’t already, and neither of them are in a position where picking up that particular thread would be anything but awkward.
So he turns to Bucky, who’s gone from grinning from behind his mug to quietly smiling as he munches on a maple pull-apart, and falls into a pattern of planning their day with him listing goals and resources, with Bucky stitching it all together and adding bells and whistles with a few precise comments. There’s maybe a little less easy banter than there used to be, but in the end, it’s as familiar as Brooklyn Bridge or as sitting up around a campfire with the Howlies, almost as if the last seventy years hadn’t happened.
Brock, with his plate and his carefully maintained border around his end of the table, feels like he’s warming himself at a fireside.
Once the dishwasher is quietly rumbling and the remaining delicacies packed, they set off for the Quinjet where Barton meets Cap and Jamie with a nod and Brock with a grin and a mocking salute. Looks like the archer is playing personal chauffeur and guard today, just in case anybody who isn’t a certified GoodBoy™ gets any ideas.
It’s still a sharply chilly winter day out, but the sky is clear all through to their destination. Brock’s theoretical list of objections have all petered out unsaid- this is the same Quinjet that first brought him and Benji and James here weeks ago, and as much power as the military hardware can bring to bear, it’s also calibrated to where it can be as delicate as needed to transport fragile occupants- up to and including a newborn.
Benji barely registers a burp on the way up, much less fusses over his ears popping. Brock still feels like he’s readying to make a jump, only without the comfort of a parachute on his back.
They’ve done this before- all three of them. Sat across from each other in high-tech tin cans, soaring through the air towards their next objective. Just- never in quite this combination.
Jamie wouldn’t steer me wrong. Not after this long.
The itch between his shoulder blades is psychosomatic, it’s got to be.
Said other omega’s next to Steve, bunting up against his shoulder before settling in, elbows on knees, slouched like any other mission.
Steve brings out one of his little sketchbooks, something Brock’s seen him do a thousand times when they were on their way back from another fire to put out and all had been said that needed saying. The scritching of the pencil is quiet, and yet it seems to echo loudly over the muted sound of their engines and the sporadic chit-chat Barton is making with his co-pilot.
It used to be easy, to snatch a moment from the jaws of doom, to sidle over with a watcha drawin’? and take a peek at the sharp and detailed lines that eviscerated whichever politician or official had made their lives a misery this time. Brock swallows hard, throat gone tight, and leans back, closing his eyes as he cradles Benji close and strokes his back, whether to soothe himself or the kid, he’s not so sure.
He doesn’t catch Steve looking over, stealing furtive glances at him between pencil-strokes.
On the paper, a picture takes shape, of scent packages turning into white doves clutching letters, carrying them over deep canyons and wide seas.
A crooked smile twists Steve lips as he thinks about the scent package he’ll need to pack one day from now, two days, three, when Brock and Bucky are out of reach yet again.
Kinda ironic. No need for scent packages for Brock when it was a sham, but now that it’s true...
Back then, Brock had been there, making combat a dance around him as they fought side by side- winking at him as they went out after a mission to play pool, sneaking a quick nuzzle at his neck after a mission, sighing softly as Steve’s scent calmed his breath and his heartbeat.
And now he’s right across the aisle, and we might just as well be miles apart.
And maybe it’s not like places that go from high to deep and dark are looking like a pleasant alternative to just breathing again, but it’s not like the bright fire either, lit with a sharp smile, that had kindled in his chest when STRIKE’s commander snuck in between the cracks in his armor, nor does it live up to the steady warmth of a hearthfire when Bucky was right there beside him 24/7.
But at least the nightmares have quieted down- the ones that settled on his chest after Brock had gotten shot in Mali, where sometimes it was Brock bleeding out in his arms and sometimes it was Bucky. Hot sand, icy snow, and always death, death, death and him forced to watch, unable to do a damn thing about it, howling his desperation to the wind.
Coulda pulled rank after Mali, have him transferred somewhere else, somewhere safe. Not that it would have done any good.
Buck always fought because it was the right thing to do, not ‘cause he enjoyed anything ‘bout it save for the cold efficiency of it.
Brock though...Steve had known the thrill of it ignited Brock’s blood the same way it did his. And people had never been able to permanently bench him either.
Can’t see you being content in a gilded cage, sweetheart. But which way are you gonna fly once you find your wings again?
It’s a long few moments of quiet in the plainly-appointed interior of the Quinjet, while the improbably-advanced Stark-Tech™ engines just keep on putting miles behind them. Brock keeps to his side of the aisle, watching as Jamie rests against his mate, feels the warm weight of his son against his chest. Wonders when this sweet, safe moment will break.
“Last time we were in one of these, headed out, it didn’t go so hot.”
Better to do it himself, than let it sneak up on him.
Steve looks up, the corner of his mouth tugging.
“The drop went fine. Everything that came after… well. That was a learning experience.”
“Gotta be the understatement of the century, Rogers,” Brock indulges himself, setting one ankle atop the other in bravado-based ease, arms still fully occupied with a snoozing baby. “Besides, that drop only went fine for you , I had to watch you walk out into thin air without a parachute on.”
Jamie’s head pops up, and Steve has at least the self-preservation to look sheepish as the other brunette gives him a gimlet-eyed glare from a shoulder’s breadth away.
“Stevie… please tell me that you did not… ”
“In my defense…” Steve tries, and Brock can almost smile to himself, has to fight the twitch of his lips off most valiantly, as Captain America quails before the Winter Soldier’s disapproval of his shenanigans.
“He was kinda left unsupervised,” Brock finally relents, offering a little mercy. “What with the- treason, and all.”
There’s an audible snort from the cockpit and you can practically hear the eyeroll in Barton’s voice.
“As if any kind of supervision… and we’re talking two Avengers and Nick Fury breathing down his neck- could keep Cap from pulling those kinds of stunts. I got stories I could tell you…”
There’s a feral growl from Bucky and a yelp from Steve as Barnes jabs him in the side with his elbow.
“Swear to God Steve, if you don’t stop pulling risky stunts like that-!”
“Understood, understood- I promise, Buck, I promise...”
There’s a small, rueful smile playing around Rogers’ lips as he says it, and after what feels like an eternity of the two of them just looking at each with quiet intensity, eyes saying what words can't, Buck sighs, nods, settles back in at Rogers’s side.
Of course, good things don’t last and apparently, Barton wants to see the world burn.
“Mind,” he drawls, “-it’s not like Rumlow was doing much supervising. Just made sure nobody shot Cap in the back. As Nat tells it, he was busy fangirling about Cap's exploits the rest of the time, all starry-eyed.”
The “as long as he remained useful” stays unspoken.
Brock’s ears burn- Christ, had he really been that obvious back then? But then, there was little the Widow missed, and it finally explained that nail-on-a-chalkboard habit of hers of teasing Steve with her matchmaking services, especially when Brock was around. And even before he’d broken it off, now that he thinks about it.
Right. Not like she would approve of the likes of me as a companion for somebody like him.
“Yeah, well,” Brock bites back, and can’t even finish the sentence. What can he say? Call her as bloody-handed as he is? STRIKE might have pretended a lot of things over the years, but trying to be heroes that were washing their souls clean of all the death and violence that came with the job wasn’t one of them.
“Can you blame me?”
“I can, and do,” Barton replies, bow-strong forearms crossed.
“Alright, break it up you two,” Steve says, only raising his voice that barest hint that brooks no nonsense from anyone, and leaves all parties looking away, ashamed to be ashamed. “We’ve got a long flight and a full day ahead of us, and I’d like not to waste it bickering. We all know what went down.” Family outing first, recriminations later.
Christ. Family . Is that what this is?
Brock supposes it’s no more or less fucked up than it always has been, in a funny and awful way.
He shifts a little in his seat, trying to get more comfortable. It doesn’t work. Barton’s words sit underneath his skin, itching like nettle stings.
Mica from strategic management. Sweet as heck brunette, coaches Little League on the weekends, worked for ACLU before he came to SHIELD.
Kristen from statistics. Snarky, but with a heart of gold, earned her stripes doing work for the Holocaust memorial. Loves art.
The nurse from across the hallway, aka little Miss Legacy.
In retrospect, the Widow’s picks are like a goodie-two-shoes list of “considered unrecruitable, in case of Insight failure, shoot on sight if possible.” Or, if you asked one of those sugary sweet omega mags, they’d be in the top 10 of “most likely to make the perfect mate for Cap.” A nicely underhanded way of letting him know that Cap could do better. Two flies, one stone.
Romanoff really knows how to pick ‘em.
Rumlow sits back, draws his legs close right underneath his seat, gaze fixed on an empty corner and lips pressed tightly together. He’s thankful that Benji is still tight asleep, wishing he could go back to the way he was, where the memory of the Widow’s matchmaking was was something to sneer at at best and grating at worst.
Steve touches Bucky’s shoulder, drawing his attention, and a look and a nod later, Steve’s switching seats, sitting down next to Brock.
“What?” The tone should be clipped, but it only comes out weary.
There’s a long, deep breath, like the kind you take before taking a big dive, and Cap squares his shoulders, turns so he can look Brock in the eye.
“While we’re on the subject of betrayal…” Fuck, fuck, here it comes. “I should’ve answered that phone. Right the first time you called.”
Brock is a stone dropped to the center of the ocean, a body still breathing being shoved out the back of a jet.
“No matter what the risk was. I damn well should have answered the fucking second you mentioned being pregnant.” Steve breathes in, lets it out. Steady hand over a turbulent ocean. “And I didn’t.
“Could’ve asked someone else to check in on you because I couldn’t, didn’t do that either. I abandoned you, and I’m sorry that I did. No matter what else went down, you didn’t deserve that. And I promise, I will not ever do that again. You need to talk to me, I’ll listen. And I’ll be there.”
Okay. That’s- that’s a lot in one shot. Brock feels like he’s just sunk a bottle of something high-end, the dizzy-full feeling of too much good stuff in one long mouthful. Or like he’s hit the water at near terminal speed, the white noise engulfing everything as he tries not to drown, didn’t-see-that-coming . It makes your pulse pound just behind your chest, up into your ears with a riotous flush chasing soon after.
But you swallow. It passes. An ocean of saltwater or a bottle of Jack, too much and never enough and just nothing like he’d ever expect.
Acceptance is as much as he can muster right now. Promise? is too much trust. I’ll believe it when I see it is too bitter. This is a thing that has just happened, and that’s as much as he can allow.
Sorry is right out. But- not as out there as it might have once been. And that’s kind of the most sickening thing of all. He knows how this particular game plays out, has seen it in all kinds of variations over the decades and one way or the other, it always ends in blood and tears somehow. This time can’t be an exception, they’re just living on borrowed time. And he’s not sure if he wants to just cry or shout at Rogers until he’s hoarse for being such a naive idiot , but… it’s just that it’s a very long walk to the bottom of that particular pit, and not something he can cover in one plane-ride.
“-jesus, Rogers,” is what Brock finally manages to mutter as a follow-up, embarrassed to be caught in the high-beams of another wing-melting speech that’s filled with enough bright and shiny to turn the night to day. Never mind that the last time he’d heard something like this from Steve, it’d been followed up with the reaming from hell- and him left to ponder his own life-choices in the dark.
“Why the hell do you just have to- turn it
like that? Can’t you just leave it
“Where would be the fun in that? Also, one of us better be honest if we want this to work and I kinda have a head-start to defend here.” And there it is, that annoying little tilt of the head, the daringly raised eyebrow and the open, almost goofy smile, just like a golden retriever that’s trying to entice you to a game of fetch.
He’s teasing him, the star-spangled asshole .
“....are you trying to bait me into some kind of confession? Because you’re not being as sneaky as you think you are.” It comes out more grumbly and less bitter than it should. Brock huffs to himself, cradling the sturdy pouch that Ben’s snuggled in. Rogers’ strategy isn’t wrong- because oh, how a little bit of truth can make a difference, hook you like the finest cocaine. But this , oh this, it’s, it’s too much, too fast - better to turn to harsh realities lying in wait than to linger on sudden apologies that feel indigestibly rich, everything he ever wanted in exactly the wrong amount and time.
Failure doesn’t earn apologies where he’s from- nor does faithlessness.
“....I still can’t believe you got shit past us with that attitude.”
“We-e-ell, I did have a little help there,” Steve draws out. “Little bird whispering ‘Hail Hydra’ in my ear at just the right moment to tip me off about what was really going on.”
And just like that, Brock feels like he’s gonna boil alive in his own skin, he’s sure of it. Bucky’s perked up, eyes both wide and bright, staring at him, and despite his gaze not being blank and flat, Brock feels himself freeze like a recruit who knows he’s fucked up and who’s not sure whether the Fist will let them live or not after judgement’s been passed.
Barton’s glee from the cockpit is palpable while his co-pilot looks on in confusion.
“You tipped Cap off, Rumlow? Really? Man, that’s some romance novel shit right there. Press is gonna love it once you go public- which is gonna be a thing, sooner or later. HYDRA won’t approve so much now, but then, who cares about them, right?”
And if Brock could travel back in time, he would, just to make Cap pinky-promise to please not bring that up, because it was an embarrassment on all sides, it was him failing to commit, it was-
And he can feel his ears are burning and Bucky’s now wearing the broadest, gaping grin while Rogers has the gall to bite his lips like he’s trying not to laugh and to add insult to injury, Benji wakes up, unhappy at his fidgeting and the confused miasma he must be radiating like some straight-laced accountant who wandered into a hippie commune. And going by the unhappy noises the kid is making, they’ll have a squalling infant on their hands if Brock doesn’t do what needs to be done, now , all else be damned. So he turns his back on them all, shifts his shirt so his tit is laid bare and lets his son latch on while Cap quietly admonishes Barton to play nice in the background.
If he could just- cover his face in his hands, for the rest of the trip, he would. Sweet good God, no matter what side he’s on, he will never, ever live this down.
The soft little son he created doesn’t much care. Benji feeds, burps, and does what all well-fed infants do, twice in the course of a single attempted diaper change. Brock still manages to get him cleaned up, tucked away and settled again by the time the jet descends, and self-regulation is a thing he is practicing as he kisses the top of Ben’s soft head, turning around and strapping in properly.
Jamie and Steve are still there to grin at him, though James has settled into that almost catlike half-lidded state of I-know-something-you-don’t-know, and when he does that it’s usually some bullshit about
being any kind of a decent man.
“Let us never speak of this again,” Brock says, and the ground may not swallow him up, but they touch down gently and it’s time to bundle up and disembark.
The first look at the old stomping grounds is- softly bleak, the woods awash with snow and the Quinjet delicately settled into the same clearing as when they’d last left here. Bucky takes up a position at his right, Steve standing tall and watchful at his left, and Brock cups his hand behind Ben’s warm little hat as they start to walk the unblemished field of snow up to the cabin’s white-frosted porch.
“You closed the door when we left, right?”
“Yeah, baby,” Jamie says, facing into the cutting breeze with a faint smile and the fog of his breath wisping around his lips. “Left her locked up tight.”
“I bought the place- well, Stark made it happen so it's very hard to trace and I paid for it and put my name on the necessary papers- a little while ago,” Steve answers from his other side. “Seemed like the thing to do. There’s new locks to put in, keep the place secure over the winter.” Behind them, Clint and the co-pilot are bringing up the rear, and between the five of them, they have the bags and boxes meant to not only keep them fed over the course of this strange little field-trip, but to cart back what’s valuable enough to keep from the whole mess that had been left behind.
Jamie goes first, he insists , eyes going from soft and wondrous to flat and appraising as he approaches the porch. He prowls and inspects through the thick-laid snow, while Steve stands next to Brock, their gloved hands dangerously close.
“This was where you denned up,” Steve says softly, and Brock turns a glance at him, hearing the noted lack of
, or even
decided to lay low
“Yup,” he says in turn, and deigns not to hear the judgement in the alpha’s tone, whatever it might truly be. This was where he’d survived for half a year, where he’d lost himself for just a precious little while. Where Jamie’d started putting himself back together. Where he’d meant for his baby to be born.
Home to roost , Brock thinks, and steps forward as James raises his hand and gives the all-clear.