There’s a song behind him, a sorrowful rise and fall into the cloud-streaked evening, a painful powerful stirring, as Steve picks up the shield that has gotten heavier than his own heart and sets off for his quarters.
The same song, night after night, every night. Where Wanda finds her voice after the daily gauntlet, how she still finds the strength to sing, Steve doesn’t know -- but he’s heard the song over and over and it is a song from the cobblestones and the quiet shadows of left-behind Sokovia -- Natasha’s information, whispered quietly over a breakfast of cereal and fruit and toast and eggs -- and Wanda sings, faithful and mourning, night after night, every night.
Footsteps falling in beside Steve. A familiar profile etched in unfamiliar lines. Maybe it’s grief that Sam is wearing like he wears his wings, a close and constant companion. “She can stop pretty much never,” Sam murmurs.
“She’s here every night,” Steve murmurs back.
“I know. I left her in the usual place, with the usual guy.”
Steve looks back. A flash of purple in the night, hands clasped contemplatively, standing watch over the singer and her song.
“You’re a good teacher,” he says, absently, as Sam stops on the way to one of the mess halls. “She wouldn’t be able to physically throw Vision if it weren’t for the thing you taught her.”
“Which I borrowed from Widow,” Sam replies. “Seeing as I spend way too much time on the mats when she’s teaching. My bruises have bruises.”
“Someday you’ll be able to throw her.”
“I’ll keep dreaming,” Sam laughs, but only for a moment. “There you go again with your looking out every window. You know we can handle ourselves here, right? Or -- you need a wingman, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of volunteers starting with yours truly -- ”
“You’ve done enough of the work I should be doing,” Steve says, quietly, slowly. “I mean, no offense. I really appreciate the mapping and the notes you’ve left. But -- ”
“You still think this is a thing you have to do.”
“It’s the only thing I can think of doing.”
Sam’s grin is ironic and sharp around the edges. “If this is Drill Sergeant Steve when he’s distracted, I’d hate to meet Drill Sergeant Steve when he’s focusing on us. Because I have never worked so hard in my life, and I’ve been a soldier.”
Steve tries to smile back. “Most of it’s Natasha’s idea.”
“Then I know who to blame when I’m icing down again.”
A heavy hand lands on Steve’s shoulder, then, and now Sam is a lot closer, and a lot more serious. “If you can’t stay, seriously -- just go already. It’s not like we need this to be explained. Someone’s out there. You need to go find that someone. That someone of yours.”
The last notes of Wanda’s song fade into sharp longing sweetness.
“Tomorrow,” Steve says. “I’ll let the others know first.”
“And also because Natasha will kill you if you disappear into the night.”
Steve laughs, softly, knowingly. “Yes.”
The echoes of his footsteps do not quite manage to fill up the gym; the various squeaks and rumbles of protesting weights and gym equipment are louder, and Steve goes about the second part of his workout with his daily single-mindedness: every movement of his arms, every stretch of his legs, every time he touches something, every time he moves his feet -- he focuses. The world narrows down to just him.
He drains a bottle of water. Wraps his hands. It isn’t until he’s started to punch the heavy bag -- sand giving way to his fists by just a fraction -- that he notices that he’s not alone.
“Good morning,” Natasha says as she steadies the bag.
“Good morning,” Wanda says from where she’s perched atop one of the decline benches.
“Hey,” Steve says, exhaling hard, as he hits the bag again and again. And: “Please move away, Nat, I don’t want to knock you out.”
“You won’t,” Natasha says.
Steve shrugs, lets it go, starts punching harder.
She grunts, and starts counting -- he can’t quite place the rhythm, but he’s responding to it, his feet and fists moving to the beat, and the punches become more precise, and his footwork more complicated.
“Keep going,” Wanda says, and he can hear a rising note in her voice, something oddly encouraging, that makes him plow on even as Natasha’s rhythm speeds up, more and more --
Finally he trips up on one of her cadences and he grabs the bag for support. Looks at Natasha with a raised eyebrow. “What was it this time? More ballet?”
She laughs. “You’re the only person I know who’s willing to box to Odile’s Coda.”
Steve blinks. He’s heard that title before. He casts his mind back to the list in his battered notebook, and blinks again. “Seriously, Swan Lake?”
“It’s lively,” Natasha explains with mock gravity, “and it makes you think fast.”
He looks between her and the punching bag, and then at Wanda, before shaking his head. “The point of the bag is that I didn’t want to think.”
“But you are better when you do,” Wanda says.
Natasha laughs. “See, she agrees with me.”
“You planned this,” Steve says, mock-wearily, shaking his head in amusement.
“Of course not.”
He sits down. Offers water around. The women shake their heads. He wipes the sweat from his face and neck.
“I have heard,” Wanda says, “that you are leaving.” Hard consonants. “Do you intend to abandon us?”
“Not to abandon you, no. But -- ” Steve makes a face. He has no idea where to begin. How to make her understand.
“Steve is looking for someone who is important to him,” Natasha says.
He sees Wanda tilt her head. “Important,” she repeats, as though to consider the word, as though she might be able to grasp the word with her fingers. “How important?”
Steve thinks of her song, and of the grief that hangs from her, and knows that he owes her a painful truth. “You lost the only person in this world who could understand you, didn’t you,” he says, carefully, gently.
“Yes,” she says, and her shoulders straighten, as though she were carrying something heavy, as though she were about to break into song. “He was everything to me. He was all I had.”
He is still speaking quietly, after he pauses to honor her loss. “And I need to look for, for mine, for the one who is everything to me. I think he’s still out there. I think we might be able to understand each other again, a long way from here, a long time from now. But first I need to find him. I owe him that. I owe him everything.”
“I understand you,” Wanda says.
Natasha doesn’t speak, but she does come over and squeeze his shoulder with one small, hard hand.
“When will you go?” Wanda asks, eventually.
Steve sighs. Bows his head for a moment. “I’d hoped to listen to you for one more night.”
The response to that is a tilt of the head and a half-pained smile. A curt nod.
It feels strange to be in his civvies in the here and now. It feels strange to pack a bag and to hide the shield beneath a protective cover. It feels strange to have a motorcycle waiting for him, waiting to take him away from here.
And it’s strange to be standing on the lawn as the dusk’s colors fade into the night, watching rigid shoulders and long dark hair.
A flutter and a fall, from somewhere nearby: almost close enough to touch.
Steve looks up into an impassive face. Into the yellow facets of a quiescent gem. “Vision.”
“Captain,” is the response. Familiar cadences. “I hope all is well with you.”
Steve thinks about that. He’s shivering, but not because of the cool breezes. “I’m -- I’ve not been well. Not for a while.”
A slow, careful nod. “Then I will wish you well instead. And may I ask your permission?”
Steve blinks. “Permission.”
“If you will forgive the intrusion, I shall look in on you from time to time.”
“Through your mobile phone.”
Steve thinks, and nods. “That -- actually, that sounds like a good idea. Look in all you want. I shouldn’t drop off the map completely.”
“I will of course respect your privacy.”
Steve offers his hand. The Vision takes it.
And then they break off, caught unawares, as Wanda takes a deep breath and begins to sing.
Steve’d looked the words up as best as he could. A rudimentary translation of the first verse.
Home, little rabbit
Home, a hole in the ground
Home, safe and warm
Home, until the new day
It sounds so much more complicated in Wanda’s voice. So much more vital. So much sweeter.
A grieving serenade, night after night.
She looks over her shoulder as she falls into the next verse and into the next. Tears streaking down her cheeks.
Steve bows his head to her, briefly.
And then he picks up his things, turns his back, walks away.
Wanda’s song rises over the rattling roar of Steve’s motorcycle, sad and gentle and haunting, and Steve tucks the melody away into the back of his mind, as it fades inevitably behind him, as he puts the miles between himself and the Avengers facility.
“You’re singing it wrong.”
A hoarse whisper from the shadows of a decrepit hut.
Steve smiles, or tries to. That voice sounds so old and pained and hurt. “I don’t really know the words. Sokovian’s not exactly a language I’m familiar with.”
“Then why sing that song at all.”
“Because it reminds me of a friend.”
Movement, footsteps, and Steve doesn’t move. Stays right where he is, sitting on a broken sidewalk next to the quiet steaming and click click of his motorbike.
“Go back to your friends, Steve Rogers.”
“I’ve left them for now.”
“Why.” Now the shadow that must be Bucky is leaning over him, and now Steve is looking up at him, and he doesn’t know what Bucky must be looking at but he’s prepared for a blow, for a strike, for anything.
And Steve tells Bucky the truth. “Because I’m looking for someone more important than them.”
A harsh breath, a derisive laugh. “No one here but me.”
Steve nods, once. “Yes. You.”
“Go home,” Bucky says again.
Steve shakes his head. Goes back to the song.
It doesn’t matter if he mangles the words, because moments later Bucky is singing along, rusty and not quite note-perfect, even as he falls to his knees and there are tears in the wisps of straggling spring slush.
“Home, Bucky,” Steve implores, and holds the other man close.