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Steve would never admit it out loud, but he misses the aliens.  

Turns out Invaders From Space make a fine distraction, and for a few days there, he was busy enough to forget for full minutes at a time that it's the 21st century and he's lost everything that really mattered. 

With aliens swarming down through a glimmering portal, screeching and shooting and riding giant whales that swam gracefully through the air, it was so easy to pretend that he was dreaming.  Or acting out some elaborate science fiction story. 

Aliens seem to fit better in this strange new world than Steve does.  They match the flashy lights in Times Square and all the screens they've managed to cram into Steve's room, even when he requested something simple.

Still, now that the streets around The Tower are quiet again, mangled alien-corpses hauled away by men in biohazard suits, it’s harder to ignore that this is it. The Future!  

And it’s really Steve's life now. 

With no aliens to fight, no greater purpose, every little mundane thing convinces him further that this whole bizarre world is, actually, unfortunately, real.  

The beeping in his ear is real.  The phone plugged in on the bedside table is real.  Last night Steve really set the alarm to wake him up, the way that real SHIELD agent taught him to during those first weeks of debriefing.  Steve opens his real eyes to a dark room, light from the real sun blocked out completely by some strange technology of Tony's window.  Tony is the real, living, breathing (sorta grown up but not really) son of Howard.  Howard's really been dead for decades.  

If Steve wanted, he could open his real mouth and talk to Jarvis (who is real, but also not real), asking him to change the window and let the light in.  Instead Steve sits up, gets dressed in the dark, and reminds himself like he reminds himself every morning.  

The year is 2012.  Bucky's been dead 43 days and, also, 67 years.  This is Steve's real life now, not a particularly wacky dream or a fantastical story from one of Bucky's pulps.

Steve was frozen for a long time, and in the three weeks he’s been awake, he’s learned how to use a cellphone, fought some aliens, and cried himself to sleep when he realized 21st century alcohol is no more effective in getting his super solider body sufficiently drunk than the 20th century kind.

Today, he will leave this bedroom and find the coffee already brewed, somehow.  Bruce and Tony are the only ones still here and he never sees either of them in the mornings, but, somehow, the coffee is always just brewed and still hot when Steve gets up at the crack of dawn.

Automated.  That's Tony's favorite word. 

The future is sleek and shinny and automated

If he wants to be of use today, he'll need to be on the streets and clearing away ruble before the work crews even arrive.  The blocks around The Tower with the worst damage are all closed off, barricaded and watched over by the National Guard to keep civilians out, but by noon some eager reporter will slip through some neglected alley or over some fire escape, ready to accost Steve with a barrage of insensitive questions he does not know how to answer.  

Was it cold? Did you dream? Have you been to see Peggy Carter? Does she remember you?

After that, he'll be forced to spend the rest of the day locked in The Tower, either hitting the heavy bag, listening to Pepper and SHIELD PR people walk him through his upcoming interviews, or letting himself give up, for once, for just a few hours.  He'll pull the cushions off the couch, huddle under some blankets in a small little ball, and he'll mourn. 

Steve really would prefer the aliens.

That's not true either.  Yesterday, they dug out a basement in a half collapsed building two blocks from The Tower.  They found a mother and her two kids, crushed.  In death, they were still holding hands. 

Steve really would not prefer aliens.  

Steve would prefer to have died when he was supposed to, when the aliens were confined to fiction. When Bucky’d only been dead for a handful of days instead of decades.


If the work were less grim, Steve would find it soothing. 

He tried getting on a motorcycle – right after the Asgardians blasted up to a different space realm – to just go and see all those places Bucky never got to see. The ones they talked about when Steve was too sick to even lift his head off a pillow.

He only got two hours out of the city and had to pull over to catch his breath. The crushing, terrifying, heart-stopping panic that filled up his chest and rose up his throat was definitely not soothing, so he turned around and went back to The Tower for lack of other options.

Without Bucky, leaving the city is not soothing and neither is staying in his room in The Tower.

But this work is.

The guys on the work crew nod in greeting when Steve joins them just after sunup to listen to the foreman explain who will be doing what today. Everyone chats a little as the meeting breaks up, moving quickly to get to their assigned tasks. Steve’s going to be working along side a piece of heavy machinery, hauling away chunks of cracked concrete.

He likes these guys almost as much as he likes the work.

They are salt of the earth, blue collar, laborers, and when they talk Steve closes his eyes. The accents ain’t the same, but something about their low murmuring is familiar. It’s easy to pretend to be back in some bar, after another long day spent working hard for not much money. They sound like his Brooklyn. 

That first day Steve showed up and one of them recognized him, there were murmurs in the crew and wary looks.  He won them over by pulling more than his weight and talking quiet, talking humble. 

This is grim work.  They are digging out graves and everyone is accordingly respectful, reverent even. 

Compared to the constant, pop culture infused chatter from Tony, the gruff way these men speak is a great comfort.  

If he could, Steve would grow a beard to hide his face, join a crew like this, and just disappear.  Steve woke to a whole new world and a whole new life, but Captain America's stuck with him and next week he'll be sitting down for his first interview in the 21st century. 

Captain America can't just grow a beard and disappear.

Today, he makes it all the way to the lunch break before the first horde of reporters finds him.  Their questions are familiar now.  

What do you think of the 21st century, Captain?  What was the war really like?  Was it cold under the ice?  Did you dream?  What about Peggy Carter?  Have you been to see her yet?  Was she a good kisser? Does she remember you?

Do you miss the good old days? How about that internet?

Before he got caught on camera fighting aliens, in full Captain America regalia, the general public thought Steve Rogers died in a plane in the arctic. According to Pepper, the media seems more interested in Steve then the aliens at the moment.  Captain America coming back to life is more believable and less terrifying than aliens, so he understands why people want to use him as a distraction the same way he kinda misses the aliens. 

He does not understand why their questions are so painfully dumb. 

When the trio of reports appears, the guys on the crew stand, annoyed and protective, between Steve and the press.  This has become part of the daily routine, the press eventually finding a way to sneak into the evacuated zone, slowing down the work to badger him and snap a couple photos.

A couple guys on the crew muscle their way forward, giving him a chance to slip away.  He waves at the crew, flashes them a grateful smile, and silently promises to see them tomorrow, to go through the whole rigmarole again. 

Even when these reporters get dragged out of the evacuated zone, now that they've found him, more will come.  It's better to just leave and he knows from experience that sticking around will just slow down the clean up.

He zig zags his way back to The Tower, in no hurry to take part in his three typical activities in The Tower (punching, press prep, or grieving).  The sun warms his face, and that feels nice for awhile, but the city is too quiet, too still. 

It's disorienting, and Steve changes course, heading straight for The Tower.  There are barricades here, too, and a pair of armed guards that check IDs to let people in to the lobby.  All the windows are still blown out, but the glass has been swept away.  The upper levels are bustling with SHIELD personal and other government agencies, using The Tower as a base of operations.

Steve doesn't really need to flash them his new Avengers ID but he likes to pretend that he doesn’t have a famous face.  He pauses on the street corner to dig around in his pocket for his badge and does not let himself have a conversation in his head with Bucky.  It's getting a little peculiar, all these conversations he's been having in his head with Bucky.

Bucky’d have a lot to say about the 21st century, especially the aliens.

The conversation he is not supposed to be having in the privacy of his own head with his dead best friend is interrupted by a commotion at the gate, and Steve stops searching for his badge to watch from half a block away. 

"Ma'am," says the guard.  His name is Harold.  He's got a wife and two kids and joined the marines right out of high school.  He likes to give Steve a hard time about the army and it’s a comfort, that some things don't change.  "I'm sorry, but I can't let you in."

"You can and you will." An old woman stands before him.  Her shoulders are rounded with age, but she stands as tall and proud as she's able, her chin raised high and stubborn.  She lists to the side slightly, leaning heavily on a cane. Although her face is hidden by large, dark sunglasses, he imagines she's glaring.

"Authorized personal only," insists Harold.

"But I know he's staying here," continues the little old lady.  Her stubbornness is familiar, painfully so, as is the way she fists her free hand and rests it on her hip. 

Suddenly, Steve can't breathe, and the urge to rush to her is equally as powerful as the urge to just crumble to the ground in a pathetic, sobbing heap.  He compromises, staying frozen in place and staring.

"I saw it on all the news programs," she says. "Steve Rogers is here and I demand you let me see him."

"Ma'am, you’re not even the first person today trying to get in to see Captain America.  I've heard it all. He meant so much to you during the war, he once went on a date with your sister and would absolutely remember you.  I’m sorry, ma’am, but I really can't let you up."

"What, do I look like I give a rats ass about Captain fucking America?" Harold startles a little, surprised to hear her talk like that.  Steve unfreezes slightly to smile.  "It's Steve I need to see."

"Ma'am—“

"We’re technically still engaged to be married," she says, smirking.  "He left everything to me when we all thought he died, you know.  Should I have brought his last will and testament?  Would that’ve got me in?"

And Steve is moving.  He unfreezes and sprints towards this little old woman, so completely familiar and totally unrecognizable.  Fear and grief kept him from looking her up in the weeks between waking up and the aliens, but that was a bonehead move because she's right here, fierce and looking out for him like always.

"Rachel?" he chokes out, stopping next to Harold at the gate. His voice comes out thick, wet, and he'd really rather not get weepy out here on the street in front of these marines, but this is Rachel.  Rachel Rosenbaum.  The girl who called him queer like it was a good thing and said, “You are perfect.  You're not wrong.  They're wrong and you’re perfect.” 

It only feels like a couple years since he's seen her, when the USO tour stopped in New York for two short nights before shipping out to Europe.  She stared at him then, frowning over his new body, and she didn't smile once until she finally got to his eyes.  "Ah," she said, her delicate hands against his jaw.  "There you are." 

When he asked her to marry him, she rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t go for fellas the size of houses.”

For Steve, it’s only been a couple of years.  But for Rachel, it's been a lifetime.

At the sound of her name spoken in Steve’s voice, her shoulders relax slightly. With slow, deliberate movements she pushes her dark glasses up to rest in her hair, and she tilts her face in his direction.

She’s smaller than he remembers, her shoulders hunched.  She's lost a few inches of her height and she's a little rounder in some places, but she's definitely still Rachel, with her bright brown eyes and stubborn chin.  Her hair is still wavy, just steel gray now instead of pitch black. 

Sixty some odd years, but she’s still Rachel.

"See!" she snaps at the guard. She’s fearless.  Always fearless.  "I told you he'd want to see me.  Now you've got Captain America mad at you and you've upset an old lady.  Shame on you, solider."

"Sir?" asks Harold, blinking at Steve.

"Rachel," says Steve.

"There you are," says Rachel.  And then she promptly bursts into tears.


1938

"No fights today, alright?"

Bucky's not looking at him, probably trying to spare himself Steve's wrath.  This is the third time since last night Bucky’s said no fights and that’s three times too many.

Of course Steve’s gonna be irritated and of course Bucky’s gonna pretend not to notice.

Steve is a grown up. Steve is perfectly capable of not getting in a fight without a lecture from his best friend. Steve hasn’t been fighting in months. Bucky can just shut the hell up.

Instead of looking Steve in the damn eye as he bosses him around, Bucky's digging around in the sofa cushions, pretending that he can't find his keys even though they’re hanging from the nail sticking out of the wall by the door, just like always.  He’s really committed to the act, scratching his head like the location of his keys is a real puzzler and tossing the pillows around. As if this great drama is enough to distract Steve from the fact that Bucky won’t stop nagging.

Steve crosses his arms over his chest and glares even harder.  "Come on, Buck. It's been months."

"Doesn't count."

"It counts!” 

“Uh, no.”

“I've had no trouble for months.  It counts."

"You being trapped inside cuz of the cold and being sick ain’t the same as you going out of your way to avoid trouble.  It's spring and people always get restless and reckless in the spring, you included, Steve-o."

Steve huffs and leans back against their closed bedroom door.  A separate bedroom, complete with its own door, is still a novelty.  Leaning back against it, Steve can see through the tiny kitchen all the way to the living room and two big windows that open and everything.

They've been in this tenement for six whole months, their first real place since they left Bucky’s parent’s house after Steve’s mom died. It’s the longest they’ve managed to stay in one spot for years. 

After the depression took another dip in '35, they had to make do with tiny cupboards or packed in rear tenements shared with six other guys. Work wasn't steady and Steve was always sick.  But then Bucky got a clerk job at the Domino Sugar Refinery last summer and Steve somehow convinced the WPA to pay him weekly to draw just last month. 

For now, they can afford these two rooms, and the ability to close a bedroom door.  For now, they can breathe a little easier.

Bucky's even been talking about Steve going back to art class, but Steve doesn't think they can breathe quite easy enough for that.

"I don't even get into that many fights," Steve mutters.  "And I never start it."

"Maybe, but you have a knack for getting beat up at the worst possible times.  Remember when we were trying to get the church to hire us to do some painting?”

“Yeah, I remember.” 

“And you showed up to meet Sister Mary with your face all bloody?”

Yeah.” 

“We lost a whole week of work.  Remember? Remember?"

Steve just clenches his fists and keeps on scowling.  Of course he remembers.  The horror on the sister's face when his busted nose started dripping blood all over the pews will be forever burned into his brain.

"Will you look at that," says Bucky, finally giving up the ruse of searching for his keys.  He makes a big show of surprise when he sees them hanging from that nail where they're always hanging, clutching his heart and acting totally flabbergasted to finally have found them.  “It's a miracle, Steve.  A bona-fide miracle.  My keys just appeared outta nowhere!"

Steve struggles to keep from smiling as Bucky comes closer, jangling his keys in Steve's face and skipping a little.  He laughs, pushing Bucky away and he tries to go back to scowling, an impossible feat when Bucky acts so damn goofy.  

"You're a jerk," Steve says.  It sounds like an endearment instead of an insult.

"Yeah, yeah," says Bucky.  "And you’re just a magnet for trouble, pal.  No fights today, okay?  I mean it.  You know we're seeing my ma and the kids tomorrow.  Don't want your face all bashed up for that."

Steve shrugs.  "Not like she hasn't seen it before."

"We just don’t see her all that often," Bucky says, reaching out to squeeze Steve's shoulder.  His thumb slots into the dip beneath Steve's collarbone.  "You can manage to look presentable every once and awhile, can't yah?"

Steve bites his lip keep quiet.  The words are right there on his tongue.  You could see her a whole lot more than that, if you wanted, Buck.  You could see your family all the time, even your father. I just won’t come.

"She worries," Bucky continues.

"Oh yeah." Steve rolls his eyes.  "She's the one who worries."

Bucky's face gets soft, his smile fond and his eyes scrunched up around the corners.  He squeezes Steve's shoulder and Steve's breath hitches, not from asthma or a cold, but because Bucky always makes his chest feel so tight when he looks at him like that.  

"Course I worry," whispers Bucky, leaning towards Steve’s good ear.  "I kinda like having you around and in one piece.”

For one foolish little moment, Steve thinks Bucky might kiss him.  Instead, Bucky straightens up, pulls away, and heads out.  

"No fights!" he shouts over his shoulder before slamming the door shut behind him.

Steve sighs and slumps back against the door.  He runs a hand through his hair and breathes deep to calm his racing heart. 

That was a foolish little moment, just one of countless foolish little moments that seem to happen daily.  And these moments are always foolish, because Bucky's not gonna kiss him.  

They don't do that anymore.


Steve spends the first half of the day drawing at home, and the second half painting the windows of the butcher shop with new specials, promoting low, low, prices. 

Steve never feels quite right, painting cartoon pigs with big grins, not given what's sold here, but Mr. Boyd thinks friendly animals inspire more customers to walk in, so Steve does what he's told.  Mrs. Boyd knew Steve’s ma, and Steve’s been painting cartoon creatures on the window since he was a kid.

The stretch to reach the top corner of the window makes him wince, his back pinching uncomfortably.

When he’s done for the day, Mr. Boyd slips a paper package into Steve's bag, along with the wage he's earned.  "A treat," he says.  "Good beef.  Mrs. Boyd says you're too skinny."

Steve manages to smile at this kindness instead of scowl at the constant commentary on his scrawniness. 

He tells Mr. Boyd to thank Mrs. Boyd for him and steps outside, frowning over the sudden chill. 

The sun’s barely even set, and the wind’s picked up a little, but his day is nearly over. Just a walk to the community art center to pick up his weekly check and drop off his piece. Then it’s home to dinner and Bucky.

It takes longer than he though it would. His boss is a talker and he wants to go over more details of Steve’s next commission than seems necessary. One of the art classes has just let out by the time Steve makes it down the front steps. There are a group of students hanging out on the sidewalk, smoking and chatting. He recognizes a couple of the fellas, but the one dame among them is new. She’s wearing red dress under her coat, her equally red lips wrapped around a cigarette.

When she gives him a little smile, Steve blushes, nods, and then scurries off in the direction of home, hoping Bucky will have the stew all warmed up and ready to eat by the time he gets there.

Moving quickly, he rounds a corner and crashes right into a pair of men, standing around drinking.  Steve doesn't recognize either of them, but Bucky might.  Bucky knows more people their age, goes out more, maintains friendships outside of Steve easier.

One of the guys catches Steve's shoulders as he stumbles, keeping him upright.  The other laughs.

Steve mutters an apology, and tries to duck around the guy, to keep on his way.   

"Watch where you're going," he says, blocking Steve's path and cracking his knuckles.  His words are slurring and Steve's close enough to smell the booze on his breath.  

Steve sighs because Bucky's right.  He is a magnet for trouble.  

"Sorry," he says again, trying to step away.  Again, the guy blocks his path.

"Aw, come on, Gary," says the second drunken fathead.  "Leave um alone."

"I don't like the way he's looking at me," says Gary, really looming over Steve now.  "Don't like how he's looking at me at all."

"Well let me be on my way, and you won't have to be looking at me looking at you at all," Steve snaps. “Trust me, pal, I don’t want to be staring at your ugly mug either, so just move.”

Gary, apparently, likes the way Steve's talking to him even less than he likes the way Steve's looking at him, and he steps closer, giving Steve a shove. 

“You got a smart mouth and a big bag. A little too big for someone your size to carry. Maybe I’ll take it off your hands. A kinda fee for you not watching where you’re going.”

Taking a deep breath, Steve tries to walk away again as he tightens his grip on his bag.  He promised Bucky, after all, and it’s a whole lot easier to walk away when he's the one being harassed.  This guy can say anything he wants to Steve, so long as he doesn't go messing with anyone else.

“Hey, where do you think you’re going?”

“What, is this a robbery all of a sudden?” Steve asks, scowling.

Steve probably should learn how to keep his mouth shut.

“Looks like it.”

Steve’s fists clench at his sides. He really doesn’t need to go home with another black eye, so he tries again to walk away, again.

When the guy shoves him for a second time, knocks his bag onto the ground, and calls him a fairy, Steve resigns himself to disappointing Bucky.  He'll be seeing Bucky's ma and his siblings tomorrow with a couple bruises, maybe a nice shiner and a busted lip.

Steve strikes first because that’s always a fun surprise, punching the guy just like George Barnes taught him to.  Right in the kisser.  It buys him a few seconds, and he tries to scramble away, but Gary recovers quick.  He snags the back of Steve's jacket and spins him around, punching Steve right in the nose. 

Something crunches.  Blood spurts hot.  Steve will probably be seeing Winnie Barnes with more than just a few bruises tomorrow. 

Steve does his best, kicking and shoving, even as Gary forces him back into a wall, more interested in beating Steve up than robbing him, apparently.  His head snaps back against the brick, which is not the worst thing that could happen because it makes his ears ring.  With his ears ringing, its easier to ignore all the filth coming out of Gary's mouth. 

The first time some bully called him a queer he was seven and his ma turned red when he asked her what it meant.  Steve's small and delicate and frail.  He's been called queer hundreds of times since then, but he's never gotten used to the dip his stomach takes when he hears the accusation and knows its true.

Gary backs off suddenly and Steve blinks, his head swimming.  At some point, while he was busy getting the stuffing kicked outta him, a lady showed up.  She's standing on the sidewalk with her fisted hands on her hips, scowling at Gary. 

It takes Steve a second, what with his head spinning and his back aching, to recognize her. She's tall, her figure gently curved and her legs endless.  Her face is utterly gorgeous, big dark eyes and painted red lips, but it’s the dress he finds familiar, deep red and just a touch too fancy to be hanging out in this neighborhood a couple blocks from the art center.

Less than ten minutes ago she smiled at him as he passed and now she’s standing at the mouth of the alley, absolutely fearless.

"Just what do you think you're doing, you brute?" she demands.

Gary lets him go and Steve stumbles, leaning heavily against the wall at his back and trying to catch his breath.  He's not quite gasping yet, so if this works and Gary leaves him alone he might be able to get outta this without his asthma flaring up.

"You know this little fairy?" asks Gary.  It's obvious that he very much doubts someone who looks like this dame could possibly know or care about the likes of Steve.

Her eyes narrow and she takes a step closer.  "Course I know him!  That's my husband.  My dearest Norman!  The father of my unborn child!" She getting progressively more dramatic, waving her hands around and then cradling her stomach. 

For a moment she reminds him of Bucky this morning when he was pretending to finally find his long lost house keys.  Her hands are flailing, her voice a loud screech, and Steve would laugh if he were only slightly less confused.

"What!" says Gary, recoiling.

“What,” echoes Steve.

"Sorry!" says Gary's friend.  "We’re so sorry, ma'am."  He grabs Gary around the elbow, starts tugging him down the street.  "You'll have to excuse my friend.  He's just drunk."

"Yeah," she replies.  "And a real schmuck."

"Sure," says the friend.  "That too.  We're sorry."

And then they disappear down the street, Gary getting quite the earful from his friend.

"You notice how they only apologized to me and not you?" muses his unlikely savior. “That’s just rude, is what it is.”

Steve swallows blood from his busted lip.  Spitting it out with her looking at him just ain't right.  

"Uh," he replies, still somewhat dazed.  "Are you okay?"  

She just did a lot of screaming about a baby that does not exist.  It seems like an appropriate question.

She throws her head back and laughs.  Steve gets very distracted by the long, pale column of her throat.  Her creamy white skin contrasts nicely with her dark hair, and he'd very much like to sketch her.  

(That, or give her a lecture on valuing her personal safety, not wandering around here alone at night, and avoiding other people’s trouble, but that is a lecture he himself has received a time too many, so he keeps his mouth shut. For once.)

"Your nose is gushing blood," she says, smiling slightly, "and you’re asking me if I'm alright?"

Steve, a little speechless, can only shrug.

"I'm fine," she says, bending to retrieve his bag.  "Nothing like a hysterical woman to scare off creeps like that.  Are you though?"

Steve opens and closes his mouth three times before he can manage a reply.  "Yeah, yeah, I'm okay."

She steps closer.  He has to tilt back his head to meet her gaze, she’s so tall and she gets so close.  He takes his bag from her as she glances over her shoulder, checking to see if they are alone. 

"No," she whispers, shaking her head. "I mean are you though?  Are you what he said you are?"

"Huh?" This night's turned surreal and Steve doesn't even want to sketch her anymore.  He's tired and she's confusing, but there is no way to just leave.  She's standing too close. “Am I what? You’re beloved husband Norman? ‘Fraid not, ma’am.”

"No, no. Not that. Are you the other thing?" she asks again, rolling her eyes some more.  She stares at him hard, eyebrows raised and lips pursed. “What he called you. Are you?”

And he finally gets it.  Steve's face falls and his cheeks burn hot. 

Who asks a question like that?  Sure, he's been called every variation of pervert, had it spit out in his face as an insult, as a condemnation, as a proposition, but no ones ever just asked

He's tired.  This beautiful dame saved his skin and is now actually asking if he’s fucking queer.  His back aches from stretching awkwardly to paint the window and he's still got a nice lecture to look forward to from Bucky because he went and did the one thing Bucky asked him not to do.  He got punched because he's small and his bag is big and he couldn't keep his mouth shut.  On top of that, Bucky hasn't kissed him in over two years. 

It’s been a bad night. He’s in a foul mood. And he just wants to go home.

He does not have the energy or the patience for this strange dame and the insults that are sure to follow her not-so-simple question.  

Squaring his shoulders, Steve looks her right in the eye.  He braces himself for whatever she's got in store for him, but he won’t answer her.   

"You are," she squeaks out, absolutely delighted.  She lights right up and giggles, clapping her hands twice and then beaming.  This dame is giddy, absolutely delighted, and Steve struggles to keep up. "You are!  Aren't you?”

"Huh?" he says again.  He just stands there staring at her some more, and she stares back, pursing her lips again and tapping her chin like she's thinking something through.  

"You're a tiny thing," she says.  "I bet I could out run you, if I had too.  I could tell you something right now and if you don't react the right way, I could out run you.  Just disappear.  I could tell you something right now with no consequences."

Steve looks around.  Maybe this is all an elaborate rouse, a prank orchestrated by Bucky. It's the only reasonable explanation for her bizarre behavior.  

But Bucky would never let him get punched for a prank.

"Go on," Steve says, giving into his curiosity.  "Tell me."

"I am," she replies.  Steve's eyebrows come together, still not getting it, and when she sees his confusion she rolls her eyes some more.  "I'm what that creep said you are.  Queer."

Steve actually takes a stumbling step away from her and into the wall, blown back by her honesty.  He looks around frantically like those guys are going to pop out from behind a trashcan and start beating on them again.

"But," he attempts.  “I— You— Who just says things like that?  And you can't be!  You're a dame!"

"So?" she says, fisted hands back on her hips.  "You really think its just fellas who go with other fellas?"

"Huh," Steve says, leaning back against the wall.  

"Well?" She pokes him in the chest.  Insistent, but not hard enough to bruise.  "What about you?"

Steve flounders, gaping like a fish.  A whole string of incomprehensible nonsense spills out of his mouth and she just waits patiently, like she understands exactly why he's having such a hard time. 

No one's asked him that before.  And he's certainly never said it out loud, not even to Bucky. 

Eventually, he looks at his shoes, summons his courage, and nods.  

"I mean, I like dames fine, but…" Steve trails off, shrugging. That’s as close as he can get to admitting it.

“Excellent!” She grins, wrapping her fingers around his wrist.  "Come on.  Gotta get you cleaned up."

Steve lets her drag him along for whole block before he comes to his senses and wiggles out of her grip, falling into step beside her instead of trailing slightly behind.  His legs are still wobbly, made boneless by his confession, and his heart is still hammering away, but now that she's slowed down a little he can keep up on his own. 

"What's your name?" he asks.  She knows his utter shame and biggest secret, and he knows hers – although she doesn’t appear the slightest bit ashamed – but they haven't even exchanged names.

"Oh," she says, stopping her forward march.  "I totally forgot that part.  Where are my manners?  I'm Rachel."  She extends her hand.  "And you are?"

"Norman," he replies, completely deadpan.  He shakes her hand.

"Really?  I was just guessing and I got your name right?"

Steve smirks and Rachel pulls back her hand, smacking him gently in the shoulder and laughing. 

"It's Steve," he confesses.

"Hi, Steve," she says.  "I'm glad to have met you.  Now come on.  You look a mess."