Title: and the light keeps streaming out
Characters: Bucky Barnes/Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff
Summary: Clint smirks, says, "Who's the lucky soldier?"
"His name," Stevie says, taking the picture down and tracing her finger along the silver-edged frame, "was James Barnes, and he was the stupidest, sweetest son-of-a-gun I've ever known."
Originally posted as "lead me through solitude" for a prompt from the stevebucky fest. 4,000 words, PG-13 for gore and heavy makeouts (not at the same time).
Everything special about you came from a bottle, Tony Stark said.
Stevie would have taken a swing at him then and there if he hadn't been so goddamn right.
It's a Memorial Day interview, and Stevie Rogers is no stranger to reporters and cameras, which is just as well, so she's not too shocked or frozen up when someone shoves a microphone in her face and demands, "Any regrets, Captain?"
Bucky, she thinks, for all of one long moment, but her mouth, the practical part of her brain, moves on without her, saying something about how peace still seems like such a distant goal, even though it's all she was ever fighting for.
She smiles her best sweetheart smile and lets them thank her for her service. And if she gets home and goes straight to her quarters to flip through her old sketchbooks, pages covered with familiar faces, seventy years gone -- well, that's no one's business but her own.
Steve finds Natasha in the common living area, watching the tail end of the interview with slightly disturbing intensity, remote in hand. It's still strange to see herself, all six-foot-plus of blond muscle, talking to reporters, her words in someone else's mouth.
"Nothing good on, huh?" Steve says.
Natasha spares a glance for her, but goes right back to watching, says, "Evaluating your tells," absently.
Intrigued, Steve settles in next to her and lets the thing play out, right through the obnoxious reporter asking about her regrets. At the end, she glances over at Natasha.
"So, what's the verdict, Agent Romanova?"
That gets a little smile, and Natasha says, "You're good at this."
Steve shrugs. "Six months as a spectacle before I was a soldier -- you learn to sing for your supper."
Natasha nods, says, "Well, just two things, then." She resets the footage to the obnoxious reporter, pushes in on Steve's eyes -- about what Steve had expected -- the way they cut to the side, just for a moment, when her mind had been full of regret that she couldn't say. "That's a tell," Natasha says, "Learn it. Get rid of it. If you were a SHIELD agent, I'd say, learn to use it, but --" Natasha shrugs, seeming to say, deceit doesn't really suit you.
"I'm a soldier, right." Steve nods her agreement. "And the second thing?"
Natasha gives her a strange, crooked little smile. "I want to know what you were going to say, when you looked like that." She holds up her hand before Steve can answer, says, "I don't expect you to tell me. If I can't find it in SHIELD's files, it's nothing I need to know."
"Mostly," Steve tells her, heart thumping with relief, "I was thinking it's a shame my wedding ring doesn't fit anymore."
But Natasha's words get her thinking, wondering about what's actually in those files that SHIELD's got on her. She knows better than to ask Fury to see them -- not if she wants to see everything.
Maybe, Steve thinks, I should just ask Stark.
Except Stark is outrageously generous and stunningly cruel by turns, and never anything but loud about it. She'd frankly rather not give him anything else precious to throw in her face.
Then one night, Steve comes into the kitchen and finds Tony Stark drinking a fresh pot of coffee straight out of said pot, and reeking of alcohol.
"Found something that belongs to you," Stark says, nudging an old brown envelope across the dining table. "Or I guess, technically it belonged to my father, but the last thing I need is more of his shit cluttering up the place."
Steve goes cold when she takes a look at what's in the envelope. It's a picture, of her wearing a borrowed dress and beaming at a soldier in full uniform. Bucky. It was taken the day they got married -- the one extravagance they splurged on, because Bucky insisted that he had to have at least one picture of her to take with him. The one he took with him is at the bottom of a mountain, still tucked into his jacket. The last time Steve saw this one, she was on her way to Erskine's procedure room, before her life was changed for good.
"Did you know about this all along?" Steve hisses, deliberately harsh to cover the way she's shaking, on the knife-edge of tearing up.
"What, that you were married? Nope," Stark says, staring in the opposite direction, pointedly looking away from Steve until she gives up and leaves him alone in the dark with his pot of coffee.
They'd asked her, when she woke up in a future she never thought she'd see, if she wanted them to include her medical history in her file, so that she wouldn't have to tell her team outright. The agent in charge, Johnson, had waited for her reply with mild-faced blandness.
Steve told them she'd talk to the team herself, when she was ready.
Johnson nodded, and said, "You realize, Captain, that whatever you tell your team, you're going to have to keep the character as-is."
Captain America is a man, was what Agent Johnson meant, no two ways about it.
It was better than she'd expected, if it wasn't so much as she'd hoped for.
Steve gets the photo properly framed and keeps it in her living room, sees no reason not to, even when Clint drops by one evening to talk shop, and immediately makes her in the photo.
But he doesn't quite get it, says, "Sister?"
And Steve says, "No. Not really." She says, "That's me. Before the Serum."
Clint takes a second look, and then a third, and then he says, "You were tiny!" His hands are clasped behind his back, as if to remind himself not to touch.
Steve stares at him, waiting for the next part. It never comes. Clint notices her silence, tilts his head so she's in his line of sight along with the framed picture. "What?" he says.
"Not the reaction I expected," Steve replies.
Clint smirks, says, "Who's the lucky soldier?"
And it hits her then, that she hasn't ever told her team about Bucky. She'd wanted to keep it to herself, at least for a while, the way he'd lit up when he smiled at her, the half-smirk he had when he wanted something and couldn't admit it. The way he'd looked at her, even after, and called her by name, easy, unerring, Stevie, never ashamed.
"His name," Stevie says, taking the picture down and tracing her finger along the silver-edged frame, "was James Barnes, and he was the stupidest, sweetest son-of-a-gun I've ever known."
When she finds Bucky in the HYDRA base, he's hoarse and bewildered and he's missing his ring and most of his uniform, but he still calls her by name. "Stevie? What happened to you?"
"I joined the Army," she says, instead of I love you, so he'll know she's real.
"So, Agent Carter," Bucky says, flippant, like that will mean he's not serious. "She's a real destroyer, ain't she? And she likes you, Stevie, I can tell."
Bucky's mouth goes crooked, smirking, oblivious, "Maybe you oughtta take up with her. She'll treat you right."
"If you wanna get rid of me, you just have to say." Stevie looks away. She gets it, she knew it was going to be like this, no reason to expect anything else -- she couldn't have left him, even if he was gonna leave her. "Sorry," she mutters, taking a half-step back. "I don't expect-"
"Hey, no, hold on, Stevie." He gets his hand around her wrist before she can pull away. "Sweetheart," he says, and it sounds just like it always did when he was trying to talk some sense into her, same as when he told her it was no skin off his nose if she wanted to wear trousers every day of her life. "I -- fuck no, I don't want that."
Bucky rubs a hand over his face, wincing a little when it catches on his split lip, but he looks up at her, so familiar and beloved that she aches. "Stevie, I'm a grunt with a gun and a list of kills as long as my arm. Once this war is over, I've got nothin'. But Carter's got the SSR by the balls and she's going places -- she would treat you right."
"You said that already."
"'s cause it's true." He rubs the thumb of his left hand against the space where the wedding ring isn't -- a gesture that makes no sense when Stevie remembers that he'd kept it around his neck, next to his tags. Sniper superstition, he'd said, smirking, as if she didn't know he wore his tags inside his shirt, next to his heart.
"I married you because I love you," Stevie tells him, "And you of all people oughtta know, Bucky, that doesn't stop just cause a pretty girl smiles at me.
"But I'm not the girl you married anymore, and if you want out, I won't hold it against you."
He stares up at her. "I mighta lost the ring along the way, but I promised you, didn't I?"
"Come on, Buck. This isn't really the kind of health either of us was wishing for," she says, gesturing at her new body. "I couldn't hold you to something like that."
She used to love that he could pick her up with one hand, still has that sense memory of him leaning down to kiss her, how he could be careful for her in a way he never was about anything else.
"Maybe not." He tugs on her arm until she comes to sit next to him on the narrow camp bed, curls in towards her so his chin comes to rest on her shoulder. "But you're still my best girl." Her hand is huge and foreign when she traces the vertebrae of his spine, but he feels the same as ever, maybe a little underfed, if anything.
"Mine to protect," he says, kissing her lightly, right at the newly-sharp curve of her jaw, and her whole body lights up for him, just like she always has, just like she always will. "Mine to honor. Mine to love. For as long as you'll have me."
No one has called Stevie by name since she woke up.
She thinks about Agent Johnson's flat warning, and tells herself she knows better than to ask for it.
The Commandos took out an underground HYDRA complex and Bucky came up from the dark with blood up to his elbows, quiet in more ways than one.
"Scared the shit outta me, Stevie" Bucky tells her, his voice low over the sounds of cleaning his rifle, "When I first saw you out here. I thought you were safe at home. "
He'd stripped out of his gory clothes first thing, scrubbed and scrubbed until he'd got rid of the blood under his fingernails. Stevie could have told him that he didn't have to, not for her, but he wouldn't say a word until it was done, and she realized that he maybe hadn't done it for her.
Some other time, Stevie would laugh this off, would say, you've met me, right? but today Bucky came back with blood on his hands, under his nails, thicker things wedged in the tread of his boots, and Stevie knows -- it's not that he's afraid she'll die, not exactly, not most of all. He's afraid of how the war will change her.
"I'm still here. I'm still me." It's a testament to how well he knows her that he doesn't think this war has already changed her beyond the telling of it.
"I know," Bucky says, "I know. I get it now. This is who you were meant to be." He cleans his scope last, carefully polishing the lens instead of looking up at her.
After the first engagement, she stopped counting the number of enemy soldiers that he killed for her. She found that it didn't make any difference, putting a reckoning on how much he valued her life over anyone else's. He'll always try to protect her -- not because it is his duty, but because that is the privilege that she willingly granted him when she married him.
"Sorry about the ring," he says finally, setting his rifle aside.
"The ring doesn't matter half as much as you."
That gets her a helpless little laugh, and Bucky crosses the space between them, comes to rest with his hands on her waist, has to stretch up to kiss her. "Never change, doll," he says, reaching for the chain of his dog tags. "But I was gonna say I had an idea."
"Oh no," Stevie says with a grin, more reflex than anything. She's too busy memorizing the way he feels pressed up against her, new and strange and beloved.
Bucky hands her a set of his tags on a short chain. "Swap," he says, by way of explanation, when she stares at him. Stevie does, fumbling her own set (Steve Rogers, it says, but it's close enough). Then she pulls him in by the front of his shirt and kisses him hard, until he arches against her and reaches for her belt.
She pulls away, blushing, says, "There was one more thing that I have to tell you. I'm not-- It's not--"
Bucky, his expression too affectionate to be a leer, says, "Seems just fine from here. Better than fine, Stevie."
She can't say it, feels like she's about to simply catch on fire from trying to find the words to explain. All she comes out with is, "There's-- I've got more. Everything."
It takes him a moment, but the look on his face is a revelation, because he can't hide anything from her, not from her.
"Doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me, you know that," he says finally. "It's you I want, Stevie. It'll only ever really be you. We don't have to do anything if you don't want to." His hands are steady, steady on her waist, thumbs hooked lightly into her belt.
"But hell, Stevie. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to take the new you out for a ride."
She doesn't know if she'll ever get used to having the strength to pull him down onto the bed with her, the way their bodies slot together, closer in height than ever before.
He uses his mouth and his hands and he fixes his eyes on her face, just like the first time, the last one. How else am I supposed to tell what you really like? And he slides his thigh between hers and presses up, a little bold, a little messy, but it's so good that she pushes into it with a gasp, shameless and wanton, and he smiles, not so much in triumph as in satisfaction.
"You don't have to be so careful anymore," she tells him. "I'm-- I can take it."
"I know you can," he says, memories flitting behind his eyes, of back alleys, of bloody noses and endless taunting, "you always could. but this is you and me, Stevie. You like it when I'm careful for you."
She does. She still does, and she presses her face to the curve of his neck, and breathes in and in, the familiar scent of his skin, says, "Yeah, sometimes," so he'll know that she wants him to wreck her, too, now that he doesn't have to worry that she'll break, so he'll know that he can use his teeth, that he can hold her as tight as he needs to know she's still there.
He pulls back at that, looks at her almost like he thinks she's lying to him, or that he's afraid she might be. He looks at her, says, "Next time," low as a threat, and level as a promise. Right now I want to be careful for you. And Stevie feels it thrum in her blood, his rifle-callused hands tight on her hips, in her hair, the promise of next time.
"You two bicker like an old married couple," Dumdum says, with a sideways smile. Behind him, Stevie blushes to the tips of her ears.
Bucky doesn't miss a beat. "Shut your mouth, Dugan. We ain't old."
"Are you sure?" Stevie asks him, and Bucky laughs, says, "You say that like you never walked in on me getting fucked by a guy before."
"Maybe I was trying to forget that part, you jerk," she says, smiling on it. She remembers Bucky waking her up after the first time it happened, with a belligerent set to his jaw that was more than just the hangover from the night before.
If you gotta be that drunk to pull, she'd told him, with a wry smile, you aren't as hot as you think you are, Buck. Mostly, she remembers being jealous of the bite mark livid across his collarbone, the faint, finger-shaped bruises on his arm, thinking, If it were me, I would still be here in the morning.
He steps between her knees to kiss her, interrupting her thoughts, cups her face in his hands, rough from the harsh soap and familar as ever, and pulls back just a fraction to murmur against her mouth, "Remember this?"
Stevie takes a calculated risk, pulls him down and rolls him under, feels him go breathless and pliant under her, lips parted and eyes blown. "I do," she says, between kisses. "I will."
Natasha shows up at her door at three in the morning, says, "You told me you were married."
She's still wearing her SHIELD jumpsuit, and she looks tired, blank in a way more suited to an automaton than a human being. It's been four weeks since Steve told her, a truth without any meaningful context -- four quiet weeks where Natasha has been absent from fight practice more often than not, prepping for an epic mission that SHIELD still won't tell the rest of the team about.
Steve steps aside to let her in, offers her coffee, which she refuses, and vodka, which she hesitates over, then says, "Yeah. Yeah, actually. Bring the bottle."
When Steve joins her in the living room, she expects Natasha to be investigating the wedding photo. She half-expects a knowing look and a nod. But instead, Natasha is perched on the couch at the opposite side of the room, more blank than before, if that's remotely possible.
She takes the bottle from Steve, ignoring the glass, and takes three good slugs, one after the other, her movements precise and swift, each time like driving a blade home.
"I found your wedding ring." Natasha says, "And these." She fishes a tangled, jingling mass out of her jacket pocket and tosses it right into Steve's shocked, waiting hand.
It's a set of dog tags -- hers, sort of, since half the set reads "James Buchanan Barnes". Her tiny, plain wedding band is strung next to them, scratched to hell, but still glittering.
"Where did you get these?" Steve asks, pressing her thumb too hard against the raised letters.
"There is a box, down in the New York branch of SHIELD, still, where they're keeping everything you had on you when they found you. I thought you might want to have your ring back." Natasha takes another drink from the bottle of vodka, with the same grim determination that she had when she went to talk to Loki.
"I looked him up," Natasha tells her. "James Buchanan Barnes -- what a fucking mouthful."
"Bucky," Steve corrects her. "Everyone called him Bucky."
Natasha nods, continues, "There are pictures in the archives, if you know where to look, if you know who you're looking for. Pictures that aren't cross-referenced to your file. Marriage records." She half-smiles at something, then shakes her head, as if to clear it. "That's not important."
"I should have told you." Steve sighs, runs a hand through her hair, and says, "I'm sorry. I should have trusted you."
Natasha gives her an odd look. "Never mind that. Let me tell you a story, Cap."
She tells Steve that war came for her when she was nine or eleven or sixteen, that it never much mattered when, only that it came. She says, They told me that I was married, too. Funny how these things turn out, isn't it. And, once the vodka starts to blur her edges, she tells Steve about the Winter Soldier.
Steve listens, politely bewildered, until she sets the empty bottle on the table with exaggerated care. Until she leans back in her seat and swears softly in Russian, says, "I never knew where he came from. But today I looked up your Bucky and I -- "
She looks up at Steve, says, quiet and terrible, "He fell. He didn't die."
Stevie finds out she can't get drunk at the worst possible time. Peggy Carter comes looking for her, and that's worse, that's worse, because she's thinking of Bucky, thinking of him telling her to take up with Agent Carter.
Now, in a bombed-out shop in London, Stevie drains the bottle to the dregs, and when Peggy puts her hand on her shoulder, she turns her head, thoughtless, seeking comfort, some misfiring in her brain telling her, She'll take care of you. Peggy leans down, so close, the gesture so familiar, and her lips are just a fraction away, soft and slick. She smells of hot metal and gunpowder and lipstick.
"Sorry," Stevie says, pulling away.
"God, no," Peggy says. "No, I'm sorry, that was my fault. You're married. I mean. I know how important that is to you --"
Stevie cuts her off, shaking her head. "I am. I was."
Peggy knew she was married, had to have had her suspicions about Stevie and Bucky. But in front of the men, Stevie had said only, "We grew up together."
"Oh," says Peggy. "Oh."
She takes Stevie's hand, takes the seat next to her, says, "I didn't know him well. But I know he loved you. He wouldn't have wanted you to... to stop here for him."
She's right and she's wrong, and Stevie can't help shaking with it. I was afraid for you, he'd said; This is who you are meant to be, he'd said. Stevie wonders if Peggy would have said the same thing to the slip of a girl that showed up at Erskine's lab.
"He fell." She tells Peggy. "I didn't think --" Her hand closes on empty air, again and again. I didn't think 'til death do us part was gonna be so goddamn soon.
"That wasn't your fault." And it's not that Stevie doesn't know that, but she clutches her mismatched tags in her hand and thinks that she should have known. She should have known.
No one has called Stevie by name since she woke up, until Natasha Romanov appears at her door at three in the morning to give her information so highly classified that she could be terminated from SHIELD for sharing it.
"I can't even imagine," Steve says, once she gets her breath back, "how I'm going to repay you." She knows how stringent Natasha is about trading favors and secrets.
Natasha hesitates. "Tell me," she says -- she won't have a favor to call in later, and that might be a deliberate kindness, "Your name."
"It's Stevie," Stevie tells her. "Captain Stevie Barnes."
Natasha nods once, then unfolds herself from the couch with a little extra care. As she goes, she says, "Good night, Stevie," as if it really can be as simple as that.
He fell. He didn't die.
Stevie sits in her living room and closes her hand on the cold metal of their names pressed to her palm, again and again, for a long time.
notes notes notes (spoilers/specific warnings)
As for warnings.... Only you can decide if this is your thing or not, so here's the prompt itself, somewhat paraphrased:
Stevie Rogers is born and raised female. Some point just before the war, Bucky gets his shit together and realises that everything he wants in a woman he's already got. They're married before Bucky enlists.
Dr Erskine needs a test subject for his serum. Stevie goes into the machine skinny and female, and comes out of it muscular and apparently male. But she's actually got everything, though she's ordered never to tell anyone this, and present herself as fully male (and always fully male).
Also that the future may be better, but it's still not great, and Stevie still has to keep to the official line of always being male.
Title from "The Dislocated Room" by Richard Siken:
Cut me open and the light streams out.
Stitch me up and the light keeps streaming out between
for reasons both obvious and convoluted. (This Bucky owes a ton to postcardmystery's 'i've been in your body and it was a carnival ride'.)