“Dammit, Steve, do you think it’s funny?”
Steve winces. “Bucky, don’t blow your cap! They deserved it.”
“I don’t care, fat-head! What would’ve happened if Rick hadn’t gone and get me?”
The way Steve grits his teeth is probably not good for the cut over the side of his face and he cares not one bit about it. He can already feel tthe way his chest rumbles, the trashing not helping one bit with the lingering (perpetual) cold.
“Dammit, Bucky, they called you a dirty ki… that! I wasn’t going to let that go!”
Something softens over Bucky’s face, and he’s a little less rough as he wipes the cuts. His ma’s gonna flip HER cap off, and then he’s doomed.
“It ain’t be the first time I’m called that, it ain’t gonna be the last, Steve,” he says, matter of factly, as if that made it better.
“Well, it ain’t right!” Steve says, because it ain’t, even when Bucky is looking at him as if he had put the sun and the moon over the sky.
“Why are you so…” Bucky starts, and doesn’t finish. Instead, he’s leaning forward, softly, carefully pressing his lips against Steve’s and. Oh.
He has kissed people before. Three years ago, his neighbor’s daughter, Sofia, after he had given her a charcoal portrait of her. Her English was terrible, his Italian not much better, but kissing doesn’t require much talking and they had kissed for almost ten minutes before her mother had called for her. A year ago, Patrick, an architect student who’d lend Steve his art history books and give him a few pointers, the night before he went overseas, called it ‘one for the road’.
But this is different. This feels different. When he grabs Bucky’s neck, his fingers through Buck’s hair, he feels him shiver all over, and he tries to bring him closer. And Steve would’ve loved nothing more than kiss Bucky again just like that, but when he tries to part his lips, tries to kiss Bucky more, the damn split starts bleeding again and he winces.
Bucky, at least, doesn’t apologize. He curses, grabbing his handkerchief, pressing it against Steve’s lip. Steve expects it to feel weird between them, and relief warms him all over when there’s none. Instead, Bucky grins at him.
“Auntie Sarah’s gonna kill you. And I’m not gonna do a thing to stop it.”
“Just 'cause you’re her favorite,” Steve teases, and thinks that everything is alright.
A fever delays the super serum procedure, can’t risk that this would stop it from working. Over the years, Steve has gotten great at ignoring looks and rebukes that come from his poor health. Doctor Erskine, however, gives hima cheerful smile, tells him to drink lots of water and have some nice soup, wishes him to get well soon and that, that makes Steve feel guilty the way he hasn’t felt since his ma died.
“Don’t blame yourself, now,” Miss Carter– Peggy, tells him. “It’s not like you asked for this chestcold, Steve.”
They’ve been talking, lately, whenever there’s a chance. There aren’t many chances, but every now and then, they do. Small things, getting-to-know-each-other-thing, and Steve kind of figures he’s going to do or say anything wrong any minute now.
Only that he doesn’t. Instead, miss Carter becomes Peggy when she tells him a 'well, Margaret, but no-one calls me that, only my father ever did. Peggy is much better, don’t you think?’ and Steve, well versed in the art of rambling when nervous, realizes she’s doing the same.
What does a dame like Peggy has to be nervous, he has no idea, but he finds it charming, how she blushes, sometimes, fingers skittering and nevous and he knows he’s got it bad.
“I know,” he says, instead, towards her question, hates the way his chest rattles and wheees when he coughs. “But it still gets under my skin.”
“Well, don’t. You’ll get better in no time.” Peggy says, sitting down by his side. She smiles, pretty as a picture and he must have stayed silent for longer than he ought to, because she cocks her head to the side, the curls of her hair shifting with her. “What are you thinking?” Peggy asks him. It’s too late for this, a part of Steve thinks. Too late to be proper.
And because his mother taught him to be honest. “That I’d like to kiss you.”
Steve things that, later, he’ll have to apologize to her, because he expected Peggy to laugh at the idea.
Instead, her smile widens a bit. “I think I’d like it if you kissed me, too.”
And then she’s leaning towards him.
“You’ll get sick,” Steve stutters, heart hammering, even as he is also leaning towards her, close enough that he gets a whiff of her parfume.
“I rarely do,” Peggy whispers.
And then they’re kissing, her lips soft against his and Steve puts his hand against her face, tries to get his heart to calm before he faints.
Peggy moves apart first, blushing a bit but smiling. She gives a small, breathless laugh (welcome to my world, Steve thinks, dreamily) before she thumbs his lips, probably to wipe away her lipstick.
“I have to go,” she says, still whispering. “But I’ll come to see how you are tomorrow, if that would be alright?”
“Yes, definitely,” he agrees.
Peggy shines, it seems, as she smiles at him, standing up, composing her expression before she walks out, leaving Steve to have his - figurative, maybe literal - heart attack in peace.
He looks to his sketchbook, then towards her, and he suddenly recalls her.
“At the café, sorry, I don’t…”
“Elizabeth. Beth’s better,” she grins, offers her hand. Steve shakes his head, takes her hand. “So, the aliens didn’t scare you off New York?”
“Steve,” Steve coughs, then gives her a smile. “Um, no. I’m staying for good. Well. Might be moving around a bit. Work.”
“Tell me about it,” she sighs. “Since the café got crashed, I’m jobless, basically. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be unemployed than dead, thank you, but…”
“It’s still something you have to take care of,” Steve says, remembering when he lived day to day, trying to choose between eating and being able to buy his medicines. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, not your fault,” she says with a grin. “So, you’re an artist or something?”
“Used to be. I’m also between jobs.”
“Sucks, huh?” she makes a sympathetic expression. “And being new here and all, really blows.”
Steve thinks about correcting her that he’s not really new but decides against it. He is new, technically, even if New York was once his home.
“Okay, so, how about I show you a bit of the city? The not-destroyed, not-under-repairs parts of it? I’ve lived here my whole life, so you’d be getting an exclusive, insider tour.”
Perhaps it’s over the fact that she doesn’t know him, that for her he is simply an stranger to flirt with, not Captain America and not an Avenger what gets him to say yes, because she doesn’t bring the sense of grief that so far most things do.
Beth beams at him and Steve stands up while she starts telling him about the city he had once called home.
Later that night, after he has walked her to her apartment and is saying goodbye she tiptoes to kiss him, the taste of iced coffee still against her lips. Over his surprise, Steve barely gets to kiss her for a moment.
“I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” Beth tells him. “Is that okay?”
“Um, yeah,” Steve says, a little surprised, but appreciating the honesty. “I’m… not looking for one either.”
“Perfect,” Beth grins, before she’s kissing him again, pulling him inside.
He asks her if it’d be okay if he bought breakfast over the diner they passed on their way to her place and she agrees with a smile. While they eat she recommends a few places he might still want to see, makes him a list over a napkin, and when Steve asks her if, like friends, would it be alright if they talked every now and then, Beth grins and gives a happy 'yup’, and she kisses his cheek when they say their goodbyes.
Later that night, while walking towards their hotel room, Steve realizes that, for the first time since realizing that Bucky’s still alive, he feels okay, hopeful in a way that he can’t describe, wonders if that was Sam’s plan all along.
Which is why he didn’t expect to wake up with screams, and it takes him a second to realize they’re not his. When he turns on the light and looks towards Sam, he sees him shaking his head, hands tight over the covers, his jaw so clenched that Steve can almost feel the way his teeth must be grinding.
Then Sam screams again and Steve goes towards him, hands on his shoulders to stop him from trashing.
Sam gasps when he wakes up, struggles to get free and Steve lets him, moves a little away to give him breathing room, stays when Sam’s hand clutches his wrist. Sam curls forward over his knees, and Steve sees the way he makes himself breathe in, hold it a few seconds, then let go, over and over for what seems forever, and he resists the urge to touch him until he’s sure that it will help.
“Okay?” he asks when it seems Sam won’t just hyperventilate, puts his free hand on Sam’s back to rub, slowly, softly, over still tense muscle.
Sam, still not talking, gives a sharp nod, not letting go of his hand just yet. Steve stays where he is, keeps rubbing over Sam’s back, breathes in and out with him and waits.
Sam’s voice is rough when he speaks. Steve can still see the sweat over his forehead, on top of his lips.
“Saw Riley falling. Only, then it wasn’t Riley, but you, and I couldn’t get there on time. Didn’t have my wings again.”
“That didn’t happen, Sam.”
Silence. Then, softly, eyes downcast still: “It did happen.”
The helicarrier. Sam lets go of his hand, but Steve just moves to sit by his side, his hand curled over the nape of his neck, and he tries to think of something to say, something like 'I’m still here’ or 'sorry’, which sound stupid in his head, and he can’t promise it won’t happen, can’t promise anything and have it be true.
So instead he leans forward so he can kiss Sam the way he has been thinking of doing for a few weeks.
When he breaks apart, Sam is looking at him with surprise before his expression clears and slowly, like the sun coming after a storm, he grins.
“Well, about time,” Sam says as his grin covers his whole face at him, and Steve can’t help but smile back at him, then laugh when Sam pulls him forward, ove him, again, kissing and kissing and kissing.
He and Sam don’t.
When he hears the door opening, the hall’s light reflect Natasha’s red hair. Steve lets Sam snoring softly as he stands up and goes towards her.
Steve doesn’t asks if she’s okay. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be here. Little by little, Natasha has been lowering her defenses with him, with Sam, but there are still things she hasn’t been ready to show them. She feeling weak is one of those times.
Time, Sam usually says with a helpless shrug, and Steve agrees.
But when they’re standing in front of each other, Natasha goes towards him and presses a kiss against his lips. Exhaustion radiates from Natasha, and her kiss shows this as well, but it’s warm and tender and Natasha curls clever fingers on the nape of his neck when Steve leans forward, hans on her waist.
“Missed me, huh,” Natasha whispers against his lips.
When he breaks away, he feels her smile against his lips, imagines the molassy way her eyes would be looking at him. “Let’s go to bed. You can tell us about your mission in the morning.”
Natasha hums in agreement, her arm around his waist as they walk towards the bed. Sam hasn’t even stirred awake and Steve is glad for that. He waits until Natasha takes off her clothes, grabbing a t-shirt (Sam’s, by the scent of his after shave) before going to bed, shifting until Sam grunts, rolling over to give them more space before he curls around Natasha’s back, mumbling something that might be a 'welcome, Red’.
Steve shakes his head, fondness and something still too new to call by name in his chest before he goes to bed too, on his side, an arm over Natasha, curling over Sam’s side. He doesn’t see Natasha fall asleep but he listens to the way her breathing slows, feels the tension leave her body.
Steve thinks of lost chances, waiting too long, time stolen, taken away, thinks about second, third, fourth chances, thinks of Natasha’s hidden laughter, of Sam’s strength and he stops questioning everything, and lets himself fall asleep.