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Parallels

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He was unconscious before he hit the water.

A small blessing, really.  Drowning would be a terrible way to die.  It was bad enough that the best friend he thought he'd lost in almost exactly the same way seventy years ago had been the one to hurl him from the sky. 

After seeing what had become of Bucky, Steve was sure he deserved this death.

That moment when he had lost hold of Bucky, watched him fall away into the gorge, had haunted him all these years.  He'd thought he had deserved dying in a plane crash seventy years ago.  When he woke up from the ice, Bucky's death had haunted him still.  Like no time at all had passed.  Some small hope ignited in his chest when he saw that Bucky was still alive, trapped in the body of the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin bent on killing him.  Natasha had been right; the Winter Soldier was a ghost – the ghost of Bucky Barnes, sent through time to kill him.  To seek vengeance for his lost life.

Steve was tired, beaten.  The wind whipped against him.  Above, he could see Bucky dangling there by his arm, watching him fall from the helicarrier to the water so far below. 

The cold darkness wrapped around him like a shroud.

***

"His hand moved!  Do you think he's waking up?"

A fog kept Steve from fully awakening.  He had thought for sure he was dead, but the sharp pain in his ribs when he took a deep breath told him he was not.  A warm pressure enveloped his hand, occasionally squeezing, steady.  And that voice... he hadn't quite been awake enough to hear it. 

"Muscle spasms are common in coma patients," said a female voice. 

"He's only been in a coma for two days," said the other voice, male.  So familiar. 

Steve's eyes fluttered open, blinking against the dim lighting. 

"Look, he's waking up..."

Blurred faces looked back at him.  A woman in regulation blue scrubs and short hair.  A nurse.  The face belonged to a man with short dark hair.  The man belonged to the hand holding his.  He blinked and stared, willing the fog to go away.  As his vision focused, he realized that the man's hair wasn't short.  It was pulled back.  The man's face resolved into something so strange yet familiar he stared for a good minute before he could speak.

"Bucky?"

The face of his best friend broke into a wide smile.  "You're awake!" Bucky said, and before Steve could even comprehend how happy Bucky sounded, the way he looked like the Winter Soldier but with old Bucky's friendly expression, Bucky had jumped up from the plastic chair beside the bed, leaned in, and kissed Steve on the mouth.

This wasn't some best friends sort of extreme happiness kiss - the kind he might have planted on Bucky after he'd rescued Bucky and the rest of the 107th from the clutches of Zola, if he hadn't been pressed for time back then, if the other guys wouldn't have razzed him for it - he'd been that happy to see his best friend alive.  The lips that pressed against his right now were happy too - he could feel the way Bucky was smiling against him, but at this point the kiss had lingered much longer than a best friends kiss.

If that was a thing.  Steve had never kissed his best friend.  Punched in the arm, slapped on the back, hugged, but never kissed.

Shock had frozen him in place.  It was all so bizarre, unreal.  When Bucky pulled away, and saw the way Steve was looking at him, a perplexed little wrinkle formed in his forehead, but then other people were coming into the room, and Steve was left wondering what the fuck had just happened. 

It reminded him of waking up in that room seventy years in the future.  The room had looked like it belonged to the time when he had died, but there had been small chinks in the facade, and he had quickly understood that something wasn’t right.

Something here wasn’t quite right.

"How long have I been out?" he tried to ask.  His voice sounded creaky, and Bucky turned to pour a glass of water. 

Steve stared at Bucky as his friend carefully doled out the water, dribbling just a swallow or two over his lips before pulling the glass away.  "Two days," said Bucky, glancing over his shoulder at the doctor who had just arrived. 

That's right, Steve had heard it as he was waking up.  Two days.  Not nearly enough time for Bucky to turn from assassin into... whatever he was now.  Steve couldn’t stop staring at him. 

He noticed, for the first time, that Bucky's left hand, the one holding the glass of water, was not made of metal.  "Your arm," Steve said. 

Wrapping his fingers around Bucky's wrist, he pulled up the sleeve of the slouchy gray sweater Bucky wore draped over a blue t-shirt.  Bucky took the glass from his left hand with his right, looking entirely baffled by Steve's comment.  He stared at Steve while Steve turned the wrist over.  The outline of a star was tattooed on Bucky's inner wrist in blue. 

Steve ran his thumb over it, then jerked his hand away.  He couldn't believe he had just touched Bucky, his best friend, that way. 

Even though his best friend had just kissed him.  On the lips.

Something was definitely not right here.  He looked to the doctor in the white coat carrying the clipboard, and his mouth dropped open.

"Bruce?" Steve asked.

The doctor appeared startled, and looked down at his own name tag, which read "Dr. Bruce Banner, M.D."  He peered down at Steve through his wire-rim glasses.  "Do I know you?" he said.

"Yes," Steve said slowly.  "Don’t you remember me?  Steve?  Steve Rogers?"

Bruce looked down at his clipboard then back up at Steve.   "I'm sorry," he said, shrugging.  “I don’t think we’ve met?”  Then he said to Bucky, "It does appear that there's no amnesia."

"He knew exactly who I was," Bucky said eagerly.  "He woke up and said my name."

"Good.  That's certainly... good."  Bruce peered at Steve again.  "Did we... go to school together, perhaps?"

How could Bruce have forgotten the Avengers Initiative?  New York?  Did he not remember stuff that happened when he hulked out?  Steve glanced at the nurses in the room and decided it wouldn't be wise to mention the Hulk. 

But another familiar face caught his eye.  A pretty one, with bright red lips and soft brown hair. 

It couldn't be.  He stared at her.  She noticed and tried not to, tried to do her job, which was checking all the tubes and wires hooking him up to the machines on his left.  It couldn't be her.  He rubbed at his eyes and looked again.  Finally he had to say it.  "Peggy?"

She couldn't avoid him now.  The other nurses stopped what they were doing and their heads swung back and forth between the two of them. 

"Y-yes?" she asked.  The same clipped British accent.

"Peg, you're not even wearing your nametag," hissed one of the other nurses - her name tag said "Angie."  Now they all just stared at him.

"Steve, how do you know these people?" Bucky asked.  His voice sounded far away, because Steve could not comprehend how Peggy could possibly be here, looking like this.  Like she hadn't aged.  He'd visited her in the nursing home just last week. 

A granddaughter, his brain answered.  She's related to Peggy.  Named after her.  Hell of a coincidence, but the only logical explanation.

"...evidence that coma patients can hear," Bruce was saying.  "He may have heard us address each other in familiar terms, and now he..."

"Knows our names?" Peggy asked.  "But Dr. Banner, we never call you anything but Dr. Banner."

"Unless we're calling you McDreamy," muttered Angie. 

Peggy pressed her lips together to keep her composure. 

"It's the only explanation I can think of," Bruce said.  "We'll have to do some tests, make sure brain functioning is normal."

Pen lights flashing in his eyes.  Pulse, blood pressure, blood tests.  He managed to answer a whole list of questions correctly: Who is the current president?  What's your middle name?  How old are you? 

That last one he answered automatically - twenty-six - but when Bruce then asked for his birth date, he didn't speak right away.  Bruce didn't know he was the Hulk, Peggy wasn't in a nursing home, and Bucky had both arms. 

Bucky had kissed him. 

Somehow, he knew that if he told them the answer on the tip of his tongue - July 4th, 1920 - they'd all look at him like he was a lunatic.  Which was how they'd looked at him for simply knowing their names.

"July fourth," he said.  He did the math, waiting to see if Bruce would ask for it. 

He didn't.

"We'll get you down for an MRI.  If that goes well, we'll just keep him overnight for observation, then he'll be free to go."  Bruce had switched to addressing Bucky.  Why would he do that?  Bruce didn't even know Bucky. 

"Thanks," Bucky said. 

Steve couldn't help but feel relieved when everyone else left.  “What happened to me?” he asked, reaching up to touch his own face.  Everything felt the same there.  He had a bandage on his temple, and his cheekbone on the same side was sensitive, but his face felt like his face.  That was something.

“You got hit by a car.”  Bucky picked up his hand again, held it between both of his hands.  Kissed Steve’s knuckles.  “You were lucky.  A few bruised ribs.  The head injury was the scariest part of it.”  Bucky smiled against Steve’s hand.  “I’m just so glad you woke up.”

“How... did it happen?” Steve eased his hand out of Bucky’s grip and tried to resist the urge to rub his knuckles against the blankets.  Bucky let it go with a questioning look.  An unhappy look.

“Apparently you were walking home from work.  That’s all I know – it was some bystander who called the ambulance.  The driver took off.  The hospital called me after you arrived at the ER.”

“Why would they call you?” Steve asked.  Even as he said the words, he couldn’t think of who else might be called for him in an emergency.  His parents were long dead.  No next of kin.  No girlfriend.  Maybe they’d call Natasha, or Sam, or someone else from S.H.I.E.L.D.  Former S.H.I.E.L.D., he reminded himself.

Bucky’s face fell, just a little.  “I tried to call you when you didn’t come home from work at the normal time.  But you didn’t answer.  I think they called the number you had listed as Home in your contacts.”

They had called the number listed as “Home” and Bucky had answered?

“So, we’re roommates?” Steve asked.

Licking his lips, Bucky looked away from a second, then returned to look at Steve apprehensively.  He sat back in his chair.  “You don’t remember?”

Steve glanced at the door.  He didn’t want the doctor back in here to poke and prod at him. 

“I mean, you remember me, right?” Bucky asked.  “How can you remember me, and not remember...”  The sentence trailed off.

“I don’t know,” Steve said. 

For long moments Bucky was quiet.  Between glances at the window, the walls, the bed, the monitors, his hands, loose threads on his ripped up jeans, Bucky sneaked glances at Steve in the bed.  But Steve couldn’t stop looking at Bucky.  He’d seen his best friend through so much – childhood, being teenagers, back alley fights – they’d fought side by side, in war.  He’d seen Bucky dirty and damaged, cleaned up and ready for a night out, he’d seen the shadow of his best friend in an expressionless face looking only to kill, to complete his mission. 

This Bucky... looked soft.  His face clean shaven.  Bits of hair falling out from the elastic holding it back from his face.  That loose gray sweater.  This Bucky hadn’t been in any war.  This Bucky hadn’t been tortured. 

Who was he?

Finally Bucky glanced up at the clock.  “I guess... visiting hours are almost over,” he said.  “I could stay the night, if you want...?”

“I’m okay,” Steve said quickly.  So quickly that Bucky’s face pinched up in... what?  Disappointment?  “You should go home and get some sleep.  I’ll be fine.”

“Sure,” said Bucky.  He stood awkwardly, reached for the bag that had been stowed behind the armchair next to the bed.  He swung the strap of the messenger bag over his head.  “Uh, I’ll come back tomorrow.  Ten A.M.  I’ll bring you some clothes and stuff.  I don’t know when they’ll do the MRI but even if you don’t get discharged tomorrow you’ll have clothes.”  Bucky took a step toward him, then seemed to think better of it.  He smiled tightly, not meeting Steve’s eyes.  “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. 

As soon as Bucky left, Steve swung his feet over the side of the bed and grabbed the IV stand, dragged it into the bathroom with him.  For a long time he stared at himself in the mirror.  His face was the same.  His face was the same.  It didn’t make sense until he realized how hard he was gripping the edge of the porcelain sink. 

Now he stared at his hands.  He looked around, and eventually settled on the metal shaft of the IV stand.  Gripping it between his two hands, he pushed and pulled at it.  Strained until he could feel his muscles trembling.

It didn’t even bend.

Who was he?

Chapter Text

Right on time Bucky had shown up, bearing a coffee from Starbucks and an egg sandwich leaking grease in a brown paper bag.  Steve had sipped the beverage cautiously, only to discover that it was black with one sugar, the way he liked it.  “Thanks,” he said.  He devoured the sandwich too, even though he'd already eaten the hospital breakfast. 

The clothes were also typical of something he would have worn: jeans, a plain t-shirt, a checkered button-down.  His leather jacket.  He ran his hands over the creased leather, searching for imperfections.  None that he could see.  This was his coat.  These were his clothes.  Even his underwear, plain white briefs, were familiar. 

No, it was everything else that was strange. 

When he'd woken up from the ice, he'd been able to figure out something was wrong within a minute.  But this made no sense.  The best he'd been able to come up with, as he'd tossed and turned last night, was that he'd somehow dropped into a parallel universe.  A universe where Bucky hadn't died.  Where he'd never been injected with the serum.  The more he'd considered other options - all his friends had been cloned, or brainwashed, and he was now part of some weird experiment - the more the idea of a parallel universe didn't seem so crazy. 

After everything he'd been through, not much seemed crazy, so there was that. 

The MRI had been done early, before Bucky got there, and a different doctor came in to discuss the results.  “Everything looks normal,” this new doctor said, and sent Steve on his way. Discharge papers took a little while to process.  Then Steve was trailing after Bucky through the hospital maze, unsure of where the hell he was going.  Where he even was.

He didn’t realize he was looking for her until he saw her.  Peggy.  He detoured from following Bucky and veered toward her.  She was walking with her head down, nose in a book, and nearly walked into him.  “Oh!  Sorry,” she said before even looking up.

“Peggy,” he said.  “I’m so glad I bumped into you.  Literally.  Ha ha.”  Oh, god.  He still couldn’t talk to her.

“Yes.”  She drew out the word, looking around.  Looking for help, probably. 

Steve took a deep breath and tried to compose himself.  He felt like he had before the war, before he’d become Captain America: puny and insecure and intimidated.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bucky realize that Steve was no longer following him and turn around, searching the hospital lobby for him.

“Um, I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me sometime,” he said.  “Dancing.  You like to dance?”

Peggy blinked.  “Dancing?”  He loved how she said that word.  Dahn-cing

What had seemed like a brilliant idea in his head now sent him into a panic.  “Uh, I’m sure there are places to go dancing, still, right?  Like, ballroom dancing.  Swing dancing!  That kind of dancing.  Not, uh, modern... dancing.”  He stopped talking.  Winced.  Rubbed the back of his neck, where it was hot and surely bright red with embarrassment.  Here he was, Captain America, making an ass out of himself.

Peggy was smiling a little, shaking her head.  “Ballroom dancing,” she repeated. 

“What’s going on?”  Bucky walked into the middle of the conversation.  He glanced back and forth between the two of them.  “Steve?”

“Yes,” Peggy said, saving him from trying to explain.  “That sounds lovely.”

Steve grinned.  “Great!”

There was a beat of silence, then Peggy cocked her head and asked, “...would you like my phone number?”

“Oh!  Yes.”  He patted down his pockets for his notebook. 

No notebook.  No, because these weren’t really his pants. 

“Sorry, I took your phone home with all your other stuff.  Screen was cracked,” Bucky said, pulling out his own.  He tapped the screen a few times, then looked at Peggy and cleared his throat.  “What’s your number?”

Peggy gave it.  Her gaze flicked back and forth between the two men while Steve tried not to look like a tool, just standing there.  “Great,” he said.  “I’ll, uh, call you.  When I get a new phone.”

“Or you could just borrow mine,” said Bucky.  He sounded (and looked) annoyed. 

Steve swallowed.  “Yeah.  So...”

“I’ll be waiting,” Peggy said in that clipped accent he loved.  Before Steve could decide if the situation warranted something formal like a handshake, or if a kiss on the cheek wouldn’t be appropriate, she walked backwards a few paces, smiled, waved, and continued on her way.

He waved back.

“You done?” Bucky asked shortly, already heading towards the door.

“Yeah.”  Steve hurried after him. 

He hadn’t known what to expect from the weather.  It hadn’t even crossed his mind.  It had been late spring when he had fallen, apparently into a coma and some kind of alternate dimension, so he had expected similar temperatures.  Sure, a leather jacket and long-sleeved shirt would have been a bit much for end of May, but it was not nearly enough for the bite of early fall.  The wind immediately cut through him and he stopped just outside the door to zip up his jacket.

Only after did he look around and understand where he was. 

Brooklyn.

Bucky was already halfway down the block.  Steve jogged to catch up.  Bucky glanced at him, pressed his lips together, looked away.  Steve barely noticed.  He’d visited Brooklyn very briefly after the New York incident, stopped by some of his old haunts.  A lot had changed since the forties, but enough had stayed the same that he could pick out some landmarks.  He recognized street names. 

“You have no idea where we live, do you?” Bucky demanded, breaking the silence between them as they stood waiting at an intersection.

Steve stopped his sightseeing.  He didn’t know that he’d ever heard Bucky speak in that tone of voice.  Steve stared at that familiar face and tried to suss out the emotion.  He sounded... upset.  Hurt.  A little angry? 

“No,” he said slowly.

“You think you might have told the doctor before we left the hospital, Steve?  You think you might have mentioned that yeah, you’ve got some amnesia?”

“I answered all his questions,” Steve said defensively.  He knew it wasn't amnesia.

 “So you’re saying you remember everything.”  Bucky gave him a look that called bullshit.

Steve couldn’t say anything to that.  He looked around at the buildings that were both familiar and unfamiliar all at once.  Nothing made sense.

A parallel universe.  Everything the same, but different.

He felt a hand on his back.  “I’m sorry,” Bucky said.  “Look, maybe when we get home you’ll... remember stuff.  Okay?”

“Sure.”  The pedestrian light turned green and he followed Bucky across the street.

A brownstone, rundown but nicer than the apartment he remembered living in before the war.  Up two flights of stairs, taking in the peeled paint and cracked checkerboard tiles, then Bucky led him to a wooden door marked with a number 8 and unlocked it.

He saw his couch – the one from his apartment in DC – with patterned throw pillows.  He saw plants on the window sills, books scattered on the coffee table, and a slanted table by the windows covered in sketches and pencils.  Everything was made of warm wood.  A record player sat on a table under the built-in bookshelves. 

“You... wanna listen to some music?” Bucky asked.  He’d shrugged off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack, coming behind Steve, who stood staring at the record player.  The same exact one he had in his DC apartment. 

Steve nodded.  Maybe some music would help him feel more at home.  He was used to being a man out of time.  Man out of time AND place... that was more complicated.  But music might help.

He flipped through the record sleeves.  “What is this stuff?” he muttered to himself.  Bucky turned.  Steve ducked his head and kept his thoughts to himself.  This is what I listen to? Arctic Monkeys?  Vampire Weekend?  These are the names of actual bands?

Bucky shrugged and headed off into the kitchen.  “I hope you don’t mind, Natasha and Clint are gonna come over.”

Steve’s head snapped up. 

“Do you remember them?”

“Yeah.  Of course.”

“Of course,” Bucky echoed faintly.  Steve heard clinks and clatters from the kitchen and figured Bucky was setting something out for company.  Coffee, maybe.

Finally Steve found a band whose name he recognized: Nirvana. It had been on the list in his little notebook.  He took it out, set it on the turntable.  When rock music blared from the speakers, he turned the volume down.  “Huh,” he said.  What he wouldn’t give for a little Sinatra or Glenn Miller.  Something soothing. 

He turned the volume down even lower and started really looking around, reading the titles of books, checking out the photos on the shelves.  One photograph caught his eye, a black-and-white of him and Bucky.  They sat on the couch, side by side, laughing, shoulders touching, totally at ease.  Looking like... a couple.

He and Bucky were dating. 

That unspoken fact hadn’t missed him back at the hospital—he’d just chosen to not confront it.  He’d said the thing about being roommates because it had never occurred to him that he and Bucky could be anything more than best friends.  Seeing this picture... he saw the way they were looking at each other.  The way Bucky looked at him.  The way he was looking at Bucky.  There was no mistaking it. 

Steve set the picture down with a clatter and toppled two other frames.  He set them to rights before stepping away and trying to focus on something else.  Anything else. 

It was just too foreign of an idea for him to comprehend right now.

Luckily, something else caught his eye: a framed poster on the wall in the kitchen.  He strode toward it.  The familiar red, white, and blue.  The words... He stood in front of the poster and stared open-mouthed.  It didn’t make sense.  It made sense – like everything since he woke up, it was like reality, but slanted and twisted into something different.

“What is this?” Steve breathed. 

Bucky glanced up.  He had been emptying the dishwasher.  “That?  You don’t remember that?”

Steve kept looking.  He needed Bucky to tell him.

Bucky left the stack of plates on the counter.  “Please tell me you remember what you do for a living.”  When Steve didn’t answer, Bucky took a deep breath.  “Okay, well, you drew that.  You’re a comic book artist.  For Marvel.”

“And I drew this?”

“Yeah.”

“Captain America,” Steve said finally.  “I draw... Captain America comics.”  He couldn’t believe he was saying the words.  He was Captain America.  He wasn’t some comic book hero, even though he knew during those years he was in the ice, they had made radio shows, trading cards, and comic books of him.  But... how could he have drawn comics of himself

Now he really looked at the drawing style instead of the subject matter.  His style.  He hadn’t drawn anything in a long time, but yeah.  This looked like his work.  Polished up, better than anything he’d ever done, but his work. 

“So I work as a comic book artist,” he repeated.  He spun to face Bucky.  “What about you?  What do you do for a living?”

“Well, sometimes I model for you.”  Bucky grinned and posed for a second, before he realized Steve wasn’t getting the joke. 

“You’re a model?” Steve asked.

Bucky dropped his arms.  “Just... I just model for you.  When you need a model.  For drawing Cap.”

Steve glanced at the poster, at the skin-tight outfit Cap was wearing. Suddenly he was imagining Bucky wearing it, and he found it difficult to swallow.  His suit wasn’t that tight, was it?

“I teach martial arts,” Bucky said.  He went back to putting away the dishes.  “Krav Maga, capoeira, stuff like that.”

“Sure,” Steve said.  From what he’d seen, the Winter Soldier had been highly trained, although not as gymnastic a fighter as he himself was, or Natasha.  What was he even thinking?  This Bucky wasn’t the Winter Soldier.  This Bucky wasn’t even Bucky. His Bucky had never done martial arts.  Boxing yes.  But karate and stuff like that hadn’t been a thing back when they were growing up. 

With a final glance at the Captain America poster, he turned to watch Bucky putting away the dishes.  “Um, do you need any help?” he asked.

“You know where these go?” Bucky held out a fistful of silverware.

Steve looked around and pulled out one of the drawers nearby.  It was full of pot holders.  He pulled out another drawer.  Flashlights, batteries, phone chargers, and spare change.

“That’s what I thought.”  Bucky pulled open the drawer by his hip and sorted the utensils into the appropriate slots.

Helplessly, Steve gazed around the kitchen.  “When are Natasha and Clint coming?”

“A few hours.  We can get take out for dinner.  Unless you feel up to cooking?”  Bucky gave him a flat look, like he knew it wasn’t going to happen.

Steve shook his head.  All he knew how to make was spaghetti.

Bucky nodded.

“I’m... going to take a nap, then.”  Steve’s voice came out hesitant. 

“Okay.  Let me know if you need anything,” Bucky said.

Steve nodded and headed to the room he’d only glimpsed as he’d entered the apartment. 

The bed was unmade, a rumple of plain white sheets and a tan comforter.  Two pillows, side by side, one dented, the other not.  Steve went to the windows and looked out at the fire escape and the street below.  His head was beginning to hurt.  There was too much to take in.  He would have been better at adapting if he’d been dropped off in a country that spoke a language he didn’t understand.

He kicked off his shoes and crawled into the untouched side of the bed, drew the covers around him like he was cold. 

The sheets smelled like Bucky.

Chapter Text

Sunlight filtered through his eyelids.  For a disorienting few seconds, he thought he was in his bed, in his apartment in DC.  The digital clock on the nightstand said it was 4:30.  He’d been sleeping for two hours now.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes.  Heard voices in the other room.

That meant Nat and Clint were already here.  He glanced around, saw the full-length mirror on the closet door.  His hair was sticking up and he smoothed it down.  Took a breath, mentally prepared himself.  Walked into the living room.

“Look who woke up!”  Nat’s warm voice greeted him. 

She looked the same.  Her straight red hair hung around her shoulders, and she sat curled up on the couch. 

“Fresh out of a coma and hitting on the nurses, I hear,” Nat continued.

Steve blushed a little. That was so something Natasha would say. After all her attempts to set him up-- 

He glanced at Bucky, who raised an eyebrow. 

He suddenly got it.  The Steve from this world was dating Bucky.  The Steve from this world had been in a car accident, in a coma for two days - and meanwhile, Bucky had worried and probably not slept very well.  Then Steve had woken up and asked some random nurse whose name he mysteriously knew out on a date.  Right in front of his apparent boyfriend.

Nat, for all Bucky’s annoyance, sounded like she thought the whole situation was funny. 

“Hey, Barton,” Steve said to the man by the window whose back was turned, sifting through the papers on the drawing table.  Clint didn’t turn around. 

Cocking her head, Natasha first gave Bucky a significant look, then reached behind her and patted Clint on the arm.

Clint turned and looked at her questioningly.  Then looked up and saw Steve.  His face lit up.  “Hi!” he said.  “Feeling better?”

His voice sounded a little off.  It wasn’t until Bucky made some motions with his hands that he understood. 

“Oh,” Steve said.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize–”

That Clint was deaf.

Steve searched his memories.  He didn’t know Barton all that well, but had he worn a hearing aid?  He’d thought Clint’s earpiece was the same as what he and Natasha and Tony had all worn.  Bruce couldn’t wear one, obviously, and Thor was a god, but the rest of them had all had earpieces for communications on missions.  Maybe Clint’s had been a hearing aid as well?

“Well, this is awkward,” Nat said brightly.

“No kidding,” Bucky muttered.

Clint signed something. 

“Yes, we’re getting pizza,” Natasha answered, making sure to face Clint while she spoke.  “Pizza?” she asked the rest of them.

“Sounds good,” Steve said carefully.

“What’s your favorite kind of pizza?” Nat demanded, leaning forward in her seat.  As she did, Steve saw the arrow necklace work loose from her shirt and dangle. 

“Uh... Pepperoni?” Steve asked.

“Let me get this straight,” Natasha said.  “You can’t remember your own sexual orientation OR that one of your best friends is deaf, but you remember your favorite kind of pizza.” She looked at him levelly. 

Steve couldn’t help it.  “My... sexual orientation?”

“You’re gay!” Natasha shouted, throwing up her hands.  “How hard did that car hit you?”

“I’m not...” Steve started to say, then stopped.  “After all those girls you...”  He stopped that too.

“No, finish that sentence,” Bucky said.  “What were you going to say?  After all what girls?”

Steve shifted his weight and took in all the faces looking at him.  “After all the girls you tried to set me up with,” he said quietly.  He looked Natasha directly in the eyes as he said it, searching for any bit of recognition. 

Instead of recognition, Natasha’s jaw dropped.  Bucky whirled to look at her accusingly.  She threw up her hands.  “I never did that!  I never did that.  I swear!”  She said this to Bucky, and then when Clint touched her shoulder, his brow furrowed, she signed something quickly at him.  “No!” 

“See?” Bucky said.  “He has memories.  They’re just not the right memories.  Or something.”  He gave Steve a worried look.

“Come sit down,” Natasha said, having calmed down.  She patted the couch beside her.  Steve did as he was told.  “Here’s what I know about amnesia...  I did my thesis on memory so I do know what I’m talking about.  The questions the doctor asked you were probably to make sure you didn't have retrograde amnesia - that's the most common kind, in your situation.  Basically, you lose your memories from before the brain damage.  There's also anterograde amnesia, where you can't make new memories after the brain damage, but your long-term memories are intact. 

“Aside from that, there are some totally weird kinds of memory loss issues, but those would involve significant brain damage - I'm talking a lead pipe through the head.  There are other kinds of amnesia that are more psychological, those are the kinds I'm more familiar with, but those are usually centered around repressed memories and trauma and things like that.  I mean..." Nat looked at Bucky.  “Everything points to retrograde amnesia.  I can’t think of any kind of amnesia that would give you different memories.”  She shook her head.  “Unless there’s something else going on.  Something scrambled in there.”  She gestured to her forehead for Clint’s benefit, even though he’d been lip reading the whole time.

“I just can’t figure out the gay thing,” she finished.  She turned to Steve.  “I mean, you remember being with girls?  Being attracted to girls?”

Bucky cleared his throat.  “Well, Steve’s actually not gay,” he said.  “He’s bi... we both are, actually.”

Nat threw up her hands.  “Then why are you freaking out?” she cried.  “It’s not the end of the world then, if he woke up and liked a girl!”

“I didn’t know he was bi,” said Clint.

Steve listened to his sexuality being discussed like he wasn’t sitting in the room, with a functioning penis.  Like he didn’t know what he was attracted to.  He'd always just assumed he was straight. 

That was the thing: he’d never really questioned it. 

When he was growing up, boys liked girls.  Girls liked boys.  If a boy liked another boy, he was a fairy, a sissy, a poofter.  Any number of words he’d never heard anyone say in this time.  He liked girls.  He’d liked Peggy a lot.  She was basically the only dame – woman, he corrected himself – who’d even remotely liked him back.  As a person, that was.  He’d been kissed a couple of times after the serum had transformed his body into something women liked.  He liked kissing girls. 

Never even thought about kissing a boy.

After he came out of the ice, however, found out that Peggy had aged, he hadn’t really moved on.  Natasha had tried to set him up, and he’d only just lamely asked his neighbor Sharon out – well, that was a complicated situation, wasn’t it?  And Natasha had kissed him.  That had really only made him uncomfortable. 

“He’s sitting right here.  Ask him,” he heard Natasha say.

Bucky was looking at him. 

Nat sighed.  “I’ll ask him.”

“No,” Bucky said.  He screwed up his mouth.  “Steve, are you attracted to me?”

Oh, geez.  How the hell was he supposed to answer that?  He couldn’t tell Bucky he wasn’t attractive.  That’s not the question, he reminded himself, then blurted out, “I’m a virgin.”

For a split second, no one said anything. 

Bucky started laughing.  Natasha clapped her hands together and tilted her head back.  Even Clint smiled, the look on his face saying, Who are you trying to kid?

Through peals of laughter, Bucky managed to say, “No, you are not.  Nope.”

“I think I would know,” Steve said, feeling heat rise to his face.

“I think I would know,” Bucky insisted, still laughing.  “Shit, our neighbors know.”

Oh, God.

“This is so weird.”  Natasha giggled and wiped tears from her eyes.  “That’s it.  That’s my professional opinion.  This is fucking weird.”

“I am,” Steve said.  “I haven’t had gay sex, I haven’t had straight sex, I haven’t had any sex.”

"I have literally fucked you," Bucky said.

Steve stared at him. 

Nat held up her hands.  “Okay.  Okay.  So this is all very weird, but also kind of like that movie?"

"What movie?" Clint asked. 

"That one where the girl's in a coma and when she wakes up she doesn't remember her husband?"

"I don't remember that movie."

"You fell asleep," Nat said, waving her hand.  Steve suddenly noticed the ring on her finger.  He glanced over at Clint, who stood with his hands on his hips, and saw the gold band on his finger.

Clint and Natasha were married. 

Well, that didn't surprise him so much.

"It isn't like that movie at all," Bucky said.  "He's remembering stuff, but different stuff." 

He needed to say something.  He had no idea what to say.  He was going to sound like a lunatic if he told the truth. 

"It's... all jumbled up," he said finally.  He stared at his knees.  "Like, what’s real and what isn’t.  Um, can I ask you guys a few questions?"

"Sure," Natasha said.

"Are... my parents still alive?"  He glanced at Bucky.

Bucky shook his head.  "They died when you were a kid."

"And... your parents?"

"Same."  Bucky swallowed.

"That's the same, then."  Steve thought.  "Were we... ever in the army?"

Now he was met with wide-eyed, confused expressions.  "No," Bucky said. 

"I remember being in the army with you," Steve told him, if only to make Bucky understand where he was coming from.  "I remember we were friends, growing up.  I remember going to art school.  I just don't..."  He rubbed his hands on his knees.  "...remember being in a relationship with you."

"Oh," Bucky said. 

There was a long silence, broken only by Clint picking up the phone and saying, "Can someone call for pizza?  Food will make this less awkward."

"Fine," Natasha said, snatching the phone from him and pushing him toward the kitchen.  She signed something Steve couldn't see.

Bucky stood there and Steve sat there and he couldn't even look at his best friend.  He felt terrible. 

"I'm sorry," Bucky choked out, and bolted into the bedroom.

The evening didn't get any better.  Steve conversed with Natasha and Clint like they were strangers, asking them how long they'd been married (two years) and what they did for a living (Natasha was a psychologist and adjunct professor at NYU, Clint was a detective with the NYPD).  Eventually, when the pizza arrived, Bucky emerged from the bedroom with red-rimmed eyes, and Steve watched as Nat gave his elbow a supportive squeeze.  Bucky didn't say much while they ate.

Afterwards, Steve helped load the dishes into the dishwasher - he knew how to do that - while Clint put on a pot of coffee like this was his own kitchen.  The sky was darkening and it was past seven and Steve was already feeling tired again.  He mumbled something about going to the bathroom and on his way snagged the silver MacBook he'd spotted earlier on the drawing table. 

In the bedroom, he lifted the lid and stared at the screen asking for a password. 

He tapped idly on the keys.  He knew what his password would be in his world: password.  Or 1-2-3-4.  In this world, he assumed he knew better.  Tony and Natasha were always on him about password protection, how there had to be a mix of capitals and lowercase, and some numbers.  Steve sighed. 

In the kitchen, Bucky and Natasha were speaking in low voices. 

“...if the tests said everything was normal...”

“...still think he needs to go back.  Maybe they missed something.”

Steve focused on the screen in front of him.  There was a little icon that said Hint.  He maneuvered the little arrow to hover over it. 

My name someday, it said.

With a sinking feeling, he typed in Steven Barnes.

The screen unlocked.

“...give him some time.  Memories are funny like that.  Go through your normal routines.  Maybe it will start to come back.”

Steve had to think fast now.  Contrary to all of Tony’s old man jokes, he was now pretty comfortable on a computer. 

He needed someone who knew about stuff like parallel universes.  Bruce would have been his first choice, but clearly, Bruce wasn’t a nuclear physicist.  Tony was more of a technological savant, an inventor like his father.  Not that Tony’s brain couldn’t adapt to it, but Tony got on his nerves, and who knew what kind of guy he was here.

Thor’s girlfriend!  Thor had bragged about Jane a few times.  She was an astrophysicist.  That was even better than a nuclear physicist.  More... cerebral.  Theoretic.  Jane... Foster?  He opened up Safari and typed her name into the search bar. 

“It’s like he’s a stranger...”

“...it’s not that bad.  He said he remembered you.  Remembered growing up with you.  That’s something, isn’t it?”

Eighty-two million search results.  He typed in jane foster astrophysicist

The search returned with 0 hits.

Looked like Jane Foster wasn’t an astrophysicist in this world.

He chewed on his thumbnail and thought.  Who was that guy, the one who was Jane’s mentor, he did some work for SHIELD... compromised during the New York Incident... Eric something.

Erik.  With a K.  Because he was Scandinavian.  Erik.... What?  He typed in erik astrophysicist.

On the second page of results, he found him. 

“...I miss him. And he’s right in front of me and... I feel like I can’t even touch him...”

Chapter Text

When Steve woke up it was still dark.  This time it only took him a few seconds to remember where he was, mostly because of the arm draped over his sore ribs. 

He didn't move, hyper-aware of Bucky's body next to his.  No, Bucky wasn't quite spooning him, but he had the arm curled around his waist and his forehead resting against the center of Steve's back, right between his shoulder blades.  Those two points of contact were more than enough... too much, maybe. 

Steve forced his breathing to remain measured and calm so as not to wake Bucky up.  It had been tough getting to sleep last night, despite how tired he'd felt.  Steve had changed into pajama pants and a t-shirt with Bucky watching him the whole time.  He had started to wonder if he'd done something wrong.  Maybe the Steve in this world had only slept in the nude. 

Then Bucky had pulled some sweatpants on over his boxers, and a sleeveless undershirt.  "You, uh, want me to sleep on the couch?" Bucky had asked.

"No, it's fine," Steve had said quickly.  But then they'd both lain there on their separate sides of the bed, silent.  It had taken him forever to fall asleep.  Now he was awake again. 

It wasn't like he'd never shared a bed with Bucky.  When they were kids they did it all the time.  When Bucky slept over at Steve's, they slept on the floor because Steve's narrow little bed wasn't going to fit them both.  So they put pillows on the floor and wrapped blankets around themselves and pretended they were camping.  Bucky's family had a pull-out couch, and they two of them would share it when Steve spent the night there.  He'd woken up with Bucky's arm in his face, with his face squashed on Bucky's butt, their legs tangled together, their legs in each other's faces...

Even when they were in the army, sleeping on separate cots, somehow those beds would get shoved closer together than the other soldiers'.  After almost losing Bucky to Zola, Steve hadn't wanted to fall asleep more than an arm's length away.

He'd only been out of the ice for a year.  Bucky had only died a short time before that.  He remembered talking to Sam about not being able to sleep because his mattress was too soft... but it had been more than that.  He'd been missing his best friend sleeping beside him.

Now here he was, in a world where Bucky hadn't died, hadn't even lost his arm or been tortured or experimented on or seen the horrors of war, a world where Bucky loved him, and he couldn't accept that?

As carefully as he could, he took Bucky's wrist and eased out from under the arm.  Gently, he placed Bucky's hand so it lay beside the other.  That star tattoo stared up at him.  He remembered the red star on his Bucky's metal arm, so much like the red star on his own shield.

Bucky...

In the dark, with Bucky asleep, Steve suddenly had a hard time telling the difference.  Did it matter?  He placed his hand on Bucky's head, felt his skull through the thick brown hair.  Did it matter?  His Bucky had tried to kill him. 

This Bucky just wanted to love him.

Steve pulled his hand away and went quietly from the room, his bare feet making no sound as he went from the brown rug to the hardwood floor to the blue patterned carpet in the living room.  The couch cushions were at least a familiar comfort that came with no emotional baggage.

***

When he woke up, he was covered with an afghan.  There hadn't been an afghan on the couch last night. 

He sat up and looked toward the bedroom.  He could just see the bed, empty.  A noise behind him, and he turned around to see Bucky standing there, watering the plants.

"Oh, hi," Steve said.

"Good morning."  Bucky didn't look at him.  He was still wearing the sweatpants, but had thrown the gray sweater on over the undershirt.  "You sleep okay?"

"Yeah." 

Steve didn't know what to do.  If he were in his own apartment, he would have made himself some breakfast.  Most days he'd head down to the gym, pound on a sandbag for a while, then return home and shower.  Unless S.H.I.E.L.D. called him in for an assignment, or a briefing, or debriefing.  Sometimes they'd sent over information and he'd spent hours poring over files and sipping his coffee.

What did he do here?  Draw all day?

He got up and went to the bathroom to piss.  When he came out, he stood there, watching Bucky water the plants and feeling lost.

"Hey, um, Nat suggested last night that we do our normal routines," Bucky said, like he'd been reading Steve's mind.   He glanced up.  "So... it's Sunday.  Usually we go to yoga and then grab brunch.  If you're interested."

"Yoga," Steve said slowly.  He'd never done yoga.  Barely knew what it was.  Lots of people did yoga these days, he'd seen ads and pictures and stuff on TV. 

"You don't have to go if you don't want," Bucky said quietly.

"Will it... be okay if I don't have any idea what I'm doing?"

Bucky shrugged.  "There are always some beginners."  He set down the green watering can and leaned on the back of the couch.  "Nat was telling me how there's muscle memory.  Like, your brain might not remember, but your muscles will.  That could be cool, right?"

"Yeah."  It would test the theory that this was a parallel universe, if his body remembered yoga.  "Yeah," he repeated, more enthusiastically. 

"Cool."  Bucky smiled.  "Uh, class starts at nine, so we'd have to leave in a few minutes."

"What should I wear?" he asked.

Bucky went into the bedroom and pulled out a pair of barely-there shorts. 

"Seriously?" Steve asked, blushing.

"I've got mine on.”  Bucky tugged at the elastic waistband of his sweatpants and Steve caught a glimpse of bright blue shorts before he looked away, blushing even more. 

“They’re like glorified underwear!” he said.

“It’s hot yoga.  The less clothes, the better.”  Bucky laughed.  “Okay, if you don’t want to wear those, then...”  He reached into Steve’s bureau drawer and pulled out a pair of cut-off sweatpants.  “You could wear these?” 

“With a t-shirt?”

“If you wanna die of heatstroke, sure,” Bucky said.  “I mean, go ahead.  You’ll see.”

Bucky made him drink an entire bottle of water before they left the apartment.  “I’ll be fine,” Steve insisted.  They stepped out in to the chilly fall air.  “I’ve just never done yoga before.”

“We’ll see about that,” Bucky said.  He had his hair pulled back again, and a jersey scarf looped around his neck.  Hands in the pockets of a green army jacket, a yoga mat rolled up in a little bag and slung over his shoulder, his elbow bumping against Steve’s.  He looked comfortable in his own body in a way Steve couldn’t remember his Bucky ever being.  He looked more comfortable than Steve himself felt.  Steve's stupid yoga mat kept banging into his arm.  His shield was less awkward to carry.

The yoga studio was apparently only a couple of blocks away, situated on a corner.  The words Stark Meditation scrolled across the glass door on a band of bright blue.  Inside was brick and glass and white and a high cathedral ceiling.  Steve found himself a tiny bit intimidated by the space.   

“How much does it cost to take classes here?” he asked Bucky in a low voice, once they’d hit the changing room.  Around him, men undressed to the same sort of skivvies Bucky was wearing... although most of them didn’t make the little shorts look as good as Bucky did. 

Bucky just looked at him.  “We can afford it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Did we... were we...”  Steve didn’t quite know how to phrase it.  He’d grown up during the Depression.  This sort of place was luxurious.  For rich people.  Steve, even after he’d become Captain America, a minor celebrity, had never enjoyed things like this.  “Were we ever poor?”

“We had some tight years,” Bucky said.  He had already taken off his coat and pants and now pulled his shirt over his head.  “College, you know.”  Stuffing his clothes into a free locker – not so much a locker as a narrow, wooden closet – Bucky shrugged.  “Come on, we gotta hustle or all the good spots get taken.”

“There are good spots?”  Steve opened a locker and began to methodically undress.  First his leather jacket.  Then his sweatpants.  Glancing at Bucky’s bare feet, he removed his socks.

“It gets crowded.  You don’t wanna end up against the wall.”

Steve shut the locker, feeling overdressed in shorts that hit mid-thigh and a white t-shirt.  “Maybe I do.”

“Don’t forget your water.”

Steve grabbed his bottle and hurried along.  Bucky was right; the room was crowded.

And hot.

A sheen of sweat immediately coated his entire body.  Looking around, he noticed the little shorts and sports bras worn by the women.  It seemed like the regulars, who were stretching or meditating on their mats, were more comfortable with their bodies, which were hard with muscle.  The beginners were easy to spot.  They were dressed like Steve.

Steve copied what Bucky was doing, sitting with his eyes closed in lotus position, only he couldn’t keep his eyes closed.  He kept looking around, hoping for some clue as to what was to come.  And taking the opportunity to stare at Bucky in the mirror.  With Bucky’s eyes closed, Steve could stare unself-consciously. 

He would have believed it if Bucky had been serious about being a model.  He had no fat on his body.  Even sitting, his stomach was flat.  He was easily the most muscular guy in the room, and there were at least five others who were pretty cut – but they were thinner, their muscles leaner.  Must be the martial arts, Steve remembered.  He also noticed, without jealousy, how some of the women and at least one of the men were sneaking glances in Bucky’s direction.  Maybe they were checking Steve out too, but Steve still thought of himself like Bucky’s puny sidekick when it came to that kind of thing. 

So Steve’s eyes were wide open when the instructor entered the room, and nearly bugged out of his head.  The guy had longish dark hair and wore a tank top with the Stark Meditation logo across the chest.  He strode through the bodies greeting those he knew beatifically, with a smug-looking smile on his very tanned face.  The logo had a blue band with a blue circle in the middle.

“Tony?” he said out loud.

Bucky opened his eyes and turned his head to stare.  “Seriously?” he whispered.

“Good to see you, Steven,” said Tony Stark with a fluttering wave of his hand as he continued to the slightly raised stage at the front of the room. 

“He knows me,” Steve whispered back.

“No shit,” Bucky hissed.  “We come every week.”

Tony began the class, and for the first bit Steve was able to follow along with no problems.  They did some breathing exercises and standing poses.  One involved twisting both arms and legs together like a pretzel and squatting.  Steve found himself laughing as he tried to balance, while Bucky smirked and held the pose steady as they come. 

When he wasn’t laughing at himself, he was chuckling quietly at Tony’s soothing voice saying things like, “Feel Mother Earth through your feet and let her give you stability,” and “Open up your heart chakra and let your inner radiance shine.”  At one point Bucky poked him and whispered, “Stop it.” In the mirror Bucky could barely keep a straight face.

It only made Steve want to laugh more.  Just wait till he got back and told Natasha about Tony the Yoga Guru...

That thought helped him get a little more serious.

Sweat soon poured down his face and dripped up his chin from his chest when they did downward dog.  He couldn’t comprehend how he was feeling tired so soon.  Out of breath was not a feeling he was used to. 

Then black spots started dancing in front of his vision.  He couldn’t keep his balance in something called Standing Bow pose and finally just stood there swaying, perspiration rolling down from his hair. 

“You okay?” Bucky whispered.  “Here, sit down.”

“And come back to standing and take some deep breaths here.  Remember to breathe in the good energy, exhale the bad.”  Tony’s voice grew louder.  Steve couldn’t see for the black spots.  He blinked furiously and sat down, hard.

“You seem to be struggling today, Steven,” Tony said quietly. 

“He was in a car accident last week,” Bucky explained.  In the fog of darkness he could feel Bucky hands on his shoulders, keeping him steady. Even sitting he felt like he was going to topple over.

Tony tsked.  “You must remember not to push yourself beyond your limits.  Rest in child pose or shavasana until it passes, yes?”

As Tony walked away, Bucky whispered into his ear, “Child pose is like fetal position.  Just curl up in a ball.”  He was already halfway there.  Once he was kneeling with his head resting on the mat, his head cleared.  Still, he wasn’t quite ready to sit up. 

He hadn’t felt dizzy like that since before the serum.  It was odd.  He'd been in a body that was so weak even the army wouldn't accept it.  And he'd been in a body that was nearly invincible.  But he'd never been inside of a normal body, and it was clear he didn't understand how a normal body worked.

Eventually he sat up, and watched Bucky in the mirror.  If this was normal, he should have been able to do everything Bucky was doing now... but then there was the car accident.  It had been a few days, and he hadn't had any major injuries.  Apparently normal bodies needed a little more recovery time. 

His shirt was soaked through with sweat.  He stood, shaking only slightly, to rejoin the class, and decided it was high time to ditch the shirt.  It made a little squelching sound as the wet fabric hit the floor.  Prepared to lift one leg into tree pose - looked easy enough - Steve then got a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

Was it possible that he hadn't actually looked at himself while he was getting changed?  It wasn't just that his ribs a colorful mess of blues, green, and purples.  He reached up, and touched one of the star tattoos on his chest. 

They were just like the one Bucky had on his wrist, only he had two of them, one on each of his pecs. 

Throughout the rest of class, which thankfully consisted of seated poses, Steve kept sneaking glances at himself in the mirror.  The bruising - he hadn't seen anything like that on his body in a very long time.  And now that he was really looking at himself, his muscles were a little bit leaner than he remembered.  

After class, they showered and changed into fresh clothes.  The lukewarm water refreshed him a bit and he tugged on a clean shirt Bucky had brought for him in his bag.  And clean sweatpants.  Steve thanked him, realizing that Bucky had known Steve was going to sweat through the clothes he wore to class.  Whereas if he'd followed Bucky's advice, he could have just tugged his shirt and sweatpants on after his shower.  No need for a change of clothes.  Just some underwear, which Bucky had also tucked into his bag. 

"You feeling better?" Bucky asked as they shrugged on their coats and made their way out of the locker room.

"Yeah," Steve said.  "You were right.  It was hot as hell in there."

"You hungry?"

Steve checked in with his stomach.  "Definitely."

Chapter Text

"When did I get a tattoo?" Steve asked as they headed out of the yoga studio.

Bucky smiled.  "In college.  I got mine at the same time."

"I noticed we matched." 

"Yup.  You have two stars, I have two stars." 

"Where's your other one?  On your other wrist?"

"Nope."  Bucky was smirking a little now.

"Where is it?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Bucky said. 

That meant it was someplace hidden by the little black shorts.  Steve cleared his throat and said, "Oh."

Suddenly something occurred to Steve.  He had never considered getting a tattoo after the serum, because he wasn't sure it would take.  After all, he couldn't even get drunk.  Something about his metabolism...

"I can get drunk," Steve said suddenly.

Bucky gave him a sideways look.  "Uh, it's not even noon."

"No, I mean..."  He couldn't really explain it without sounding insane.  "I mean, I can get drunk... if I want."

"Yeah, okay.  You're over 21, so yes, you can get drunk if you want to.  Later."  Bucky laughed.

"Yeah."  Steve found himself grinning.  He could get drunk!  If only it wasn't a little after ten a.m. on a Sunday morning.

"Hey, wanna stop in here real quick?" Bucky had stopped walking and pointed to a basement-level store.  The sign in the window said "Retro Records." 

"Sure," Steve said, following him down the steps.  The place had apparently just opened for the day, because the floppy-haired guy behind the counter was slumped over a coffee.

Bucky headed straight for a few shelves marked NEW MUSIC, but over his shoulder he said, "You know I've been looking for all the Pink Floyd albums, so if you see any, grab it.  A few I've already got are in rough shape.  Like 'Wish You Were Here.'"  Bucky shook a fist into the air.

Steve had heard of Pink Floyd, but he hadn't actually listened to that band and had no idea where their records might be in this store.  New Wave?  Classic Rock?  Heavy Metal?  He gravitated toward the section marked BIG BAND/SWING. 

Now these were his people.  Glenn Miller had a record right in front, on display.  Perry Como.  The Andrews Sisters!  He grabbed that one.  Behind it was a Peggy Lee album.  Peggy.  The blonde woman in the picture looked nothing like his Peggy, but he was reminded of her all the same.  He had to call her.

Well, he'd only gotten her number yesterday.  He would need to call her before the end of the week to make plans.  Probably Tuesday at the latest; he didn't want her to think he wasn't interested and make other plans.  He couldn't believe it could actually happen.  He could actually get that dance with Peggy he'd promised her, all those years ago. 

Too bad it wouldn't mean as much to her as it would to him.  Then again, that would be true no matter what world he was in.  The Peggy in his world would forget it even happened two minutes after the fact.  She was always so thrilled to find that he was alive. 

He found a few good swing albums, compilations with a lot of different bands and songs he remembered.   Humming a bit when he recognized an old song he'd forgotten, he hoped he had something good to wear on a date.  A tie, some nice shoes. 

And he could have a drink!  That might help with his awkwardness around her. 

"You've found some stuff, huh?"  Bucky said from his elbow.  He flipped through some of the albums in Steve's stack.  "Huh."

All of a sudden Steve realized he'd have to ask Bucky for Peggy's number.  And he'd need Bucky to buy all these albums.  "I forgot my wallet," Steve said.

"No problem."  Bucky put the one album he'd chosen, still in shrink wrap, on top of the pile, then pointed to the little hand-printed sign.  "Three for a dollar."

Steve's jaw dropped.  "That's even less than--"  He cut himself off just in time.  He remembered saving his nickels and dimes to buy a brand-new record for 49 cents back during the War.  After coming out of the ice, he'd been floored by how inflation had made the prices of everything skyrocket.  A bottle of Coke had been a nickel when he was a kid.  Now it was over a dollar. 

"Man, I'm hungry," he said, trying to change the subject. 

Bucky just gave him a bemused smile and took everything to the clerk.  "Your wallet got pretty roughed up in the accident," Bucky said, checking out the knick-knacks at the cash register.  "You probably ought to get a new one.  But all your cards and stuff are okay."

Steve picked up a wallet that seemed to be made out of an old cassette case.  "Like this?"

"You like that one?" Bucky asked, his face unreadable.

"Not really," Steve said.  He put it back.

Bucky looked relieved.  Soon they were on their way out.  "Your old wallet was leather," Bucky said.  "I bought it for you a few years ago."

"Oh.  I wish it hadn't gotten ruined," Steve said. 

"Well, it wasn't the most romantic gift I've ever gotten you."  Bucky bumped his elbow on purpose. 

Feeling like he was being baited into a conversation he wasn't ready for, Steve didn't say anything. 

But he was a little curious.  What kind of gifts did a man buy for another man?  For girls, it was obvious.  Flowers, chocolates, jewelry.  Easy.  Had Bucky ever bought him flowers?  Just the idea made him blush.

"Here we are." 

They had arrived at the kind of old school diner Steve and Bucky might have visited for breakfast in Steve's world.  The style was a little more 1950s than 40s - there was a jukebox, and it smelled like bacon, and Steve immediately felt at ease when they walked through the door.  All the booths were empty, so they grabbed a couple of seats at the counter. 

"You're smiling," Bucky said as he cracked open his menu.

"I like it here."  Steve was looking around at all the chrome details and the waitress uniforms. 

"We don't always come here.  Sometimes we go to this other place a block over, especially if we're meeting up with Nat and Clint.  But you always liked this place better."

"What's the other place like?" 

"Kinda like the yoga place.  Everything's organic.  You always make me stop to get a donut after." 

Steve looked over the menu.  He was glad Bucky had chosen to take him here today. 

"What'll ya have?" said a waitress with sloppy brown hair and glasses.  Her nametag said Darcy.  She looked at Steve first.

"Coffee, and the big breakfast," Steve said.  "And orange juice, too?"  He glanced at Bucky, hoping he wasn't ordering too much - Bucky would be footing the bill, after all.  But Bucky just looked a little surprised.

"Sure."  She looked at Bucky, who blinked and folded his menu.

"The Mexican omelet.  Coffee and orange juice for me too."

"Great.  Coffee'll be right up."

"What do I normally order here?" Steve asked.  "You looked surprised."

Bucky shook his head.  "That's exactly what you always order.  The big breakfast.  With coffee and orange juice."

Steve smiled.  He wasn't so different from this Steve after all.

****

Once they got home, Steve was itching to put on one of his new old records.  But Bucky had another request.  “We need to go grocery shopping.”

“Is this another Sunday routine thing?” Steve asked.

“Actually, it’s a Friday night routine thing.  Yeah.  We go grocery shopping on Friday nights.”  Bucky laughed at the look on Steve’s face.  “We’re a real exciting couple, you and I.”

“Okay.  I mean, I have gone grocery shopping before.  Is there a list?”

“Uhh... I’ll do that.  You wanna change first?” 

“Oh.  Yeah.”  He’d forgotten he was wearing sweatpants.  He stepped into the bedroom to switch into jeans and then spent a few minutes sifting through his drawers.  Nothing looked much different than anything he would have worn.  He dug out a gray long-sleeved henley and took off his t-shirt.  Looked at himself in the mirror again, at those tattoos. 

He was starting to like them.

In the kitchen, Bucky was staring into the fridge.  “We all set to go?” Steve asked.

“Well....” Bucky looked at the blank piece of paper on the table.

“Oh.  I get it.  I’m the one who cooks, so I usually make up the grocery list, right?”

Bucky winced.  “Yeah.  Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize for anything.”  Steve punched him lightly on the arm, like he might’ve done to his Bucky, his old Bucky.  He took up the pencil and said, “So, what do we normally eat for breakfast?”

“You like eggs.  Or oatmeal.  I usually have a smoothie.”

“So do we need any of those things?”

“Mmmmm... eggs.  And bananas, and strawberries, and yogurt.” 

Steve scratched those down on the paper.  “What about lunch?”

In this way they cobbled together a list.  Apparently Steve liked to experiment for dinner.  Bucky liked eating healthy, so his Steve was always on the lookout for meals that included a lot of vegetables.  “Is there, like, a recipe book or something?” Steve asked.

Bucky shook his head.  “You usually just use Pinterest.”

“What’s that?”  Steve still hadn’t quite caught up on everything on the internet.  After Bucky explained, Steve said, “I usually just get frozen dinners.”

That made Bucky frown.  “Usually?”

“I mean, we can just get frozen dinners instead of worrying about cooking?” Steve said lamely.

Bucky wasn’t about to let it go.  “Usually, like when we were in the army?”

He didn’t know how to answer that.

“I’m gonna call the doctor,” Bucky said, pulling out his phone.  “I really think they missed something.  Maybe they need to do a CAT scan or some other test.”

“Buck, I’m fine!”  Steve stared at the grocery list.  “Look, I must have had some crazy dreams when I was the coma or something.  I dreamed weird stuff, and I don’t remember other stuff, and the dream memories are filling the gaps.  I don’t need to go to the doctor.”

“I know you spent a lot of time in the hospital when we were kids, but can’t you see there’s something wrong?” Bucky demanded.  “And who the fuck dreams about buying frozen dinners?”

Steve didn’t have an answer for that, either.  He slumped his face against his propped up elbow and listened while Bucky called and set up an appointment.  He didn’t look up when Bucky returned to the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said finally, after standing there for a minute. 

“It’s fine.  Let’s go.”  Steve stood abruptly.

“No.”  Bucky stepped up to him, put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and squeezed.  “It isn’t fine.  Come on.  I can’t be the only one here who thinks this is weird.  I’m not the one who doesn’t remember half his life.”

Steve dragged his gaze up to meet Bucky’s eyes. 

“I miss you.  I want things to be back the way they were.  Don’t you?”

“Yes,” he mumbled.  He knew it was the answer Bucky wanted.  He also knew his answer meant something very different to him than it did to his best friend. 

“It wouldn’t kill you to get a second opinion, would it?”

“No.” 

Bucky smiled and shook him by the shoulder.  “Now there’s the little punk I know and love.”

“Jerk,” Steve said without thinking, then blinked.

They looked at each other for a long moment. 

Bucky leaned forward suddenly, and Steve had a panicky moment when he thought his friend was going to kiss him.  But then Bucky stopped and pulled back.  “Uh, we should probably head out.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

After grocery shopping, after an awkward dinner, Bucky suggested they watch a movie.  Steve was relieved.  Two hours when he wouldn’t have to watch every word he said, when he wouldn’t have to worry about Bucky asking him questions.  “You remember having a favorite movie?”

Steve shrugged.  He’d been to some movies, but he’d been more interested in the war news reels that played before the film.  “Not really.”

With a flop onto the couch, Bucky clicked on the TV.  Steve eased himself into the space at the end by Bucky’s feet.   The screen flipped to Netflix and a bunch of movies popped up.  Bucky scrolled through them, and selected one called “The Notebook.”

“Ever see this one?” Bucky asked.

Steve shook his head.  He was feeling tired of all the questions.  All through the grocery store, it was like he was taking some kind of test.  “What’s your favorite kind of fruit?  Which should we get: whole grain bread or this kind, with more fiber?”  If he had the option, he would have preferred to go to bed.  But it was only six o’clock.

As the movie’s intro played, Bucky jumped up and flicked off the lights, then settled in, pulling the afghan around him.  The couch wasn’t really all that big – Steve knew from sleeping on it.  Only one cushion separated them.  Half a cushion, with Bucky’s feet curled up under him. 

For his part, Steve curled up inside himself.  Under normal circumstances, like if he’d been on a date in his world –

why was he thinking about dates? 

--he’d have thrown one arm up on the back of the couch, leaned back, put his feet up on the coffee table.  Spread out.  Made himself comfortable. 

Well, he had the right to be comfortable.  What if he never got back to the world he’d left?  What if this was it, this was his life?  He should be comfortable. 

Grabbing one of the throw pillows, he punched it into the arm rest and lay on his side, curling up so his feet didn’t invade Bucky’s space.  In this position he wouldn’t have to feel Bucky’s eyes watching his every reaction to what he assumed was his favorite movie. 

“You want some blanket?” Bucky asked, holding up a corner of the afghan.

Steve looked it.  Looked at Bucky.  Wished everything didn’t have some goddamned subtext.  “Fine,” he said, and pulled a bit of the afghan over his legs. 

From the opening, the slow piano music and landscape shots, he knew this wasn’t going to be any action movie.  His favorite movie was some kind of romance thing?  About old people?  Then he was quickly reminded of Peggy – his Peggy, who was surprised every time he showed up.  She never remembered that he hadn’t died in the plane crash.  That he’d returned from the dead.

After that, the movie moved into a past that supposedly took place in the 1940’s – his time.  Even though this movie wasn’t quite as accurate as it could have been, he felt like there was some kind of weird cosmic connection happening.

Bucky’s phone buzzed, and he launched up from the couch, putting it to his ear.  “Hey, Nat,” Bucky said, heading into the bedroom.  “I think you pulled that whole ‘muscle memory’ theory outta your ass... Yeah, he almost passed out.”  He closed the door, and the rest of his conversation was too quiet to hear over the movie.

Steve exhaled in relief.  It did bother him a little bit that Bucky felt the need to talk about him behind his back, but he was happy to lose himself in the movie.  And to not have to worry about sharing the blanket.  He pulled the afghan up around his shoulders and sighed and watch the story onscreen unfold.

The similarities he’d connected with early on eventually disappeared.  Yet he became invested in the love story.  Who knew what a romance with Peggy might have been like, if circumstances had allowed it to play out. 

Bucky returned to the room and took up his half of the blanket again. 

Then, in the world of the movie, World War II started.  A tear dripped from his eye when the main character Noah’s best friend died in the war, and found himself getting tense as Allie began seeing some other soldier.  Peggy, too, had found a husband after the war.  At that damned Smithsonian exhibit that he’d spent far too much time at, there had been an interview with Peggy, talking about how she met her husband after Steve’s “death.” 

And when the final twist came to pass, and he was once again reminded of Peggy and her Alzheimer’s, he could barely see the screen for all the tears blurring his eyes.  He sniffled unabashedly, given that he could hear Bucky sniffling too. 

Just two grown men, crying over a movie. 

When the end credits rolled, Bucky wiped his eyes and sat up.  “Normally I laugh at you for crying at this stupid movie,” he said, his voice thick. 

It took Steve a minute to drag his thoughts away from how exactly the movie had paralleled his and Peggy’s relationship.  Of course – it would remind Bucky of his and Steve’s relationship.  Steve wiped his eyes and sat up as well.

“Bucky,” he said, his voice breaking.  He cleared his throat and tried again.  “Bucky, I know... this is hard for you.  And I don’t mean to make this harder.”  He glanced at the television screen and the rolling credits.  “I don’t know if I’m ever gonna be your Steve again, and all I do know is that I have to see Peggy—”

Bucky’s jaw dropped, and anger swiftly replaced the sentimental sadness.  “Unbelievable,” he snapped, and marched off into the bedroom again.

Steve followed him.  “You don’t understand,” he said, as Bucky slapped a Ziplock bag down on the bed.  It contained an iPhone with a cracked screen and a wallet that appeared to have been run over. “I remember her.  And what I remember... it was like in that movie.  And I can’t just let her go.  I can’t.”

Yanking open the seal, Bucky hauled out the phone, turned it on, and pulled out his own phone.  As soon as he was done setting Peggy as one of Steve’s contacts, he shoved the phone at Steve.  “Here you go.  Have a fucking grand old time with your new girlfriend.”

“Bucky, come on,” Steve said, but Bucky was already stalking off into the kitchen.  Steve trailed behind.  “I mean, I already told you I don’t remember being your boyfriend or whatever.”

“Or whatever,” Bucky repeated sarcastically.  “I guess it doesn’t count as anything because we’re not fucking married, right?”  He ripped open the fridge door and pulled out a beer bottle, slammed it against the counter so that the top popped off and fell to the floor with a metallic ping.  “Great.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  Here, help yourself.  You wanted to get drunk.  What the fuck, let’s get drunk together.”

“Bucky, I’m sorry,” Steve said. 

Bucky just slugged back on the beer bottle, emptying half its contents in a few gulps. 

“I don’t know how to make this better.”  Steve sighed, then reached into the fridge and took a beer for himself.   He didn’t even know how to open a beer bottle.  He was afraid of what might happen if he tried Bucky’s method. 

“Give it to me,” Bucky sighed, and this time used a bottle opener that doubled as a fridge magnet.  He handed it over. 

“Thank you,” Steve said miserably.  He stared at the open bottle instead of drinking.  Captain America didn’t drink his problems away – he couldn’t.  Finally he said, “I’m sorry.  I... I won’t call her.  I don’t want to lose you, too, just for the chance that something might happen with her.”

Bucky was quiet.  He sipped his beer, leaning back against the counter and looking out the darkened window.  Finally, after Steve had taken a sip of his beer, Bucky spoke.

“You should go out with her,” he said.  Steve looked up, his eyes wide.  “But if you do, can I ask one thing of you?”

“Anything, Buck.  Anything you want,” Steve said.

“Will you... go on a date with me?”

Steve blinked.

“I just want a chance with you.  That’s all.  A chance.  Do you... think you could do that?”  Bucky looked so hopeful, Steve knew he wouldn’t be able to refuse.  “Just a chance.  I mean, maybe there’s nothing the doctors can do.  Maybe you’ll never get your memories back.  But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t fall in love with me all over again.  And I’m not just gonna let you go off and date this Peggy person without a fight.  I love you.  You might not remember it, but I love you.  And I can’t just let you go.”

His eyes were filling with tears again, and blinking wasn’t helping them to go away.  “Of course, Bucky.  Of course I’ll go on a date with you.”

“You will?” Bucky said.  “Really?  Oh, god, Steve.”  Bucky flung his arms around his neck, and Steve closed the circle, pulling his best friend close.  “For a second there I thought you’d say no.  I thought you wouldn’t do it.”  Bucky was full-on crying now, and Steve let his own face crumple. 

So they both hugged and cried, although after a little bit Steve started to feel Bucky holding him even tighter, pushing his body closer, and the hug felt less like he was hugging his best friend.  When his own tears had dried up, he wiped his face a little, and asked, “What was it like, the first time you asked me out?  I promise if you tell me I won’t forget again like that old lady in the movie.”

Bucky laughed, and with a sniffle he released Steve from his death-grip. 

“I’m just assuming you’d be the one to ask me out,” Steve said, picking up his beer and taking a swig.  “I think I’ve asked a girl out exactly twice in my life, and you were witness to one of those times.”  For a second he worried that he’d done the wrong thing by saying girl, but Bucky just laughed.

“Well, I guess we didn’t so much go on dates as just start making out with each other during our ‘sleepovers,’” Bucky said. 

“So we’ve been together since high school, then?”

“Mostly.”  Bucky shrugged.  “I mean, we kind of dated around in high school.  Like, you were with this girl Rachel, and she was kind of a bitch.  No offense, she had you whipped.  We were sorta sneaking around a lot until you finally had it out with her.”

Steve didn’t remember anyone named Rachel.  “And did you ever... date girls?”

“Yeah.”  Bucky shrugged and tipped back his beer bottle, finishing it off.  “Nothing super serious though.  I always knew I liked you best.” 

A blush crept up his face.  Imagine if his Bucky had felt the same way, only he’d never told Steve. 

“It took me a while to get up the nerve to tell you.  We always did these sleepovers, every fucking summer, where we’d camp out in the backyard in a tent.  And I made you play Truth or Dare with me.”

“And I somehow made you tell the truth about how you felt?”

Bucky smirked.  “I made you say you had a crush on me.”

“How did you manage to do that?” Steve asked, laughing.

“You asked for truth.  And I asked you,” Bucky laughed, “This was my question: ‘If you had to kiss any boy from our school, who would you kiss?’  And you said you would kiss me.  And then we kissed.  By kiss I mean we were making out all night and ended up in the same sleeping bag.” 

Steve coughed and used his beer to hide his smile.  “We had sex right after the first time we kissed?”

“No!” Bucky laughed.  “We were both kinda shy about coming out.  I mean, no one at school knew we were gay.  Bisexuals, we hide it well.  Anyway, by college, we were pretty serious, and we decided that we would try being a couple.  We figured it’d be easier to be gay in college.”

“Okay, I have a question, and I don’t know if you’ll be offended or what...”

“Shoot,” Bucky said, grabbing another beer.

“So, if you’re bisexual, but you’re dating a guy, doesn’t that make you gay?”

Bucky’s forehead puckered.  “No.  I mean, obviously, you’re interested in a girl.  It just means we’re in a homosexual relationship at the moment.”

“It just seems like, if we’ve been dating for that long, like you said... it doesn’t make us gay?”

“Nope.”  Bucky clinked his bottle to Steve’s.  “Drink up.  I wanna get you drunk.”

Steve obliged, but asked, “Don’t we have to work tomorrow?  It’s Monday.”

“I have a couple of classes to teach in the morning, and then the rest are in the afternoon and evening.  You, my friend, don’t go to work.  Ever.  You just sit in there and fucking draw all day.”

Glancing back at the drawing table, Steve said, “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Hey, don’t freak about it tonight.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you what I know and you can go from there.  And if it’s looking impossible, we can tell your editor.  I don’t think you have any deadlines looming so it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“Okay.”  He knew he could draw, but a whole comic book?

“Drink,” Bucky insisted.  “Work is for tomorrow.”

Three beers in and Steve was starting to feel the effects.  “I feel all tingly,” he said.  They had moved back into the living room, and Steve had put on one of his new records.  He tapped his feet to the music.  When he closed his eyes, he both felt like he could tip over and also like he could jump up and dance. 

“So what’s with the swing music?” Bucky asked him, bumping against Steve’s elbow to wake him up.

“Hmmm?  Yeah, it’s good, huh?”

“It’s alright.  You never seemed much into this kind of music before.”

Steve shrugged. 

“Come on.  There’s something you’re not telling me.” 

“I don’t know, it’s nostalgic for me or something.”

“Nostalgic...”  Bucky sat back.  “What war was it you thought we were in together?”

Steve scrambled to think of a lie. 

“Wait, do you think you’re fucking Captain America?  Did you have dreams about Captain America?”  Apparently Steve had no poker face – Natasha had told him as much – because Bucky looked like he had just figured it all out.  “This makes so much sense.”

“What does?” Steve asked, playing dumb.

“You thought we were in the army together.  Well, Captain America – you know about Captain America, I know you do, the way you looked when you saw that poster in the kitchen the first time – I mean, you probably know then.  Captain America fighting in World War Two, punching Hitler in the face.  This music reminds you of that, doesn’t it?”

“Well, I did punch Adolf in the face like two hundred times.” Steve laughed weakly, trying to make it sound like a joke. 

Bucky nodded.  “This makes so much sense.”

“I’m not crazy,” Steve said desperately.  “I’m just a little drunk.”

“No, it’s fine.  Look, Natasha told me some stuff on the phone earlier, and she’s gonna come over tomorrow night – if that’s okay?  Apparently she did a little research and found some case studies similar to yours.  And I don’t think you’re crazy, okay?”

“Okay.” Even so, he couldn’t help but feel a little like he belonged in an asylum. 

Chapter Text

In the morning he woke up with Bucky spooning him. 

There was no way he could sneak on out this time.  Nope.  Bucky had his arms wrapped around Steve’s chest, his chin up on Steve’s shoulder, his legs forming a lock around Steve’s, and the full length of his body pressed up against Steve’s backside.  This allowed Steve to feel, very distinctly, Bucky’s erect penis digging into his ass.

The only part worse than not being able to quietly escape Bucky’s grip was the fact that Steve, too, had a boner.

Living alone, Steve had woken up with morning wood plenty of times.  Most of the time it just went away, or he would jerk off in the shower.  No big deal. 

This felt like a pretty big deal.

In more ways than one.

Steve was able to see the clock.  Almost 6:30.  He had no idea what time Bucky had to wake up for work, or whether Bucky had even set the alarm last night.  He was a little fuzzy on how he’d ended up in bed last night, since yesterday morning he’d been pretty resolved to sleep on the couch.  He supposed he'd been drunk.

God, he was so hard. 

Maybe, he reasoned desperately, this body was used to responding to Bucky.  He couldn’t remember ever waking up this horny.  His hand itched to reach down and grab himself and start rubbing one out... but he was pretty sure that would wake Bucky. 

Bucky’s dick twitched against his ass.  Oh god. 

Steve sprung out of bed, ripping free of Bucky’s grasp, and bolted for the bathroom.  He shut the door and started up the shower, peeled off his clothes, and plunged under a freezing cold stream before Bucky could knock lightly on the door and say, “Steve?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” he called, fumbling for the knobs.  A little more hot water, just enough to take the edge off.  Fuck. 

When he emerged, he was relieved to find the bedroom empty.  He dressed and went into the kitchen, where Bucky was drinking a smoothie, leaning up against the counter in just a pair of sweatpants.

“Hey.  Uh, sorry about this morning.”

“No problem,” said Steve, as the heat rose in his face.  “But maybe I should sleep on the couch from now on.”   

“Maybe.  Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”  Bucky didn’t look too happy about that suggestion.  “I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Steve made himself some oatmeal and sat down at the drawing table with his bowl while Bucky got ready for work.  There was one page in progress, and it was much larger than Steve would have imagined it would be.  One of the panels was filled with penciled lines.  Clipped up to the top of the table were smaller pages, like rough drafts.  And a bunch of other sketches were pinned to a board beside the desk.  Bucky in various poses.

Captain America, he corrected himself.  But it was clearly Bucky. 

“What do you think?” came Bucky’s voice behind him. 

Steve spun around.  Bucky was freshly shaven and wore a zipped-up hoody with his sweatpants.  “I think... I might be able to do this.  There’s a rough draft here.  That’s what this is, right?”

“Yeah, you got it.  The writer sends you the mock-up, and you do the final draft.”

“Oh, so I don’t actually write the comic?”

“Nope.  You just do the pencils and inks.  You don’t even color it.  That’s someone else.”

Steve exhaled.  “That’s a relief.”  He leafed through the stack of pages.  “Yeah.  I should be okay.”

“Good.”  Bucky’s fingers raked up the back of his head before both he and Steve froze.  Bucky removed his hand.  “Sorry... I guess I’m just not used to keeping my hands off you.”

“It’s fine,” Steve said, shifting the papers in front of him so that Bucky couldn’t see what his touch had done. 

Bucky took an awkward step backwards.  “I’m gonna head to work then.  I should be home around noon?  Do you need anything?”

“I think I’m all set,” Steve said, not looking at Bucky.  “See you later.”

As soon as the door closed, Steve exhaled and threw the paper down on the desk.  He looked down at his lap.  “Really?” he said to it.  He didn’t want to have to take another cold shower.  He had a lot of things he wanted to do this morning.

He threw on his leather jacket and packed his pockets full with his phone, the pieces of his wallet, and his keys.  Then he was out the door, heading toward the subway station. 

He was used to keeping his head down, trying to stay inconspicuous.  Not many people recognized him without his suit, but he hated attracting any kind of attention.  Here he didn’t have to worry.  He was just Steve Rogers, a comic book artist.  In the crush of morning commuters, no one gave him a second glance. 

The subway was pretty packed, and the trip to Manhattan Island took about half an hour.  Steve stood, not wanting to take up a seat needed by the elderly or handicapped.  He faced the windows and watched the subway tunnel walls blur and thought about Bucky.

His body felt warm just thinking about his best friend.  He wanted to fault his body’s response to a simple matter of conditioning.  This body had lived with Bucky, had been intimate with him, since high school.  Eight years, give or take.  Bucky told Nat that her muscle memory theory was crap because of yoga class, but Steve wasn’t sure that had been a true test of the theory.  After all, his body hadn’t been at normal functioning levels.  He’d been coming off a fairly serious injury, as well as at least three days of not exercising.  Of course he hadn’t been able to make it through a class that involved both strenuous exercise as well as extreme temperature conditions. 

When Bucky touched him, though, his body was responding.  Steve’s super-soldier body hadn’t responded like this.  Then again, he hadn't been in the same kind of situation.  What might have happened if instead of Bucky returning as the Winter Soldier, he’d been his old self?  What if, instead of attacking Steve, Bucky had given him a hug? 

Steve still couldn’t quite imagine himself getting hard from a hug.  Not the brotherly sort of hug he and Bucky had shared.  But a hug like the one Bucky had given him last night...

Keeping his face still, he shifted his weight, and decided to think about the task at hand.  He had to get off at Washington Square, then head through Washington Park to Washington Place.  It had been a long time since he’d been to Manhattan Island – well, that wasn’t exactly true.  The last time he’d been fighting off an army of aliens.  Steve supposed it was good that particular event hadn’t happened in this world, otherwise he would have been walking through the aftermath, the rubble and reconstruction. 

Sure, the city had changed a lot since the forties, but the basic feel was the same.  D.C. had never felt like home to him.

He found the building easily enough: NYU banners hung along the exterior, and big letters proclaimed the Meyer Hall of Physics.  He had Selvig’s office number, and he hoped he wouldn’t look too conspicuous wandering the halls. 

The office door was closed when Steve arrived.  He looked at the little sign beside the door, which listed Erik Selvig as a research professor of physics, and his office hours.  Steve checked his watch.  Half an hour until Dr. Selvig would arrive. 

He waited, pacing.  He had plenty of time, really.  He had until noon, and it was barely eight-thirty now.

The hall was fairly busy – a lot of students checking in with various professors, and a lot of professors coming and going, carrying briefcases and coffees and stacks of papers.  Steve kept his head down and tried to stay out of the way, so he was surprised when he heard his name.

“Rogers!  Hey, Steve!  What are you doing here?”

Steve looked up reluctantly.  Natasha, in a black sheath dress and red sweater, was walking toward him. 

“My office is up on the fourth floor, are you here looking for me?” she asked.

“Uh, no.  I, uh, actually forgot you were a professor here.”  Steve winced.

“Then... what are you doing here?”

Steve avoided looking at her.  “I’m here to see Dr. Selvig.”

“Selvig?  Why?  Steve,” Natasha lowered her voice, “everyone knows he’s a total crackpot.”

“I just need to ask him about some of his theories...”

He didn’t have time to finish his sentence.  A man with his shirt half-tucked in and buttoned incorrectly was approaching.  His graying hair looked like it hadn’t been combed. 

“Dr. Selvig?” Steve asked, unable to believe this was the same man.  He’d seen Dr. Selvig possessed and newly un-possessed, and yet he’d looked more put together then than now. 

At the sound of his name, Dr. Selvig looked up.  “Oh, hello.  Are you one of my unfortunate students?”  He unlocked the office door and stepped inside, flipping on the lights. 

The office looked much like Dr. Selvig – cluttered and badly in need of dusting.  Papers strewn everywhere, and some kind of working model made out of straws, yarn, and play-dough took up half the little space. 

“Not quite,” Steve said.  “I was hoping I could talk to you about your theories on parallel universes?”

Natasha, behind him, said, “Oh, this should be interesting.”

“Parallel universes, eh?  Have you read my book?”

“No, sir,” Steve said. 

Selvig sat down at his desk and indicated for Steve and Natasha to have a seat.  Natasha brushed dried play-dough from her chair before sitting, giving Steve a look as she did so.

“And yet you come to me, looking for an expert on the subject.  I assume you are not a physics major.”

“I’m not even technically a student,” Steve said.  “I’m sorry, I should have set up an appointment.”

Selvig gave a bemused smile.  “No need.  I never answer the telephone.  Well, then.  Who are you and what would you like to know?”

With a little glance at Natasha – and a strong wish that she wasn’t here - Steve introduced himself and said, “Sir, I was recently in a coma, and I don’t believe I’m from this world.”

“It was a car accident,” Natasha filled in.  “He has amnesia.”

“A convenient excuse,” said Selvig, waving at her like she was a fly.  Nat sat back and folded her arms, pursing her lips.  “Please, tell me what kind of evidence you have gathered.”

So Steve explained about knowing the names of random people, like Bruce and Peggy and now Erik himself.  “It isn’t like I recognize them from my life here... I have a very distinct memory of my life before I woke up.  It had the same people... just different.  They had different jobs, and different pasts, and... things were very different.” 

“And in your world, as you call it, how was it that you lost consciousness?”

“I... I fell.  From a plane.  A helicarrier.”

“Hmm.  I’ve not heard this type of aircraft before.  You fell?  From what height?”

Steve licked his lips.  “It wasn’t that high.  The plane was already crashing.  I was... I was pushed.  We were over the Potomac.  Over water...  I don’t remember hitting the water.  Then I woke up in the hospital.”

“And in this world you have another kind of vehicle causing this accident.”  Selvig sat forward in his seat, his eyes wide.  “In my research, it is this type of concurrence that leads to such events.  The slipping across dimensions.”   Selvig stood and went to his bookshelf, taking down a thick volume.  “It was Bryce DeWitt who coined the many-worlds interpretation, and theorized that there are an infinite number of universes, containing every possible variation of events from our past.  As in, events that did not happen here, most definitely happened in another universe.”

Steve followed up until that point, but then Dr. Selvig began talking about collapse theories and hidden variables and quantum mechanics and his brain stopped comprehending.  When there was an appropriate point to stop him, Steve held up a hand and said, “I’m sorry, I wish I understood all the science stuff.  I guess I’m just looking to know if what I’m experiencing is possible?”

“Of course, my boy!  Anything and everything is possible!  And if it were not possible in this world, there is some other world where it is possible.”

“But how?” Natasha asked.

“My theory is that these rare cases wherein one finds himself in a ‘parallel universe’ – these cases occur because of moments of convergence.  Here, in this case: both Steves, in their separate universes, were rendered unconscious at the same moment in both worlds.”  Selvig took two sheets of paper from his desk, and stabbed his pencil through them.  The papers appeared to be some poor student’s research project.  “Here, a visual.  You have two universes – these are the sheets of paper.  They are quite close, very little differs between them.  Then you have an exact moment of symmetry, the accident.  This concurrence creates a wormhole between the two universes.  There is slippage, if you will.”

“So I slipped through to this world and the other me slipped through to mine.”

“Precisely.”

“Okay, let me ask a question here,” Natasha interjected.  “You have this theory.  How would it ever be possible to prove it?  Or even to test it?”

“The mathematics are actually quite fascinating.”  Selvig turned to the elaborate structure sharing his office.  “But all of this is quite hypothetical.  Impossible to prove.”

“Okay, another question,” Natasha said.  “Say all this stuff is true for Steve here.  How might he go about getting back to his own universe?”

“That would be quite interesting to discover, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh," Steve said, disappointed.  "I was kind of hoping you’d have at least a theory about that.”

“It’s a bit specific.  We’ve not even proven the many-worlds interpretation.”

Steve stood.  “Well, thank you for your time.  You’ve been very generous.” 

“Wait, please!  Here.  This is my card.  As I said, I don’t answer the telephone.  Ever.  But my email address is there, and perhaps if you have any other questions I might be able to assist.”

He took the card and slid it into his pocket.  “Thank you again.”

Natasha took him by the elbow and ushered him out of Selvig’s office.  In a low voice she asked, “What the hell was that all about?”

“Look, I didn’t need you to go in there with me—”

“Steve, he’s a notorious whackjob.  Seriously.  If he didn’t have tenure, he’d be out on his ass already.  You know he just did a stint at Bellevue?”

He clenched his jaw.  “So?”  He pulled away and started walking toward the stairwell. 

“I mean, you don’t actually believe that’s what’s going on, do you?”

“What if I do?”

“Steve...”  Natasha hurried after him and followed him down two flights to the building’s lobby.  “Wait.  Bucky told you I have some theories too, right?"

"Yes."

"Look, I can't even imagine how hard it would be to feel so disconnected from your life that the best explanation you can come up with is that you're from another world entirely.  But trust me, Dr. Selvig is out there.  He's apparently brilliant, but these theories of his..."

"And you think I'm just as crazy for believing them," Steve said, turning to face her.

"No," Natasha said.  "I think you're confused and dealing with a lot."  She glanced at her watch.  "I have a class to teach at ten.  But I'm coming over tonight, and I'm going to give you a few other theories to consider.  Okay?"

"Fine."

"Don't be mad."

Steve sighed.  "I'm not mad.  I'm just... annoyed.  I don't see why it's so impossible that parallel universes exist."

"I didn't say it was impossible.  But humans have the tendency to seek out facts that support their views.  It's a logical fallacy called confirmation bias."

"Kinda sounds like what you're doing right now."

Natasha smiled tightly.  "Touché."  She wrapped her sweater around her as a draft from the doors blew through the lobby.  "Maybe I just need to know more about this world you think you came from.  Like what kind of person I was." 

"You were a spy.  You had a talent for using emotional manipulation to get intel.  And you were my friend.  Aside from Bucky..." Steve couldn't really explain Bucky's story here.  "You were my best friend, aside from him."

"A spy, huh?"  Natasha was smiling.  "Cool."

"I should get back too.  I don't want Bucky to get home for lunch and find me missing," Steve said.

"Good thought.  I'll talk to you tonight."  Nat waved him off.

On his way back, he noticed the record store he'd gone into yesterday with Bucky.  It must have been closed earlier, or else he'd been so deep in thought he'd passed right by it without noticing.  He jogged down the steps and found the same floppy-haired guy behind the counter, dumping three sugar packets into his mug of coffee.

"Hey man," the guy said.  "Mondays, am I right?"

Steve chuckled and said, "Yeah," even though he supposed he didn't really understand.  He wasn't exactly at work right now.  "Hey, can I ask if you have something in stock?"

"Shoot."

"I'm looking for this record my friend told me about.  Trouble Man.  It's a movie soundtrack, apparently?"

"Never heard of it."  The kid turned to his laptop and typed something in.  "Wow.  That's old.  Seventy-two."  He typed something else in.  "You're in luck.  Apparently we've got a copy.  You know where the soundtrack section is?"

Steve let the kid show him the section, which was relatively small.  "Not a lot of demand for soundtracks on vinyl.  We got them kinda organized by title, so..."  He flipped through the records along the bottom shelf.  "Bingo!"

Steve paid for the record and made it home by eleven.  An hour to listen and draw and try not to look like he'd been gone all morning...

Who was he kidding?  Natasha had probably called Bucky the second Steve left.

The Trouble Man music wasn't anything he could have expected it to be.  It had a bit of a jazz feel to it, which incorporated some of the big band sound he'd grown up with.  He found himself liking it a lot better than the Nirvana record, and the quiet instrumentals put him in the right frame of mind to draw.

Too bad he was basically drawing Bucky in a skin-tight version of his Cap suit.  Over and over.  He sighed and looked down at the part of his body betraying him.  "How the hell am I supposed to get any work done?"

Chapter Text

It was definitely hard to look at Bucky's face, after having to take another shower.  This time he couldn't bring himself to make it a cold one.  He just jerked off.  He tried to make his mind turn to thoughts of Peggy, but every time he closed his eyes he saw Bucky in those fucking yoga shorts, covered in sweat.

Steve had been making sandwiches for lunch when Bucky arrived home.  With a quick, "Hey" to Steve, Bucky headed into the shower.   By the time he emerged, dressed in a different pair of sweats and a t-shirt that clung to his damp body, Steve had the sandwiches made and set out on the table.

"Well, this is a nice surprise," Bucky said, smiling. 

"I'm no chef, but I do know how to make a sandwich," Steve said.  "I figured it was the least I could do, since you've been working all day, and I've been... not getting much accomplished."

Bucky sat down and took a huge bite of his sandwich, groaning in appreciation.  Steve sat down and tried to avoid being aroused.  What the hell was happening to him? 

"Nat texted me and said you went to NYU to talk to some professor?" said Bucky when he'd swallowed that first bite. 

He'd known she would.  "Yeah.  I just... had a theory."

Instead of asking about it, Bucky took another enormous bite of his sandwich and when he'd finished, he asked, "What's with the Marvin Gaye?"

Steve crunched down a veggie chip.  They weren't half-bad, considering.  "My friend Sam told me about this album, and they had one at the record store."

“Sam?  Who’s Sam?”

“I don’t have a friend named Sam?”

Bucky shook his head, chewing.

"Maybe it's a new friend?"  He had only met Sam recently.  It just seemed like they'd been friends for longer, given all they'd been through.  He trusted Sam with his life, and he'd only just met the guy within the past month.

Bucky shrugged.

"I mean, do I have other friends?  Stuff I like to do, that we don't do together?"

"Not really," Bucky said. 

"I can't be that boring," said Steve.  "What about... going to the gym?  I mean, I must work out."

"Yeah, there's a gym over on Front Street.  Gleason's.  You have a membership there."

"But I don't do anything else?  I work out and draw all day?  I sound boring."  Steve hadn't really given much thought to the person whose place he had taken before now.

Bucky raised his eyebrows.  "I work out all day too."

"So... we do other stuff together, then?  What kind of stuff do we do?"

With a chuckle, Bucky polished off his sandwich.  "God, that was good," he said.  "I'm game if you want to experiment for dinner..."

"Oh, yeah.  Apparently I like to cook too."  Steve furrowed his brow.  He tried to think of stuff he liked to do in his world.  His life had mostly been taking up with missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. and hero stuff. 

"We do fun stuff," Bucky said defensively.  "We just like to do stuff together.  Like, we go out on the weekends, hang out at bars.  Sometimes you do comic cons, those are usually pretty fun."

"Comic cons?"  The words didn't make sense to him.

"Comic book conventions," Bucky explained.  "Comic book geeks show up, dressed in costume, and you go to sign prints of your art.  I guess that's kind of for work, but usually there's parties and stuff for all the Marvel people.  It's a lot of fun.  Sometimes we get to travel... it's fun."

Steve bobbed his head and finally took a bite of his sandwich.

"You like to read," Bucky suggested.  "Mostly comics, but sometimes real books.  Like, historical stuff.  You claim it's research for Cap but you don't write the comics so I know it isn't."

That sounded... like something, at least.  "I do like to read.  Do I go to the library?"

"Sometimes.  And there's a used bookstore a few blocks over you like.  You're always after me to read more.  Espcially when I'm watching some shit TV show.  You read and I watch TV and... yeah.  We're boring."

"I'm sorry I said boring.  It sounds... peaceful."  That had never been a word he would use to describe his life.  He'd always been a fighter, and that meant conflict. 

"Yeah."  Bucky smiled. 

Steve's brain blurred and suddenly all he could see was the confused expression on Bucky's face when Steve had said his name.  Who the hell is Bucky?  His Bucky didn't even remember who he was.  No matter how many times Steve had reminded him. 

He jumped when Bucky touched his hand.  That little contact was enough to spark something down in Steve's pants. 

"What's wrong?" Bucky asked.

Steve blinked.  "Nothing."  He shoved more sandwich into his mouth to avoid talking.

Bucky gave him a knowing look, then stretched.  "Well, then, I have a few hours until I need to be back at the studio.  You wanna go look around for Halloween costumes?"

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he turned it on just to see the date on the display.  Crazy that he hadn't even thought about the date until now.  Despite the chilly weather, his brain had continued to think it was sometime at the end of May.  October 19.  "Halloween," he said slowly, trying to remember the last time he'd dressed up for the holiday.  He and Bucky had been kids.  Eleven or twelve?  "Aren't we a little old to dress up?"

"It's not like we're going trick-or-treating," Bucky laughed, and put his plate in the sink.  "Nat and Clint always have a big party."

Once Steve had finished eating, they headed out.  "What do we normally do during your afternoons?" Steve asked.  "Shopping for Halloween costumes can't be normal."

Bucky flashed Steve a wicked grin.  "You ever hear of a nooner?"

"No."

Bucky shrugged playfully and left Steve to wonder.  There was a big costume shop set up in what looked to have been a previously unoccupied warehouse.  He could hear creepy sound effects playing and the moment the automatic doors parted, mist curled out.  "I didn't realize we were going into a haunted house," Steve said a bit nervously.

"It's just a store," Bucky said.  They passed an awful-looking mannequin dressed as an evil witch that shrieked and whirred to life.  Steve shuffled away, only to hear another alarming sound coming from his other side - a chainsaw roaring to life.  He turned to see a madman in a hockey mask.  "Geez, I didn't know you were such a scaredy-cat.  Come on."  Bucky pulled him away.

Even though he knew the things weren't real, his heart jumped a little each time something new popped out at him.  It seemed everything in the store was designed to scare the living crap out of anyone walking by.  He breathed a sigh of relief when they got to aisles filled with cheap-looking costumes.

"Any ideas for what you'd like to be?" Bucky asked.

Steve didn't even know what half these things were.  "Maybe I could just be Captain America."  There was actually a Cap costume, if he wanted to wear a saggy suit with painted-on muscles. 

"Been there, done that," Bucky said. 

"Really?"

"What d'ya mean, really?  You draw the comics.  Of course we've gone as Captain America and Jack Flag.  I mean, we practically had to."

"Who the hell is Jack Flag?" Steve asked.  Who the hell is Bucky?

"Cap's sidekick, duh.  Maybe you'd better read some of those comics at home tonight."

Steve kept his head down and exited the superhero aisle.  "Do you have any ideas for a costume?" he asked.

"Well... we've done Batman & Robin, of course.  Let's see.  Last year we did Walt and Jesse from Breaking Bad, that one went over well.  And the year before that we did Wayne and Garth.  You know," Bucky said, when he looked up and saw the blank look on Steve's face, "Wayne's World, Party Time, Excellent?"

Steve shook his head.

"Breaking Bad?"

Another head shake.

"Okay, well... You know Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, right?"

"No."

"Jay and Silent Bob?"

"No..."

"Tonto and the Lone Ranger?"

Steve hung his head.

"All righty then.  So all pop culture references are out."

Steve looked around helplessly.  "And do we always do costumes together?"

"Yes.  Couples costumes are the bomb," Bucky said.  "We are well-known for our costuming prowess."

"When we were kids," Steve started, then stopped.

"Yeah?"

"Never mind."  Steve didn't want to say it and be wrong.  To have Bucky look at him blankly and tell him it never happened.

"No, tell me."  Bucky took Steve's arm and pulled him around so they faced each other.  Steve couldn't look at him.  "Come on.  Tell me what you remember."

Steve sighed.  "I dressed up like a cop, and you dressed up like a robber," he said.

There was a long pause, then Bucky laughed.  Steve finally looked at him.  "Yes!  I remember that!  We should so do that again.  Look," Bucky dragged him over to a wall of more generic costumes.  "Look, cop. And robber.  Or I could be a prison inmate!  No.  We should do it the same as we did when we were kids.  Like, exactly the same.  Everyone's doing that now.  Recreating their childhood photos.  We could do that!"

Steve let himself laugh a little, much relieved about Bucky's enthusiasm for the idea.  "Okay."

"Remember how we made that sack and painted a dollar sign on it?  And I had on, like, a striped shirt and a vest and a black mask.  This is gonna be great."  Bucky zoomed around the store.  "The only difference is you need a real-looking cop uniform this time around.  A man in uniform.  Hmmm."

"Should we get these?" Steve asked, holding up a pair of plastic handcuffs. 

"We have handcuffs at home," Bucky said.  "Grab that fake money though, yeah, there next to the stripper costume.  We can put it in the money bag."

They had handcuffs at home?  Steve's face burned. 

The same thing happened after they got home and Bucky left to teach his afternoon and evening classes, and Steve had a chance to open up his laptop and search the meaning of "nooner."  And then he needed to take another shower.

Chapter Text

A knock on the door startled Steve out of deep concentration.

He looked up to find the room considerably dimmed beyond the little spotlight from the adjustable lamp attached to the drawing table. At first he hesitated to answer the door.  Bucky wouldn’t knock; he’d come straight in.  Standing, he stretched, glanced at the clock – six-thirty.  Bucky said he’d be home around seven.

The knock came again, then Natasha’s voice: “Rogers, I know you’re in there!”

Steve let her in. 

“It’s so dark in here,” she complained, and started turning on lamps.  “How’s your day been?  Fall through any wormholes?”

“Ha, ha,” Steve said.  He went into the kitchen and turned on the light in there, took out the chicken he’d had marinating since Bucky had gone back to work.  “I didn’t think you’d be coming over until later.”

“Yeah, well, I live three floors up, so you’re kinda on my way home.”

"Oh."  He hadn't realized they all lived in the same building.

Steve angled his laptop on the counter so he could read the recipe.  In a wok or large saucepan over medium heat, add one tablespoon of oil.  He carefully adjusted the knob on the stove and measured out the oil. 

“Are you cooking?” Nat leaned in the doorway.

“I’m... trying,” Steve said, peering at the laptop again.  Add meat and sauté until cooked through.

“That’s good.”  Nat smiled encouragingly when he looked at her.  “I’m serious.  I don’t mean to make fun of you.  I’m glad you’re trying, instead of just looking to be spirited off to some other world that may or may not exist.”

“Where’s Barton tonight?” Steve said.  He pulled out the vegetables and began to chop the broccoli and zucchini.

“He works late on Mondays.  Till nine.  Another reason why I’m here so early.”

“You don’t like being home alone?”

“I’m never alone.  Lucky and Liho are always there to keep me company.  It’s more that I’m worried about you, Steve.”

“I’m fine.”  Steve hacked at the broccoli stems.  In his distant memories of watching his mother prepare meals, cooking had seemed so easy. 

“Just a tip, you probably want to steam that.  You’re making a stir fry, right?”  Natasha took out another knife and helped him chop, then showed him how to steam it in the microwave.

“Am I that different from...” He stopped himself from saying ‘the other Steve.’ “...the way I was before?”

“I can’t say that you’re so different, really.  You just don’t seem to know who you are.  And before, you and Bucky were always so comfortable around each other.  You weren’t, like, lovey-dovey, that kind of gooey relationship.  I don’t know.  I guess it’s because you guys were best friends when you were kids, and just grew up together.  You two were always inseparable.”

Steve pulled out some pea pods and started chopping off the little stems.  “I guess that’s why Bucky couldn’t think of any things I like to do without him.”

“Yeah, and that’s how I know something’s wrong.  Because you seem awkward around him.  Like you don’t know how to act.  But the rest of it?  Yeah, that’s pretty much normal.”

Frowning, Steve concentrated on not chopping off his fingers. 

“Hey, something smells good!” Bucky said as he came through the door. 

Steve wasn’t sure if Bucky and Nat were avoiding talking about his amnesia through most of dinner, but as soon as Nat scraped up the last of her stir fry – saying to Bucky, “You’re so lucky, Clint never cooks for me” – she hauled out a notebook and said, “Okay – theory number one: Cryptomnesia.”

“Oh, we’re doing this now?” said Steve, a little jarred by the abrupt change in topic.

Nat didn't answer that.  “So cryptomnesia is basically when we think we’ve come up with a new idea, but really we’ve just forgotten where we first heard the idea.  It’s the basis for unintentional plagiarism, but I thought it might apply.  So you wake up, you ‘recognize’ a doctor and a nurse who don’t seem to know you.  Except maybe you met them some other time you visited the emergency room.”

“Like that asthma attack you had a few years ago!” Bucky said, looking to Steve to see if he remembered.

“I don’t think that’s it.”

“Bucky told me all about how you think you were Captain America,” Nat said.  “Don’t you think that this could explain that?  You draw the comics.  You know every detail about him.  Then you get a little bit of amnesia and forget how you know it, and assume you were Captain America.  Only somehow you put the names and faces of people you know into those characters.”

“Huh,” said Bucky.

Steve shifted back in his chair.  “I guess maybe I should read the comics, but I have a feeling they’re very different from what I remember.”

“Yeah, he didn’t even know who Jack Flag was,” Bucky told Nat.

“Okay, then who do you remember being Cap’s sidekick?” Nat asked.

“I guess... I mean, I never really thought of him as a ‘sidekick,’ but... Bucky.”  Steve glanced up and saw Bucky smiling. 

“Aww, I was Jack Flag.  Just like our Halloween costume.”

“You weren’t Jack Flag though.”  Steve set his jaw against the memories flooding back.  “You were Bucky Barnes.  You were my best friend.”  All those missions.  The way they saved each other time and time again, until he didn’t save Bucky that one time, and everything fell apart.

“Okay, so you totally replaced this character with the most important person in your life,” Nat said.  “That makes sense.  Doesn’t it?”

“I guess.” 

Steve obviously didn’t sound convincing enough, because Natasha continued.  “And so what about this Peggy person?  Or the doctor?  What were they to you?”

“Peggy was... part of the team that created Captain America.  I guess you could say she was one of my commanding officers?”

“And you had a thing for her?  Kinky,” said Natasha.

Steve glared at her.  “I’d really appreciate it if you could take the sarcasm down a notch.”

“Sure thing,” said Natasha lightly. 

Steve checked in with Bucky, who looked contemplative, and then he decided he wasn’t going to finish his dinner.  Not the way this conversation was going.  He didn't really want to talk about Peggy in front of Bucky.  That... didn't seem right.

“Maybe we should move on to one of my other theories,” Natasha said behind him as he scraped his plate into the garbage disposal.  “The big one.  Psychogenic amnesia.  Or dissociative amnesia.  I’m sure you’ve heard about this sort of thing, where people just up and disappear – they’ve totally forgotten who they are, and you find them wandering in the streets, or if you find them again, they’ve set up shop somewhere else entirely under a different name.

“Now, this certainly fits with the lack of brain damage, because dissociative fugues have nothing to do with a bump to the head.  Generally, though, the person has no idea who they are.  All personal information lost, even if they can remember something like who the current president is or what year it is.  So that doesn’t really fit, because you can remember your personal information.  Also it’s usually caused by a stressful event.  I'm wondering if maybe something happened at work that day, or even on the walk home, something you can't remember--”

Suddenly Steve remembered something, and turned to Bucky.  “Wait – you said I got hit by a car on my way home from work.  But I work at home.”

“Sometimes you bring your stuff in to Marvel – what you have finished, or not finished, if there’s a deadline.  Usually once a week, it depends.  And then your editor goes over it with you and suggests changes and stuff like that.”

“Oh, okay.”  Steve took Natasha’s plate and scraped that off too. 

“So the fugue state thing,” Natasha said, tapping her fingers against her scrawled notes.  “Parts of it fit, but other parts don’t.  I just wonder... what Steve might have done if you hadn’t been there when he woke up.”

“I’ll tell you what I would have done,” Steve said.  “I would have realized something was wrong and busted out of that room.”

“How do you know that?” Bucky asked.  “Busted out of that room..."  He chuckled.  "You weren’t locked in there.”

“I was in a bit of a similar situation before.”  He ignored the raised eyebrows.  “Although that time, I could tell I was being lied to.  This time, I wasn’t.”

“What other time are you talking about?” Bucky asked.

Steve sighed, and when he didn’t answer, Bucky scraped back his chair and approached him.  “Steve, it’s okay.  You can tell me.  I won’t think you’re crazy, I swear.”

“You will,” Steve said.  “And she definitely will.”

Bucky placed both his hands on the sides of Steve’s face, gently, and forced eye contact between them.   “Steve.  Please.  I want to understand.”

Your name is James Buchanan Barnes.  I’m not gonna fight you.  You’re my friend.

Sometimes memories were just too painful, he realized.  His Bucky’s memories of whatever Zola had done to him to make him into the Winter Soldier were too painful.  Bucky hadn’t wanted to go back beyond those memories to get to the good ones. 

Just like Steve now.  If he could somehow forget all these painful memories of being Captain America, of losing everyone he loved...

“Maybe the memories were implanted,” Steve said.  “Maybe I got brainwashed, somehow.”

Bucky dropped his hands.  “What?”

Nat shrugged.  “Actually, that would be a pretty good explanation.” 

“And so if I undo the brainwashing, I can get back all the good memories.  Of us,” he said to Bucky.

If it were possible to completely supplant someone’s memories and replace them.  And if you had an enemy with the time and money who would want to do that to you.  But I doubt that anyone could perform that level of brainwashing in one day.  Not even one day, because you got hit by a car and after that, Bucky was basically by your side the whole time.”

“Or,” said Bucky, “you could just tell us what you remember.”

With a sigh, Steve sat down and began the tale.  He didn’t realize he was paraphrasing the Smithsonian Exhibit until halfway through, when the official story of how little Steve Rogers was turned into Captain America the war hero ended.  People knew about his return – after all, he’d run right into Times Square where it seemed a million tourists took his picture – but they didn’t know about the strange room he’d woken up in, or how he’d been enlisted to join the Avengers Initiative, or anything about his visits with Peggy.  Steve noticed Bucky had teared up a little when Steve talked about him falling from the plane, while Natasha was writing notes.  “I thought I had died, but the serum somehow kept me alive in the ice,” he explained, knowing it sounded beyond crazy.  “Then I woke up in this room that looked like it was from the same time I’d crashed.  Only I knew it wasn’t.  The woman who came in after I woke up, there was something not quite right about how she was dressed.  And this baseball game playing on the radio, that game was before I’d gone off to war.  And I just... hurled myself through a wall.  Found myself in what was basically a movie set.  And then I kept busting through walls until I was outside... and discovered I was in the future.  I mean, I was in... now.  The present.  Or whatever.”

Bucky and Natasha were both looking at him now, mouths open.

"Is that... anything like in the Captain America comics here?" he asked hesitantly.

"Uh, well, first off, that's nothing like the origin of Captain America," said Bucky.  "Of course, you know comics, they get different writers and different artists and there's a billion different storylines, but the general origin is that Cap is the Unknown Soldier."  Bucky stood and went into the living room, still talking, and Steve knew from the sound of his voice that he was just around the corner, digging through the comic book shelves on the other side of the wall.  "The most popular origin is that the first soldier to die in the Revolutionary War rose back up to keep fighting, and eventually he became Captain America.  But most of the comics focus on World War II, because that's when they first came out."

Bucky returned with a couple of comics in his hands, thick volumes titled The Collected Captain America 1943-1956 and The Captain America Omnibus.  He put them down on the table in front of Steve and flipped through the pages, landing on one image that was cover featuring Cap in Revolutionary War get up, bearing the original Betsy Ross flag with the circle of 13 stars. 

"But the newer storyline, the one you're working on, has Cap literally being the Unknown Soldier.  Rising up from the grave and everything."  He flipped forward to a page near the end of the volume, which showed a fist punching up out of the marble tomb. 

"So Cap doesn't even have a real name," Steve said numbly.

"But he does have a girlfriend."  Natasha looked at Bucky, who reluctantly flipped through more pages.

"Yeah.  Elizabeth Ross.  Get it?  Who's all-American enough for Captain America?  Betsy Ross."  This Betsy Ross didn't look anything like the woman he'd learned about in history class, sewing a flag in a rocking chair.  This was a busty blonde in a barely there military uniform, riding the gun on tank and saluting... who knew.  The flag in the background?  Steve couldn't help but be disgusted.  This Betsy Ross would have been no match for his Peggy. 

"What's that thing," Bucky was saying, "when you invent another personality?  Maybe he'd got that."

"Dissociative Identity Disorder," Nat said.  "That usually only happens due to severe trauma.  And I'm talking child abuse.  Sexual abuse.  The personality splits to protect the core personality, and the core personality has no memory of what the split personalities do.  When the split personalities take over, usually the core personality reports a fugue state, where they don't remember anything that happened."

"You think this could be that?" Bucky asked. 

Natasha gave a little shrug.  "I wouldn't totally rule it out, but we've known Steve for a long time - you've known him even longer.  He wasn't abused.  There's been no psychological trauma severe enough to cause it."

"Not that we know about," Bucky said.  "And not that he remembers.  If he's the split personality."

Nat squinted her eyes, then scribbled another note.  "I suppose there might have been some abuse in his childhood.  At that time he created this Captain America persona.  Maybe the abuse was short-lived, and the split personality never had to come out again.  Until something recent triggered him."

"If I don't remember anything traumatic," said Steve, "how would we find that out?"  Were they saying he'd been sexually abused?  No.  He refused to believe anything like that had ever happened to him.  The idea that he might have invented himself, his whole life, as a result of this abuse...  His stomach roiled.  Good thing he hadn't eaten much for dinner.

"Hypnosis, probably.  I read Sybil back in high school, and I'm pretty sure that's how they did it.  Split personalities are so rare I don't think they were even discussed in my classes on memory and learning."

"I don't wanna be hypnotized."  Steve voice cracked a bit. 

Bucky touched his hand.  "It's gonna be okay," he said.

Steve swallowed. 

After that, Natasha moved onto her last theory.  "Korsakoff's Syndrome.  Another one that's extreemly rare.  It's caused by thiamine deficiency, and usually it's lumped in with Wernicke's encephalopathy, which is a result of alcohol abuse - obviously, you're not an alcoholic.  But Korsakoff's could also stem from some kind of malnutrition - don't look at me like that James, I know you guys are all gung-ho about eating healthy, Lord knows you have a better diet than Clint.  But apparently stomach cancer can cause the deficiency."

"You think he has cancer?"  Bucky's hand closed around his. 

"I can't," Steve said, then remembered he didn't have the serum running through his veins anymore.  This body could get cancer.  He squeezed back.

"So the main symptom I'm looking at here is confabulation.  The other kinds of amnesia I talked about on Saturday night are also symptoms.  Confabulation is basically false memories, like the ones Steve is having."  Steve frowned.  His memories weren't false, there was just no way to prove they were true.  "It's like when some adult who claims they were the victim of satanic abuse when they were a child.  Or sexual abuse.  There are a lot of cases where in the midst of a lawsuit, come to find out, someone along the line asked some leading questions and the victim has created a false memory.  In Korsakoff's, the memories come about because of the vitamin deficiency.  It's like a form of dementia."

Bucky's grip tightened.  "Do you think we should ask the doctor about it tomorrow?" Bucky asked.  "Would they know about this?"

"I really don't mean to worry you, James.  Maybe the MRI tomorrow will show some brain damage they didn't find before, and that will solve everything.  But if it comes back clean... you might want to check.  Or maybe mention it beforehand, because I think they do MRIs to check for cancer.  Least invasive method."

"Yeah, I just have to lie in that tube for an hour," Steve complained.

"I'll be there with you this time," Bucky said.  His thumb rubbed against Steve's hand in a way Steve knew was meant to be comforting, but the now-familiar stirring in his pants wasn't so soothing. "I already got a sub for my morning classes."

Steve tried to smile at him.

"Well, that's all I've got.  What d'ya think, better theory than parallel universe?" Natasha asked.

"I don't know," Steve said.  "I think I'd rather be from another world than have the options of being sexually abused or having stomach cancer."

"Yeah, I'm a ray of sunshine," Nat said.  "You got any wine?"

"There's the bottle you left here last week.  And I picked up some of that moscato you like."

Nat poured them all glasses, and after cleaning up they migrated to the living room.  Nat claimed one end of the couch while Steve claimed the other.  He flipped through the big comic book volumes while Bucky sat between Nat's legs on the floor and let her play with his hair.  Bucky flipped on the TV.  "Ooh, America's Got Talent is on!"

Ignoring the television and his wine, Steve examined images of Jack Flag, reading the essay about his origin and storyline for any trace of Bucky.  First off, the guy wore a red cloth over his face, which was pretty weird.  But then he also had a white star on the left arm of his suit.  That reminded him of the red star on Bucky's metal arm.  His Bucky.  And the Bucky sitting two feet away from him had a blue star on his wrist.  Red, white, and blue. 

He tried to read some of the Captain America comics, but his eyes kept drifting to Natasha's fingers running through Bucky's hair.  Bucky wore his hair up most of the time, even at night, and seeing him with it down just reminded him of his Bucky.  Steve wanted to be the one with his fingers in Bucky's hair.  He drew up his legs so he could hide the evidence of how he felt.

A knock on the door made them all jump a little. 

"I don't know why he does that," Nat complained as Bucky got up.  "He knows he can't hear us saying 'Come in.'"

As Clint walked through the door, he was already asking Bucky what they'd had for dinner.

"Steve made stir fry," Bucky said. 

"Sweet," said Clint, and headed to the kitchen to help himself to leftovers. 

Natasha signed something at him when he walked into the living room, shoveling food into his mouth.  She looked a little angry, but Bucky laughed.

"I'm hungry!" Clint said through a full mouth.

There was no mistaking what the next few signs meant - Natasha held her hands up by her face and puffed out her cheeks. 

"Aw, he's in good shape," said Steve, squeezing over so Clint could fit in the middle of the couch.  There was a perfectly good armchair in the corner, but it didn't seem like anyone wanted to use it.

"He just looks that way," Nat said.  "Really he's made out of pizza and Chinese food."

Clint shrugged.  Bucky settled back between Nat's legs and hit some buttons on the remote so the closed captioning showed.  The three of them made comments about the performers, and Clint complained when the performer was a singer.  "So boring!" he would say.

"Shush!" was Nat's standard reply.

Meanwhile, Steve moved on to the second volume of Captain America comics.  He couldn't bring himself to read the actual comics themselves.  He only examined the pages of artwork to see if he recognized anything.  One thing he did notice was how none of the other Avengers made an appearance.  He supposed in the comics of his own world, none of the other Avengers would have even been alive.  There was no Hulk, no Iron Man, no Thor, no Hawkeye, no Black Widow.  As Nat and Clint said their good-byes, and Steve closed the book, he was glad they hadn't pressed him about Bruce and who he was to Steve.  What would they have thought of a man who turned into a giant green monster when he was angry? 

He dressed for bed quietly, still mulling over all the information Nat had given him.  "Are you still going to sleep on the couch?" Bucky asked him, his touch sudden on Steve's back. 

Steve wished he could give his best friend the comfort of his presence, something to hold onto all night.  But he still felt too confused.  "Yeah," he said.

Chapter Text

Steve wasn't expecting to feel nervous going back to the hospital. He didn’t even feel like getting a coffee at Starbucks on the way. Bucky got one, but decided not to get anything to eat. "We can go out for lunch after," Bucky said. He didn't say "depending on the results." Bucky mostly just fiddled with the lid on his coffee instead of drinking it, which told Steve he was nervous too.

Realistically, he thought, nothing should be wrong with him. But there was always that little niggling fear. He'd had so many things wrong with him when he was young. And it seemed he'd had a similar childhood here, so there could be something wrong with him. His knee jumped up and down as they sat in the waiting room. Bucky flipped through an issue of People and kept giving him worried glances.

"Steven Rogers?" called the nurse - not Peggy, though he knew it wouldn't be. Peggy would be in the intensive care unit. He didn't want to think about calling her. He had Bucky - correction, this world's Steve had Bucky, and he was loved and they took care of each other, and if this turned out to be cancer he knew he couldn't do that to Bucky. Even though it still wasn't fair to Bucky even if he didn't have cancer.

He let Bucky stay with him in the examination room, even when he had to strip down and don the blue hospital gown that totally exposed his backside. He kept his underwear on. When he reached to tie the back up, he felt Bucky's hands brush his aside and made three little bows along the back. He closed his eyes and forced visions of Red Skull pulling off his face into his mind.

A nurse came in and did the usual, taking his pulse and blood pressure. The doctor that came in while she was removing the cuff from his arm was not Bruce - rather, it was an Indian woman with a slightly British accent.

"How are we today, Mr. Rogers?" she asked, glancing over his file.

"I feel fine," he said.

"He hasn't really gotten any of his memories back," Bucky jumped in.

The doctor flashed a pen light in his eyes, and asked him to track the light with his eyes. Satisfied, she pulled out her stethoscope and told him to take deep breaths while she listened to his heart at various points across his chest. She replaced the stethoscope around her neck.

"These things do take time, but it never hurts to double check. You requested an MRI, yes?"

"Yes," Bucky confirmed. "Also, uh, we were wondering if you could do a full-body scan? Just to rule everything out?"

"Have you been experiencing any other symptoms?" the doctor asked of Steve. "Dizziness, vertigo, headaches?"

Steve started to shake his head, then said, "I guess I've been feeling a little tired lately."

"Well, there doesn't seem to be much reason to do a full-body scan. Is there some trouble you are concerned about?"

Bucky started telling her about the stomach cancer thing, and while the doctor seemed dubious, she said they could certainly accommodate. "I hope you are not squeamish about needles," the doctor said. "You will need to be on an IV drip throughout the scan."

"That's fine," Steve said. IVs weren't the worst thing in the world. Neither was lying on a chilly table while a machine made loud noises as it scanned up and down his body. He still remembered how painful the serum had been.

After it was all over, after an hour of wishing he'd kept his socks on, he was allowed to put his clothes back on and told he should have the results by tomorrow. He passed that along to Bucky, who had been relegated to the waiting room the whole time. "I can’t believe we have to wait until tomorrow to find out anything,” Bucky moaned. They made an appointment for the following day during Bucky's early afternoon break so he wouldn't have to miss anymore classes.

“You hungry?" Bucky asked as they passed through the sliding doors.

His stomach had started growling halfway through the MRI. "Yeah." Then he noticed his sneaker had come untied and in that moment of looking down, he slammed into someone heading through the doors.
"I'm so sorry," he said automatically, then looked up and stopped short. "Thor?"

The man before him certainly looked like Thor. Shorter hair, but the same wavy sun-bleached blond. The same thick muscles. If Thor had ever worn street clothes, which Steve had never seen him do, this was what he would look like.

"Ha, ha, no," said the man in Thor's booming soft accent. "I'm Chris." He smiled and went to continue on his way into the hospital. Steve winced as a sharp pain pierced his head.

The brunette at his side yanked back on Thor/Chris's hand, stopping him. "Thor? Like, the Norse god of thunder?"

"Uh, he's had a head injury," said Bucky, swooping in. "Sorry. He's a little confused."

"I've never had anyone compare me to a god before," said Thor/Chris, still grinning.

"Great. Now he'll be even more insufferable," said the brunette. "Oh, you've got a little something there." She gestured to her nose.

"You're bleeding," said Bucky.

Steve reached up and felt a wetness there. When he pulled his hand away, his fingers were slick with blood.

The brunette dug around in her purse and offered up a tissue.

"He sometimes gets stress nosebleeds," Bucky explained, which for some reason made Steve's head hurt more.

"Are you Jane?" Steve tried, pressing the tissue against his nostrils.

She glanced at Bucky, a look that said, Good thing you're at the hospital getting this guy checked out, because that is most definitely a head injury. "Nope, sorry. I'm Natalie," she said. Now she was practically pushing Thor/Chris through the door. "Okay, nice meeting you! Bye!" 

"Stress nosebleeds?" Steve asked. "That's a thing?"

"Well, hopefully that MRI will give us some answers. Maybe it’s related." Bucky steered him over to a bench and sat him down. "Here, tilt your head forward and pinch here. Geez. You haven't had one of these in a while."

Steve did as he was told.

"I just have to ask... Thor?" Bucky asked. “You remember someone named Thor?”

"Sorry." That was all Steve could think of to say. His head hurt.

“Okay, but... why would the Norse god of thunder have an Australian accent?”

“I thought it was British.”

“Why would a Norse god have a British accent?”

Steve shrugged. He had never thought about it. And thinking right now made him feel like his head was going to explode.

They sat for a while until it stopped, with Bucky darting back into the hospital to grab more tissues. "You still hungry?" Bucky asked.

"Yeah, I think food would be good," said Steve. He pulled a fresh tissue away from his nose; it was mostly clean.

"You sure?"

"I'm fine."

They returned to the diner they'd gone to on Sunday, and ordered their usual. The nosebleed had made him contemplative and suddenly aware of how mortal his body was. Yeah, he'd gotten dizzy at yoga, that seemed almost normal. But nosebleeds? He used to get those all the time... before the serum.

"I think I'm gonna take a nap," Steve said when they got back to the apartment. He went to lay down on the couch.

"Sleep in the bed," said Bucky. He held up his hands. "No danger of me spooning you. Come on, you’ll be more comfortable."

Steve shuffled toward the bedroom. "Okay."

He fell asleep quickly. So quickly that when he woke up a few hours later, alone in the apartment, he wondered if maybe whatever chemical that IV fed into him was at fault. Bucky had left a note on the kitchen table: Hope the nap helps, I’ll be home around 7. Love, B.

For the better part of an hour, he tried to draw, but the panel he was working on featured a pose not among his various sketches of Bucky, and he couldn’t get the proportions quite right. Finally he grabbed the laptop and flung himself onto the couch. He needed to make a plan for his date with Peggy, and he couldn’t do it in front of Bucky. Mostly because he couldn’t bear to see that sad look return to Bucky’s face.
Brooklyn might not be so different from what he remembered, but he was certain all the restaurants and dance halls he knew were no longer there. So he typed in “swing club” to see what he could find.

“Swingers Sex Club?” he said aloud, his voice almost squeaking, too loud in the silent apartment. The first three listings were all sex, sex, sex. What had he done wrong? Then he saw what he was looking for: Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club. That sounded more like it. Dinner and dancing – exactly what he was looking for. He pulled out his cell phone and called her before he could second guess himself.

As the phone rang, he realized she was probably at work. She had been working the afternoon/evening shift both times he’d seen her. He didn’t think he could leave a message. He definitely didn’t want her calling back when Bucky was home. Why did he feel the need to be so secretive about her? Bucky knew he was planning to go on a date with her.

Just one date.

It wasn’t like he was cheating. Although it probably felt very different to Bucky.

“Hello?”

It was her. He found himself in the middle of a breath. He’d nearly forgotten what her voice sounded like. “Peggy?” he managed to say. Duh. It’s her, that’s her voice, her accent. You called her.

“Yes? Who is this?”

“Oh, uh, this is Steve. From the hospital?” He closed his eyes and tried to think. “I asked you out the other day. Uh. Saturday. I’m the guy who was in the coma and I woke up and knew your name?”

“Ah, yes! Steve. I remember you.” From the sound of her voice he could tell she was smiling.

“So, uh, I wanted to see if you were available this Friday. Dinner and dancing, like I said.”

“That sounds lovely. Yes, I am free on Friday.”

When she didn’t say anything further, he realized what he’d forgotten. “Oh! Uh, would you like me to pick you up at your place? Or meet there? Where do you live?” He hadn’t thought about that. What if she lived someplace on the other side of the city? What if she commuted to the hospital from New Jersey?

“I’d love if you picked me up. I’m a bit nervous about places I’ve not been before, going in alone, I mean. Small girl in the big city, and all that.” She laughed. He found himself furrowing his brow. That was such an un-Peggy thing to say. The Peggy he remembered could take care of herself. The Peggy he remembered punched men in the face.

“Sure, just tell me the address.” He scrambled for a scrap of paper and a pencil and wrote it down. Oh, good, he thought. She lived not far from the bridge. “Great! How does six sound? Too early?”

“Oh, that would be perfect. My shift at the hospital ends at four on Fridays.”

That was another relief. If Bucky usually didn’t get home until seven, he wouldn’t have to see Steve getting ready. Steve bade Peggy an awkward good-bye and hung up, then flopped back on the couch. That hadn’t been terrible. Of course, the only time he’d ever asked girls out was when it was some friend of one of Bucky’s girls, and usually there weren’t at all interested. He always had to worry that they’d refuse. And they had, a few times. More recently, he’d asked his neighbor Sharon out, and his weak proposal that they have a cup of coffee was also refused. It had been a soft blow, however. She had been a nurse, too. Did he have a type? Then, of course, he’d discovered she was a secret agent posted by Fury as some kind of protection for him. Agent Carter. It was strange to think of her like...

Carter.

Sharon Carter.

That was a coincidence, right? Carter was a common last name. Sharon had blonde hair. Peggy had brown hair and a British accent. No way they were related. No way? No. It couldn’t be.

He sat up and immediately felt something on his upper lip. Another bit of blood. He got some tissues from the bathroom and sat in there, waiting for it to pass. Two nosebleeds in one day?

Maybe he was crazy.

Of course, he had no way to check. In his world he could have looked at Sharon’s personnel file. Even with the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they knew it, Natasha could have hacked her way in.

But here? He didn’t even know if a Sharon Carter existed.

By the time Bucky arrived home from work, Steve had cleaned himself up and had made dinner – just the frozen meal in a bag, but it was hot and on the table when Bucky walked through the door. “You still look tired,” Bucky said.

“Yeah.”

“You should go to bed early tonight,” Bucky suggested.

“I think as long as we just relax I’ll be okay,” Steve said. Tired of talking about his health, he asked, “How was work?”

Bucky shrugged. “Good. The usual.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Steve said with a sigh, picking at the limp vegetables on his plate.

That led to Bucky explaining exactly which classes he taught on Tuesdays, and the different types of students in each. “I’ve got a parkour class right after school lets out. Well, not right after, but the kids come in as soon as they can get to the studio from school, and then they’re just congregating for half an hour until the class actually starts. That one is pretty fun, because it’s like the one time when you’re encouraging hyper kids to run up walls and jump off things.

“Then after that, I teach a more formal Tai Chi class. Those kids are there because their parents have them on a schedule from the second they wake up to the second they go to bed. It’s later so they can also have band practice or piano lessons or SAT tutoring or whatever right after school. They’re so quiet. And then after that class, I often get the parents talking at me for like twenty minutes. They just want to brag about their kids, or hear me brag about their kids. Ugh. The kids are mostly like little robots.

“And then I have a break, and then it’s capoeira for a bunch of out of shape adults. My capoeira class in the mornings is much more advanced. So it’s kind of a nice way to end the day. Nothing too strenuous, you know. I get to be more of a motivator.”

“And you like working there?” Steve asked.

“Sure. Everyone’s great. And I can pop into whatever class I want when I’m not teaching.”

“That good,” Steve said. Better than being a brainwashed assassin. He was glad Bucky was happy in this life.

After dinner they set up on the couch. Steve didn’t feel like reading, so they just watched TV together, some program on Netflix they were apparently very engrossed in, except Steve had never heard of it. He didn’t bother to ask Bucky what was happening. The intro had a “Previously on...” montage that filled him in well enough.

“I was thinking about our date,” Steve said after a little while.

“Yeah?” Bucky immediately abandoned the TV and turned to face Steve on the couch. “You have something in particular you want to do?”

“I was just wondering if you had anything planned already.” He was afraid Bucky was going to take him to some old familiar haunt of theirs that he wouldn’t recognize.

“I hadn’t really thought about it much. Seriously, if you have something you wanna do?”

Steve smiled. “We could go to Coney Island and ride the Cyclone until we throw up.”

“I have a stomach of steel,” said Bucky, grinning. “I know you’ll be the first to barf. You always are.”

Even though he knew his memory of Coney Island was about seventy years before this Bucky’s memory, like the Halloween costumes, it feel like a connection, however tenuous. He slid his hand over and touched Bucky’s fingers. A feeble gesture, but at that moment he needed to know that this Bucky was flesh and blood, alive and well, and not just some dream that would torture him when he woke up back in his world.

“Might be a bit cold for Coney Island,” Bucky said. “But all the rides and stuff are open on the weekends if you really want to go.”

“Actually... I was thinking we should do something we’ve never done before. Something totally new.” In other words, the total opposite of what he was doing with Peggy. He didn’t know if she liked jazz music, or knew how to swing dance. Maybe that was unfair of him to bring her someplace that reminded him of his Peggy.

“Okay,” said Bucky slowly. “I’m sure I can find something.” He smiled, and then his hand wrapped around Steve’s.

That pressure, the solid feel of Bucky’s hand on his... Steve didn’t want it to stop. He wanted to hold on to Bucky and save him from dying over and over again in his mind. If only he’d been able to stop Bucky from falling... everything would have been different. The weight of all that had been lost in that moment hit him, and he didn’t pull away when Bucky scooted closer and they sat, shoulder to shoulder, heads resting together on the back of the couch, holding hands, for the rest of the TV show.

Chapter Text

Purgatory.

Heaven.

Hell? 

Steve rolled onto his back and stared up at the dark ceiling of the living room. After falling asleep on the couch, still holding Bucky's hand, he'd awoken in the dark lying down with the afghan tucked around him and a throw pillow under his head. 

For some reason, probably because of the weird supernatural show they'd been watching - had it actually been called "Supernatural"? - he'd dreamed of angels and demons and now he lay awake formulating a new theory: he was in purgatory.

Or heaven.  Or hell.

It made a sort of sense.  He had been sure he was going to die as he fell from the helicarrier.  And he'd been certain Bucky was going to die too.  That aircraft was going to crash, and Steve wasn't sure what it would take to kill someone who had been injected with the serum.  He had survived a plane crash himself, but the plane hadn't exploded, and the cold had simply frozen him solid.  Like a cryo freeze.  Like what Bucky, as the Winter Soldier, had been subjected to, over and over.  Both of them frozen, traveling through time.

 He was pretty sure a huge explosion could kill him.  Just as drowning would.  So it was possible both of them could be dead, in this strange place, where if they could atone for what they'd done to each other, they'd move onward and upward.  If Steve had his last dance with Peggy, if he could save Bucky instead of letting him fall...

Then he thought, What if this was heaven, instead?  Here he was, with the people he loved.  That was how he'd always heard heaven described. 

But it could also be hell.  In a relationship with his best friend, never able to return Bucky's feelings.  Everyone thinking he was crazy, or terminally ill.  Meanwhile, he couldn't exactly pursue Peggy.  Well, he could, but more and more he was feeling like he shouldn't.  But he had to.

Hell.  This was definitely hell. 

Frustrated, he got up and switched on the little lamp on his drawing table.  He wondered if drawing was a release for this world's Steve as much as it was for him.  Then he had a sudden thought: what about other Steve?  Was he now trapped in Captain America's body?  Oh god.  Steve could still remember those first exhilarating moments in his new body.  The way Peggy had looked at him... and all the commotion, trying to run and not being able to stop himself from hurtling out of control. 

Then again, that had been Steve's world, hadn't it?  A normal life, turned upside down by the serum.  Suddenly crazy things were possible, like being able to lift a car over his head, or a man tearing his own face off, metal suits that could make a person fly, gods from other worlds, men who could turn into Hulks.  Of course, other Steve wouldn't get the slow introduction he'd had to all that craziness.  He'd be plunged right into the thick of it.  Good god.

He hadn't really thought about what kind of person this other Steve had been.  He'd assumed this Steve was basically the same as he was, just without the help of the serum.  Nat and Bucky had said as much.  But he wasn't, was he?  It was stupid to assume that this world's Steve had the same moral compass.  After all, he might have been a little guy when he was younger, but he was nearly the size of Captain America now. 

What would be helpful was if there was some kind of diary.  That would be convenient.  "Hi, I'm Steve, and here are my innermost thoughts."  Steve flipped through a few of the sketchpads near the drawing table.  Mostly sketches of Bucky - his eyes nearly bugged out of his head at a couple of them, but he kept flipping, seeing that there were other people as well, mostly sitting or walking or running, like other Steve had gone to the park and drawn what he had seen. 

Steve flipped back to one of the drawings of Bucky.  He could barely breathe.  Bucky had surely posed for this.  Too much... detail... to be drawn from memory.  The rumpled sheets.  Bucky's hand on his own dick...

He slammed the sketchbook shut.  Swallowed. 

Found the page again.

For a while after that, he shut off the light and sat in the dark, wishing away the incredible hardness in his pants, wanting for it to be satisfied.  He was pretty sure Bucky would be willing.  Just the thought of Bucky's fingers on his dick, and he could feel tingling shoot all the way through, up from his balls.  Bucky.

Then he was standing in the doorway of the bedroom.

As before, he felt a crushing love for Bucky and how peaceful he looked in sleep.  This was his friend.  But they were more than that, weren't they?  They had become each other's family.  They had no one else but each other.  Steve didn't know anyone else, Avenger or otherwise, who had a friendship like his and Bucky's.  How many times had they saved each other? 

(How many times had they killed each other?)

It seemed only natural, then, that they would become even more to each other. 

Steve went to the other side of the bed, where Bucky was curled around the empty space he might have occupied.  With the lightest touch he could manage - he didn't want to wake him, afraid Bucky would see this an invitation to something he was not yet ready for - he cupped Bucky's face, felt his hair and the little bit of stubble on his cheek.  He leaned down, and touched his lips to Bucky's.  Every nerve in his body cried out for release.

Bucky did not wake.

Returning to the couch, Steve slept miserably, refusing to touch himself for relief.

This is hell.

***

"You still look tired," Bucky said in the morning, reaching up to touch Steve's face.

He jerked away.  He still ached down there, and didn't want to revisit the feelings of last night.  "I'm fine," he said. 

"You really think you should be going to the gym?"

Steve bit into a hard-boiled egg.  "I think it will help me feel better.  More normal."  He was also hoping it would release some of the pent-up feelings he had.  Maybe then he'd be able to sleep.

"Okay.  Just don't... push yourself too hard," Bucky said.  He drained his coffee cup and set it in the sink.  "I know how you are."

"I won't."

"See you for lunch."

Steve threw on his sneakers, not bothering to change out of what he'd worn to bed.  It was basically what he'd wear to the gym, anyway.  A hooded sweatshirt over the t-shirt.  He searched his dresser drawers and then the closet, where he found a gym bag.  It had wraps and a pair of lightweight boxing gloves and a towel.  He added a water bottle and slung it over his shoulder, then pulled out his phone and used the GPS to guide him to the gym.  He remembered Bucky saying it was on Front Street, and he knew the general direction.

Though the bright autumn sunlight made his eyes feel grainy, it felt good to be outside, finding his way on his own instead of following Bucky around.  He found the place without too much trouble.  The smack of gloves against bags, the smell of sweat and chalk, it all made him feel right at home.  He found his membership card in the pieces of his wallet - "Looks like you had a rough week," said the guy at the counter - then he figured out where the locker rooms were and stowed his bag, took out his tape and gloves, and claimed a sandbag. 

While he taped up his hands, he looked around.  There were people sparring in both of the regulation-size boxing rings.  He watched the two men in the ring closest to him.  The dance, bob, and weave was hypnotizing, but there was something else.  Something familiar.  It wasn't until the man with his back to Steve turned that he knew why. 

It was Sam. 

He tried not to give in to the way his heart skipped in his chest, the way it had done each time he'd seen someone familiar in this world.  If this Sam knew him, fine.  He would notice Steve and come over.  But Bucky had told him he didn't have a friend named Sam.  It was best to assume they were strangers.

He had thrown a test punch at the bag without gloves, as he usually did, to see if this body could handle it.  First off, the bag barely moved.  That was fine, Steve hadn't put his full force behind the punch.  He didn't need to go breaking this Steve's hands.  The punch hurt enough that he knew he would need the gloves too.  He slid them on and then got down to business.

"Rogers!"

Sam's voice behind him.  He paused in his workout and looked at him.  The same friendly face.  And he clearly knew Steve.  Maybe they were just casual acquaintances.

"Hi, Sam," Steve said, his voice rising slightly at the end.  He didn't need a repeat of yesterday's interaction.  Sam didn't react to this name, and Steve exhaled in relief. 

Wiping his face with a towel, Sam asked, "Where you been?"

"Got hit by a car last week," said Steve.  He lifted up his shirt to show his bruised ribs.

"Yikes.  Guess that means we won't be sparring later."  Sam hunched into his boxing stance, and after a ball change on his feet, threw a light punch toward Steve's shoulder.  Steve blocked it easily.  "I figured you would've called to let me know you weren't coming in on Monday."

"Oh... I must have forgotten."  Steve hadn't made a conscious decision to see if he could get away with not telling Sam he had amnesia.  Somehow it just seemed easier to lie.  He wanted to see where this went.  "I've sorta been in and out of the hospital all week.  And my phone's pretty much shit."  He pulled it out and showed the cracked screen.

"You don't have any broken bones or anything, do you?" Sam asked. 

"I wouldn't be here if I did."

Sam laughed.  "Yeah, you would.  It's fine if you don't wanna tell me.  Don't wanna ruin your chances for your first match, I get it."

First match?  Steve just laughed a little and threw a punch combination at the sandbag.  He felt Sam watching him, and wondered if Sam was his trainer or something. 

"You get back into it, then," Sam said.  "Imma go hit the weights.  I'll be here Friday like usual if you're feeling up to it."

"Sure thing."  Steve saluted him off and returned to his workout as questions flooded his thoughts.  Surely Bucky didn't know anything about this match.  Not if Steve had never even mentioned Sam.  How could he have hidden the fact that he had been training for a boxing match?  Wouldn't he have bruises, marks?  If not on his face, surely his ribs would have taken a beating. 

Something was shady here, and Steve didn't like it one bit. 

He spent a long time punching out his frustrations.  It wasn't as long as Cap might have spent, and he certainly couldn't break a sandbag off its rigging like he used to, but it was longer than anyone who had been working around him, and his arms felt good and sore.  He wiped the sweat from his face, hung his towel around his neck, and stopped in the locker room to put away his gloves before seeking out the weights area, where he made every other part of his body just as sore.  He didn’t see Sam, and he felt relieved.

On the way out, a bulletin board caught his eye, and he looked over all the flyers advertising upcoming events.  It seemed like there was a boxing tournament every weekend.  Some amateur, some were semi-professional.  There were wrestling matches.  Women-only matches. 

“Well that narrows it down,” he muttered.

His brain worked the entire way home.  Bucky didn’t know about Sam.  Sam was Steve’s trainer.  That meant Steve hadn’t told Bucky about his training.  Most certainly not about the “match.”  At an intersection, Steve suddenly remembered his phone.  He pulled it out, and scrolled through the contacts.  No Sam, although there was a “Nick.”  And, as Steve got to the end of the list, a “Wilson.” 

It made him more than a little angry that his other self had lied to Bucky about something like this.  Then again, this Steve hadn’t had the benefit of a serum that amplified his inherent goodness, as Dr. Erskine had explained it.  Although, when he really thought about it, if he wanted the chance to prove himself at something, he probably wouldn’t have told Bucky either.  Damn.  It felt strange, to be both protective of Bucky’s feelings and also be able to justify the actions of his other self.

He must have taken a different route home than he’d taken to the gym, because the used book store sign jumped out at him.  Bucky had mentioned that he liked going to a used bookstore.  He wanted to go home and search through other Steve’s things for more information about the “match,” but he couldn’t stop the curiosity compelling him to step into the bookstore.

The bell rang over his head, and the bookseller nodded and greeted him before returning to a paperback romance.  Steve immediately ducked into the first aisle.  Agent Coulson.  Agent Coulson owned the bookstore.  Agent Coulson, who had died last year. 

Steve wandered the history section for a while, hoping some book title would jump out at him.  He was little stunned that there were no books about him or the Howling Commandos, until he remembered that in this world, they were considered fiction.  With a sigh, he moved to the next aisle, where he was confronted with a large endcap display featuring the beatific visage of Tony Stark, dressed in all white, reaching out to the viewer.

“Local author ANTHONY STARK of STARK MEDITATIONS presents a lecture on THE SCIENCE OF CHAKRAS with special guest, Dr. Bruce Banner, M.D.”  Below were copies of a book called Electromagnetic Energy and the Heart Chakra.  The cover showed Tony lying with his eyes closed and a blue glowing stone in the center of his chest.  Steve picked up a copy to read the small print underneath the enormous font of Tony’s name.

“Doctor Bruce Banner,” Steve said to himself.  So Bruce knew Tony in this world.  Knew him well enough to collaborate on a book.  And, Steve discovered when he flipped to the back of the book to read the author bio, well enough to marry him.

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner were married.

“Wow, I didn’t realize you were a fan,” said Agent Coulson when Steve brought the book to the counter to buy it.  Steve glanced at his nametag.  Phil.

“Uh, yeah, I guess.  He’s my yoga instructor, so I thought I’d read it.”

“Wow.  I mean, I just can’t believe the artist behind my favorite comics is a Tony Stark fan.  I can’t believe it.”  Phil looked at him through his dark-rimmed glasses, grinning in that way that had unsettled him the first time he’d met Phil Coulson.

“Oh.  Um.  Thanks?”

“You’re going to come to the lecture, right?  Friday night.  This is a smaller venue so it’s going to be a very intimate gathering.  We’re all very excited.”  Phil threw a postcard with information about the lecture into the bag and held it out.

“I wish I could,” Steve said, taking the bag.  “I have plans on Friday.” 

“That’s too bad.” 

Phil spoke with so much sincerity he had to step back.  “Sorry.”

“I’m still hoping you’ll come and do an event for us someday,” said Phil.  “I know Marvel’s all—” He held up his hands like he was being threatened with a gun to the head.

“Oh,” said Steve.  “Yeah.  I’ll have to check with... uh, my agent.”  He’d had one of those once, back when he was doing appearances as Captain America. 

“Of course, sure.  Hey, I’m just happy I can help with your research.  Cap is my fave!”

Steve got the hell of out of there as fast as he could while still being polite. He wondered if this world was ever going to stop surprising him.

Chapter Text

When Bucky returned home for lunch, Steve said, “I do have a friend named Sam.  I know him from the gym.”

“And he knows you?” Bucky asked dubiously.

“I knew you and Natasha and Clint and Tony,” Steve reminded him.  “Yeah, he knew me.  Came right up and said hello.”

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.”

It was on the tip of Steve’s tongue to tell Bucky about the match, but he held back.  It felt too much like tattling, and Steve didn’t have any information.  For all he knew, Sam could have been talking about a chess match.  There must have been a good reason for other Steve not to tell Bucky.  He had a hard time thinking this Bucky wouldn’t be supportive of other Steve if he wanted to do some amateur boxing.  Then again, he couldn’t even imagine a Bucky who wasn’t protective.  Maybe other Steve was afraid Bucky would try to stop him, afraid he’d get hurt.

“You’re quiet,” Bucky commented.

“Did you know Gleason’s was a boxing gym?” he asked.

Bucky’s eyebrows lifted a bit.  “No.”

“Even though I have gloves and everything in my gym bag?”

“You do?”  Bucky was starting to look alarmed.  Steve felt a little better about his decision not to tell.

Steve shrugged.  “I mean, I thought it was interesting, because that’s the kind of workout I remember doing.  Guess it was really a memory.”  It felt like the worst lie he’d ever told.  But god, if Bucky’s face looked like that just from finding out Steve worked out at a boxing gym, what would he say if he knew other Steve had actually been training to fight?

“You never talked about wanting to do boxing,” Bucky said.  “Sometimes you come to classes at my studio, but you’ve never seemed very interested in fight training.   You never even want to spar with me, not even when we’re alone.”

Bucky was talking like he was the other Steve.  And he sounded a little offended.

“I’m not sure he,” Steve swallowed, “I?  I’m not sure I do any fighting.  They have boxing rings but I don’t remember ever going into a ring,” he said.  Why did he feel like he was covering other Steve’s tracks?  Why did he feel like he’d be tattling if he told Bucky about this match?  “They do have weights and exercise equipment.  It might not mean anything.”

“Maybe,” said Bucky.  “Do you... feel like you know how to fight?”

How could he answer that without incriminating other Steve?  “I did a lot of fighting...” he trailed off.

“As Captain America,” Bucky finished.

Steve looked down at the crumbs on his plate.  “Yeah.”

“I’m just curious,” said Bucky.  “After the hospital, you wanna head back to the studio with me and spar a little?  I mean, I know you’ve taken some classes there.  You like the capoeira class.  Then again, you also like the Zumba class.”

“What’s Zumba?” Steve asked.

Bucky laughed.  “It’s like a dance class.  And capoeira has some dance elements.  You don’t remember liking to dance?”

“I can’t dance,” Steve said.  Shit, he didn’t know how to dance.  And here he was, planning to take Peggy to a swing club. 

“Well,” said Bucky, smiling, “you can, I swear.  But you didn’t answer my question.”

“About the sparring?”  Steve winced.  For a brief instant he worried he would hurt Bucky.  Then he remembered how viciously Bucky had fought him on the helicarrier.  Then he remembered that neither he nor Bucky had any special powers here.  They were normal people.  And this Bucky wouldn’t hurt him.  “Um, okay, I guess.”

“You look worried.”

“I mean, you teach this stuff.”  Steve wasn’t sure if this body would know how to fight as Cap.  His brain was used to a body fueled by the serum.  If he told his body to do a backflip, what were the chances his body would be able to do it?  “Also my ribs are still pretty sore.”

Bucky’s grin faded.  Most definitely Bucky had seen the bruises yesterday, when Steve had changed into the hospital gown.  “You’re right, we probably shouldn’t do it right now.  Sorry.  I guess we should head down for your appointment?”

They cleaned up lunch and headed out.  Steve wanted to tell Bucky about seeing Phil, about Tony and Bruce being married, but he knew Bucky wouldn’t understand.  Hell, even the Bucky from his world wouldn’t get it. 

Steve kept his head down while in the waiting room, and even on the way into the room where they would be given the MRI results.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to see Peggy with Bucky at his side, and he definitely didn’t want to see Thor/Chris and his girlfriend again.  And knowing that Bruce was married to Tony? 

The same doctor who had examined him before came in and greeted them, and put the MRI scans up on the light boxes.  Steve found himself looking at several cross-sections of his own head.  “There’s not much to be concerned about,” the doctor began.

Immediately Bucky grabbed his hand.  “Not much?” he asked, a note of panic in his voice.

“No, not much.  If you will look at this particular scan, there is a small shadow here.  I say shadow, because it does not appear in any of the other scans.  It is most likely some error of the machine.”

“But it could be something?” Bucky asked.

Steve squeezed Bucky’s hand.  “It’s just an error, Buck.  I’m okay.”

“But he had a nosebleed yesterday.  Maybe two.”  Bucky gave Steve a look.  “I saw the tissues in the trash,” he said.

“You said I’ve had nosebleeds before.”

“No need to panic,” the doctor said soothingly.  “This shadow appears to be an anomaly.”

It didn’t seem to matter how many times the doctor explained it, Bucky didn’t want to believe that Steve wasn’t dying of a brain tumor.  He demanded to know what other tests could be done to make sure.  Eventually Steve thanked the doctor and pulled Bucky out of the room. 

“Bucky, I am fine,” he said.

“But you had nosebleeds and that’s a symptom of a brain tumor and there was that thing on the scan—”

Steve turned and grabbed Bucky’s face in his hands.  The hallway wasn’t crowded, but a few passers-by had to swerve to avoid them.  “Bucky,” Steve said, “I am fine.”

He watched Bucky’s eyes, waiting for that moment when Bucky would stop panicking and thinking that Steve was about to drop dead of cancer.  Instead he found himself noticing what an interesting shade of blue Bucky’s eyes were, how soft Bucky’s cheeks were beneath the pads of his thumbs.  And then he realized exactly how intimate this was, how close their faces were.  How, if he drifted forward just a bit, their lips would meet.

And then, his eyes dropped down to look at Bucky’s lips.  They were slightly parted.  Bucky’s breath coming quickly.  Like Bucky was noticing the same kinds of things as Steve was.

“Coming through!”

Steve dropped his hands and both of them stepped toward the wall in unison as a couple of nurses wheeled a patient strapped to a gurney through the hall.  He watched that gurney like it was the most fascinating thing he’d seen all day.  Meanwhile he felt that uncomfortable stirring in his pants and tried to think of something else.  Anything else. 

"Let's go," said Bucky.  He grabbed Steve's arm and hauled him through the waiting room.

"Buck, calm down," Steve tried to tell him, then he saw her.

"Steve!  How nice to see you.  I wasn't stalking you, I swear."  At the sound of her voice, Bucky stopped dead, and Steve bumped into him.  As one, they both turned.  Peggy smiled at them with her wide red lips.   "Well, Dottie told me you would be back in today for a follow-up, so maybe I was stalking you."

Steve cleared his throat.  "Oh.  Ha ha."  Seeing her again, in the flesh, reminded him of all the reasons he had to go on a date with her. 

"I'm looking forward to Friday," Peggy said, glancing at Bucky.

"Uh, yeah.  Me too."

A moment of awkward silence passed, then Peggy said, "Well, I suppose I ought to get back to work."

"Yes, okay.  Sorry to bother you," Steve said, even though Peggy had been the one to approach him.  "And I'll see you Friday.  Six o'clock sharp."

He waved good-bye.

"I take it you called her?" Bucky asked, his voice cool.

"Yeah," said Steve.  He stared down at the ground as they walked out.  He felt terrible.  "I'm sorry.  I should have told you but I knew you'd feel bad and I'm more excited about our date than my date with her--"

Bucky slipped his hand through Steve's elbow and pulled his hand from his pocket.  "It's okay.  I mean, I know you're going on a date with her.  I guess I was trying to forget."  Their fingers intertwined, and Bucky squeezed.  Steve's breath caught.  "You're really more excited for our date?" Bucky asked.

"I told you, I don't know how to dance," Steve said.

Bucky set a fast pace for the walk home.  Steve wasn't quite sure what the rush was.  He wondered if Bucky was mad at him that he had called Peggy.  Or mad because Steve hadn't told him he'd called Peggy.  He didn't want Bucky to be mad at him, for that reason, or because Hydra had brainwashed him, or for any other conceivable reason. 

His hand was released when they reached the apartment and Bucky needed to unlock the door.  Before Steve could take two steps in, Bucky had slammed the door and yanked Steve to face him.  Steve had to put his hands out to stop his face from smashing into Bucky's. 

"I want you to kiss me," said Bucky.

That surprised him so much he went to take a step back, and found that he couldn't.  Bucky had hooked his fingers into the belt loops of Steve's jeans, and jerked Steve's hips forward so their groins collided.  Every other thought flew out of Steve's mind, and he gulped, feeling only his hardness pressing against Bucky's. 

"Please--"

Bucky hadn't even finished saying the word before Steve kissed him.  Natasha, a short time ago, had made a joke about how their kiss had been his first kiss in seventy years, but of all the kisses he remembered, none of them had involved the sharp scent of Bucky's cologne or the scrape of freshly shaven skin against his chin, or someone the same height as him. 

Shocked at himself, he pulled away, and locked eyes with Bucky.  He hoped that had been okay.  He hoped it had been what Bucky wanted.  He wanted Bucky to think it was the best kiss ever, because that's how it had felt to Steve.

After a moment with no words, both of them lunged at each other, furiously kissing and biting.  Steve pushed himself against Bucky, trapping him against the door.  Hips grinding, he sought what he'd been looking for all week, and he moaned with how good it felt, just to have some contact. 

Bucky had released the belt loops, and moved his hands up under Steve's shirt, the feel of skin on skin driving Steve crazy.  Bucky's mouth opened for him, and here he floundered, not knowing what to do with the tongue pushing in.  He reacted on instinct, pushing back against it with his own tongue.  He'd never practiced French kissing before.  That always seemed so risque, and a little disgusting when his Bucky had bragged about doing it with some girl. 

Now he couldn't get enough.  Now that he didn't need his hands braced on the door, he cupped the back of Bucky's head.  He didn't want Bucky to pull away again.

And Bucky didn't, but he did push at Steve until he backed up, and then Bucky pushed him down onto the couch.  Steve let go only so he didn't hurt Bucky, and besides, Bucky was already climbing on top of him and smothering Steve's breathy giggles with his lips. 

In this position, he could let Bucky control things.  Bucky seemed to enjoy some variety, wanting to abandon Steve's mouth for his neck and jaw, but Steve just wanted Bucky against his lips, and didn't hesitate to move Bucky's head back up.  Bucky laughed into his open mouth and obliged.

Time spun on without them.  Steve grew braver, tore the elastic from Bucky's hair so he could run his hands through while Bucky sighed against him.  And it wasn't just their lips touching.  Their breath synchronized as their chests heaved together, and Bucky's hips weighed down on his, moving with the rhythm of their kissing, gradually started to grind more forcefully, until Steve became so distracted by it that his mouth just gaped and Bucky's lips began to wander, and Steve discovered that having someone suck on his neck was even better than French kissing. 

Everything was wonderful; the way the mid-afternoon sunlight shone through the blinds, the silky strands of Bucky's hair threading through his fingers, the comfortable weight holding him hostage, whatever Bucky was doing to his neck, the friction against his dick, Bucky's fingers tracing along the sensitive parts of Steve's ear.  Everything was wonderful.

This had to be heaven, he decided, a moment before Bucky abruptly stopped kissing him and said, "Oh, shit."

The weight of Bucky vanished, and Steve's eyes fluttered open.  "What?" he asked, struggling up out of the couch.  Bucky wasn't even in the room anymore.  " Did I do something wrong?"

"No," called Bucky.  "I'm gonna be late for work.  Fuck."  He stumbled back into the room pulled on his sweatpants, which did nothing to hide his boner.   Throwing his arms around Steve's neck, he pushed a kiss into Steve's mouth, then stumbled away again.  "I gotta... I gotta... take care of this."

He heard the bathroom door closing, and Steve knew what Bucky had to take care of.  His own dick was throbbing, and he could barely catch his breath. 

Barely a minute passed, and he heard a grunt, and the faucet running, and then Bucky was back in the living room, yanking on his coat.  "I'm gonna be late for work," he said again, but still bent over and spent a few more moments with his tongue exploring Steve's mouth.  "I gotta go!"  He sprinted out the door.

Steve flopped back down on the couch, feeling shell shocked.  He touched his swollen lips, then stuck his hand down the front of his pants.  If he closed his eyes, he could still smell Bucky.  Could still feel the whisper of that long hair on his face.  He licked his lips.  What would it feel like when it was Bucky's hand and not his own? 

After he'd cleaned up, he felt silly and relaxed, and put on his record of swing music and hummed to himself while he pulled out some things for dinner.  He was going to try his hand at pasta tonight, with some chicken and spinach mixed with the sauce.  As he moved across the kitchen, he tried out a few dance steps he remembered.  He wasn't sure he was doing them right, but he didn't really care. 

He couldn't wait for Bucky to get home. 

A half hour or so had passed when Steve felt his phone buzz in his pocket, and he pulled it out to find a text message from Bucky.

sry I had to cut n run, I'll be home abt 7 like usual ;)

Steve smiled and texted back

ok :)

He wasn't sure what else to write, so he left it at that. 

Everything was ready to go, but he couldn't start cooking until closer to Bucky coming home.  He danced back through the living room before remembering the more serious revelations of the morning.  He hadn't had time to go through his stuff after his side trip to the bookstore and Bucky arriving home for lunch.  Bucky trusted him so much he hadn't ever looked in Steve's gym bag.  That seemed odd.

So Steve rifled through his own things.  Searched his underwear drawer, feeling along the bottom for any kind of loose section something could hide under.  Searched his gym bag.  Scoured the closet, even though that was a space he and Bucky shared, and he doubted he'd find anything.  He even checked under the mattress on his side of the bed.  Nothing.  The drawer of the nightstand on his side of the bed held only some crumpled tissues and a dog-eared paperback with a slip of paper stuck inside.  Looked like a receipt.  He looked at it, just in case.  A receipt for coffee.  Never mind.  He replaced the bookmark as a courtesy to other Steve, the lying bastard.  Then he read the first page of the book, and then the second, and next thing he knew, it was too dark to read anymore and he had to dog-ear a page, since he didn't have a bookmark.

He started preparing dinner, and a few minutes later he realized exactly where Steve would hide things.  He pulled out his phone with its cracked screen and went to hit the little envelope icon, but stopped himself.  Four hundred messages?  Four hundred?

“Honey, I’m home!” Bucky sang out. 

Steve shoved his phone in his pocket with suddenly clammy hands.

“Smells good.”  Bucky gave the stove a passing glance before walking right up to Steve and planting one on him. 

What else could Steve do but melt against the counter?

Chapter Text

“Do you wanna come to bed with me tonight or do you still wanna sleep out here?” Bucky whispered in his ear.

Steve’s dick wanted him to say yes.  He was rock hard from dry humping Bucky all evening.  He buried his face into Bucky’s neck and sucked at it experimentally. 

“That’s not an answer,” sang Bucky softly, wriggling his hips and making Steve gasp a little.  But when Bucky’s hand started trailing south, Steve caught his wrist and gently guided it back up.

With a short kiss, Bucky rolled off Steve’s lap and lay his head on Steve’s shoulder.  His hand was gripping Steve’s thigh.  “We haven’t made out like this in forever,” Bucky said.

Not sure what to say to that, Steve found himself falling into Bucky's eyes.  It was heady, the way it felt to know someone adored him the way Bucky did.  In a normal relationship, he supposed, they'd both be a little uncertain of how the other felt.  Like with Peggy.  It had taken so long before their first kiss, he hadn't been able to believe a woman like her would ever want a guy like him.

Bucky had always wanted him, and he'd known it.  Maybe that was part of why he had resisted for so long. 

So long.  It had been less than a week. 

So this was different.  In a good way.  He knew Bucky wasn't going to change his mind tomorrow or decide that Steve wasn't a good kisser and kick him to the curb. 

"What are you thinking about?" Bucky reached up and touched Steve's cheek.

"I like kissing you," Steve said.  "But I don't know if I'm ready to f..."  His jaw snapped shut.  He'd almost said fondue.  That's always how he had referred to it in his head ever since he'd been naïve enough to think it meant something more than bread and cheese.  Luckily it sounded like the start of a different word.

"I keep forgetting you think you're a virgin."  Bucky smiled, the skin around his eyes crinkling.  "I'm so lucky, I get to be your first all over again."  Tilting his head forward, he bumped foreheads with Steve and then kissed him, his hand moving back to Steve's thigh and squeezing.

Steve let him suck at his lips, but his stomach had turned to nerves now.  "I don't think I'm ready," he said at the next opportunity his mouth was free.

Bucky kissed him gently.  "That's okay.  We don't have to do anything.  We can just cuddle."

Steve cast another glance at the bedroom. 

Maybe Bucky could read his nervousness - he felt his body shaking just slightly - because he said, "I don't mind if you sleep out here tonight.  I'm sure this was a lot for one day."  He ran his hands through Steve's hair and then they were kissing and kissing and kissing and Steve felt helpless to stop it.  At least this time Bucky kept his hands north of the border.  He gasped when Bucky finally pulled away.  "Sorry.  I'm just so glad I can kiss you again.  You don't even know what it was like having to keep my hands off of you all week."

"So I guess that back-up career as a celibate monk isn't likely to work out," Steve said.

"It's just you, Steve.  Just you." 

After that, Bucky kissed him gently, and a little while after that, Bucky sighed that they should probably go to bed, and a little while after that, they actually got up and Steve changed into his pajamas, stealing glances at Bucky while he stripped off his clothes and crawled under the sheets in his boxers.  "You sure you don't want to join me?" Bucky asked.  He struck a pose there similar to one of the sketches, and Steve had to swallow hard.

"I'll see you in the morning," he said, shuffling out of the room.

Naturally his nerves were all jangled up and he couldn't fall asleep.  At least this time he didn't have a raging erection.  No, the idea of fondue had scared that away.  He rolled over and reached for his phone on the coffee table.  Time to read some emails.

Whoa.  Had he given his personal email address out in one of his comic books or something?  A lot of the emails seemed to be fan mail.  "I LOVE CAPTAIN AMERICA!!!!" one screamed, while another said quietly, "i want to be an artist like you when i grow up."  At first Steve replied to each one, but after about three he had to stop or he wasn't going to get through 20 emails, never mind 400.  The fan mail made him feel good, even though he hadn't actually done the art that these fans were writing to him about.  He was Captain America, and the people saying how much they loved Cap made him smile. 

About ten emails in, he hit an email from Nicholas J. Fury, sent from fury@marvel.com.  "Rogers, if I don't hear from you by ten tomorrow morning, I'm breaking protocol."  That didn't sound good, but if the email address was any indication, Nick Fury was his editor and he had missed some deadline he didn't know about.  He jotted out a quick email telling Fury about his accident and the amnesia and apologizing profusely.

Turned out Nick had emailed him about forty times over the past week - since last Wednesday, presumably, when Steve had been hit by the car.  A bunch of the emails had attachments, notes on pages other Steve had turned in, new draft pages for him to work from.  He hoped he wasn't going to get fired for this. 

Some of the emails were newsletters from comic cons and updates from comics discussion boards.  There were a lot of forwarded emails from Clint.  Those chain letter type things, dirty jokes, random stuff that made Steve shake his head and hit delete. 

Steve's eyes were getting tired.  He was looking at the bright little screen with his lids at half-mast.  He scrolled and scrolled and finally saw something that looked like a clue.  The sender was swilson, and the subject line read (No Subject).  There was also an attachment.  Steve's eyes were open now. 

"Here's the official shit for ya" was all the email said.

The attachment gave him all the information he needed.  "The first rule of Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club," he read.  "The second rule of Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club."

Fight Club?  Uh oh.

"The Underground MMA Fighting League is not for wussies.  You come in, you fight, you go to the hospital, YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.  Your phone number has been added to our list.  We will text you 24 hours in advance of the event with an address.  Delete this text as soon as possible.  Assume that the time you receive the text is the time of the event 24 hours later.  Do not save this phone number into your contacts.  Do not call this number.  Do not reply to the text.  In other words, DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.

"Use discretion when arriving at the event.  There is no schedule.  You want to fight, you enter your name.  Your name gets picked, you fight.  Gambling is strongly encouraged.  Drinking and drugs are not.  You need drugs to get jacked, you need booze to get brave, YOU ARE NOT READY FOR FIGHT CLUB.

"Train hard.  Be prepared."

Steve re-read the attachment three times.  "Be prepared."  Prepared for what?  To get a text at any time?  To get beaten to a pulp? What?  He closed the email and checked his text messages.  Relief flooded his system when he didn't see any texts from strange numbers.  Still, his hand was shaking as he turned his phone off. 

Fight Club?  What the fuck was other Steve thinking?  Sure, in Captain America's body Steve was confident that he could win a fight with almost anyone.  In this body?  No. 

He had to tell Bucky.  If he somehow popped out of this body before he could tell Bucky, other Steve would still keep this secret.  He would train for Fight Club.  He could die

Steve went into the bedroom and smacked Bucky's leg through the blankets.  "Bucky.  Wake up."

"Hmmm?  Yeah?  You come to join me?"  Bucky smiled sleepily and patted the empty side of the bed.

"Bucky, I... have to tell you something."

Bucky sat up and wiped at his eyes.  "What?"  Steve sat down on the bed and turned on his phone.  Squinting at the sudden light, Bucky repeated, "What is it?"

"I... I signed up for a fight club," he said, breaking the first rule.  "Apparently.  Before the accident," he added quickly, so Bucky wouldn't think Steve had done it just now.  "My friend Sam at the gym sent me this list of rules and stuff.  An underground MMA - what's MMA?"

"Mixed Martial Arts."  Bucky snatched the phone out of Steve's hands and peered at the screen through slitted eyes.  "Turn on that light, would ya?"

Steve did, and Bucky kept squinting at the screen.  "Okay, fine.  Can you hand me my glasses?"

"Glasses?"  Steve looked over at the nightstand on Bucky's side of the bed.  He didn't see any glasses.  He opened the drawer.  There they were, atop a bunch of magazines and protein bar wrappers and a tube with the letters KY on it.  He took out the glasses and put them on.  They made the room a little blurry.

Bucky looked up.  "Stop that.  You know it turns me on when you do your whole Clark Kent thing."

"What?  Who's Clark Kent?"  Steve squinted at Bucky.

"Fuck."  Dropping the phone, Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve's neck and the next thing Steve knew, his mouth was full of Bucky's tongue and he was pretty sure he wasn't going to get an answer to his question.  He wasn't sure why Bucky wasn't more focused on the whole fight club thing, although he couldn't deny that he didn't mind... for the moment.

"Sorry," said Bucky finally.  "You look fucking hot in glasses."  He settled back, taking the glasses with him. 

There was a picture: Bucky with his hair loose, the thick-framed glasses transforming his face into something totally new and beautiful, the ridges of his hard abs and the muscles of his arms painted by the dim lamp light, and those white boxer shorts with a very visible tent.  Steve curled his knees up while Bucky read the email. 

"I can't believe you would do this."  Bucky's voice was soft with hurt.  "I mean," he rubbed his eye behind the glasses, "not you.  But... you.  You know what I mean."  He looked back down at the phone, and it would have been hard to miss the way his eyes shone.

"I'm sorry," Steve said, and wrapped his arms around Bucky.  "I mean, I don't know what the other me was thinking, keeping something like that a secret."

Slowly, Bucky's arms returned Steve's embrace.  His shoulders hitched a little.  "I just... I can't believe... Why?"

"Maybe he was afraid you'd be too protective," Steve suggested. 

“I just don’t understand.  I train fighting.  Why wouldn’t you ask me to help you if you wanted to fight?”

Steve rubbed Bucky’s back.  “Maybe he had something to prove.”

“Stop talking about him like he’s not you!” Bucky said, pushing out of Steve’s arms.  “You’re Steve.  You’re my boyfriend.  Just stop it!”

Sitting back, Steve stared at Bucky, trying to figure out where this was coming from.

“You don’t think I know you?” Bucky asked.  “You’re him.  I don’t know where this stuff about Captain America and parallel universes is coming from, but you’re my Steve.  You.”  He jabbed his finger into Steve’s chest, and it hurt. 

“I’m sorry,” Steve said.  He started crawling backwards out of the bed.  “I wish I could remember.”  He turned away, head down. 

“Wait.”  Bucky grabbed him, pulled him around.  “Don’t leave.  Don’t.  Please.”  Bucky started kissing him, and Steve let him.  “Please.  I miss you so much.”

Steve slid his arms around Bucky and held him tight.  It seemed like that was all he could do, other than repeating “Sorry” over and over again.

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry,” Bucky said, sniffing.  His glasses pressed painfully into Steve’s shoulder.  “I guess I got too hopeful, after today.  Nat told me I needed to take it slow with you.”  Bucky sighed.  “I guess I just... it’s hard enough that you’re like a stranger, but to think you might have been a stranger even before this... that I never knew you...”

Steve swallowed, and set his jaw.  He recalled the last time Bucky had looked at him like he was a stranger.  He recalled what he’d said then, and said it now.  “You know me,” he whispered.  “You know me better than I know myself.”

Chapter Text

Over breakfast, Steve debated about whether or not to go back to the gym.  Bucky certainly didn’t want him to.  “You should just go to yoga, or come to the studio with me,” Bucky said. 

“I feel like I owe Sam an explanation.”

Bucky snorted.  “Sam got you to join a fucking fight club.  You don’t owe him anything.”

But Steve still remembered the Sam from his world.  “Sam’s a good friend.  He’s loyal.  I don’t know why he decided to help..."  Steve remembered to use the right pronoun, "Uh, me... out with this fight club thing, but I think I ought to ask him about it in person.”

“How about if I come with you?” Bucky suggested.

Steve shook his head.  “I can handle it.” 

On Thursday, Steve didn’t even see Sam at the gym, which made the whole morning anticlimactic.  At least he got in a good workout.  He showered when he got home, tried to do some drawing after printing out the pages Nick had sent him over the past week.  There had been a new email from him.

Goddamn it, Rogers!  You had me ready to pound down your door!  Glad you’re okay.  I let the higher-ups know the situation, but if you could come in this afternoon with what you’ve got we can get a better picture of how to fit this in with the deadlines.  You still remember how to draw, right?

Steve responded with an, “Of course I remember how to draw!” followed by a question about where exactly Marvel’s offices were located and what time he should be there and what exactly he should bring.  Over the course of the week, he had completed about ten pages of penciling, minus that one panel where he couldn’t get the perspective just right.  He tried again before lunch, then set it aside when Bucky came in. 

“Hey.”  Bucky greeted him with a smile, came right over and kissed him hello.  “How did it go this morning?”

“He wasn’t there,” said Steve.  “I know he’ll definitely be there tomorrow morning though.”

Bucky gave him a look.

Steve rolled his eyes.  “I’ll be careful.”

“You better.”  Another kiss.  Steve parted his lips and smiled a little when Bucky took that as invitation to sit on his lap and continue kissing him.  When Bucky raked his hands up the back of Steve’s head he sighed happily.  “You wanna take a shower with me?” Bucky whispered, not giving Steve much of a chance to answer as he immediately filled Steve's mouth with his tongue.

Steve hoped Bucky hadn’t felt the way his dick jumped at the idea.  He lifted his chin a bit and said, “Uhh, I just took a shower.”

“Prude,” Bucky said, swatting at him as he abandoned Steve’s lap.  He swerved back and wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck so tightly Steve felt lightheaded.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean that.  We can still take it slow, okay?  I mean, you should definitely hold out until we’ve gone on our first date.”  Bucky kissed him again and then headed for the shower.

Steve sighed and leaned back in his chair.  He rubbed himself through his jeans, like that was going to make things better.  Nope.  Time for a distraction.  Today he threw together some spinach and tomato quesadillas that were just about done by the time Bucky got out of the shower.  Steve sneaked a few glances at Bucky’s naked torso while he transferred the quesadillas onto plates.  Bucky had a couple of bruises there.

"What happened?" Steve asked, nodding at Bucky's ribs.

"Ah, I just figured we should match," said Bucky lightly.  "We did some sparring in class earlier, that's all." 

It made him think about his own ribs.  How the bruises were fading and seemed to be in similar places to Bucky's bruises. 

They sat down at the table and Bucky shoved half a quesadilla in his mouth, then spit it out, exclaiming, "Hot!"  He washed it down with some water and made sure to blow on it before taking another bite. 

“I have to go down to Marvel this afternoon,” Steve said.  “I’m still waiting to hear from Nick what time.”

“Oh, did you tell him about the accident and everything?  Shit.  I should have told you to call him or email him or whatever.”

“It’s okay, there’s been a lot going on.”  Steve took an experimental bite of his quesadilla.  Not bad.

“Seems like you’re remembering how to cook,” Bucky said.

Steve shrugged.  “I found the recipe on Pinterest.” 

“It’s really good.”

“Thanks.”  Steve cleared his throat.  “Um, would you mind... posing for me, before you go back to work?”  He tried to ignore the playful smirk that came over Bucky’s face.  “There’s just this one panel I’m having a hard time with...”

“Sure,” said Bucky. 

They ate in companionable silence, Steve glancing shyly at Bucky and thinking about how he'd woken up this morning with Bucky wrapped around him again.  Only this time he had pulled Bucky's arm tighter around him, and with that hardness pressing right between his ass cheeks, he'd tried to figure out exactly how gay fonduing worked.  He knew how it worked between a guy and girl, and yeah, sure, guys had a hole, but Steve couldn't imagine anything the size of a dick shoved up there.  The thought actually made him nervous.  And yet he liked the feel of Bucky up against him. 

It had been nice to lie there and not feel nervous about it.  It felt right.  He wondered if it would feel as right if it was Peggy.

It was especially nice when Bucky sighed awake and kissed him at the base of his neck like kissing Steve was the first thought in his mind.

When he came back to reality, he noticed Bucky grinning at him.  "What?" he asked.

"You're a dope," was Bucky's response, and he kicked Steve's foot before scooting away from the table.  "You ready to draw?"

Steve polished off the last of his quesadilla and washed his hands before heading to the drawing table, where Bucky had taken off his pants and was now wearing black boxer briefs.  "Oh," Steve said.

"Oh?"  Bucky quirked an eyebrow and flexed his muscles.

He laughed.  "Sorry, I just... wasn't expecting you to be naked."

"I'm not naked."  Hooking his fingers into the waistband, Bucky wiggled his hips.  "But I could be."

Steve's breath caught.  "Uh, that's... not necessary," he said.  His voice shook a little, and he stared down at the papers on his desk.  "It's mostly the upper body I'm having trouble drawing."

He felt Bucky's hand on his back.  "You want me to put my pants back on?"

"It's fine," said Steve, trying not to sound nervous.  Suddenly he worried that Bucky would think he didn't want to see him naked, which was the opposite of the truth.  So he turned and put his arm around Bucky's bare torso, careful of the bruises, and gave him a quick kiss.  Bucky rubbed Steve's back and smiled at him, then looked down at the panel Steve had been working on.

"So, this is the pose," Steve said, showing Bucky the draft.  "He's getting punched, and he's twisted like this..."

"Like this?" Bucky slid down to the floor and contorted himself into almost a backbend, with one arm reaching up. 

"Yeah!  Yeah, hold on."  Steve grabbed one of the sketchbooks and flipped to a blank page.  He sketched furiously.  Back in art school, he'd taken a figure drawing class, and for the first few minutes of class they warmed up by drawing these "gestures," trying to capture the pose in ten to fifteen seconds. 

Bucky managed to hold the backbend for a good minute, before grunting, "Need a break," and lowering down to his back. 

"I think I got it," Steve said. 

"You sure?  If  you give me a minute, I can do it again."

"Let me see."  Steve set his sketchbook down and transferred over to the panel.  In a few minutes he had it.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bucky get up and wander away, then return to water the plants.  He appreciated that Bucky didn't stand there and watch him draw, he always hated when people did that.  Maybe other Steve hadn't liked it either. 

When he was finished, he sat back.  "Looks like you got it," Bucky said from behind him.  He grinned and squinched away when Bucky's tongue hit his ear.  It didn't take long for Bucky to drag Steve over to the couch and lay him down.  Bucky was still only in his underwear.  "Mmmm, what time do you have to go in?" Bucky asked between kisses.

It was a bit of work to get his phone out of his pocket, but once he did, Bucky sucked on his neck to allow Steve to check his email.  "Three," he said.  It was barely one now.  He dropped his phone to the carpeted floor and enveloped Bucky with his arms.  With his face in Bucky's damp hair, he could smell the shampoo. 

"I hope you don't mind," said Bucky coming up for air, "Nat and Clint are gonna come over for dinner."  He dove back down to Steve's neck. 

Steve traced along the divot of Bucky's spine.  "That's fine.  I'll see what I can throw together."  He closed his eyes and let himself float along with all the sensations of what Bucky was doing.

"You don't have to," Bucky said quickly, moving up to Steve's jaw, "cook.  I mean," he rubbed his nose into Steve's sideburn, "we can get take out."

Shifting his weight a little, Steve moved so he lay more on his side.  He held Bucky's face off and just stared at it.  Just stared.  It seemed like he had never really looked at Bucky's face.  He traced his fingers over Bucky's strong brow, pushing off the stray bits of hair, then moved his thumb over his cheekbones, combing his fingers along day-old stubble down to that cleft in his chin.  He knew all the parts of that face, had seen them countless times, watched them change over the years.  Yet he had never lingered over those features, savored them like a fine wine. 

And his eyes.  That dark blue, marbled with lighter bits.  It wasn't the color though, it was the way Bucky looked at him.  Like he could see inside Steve.  He knew exactly what kind of person Steve was, and he loved him. 

He wasn't aware of how long, exactly, he'd been staring at Bucky.  He hadn't even been aware of how Bucky had been running his fingers along the muscles of Steve's arm the whole time he'd had his hands on Bucky's face.  The moment he became aware, Bucky somehow knew it too, and their mouths met in the middle, and Steve was swallowed up. 

***

The problem with a meeting at three was that he ended up heading home during rush hour. 

His portfolio was fairly large, but flat, and he had a satchel to carry it in, which he slung over his neck like a messenger bag, but he was nervous about it getting slammed around by all the people crammed onto the trains.  He spent the ride home clutching it to his chest.  He couldn't even process everything that had gone on in the meeting until he reached street level and breathed in the sweet smell of car exhaust and sewerage. 

When he'd shown up, fifteen minutes early, he had to ask the receptionist where to go.  She had blinked in confusion, so he'd filled her in on the accident, amnesia, etc.  Then Nick had shown up. 

Steve almost hadn't recognized him without the eye patch. 

The meeting had gone fairly well.  He managed to explain his amnesia without sounding too crazy.  "I was a little nervous about doing any inks," he'd said, opening the portfolio to show the penciled pages.  "I'm sorry.  I remember going to art school, and I'm familiar with Captain America, but I don't remember doing comics."

"The doctors say anything about when your memories will come back?" asked Nick, donning a pair of wire-rimmed glasses to examine the drawings.

"No.  She just said to try to return to my normal routine and hopefully I'll start remembering things."  The way Nick didn't say anything as he flipped through the drawings made him nervous.  "I'm sorry if they're not as good as before..." Steve swallowed.  "I did my best." 

"They're not bad," Nick said finally, after he'd turned the last page.  "In fact, I'd say they're a little bit better than before."

"Really?"

"Of course, under normal circumstances, you'd be doing about a page a day, but that would include the inking.  So we're about par for the course here, which means good things for the deadlines."

"Oh."  Steve hadn't expected that.

"What we can do is have one of our house artists do the inking for these.  That'll give you a little bit of time to maybe reacquaint yourself with the inking process.  What do you think?"

"Sounds good!"

Then Nick got down to the nitty gritty of critiquing the pencil work.  "We're gonna need these lines to be real clear so the inker doesn't fuck it all to hell."  He had Steve get two of the pages ready for inking and the remaining pages to bring back home to clean up.  "Drop those off early next week and we'll be good to go.  Shit, Rogers.  I thought this was going to go very differently."

Considering how he and Nick had butted heads more often than not, Steve was in a great mood by the time he got home, only a few minutes before six. 

Bucky had said it was okay not to cook, but he poked around the kitchen anyway.  He found a package of Oreos in the back of one cabinet.  He ate a couple to tide over his rumbling belly, then grabbed an apple and chewed on that.  He couldn't think of anything he could make as an appetizer.  Although there were tortilla chips and salsa, and then he remembered a recipe he'd seen on Pinterest, and he'd thrown together a five-layer dip by the time he heard a knock on the door.

"Just go in, idiot," he heard Natasha say as he approached the door. 

Clint did as he was told, and Steve narrowly avoided getting hit in the face.  "I brought beer!" Clint announced, holding up two six-packs.  "We're getting pizza, right?"

"Jesus Christ," Natasha muttered. 

"I'm okay with pizza," Steve said. 

Nat rolled her eyes.  "For someone who cooks, you're never picky about your food.  But I'll have James on my side once he gets his ass here."

"I made some dip," Steve said.  He made a dipping motion with his hand for Clint's benefit, but Clint only looked confused. 

"What?"

"Nice try," Natasha said.  "That's the sign for tea."  She held her fingers together and tapped her mouth, then stuck out her fore- and middle fingers and moved it from side to side.  Clint's face lit up and he hightailed it into the kitchen. 

Steve tried the hand motions.  "So that means dip?"

"It means food and kitchen.  That's all he needs to know."

Steve laughed.  When they got to the kitchen, Clint was already scraping a chip through the dip and swallowing the remains of a previous one.  He gave Steve a thumbs up. 

"So, I hear you and James are doing better," Natasha said.

How much had Bucky told her?  He rubbed his face, hoping it wasn't super obvious how chapped his lips were from the past twenty-four hours.  "Yeah, it's going pretty well."

"You're blushing!" Clint said through a full mouth.

Steve's face did feel suddenly hot. 

"I heard the MRI was clean, so I figured it would be good to celebrate."  Nat pulled out a beer and grabbed the bottle opener magnet off the fridge and popped it open, then handed it to Steve.  She opened another, handed it off to Clint, then finally took one for herself.  "Cheers," she said, and they all clinked their bottles and drank.

Steve and Natasha turned when the door opened and Bucky came in.  He looked a little grumpy and wet.  "Is it raining?" Steve asked, peeking out the window.  Sure enough, it had started to rain.

"Yeah."  After he hung up his coat, Bucky disappeared into the bedroom. 

"I'll be right back," said Steve, and followed him, hanging back in the doorway when he saw that Bucky was changing.  "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah.  Just fucking rain, you know?  I was hoping to get home earlier."  Bucky yanked on his jeans and pulled a gray hooded sweatshirt over his head.  "Com'ere."

Steve had barely heard him, and jumped a little when he realized what Bucky had said.  Wondering if there was some secret he wanted to tell him, Steve walked over to Bucky and stopped by the dresser.  "Yeah?"

Bucky grabbed Steve by the front of the pants and yanked him close.  Before Steve had time to react, Bucky had his tongue halfway down Steve's throat.  It took Steve a moment to relax into it, and when he did he pulled Bucky even closer. 

“I don’t know what it is,” said Bucky when they finally came up for air.  “I can’t keep my hands offa you.”

For the moment Steve didn’t mind, although he had a feeling about why that was.  He and other Steve had been screwing each other every day, if that was really what “nooner” meant, and if they really did that every day after lunch.  Bucky hadn’t had sex in about a week.  He was probably horny as hell.

Part of him felt a little like it was his fault.  He was the one messing up Bucky’s routine.  He tasted Bucky’s lips again, closing his eyes.  Maybe he should just let Bucky do whatever he wanted.  He wasn’t quite sure, exactly what that would be, and a little knot of anxiety formed in the pit of his stomach.

“Clint’s probably polished off the dip I made,” Steve said.  “You sure you’re okay?”

“I was just hoping to get home and have a few minute alone with you, that’s all,” said Bucky.  He kissed Steve’s neck, then pulled away.  “But it’s okay.  We’ll have time later.”

They ended up ordering Japanese for dinner.  Natasha had campaigned for it, and Bucky declared that he hadn’t had sushi in forever.  “I’ve never had sushi,” Steve said nervously.  “Isn’t that just raw fish?”  Bucky and Nat had rolled their eyes.  Clint had finally consented.  He’d eaten the entire bowl of dip almost single-handedly and was on his third beer.  “We’ll have pizza tomorrow,” he said, wagging a finger at Natasha. 

“Fine,” she said. 

Bucky ordered something for Steve, and after he hung up and had grabbed a beer for himself, he announced, “So Steve joined a fight club.”

Steve dropped his face into his hand.  “Bucky, come on.”

“Fight club?  Like the movie?” Natasha asked.

“Just like the movie,” Bucky replied.

“There’s a movie called Fight Club?” Steve asked.

“It’s an underground fighting league,” Bucky explained.  “Show them the email.”

“This is breaking the first rule.”  But Steve pulled it up on his phone anyway.  Clint grabbed it and started reading it.  “I just found out about it.  I don’t remember signing up for it.”

“Holy shit,” said Clint.  “We’ve been trying to track these guys down for months.  I’m not on the case, but this... this is huge.”

“Is it illegal?  Because of the gambling?”  Even though the instructions had warned everyone not to talk, Steve hadn’t thought anything was illegal.  Fighting wasn’t illegal, if both people wanted to fight, was it?

“There’s that.  Also people are getting carried into the ER and not saying where they got the shit beat out of them.  For a while we thought it was some new gang, but the guys getting brought in didn’t fit that profile.  Lotta desk jockey types.”

Steve once again thought about how he’d been brought into the ER, and the pattern of bruising on his ribs.  But Sam had said he was looking forward to his “first match.”

Suddenly a nice dinner with friends turned into an undercover sting, and while Steve didn’t so much mind helping the police, he didn’t like the idea that guys who just wanted to prove themselves in a fight were going to get in major trouble. 

Like Sam. 

Chapter Text

He took a deep breath before he entered the gym.

He had no idea what the “usual time” was that he would meet Sam, but he figured Steve wouldn’t have left for the gym before Bucky left for work, so that was when he headed down.  Sam wasn’t around as he was wrapping his hands and fitting on his gloves, so he just started pounding the sandbag.

“You’re early.”  Sam’s voice cut into his workout tunnel vision.

“Wanted to get a head start,” Steve grunted, throwing a few more punches.

“You ready for some one-on-one?” Sam asked.

Steve stilled the bag and looked at the man who he knew was his friend.  “Look, I’m having second thoughts about the whole...”  He didn’t want to say “fight club.”  It was the first rule.  And the second.  “You know,” he said.

Sam glanced around and said, “Let’s go talk.”  He followed Sam to a far corner of the gym, where two big mirrors met.  It seemed like Sam had picked a spot where the piped-in music was loudest, and no one was near.  “What’s the problem?”

“I just...”  Steve hadn’t expected to be asked that, really.  “I feel bad that I have to keep it a secret from Bucky,” he said.  He hoped he had told Sam about Bucky.

“That was all your idea,” Sam said, throwing up his hands.  “You said he'd only try to stop you.  Come on, don’t tell me you’re chickening out.  I know how much you want to kick Rumlow’s ass.” 

Steve frowned.  “Rumlow,” he said with distaste.  The hurt of Rumlow's betrayal was still fresh in his mind.  He could only imagine what kind of dick move Rumlow had pulled in this world.

“There it is.  We’re all rooting for you to beat his ass.  Come on.  Let’s stop wasting time and get in the ring.”

Flailing for anything that wouldn’t give away the fact that he knew nothing, he looked around the gym like he was going to see Brock Rumlow lurking there.  “Look, I gotta tell you something," Steve said.  "I'm beginning to think I wasn't in a car accident."

Sam got serious.  "Fuck, man, I knew it," he hissed.  "You don't remember what happened?"

"I don't remember anything that happened that day," Steve said.  That much was true, wasn't it? 

"That homophobic asshole would be the type to get his gang to help him beat the shit outta you, then toss you in the street to make it look like a car accident," Sam fumed.  He started pacing.  "He knows you'd kick his ass one-on-one."

Steve’s blood pressure rose as he pieced together this situation.  Rumlow apparently had some issue with this world's Steve being gay (or bi, not that it would matter to someone like that).  Maybe he'd pushed other Steve around physically, or maybe he'd just thrown out some awful slurs - either way, Steve knew he wouldn't have been able to let it go. 

But other Steve hadn't been a fighter.  Not a trained fighter anyway.  So he'd joined this gym to learn how to fight, in secret, because he knew Bucky wouldn't approve.  Or maybe he'd started having issues with Rumlow here, at the gym, since it seemed Sam knew the guy personally.  And it had been a small step to ask Sam to help him learn to fight. 

"You think he's trying to intimidate me out of..."  Steve dropped his voice.  "Out of doing Fight Club?"

Sam's eyes darted around nervously.  "Yeah.  Fuck yeah.  Rumlow's the fucking king, man.  The sure bet.  Lotta money riding on him.  But you got people rooting for ya.  You're the underdog.  And if you win, fuck, you're gonna take him down."

That made Steve feel much, much better. 

"You really think I could win?" Steve asked.

Sam punched him lightly on the shoulder.  "Let's get in the ring."

Sure, he had promised Bucky he wouldn't do any fighting.  Sure, he would pass along the info to Clint, when it came.  But right now, Steve was only thinking about how much he'd love to kick Rumlow's ass for everything the Rumlow in his world had done. 

Sam led Steve back into the locker room, where he pulled a couple of padded helmets out of his locker.  He donned a blue one that left most of his face exposed, and Steve took the other one, red, that covered most of his face and also had a metal cage.  He was so used to fighting with only his shield for protection, and the helmet that protected the back of his head more than his face, that this helmet felt restrictive. 

Sam also pulled out what looked like a padded kevlar vest and handed it over.  Steve wanted to ask if they were boxing or shooting each other, but he knew what the vest was for.  Other Steve had been careful when he sparred, so that he wouldn't have any bruises to make Bucky suspicious. 

He climbed into the ring after Sam.  He fought a lot, but he wasn't used to sparring with friends.  They were too breakable. 

"Come at me," said Sam, beckoning with his boxing gloves.

Steve hesitated.

"You need to me to remind you what Rumlow's said?"  Sam tilted his head.  "Fuckin' cocksucker.  Can't keep your eyes off my fuckin' dick, can you, faggot?"

When Steve dove forward and smashed Sam in the face, Sam laughed.  "There we go."

From then on, Steve wasn't so hesitant about hitting Sam, even when he knew these weren't Sam's words.  Sam had a good duck and weave, and could block, and Steve was still getting used to not having as much speed and power.  He could see the surprise in Sam's eyes when he threw some of his Captain America moves in there, like dropping into a back tuck roll or springing up into some flying kicks. 

"Shit, man," Sam said after, leaning against the ropes.  "You’ve been practicing."

"I'm looking to win."  And, Steve thought, he really meant that. 

***

There were exactly three button-down shirts in his half of the closet: red, white, and blue.  Made a sort of sense for someone who probably only dressed up for formal appearances as the artist behind the Captain America comics. 

The white shirt, he decided, was too formal.  He'd have to wear a sports coat with it.  That left the red and the blue.  He lay the two shirts on the bed, and pulled out some ties.  He didn't know whose ties were whose; it probably didn't matter. 

The sound of the door opening made Steve jump and gather the shirts and ties in his arms and try to shove them into the closet. 

"Trying to decide what to wear tonight?" Bucky asked.

Steve froze.  Defeated, he backed out of the closet and returned the shirts and ties to the bed.  "Yeah.  Sorry."

"I keep telling you, you don't have to be sorry.  I know you have a date tonight."  Bucky came over to Steve's side.  "'Course, I'll be spending it upstairs at Nat and Clint's, drinking myself into a stupor."

Steve cast a concerned look at Bucky.  "I can cancel.  If you really want me to.”

"Hey now, I'm not that depressed about it," said Bucky lightly, sliding his arm around Steve's waist.  "Besides, I can console myself with the fact that you're gonna come home and spend the night with me."  He smiled, but Steve could see the hurt behind it, so he tried to give Bucky a little more confidence by kissing him nice and deep. 

His brain then decided to remind him that if he even thought about kissing Peggy, Bucky was going to know.  And there was a part of him that was still thinking about kissing Peggy. 

He didn't want to think a kiss with Peggy would be better than any of the ones he'd shared with Bucky already. 

"You should wear the blue shirt," Bucky said.  "That red one's mine."

"Oh," Steve said.  "Sorry.  I couldn't tell whose clothes were whose."  He put the red shirt back on the hanger.

"And you should wear this tie." 

He turned to see that the one Bucky held out had varying stripes of lighter blues, dark blues and grays. Bucky had a good eye; it matched perfectly with the blue shirt. 

"I bought that for you when you had your first signing.  Do you remember?"

Steve took the tie, ran his fingers over the silk.  He wished he could remember, only so he could stop disappointing everyone around him. 

"It's okay," Bucky whispered, inserting himself into Steve's arms.  "Just think of me when you're wearing it, okay?"

Bucky went to take a shower, and after lunch, after they'd been making out on the couch for a while, Steve's hand drifted down to Bucky's ass and gave it a little squeeze.  Bucky inhaled sharply and grinned against Steve's mouth, giving a little sound of happiness.  But Steve had noticed something.  "When do you have to go back to work?" he asked.

"I don't," said Bucky, wriggling his hips on Steve's lap, grinning.

"Oh."  He'd figured as much, when he'd realized Bucky had put on jeans instead of sweatpants.

Cocking his head, Bucky said, "You sound disappointed."

Those eyes... Steve couldn't even look at them.  "I just... I thought you'd be at work when I... when I left for..."  He could barely choke out the next words, "… my date."

"I could leave."

He didn't like how short Bucky sounded, so he wrapped his arms tightly around Bucky's narrow waist and rested his head on Bucky's shoulder.  "I'm sorry.  I don't want you to leave but I don't want to hurt you... seems like it's all I'm good at."  He felt his face crumple a bit, and he was glad Bucky couldn't see the tears leaking out of his eyes.  His arms gripped Bucky for all they were worth. 

Bucky's hand ran along the back of his head.  With a little exhale, Bucky landed his lips softly on Steve's neck.  "This sucks on both ends," Bucky whispered.  "But we'll get through it.  We always do."

Bucky spoke like they'd be together forever.  Bucky didn't like the idea of Steve dating anyone else, but he knew it wouldn't last. 

Steve wished he felt the same confidence. 

Chapter Text

Peggy's apartment building had a buzzer system, but no intercom, so after the loud buzzer had scared the bejeezus out of him, he reluctantly headed upstairs.  For some reason he hadn't thought about going to the door of her actual apartment.  Then again, back in his day, things were a little different.  Single women who didn't live with their families usually lived in special buildings that were women only, and men weren't allowed. 

He made his way up the stairs, hands growing clammy around the bouquet of flowers he'd bought for her.  What if she doesn't like flowers? he asked himself.  Don't all women like flowers?  Maybe flowers on a first date weren't what people did these days.  He hadn't been on any dates to know.  And he hadn’t wanted to ask Bucky.  It wasn’t until he had left the apartment that he could allow himself to start feeling excited.  He was finally going to dance with Peggy.  He reached her door and swallowed hard before knocking.

The door opened at the touch of his knuckles.  "Hello?" he called.

"Hello!" Peggy called from somewhere inside.  "Come on in.  I'm just finishing getting ready!"

Steve stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and looked around.  It was a nice place, although the modern décor didn't seem to fit with what he expected.  Had he thought her place would look like something out of the forties?  His disappointment told him yes. 

He stood awkwardly, then he heard her coming down the hall.  "You look--" he began, ready to tell her before he even saw her, then had to stop himself, "--not like Peggy," he finished.

The nurse named Angie stood there in skimpy cotton shorts and a lacy camisole.  "She's finishin' up," Angie said, and plopped down on the couch.  "Sit down, make yourself comfortable.  She'll be a while."

"Oh?"  He had never thought of Peggy as being the type to take a long time to get ready, even though she'd always looked flawless anytime he saw her.  Even during the war.  "Um, I'm Steve," he said.  "I don't know if you remember me?"

"Yeah, we all remember you," Angie said, laughing.  "We're all dyin' to know how you woke up and knew her name.  It's like somethin' out of a romance movie."

Steve wasn’t about to tell Angie about the parallel universe theory.  "I wish I knew," he said.

"And you brought her flowers!"  She called over her shoulder, "He brought you flowers!"

Peggy laughed.  "Really?"

"So, what do you do?" Angie asked.

"Apparently, I am a comic book artist," Steve replied.

"Wow, never woulda thought that.  You look like a lawyer or somethin'."

"Thanks?"

"I'm so sorry," called Peggy, rushing into the room on heels that made a familiar sound on the hard floor.  Steve stood up and his breath caught.  She was wearing a red halter top dress that swirled down to her knees, and black pumps.  "Do I look alright?" she asked when she saw Steve's face.

"You look beautiful," he said.  Belatedly he held up the flowers.

"They're lovely!  I don't think I've ever had flowers on a first date before." 

Angie got up.  “I’ll put ‘em in water.”

“Thank you.”  Peggy’s eyes lingered on Angie heading to the kitchen.  Then she turned back to Steve and without warning, ran her hand down the center of his chest.  “You’re wearing a tie and everything.”  Bucky, he thought helplessly.  She smiled.

Oh, that smile.

She shrugged on a black sweater.  “Are you ready for some dancing?” he asked, holding out his arm.

“I am.”  She linked her elbow.  “I’ll see you later, Angie.”

“Have fun,” said Angie, winking.

Out on the street, Peggy looked around.  “Where’s your friend?”

Steve managed to keep his reaction to a mere stutter in his step.  “My friend?  You mean... Bucky?”

“Yes, he told me that was your nickname for him.  James.  Will he be joining us?”

“Uh, no,” Steve said, glad the evening had already begun to darken.  “It’s just the two of us.”  He wasn’t sure what else to say.  Why would Peggy have asked that, unless... she knew they were dating?

Of course she knew they were dating.  He wanted to smack himself in the face.  She was standing right there when he woke up and Bucky had kissed him.  God, he felt like the world’s biggest asshole.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel inadequate.  He told me you two were dating?  Was that not correct?”  Peggy tugged at his arm to stop him.  “I’m sorry.  I think I might have misread this whole situation.”

Steve looked at her.

“You see, when you asked me to go dancing, your friend was with you, and I was under the impression that the two of you were looking for...”  She pursed her lips.  “A third?”

“A third what?” Steve asked stupidly, then understood.  “Oh!  Oh.”

“Angie and I discussed it.  We thought it might be a fun arrangement for all of us.  Of course she was a little... put out that she wasn’t asked along, but it’s a first date, and we wanted to see where it was going.”

“Angie... and you...”

Peggy tilted her head.  “Yes.”

Steve licked his lips and looked away, trying to organize his thoughts.  So Peggy was in a relationship with Angie.  Steve was in a relationship with Bucky.  And Peggy had come along on this date thinking it would lead to a threesome.  Or foursome. 

“I’m sorry,” Steve said.  “It was stupid of me to ask you out.”  Selfish, he added to himself. 

“If this wasn’t what you and James wanted, why did you ask me out?”

“I have some... amnesia.”  He hated how he had to keep saying that.  How he had to keep lying.   But it was easier than what he believed to be the truth.   “I don’t remember being in a relationship with Bucky.  But I have these... other memories, and one of them was of you.”

“Other memories?  Of me?”

“I don’t know where they came from, if it was a dream I had while I was in a coma or what.”  He was getting way too good at lying.  Natasha would be proud.  “I remember promising you a dance.  And then I remember dying.”

He looked at Peggy, the woman he had longed for in a previous life that felt so, so far away right now.  Years away and worlds away.  She had the warmest brown eyes. 

“I see,” she said carefully, and touched his face.  “You had to see if what you dreamt was real.”

Steeling himself, he waited for her to say it wasn’t.  The date over.  No dance. 

She slipped her arm through his again.  “Let’s see, shall we?”

During the taxi ride over to the club, as they were seated at a table and took in the atmosphere, they chatted easily.  He felt better that things were out in the open – as much as they could be.  “So your boyfriend must not be happy about all this, then,” Peggy said, placing her napkin in her lap. 

“He’s taking it pretty well, but I know he’s hurt.  It’s just that this... dream, or whatever it was, it felt so real.”  The big band music playing was making it hard to remember where and when he was, especially when Peggy was right here with him.  Like he’d never crashed that plane into the ice.

When he looked at her, he had a hard time thinking of things to say.  All the things he wanted to say to Peggy would sound crazy.  He had only ever talked to his Peggy about war stuff - tactics, missions.  “Tell me about your job at the hospital,” he said, taking a sip of wine and hoping that would calm his nerves. 

The alcohol only made him think of Bucky, getting drunk up at the Bartons’ apartment.  He smoothed down his tie.

Peggy had some funny stories about the hospital, mostly about the other nurses.  The intensive care unit was fairly serious stuff, and could be emotionally draining, so the nurses goofed off to relieve the tension. 

When the live band came out to play, the dance floor swarmed with couples.  Steve recognized the first song, “Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing),” as did everyone else.  He and Peggy turned from their nearly finished dinner to watch swing dancing like he’d never seen before.  Some of the moves were familiar, but this stuff... “Wow,” was all he could say when the song ended.  Girls had been tossed in the air and flung around and spun and Steve was dizzy just watching.

“Wow is right.  You know how to dance like that?” Peggy asked.

“No.”  Steve laughed.  “I don’t remember how to dance at all.”

“I can do the two-step,” said Peggy, “And I know the Thriller dance.”  She held her hands up like claws and Steve laughed, even though he didn’t get the joke. 

The dancers were entertaining to watch, and the fancy moves gave them something to talk about.  As time passed and they moved onto a second glass of wine, Steve again started wondering if he’d ever get his dance with Peggy.  He couldn’t dance to any of the fast songs, and all the songs were fast, at least until the band took a break and a slower song came over the loudspeakers.  He recognized the opening strains of the song immediately.

The last time he’d heard this song, it had been in his apartment in D.C., right before his world blew apart.

He stood up, as the other dancers deserted the floor, and held his hand out to Peggy.

“May I have this dance?” he asked.

She smiled.  “Certainly.”

If he closed his eyes, he could imagine himself in another world, another time, back before things had become so complicated and confused.  This song had always reminded him of Peggy and what they’d never had.  “Never thought that you would be... Standing here so close to me...”

The soft fabric of Peggy’s dress under his palm, her hand in his, bodies almost touching...

“There’s so much I feel that I should say... But words can wait until some other day...”

His feet knew what to do.  The tempo let them drift, spinning slowly across the floor.

“Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again... It’s been a long, long time...”

Her hair whispered against his cheek.  Through half-closed eyes, her long exposed neck seemed so pale, her lips so red.  Without words to remind him, he could fall back into someplace where he belonged, where this was right and the only choice he had to make.

The song ended, and another took its place, and Steve and Peggy danced closer and closer, his arm tightening about her waist, her hands slipping around his neck.  He could see she had fallen under the spell of this place too.  They looked at one another like strangers and long-lost friends.

As the strains of “Sentimental Journey” wound down, Steve lowered his face to her upturned one and kissed her. 

It had none of the urgency of their last kiss.  Instead, it held all the sweetness of how long he had waited for it.  A sad sweetness.  A good-bye.

When they pulled away, he knew this kiss would be their last.

“Oh,” she said, wiping at her red lips, then touching his.  “You’re bleeding.”

He put a hand to his nose, felt the slickness there, and allowed her to pull him back to their table, where he used the napkins to staunch the flow.  She told him the same things Bucky had that day outside the hospital.  “Pinch the bridge of your nose, tilt your head forward.  That’s good.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “Apparently this happens a lot.”

“Are you all right?  Dizzy?”

He checked in with himself, and realized he wanted nothing more than to go home.  “I hope you don’t mind if we cut this a little short,” he said.

“I don’t mind.” 

The cab dropped them off in front of the apartment building.  “Would you like to come up?” Peggy asked.  “I can make coffee if you’d like.”

Steve gently declined.  “I had a great time,” he said.  “Maybe, sometime, we could double date.”

“That would be lovely.”  Peggy reached up to hug him, and didn’t seem upset that he didn’t kiss her good-night.  He waited until she was safely inside before heading home.

When he had asked Peggy out, he had thought that this would be his chance to start things with her.  That was what their dance was supposed to be.  A beginning.  But now, having danced with her, he realized it was an ending.  He had needed closure. 

He was ready for a new life. One that had already begun.

Bucky wasn’t in the apartment when he got there.  He took the opportunity to take a quick shower and scrub away any traces of Peggy’s perfume and lipstick before heading up to the Bartons’ in his pajamas.  Behind the closed door he heard a movie playing.  He knocked.

“Come in,” called Nat.

The apartment was mostly dark, and a horror movie played on the TV.  Steve turned away from the gore onscreen and saw Bucky at one end of the couch, slumped down and holding a beer bottle.  On the other end, Natasha had her head on Clint’s shoulder.

“How was the date?” Natasha asked, a bit pointedly. 

“Yeah,” Bucky slurred.  “How wash yer date?”

“It was interesting,” he said vaguely.  He touched Bucky’s hand.  “You wanna go to bed?”

“Hmmm.”  Bucky dropped his head back and closed his eyes.

“He was passed out until you knocked,” said Nat quietly. 

“I’m fine,” said Bucky with his eyes still closed.

“If you want to finish watching this, that’s okay,” said Steve.  He squeezed into the middle of the couch.  Bucky didn’t move away, but he didn’t make any move toward Steve either.  Steve stuck his hands between his knees and wondered if he shouldn’t just go back downstairs.

“Sorry, I know you don’t like horror movies,” Nat whispered.  Clint, on the other hand, seemed really into it, and pumped his fist when the victim started fighting back against the psycho killer.

It wasn’t long before the credits started rolling, and by then Bucky was snoring.

“I don’t mind if he sleeps on our couch,” said Natasha.  Clint signed something, and Nat nodded.  “He wasn’t taking this too well.”

“He kept telling me it was okay.”  Steve looked down at his best friend, and eased the beer bottle out of his hand.

“I’ll get him a blanket,” said Nat, but Steve stopped her.

“I’ll bring him home.”  He leaned over, slung one of Bucky’s limp arms around his shoulders, and scooped under Bucky’s knees.  Bucky was heavy, but he could make it.

“You sure?” Nat said.  She signed at Clint.  “Help him.”

“I’m fine,” Steve insisted.  In the end he was grateful for Clint opening the doors and spotting him on the stairs.  He managed to get Bucky into bed without smashing his head on anything.  “Thanks,” he said, then did one of the signs he knew, holding his hand flat against his lips and moving it toward Clint. 

Clint smiled, and repeated the gesture back to him, then waved and was out the door.

Alone now, Steve exhaled and looked down at Bucky.  All he wanted was to apologize, to tell Bucky he’d never do anything like this to him again.  With a sigh, he untied Bucky’s shoes and pulled them off.  The best he could do, for the moment, was to take care of his best friend.  To show how much he cared, since words weren’t going to help right now. 

Climbing up on the bed, he unbuckled Bucky’s belt, opened the fly of his jeans, and started trying to ease Bucky’s pants off without pulling down his underwear.  That was when Bucky started moving and arching his hips up.  “You tryin’ get mah pants off?” Bucky moaned, then giggled and rubbed his face.

“I just figured you’d be more comfortable sleeping in your boxers,” Steve whispered.  “It’s okay, you can just go back to sleep.”

“No I can’t,” Bucky said, slapping at Steve’s shoulder.  Steve ignored him and continued wriggling Bucky’s pants down, despite Bucky’s obvious boner.  “Stop teasin’ me!” Bucky laughed again, and made a clumsy grab for Steve’s wrist.  Steve tried to pull away once Bucky’s fingers wrapped around him, but Bucky was surprisingly strong, and he yanked Steve’s hand to where he wanted it.

Pushed right up again that hardness. 

Steve forgot to breathe for a second.  The cotton fabric of Bucky’s boxers was a thin barrier, and he could feel everything as Bucky pushed Steve’s palm hard up against his cock.  “Mmm,” Bucky licked his lips.  “Jerk me off, Stevie.”

For the past few days, Steve had made himself anxious, thinking about the logistics of what gay sex entailed, but this... he knew how to do this.  He curled his fingers, feeling the girth of Bucky’s cock through the fabric, felt himself growing hard, knowing how good this would feel to Bucky.  He needed to make Bucky feel good, after all he’d done to fuck with Bucky’s emotions. 

Lying down beside Bucky, Steve continued to work Bucky through his boxers while kissing him.  Bucky rocked his head back and forth, breathing hard and emitting little moans.  His lips were loose as Steve kissed them gently.  With a deep breath for courage, Steve trailed his hand up, then slid it under the waistband and took Bucky’s cock in his fist.  “Uhhh,” Bucky sighed as Steve’s hand pumped up and down.  “Uhhh....”  He slurred something like, “Gethelube” and gestured toward the nightstand. 

Not letting go, Steve opened the drawer and peeked inside.  That little tube with the letters KY... He looked at it closely.  Lubricant.  Steve opened the cap and, unwilling to remove his hand from Bucky’s pants now that it was there, squirted some down inside Bucky’s underwear.

“Yeaah,” Bucky sighed.  He was smiling and limp and his eyes were closed, and Steve kissed his face for a while, rubbing Bucky all up and down his shaft, until he heard Bucky emit a strange noise.  He paused, and heard it again.

Bucky was snoring.

Smiling, Steve slid his hand out, wiped it on the sheets, then got up to finish removing Bucky’s jeans.  He climbed back into bed, pulling the sheets up around them both, and, pushing Bucky onto his side, curled around him.  The sound of Bucky’s snores and the heat of his body lulled Steve to sleep.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up with a raging hard on, his dick pressed right up into Bucky’s ass.  “Mmm.”  The noise came out of his throat before he even opened his eyes.  He still had his arms wrapped around Bucky, and for a moment he wondered how he might extract himself, since Bucky had his hands resting on Steve’s.  Then Bucky started moving his hips. 

At first he thought Bucky might still be asleep and dreaming, but then he felt Bucky’s breath quicken against him.  “Hmmm, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Waking you up,” Bucky said through a sleep-clogged throat.  He rocked his hips harder.  “Does that feel good?”

“Uh-huh.”  He tightened his arms around Bucky’s waist and pressed his face to the back of Bucky’s t-shirt, breathing hard.  His dick throbbed.  Fuck.  He didn’t know how to handle what he was feeling.  Was he supposed to try to... do something with his dick?  Was that what Bucky wanted?  What Bucky was doing now wasn’t going to get him off, even though it felt really, really good.  What was he supposed to do?

Last night fresh in his memory, he reached down and slid his hand into Bucky’s boxers.  There was still some slickness down there, and Steve got to work.  Bucky groaned.  “Ah, damn, that’s good.”  He ran his hand along Steve’s arm. 

“I’m sorry about last night,” Steve said, curling his face into Bucky’s back, and continuing the hand job.  He pumped faster.  “I’m sorry about everything.  I’m an idiot.”

“You don’t,” Bucky panted, “have to apologize.”

“I do, Buck.  I hurt you and I promise I’m never gonna do that again.”  Steve flipped his thumb over the tip of Bucky’s dick, then plunged his hand down deep and massaged his balls for a bit.

“That’s good, so good.”

“I just wanna make it up to you,” Steve said.  Even as Bucky made sounds of increasingly frantic pleasure, Steve felt himself want to cry.  “I wanna make you feel so good you forget what an asshole I’ve been.”  That did it.  His voice cracked, and Bucky shifted in his arms. 

“Hey.” 

He couldn’t keep his grip with Bucky turning, so he let go.  Kept his hand down Bucky’s shorts though.  Just moved it to his ass.

“Hey,” Bucky whispered, touching Steve’s face.  Wiping the tears away.  Then kissing them away.  Bucky pulled Steve’s face to his and their tongues twisted together.  He’d thought Bucky was going to say something, but soon that was forgotten in their focus on getting as close as humanly possible to each other.  Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck so he couldn’t even think about taking his lips away from Bucky’s.  Steve hooked his top leg around Bucky’s hips, bringing their groins into unavoidable contact. 

The pressure of Bucky’s dick, the front of his boxers wet, only made him harder.  Made his dick start leaking, too.  His hips rocked along with Bucky’s, because what else could he do?  The only way he could get closer to Bucky would be to climb inside his clothes. 

He moaned into Bucky’s mouth.  And kept moaning as his body released. Bucky hummed and laughed a little, then reached down and made himself come too, all the while keeping his mouth locked with Steve’s.  Their shirts and boxers soaked, they continued to hold each other, kisses becoming less frantic.  More soothing.  Steve gazed into Bucky’s eyes, and knew he’d made the right choice. 

“I can’t believe we just fucking came from dry humping,” Bucky said.  His nose was touching Steve’s. 

Steve laughed softly.  “I did, anyway.”  He hoped his morning breath wasn’t too awful.  Bucky’s was.  But after all the years of sleepovers and nights spent in close quarters, he didn’t care.  “How are you feeling?”

Bucky shrugged.  “Like I drank too much last night.”

“I hear bacon’s a good cure for a hangover.”

“As long as you’re cooking.”

Steve grinned and launched himself out of bed.

“You don’t have to make anything up to me, you know,” said Bucky quietly, stopping Steve at the door. 

He looked back.  Bucky had curled his arm under his head and gazed up at Steve. 

“I want to.”

“But you don’t have to.”  Bucky smiled sadly.  “Also, you might wanna change outta those clothes before preparing food.”

In the kitchen, wearing a clean v-neck t-shirt and plaid boxers, he fried up some egg and bacon and was putting together breakfast sandwiches when he heard a knock on the door.

Bucky must have just gotten out of the shower, because Steve heard him call, “Come in!”  After a few moments of nothing happening, Steve dashed to the door and let Clint in. 

“I brought coffee,” Clint said unnecessarily, holding up a tray with four Styrofoam cups.  “Nat wanted me to go out, and I figured you guy might like some too.”  Bucky entered the room then, wearing jeans and toweling off his hair.  “Especially you,” Clint added.

“You want some breakfast?” Steve asked, leading them both into the kitchen.  Steve didn’t wait for an answer; he just threw some more eggs and bacon into the still hot pan and popped more toast into the toaster. 

“Thanks, man.”  Bucky did the signs as he spoke, and grabbed one of the coffees.

“Just wanted to make sure you were okay,” said Clint. “And you said last night you didn’t even ask him about the fight club.”

Over the crackling eggs, Steve winced. 

“Oh yeah.”  Bucky’s hand poked Steve’s ass, and he turned, annoyed.  “What happened at the gym?  Was Sam there?”

“Yeah,” said Steve unhappily. 

“And?”  Clint and Bucky said this nearly in unison.

He sighed, and turned to finish preparing the last sandwich.  “He was there.  Apparently there’s some jerk named Rumlow that I want to fight—”

He felt a tap on his arm, and looked over his shoulder.  “You have to turn around or Clint can’t lip read,” Bucky said.

“Oh, yeah.  Sorry,” he said to Clint.  He handed out plates with sandwiches and then they all sat down at the table.  “So, there’s some guy I apparently want to fight.  His name’s Rumlow.”

“What?” asked Clint, and Bucky finger-spelled the name.  “R-U-M-L-O-W.”

“Do you know him?” Steve asked Bucky.

“No.  You haven’t met him yet?”

“No.  I’m thinking he must go to the gym too.  Sam knew all about him.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but it sounds like this guy has a problem with...”  Steve considered how to phrase it.  “My lifestyle.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.  “So you got into it with this fucking bigot and joined a fight club?  Because that totally makes sense.”

“A guy like that needs to get his face beat in,” said Steve sharply. 

Bucky stared at him.  “No.  Tell me you’re not thinking about fighting him.”

“If you’d heard some of the shit he said—”

“Tell me you’re not thinking of fighting him!”

“Sam said I had improved when we sparred, I think I can take him—”

“No!” Bucky shouted, pounding his fist down on the table.  Even Clint flinched.  “Steve, you said you were going to go in, get information, and get out!”

“Look, I barely got anything for Clint to go on.  I can get more information.  And I can kick Rumlow’s ass in the process.” 

“You don’t even know this guy!”

Steve didn’t say anything.  He took a big bite out of his sandwich and chewed defiantly.

“You think you know him,” Bucky said, realization dawning in his voice.  “Steve, come on.  You’re really going to risk everything because some guy called you a fag?  Who the fuck cares?”  Scraping his chair back, Bucky started pacing the little kitchen.  Clint sipped his coffee and watched.  “You know what’s going to happen if you go through with this?  You’re gonna get hurt, that’s what’s gonna happen.  Did you forget all those times you started shit, and I had to come in and save your ass?”

“I can do this,” Steve said.  “I’m different now.  I’m not some skinny little punk—”

“You’re not different!” Bucky yelled.  “You just don’t remember!”

“I remember,” Steve snapped.  “But I’ve been training.  I know how to fight.  Sam said I can do this.”

Bucky got right up in Steve’s face, even though Steve was sitting down.  “Then fight me.  You’re such a good fighter, why don’t you fight me?” 

Steve clenched his teeth.  “I don’t want to fight you.”  Hadn’t he just been in this situation?  “You’re my best friend.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

That took some of the wind out of Bucky’s sails.  He stood and continued pacing, but it was slower now, more contemplative.

“I can see if there’s any information on this Rum-low guy,” Clint said, standing up.  “Maybe it’s enough of a tip.”

“Tell him he can’t do this, Clint,” said Bucky.  “Please.  Tell him you’ll arrest him.”

Clint looked at Steve helplessly.  “If you want out, you let me know.”  He took the remaining coffee and backed out.

Bucky fumed.

Picking at his sandwich, Steve wondered if he really needed to fight Rumlow.  He wanted to.  He really did.  And he knew he could win. 

Finally, Bucky collapsed into his chair and dropped his head into his hands.  “Why are you so stubborn?”

Steve remembered his words from just this morning.  He was going to try not to hurt Bucky.  “I’ll quit,” he said, even though it went against his gut.  “If you really want me to quit I will.  But I’m not just going to stand around quietly if this Rumlow guy starts harassing me.  Fight club or no fight club.”

“Of course you won’t.”  Bucky sounded weary, but when he peeked over at Steve from his hands, he was smiling.  “You’re Steve Rogers.”

“I guess that never changes, huh?”

Bucky laughed softly.  “Nope.”

At least Bucky knew it.  Steve took a big bite, and Bucky finally started eating his sandwich.  “So,” said Steve, “I’m dying to know what our date tonight will entail.”

Bucky smirked.  “You’ll have to wait and see.”

“Really?  You won’t even give me a clue?”

“It’s going to be really awesome.”

“That’s not a clue.”

“That’s all you’re gonna get.” 

Bucky kept Steve guessing all day, as they strolled through the city streets holding hands and sipping their coffee, through grocery shopping (“Do I need to get dressed up for where we’re going?” – “I’ll tell you what to wear.”), as they lugged their baskets of dirty clothes down the laundry room (“Will there be food?” – “Well, we’ll have dinner after.”), as they dusted and vacuumed and cleaned the apartment (“What about alcohol?” – “Not before dinner.”). 

By mid-afternoon, Steve was ready for extreme measures. 

He left the dust rag on the shelf and snuck up behind Bucky as he ran the vacuum over the living room floor.  Wrapping his arms around Bucky’s waist, he landed a kiss on Bucky’s neck and asked, “How about if for every kiss, you tell me something about what we’re doing?”

"But then I’d have to tell you everything.”  Bucky continued vacuuming like he didn’t have a Steve clinging to him.

“What if I did something other than kiss?”  Steve slipped his hand down the front of Bucky’s jeans, and Bucky caught his bottom lip between his teeth with a hiss. 

“Mmm.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think Steve Rogers, the tower of virtue in this relationship, was trying to bribe me with sexual favors.”

Steve traced the outline of Bucky’s dick through his boxers while his mouth nibbled at Bucky’s arched neck.  “You might be right.”

“Nice try,” said Bucky, who wasn’t so much vacuuming as standing in one spot.  “My secrets can’t be bought so cheap.”

“If that’s the case...” Steve went to remove his hand.  Bucky stopped him.  “Are you reconsidering my offer?”

“No.  I just like the feel of your hand on my dick.”

Steve laughed against Bucky's neck, and squeezed, just so he could feel Bucky's reaction: the sharp intake of breath, the way Bucky leaned back against him. 

“Oh, wait, I forgot, I’m supposed to hold out until after our first date.”  Steve wrestled his hand away, and returned to dusting while Bucky watched him, open-mouthed.  “Two can play this game,” Steve said, aloof.

This continued until laundry was finished and finally Bucky said, "Okay, we have to be there by 5:45, so we need to change and get going."

"What do I wear?" Steve asked.

"Sweatpants and a t-shirt," Bucky replied. 

"Are we going to work out?"

"Just change.  I will not reveal my secrets!"

But while Steve changed, he saw Bucky throw some other clothes into a bag.  "What are those for?"

"Don't worry about it," Bucky sang.

As Bucky led Steve through the city and down to the subway, Steve held Bucky's hand.  Not even a week ago he might have felt self-conscious about the little public display of affection, and now... Now he was just too damn excited to know what Bucky had planned.

Back up to street level.  Steve vaguely recognized that they were in Soho, heading toward the water.  A large white structure that looked like an airplane hangar was where Bucky was leading him.

Steve's mouth dropped open when they got close enough for him to read the sign. 

"Trapeze School?" he asked.  "Like flying trapeze?  Like in the circus?"

Bucky tugged his hand, his smile huge.  "Let our date begin."

Chapter Text

Up a rope ladder, standing on a narrow board, looking down through the net at a floor twenty-five feet below.  He had jumped out of buildings and planes with nothing more than his shield, but this made him dizzy.  This body wasn't Captain America's body.  This body knew jumping from this height was dangerous.  Even though he had safety lines attached to the belt around his waist.

The guy standing on the board with him, Rob, stuck his hand into the back of the safety belt and told him to hold onto the railing.  Steve remembered this from the instructions they had received on the ground before Bucky had pushed at him to go first.  There were eight others in the class, and they ranged from a ten-year-old up to a fifty-year-old woman, who had tough muscles and had clearly been here before.  She had been up swinging on the trapeze with no safety lines with a few others who did need safety lines, while Steve and Bucky and a couple of teenagers were instructed on proper take-off and the trick they would be learning.

So Steve, holding onto the metal railing, stepped to the edge of the board and held out his arm, and Rob used a hook to swing the trapeze bar into Steve's hand. 

Down below, Bucky was looking up at him, holding up his phone.  Of course he was going to film it.  Steve tried to smile; it felt like a grimace. 

He shouldn't feel so scared - he knew it was perfectly safe.  He was wearing safety lines, for Pete's sake!  But he couldn't deny how his knees felt like jelly.  Like he'd never done anything like this before. 

Maybe he hadn't.  Maybe all that Captain America stuff had been just a dream.

Rob moved behind him and braced himself.  "Okay, you can put your other hand on the bar now."

Steve tried, but his fingers wouldn't release.  "I can't."

"You can.  I've got your weight."

He released the rail and slapped his hand onto the bar.  It did not feel secure at all.  He was dangling over a precipice.

"I'm gonna say, Ready, then Hup, and that's when you jump, okay?  Ready!"

Steve bent his knees, as he'd been taught on the ground.

"Hup!"

Nothing happened.

"It's okay, that happens sometimes.  Let's try again.  Ready!  Hup!"

This time Steve jumped and suddenly he was flying through the air.  It was nothing like the death-defying jumps he had taken, hurtling toward the ground.  This was much more pleasant, sweeping along and rising back up into the air.  Despite his super strength, he'd never been able to fly.  Flying was wonderful.

Vaguely he became aware that the person below, the one holding his safety lines, was calling out instructions. 

"We'll get it next time," he heard as he swung back toward the platform and then forward again.  "Ready?  Legs up!"

Steve pulled his knees to his chest and hooked them over the bar.  Oh, god, that didn't feel like it was going to hold his weight.  He clamped his legs down as much as he could, and when the person below called, "Hands off!" he released the bar and stretched back and up.  "Look for the other trapeze!  Great!" 

A huge smile stretched his face.  When he and Bucky were maybe eleven years old, they had gone to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, and they had seen all kinds of amazing things, but Steve's favorite had been the flying trapeze.  It was every bit as exciting as he'd imagined.

Now he regripped the bar, and was told to lower his legs down so he was hanging again.  "All right, we're going to do a backflip dismount."  Steve kicked his legs back and forth when he was told, and let go when they told him to, and there it was - he did a backflip and landed in the net.

His body shook with a rush of adrenaline as he climbed over the net to the edge and rolled out the way he'd been shown.  He didn't stop shaking even after the instructor had removed his safety lines.  He also didn't stop smiling.

"You did so good!" Bucky exclaimed.  He held up his phone to show the video, and Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky and squeezed.

"That was amazing," Steve said.  "That was so amazing."  Bucky laughed when Steve couldn't stop repeating himself.  "Just wait till you try it.  It was so amazing!"

"Was it?  Was it amazing?" Bucky asked. 

Steve laughed and slapped his arm.  "It was so amazing!"

Steve's hands were still shaking by the time it was Bucky's turn and he tried to film it.  Bucky performed like a champion.  He didn't miss the first calls like Steve had.  They each had several more turns, getting better with each one, until the instructor announced that they would be doing catching next.

"Catching?" Steve asked.

"Yes, there will be a catcher up on that other trapeze, and you're going to do your knee hang, hold your hands out, and they're going to catch you."

Steve and Bucky listened to the instructions.  Steve's stomach was doing its own version of backflips.  He was glad they hadn't gone out for dinner before this. 

"And the catcher's going to be able to hold us?" Bucky asked doubtfully, indicating the two of them.  They were easily the largest in the class. 

"You'll be fine." The staffer climbing up to the catch trap had muscles to rival Bucky's.  Steve tried to focus on how to do "catch hands" and circus grip and chalking up his wrists, and then it was time to climb up again. 

The first time he missed, because his feet had gotten tangled as he'd pulled them under the bar and he hadn't been in position in time.  He watched Bucky nail the move and emit a little whoop as the catcher grabbed him and Bucky sailed through the air and dropped down into the net after.

"You'll get it this time," Bucky told him.  "Whoa, that was fun."  Like Steve, Bucky couldn't stop smiling. 

And he did get it.  He held out his hands, and the catcher swung up, and there he was, making another swing all the way back to the end of the net.  Bucky held up his hands when Steve reached the ground, and Steve gave him two high fives.  And then a big hug and a sloppy kiss, right in front of everyone.  "This was so amazing," he laughed.

After they took off their safety belts, they headed to the changing area and Steve put on the clothes Bucky had packed for him: dark jeans, and a gray sweater with narrow blue horizontal stripes.  Initially he wondered if this was something Bucky liked seeing him in, then he saw the tags still on the sweater.  He pulled it on over his white t-shirt with a smile.

Of course he had never seen the shirt Bucky was wearing, but it also looked new.  White, and almost transparent, with a split collar that revealed his chest hair and looked nice against his olive skin.  "Where to next?"

Through the now-darkened city streets they walked, all the way back home so Bucky could drop off the backpack full of sweaty clothes - "You wait here," he told Steve.  Steve sat on the steps and saluted his friend off. 

He couldn't imagine what else Bucky might have in store for him.  How many restaurants could there be that Bucky and other Steve hadn't gone to together?  It didn't matter, he decided, if they ended up at a restaurant he'd gone to before, or that Bucky and other Steve had gone to before.  He appreciated the efforts Bucky had already made, all in the interest of winning Steve back from Peggy.  Smiling to himself, he realized that over the course of a week, Bucky had already done just that. 

It felt almost inconceivable now, to imagine that he'd never thought of Bucky this way before he woke up here.  To imagine he'd been so consumed with the idea of Peggy being his perfect match that he had never even considered Bucky. 

His mind turned to Bucky himself, the Bucky from his world, before the brainwashing.  Had Bucky ever had those feelings for him?  Bucky had always been such a skirt-chaser, always trying to get him to come along on double dates.  Could it be possible that Bucky had always wanted Steve along because he was more interested in Steve?

"All right, before we get started, I should probably ask you if you've ever had tapas," said Bucky, coming up behind him. 

"Nope."  Steve stood and brushed off his pants.  "I don't even know what that is!" he added cheerfully. 

Turned out that tapas were small plates, tiny little servings of various Spanish and European dishes.  They ordered an array of various types of pasta, but also a few things like grilled octopus and something called boquerones.  "I've never had octopus before," Steve said.

"Me neither."  In the candlelight, Bucky's eyes danced.  Their wine was served first, and over the first sip Bucky said, "We should play a game."

"What kind of game?"  Still coming down from the adrenaline rush, and with an empty stomach, Steve could feel the wine going straight to his head.

"Never have I ever."

"Never have you ever what?  Oh, I get it.  That’s the name of the game?"

"Yup.  So you say something you've never done, and if I've done it, I have to drink.  And vice versa."

"Something I've never done," Steve mused.  He liked how they had been seated in a booth, how the restaurant was dimly light, how private this all seemed.  "Okay, this one's kind of easy.  I've never had sex."  He smirked while Bucky rolled his eyes and tilted his glass back.

"Okay, smartass.  Never have I ever been to art school."

Steve chuckled and took a sip.  This was going to be a good way to get drunk.  "Umm... never have I ever..."  He tried to think of something he knew Bucky had done that he hadn't.  It only made him realize how little he knew about this Bucky.  How much he relied on his memories of his Bucky.  Suddenly he remembered his list.  It was a whole notebook full of never had he evers.  "Never have I ever seen Star Wars," he said.

Bucky eyebrows lifted.  "Really?"  He took a sip.  "That is unacceptable."  Swirling the wine in his glass, he said, "Never have I ever joined a fight club."

"Shhh," Steve laughed, already feeling a little drunk.  Bucky laughed too as Steve drank.  "Okay.  Never have I ever tried Thai food."

Bucky's fingers danced on the stem of his wine glass, but he didn't take a sip. 

"You haven't, either?"

He shook his head, smiling.  "Guess I know where we'll be going for our next date."

Their food arrived, and over the tasting of the small plates, Steve discovered that neither of them had ever gone skinny dipping, been married, or cheated.  "Unless my date with Peggy counts," Steve said suddenly, and misery washed over him.  "I kissed her," he said, covering his face and nearly spilling his wine glass in the process.

"Whoa-kay, looks like you're a little drunk," said Bucky pulling the glass away.  "It doesn't count, okay?"  He tugged at Steve's wrists, but Steve refused to let his hands budge.  "You wanna tell me what happened?"

"I thought... when I saw her... it was meant to be, you know?  But it turns out I just needed that dance with her.  So I could leave her in the past."

"That's good, then, right?  Good... for us?"

Steve peeked up at Bucky's hopeful face.  "I'm sorry I put you through all this."

"Well, I haven't been super understanding, either." Bucky sighed.  "I mean, I can't even imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and your best friend is suddenly your boyfriend, and you didn't even know you were into guys."  He rubbed Steve's hand and added, "I'm sorry if I made this week hard on you."

"I have a question," Steve said slowly.  "Do... bisexual people... does that mean, like, do we have threesomes?"

Bucky squeezed out a laugh.  "Never have I ever," he said, "had a threesome."

"I was just asking because that's what Peggy thought we wanted.  She thought you were okay with me going on a date with her, because we really wanted a threesome."

Bucky laughed.  "Oh, god."

"So, if we don't... do that, doesn't that mean we're just gay?"

"No," Bucky said.  "It just means out of the available dating pool of both men and women, we like each other best."

Steve thought about that.  "But people who have threesomes... are they usually bisexual?"

"Not always."  Bucky looked at Steve with some seriousness.  "Do you want us to have a threesome?"

"No," said Steve quickly.  "No, no.  No."

Slowly, Bucky smiled.  "Good.  'Cuz I don't like to share."

Back at the apartment, Steve shed his coat while Bucky turned on a lamp.  "What now?" Steve asked.  "I never had a first date where I ended up back at someone's apartment."

Bucky ran his hand over Steve's hair.  "We can do whatever you want."

The problem was, Steve didn't know what he wanted. 

"We don't have to do anything," Bucky said, after Steve stood there awkwardly for a few moments.  "We can just watch a movie or something."

"Okay."  After everything today, he felt like there was some expectation.  How many times had they joked about "holding out" until the first date?  He took a seat on the couch and stuck his hands between his knees.  As Bucky curled up beside him and used the remote to surf through the selection on Netflix, Steve asked himself what was holding him back. 

Part of it, he thought, was wondering if his attraction to Bucky was more due to this body's conditioned response than his real feelings.  Even now, sitting with just a bit of his arm and leg touching Bucky, he wanted to grab his best friend and kiss him.  Which was why he restrained himself, knees pushing in to keep his hands from doing just that. 

And part of it was that he felt hopelessly inexperienced, and that fear kept him from doing what his body wanted to do.

As Captain America, he had learned not to be afraid.  He'd been pretty fearless before the serum.   He challenged much bigger guys to a fight.  He wasn't afraid of getting punched in the face.  Then again, around girls, he suddenly got shy.  He always said the wrong thing.  And while Bucky wasn’t a girl, that anxious fear still kept him hostage.  

"How about this one?" Bucky asked.  "We haven't seen this one yet."

A historical drama.  "Okay."

Bucky hit play and wrapped his arm around Steve's.  He seemed perfectly content to sit at Steve's side without making out.  Letting out a deep breath, Steve tried to relax.  His mind was already jumping to when they went to bed.  Maybe Bucky was fine to chill out now, because he figured they'd be getting busy once they hit the sheets. 

"Are you okay?" Bucky asked halfway through the movie, when Steve still hadn't quite relaxed against him.

"I'm fine," Steve replied automatically.

As the movie drew to a close, Steve realized he had barely been paying attention.  He had only been thinking about what would happen in the bedroom after.

"You ready for bed?" Bucky slapped his thigh lightly.

He tried to sound comfortable with the idea.  "Yeah."

But as he undressed self-consciously, putting on his pajama pants, he felt Bucky watching him. 

"You sure you're okay?" Bucky asked.

"Yeah."  He swallowed and headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. 

After he was done, he re-entered the bedroom with some trepidation, only for Bucky to hop into the bathroom.  He sat down on the bed. 

"Rogers, get your head out of your ass," he scolded himself quietly.  "It's just Bucky."

The bathroom light went off and Bucky slid under the sheets.  Steve could feel him looking at his back.  "Steve, tell me what's wrong."

"I don't know," Steve said.

"I told you, we don't have to do anything.  We can just go to sleep.  Like normal."

"None of this is normal!" Steve's voice came out much louder than he intended.  He curled his fingers into his hair.  "I don't know what you want from me."

Bucky was quiet for a long time.  Long enough that Steve regretted everything he had said.  He should have kept his mouth shut.  Should have just accepted Bucky's words at face value.  He didn't have to do anything.  Why was he freaking out?

Finally, he felt Bucky move on the mattress, and then he was hugging Steve from behind.  "I'm sorry," Bucky said.  "I don't want you to feel like you have to do anything you don't want to do.  I want you to want to be with me.  I thought... I thought you were getting there.  Remembering how it felt, or something.  And maybe I got too excited about it.  But... I've only ever wanted you to be happy.  We were happy, before.  I used to be able to make you happy."

Steve sighed.  "I want you to be happy, too.  I just think I got myself in deeper than I'm comfortable with."

"Did this morning, what we did, did that make you uncomfortable?"

"No... but that was my first time doing anything like that. With anyone."

Bucky reached down and rubbed his chest, then sat back.  Steve turned to look at him. 

"How about this: I won't pressure you to do anything.  I'll wait for you.  Okay?"

Inside, the tension began to unwind.  "Okay."

"I can be patient, I swear," said Bucky, tugging Steve to lay down. 

"Okay," Steve said again.  After all the highs and lows of the past few days, Steve now just wanted Bucky to hold him while he slept.  His eyes were already starting to close.  Pulling on Bucky's wrist, he rolled onto his side, dragging Bucky's arm around him.  "Thank you."  His voice was a sleepy whisper.

Bucky responded by tightening his arm and sighing gently into Steve's neck.

"I had fun on our date," Steve murmured.

"Me, too."

Chapter Text

The idea came to Steve during hot yoga class: what if he let himself pass out?

He was already on the edge.  Even after getting his strength back, he wasn't used to the heat.  He could just... let it happen.  Maybe that was all it would take to transport him back to his own world.  Then Bucky could get his Steve back.

More than anything, he just wanted Bucky to be happy.

He still felt like he had disappointed Bucky last night.  The Bucky and Steve from this world had a nice life together before he slammed into it.  Ruined it.  And Steve was beginning to worry that he couldn’t get back to his world.  That he was dead, and his Bucky was dead, and somehow, in the instant before death, he had flipped over here and sent this Steve off to take his place. 

Sweat poured down his back.  He had taken Bucky's advice from last week and worn the little yoga shorts.  His were dark blue.  Bucky's were black.  He still had a hard time keeping his eyes off Bucky's hard body in those shorts.  At least he was too hot and dizzy for his own body to react. 

Tony wasn't here this week.  Instead, a tall blonde who introduced herself as "Pepper" taught the class.  That was Tony's girlfriend.  No.  Tony was married to Bruce.  Darkness pushed at the edges of his vision and he wobbled.  

Almost immediately Bucky put out a hand to steady him.  "Remember to sit down if you feel like you're gonna pass out," he whispered.

Steve nodded as perspiration dripped from his chin.  He was not going to lie down.  He was going to fall down. 

Ten minutes later, he still hadn't passed out.  He had found himself nearly blind, just standing there while everyone else continued with the class.  But his body refused to lose consciousness. 

The class moved onto seated postures, and Steve collapsed to his mat.  If he held his breath, would that make him pass out?  Why had he thought this was a good idea?  He sucked in a breath and then closed off his throat.  Stared at himself in the mirror and tried to make it look like he wasn't holding his breath.  Black spots danced and began to crowd out the bright studio lights.  Hunched over his knees in rabbit pose, he felt his muscles shaking and start to give, and then... it happened.

When his vision cleared, he was lying in the same fetal position as when he started.  Bucky had his hand on Steve's back.  He took a deep breath - his body felt cold. 

"Are you okay?" Bucky asked.

Steve blinked and dropped his head back down to the mat.  "Just dizzy," he said.

Passing out wasn't the answer then.  What had Dr. Selvig called it?  A confluence?  The same event happening in both worlds. 

"Wanna meet up with Nat and Clint for brunch?" Bucky asked in the locker room.  "Or maybe you should go home and lie down."

"I'm okay now," Steve said.  He had spent the last half of class lying flat on his back in savasana, thinking.

"Okay, I'll text them."

All morning, Steve had been feeling a yawning divide between himself and Bucky.  He knew Bucky was trying to be patient and not pressure him into anything, but he found himself missing the constant contact he'd grown used to over the past couple of days.  Bucky had pulled away as soon as they had woken up, when Steve wouldn't have minded staying curled up in Bucky's arms, even if they did both have morning wood.

Even now, as they left the yoga studio, Bucky put his hands in his pockets and left a little space between them as they walked.  It made him feel sad.  He wondered how other Steve had been when he and Bucky had first started dating.  He imagined the two of them feeling each other out, not going further than the other was comfortable with. 

Steve had quickly grown comfortable with kissing Bucky.  With hugging him and holding his hand.  And he hadn't minded any of the other stuff, either.  He wished there was a way to do this that didn't make Bucky think he had to keep his hands off unless Steve made it happen. 

He realized he had liked Bucky's attentions. 

So, Steve reached out and pulled Bucky's arm from his pocket.  Laced their fingers together.  Bucky looked at him.  Smiled.  They gripped each other so tight Steve knew his knuckles were white.

"How was your date?" Nat sang when they arrived at the restaurant.  Bucky had been right last week.  Steve looked at the modern décor and sparse menu and knew he'd need to stop and get a donut after.

"It was amazing," Steve said.  He and Bucky glanced at each other and chuckled.

"Clint's been dying to go to that trapeze place," Nat said.  "He has a thing for carny freaks.  Maybe we'll have to try it."  Clint bobbed his head, eyes shining. 

"It was really fun."  Under the table, Steve put his hand on Bucky's thigh near the knee and squeezed. 

"Are you guys ready for next weekend?" Clint asked.

"Oh, the Halloween party!" Steve remembered.

"We've got our costumes," Bucky said.  He had put his hand over Steve's.  Steve felt a warm flush creeping up his face.  Last night he'd been a nervous wreck, and suddenly now all he wanted was to go back home and make out. 

"Who else will be at the party?" Steve asked.  "Not that I'll know anyone."  He was hoping to recognize a few names, at least.

"The usual crowd.  Tim, Maria, Connie, Gabe, Lorraine... Howard.  Who else?"  Nat looked at Clint, who shrugged.  "We didn't invite any of the professors this year, after what happened last year, so it's most just Clint's work buddies."

"The good thing about a party with cops is..." Bucky started.

"No one calls the cops!" Nat and Clint finished.

"So it'll get rowdy then?" Steve asked.  He hadn't gone to many parties back in his day.  Back then, people were just trying to get by on nickels and dimes, and there weren't too many parties once the war started.  Dances were more common, and liquor was snuck in.  Even after he woke up from the ice, there hadn't been parties per se.  Mostly large formal functions for S.H.I.E.L.D. where ties were required.

"Well, you've got Bucky with his stupid human tricks getting everyone riled up, and Clint has this ongoing darts competition..."

Steve raised an eyebrow at Bucky.  "Stupid human tricks?"

"I'm very flexible," Bucky said with a smirk, which faded quickly as he searched Steve's face for confirmation that this was an okay thing to say.

With a squeeze of his hand and a little smile, Steve told him yes.

Bucky grinned.

"What's the darts competition?" Steve asked.

"If Clint beats you, you give him five bucks.  If you can beat him, he'll give you... what's it up to now?" Nat asked.

"Five hundred and sixty dollars," Clint said proudly.  "Everything I've won so far."

"He's never lost," Bucky said.

Steve could only imagine, given Hawkeye's skill set.  "Have I ever tried to beat you?"

"You've already given him enough of your money," Bucky warned.

Steve shrugged.

"Hey, I don't mind making an extra five bucks.  That amnesia's got to be good for something!"

On the walk back - Steve and Bucky stopped for donuts - he thought about what they might do today.  They'd done all their errands yesterday.  He supposed he could do some work, given that he was fairly behind.  But he suddenly had another idea.

"Do we have any... photo albums or anything?" Steve asked, after they had entered the apartment and kicked off their shoes. 

"Sure!"  Bucky sounded excited.  He grabbed a couple of binders from the bottom shelf of the built-in bookcase, then added a blue book of similar size on top of the pile and carried it over to the couch.  "I don't know why I never thought of this!"

When Steve sat down, he sat so that his leg touched Bucky's.  He knew Bucky would like the close contact.  But what did Steve want?  He wanted Bucky to be happy.  He wanted to be close to his best friend.  In this world, Bucky was his anchor.

"This is our yearbook," Bucky said, opening the blue book and flipping through the pages.  "James Barnes, that's me."

Steve immediately grinned.  The black and white photograph looked just like his Bucky.  He pulled the book away to get a closer look.  Bucky had shorter hair, combed back, and wore a dress shirt and tie, and if the clothes had been slightly different he would have looked exactly like his Bucky. 

Of course, his own high school yearbook had been lost to history.  He'd never bought one, since he hadn't had the money, but Bucky had, and they had spent hours poring over the book.  Bucky's book had been covered in signatures - he'd been so popular.  This picture looked a little different than the one he remembered from that yearbook, but eerily similar. 

It struck Steve that even in his own world, he had no photos of Bucky.  He supposed he could have gone to the library and found the yearbook.  Libraries kept that sort of thing, didn't they?  It was the whole reason he had spent so much time in the Smithsonian Exhibit.  He had no photographs of anyone.  At all.

He didn't recognize any of the other faces on the page, though.  His eyes kept going back to Bucky's photo.  And he couldn't stop smiling.  He knew that if he tried to say something, his voice would choke up.

Slowly he paged through all the faces - so many! - to his own face filed after Brittany Robinson and Gregory Ruggles. 

Of course he looked like himself.  Back when he'd been little, a five-foot-four runt with thin blond hair.  He wasn't smiling, and that made him smile.  He, too, wore a dress shirt and tie, although his looked too large.  Add a suit jacket and this was his exact yearbook photo.  He had hated it.

"I hated it," he said, blinking hard.  He jerked the book so the tears didn't stain the pages.  "I didn't even want a photo."

Bucky laughed, a choked sound.  "You tried to skip school that day, but your mom didn't believe you were sick for one minute."

"And so I refused to smile."  But he had that defiant look about him, as if challenging the photographer to go ahead, take the damn picture. 

Steve let go of the book and pressed his fingers into his eyes, wiping away the wetness.  He propped his chin on his hands and stared at the picture some more.  On his back, he felt Bucky's hand, light and cautious.  "Is this okay?" Bucky asked quietly.

"Yeah.  Let's look at some of the others." 

He had imagined he'd be less affected by the other photos.  The yearbook photos had somehow reminded him of his other world, made the two bleed together in his mind.  The photographs in the albums were color, and he figured that would help.  Instead, he saw so many photos of himself and Bucky together as kids, with his parents and with Bucky's parents and seeing those faces - no Smithsonian exhibit had photos of his mother and father. 

His father had died in World War I, and all his mother had was a sepia-toned photo of him in his military uniform, faded over the years.  Photographs were rarer back then.  Now he could see how much he resembled his father.  How pretty his mother had been.  In each photo, Steve felt a weird sensation in his head as he half-remembered hugging his mother that way, or throwing an arm around Bucky, or looking up just as someone snapped a picture.  Despite the modern clothes he wore, everything seemed familiar.

Tears ran down his face and dripped off his chin, and he wiped them away only so he could see the pictures more clearly.  Bucky rubbed his back and got up for a minute and returned with tissues. 

After closing the first album, Steve looked at the other with a bit of trepidation. 

"We can look through that one later," Bucky said.  "It's mostly stuff from college."

"How about if you tell me some stories about the pictures while we look through it?"

"You sure?"

Steve nodded, and nestled himself in Bucky's arms so they could both see the pictures.  Maybe it was seeing so many pictures, or not knowing so many of the faces in them, or maybe because Bucky had his arms around him, but his tears dried up, and he could laugh at the stories Bucky told, and ask questions without his voice cracking.  With his head on Bucky's chest he could actually feel Bucky's voice rumbling through his skull.  He blinked slowly, feeling himself winding down.  Making himself believe, for even just a short time, that all this information was locked away in his brain somewhere, and listening to the stories would bring back those memories somehow.

The lazy Sunday afternoon drifted on, and eventually they had some dinner, and after dinner they lay together, watching a movie, Bucky holding Steve gingerly.  Bucky's fingers tickled with how lightly he touched Steve, so with a deep breath Steve took Bucky's hand and pressed it flat against his chest.  He could feel his own heartbeat better with Bucky's hand there, that star tattoo peeking up at him.

Bucky's breath ruffled the little hairs on his neck.  "Will you kiss my neck?" he asked so quietly he wasn't sure Bucky had heard him.  Then Bucky's lips grazed his skin and he sighed. 

Closing his eyes to the television show - some kind of crime drama - Steve sighed a little each time Bucky tenderly kissed some new little patch of skin.  He wondered if Bucky's could feel how fast his heart was beating.  He felt himself swell inside his pants, and any attempts to readjust himself only made it worse.  Would it be too much to ask Bucky to touch him there, after he had freaked out last night?  It wouldn't take long.  Each feather-light kiss made him harder. 

He swallowed, eyes squeezed shut, and pushed Bucky's hand down.  Maybe over the pants would be enough.  Another swallow.  But it would feel so much better inside his pants.

When Bucky's fingertips reached the waistband of Steve's jeans, Bucky whispered, "Are you sure?" with a kiss as punctuation.

"Yes."  There was little tremor to his voice.

Still, Bucky's hand did not move further until Steve pushed it, helping the fingers under the fabric.  There wasn't enough room for both of them, so Steve moved his grip to Bucky's wrist, and clung there while those fingers ran along the length of it.  He stifled a moan into the throw pillow, pressing his legs together.

"Still okay?" Bucky asked.

Steve nodded.  He was gripping Bucky's wrist as tightly as he wanted Bucky to grip him.  And when Bucky did wrap his fingers around him, Steve couldn't stop himself from pushing that fist up and down.  As much as Steve guided the hand on him, Bucky controlled the pressure.  Tight, so tight, until Steve was rasping breaths into the pillow, then light again, flipping his thumb over the already-leaking tip, using that wetness as lubricant, a few fast pumps then slow, stretching it out much longer than Steve had hoped to last.  All in all it hadn't lasted as long as the commercial break by the time Steve shuddered and spilled over Bucky's hand.

When it was over, Bucky kept his hand where it was, cupping Steve's cock, keeping him warm, until Steve realized he still had his hand locked around Bucky's wrist, and sheepishly released him. 

"Thank you," he said, placing Bucky's hand back on his chest.  He blinked a couple of times, then closed his eyes.  The brief thought about asking Bucky if he wanted Steve to return the favor fled.  Next time, he told himself.  Next time would be for Bucky.

Chapter Text

"Damn, that smells good," Bucky said, entering the apartment. 

Steve leaned back so he could see Bucky through the archway to the kitchen.  "Hi," he said.

"Seriously, that smells awesome."  Bucky poked his head in.  "What are you making?"

"Chicken piccata," Steve replied proudly.  He had made a short trip to the grocery store to get the capers and a few other necessary ingredients while Bucky had been at work. 

"I'm starving."

"It's almost done."

Bucky hopped up to sit on the counter, observing the work Steve had already done: the table set, bread cut, wine poured, candles lit.  "Special occasion?"

"No," said Steve, stirring the pasta as it boiled.  "I was having a bit of a block drawing this afternoon.  I might need you to pose for me tomorrow?"

"Sure."  Bucky stole a cherry tomato from the bowl of salad on the counter beside him and popped it into his mouth.

"I, uh, met Rumlow today."

"Are you serious?" Bucky asked quickly.  “What happened?”

Steve turned off the burner and poured the pasta through the strainer.  "He was a fucking prick and I almost punched him in the face."

"So I'm guessing he goes to your gym, then?"

"Yeah.  I literally bumped into him in the locker room."  He'd had his head down, not really paying attention, and after the bump and Steve's quick apology, Rumlow had pushed him back against the wall.  That's when Steve had caught a glimpse of his face.  Instinctively, he had cocked his fist, ready to fight at that moment.  

Uh-uh-uh, Brock had said with a smirk.  No fighting unless it's in the ring.  You wouldn't want to get banned, would you?

Fuck you, Steve had snarled.

You'd like that, wouldn't you.  Unfortunately you're gonna have to find some other faggot to toss your salad.  Rumlow's friends had laughed.

"And?" Bucky asked.

Good thing Sam had heard the commotion, because he was the only thing that kept Steve from beating Rumlow's smug face in.

"I managed not to kill him right then," Steve said calmly.  He looked at Bucky defiantly, daring him to forbid Steve from Fight Club again.

Bucky's face wore the long-suffering look Steve knew well from the days when Bucky had to rescue him from getting his ass handed to him.  "Steve..." was all Bucky said.

"Sam and I watched him fighting in the ring.  He's strong, but I'm faster.  And he's too confident.  He won't expect half the moves I've got."

"Steve..."

"You wanna know the kind of shit he said to me?" Steve snapped.  "The kind of shit he said about you?"

"About me?" Bucky jumped down from the counter.  "What the fuck does he know about me?  Come on, Steve.  He's just trying to get under your skin. Can't you see he's just a big bully?"

"I don't like bullies," Steve said, because he had to say it.  "He said he's gone up against you before.  'I kicked your pussy Karate Kid boyfriend's ass, and I'll kick yours too.'  What did he mean by that, unless he knew you?"

Bucky's brow furrowed.  "I mean, I used to compete in tournaments when I was younger.  Maybe he beat me at one of those.  Rumlow... What's his first name again?"

"Brock."

Bucky shook his head.  "It doesn't sound familiar, but we competed by dojo, not really under our own names, so it's possible..."

"You think you'd recognize his face?"

Immediately Bucky pulled out his phone and typed in a search.  Steve watched him as he put the food on the table and portioned it onto the two plates.  He sat down and started eating.  Bucky walked slowly to the table and sat down. 

"Fuck.  It doesn't look like he's on Facebook.  Maybe I should come to the gym with you tomorrow," Bucky said, putting his phone down and picking up his fork. 

"And have you punch him out?" Steve said with a little smile.  "You don't have to fight my battles for me anymore."  There was another reason he didn't want Bucky to go to the gym with him.  He had emailed Dr. Selvig and they had agreed to meet for coffee the following morning.

"Sounds like this guy has something personal against both us," Bucky said.  "That makes it my battle too."

Steve wondered what Bucky would think of his theory that Rumlow had somehow been the cause of his coma. 

"This is so good," Bucky said through a mouthful.  "Umh.  I am so glad your cooking skills came back."

Savoring a bite of the lemony chicken, Steve chose not to respond to that.  His cooking skills hadn't come back.  He'd only followed a recipe, just like other Steve had done.  Right?  He'd never really cooked in his world.  He hadn't expected to enjoy cooking in this world.  Then again, he also hadn't expected to have so much time alone on his hands.  That was all.  He had time to follow the recipes. 

"So has this dickwad seen you fight?  You said you were sparring with Sam.  I'd like to meet that guy, too, and give him a piece of my mind."  Bucky stabbed at his pasta. 

"Sam's a good guy," Steve said.  "Hey, maybe I could invite him to the Halloween party?"

"Wouldn't he know you told me about Fight Club, then?" Bucky asked coolly.

"I guess."  Then he thought about Bucky's first question.  "Sam made us wait until he'd gone before we sparred.  We were just doing some hand-to-hand stuff, punching bags, stuff like that.  Sam said we needed to keep the element of surprise on our side."

Bucky made a face.  "Having a few surprise moves won't win you a fight."

"I know," Steve said.

"Do you?  Sure, you can surprise someone and get the upper hand for a bit, but if that guy's a better fighter than you, surprise is just going to get you hurt.  Especially if he has any surprise moves of his own."

Steve didn't quite know how to explain how well he could fight now.  "Sam thinks I can take him," he said, repeating his line from the other night. 

"Yeah, but is Sam a licensed trainer?  Is he a champion fighter?  What qualifications does he have?" Steve frowned at the rapid-fire questions, especially since he didn't know the answers to any of them.  "At least if you sparred with me, I could give you some idea.  Apparently this asshat beat me in a competition.  I never lost by much in any of my matches.  And I've only improved since then.  So you'd have a real clear idea of whether or not you could actually win against your opponent."

"I don't want to fight you," Steve muttered.

"Steve, come on.  You heard what Clint said about this fucking fight club.  Guys are ending up in the hospital.  And the last thing you need right now is another head injury.  We need to do this, before you get some fucking text message and find out you have twenty-four hours left."

Steve sighed.  "I don't want to talk about this anymore." 

"You could get a text message in the next five minutes.  We have to talk about this, Steve."

"All I want is for you to get off my back and let me fight him!  I'm not asking for a whole lot."

Bucky looked like he'd been slapped.  "You just got out of the hospital a week ago.  I spent two days hoping you weren't gonna die.  Do you know what that's like?  Do you even know what it's like to even imagine living a life without you?"

He set his jaw, and Bucky saw it.

"You don't have any idea.  Yeah, we both lost our parents, so you can't say you understand.  All we have is each other, Steve."

Steve wanted to tell Bucky he did understand.  Probably more than Bucky even knew, because Steve had been forced to go on without his best friend.  To live.  To struggle through each day without him.  And when he'd finally worked past most of that pain, Bucky came back trying to kill him. 

"Look, I'm not going to tell 'forbid' you to do this fight club thing.  I know that's only gonna make you want to do it more.  But what's so bad about taking precautions?  You spar with Sam, why can't you spar with me?  Don't you trust me?"

"I don't want to hurt you," Steve mumbled. 

"You think I can't take care of myself?"

"You can, it's just... I don't want to fight you."  I've done enough of that already.

Neither of them seemed to know what to say then.  It was the same argument, over and over.  He didn't want to fight Bucky.  Don't make me do this. 

All Steve had wanted was a nice dinner, to prepare himself.  He'd had time to do his research, and he'd thought he was ready to do something for Bucky, and now he wasn't sure they'd even be talking to each other by the end of the night.  The whole time he'd been cooking dinner, he'd been thinking about how happy Bucky would be when Steve offered him a blow job.

He supposed that was how relationships worked.  Sometimes you were in the mood, sometimes you weren't. 

Suddenly Bucky scraped his chair back and took the step over to Steve, then stopped, standing right in front of him.  Is he going to try to fight me right now? Steve wondered a split second before Bucky asked, "Can I give you a hug?"

"Oh...kay," Steve said as his brain processed the request.  Then Bucky's arms wrapped around him.

Until he'd come to this world, he'd never experienced hugs quite like the ones Bucky gave him.  Huge, all-encompassing hugs, arms wrapped tightly, face pressed against his neck.  The kind of hug that released everything wound up inside him.

"I just love you so much."  Bucky's voice was muffled by Steve's shirt but it was thick with emotion.  "I don't ever want to think about losing you again."

Steve wanted to promise that would never happen.  But what if Steve found a way to flip back into his own world?  Where would that leave Bucky?  Who knew what state other Steve would be in, after a stint as Captain America.

Probably insane.

So he allowed Bucky to hug him until Bucky finally straddled his lap and sat down, and by then he was gripping Bucky too, and driving himself crazy with the smell of Bucky's skin - a mix of aftershave and sweat, and the next thing he knew his lips were on Bucky's neck.  "Sorry, I guess I should be asking if it's okay to kiss you, too?" he said.

"Of course it's okay," Bucky said.  "I give you permission to kiss me anytime, anywhere."

He couldn't limit himself to the little kisses Bucky had given him last night.  Hungrily he sucked at the skin, until he worried that he'd leave hickeys and then he pulled back and trailed softer kisses up to the soft places near Bucky's ear.  Bucky was sighing, much like he'd done last night, his fingers digging into Steve's shoulders.  It was a while before Steve realized that Bucky was waiting for Steve's permission to kiss him back.

"I want you to kiss me too," he whispered in Bucky's ear.

Bucky pulled his head back and their faces smushed together.  It was the kind of inelegant kiss he might have given when he was fifteen, if a girl had ever been willing to kiss him back then, too eager and not enough planning.  It didn't matter, because eventually they tilted their heads and their tongues touched and Steve couldn't think of anything better.

Dinner forgotten, Steve stood and they moved toward the couch in the darkened living room.  No need for lights.  Bucky's eyes had grown dark.  Steve lay down and pulled Bucky on top of him.  They kissed, trying to ignore the hard need of their groins rubbing together. 

Earlier, in his head, he had imagined the scenario much like the porno he'd watched on the computer.  Walk into a room, offer up the blow job in some sexy way (Steve hadn't really thought of a great way to do that), and then it just... happens. 

He'd been a little nervous watching the video, to be honest, until they stopped showing so much of the actors' faces and more of their bodies, and Steve could imagine them as himself and Bucky, and then... well, he'd had to take a shower. 

Of course, he had never watched a porno before.  The only thing close were the tattered nudie mags Bucky squirreled away in his room, and they had looked at those together, commenting on which girl had the nicest rack or the best legs or the prettiest face.  He and Bucky had looked at them together and neither of them had even gotten hard looking. 

He and Bucky had looked at them together.

Now he tugged Bucky’s t-shirt up and slid his hands under there.  “Is this okay?” he asked.

“Definitely,” Bucky breathed before covering Steve’s mouth with his lips. 

So Steve let his fingers explore Bucky’s thickly muscled back while Bucky worshipped Steve’s face, running his fingers through his hair and kissing Steve all over.  For a little while Steve thought he would just let the blow job thing go.  This was nice.  He liked this.  He was comfortable with this.

But then Bucky started nuzzling his ears and that reminded him of something that had happened in the porno and suddenly he was wondering if Bucky’s cock looked anything like the guy’s in the movie, because it was huge, and also he still didn’t know where Bucky’s other star tattoo was, and Bucky chuckled against his neck.  “You’re so sensitive,” Bucky whispered.

For a second Steve thought Bucky was talking about Steve’s neck. 

“You want me to jerk you off again?” Bucky asked.

So Bucky had noticed how hard Steve was.  Steve swallowed.  “Uh, I was thinking,” Steve started, “about, um... well, I did some research, and there was something I wanted to try...”  He couldn’t make himself say the words “blow job.” 

“Research?” Bucky asked, pulling away to look him in the eye. 

“Um... you know, I watched some videos online,” Steve said.  His mouth felt dry. 

A smile tugged at the corner of Bucky’s mouth.  “What kind of videos did you watch, Stevie?”

Steve couldn’t look at him.  “You know, uh, dirty videos.”

“Dirty?” Bucky laughed this word out, and continued laughing softly.  “You mean porn?  You watched porn?”

Blood rushed to his face.  “Yes.”

Bucky buried his face in Steve’s shirt.  His shoulders shook. 

“It was for research!” Steve said indignantly.

“Of course it was!” Bucky gasped.  “You watched porn!”  He reared up away from Steve and laughed out into the air. 

Steve’s face felt hot.  “Why are you laughing at me?  I was just trying to learn how to do stuff!” 

“I know.  And I love that about you.”  Bucky allowed his laughs to fade away into a chuckle, then kissed Steve softly and rubbed his hair.  “I love that you’re trying.  But we don’t have to do anything just yet.”

“I wanted to do something for you,” Steve said miserably. 

“We’re gonna take it nice and slow, remember?” Bucky looked at him with those big blue eyes.  His hair was falling in his face. 

“But I wanted to do something for you.”

“Just let it happen, Stevie.  It will happen.  I promise.  Just... let it happen.”

Bucky laid down a series of gentle kisses on Steve’s neck, easing away his anxiety.  Steve took a deep breath and returned Bucky’s kisses.  He still had his hands on the bare of Bucky’s back, and that was good.  A step forward.  For a while he just let his hands rove.  Then he teased at the waistband of Bucky’s underwear.  Immediately he felt Bucky’s dick respond, hardening where he could feel it pressing against his hip. 

“Mmm, that’s good,” Bucky whispered. 

Now with permission, Steve pushed his hand inside.  He swelled at that tight fleshy muscle against his palm.  When he squeezed it, Bucky inhaled and kissed him deeper, pushed his hips against Steve’s. 

Steve pushed the other hand down there too.  His hands quickly grew warm from the trapped body heat. 

Bucky kept his hands near Steve’s face.  Steve rocked his hips, his mouth too full to complain, but he wanted Bucky’s hands all over him.  With a frustrated sigh, he pulled his hands out of Bucky’s pants and focused on the kissing. 

“What was it, exactly, that you wanted to try?” Bucky asked some time later, while Steve was sucking on Bucky’s neck and Bucky was combing his fingers through Steve’s hair.

“Oh, um... I wanted to...” he swallowed, and whispered, “I wanted to suck your dick.”

There, that hadn’t been so bad, had it?

Bucky’s cheeks pressed up against his face as Bucky released a little breathy chuckle.  “Really?” Bucky whispered.  His mouth was hot on Steve’s face. 

“Yeah,” Steve said.

But Bucky just kissed him harder, more frantically.  He didn’t say he wanted Steve to blow him.  He didn’t get up and push Steve down to his knees while unbuckling his pants. 

So they kissed for a while longer.  Hotter and heavier, Steve’s chest heaved and he had an urge to rub himself all over Bucky.  Finally Steve had to ask it.  “So... do you want me to do that?”

Bucky pulled his head back just enough to look Steve in the eye.  “You really want to?”

“Yes.”  Steve’s mouth went dry again, and he licked his lips.  “I mean, if you want...”

A smile, his eyes dark.  A kiss.   “Yes.  I want your mouth wrapped around my cock, yes.”

Steve smiled. 

Bucky rolled off, and he yanked down his sweatpants and boxers in one go, so that by the time Steve had gotten to his knees beside the couch, Bucky’s cock was ready for him. 

“Hey, there’s your other star,” Steve whispered.  He reached out and ran his finger over the blue ink nestled right under Bucky’s hip, close to where Bucky had shaved. 

Bucky sucked in a breath.  “Steve,” he hissed through his teeth. 

“Okay, um... will you... tell me if I’m doing something wrong?”

“Your mouth is gonna feel so good on me no matter what you do,” Bucky said in a whoosh of an exhale.  He reached down and cupped the back of Steve’s head.  “Even if you change your mind.  A hand job’s good too, okay?”

Steve nodded.  “Um... maybe, can you not... watch me for the first bit?”

Obediently, Bucky closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch.  He kept his hand soft on Steve’s head, stroking his hair.  Steve braced his hands on Bucky’s thighs, trying to remember how that video had started.  But instead of starting, he touched Bucky’s tattoo again. 

Bucky groaned, and his dick visibly swelled.

Just put it in your mouth, Steve told himself.  He took a deep breath and did just that.

He’d had minor concerns about what it might smell like or taste like, but once his tongue was running over that sensitive skin all those concerns evaporated.  Bucky tasted like Bucky.  And more important were the moans Bucky made, and the “Oh, yes, like that,” he blurted out when Steve flipped his tongue over the tip like he’d seen in the porno.

In fact, everything he did that he’d seen in the porno had Bucky groaning, “Yes, yes, yes,” and Steve’s confidence soared.  Well, Captain America never did things halfway.  He deep-throated, sucked so hard his cheeks hollowed out, and massaged Bucky’s balls, and then finally glanced up to see Bucky’s reaction.

Bucky gazed back at him.  His love for Steve looked almost like an aura, or maybe that was some streetlight shining through the dark windows, it didn’t matter.  He kept his eyes focused on Bucky.  He wanted Bucky to know how much he wanted Bucky to come.  In his mouth.  He wanted to suck it down and keep it with him. 

With that confirmation of Bucky’s pleasure, Steve put even more energy into it, and was rewarded by Bucky throwing his head back.  “Yes, Stevie, oh god, yes.”  A little part of him was waiting for Bucky’s hand on his head to grab hold so Bucky could thrust up into his throat.  After all, that was what had happened in the video.  But Bucky’s grip remained light and soft.

His thumb brushed over Bucky’s tattoo again, and that was when Bucky’s yesses stuttered and a warm gush of liquid filled the back of Steve’s throat.  He swallowed it down, all of it, waited to be sure that Bucky was done before letting him go. 

“Ah, that was so good, Stevie,” Bucky sighed.

Steve smiled, his thumb still pressed into that star on Bucky’s hip.  “Really?”

“Come here.”  Now Bucky’s hands were a little rough, tugging on Steve’s shirt until he crawled up over Bucky’s exposed parts and was within kissing distance.  “Mmm.”  Steve’s momentary worry about what he tasted like instantly vanished as Bucky thrust his tongue into Steve’s mouth and kissed him deep and long.  Steve straddled Bucky’s lap and dug his fingers into that thick brown hair. 

Even though he hadn’t been the one to climax, he still felt more relaxed than he had all night.  His face was flushed but cooling now.  All his worries from the day had unraveled.  Now he just felt full and content and knew that everything between him and Bucky would be okay.

He didn’t have to think about that meeting with Dr. Selvig until tomorrow.  He didn’t have to think about fighting Rumlow or sparring with Bucky until tomorrow.  He still had days before his next deadline for Marvel. 

For now, everything was okay.

Chapter Text

The coffee shop was one Dr. Selvig had chosen.  Steve had asked if the professor had known any places in Brooklyn, and this place was the one he picked, so Steve had Googled directions and now the little bell rang over the door as Steve walked in and saw the man sitting right in the window.

“Dr. Selvig, thank you for meeting me,” Steve said.

“Please, call me Erik.  Grab yourself a coffee, and then we’ll talk.”  Dr. Selvig was emptying packet after packet into his cup.  Steve stepped up to the counter and ordered a hot coffee, black, and took it back to the table.

“I’ve been quite curious all week as to how you’ve been faring,” Erik said, watching Steve pour the single packet into his coffee with something like wonder.  “Do you still believe you have come from another world?”

“I think so,” Steve said.

“That does not sound confident.”

“I called you mostly to talk about how to get back.  I know you said everything was theoretical, but... I just wondered if, now that you’ve had some time to think about it, maybe you had come up with a theory about how I might get back?”

“I see.”  Erik looked at him.  “I must ask: have you attempted to return on your own?”

Steve sighed.  “Yes.”

“What was your method, may I ask?”

“I tried to make myself pass out.  But I just passed out.  And I woke up still here.”

“And this made you doubt yourself somewhat?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if we went by the theory that whatever brought you here was a fluke, a concurrence of parallel events in the two universes, then return might not be possible.  Your attempt to push yourself into unconsciousness would be futile, if your parallel self was not also unconscious at the same time.”

“That’s what I figured.”

“But, as I have said, this is all theoretical.  Perhaps it is the method that is more important than the concurrence.  What was the method you attempted?”

“I was at hot yoga class.  The heat did it.  I mean, I helped it along a little.”

Erik tapped the table.  “But as we established, the event that you believe made the switch possible was a vehicular accident.  Not an environmentally-caused bodily reaction.”

“So I should try to get hit by a car?” Steve asked.  That didn’t sound like a good idea. 

Erik shrugged.  “What brought you here could be just the thing to send you back.”

“I fell off a plane,” Steve said.  “I’m not going to jump out of a plane.”  Not in this body, anyway.

“Obviously, that would be a dangerous solution.”

Steve thought about the theory he’d presented to Sam: that he hadn’t actually been in a car accident.  If Rumlow had beaten him until he blacked out, that could be a kind of confluence.  Bucky had nearly beaten him in a similar fashion before pushing him off the helicarrier. 

“How long were you unconscious, in your yoga class?”

“I don’t know,” Steve said.  “It might have only been a few seconds.  A couple of minutes, at the most.”

“Perhaps it takes longer than that to travel between the worlds,” Erik said.  “Do you, perhaps, have a friend who is a doctor?  Even a nurse, perhaps, would do.”

Steve immediately thought of Bruce and Peggy.  “Yes.”

“There are drugs that can induce comas.  Perhaps that is what is needed.  You allow them to induce a coma state, much like the one you were in before you awoke in this world.”

He shook his head.  “I don’t think I could ask anyone to do that.”  Peggy might, if he asked, or she might get him admitted to the psych ward.  Bruce was a definite no.  Also, Bucky would flip out. 

“I might have some contacts, if you were interested in pursuing this avenue of theory,” Erik said. 

“I guess I was hoping there was some easier way.”

“This would be the safest way.  Certainly much easier than falling out of an airplane, or walking into traffic.  Think it over.  Otherwise...”

Steve raised his eyebrows.  “Otherwise what?”

“You might want to consider that this switch is permanent.  Non-refundable.  You are here now.  Best to move on.”

Looking out the window at people walking by in the light rain, Steve thought about how easy that would be.  Already he was forgetting how strong his Captain America body had been.  He’d grown used to the new limits.  A week and a half.  It didn’t seem so strange to be in a relationship with his best friend.  To think about what he was going to make for dinner.  To spend his days drawing and going to the gym, and not worry about saving the world. 

“In my research I’ve come across a number of cases similar to yours,” Erik said, pulling out a battered notebook, filled with cramped, indecipherable handwriting.  “In a number of them, we have a person who appears seemingly out of nowhere, with no history.  Such as the case of the man who arrived at the Tokyo airport with a passport from a country called Taured.  A country which does not exist in this world.”  Erik looked up over the top of his glasses.  “Is there a country called Taured in your world?”

Steve shook his head.

“Ah, naturally.  But I thought I’d ask.  To continue the tale: this man was held overnight for questioning, guards at the door, but he had disappeared come morning.”

“No idea how he returned to his world, then,” Steve said glumly.

“No.  Then there are the cases where a known person reports finding themselves in an alternate world and tells the tale after they return.  These cases unfortunately end up with everyone believing said person is unbalanced.  There’s a fairly well-known case of a man who reported finding a parallel universe where the Beatles never broke up.  He even claimed to have a cassette tape of one of their new albums.

“In this particular case, the man arrived in the parallel universe after a fall that rendered him unconscious.  He spoke to a man with a machine that could teleport between the universes, so this was how the man was able to return to us, with cassette in hand.”

Steve grimaced.  “We don’t have machines like that in this world, do we.”

“Nor in yours?”

He shrugged and shook his head.  He was sure Tony or Bruce could have come up with a machine that allowed inter-dimensional travel.  And there was the tessaract, which had allowed Loki to travel to Earth from some other planet.  But he wasn’t aware of a machine specifically designed to travel to a parallel universe.    

Erik thumbed through his notebook.  “Most of these types, like yours, do not have any proof.  Like the woman who woke up, thought everything was normal, but began noticing some strange details that differed from what she remembered.  Her office where she had worked for 20 years was on a different floor.  Her boyfriend had disappeared, and appeared to never have existed, while her ex-boyfriend acted like they had never broken up.”

“I suppose she never made it back to her world, either.”

“Afraid not."

Steve sighed.  "I'm sorry, I guess this was another waste of time."

"May I ask if there is something that makes you eager to return to your own world?  Something missing here?"

For a few moments he considered this question.  "I guess... there isn't anything... missing.  More that there's something here I didn't have in my own world and I feel guilty keeping it for myself.  I feel selfish."

"An object?" Erik mused, then corrected himself.  "No.  A person."

Steve nodded.

"In my world, my best friend Bucky... he died.  But not really.  I thought he was dead, anyway.  And only recently I had discovered that he was still alive, but he'd been brainwashed.  He didn't remember who he was.  He'd been turned into an assassin and his mission was to kill me.  He was in the process of killing me, actually, when I lost consciousness and ended up here."

"Where you have found your friend Bucky."

"Yeah."  Steve looked down in the black hole of his coffee cup.  "And here he's more than just a friend."

Erik's chair creaked as he shifted forward.  "That must have been a difficult transition.  How are you faring?  Do you... return his feelings?"

"Yeah."  Steve swallowed.  "And that's why I need to get back.  Because this Bucky is in love with another version of me.  And it isn't fair for other Steve to be trapped in a world where the person he loves wants to kill him." 

"Or perhaps this other Steve might be the perfect one to remind your friend of who he is, and learn how to love."

"That could take a long time," Steve said.

"Yes," Selvig agreed.

Before leaving, Erik wrote down some email addresses and told Steve to contact him if he changed his mind about the induced coma.  Steve thanked him and took the slip of paper, knowing he wouldn't - couldn't - go through with it.  He ended up dropping the paper in a trash can on the way home.

This was it.  He was stuck here.

He thought about that word: home.  He thought of this apartment as home, in a way he'd never thought of his apartment in D.C. as home.  Then again, Bucky was here.  Even if it wasn't his Bucky. 

Well, now it was his Bucky.  He had to accept it.  He wasn't going back, if there even was another world for him to go back to.  His shoulder sagged, thinking about everything he would miss back in his world.  The way he and Natasha bantered on missions.  The missions, how he'd feel like a hero.  Hanging out with the other Avengers, who made him feel normal with all their superpowers and weapons skills. 

Then, as he mounted the stairs to his apartment, he thought about how he wouldn't miss all the pain of Peggy having Alzheimer's, or of Bucky not knowing him and wanting to kill him, or of the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. as he knew it.  In a way he still had Bruce and Tony, and maybe he could become friends with this Natasha too.  She'd be more open to him, he thought, once he started acting "normal."  Pretending the memories had come back.  Forgot about that other world. 

He stood in the doorway of the apartment.  This was it.  This was his life now.  The warm, cozy living room looked back at him, and he realized he didn't mind it.  He stepped inside, hung up his jacket.  Put a swing record on the turntable and let the rich, brassy sounds fill the room.  He'd never had plants.  Or a couch where anyone had ever sat with him.  Or a nice drawing table. 

Or a boyfriend who'd be coming home for lunch, who would kiss him hello and tell him he loved him.

All these things made this home.  He kicked off his shoes and sat down to draw.  When Bucky came home, he got up and kissed him hello, while Bucky smiled against his mouth and hugged him tight.  Lunch was some soup and grilled cheese to warm them up.

"You want me to pose for you now?" Bucky asked, rinsing out their bowls and placing them in the dishwasher.

Steve nodded, and he didn't try to hide the way he looked at Bucky when he'd stripped down to his underwear - gunmetal gray briefs today.  In a state of distraction he sketched out the poses he needed, then threw down his sketchbook and got up. 

He hooked a finger into the waistband of those gray underpants and pulled it down just enough to reveal that tattoo and run his finger over it.  Bucky's breath was hot on his neck.

"Kiss me, you idiot," Bucky begged.

Steve did.  

They wrapped around each other all afternoon.  Steve pulled a blanket over them when he felt Bucky's skin get a little cold, but he wasn't about to tell Bucky to put his clothes back on.  He liked being able to touch Bucky's skin anywhere he wanted.  And that stretch of thin cotton was a weak barrier to Bucky's ass.  Steve kept his hands there most of the time.

He was a little disappointed when it was time for Bucky to go back to work, but he knew he had his own work to do, so he kissed Bucky good-bye.  It was only for a few hours.

During the evenings he asked Bucky to tell him more stories about the photos in the albums.  He liked listening to Bucky’s voice fill his head, a gentle kind of brainwashing.  These were his memories now, and he threw himself into learning the stories.  When Natasha heard about this, she hauled down her scrapbooks and Steve got to hear about the trip he and Bucky had taken with Clint and Natasha to Mexico, long sunny days on the beach and hot nights filled with tequila. 

The wedding album Natasha had put together was a whole evening in itself, spent drinking wine.  They all had so many memories to share.  Apparently Steve had been very drunk the whole weekend.  Bachelor party the night before, through the wedding and the after party the next day, and other Steve had never remembered much of the wedding either.  “You kept trying to slip your hand down my pants at the reception,” Bucky told him.  “I had to pull you into the bathroom and lock the door for twenty minutes just to calm you down.”  Steve had some ideas about how Bucky had “calmed him down” that he didn’t want to say in front of Nat and Clint.

At night, after the memories had been put away, Steve found himself pulling Bucky around him so he could sleep.  He woke up whenever Bucky pulled away, which he never did unless he had to get up to use the bathroom.   In the mornings, his first breath always smelled like Bucky, and he’d feel Bucky’s lips on his neck.

That other world felt so far away, unreachable, and even if he’d been there he wouldn’t have this feeling of home, and so he settled into this world, wrapped himself up in it, and tried to forget about that other place.

 

Chapter Text

On Friday morning, as Bucky blended his smoothie and Steve rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, Bucky said, "I want you to come to the studio with me this morning."

"I'm not gonna fight you," Steve mumbled.  He stood by the coffee pot, waiting for it to percolate. 

Last night had been fun.  It was probably the wine that had gotten the two of them into the mood, but this hadn't been their usual make-out session.  They'd been looking at photos, as they had every night this week, only this time Bucky had pulled out the laptop and they were scrolling through stuff on Facebook. 

"Why am I not on Facebook?" Steve had asked.

"You like to keep a low profile.  Besides, everyone who knows you knows me, so you don't really need to be."

Natasha had tagged them in a bunch of pictures, and Steve smiled looking at them.  He and Bucky were always together, arms slung around each other, or one's hand on the other's thigh, arms around the waist.  "She takes a lot of pictures, huh?" Steve asked.  "And you like to take pictures of us too."  Bucky had uploaded lots of pictures of them.  He liked to post them with captions like "I <3 my life (and also this nerd)" and "Look at this hottie (Steve's pretty cute too)." 

"You took most of these," said Bucky.  "Then you text them to me and I post them."

It made Steve feel like he'd been letting Bucky down, not having taken any photos during the past two weeks, so he pulled out his phone and said, "Let's take a picture."

"Right now?" Bucky's hand immediately tried to smooth down his hair, even though it looked fine.  "Oh, god.  Use my phone.  We gotta go get that screen fixed."

So Bucky pulled out his phone, and they crowded together to both fit into the tiny screen.  "Oops," said Steve, when the picture showed Bucky mid-blink.  "Let's try again."

The next had Steve's finger in it.  "One more."  This time he managed to cut off both of their heads.

So Bucky had snatched the phone and jumped up on the couch and started snapping pics of Steve, who laughed and threw up his hands and chased Bucky into the bedroom, where Bucky surprised him from behind the door.  Steve wrestled Bucky down to the floor and stole the phone back, then grabbed the front of Bucky's sweatpants and pulled and aimed the camera inside.  In the brief flash Steve saw that star tattoo.

"Hey!" Bucky screeched.  He lunged at Steve.  "That's not fair!"  Steve was laughing so hard Bucky had no trouble grabbing the phone away from him.  Then he grabbed the back of Steve's pants and took a photo of Steve's ass.  "That's going on Facebook.  It can be your new profile picture."

"No!" Steve wrestled Bucky down to the bed.  "Don't!"

"I won't really," said Bucky.  "If you're nice to me."

Well, that had led to some kissing, and Steve saying, "I mean, if you're going to post a picture of my ass, it needs to be a good one," and then Bucky asked if he was offering to let Bucky take a better picture, and that was how Steve ended up doing his best impression of a pin-up girl while Bucky jumped around saying, "Yes, beautiful, you are gorgeous - work it, work it" in a weird French accent that made Steve laugh. 

Bucky gave Steve a light slap on his bare ass, then froze and asked, "Is that okay?"

"More than okay," Steve said, voice low, and pulled Bucky's hand back down while he nuzzled Bucky for some kisses.  The phone was forgotten in a brief bout of making out.  Bucky's hot hand on his ass got Steve hard, and then he suddenly wished he wasn't so nervous about the idea of actual sex.  Bucky seemed to sense when Steve backed off, and he slid his hand out and pulled out the phone again to flip through the photos.  "I like this one," Bucky said, showing one where Steve pulled down the back of his pants to reveal just a little bit of ass. 

"Still not going on Facebook," Steve said, kissing Bucky's neck, then resting his head in the crook of his shoulder. 

"I could make it the background wallpaper."  Suddenly there was Steve behind all the little icons on Bucky's phone.

"What does it feel like?" Steve asked suddenly.

"What does what feel like?"

Steve took a moment to answer.  He was still hard.  His body wanted something.  He just wasn't sure he would like how it felt.  "You know..."  His cheeks felt hot, and he couldn't look up at Bucky.  "To... have sex."

Bucky's cool fingers brushed against his face.  "You want to know what it feels like when we have sex?  Or just in general?"

"I guess... how we do it.  I know it's probably not like in the videos I watched."

That made Bucky chuckle against Steve's hair.  "Yeah, your research.  How could I forget?"

So, nestled there in Bucky's arms, Steve listened while Bucky described their sex life.  "We do it, like, twice a day," Bucky said, reaching over to turn out the lights.  Steve was glad for that.  He could listen and not worry about what Bucky might see in his facial expressions.  "Um... I'm usually the top and you're the bottom... do you know what that means?" 

Steve nodded.  He'd seen enough porn to understand, and somehow he'd known he would be the bottom.  Mostly because in all the time he'd been horny he had never wanted to stick his you-know-what into Bucky's you-know-where.  His face got even hotter realizing how he couldn't even say the words.  He'd never wanted to fuck Bucky up the ass.  There.

"That's what I'm worried about." Steve's voice came out as a whisper.

"Don't worry," Bucky said, stroking Steve's hair.  "I always take care of you.  We do a lot of foreplay.  A lot."  And then Bucky started talking about fingering and rimming ("What?  You put your mouth down there?" - "We wash first, Stevie." - "You kiss me with that mouth?" - "Shut up, you like it") and blow jobs.  Bucky's hand lazily made its way over Steve's body while he talked: stroking under his chin, grazing along his bicep, rubbing his sternum, then his abs.  It didn't seem like a conscious thing and Steve didn't stop Bucky.  He didn't want to startle Bucky into asking permission again.  Even though Steve wanted to reach down his pants and start rubbing.  His erection hadn't faded one bit since Bucky had grabbed his ass. 

"Does that answer your question?" Bucky asked softly, still running his hand over Steve's abs under his shirt.

"Mostly," Steve said.  He chewed on the inside of his cheek wondering if he should ask.

"What else do you want to know?" Bucky asked with a kiss to Steve's temple.

"Well, I remember you said, when we were getting our Halloween costumes, something about handcuffs?"

That had also made Bucky laugh.  "Yeah, we like to play," he said.

"It isn't like... what's it called?"

"S&M," Bucky supplied.  "No, not really.  Just for fun."

Steve let out a deep breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.  He reached over and grabbed his pillow.  "Fun like this?" he asked, and socked Bucky in the face with the pillow.

"Ack!  You jerk!"  And Bucky was grabbing his own pillow and soon they were jumping on the bed and pounding each other with the pillows until Steve's broke open and feathers swirled everywhere, and then they wrestled each other down to the bed and started making out again, occasionally picking feathers out of their mouths and hair, and somehow Steve ended up underneath Bucky on his stomach, his dick jabbing into the mattress beneath him, and he reached over and handed Bucky the lube and asked if he could do "that fingering thing" to him.

Bucky kissed a trail down his spine and while Steve's head hung off the mattress, Bucky wrapped one arm around Steve's chest.  His fingers caressed the crack of Steve's ass, tracing circles around that tight hole until Steve was more than ready for Bucky to work one finger inside.  His heart thudded and his balls tingled, even before Bucky worked a second finger in and hit a spot that made Steve emit an embarrassingly loud moan.  "Sorry," he said, only to have Bucky laugh and say he liked when Steve got loud. 

And he did get loud, with Bucky egging him on, until he came so hard his vision blinked out for a moment.  "We should probably clean up this mess before we go to sleep," Bucky murmured in his ear. 

They had woken up in the same position, Steve half off the mattress, sticky, and covered in feathers, and Bucky on top of him.

The alarm had gone off way too early, considering how late they'd stayed up.  Now Steve just needed some coffee in his system.

"You don't need to fight me," Bucky relented.  "Just come and take a class with me.  It's good to have some martial arts skills under your belt, if Rumlow does."

"Don't you usually spar in class?" Steve asked, pulling down a mug and nearly dropping it.

"Yeah.  But you don't have to.  Come on."  Bucky wrapped his arm around Steve's waist and kissed his neck.  "Please?"

Steve sighed.  "All right."  There really wasn't anything wrong with going and taking a class with Bucky.  Especially if there wasn't going to be any real fighting.  He knew Bucky would be watching him the whole time, though, and at the end of it all Bucky would deem Steve not ready for fight club.

"Thank you," Bucky said.  He gave Steve a sincere look and he melted a little bit looking into those eyes.  Bucky loved him.  This was his Bucky now.  He wanted to make Bucky happy.  Besides, Bucky could scold him all he wanted, but Steve didn't have to listen to him.  That had always been the beauty of their friendship.  No matter how many fights Bucky had to bail him out of, no matter how many times Bucky told Steve to stop picking on guys twice his size, at the end of the day, they were still best friends.

That was how Steve found himself in the studio where Bucky worked.  Mats covered the floors wall-to-wall, and rows of mannequin-looking things Bucky called "bobbies" lined the walls alongside punching bags on stands.  They had to remove their shoes.  This was one of the classes Bucky took and didn't teach, which didn't make Steve feel any better about it.  The others arriving looked just as muscular and lean as Bucky did.

It wasn't so much that Steve couldn't do the movements; it was more than they were unfamiliar.  He found himself moving off to the side and back so he wasn't in the way of the other students.  Watching Bucky, too, was like watching someone dance - he was that graceful.  His kicks reached as high as his head.  When the class paused for any period of time, Bucky kicked up into a perfect handstand and held it for several seconds. 

He didn't participate in the sparring at the end of class.  He and a couple of others who were apparently too injured to spar - one woman proudly showed off dark bruises on her forearms - practiced rolls and handstands and cartwheels off to the side, and Steve had no problem doing any of those.  Instead he watched Bucky fight, striking quick and fast, his movements confident and strong. 

Watching, Steve was sure that he could take on Bucky and hold his own.  Maybe he didn't know this particular style of fighting, but if it came down to just fighting any way he could, he thought he stood a chance. 

The day before, sparring with Sam, Steve had once again earned Sam's praises.  "You really think I'm ready to fight him?" Steve had asked.

"You ain't chickening out now, are you?" 

"No..." Steve said.  "I just... heard guys end up in the hospital after fight club."

"You heard guys talking about fight club?" Sam asked, glancing around.  He had all of Steve's skills in undercover work. 

"Nah.  My friend Clint--"

Sam's eyes nearly bugged out.  "The cop?"

"I didn't tell him," Steve lied.  "He was talking about it.  Apparently it's a big case.  Lot of guys getting hurt."

"Like your 'car accident.'"

"Yeah.  You've been to one of these things before, right?"

"Damn straight.  Been to two."  Inside Steve had cringed.  Only two?  "Won both my fights."

All right then.  "And did any of the fights get... out of control?"

Sam waffled on that one.  "Well, I mean, we aren't fighting with helmets and gloves and gear on.  Things can get rough."

"I just wanna kick Rumlow's ass once.  That's all."

"And then?  You gonna rat us out to your cop friend?"

"We could help them with the bust," Steve suggested.

"Nah.  I'm no rat."

"Sam, people are getting really hurt."

"You never even been to one of these things.  You can't just go on rumors.  I've been there.  Don't my word count for more?"

Shrugging on his jacket after class, Steve waited for Bucky to put on his shoes.  "Do you have to teach any classes this morning?" Steve asked.

"Not until ten-thirty.  It's only nine now; I thought we could grab some coffee?  I'm gonna need a shot of espresso after last night."  Bucky bumped his elbow and grinned when Steve blushed.  Blushed, and wished they were heading back to the apartment for a nooner.

"Yeah, me too," Steve said.

The sun shone through the orange leaves on the trees that sprouted up in their designated spots along the sidewalk.  “I still think I can take Rumlow,” Steve said.

Bucky raised his eyebrows.  “Really.”

“You’re a great fighter, that’s not what I’m saying.  I just... I think I can do it.  I need to do it.”

“Steve...” Bucky looked pained.  “You’ve never won a fight in your life.”

That made him set his jaw.  “What are you talking about,” he said.  “I’ve won plenty of fights.”

“You are not Captain America,” Bucky said.  “And I’m talking strictly physical fights.  I’ve always saved your ass.  Every time.”  At the look on Steve’s face, Bucky continued.  “Look, I know you’ve been training.  And it’s great that you’re confident.  I just don’t...” He sighed.  “I don’t know why I’m even bothering.  You’re going to do this no matter what I say.”

“You want to come with me?” Steve asked bitterly.  “Keep me from getting killed?”

“This isn’t a joke, Steve.  You could get killed.  You heard what Clint said, all those guys ending up at the hospital.”

It was the same old argument.  Steve didn’t know how to change it without backing out of the fight.

“Would you feel better if you came with me?” Steve asked as they reached the coffee shop.  He stopped, hand on the door, not letting Bucky through until he answered.  “I’m serious.  Would it make you feel better?”

He could tell Bucky wanted to say yes immediately, but Bucky kept looking at him like he was trying to figure out why Steve would ask him to go.  “Aren’t you not supposed to tell anyone about fight club?” he said finally.

“You think they’ll be carding people at the door?”  Steve moved aside while a customer exited the coffee shop.  “It would be good if you were there.  I mean, Sam would be there, if anything got out of hand.  But I want you to see that I can fight.  I want you... to be proud of me.”  He still remembered the way Bucky had looked at him, after he’d rescued the 107th single-handedly.  Amazed.  And proud.

“Steve,” Bucky said, and Steve knew from that tone that he was going to say something like he was always proud of Steve or something like that.  Then Bucky stopped himself, and said, “I’ll go.”

“You will?”

“Yeah, ya big idiot.  I wanna see you kick this guy’s ass too.”

Steve slapped Bucky on the back, and together they entered the coffee shop.

Chapter Text

"How do I look?"

Bucky emerged from the bathroom in an orange jumpsuit stamped with a prisoner number, and his hair sculpted into a crazy mess that stuck out from his head.  Steve couldn't help but laugh.  "Like a lunatic?" Steve said. 

Leaning back into the bathroom, Bucky fussed with his hair.  "Maybe I should tone it down."

"I think it looks good," Steve said, buckling the gun holster around his waist.  The polyester uniform pants, dark blue with a sharp crease, were a bit snug.  "I mean, if you're aiming to look insane."

"Yeah.  All right."  Bucky came out and studied Steve.  "Damn.  I like a man in uniform."

Steve chuckled.  "Wait a minute.  You need the full effect."  He donned the reflective sunglasses and stood in his Cap stance, thumbs tucked into the belt.

"Mmm," was all Bucky said, sidling up to him.  "Are you a cop, or a stripper?"

He punched Bucky in the arm.  "I'm a cop!"

"Just saying, those pants are obscenely tight."

"You think?" Steve worried, looking down.  "Should I wear something else?"

"Nope," said Bucky, and yanked at the belt to pull Steve close enough to kiss. 

It was altogether too easy to lose himself while kissing Bucky.  And to think, a couple of weeks ago, he'd never even considered it.  Bucky had decided not to shave today, to add to the flavor of his costume, and his five o'clock shadow scratched at Steve's own freshly shaven face in a way that felt... erotic.

"You can't get me too worked up," Steve pleaded, pulling away.  "Everyone will be able to tell in these pants."

"Awww, come on," said Bucky, but he let Steve go so he could pull on a pair of black boots.  Then he went into the closet and took out the handcuffs.  Dangling them from a finger, he smirked at Steve.  "You wanna put these on me?"

Steve swallowed.  "Okay."  But he stood there holding them, not knowing what to do.

Bucky held his hands out in front of him, wrists together.  "I suppose just like this would be good.  Or... you could cuff me to you, so I don't escape...?  Or..."  Bucky turned around and held his hands behind him.  "Maybe I've been very naughty."

Face flushed, Steve said, "You probably don't want to be cuffed like that through the whole party."  Flashes came to him, of having to help Bucky drink.  Feeding him.  Bucky licking his fingers with each bite.  He swallowed.

"You're probably right," Bucky said over his shoulder, coy.  "Just tell me how you want to cuff me, officer."

Steve took one wrist and slapped the cuff on like he'd seen in cop shows.  The metal clicked into place, tight against Bucky's skin.  His face still hot, he said quietly, "Turn around to face me, prisoner."

Bucky laughed in delight and held his other hand out in front while Steve put the cuff on. 

"You have a key for those, right?" Steve asked suddenly. 

"Yeah, duh," said Bucky.  "It's in the closet."  He dug around awkwardly with his hands together, and pulled out the little silver key.  With a grin, he tugged at Steve's holster.  "We should put it someplace safe," he said, before dropping the key into Steve's underpants. 

The cold bit of metal tumbled against Steve's dick and settled up under his balls.  "But, what if it falls out?" Steve asked, shifting his weight.  "What if I lose it?"

"Guess I'll be in handcuffs forever, then," Bucky deadpanned, then smacked Steve with both his hands.  "We have another key, don't worry.  Plus Clint probably has a key somewhere.  There will be a ton of cops at this party.  I'm sure they've all dealt with handcuffs before."

"All right," said Steve, still worried. 

They carried two six-packs of Octoberfest up to the party with them.  The apartment had been transformed into a haunted house, decked out with fake cobwebs and dark décor like bubbling cauldrons and candles and skulls, and creepy sound effects blared from hidden speakers.  Bucky and Steve were among the first to arrive, although Steve recognized the faces of the two people already at the party.

"Dum Dum?" Steve said.

The man with the ginger mustache and long sideburns dressed in a gray jumpsuit gave him a weird look.  "Excuse me?" he demanded.

Steve stepped back and looked at the outfit.  There was a patch on the arm of a ghost with a red line through it, and he wore a black backpack with a vacuum cleaner attachment.  Behind him he saw another identical jumpsuit and backpack combo.  "Uh..." Steve said.

"This is Tim," Clint jumped in.  "And Gabe."

Tim Dugan.  Gabe Jones.  Steve smiled tightly and said, "Nice to meet you."  Then he ducked his head and dragged Bucky into the kitchen where they could put their beer in the fridge.

From the kitchen, chugging down a beer, Steve watched other people arrive, including two more gray jumpsuits containing Jim Morita and Jacques Dernier.  "Do we know those guys?" Steve asked Bucky, who drank his beer awkwardly in his handcuffs. 

"Nope.  Friends of Clint's from down the precinct."  The way Bucky looked at him, he knew Bucky knew Steve had recognized them.  But Bucky didn't want to bring up the other world Steve was now pretending didn't exist. 

"Well, well, well, officer, nice of you to join us while you're on duty," purred Natasha, slinking out in a skintight black lace dress with a plummeting neckline.  Her red hair was covered by a long black wig. 

"Oh, now I get it!" Bucky said.  "Addams Family!"

Steve still didn't get it.  He'd just looked at Clint's suit, pencil mustache, and slicked back hair dyed black and figured Clint was some kind of vampire.  Tilting back his bottle, he finished off beer number one.

"You gotta slow down if you think you're gonna beat me at darts," Clint warned. 

"Go now.  Get it over with," Bucky said, pushing at Steve.  "Before you're too drunk."

Steve reentered the room, casting wary glances at the Howling Commandos.  Dum Dum gave him a strange look in return.  He felt a little stupid dressed as a cop, when all these guys were cops.  Natasha made her way over to them and spoke to them quietly under the sounds of clanking chains and creaking floorboards.  Steve knew what she was saying.  Oh yeah, that's Steve, he got hit in the head and now he's a little weird.

Once he got going with Clint, though, he relaxed and started to have a good time.  His aim was nowhere near as perfect as Clint's.  The guy got a bull's eye almost every time.  Steve did pretty well, staying within the first two or three rings of the dartboard.  "You've improved!" Clint said when the game was over and Clint, naturally, had won.  "You still owe me five bucks though."

Steve pulled out his battered wallet, which he had fixed with duct tape, and pulled out a five.

"Anyone else want to play me?" Clint shouted, far too loudly, but no one was going to fault him for that.

Gabe laughed and stepped up, patting Steve on the back.  "Nice try, man.  This guy's unbeatable."  Yet Gabe gathered up a fistful of darts and prepared to play.

"You win?" Bucky asked when Steve found him, sitting on the couch with his cuffed hands between his legs. 

"Nope.  I'm gonna grab another beer, you want one?"

"Sure."

While Steve had been busy at darts, a few more people had arrived, all of them with startlingly familiar faces beneath their Halloween costumes.  Maria Hill as a zombie.  Jasper Sitwell as an unhappy-looking pirate.  One of the girls Bucky had brought to that Modern Marvels expo as a cat.  Steve didn't even remember her name.

He grabbed his beer and got out of there, only to find another familiar face sitting next to Bucky.  Draped on Bucky.  Whispering in his ear.

"Hi," Steve said as rudely as he could, handing Bucky a fresh beer and taking his empty bottle.  Bucky looked up at him with a bemused smile on his face.

"Hellooo."  The blonde, wearing a white halter-top dress, batted her lashes up at him.  "Hmmm, did you come to take this one away?"  She ran her nails down Bucky's chest. 

Steve didn't like the way she was looking at Bucky, like he was something yummy to eat.  She'd looked at him that way once, too.  "Sorry, ma'am," he said, playing along.  "Time for this one to go."

"Aww, but I was hoping to play."  She pouted her lips and clung to Bucky's arm.

Racking his brain, he couldn't come up with her name.  Sure, she'd kissed him, but he didn't know her.  She'd just been charmed by the whole Captain America thing. 

"Come on," she purred, and grabbed his hand.  It threw him off-balance enough that he stumbled forward and had to hurl himself onto the couch on her other side to avoid face-planting in her cleavage.  "There we go.  Now I have a nice sandwich of hotness."

Bucky smiled a little at Steve as he sipped his beer.

"What's your name?" Steve asked, because it was driving him crazy that he couldn't remember.

"Lorraine," she said, and put a hand on Bucky's thigh.  Ah yes, Private Lorraine.  He remembered some of the guys at the base talking about her.

"Hands off the prisoner, ma'am," he said.

"Oh, officer.  I'm so sorry."  She removed her hand, transferred it to Steve's thigh.  "Is that better?"

Natasha's voice arrived, a beacon of rescue.  "Lorraine!  Hey, I wanted to introduce you to some single guys."  She grabbed Lorraine's wrist and led her away, even as she batted her eyes at Steve.  "Let's go, Marilyn Monroe.  They don’t bat for your team."

Steve closed the gap between himself and Bucky.  "Jealous?" Bucky snickered.

"Just protecting my prisoner is all."

"I'm dangerous," Bucky hissed, leaning in toward Steve's neck.  With a glance around, Steve backed up.  "No?  No PDA?" 

Steve shook his head.  He scooted a little closer to Bucky, though.

"That's okay," Bucky said, touching the back of Steve's hand with the back of his.  "You never were into that.  We'll have fun later though, right?"

That brought Steve's attention back from the rest of the room.  He smiled, feeling that key digging into a very sensitive area.  "Yeah."

A game of beer pong started up in the kitchen, and Steve and Bucky decided to play against Maria and Gabe.  "We're at a disadvantage," Bucky announced, holding up his wrists.  "But we'll still kick your asses!" 

Steve let Bucky go first to figure out how to play.  He might have done better on his first turn if he hadn't been distracted by a familiar voice calling out, "The party can start now!  I'm here!"

Howard Stark.

He'd know that showboaty voice anywhere.  He faltered in his toss of the ping pong ball and it bounced off the table.  Barely paying attention, he turned.

In his pocket he felt a buzz from  his phone, but he ignored it.  Howard Stark.  It didn't make sense.  Not that any of it made sense, because all the Howling Commandos except he and Bucky were dead, too, but he knew Howard Stark had been killed, probably by the Winter Soldier, and Howard was Tony's father, and Tony was here, the same age, so Howard couldn't be Tony's father in this world, which didn't make sense--

"Hey, your nose--"

Howard looked exactly as Steve remembered him.  Dressed as a mad scientist in a white lab coat, a crazy gray wig on his head, holding a beaker full of colorful liquid he kept sipping, Howard was clearly the life of the party.  A cheer went up upon his entrance. 

"Steve, hey, Steve--"

He felt something akin to moth's wings batting at his arm, he couldn't stop staring at Howard, who couldn't be here, not looking years younger than Tony.  It didn't make sense--

"Hey, idiot!" Bucky shouted, and finally Steve looked away.  That was when he felt the blood dripping from his nose.

"Oh."  He took the tissue Bucky held out.  "Thanks."

"Come on.  You just made this game a biohazard."

Bucky pulled Steve over to an empty armchair in the corner, sat Steve down, then sat on Steve's lap, straddling him and blocking his view of the rest of the room.  "Uh, I can squeeze over," Steve said, looking down.  The armchair was pretty roomy.

"Shut up.  Pinch your nose and tilt your head down."

Steve followed Bucky's orders, feeling a bit sheepish.  He couldn't help but try to sneak peeks at Howard, though.  Would Howard recognize him?  It didn't seem like anyone else did.  Not even the Commandos.  He found them easily enough, laughing with Clint. 

A kiss pressed into his forehead and he looked up at Bucky.  "Sorry," Steve said through his pinched nose.

"We gotta make an appointment for you.  These nosebleeds are happening way too much."

"Come on," said Steve, even though he knew Bucky was right.  "Nosebleeds happen for all kinds of reasons." 

"I'd feel better if you got checked out."  Bucky looped his cuffed hands over Steve's head, raking his fingers through Steve's hair along the way.  Once settled around Steve's neck, Bucky rubbed the short hairs there.  "Okay? Will you do it for me?"

"Okay," Steve agreed, pulling the tissue away to see if the bleeding had stopped.  Still a few drops.  He switched to a clean spot and pressed it back against his nostrils.

"You recognized Howard," Bucky said quietly. 

"Yeah."  A rip of pain tore through Steve's head and he closed his eyes.  It only eased when Bucky touched their foreheads together.

"What was he like?"

"Same," Steve said.  "But..."  He checked the tissue.  More blood.  "Does he know Tony?"

"Tony?  Our yoga teacher?"  Bucky sounded baffled.  "Why would they..."  He must have realized that they both had the same last name.  "Oh.  What, um, were they related...?"  In your world.  Bucky didn't say it. 

"Howard was Tony's father," Steve explained, wincing as the pain shot through his head again.

Bucky got up and walked away.  Steve just continued to hold the bloodied rag to his nose with his eyes closed, hoping no one would notice him.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.  "You okay?" Natasha asked as quietly as the blaring soundtrack would allow. 

He nodded, and after a moment he felt her hand leave and Bucky's body pressed against him, this time sitting on the armrest and offering up a fresh box of tissues.

"That's what happened the last time, wasn't it," Bucky said.  "When you thought you knew those people at the hospital and they had different names."

Steve knew what Bucky was talking about.  "That wasn't the same."

"Yes.  You had these memories of them, and your memories didn't match up to what was right in front of you."

"Oh."  For a while Steve thought about that behind the pounding of his head.  He wished Howard would shut up, that would probably help his headache.  With his eyes closed and alcohol buzzing its way through his system, he didn't mind so much having Bucky draped over him and stroking his hair.  Once his nosebleed stopped, he put his head on Bucky's shoulder and ran his fingers through Bucky's hair.  "Ooops, I'm messing up your crazy 'do," he said.

"I don't care," said Bucky, and kissed him.

Steve returned the kiss with enough fervor to convince Bucky that this was okay, he didn't mind kissing in front of all these people.  But they didn't make out.  Steve just combed the fabricated snarls out of Bucky's hair until it lay flat again.  The two of them didn't need words.  Bucky could tell that Steve just needed not to think about Howard Stark or any of the other people he knew from another life here at this party.  In the cocoon of each other's arm, Steve felt protected.  He felt like he belonged here.

"Okay, I've been trying to hold it, but I gotta pee," Bucky said eventually, and Steve let him go.  The buzz had mostly worn off and he wandered into the kitchen to grab two more for them.  People were still playing beer pong: Nat and Maria versus Dum Dum and Jacques.  That was when he remembered how his phone had buzzed right when Howard walked through the door.

Steve sat down in the armchair and pulled out his phone.  A new text message, from an unknown number.  It was an address.

"Fuck," Steve said.

Chapter Text

Not long after, Steve convinced Bucky to leave the party.  “Aw, but we’re about to break out the karaoke machine!” Clint whined.

“Run,” Natasha said.

Steve knew everyone thought he wasn’t feeling well, including Bucky, so on the stairs Steve bumped Bucky playfully and said, “My headache’s gone.  I just couldn’t wait to get you alone.”

Bucky practically skipped down the last flight of stairs. 

“Hold on, let me just get the key for those handcuffs,” Steve said once they were inside their apartment.

“Wait.”  Bucky stopped him, placing his hands on Steve’s wrists as they reached to unbuckle the gun holster.  He leaned in so close Steve could smell the beer on his breath.  “I know you could get in trouble for letting a dangerous criminal like me loose in the city, but I’m sure I can find a way to get that key... Officer.”

Steve smiled and took his hands out of the belt, holding them up.

“That’s right, Officer.”  Bucky slowly pushed the faux leather strap through the buckle.  “I’ll make this nice and easy on ya.”

Those nimble fingers, the jerk of the belt coming off, and the way Bucky gazed at him all made him keep his mouth shut about that stupid text.  Back up at Clint’s place, Steve had considered immediately telling Bucky and Clint all about it, but he didn’t want to ruin Clint’s party.  He was sure all the cops would have immediately gone into detective mode.  He had considered telling Bucky once they were alone, but then he thought about having his one chance to fight Rumlow.  His one chance to get knocked unconscious.

Bucky was running his fingers down the front of Steve’s uniform shirt, tripping over the buttons.  Steve grinned at him stupidly, waiting for Bucky to undo his pants, pull them down around his ankles. 

When that thought had come into his head, he realized he was still holding out a small flame of hope that he would return to his world.  He wanted Rumlow to knock him out just as badly as he wanted to beat the shit out of the guy.  And before that happened, he wanted one last night with Bucky.  He wanted to have sex. 

It was purely selfish, he thought as Bucky inched his pants down and nuzzled a hot breath against his cock through his underwear.  “You’re good and ready,” Bucky purred.  Purely selfish of him to want this memory to hold onto if he should leave, because he knew that even if he returned to his own Bucky, if he was still alive and Bucky was still alive somehow, it would be a long, long time before anything like this happened.

He would tell Bucky and Clint in the morning.  It wasn’t going to hurt anyone to wait until then, right?

He let out a shaky breath as Bucky used his scruffy chin to help his cuffed hands pull Steve’s underpants down below his balls.  “I think I see the key right there,” Bucky’s whisper caressing him, even as Bucky’s fingers traced down along his taint.  The little key pushed into the sensitive skin as Bucky dragged it out and used it to torture Steve with the light movement. 

Then he swallowed Steve’s cock whole.

He had to hold onto Bucky’s head or else he was going to fall over.  There they were, in the middle of the living room, no lights on, and Steve’s knees in danger of giving out.  Whatever Bucky was doing, he was doing right.  He had probably done far more research than Steve could ever have dreamed.  Had far more practice, too.  Probably even knew things that other Steve liked, which was totally not fair.

But Steve couldn’t complain.  No, he could only moan loudly and gag out strings of words like, “Oh god, god Bucky, oh god, uhn, yeah, oooh.”

He could feel himself getting ready to come, and that was when Bucky eased back and stood up, the handcuffs unlocked and his fingers spread like it was some magic trick.  “Now, officer, I’m gonna have to ask you to assume the position.”

“What?” Steve gasped, still not understanding why Bucky had stopped. 

Without one word of explanation, Bucky bent over and scooped Steve up over his shoulder.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Steve asked.  He didn’t dare kick or struggle, afraid he’d end up crashing to the floor.  Imagine that was how he went unconscious, so close yet so far...  “Why did you stop?  I was just about to come...”

Bucky sat him down on the bed.  “I want to fuck you?” he said, as a question. 

“Oh,” Steve said.

For a moment neither of them did anything.  Steve sitting there with his pants around his ankles and his cock hard, and Bucky standing in front of him.  Then Steve started yanking off his shoes just as Bucky asked, “Is that okay?”

“Yes, yes,” Steve said in a rush.  “Yes.”

Mid-shoe, he reached up and grabbed the front of Bucky’s orange jumpsuit and pulled him down for a kiss that unbalanced him, and sent them crashing back onto the mattress.

Bucky climbed over him, just to keep their faces together.  He rocked his hips against Steve’s while their tongues fought a messy battle.  It seemed that Bucky was content just to kiss him, but all that friction had Steve whining, plus his pants were effectively keeping his feet bound together.  “Gotta... get my pants off...” Steve managed to say around Bucky’s tongue, and finally Bucky took pity on him and let him go.

With a swift movement, Bucky took those pants by the ankles and whipped them from Steve’s body.  Then he was back on Steve’s face. 

The frantic kisses did something to Steve, erased his anxieties and all he wanted was for Bucky’s cock to be inside him.  “Fuck me,” Steve hissed, before sucking a hickey on Bucky’s neck, just below his ear.  He latched on to another spot. 

“You’re sure?” Bucky asked.  He pulled back to look down at Steve.

“Yes.  Please.” 

Steve understood that it was for his own benefit that Bucky was being extra cautious, but his dick had other ideas.  So he decided to help things along.  Bucky was still fully dressed, and Steve still had a shirt buttoned up.  He started opening up the top of Bucky’s orange jumpsuit, kissing his way down Bucky’s chest.  The hair there tickled his face.  Bucky held himself up and arched his head back, eyes closed and smiling.

When he’d undone the buttons to the waist, he pushed the fabric from Bucky’s shoulders.  The dark pink of Bucky’s nipples stared back at him, and he didn’t stop to think about whether or not this was something Bucky might like.  He just put his lips around one of those nipples and teased it with his tongue.  Bucky inhaled sharply with a little sound that made Steve keep doing what he was doing for a while before he resumed undressing his boyfriend.

Yes, Bucky was his boyfriend.  His.  Not other Steve’s.  For now, anyway, and Steve no longer questioned how he felt.  When he pulled at the sleeves of the jumpsuit, Bucky pulled his arms out and then lifted his hips so Steve could push them down and off with a series of little kicks.  Bucky’s boxers came off with the rest of his clothes, and just that contact between their throbbing cocks made them both a little breathless.

“Now you,” Bucky whispered, and he lowered himself to rest there, dicks touching, pressing, while he slowly unbuttoned Steve’s shirt. 

Steve watched him helplessly.  If only Bucky would go faster... but with each button he felt himself get a little harder.  “Please,” he said, a bit too loudly for the silent room. 

“That is the magic word,” said Bucky with a smirk, keeping up that same slow pace.

So Steve wound his hands in Bucky’s hair, and kissed him hard, as hard as his dick.  All he could think about was how he needed Bucky inside of him, now, now NOW NOW, and still Bucky was unbuttoning his shirt and slowly parting the fabric. 

“Please,” Steve begged again.  His lips sucking at Steve’s neck, Bucky brushed his thumb over Steve’s nipple.  Steve’s whole body trembled.  “Please.”

“Yes, sir,” Bucky whispered. 

While Bucky reached for the lube, Steve ripped his arms out of that awful polyester shirt and chucked it aside.  Bucky was still moving in slow motion, and Steve flopped back, biting his lip and wishing Bucky would hurry the fuck up.  Then Bucky’s lips were back on his, and he vented his frustration.  His hands ran up and down Bucky’s bare skin, raking with his nails in that instant when Bucky’s fingers pushed him open.  One finger, working in and out.  Steve rocked his hips, trying to get more contact, for him to hit that sweet spot, but Bucky shifted so his weight kept Steve pinned down.  Could he feel how badly Steve’s dick throbbed for him, pushing up against his stomach?

Two fingers, and Steve was ready to start whining, only he couldn’t do much with Bucky’s tongue filling his mouth.  Their kisses were hot and sloppy, more attention being paid down below.  Three fingers, and still Bucky hadn’t found that spot.  It was almost like he wasn’t looking. 

“You ready?” Bucky whispered.

“Yes,” Steve said, his voice breathy and eager.  Bucky latched on again with his mouth, but then he pushed with his hand and touched it, like he’d known exactly where it was the entire time and had only been teasing.  Steve stopped breathing for a second, stopping moving, stopped doing anything, and then the fingers were sliding away. 

The head of Bucky’s cock pressed against that tight ring of muscle and it felt so much bigger than a few fingers, enormous, Steve didn’t know how it was going to fit, and he sucked it a breath right before Bucky eased his way in with that same maddening slowness.  Steve couldn’t breathe.  His knees, straddled on each side of Bucky’s hips, shook, wavered back and forth with a sudden need to clamp closed, because his whole body felt on the verge of trembling violently.

Through half-closed eyes he focused on Bucky, who looked at him in something like wonder. 

Inch by inch Bucky entered him, and it was a sweet forever until Bucky whispered, “How does that feel?”

Steve wasn’t sure how to describe how it felt to be filled up by him.  How he felt completed, like this was meant to be.  How no other moment in his life seemed to matter but this one.  “So fucking big,” Steve gasped, “so fucking good.”

Bucky grinned, and kissed Steve’s nose rather than his gaping mouth.  That same grin stayed with him as he began to pull out, then thrust himself back in with a suddenness Steve hadn’t expected, scraping across that spot in a way that left him without words. 

Each pump hit it, and soon Steve was riding on waves of sensation that left him gasping and moaning, and when Bucky said, “I want you to scream my name, Stevie,” that was when Steve tried to find his voice.

“Buck,” he said breathlessly, “Bucky, Buck – James Buchanan Barnes!

“Fuck, Stevie, Steve, I love you so much,” Bucky chanted, moving in and out, until he was yelling almost as loudly as Steve was, and then he took Steve’s cock in his fist and pumped that too, and Steve didn’t know how much more he could take, he could feel his muscles convulsing wildly.

He couldn’t even remember his best friend’s name anymore.  He was calling out, “Oh god, oh god,” groaning loudly, alongside Bucky’s, “Jesus Christ, fuck me, oh fuck!”

When they came, it was almost exactly at the same time.  He saw Bucky’s face freeze, and his eyes roll back a little, and then he had this look of pure bliss, and his fist contracted around Steve’s cock, strangling it until Steve couldn’t hold back anymore, and he threw his head back and let out a moan that they could probably hear at the party three floors up.  And before he was even finished, Bucky was laughing a little and kissing him on the throat and saying, “You were so good, nobody’s first time is ever that good.” 

Steve couldn’t find his voice as Bucky slid off of him and grabbed that shirt and wiped the spillage from their stomachs, then between Steve’s ass cheeks.  His legs hung limp and useless now.  He rolled until he could nestle his face into the sweat on Bucky’s chest.  “Is that what it’s always like?” he mumbled, already feeling his eyes closing.

“For us, anyway,” Bucky said into his hair.  He cupped Steve’s skull and kissed Steve’s forehead, and that was how Steve fell asleep, with Bucky’s lips sending him off.

Chapter Text

"Why didn't you tell me this last night?" Bucky exclaimed, sitting up so he could glare down at Steve, who had just told him about the fight club text.

"I didn't want to ruin last night," Steve said.  He reached up touch Bucky's back.  The sudden departure of body warmth had left Steve feeling cold.

"But Steve..."  Bucky sighed and looked down at him.  Then covered Steve with his body and kissed him.  "Last night was good, wasn't it?"

Steve grinned, remembering.  "Yeah." 

"We gotta tell Clint."

"I know."

"We should bring him breakfast."

"Yeah, probably."

Clint still had the mustache drawn on his upper lip and a rim of eyeliner, but he perked up when he smelled the coffee and saw the greasy bag of food.  "You look like you've been rode hard and put up wet," Bucky said and signed.  He winked at Natasha.  Her red hair was flat and her eye makeup smudged into dark circles, and she shrugged at Bucky as she took one of the breakfast sandwiches and a coffee and shuffled back to the bedroom. 

After writing down the address, Clint asked Steve when the text had come in.  "Nine-thirty," Steve replied.

"They're doing fight club at 9:30 on a Sunday night?" Clint asked.  "Mondays are hard enough as it is."

There wasn't much Clint could do from his apartment.  He had to go into the precinct.  "Will you call and tell us the plan?" Bucky asked.

"You planning to go in there with him?" Clint raised his eyebrows.  "Of course you are.  Forget I asked.  Yeah, in a case like this we'll wait until it starts up, then move in.  We don't want to spook them away from the location by having cop cars patrolling the area beforehand.  We might send someone in, undercover, but otherwise... you know, it'd be better if you didn't go."  This he directed at Steve.  "I can't guarantee your safety."

"That's why I'm going," Bucky said.

Clint nodded.  "I'm just saying... things could get ugly."

That hung over them all day.  Somehow the day flew by, while Steve became more and more anxious.  What did one wear to a fight club?  He decided on a pair of black sweats, a t-shirt and a gray hoodie.  Instead of sneakers, though, he wore heavy boots.  He was used to fighting in boots, and flimsy footwear like sneakers would surely be a disadvantage.  Other than that... what could he do?  He wished he had his shield.  Or his Cap suit, with the protective padding.  His helmet.  Going in with nothing, that was scary. 

Steve had texted Sam, and they planned to meet a block away.  "You need to go in separately from me," Steve told Bucky.  "Rumlow knows you.  He can't see us together."

"Why not?"

"Because then he'll know I broke the first rule.  He'll know something's up.  And if he's one of the guys running this thing, he could call it off, get away before Clint's crew shows up."

Bucky crossed his arms.  "What if they don't let me in at all?  What if there's some kind of password?"

"I don't know any password," Steve said.  "Look."  He stepped up to Bucky and put his hands on Bucky's shoulders.  "I know you want to stay by my side and protect me, but I'm telling you, I can do this."

"But you don't have to!"  Bucky's eyes were glassy, and he looked angry.  "You don't have to prove anything to me.  Why do you need to do this?"

Steve gave Bucky a sad smile.  "I think I need to prove something to myself." 

Only he wasn't proving something to himself, was he?  Maybe he was.  But it was other Steve who needed to fight this fight.  To know that he could do it.  Although, now that he thought about it, he needed to fight this fight too.  To know that being Captain America wasn't all he was.  To know that he was more than just some serum.  Everything special about you came out of a bottle.  Tony had said that to him.  Steve had tried not to let that bother him, but deep down he'd always worried that it was true.  He didn't have any of those people around anymore, the ones who had made him, the ones who had seen something special in him. 

So it came down to fight club.  He looked at Bucky, wishing there was some other way.  He couldn't think of one.  When it came time to leave, they kissed like they might never see each other again. And they might not. 

"You nervous, man?" Sam asked when he found Steve pacing under the streetlight, having arrived ten minutes early. 

"Yeah," Steve said, his hands clenched in the pockets of his hoodie. 

"You're gonna kill it.   Come on." 

Even though he had memorized the address and stared at a map for most of the afternoon, he allowed Sam to lead him.  One by one, others dressed in dark clothing made their way toward the warehouse entrance in a seemingly deserted lot.  Steve's boots crunched across a gritty surface.  There was no bouncer at the door.  One guy, who flashed a light into the face of everyone entering.  Steve prayed that Bucky could get in without a problem.  What would they do to him if they recognized him?  He blinked away the bright light and followed the other guys to the open floor.  No place for spectators.  Just an open, empty floor slowing filling with men. 

Steve searched the crowd for Rumlow, or any other faces he might recognize, and saw none.  The stark overhead lighting cast shadows on everyone's faces.  "You wanna fight, put in your name!" a voice called out.  Steve couldn't tell from which direction.  Sam nudged him toward a guy who had climbed up on an empty oil drum.  There weren't many guys stepping up to fight.  That fact made Steve even more nervous.  "You gonna throw in?" Steve asked Sam.

"Nah, tonight's for you," Sam said.  "Go get 'im."

Up at the drum, Steve recognized the guy taking names.  Jack Rollins, another Hydra agent.  He wrote his name on a slip of paper, and watched as Rollins nodded and pretend to put the paper into old coffee can.  Steve knew why Rollins wasn't throwing his name in with all the others.  He was saving Steve for Rumlow.

The crowd milled around, voices rising and falling with tense chatter and small shoving matches breaking out, until finally Rollins stood and called them all to attention. 

"This is Fight Club!" he called out, raising a fist. 

Everyone around Steve shouted back, "Fight Club!" and raised their fists too.  Even Sam.  The sight of it sickened him.  Reminded him of wars fought long ago.

"What do we do at Fight Club?" Rollins demanded.

"Fight!"

"What do we do at Fight Club?"

"Fight!"

"We fight till we can't fight no more!" Rollins added. 

"Hoo-rah!"  That also sickened Steve.  It reminded him of the army, and in the army they trained to fight for their country, for freedom.  Not to fight for the sake of fighting.

"Who's first, ladies?" Rollins said with a growl, and plunged his hand into the can.  He pulled out two slips of paper and called out two names, neither of which were Steve's, or Rumlow's.  Steve nearly collapsed against Sam.

"Come on, man, get your head in the game," Sam said, holding him up.  "Get those nerves out!  Come on!"  He shoved Steve a little bit, and Steve shoved back as the two men who'd been called stepped out from the crowd into the area that was being opened up for them.  They all moved back and back until it was just the two in the spotlight.  They circled each other until the crowd started chanting, "Fight!  Fight!  Fight!"

Steve watched the big Hispanic guy hurl a punch at a burly bearded man.  The smaller man dodged and sunk a fist into the big guy's belly.  After that, Steve watched with a sick fascination.  Around them, money passed hands, and a guy with a shaved head and a piercing through his nose that Steve dimly realized was Jasper Sitwell had a chalkboard with names and tally marks.  

That fight ended with the Hispanic guy on the floor.  His friends dragged him out of the center, but Steve couldn't see where they took him.  And then he saw Bucky. 

Like magnets they found each other.  Bucky looked freaked out.  "Did you see that guy?" Bucky asked, looking at where the body had disappeared.

"Yeah," Steve said.

"Please don't do this," Bucky begged him.  Steve felt Bucky's hand feel for his, and he slapped it away. 

"I already put my name in," he said.

Bucky, who had been in fights, who had competed, fought people in competitions, shifted his weight from side to side and looked around with wide eyes underneath his hair, which he'd left down and hanging in his face.  Some disguise, Steve thought, then Sam looked over and saw.

He must have shown Sam a picture of Bucky at some point.  Must have, because Sam's eyes flared with recognition.  "You didn't," he said.

Steve knew he looked guilty.  "I had to," he said. 

Bucky looked around Steve and sized Sam up.  "You're Sam, then?" he asked.

"Yeah."  With a look at Steve that said I cannot believe you did this, he reached out and shook Bucky's hand.  "Nice to finally meet you.  This guy talks about you all the time."

"Good things, I hope."  Bucky glanced at Steve, like he wasn't sure. 

"Of course," Steve said.  Suddenly he wanted to hug Bucky.  A second pair of fighters had taken to the center, and Steve knew there wouldn't be many more before his name was called.  And then what?  He'd end up on the floor, and back in his world, and he wouldn't get another chance to hug Bucky. 

But he couldn't hug Bucky here. 

As the fights progressed, it was clear that there were newbies, and more experienced fighters.  That first fight had been quick compared to others.  Sometimes the crowd cheered at certain names, and those fighters swaggered out like returning champions.  There was some kind of hierarchy, and if Steve was reading the numbers on that chalkboard right, the bets were high. 

The only consolation Steve could see was that everyone was on an even playing field.  No weapons, no armor.  Everyone had to deal with the concrete floor.  Those wrestling moves he'd seen on TV wouldn't be possible.  But Steve was used to fighting in the real world, not just in some competition or match with a nice springloaded floor or soft mats to cushion falls.

"You heard from Clint?" Steve asked Bucky, trying not to let Sam hear. 

Bucky shook his head.  Steve wasn't going to say anything further.  He only hoped his fight would start before the cops showed up.

"Next fight!" came the call.  "Steve Rogers!"  Steve's body went cold.  Behind the roaring in his ears, he heard a smattering of applause and felt hands shoving him forward.  Sam's hands, probably.  He knew Bucky would be more likely to hold him back. 

"And our undefeated champion, Brock Rumlow!" 

The crowd roared, and it wasn't until Steve hit the open floor that he heard what the crowd was chanting:  "Crossbones!  Crossbones!  Crossbones!"  Some guys were even making an X with their arms.  And Rumlow swaggered in, wearing a black t-shirt with a two bones crossed into an X on the front, his face painted to look like a skull. 

Steve had fought down a guy with an actual skull for a head, so none of this intimidated him.  In fact, it made him angry.  Was this supposed to be some kind of parallel for Red Skull?  He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, focusing his anger on Rumlow.

"Recovered from your car accident, then?" Rumlow sneered.  "Didn't even have the balls to tell people what really happened, but that's no surprise."

Steve didn't answer.  He launched in and swung.  Rumlow blocked him, but Steve continued with a series of punches, just to get Rumlow on the defense, nervous.  Maybe not nervous.  Steve couldn't tell underneath that stupid black and white skull makeup.  Rumlow's forearms were massive and he certainly didn't flinch when Steve's punches hit them. 

Just as quickly, Rumlow went from defense to offensive, throwing heavy punches at Steve.  The crowd behind Rumlow became a blur as he focused on avoiding those fists.  He took one in the gut that doubled him over and barely managed to skip out of the way of an uppercut that might have taken him out.  He shot out a jab to Rumlow's kidney on his way, then staggered to a halt across the open space.  This body wasn't as durable as his other one, he needed to remember that.

"Sissy punches," Rumlow said.  "That all you got?"

So Steve lunged at him again.  Every punch he knew, as fast as he could, but that didn't stop Rumlow from jumping back and kicking, steel-toed boot connecting with Steve's chin, sending him flying back and landing on the concrete.  He reeled, vision blinking in and out, struggling for breath, already rolling to his feet and getting his fists up and read.

"You just don't know when to give up, do you?" Rumlow taunted, and the words touched a far-off memory.

"I can do this all day," Steve said through the blood in his mouth.

Rumlow laughed.  From there he barely had time to think; he reacted to Rumlow's attacks.  He managed to find a few spaces to get in a punch that marred the skull make up and blacked up Steve's knuckles, and a kick that hit the side of Rumlow's knee and threw him off. 

It was a split second where he realized the fight wasn't going to end until one of them was unconscious.  It could be Steve.  He could let it happen.  Save this body from being pummeled, get back to his own world. 

That was when Rumlow's punch connected square with his face. 

He felt his nose give way, a spurt of blood stream over his grimacing lips and teeth.  The punch he might have managed; the concrete floor was what did it.  The back of his skull hit and everything went black.

When he opened his eyes, they opened to grit and blood and a cold hard surface pressed against his face.  There was a hand around his ankle, dragging him, scraping up the side of his face. 

He spat blood and kicked his ankle free, spun up onto his feet ready to fight again. 

The crowd shouted – cheers and boos combined.  Rumlow had turned his back.  He was strutting, only turning when the crowd started up.  Steve could see money changing hands.  Underneath the makeup, Rumlow's face unmistakably showed surprise before it turned to anger and disgust, and then Rumlow was charging.

Steve had no choice.  Selvig was right, he was stuck here, and he needed to win this fight.  And that was all Steve needed to fully commit. 

He went at Rumlow with everything he had.  Sure, this body didn't have super speed, or super strength, but it was strong and it knew how to land a punch and a kick and Steve pushed it to add in the acrobatic moves he was comfortable with.  Rumlow didn't expect Steve to pull out a twisting butterfly kick, and Steve's foot connected with Rumlow's face in a satisfying crunch.  A few more flying kicks and he was breathing hard, but Rumlow was staggering now, blood on his face.

Rumlow tried a few kicks of his own.  Steve managed to catch his foot on one and twist, bringing Rumlow crashing to the ground.  Despite his instinct for a fair fight, he didn't let Rumlow get up.  He flew at him, kicking at his abdomen until Rumlow curled up, and then Steve kicked at his face until his movements became sluggish and slow.  Now he could punch and punch until Rumlow stopped moving.  It was the only way the fight would end.  He couldn't hear the crowd's response anymore under the bloodlust pumping against his eardrums.  His fist smashed down again and again, until hands pulled at his arms and he staggered back, shocked at what he'd done.

The bright lights swinging around and the general panic of the crowd meant that the police had arrived.  Steve blinked and swayed with only Bucky and Sam helping him to remain upright.

"Gotta go, Rogers.  Now."  That was Sam. 

They staggered toward the door.  Officers in flak jackets swarmed in.  Steve couldn't see for the blood in his eyes; everything was red and hazy.  All he could think, as they hit the cold night air, was It didn't work.

Chapter Text

Rumlow and his cronies had been arrested.  Rumlow himself was being charged with a number of things, including gambling and assault, and after Bucky had told Clint about what was said before the fight, an investigation had opened into Steve’s “accident.”  It wasn’t until Bucky had seen the mug shots of Rumlow, minus the face paint, that he recognized him.  “Shit.  Yeah, that guy.  He worked at my studio.  Tried to get me into this MMA league back when I first started.  It was pretty much the precursor to that fight club.  He kicked my ass, only because he kept using illegal moves, and he ended up getting fired later because he was teaching that stuff.”

Steve had fought Rumlow and won.  He should have felt exhilarated, but instead he felt like the victory should have belonged to the other Steve. 

Depression set in soon after. 

"You okay?" Bucky asked, often.  He spent a lot of time in Bucky's arms in the days after the fight.  Bucky took care of him, covering him with ice packs and feeding him aspirin and soup.  With his broken nose and bruised body, Steve didn’t much mind the chance to stay in bed.  Bucky was his only comfort, the only thing this world offered him that he couldn't have in his own world. 

The memories of that other place had started to fade a bit.  Was this Natasha really so different than his partner in the other world?  He and Clint had worked together to bring justice – was that so different from when they fought together as Avengers?  Soon it seemed like his days of drawing comic books and making love with Bucky was how it had always been.  He was happy, wasn't he?

And yet, he yearned for that other world.  He dreamed of his Bucky, tortured and lost.  This world had allowed him to make his peace with Peggy, had given him that dance, but it wouldn't let him atone for letting Bucky fall from that airplane.

It came to him one day, sparring with Sam.  He had gotten Sam in a headlock, and Sam sputtered and gasped before tapping out, and it dragged out memories of how Bucky had struggled and then relaxed into unconsciousness in his arms.  Steve had been fighting with Bucky before he was thrown from the helicarrier.  He hadn't been fighting Rumlow.  He hadn't gone unconscious from the fall, or from the water (he had already tried taking a bath and plunging his face underwater, but had come up gagging for air before he'd even come close to losing consciousness).  Bucky had been punching him.  Beating his face in mercilessly, because he was Bucky's mission

But Bucky was never going to do that to Steve.  Not this Bucky.  Even if he agreed to finally spar with Bucky – and Bucky had stopped asking - he wouldn't be able to trick Bucky into choking him. 

It took a few days of thinking and using Bucky for comfort before one night, after they had climbed into bed together, Steve turned to Bucky and said, "Truth or dare?"

Bucky grinned.  Steve could feel Bucky get hard against his leg.  They were both naked; that was the norm now.  Although Steve hadn't always been in the mood for sex twice a day, he liked the feel of Bucky against him.  "Truth."

"Aside from my memories, is there anything different about me since the accident?" he asked.

Instead of answering, Bucky kissed Steve and pulled him close.  His fingers ran up and down Steve's back.  "Lately you've seemed... quiet.  Sad.  But sometimes that happens to you when winter starts."

"But nothing else is different?"  Steve didn't know what he wanted to hear.  He guessed he wanted Bucky to say he wished for the old Steve back. 

"I love you, Steve," Bucky said.  "You'll always be my Steve, no matter who you think you are."  The kisses that followed were comforting, shallow and soft, and when Steve closed his eyes, he thought maybe he could fall into them. 

Bucky pulled back just slightly and said, "My turn now: truth or dare?"

"Dare?" Steve said, not sure if he could handle a truth.

"Hmmm." Bucky thought for a moment.  "Got it: I dare you to go get the whipped cream and put it on me somewhere.  I'll close my eyes so you can surprise me.  And then, of course, you have to lick it off."

Steve laughed a little, and walked bare-assed to the fridge, cupping himself to keep the cold air from shrinking the hard-on that had sprouted from Bucky's suggestion.  He shook the canister on the walk back.  Bucky lay with his eyes closed, just as he had promised. 

Where to spray it?  Steve knelt beside Bucky's body for a moment, before squirting a little bit in Bucky's naval.  Bucky giggled as Steve licked it out, sticking his tongue into the little indentation.  "Keep those eyes closed," Steve said, licking his lips.  He made a hat out of whipped cream on the head of Bucky's dick, and started sucking. 

One last thing for Bucky, that's what it was.  He opened his mouth and let Bucky thrust up against the back of his throat, Bucky's fist tangled in his hair, and when Bucky came Steve swallowed it down. 

"Well, that escalated quickly," Bucky laughed when Steve returned to his spot on the bed and pulled the sheets over them both. 

"Truth or dare," Steve said.

"Dare," said Bucky with a grin.   He thought he knew how this game was going to go, and it made Steve a little sad that he was about to take it in a very different direction.

"I dare you to choke me out."

It took a few seconds for Bucky to comprehend.  "Choke you out?  Like... choke you out?"

"I just need to know that it's completely impossible," Steve said, tears filling his eyes.  "To go back.  I think I figured it out.  I think you have to be the one to do it.”

“Steve...”

“I promise I’ll never ask you for anything like this again.”  He held Bucky close to him when Bucky tried to pull away.  “Please.  I just need to know.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Bucky said, and his voice cracked and even in the darkness Steve could see the tears shining in his friend’s eyes.  “Don’t make me do this.”

“Please.  You can call an ambulance if you have to.  Call right now.  They’ll be on their way before it even happens.  Please, Bucky.”  With each word Bucky’s face crumpled, and Steve tried to smear the tears away with his fingers.  “I think if I don’t try I’ll drive myself crazy wondering if I ever could get back.”

“But Steve,” Bucky dug at his eyes with a knuckle, “Steve, what if you don’t come back.  What if... you don’t... wake up...”

“You know CPR, right?  Mouth to mouth?  You can call Clint, he can get an ambulance here right away,” Steve said in a rush.  “I won’t be out for long.  You’ve done this before, haven’t you?  Choked people out?”

Bucky frowned.  “Not on purpose.  I mean, people are supposed to tap out, and sometimes they don’t.”

“Okay, how about this: if I change my mind, I’ll tap out, okay?”

“That doesn’t help.”

“Please, Bucky.”  Steve swallowed and took a deep breath.  “I want you to have your Steve back.  And I need to help my Bucky.  And if this goes the way I think it will, that’s what will happen.  And if it doesn’t... then I’ll be your Steve and you’ll be my Bucky.”

“You’re already my Steve!” Bucky cried, the tears weeping from his eyes now.  “I don’t need any other Steve but you.  Why can’t I be your Bucky?”

“I wish you were,” Steve whispered.

Bucky pushed a kiss into his mouth, and Steve let him, their bodies tangling desperately.  He wanted this; he wanted this Bucky so badly.  This Bucky had taught him so much about what was possible.  But the wetness on his face reminded him that he had his own Bucky, and he needed to get back.

Finally, his voice rasping, Bucky said, "I'll do it for you.  Turn around."

Steve kissed Bucky one last time, and rolled over.  Bucky slid his arm around Steve's neck - his left arm, and Steve turned his wrist to kiss the star tattoo and place it against his skin.  "I know how to do this fast," Bucky said with a sniffle.  "You ready?"

"I love you," Steve said.

A little sob escaped Bucky's throat.

"I'm ready."

The muscle of Bucky's left arm flexed, hard, and there it was – Steve couldn't breathe.  He fought to keep himself from fighting back, gripping the bed sheets as his body spasmed and struggled for air.  Immediately blood was pounding in his ears, and he could barely hear it when Bucky kissed his ear and whispered, "I love you..." 

It felt right, then, to be pressed up against Bucky, like a tight hug that would never let go.  The room darkened, and his legs pedaled a bit, then everything seemed to slow.  He couldn't grip anymore.  His legs wouldn't work, and then his vision went black, and he felt nothing.

***

He heard the music even before he had fully regained consciousness.

That was "Trouble Man" - he knew the opening strains by heart now.  As his senses awakened, he heard the steady beeping at his side, that hospital smell that hadn't changed in the past seventy years, the sounds of soft-soled shoes and carts squeaking by.  For a long minute he didn't want to open his eyes.  Which would be worse: to find Bucky sitting there at his side, calling him a punk for making him do that, or to find himself back in his own world, with Natasha or Sam at his side. 

But his neck didn't feel sore.  His nose wasn't broken.  His ribs hurt.  He knew exactly where he was.

It would be Sam beside him.  That much he knew from the music.  He cracked his eyes open, saw Sam in the chair on the right side of his bed, where Bucky had been sitting the last time he woke up in a hospital. 

"On your left," he said, and his eyes dropped closed again before he could see Sam smile.

***

He started looking for Bucky immediately.

Someone had pulled him from the Potomac, Sam told him.  There were boot prints walking away.  There was no one else who would have ended up in the same river except Bucky.  That gave Steve hope.

It made him feel better once he learned that the other Steve hadn't awoken in his body.  He'd been unconscious the whole month or so he'd spent in the other world - in his world, it had only been two days.  The difference in time flow made sense, in a weird sort of way, given that it had been October in the other world, and it was May in his world. 

More than anything, he was glad to be alive, and hoped that other Steve had awoken in Bucky's arms.

Now, as Natasha handed him a folder and told him to be careful, that he might not want to pull on that thread, he just looked at the photo of his Bucky and knew this was where he needed to be.  And when Sam offered to help, Steve felt his heart swell up a bit.  Sam was a good friend.   Hopefully in the other world, Bucky would see that.

***

Some nights, alone in his bed, he wished for the warmth of a body pressed up against him.  And when he looked at the photos in the file, the long hair of the Winter Soldier made Steve's fingers itch to comb through it, made him hard in his pants thinking about running his hands over that body.  Sometimes he thought of the other Bucky, and took long showers.

***

Avengers business started to take over, but luckily Steve had Sam to track down leads on Bucky.  He couldn't believe it had been so long and still nothing. 

When Scarlet Witch hexed his mind, for a moment, he thought he was back in the other world, in that dance hall with Peggy.  But the more he looked around, the more he recognized that he was in a past that no longer existed.  And even as he took hold of Peggy and danced with her, he hoped this vision that he knew wasn't real would give him one more glimpse of a Bucky who was unharmed and in love with him.

Later, when he met Clint's family, he thought he might have a nosebleed.  This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.  Clint was supposed to be with Natasha.  Now he understood why Natasha had been pursuing Bruce.  Still, he remembered how happy Clint and Nat had been together, even when they argued about Clint's appetite.  On his own, over the internet, he'd continued to learn sign language.  He thought it might come in handy one day.

***

The world saved yet again, Steve now found himself with more time to continue his search.  When he did find Bucky, he'd do for Bucky what the other Bucky had done for him.  He would take Bucky to the Smithsonian Exhibit, and tell him stories about their childhood.  He would listen to what memories Bucky did have.  He would remind Bucky what his name was, every day, until it stuck. 

He would give Bucky space, if he needed it, but let him know he was loved.  And hopefully, one day, Bucky would return that love, and they would find a place in Brooklyn with a lot of sunlight, and Steve would make dinner for Bucky every evening, and at night they would curl up together, safe in each other's arms.