When the file is pushed under Steve’s door (and there must be a better way to share confidential information), he snatches it up, knuckles creasing white. He leaves it on the coffee table, unopened. He leaves it on the bedside locker, the kitchen counter; he leaves it balanced on the edge of the bathroom sink and it’s a little damp and curling around the edges when Nick Fury calls to ask if he’s taking the mission.
It is no secret that Steve Rogers never backs down from a challenge.
It is no secret that the Winter Soldier represents, at least, a challenge.
The secret. The secret is.
Have you ever been in contact with the Winter Soldier?
No, sir. No.
(It is a lie.)
It is St Petersburg. It is last year. No, it is the year before. He wears a mask and you’ve never heard of him.
He is affronted. He’s heard of you. Everyone has heard of Captain America. He tells you that you’re not subtle.You fight in a flag and a cowl. You are the embodiment of everything that is good about America, he says, and he trails off. You add that, contrary to popular opinion, there is still good in America.
He doesn’t like that. He tells you that he’s supposed to kill you and you tell him that he’ll have a job of it. You don’t die easily.
He grins, sharp and familiar, and he adjusts his leather gloves.
You are both standing in a doorway on Nevsky Prospekt. The snow is thick on the ground, piled against the buildings and you say that you’d like to see more of the world before you do die.
He tells you that Moscow Railway Station is that way, and he jerks his head. There is snow in his long, thick hair. He leans in close to you and his hand is on the side of your throat and it’s firm enough to bruise. He presses you against the doorframe and he kisses you.
You wonder, later, in Cuzco, in Vancouver, in Nairobi, if it will always be like this; if kissing any man is like kissing Bucky Barnes.
Steve peels open the file. He lays out the pages of grainy CCTV photographs and hand-written reports from the days when everything was low-tech and some SHIELD agents used fountain pens with blue ink that has faded and had handwriting that puts Steve’s neat cursive to shame.
He learns that the Winter Soldier’s next target is in Rome. There is a two-day window. She is a high-powered executive with a fondness for conservation, fair trade and personal accountability. Steve thinks he likes the sound of her. He’d rather she didn’t die.
So. It’s a Quinjet to Rome. Natasha flies because she won the game of Paper-Scissors-Rock-Lizard-Coulson against Clint. He comes too, sulking and shotgun. He always picks Coulson.
Fury says it’s not a three-person job. The Winter Soldier has evaded capture for years (perhaps decades) and he disdains kill orders and he is wanted, dead or alive. Iron Man and the Hulk will be joining them, once Thor arrives from Asgard.
The Winter Soldier was, according to Natasha, the pride and joy of the Red Room. A perfectly-constructed human weapon.
“Does he come with an instruction manual?” Clint asks. “Flat-pack assassin. IKEA will be doing them next, you’ll see.”
Natasha clips his ear.
Steve sits in the back and wipes his mouth and does not think.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
It’s dark and Steve has no idea where they are. He has pursued the Winter Soldier through decaying catacombs and a disused palazzo and he should know better by now. He should know that not all villains run with an escape route in mind. Some villains run as though they’re children, sprinting for the joy of it, and I am Captain America and you can be the bad guy and that’s why they are locked in what amounts to an overgrown closet that doesn’t open from the inside.
“I can’t let you kill her,” Steve says, for want of anything better to say.
“Believe it or not, Captain, Afua Henderson was not my target.”
Something cold settles in the pit of Steve’s stomach.
“Relax, Captain. I’m not going to kill you. My plan went awry, much like my escape route, and I’d rather not share a closet with a corpse.”
“That’s a relief.” (Working with Agent Coulson has given Steve a new appreciation for a perfectly dry delivery.)
“Where are you?”
“I should think the options are rather limited,” says Steve and then a hand closes around his wrist. (Metal, adamantium-alloy, he remembers. A different weapon for every day of the week.) “You do know that my team will find me, don’t you?”
“Ah, the Avengers.” Steve thinks he can hear a smile in the Soldier’s cool tones. “A team of reprobates, if ever there was one. Do they bask in your illustrious presence, Captain?”
Steve doesn’t understand why the Soldier talks as if he is the best of men. A metal forefinger rubs over the inside of Steve’s wrist and makes him shiver. Steve buries his hand in that thick, long hair and he breathes against the Winter Soldier’s lips.
It should not be comforting. He is not the best of men. He kisses the Winter Soldier’s lower lip and then draws his tongue over his upper lip. The Winter Soldier breathes evenly but his other hand rests on Steve’s chest, pushing him against the nearest wall, which feels almost soft behind Steve’s back, with flaking plaster and crumbling brick.
“Couldn’t you punch your way out?” asks Steve and it’s dark but he squeezes his eyes shut.
He reaches up and fumbles off the Winter Soldier’s mask. In the dark, it doesn’t matter. In the interest of fair play - and Steve is always interested in fair play - he pushes back his cowl.
“It’d destroy the finish,” says the Winter Soldier and his lips are pressed briefly to the corner of Steve’s mouth. He breathes evenly. “Couldn’t you put that shield to some use other than the ornamental?”
Steve laughs, a huff of air that has weight and volume in this dead space. “New paint job,” he says. One hand now rests on the Winter Soldier’s side, curving about his ribs, fingers slotting perfectly in the grooves, beneath his thick wool coat. He tilts his head and, in the dark, there is an expanse of flesh, smooth lines of muscle and skin, and the Winter Soldier’s mouth is unexpectedly soft and inexplicably quizative. It sends hot and cold shivers down Steve’s spine.
“This is not what I was expecting,” he murmurs.
“But you chased me.” The Winter Soldier’s words are almost lost in the crook of Steve’s neck.
“I was apprehending a - oh - ”
“Great job, Cap.” Their lips meet again, with a softness that almost hurts, and there is that familiarity once more.
“Is this your usual M.O.?” asks Steve and he parts his lips, just enough to welcome the tip of the Soldier’s tongue between them.
“No,” says the Winter Soldier on a sigh. “I just don’t get out much.” There is more kissing until they choose to deepen a kiss, and coarsen it, and roughen it, and Steve’s fingers are digging into the Winter Soldier’s sides and he drags him closer and now one of the Winter Soldier’s legs is between Steve’s and he’s raising his knee, his thigh rubbing against the insides of Steve’s thighs and higher and Steve cannot hold back the whimper that escapes him. The Winter Soldier pushes up and Steve grabs at him and his pulse is thunder in his ears and he cannot comprehend this unholy urge to kiss, to bite down on the Winter Soldier’s lower lip until he groans, too. Steve tastes something metal and now he is sucking gently, soothing, as his hips rock against the Winter Soldier and Steve is driven wild with need.
He pushes the Winter Soldier’s coat off his shoulders and grips his shoulders and it is a shock to find that the Winter Soldier is wearing something sleeveless and there is unyielding coldness under Steve’s right hand and solid, warm flesh beneath his left hand.
The Winter Soldier drags his hand down the centre of Steve’s chest and he rubs his lips over Steve’s cheek to bite softly on Steve’s ear-lobe. He’s murmuring something unintelligible as he unbuckles Steve’s belt.
“Every good superhero should have a utility belt,” says the Winter Soldier and Steve laughs again and, oh, he might be going a little mad but now the heel of the Winter Soldier’s hand is pressed against his dick and it has been seventy years since anyone touched him like that.
He wonders if being touched by any man is like being touched by Bucky Barnes.
That is the name he sighs.
“So, whoever got ‘catching Captain America with his pants down in Rome’ on the Unlikeliest Thing to Happen in SHIELD sweepstake is in for a massive payout.”
“Oh god, Tony, I-”
“Pull ‘em up, Cap, and take your hand out of the nice assassin’s pants and we’ll call it evens, okay?”
“It’s Bucky,” Steve says, weakly.
“I won’t lie, Cap’n,” says Clint. “That makes no sense.”
“Is this a new thing?” asks Tony. “Or just part of your dossier that I, like, totally overlooked? Because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t overlook the part where Captain America’s secret weapon is his -”
“Tony-” Steve manages to fumble his pants and belt closed and then he’s pulling Bucky towards him, and Bucky’s pale and trembling and won’t let go and Steve is entirely and completely okay with that.
“Seriously, we thought you were dying. Your heart rate went way through the roof and your blood pressure was crazy and then everything just slowed the fuck down and JARVIS had no explanation because, I’m sorry, Captain America getting down with a crazy-ass Russian is not a variable he was programmed to deal with.”
Steve mostly overlooks the fact that his suit is, apparently, kitted with some medical monitoring equipment when Natasha steps in to the room and looks at Bucky levelly for a moment.
“James,” she says and she picks up his discarded coat and drapes it over his shoulders.
“JARVIS,” says Tony. “Make a note. When we’re presented with brainwashed ex-Soviet assassins in the future, we’re locking ‘em up with Steve.”
“Can it, Iron Man,” says Steve. “Can we just - ”
“Let’s just go home,” says Bucky, his teeth chattering. “Please, Steve-”
“How was it playing Seven Minutes in Heaven with your high school sweetheart, Cap?”
“It w-was longer than seven minutes, buddy,” says Bucky.
Home is the Helicarrier, for a month or so, where there are medical facilities and a bloodstain on the wall and a cell for giant green monsters and unrepentant gods.
Home is the place where Nick Fury looks completely unsurprised at the identity of the Winter Soldier and where he tells the World Security Council that the threat has been neutralised and where Tony and Clint lobby for a new SOP for the neutralisation of enemies, especially for Cap.
Home is the floor of the Tower formerly known as Stark, where Bucky eats cold pizza in the mornings while watching daytime television and where Clint teaches him the rules of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Coulson and promptly loses.
Home is the next file pushed under Steve’s door and Bucky’s ground rules and Bucky’s fingers around Steve’s wrist as they read it together.
It is no secret.