Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Past Steve/Peggy, Peggy/Daniel Sousa
Ratings/Warnings: R for depression, pining
Word Count: 5200 (11707 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it it would be even more depressing.
Summary: Steve doesn't know what to do with himself anymore.
Part I: Peggy
When Steve had reached for Bucky and they'd fallen, he’d honestly thought that both of them would die. Surviving the landing with nothing but some bruises and a broken leg had seemed a miracle and he’d planned to rejoin the war as soon as they hiked out. The captain had gone to sleep thinking about the Red Skull, huddled next to Bucky to escape the winter cold.
Steve had closed his eyes in 1945 but he woke up in a world that he didn't recognize. Suddenly Captain America was MIA, World War II was over, and his best girl had gotten married to someone who wasn’t him.
The blond had been prepared to marry Peggy. He’d been ready to have and to hold and someday grow old together, and while he couldn't hate her for moving on, he almost wanted to. Because it didn't feel like eight years had passed since they made their promises; it felt like Steve had woken up and found the world askew. Nothing was the same – not Peggy, not his friends, not even New York City – and he couldn’t shake the fear of losing yet another decade when he closed his eyes again.
The only familiar thing in Steve's life now was Bucky – the other man had always been his constant and that at least was still the same. The brunet was a solid presence at his side while they recovered in Stark's guest room, cracking jokes and telling stories when his captain’s spirits dimmed.
If Bucky shared Steve’s unease, he never seemed to show it and the captain was honestly grateful to have the company. Even with the serum, a broken leg took time to heal and he would have gone stir crazy stuck on his own for weeks. Peggy had left after that first awkward conversation and while the Howling Commandos stayed a few days longer, eventually they needed to return to their own lives.
Soon Steve and Bucky were left alone with Howard, the other man popping by periodically to poke them with machines. The scientist was completely fascinated by his friends’ survival and he tended to burst in at odd hours with some new test idea, his butler trailing after him with profuse apologies.
As annoying as it was, it was also very Howard and Steve was actually grateful for the sense of normalcy. Stark might have gotten older but he wasn’t any wiser to social niceties. Or perhaps he was since he had a knack for showing up just when the captain’s dreams went dark. The scientist saved Steve from half a dozen nightmares and on the nights that Stark woke him up from a dead sleep, he couldn’t fail to notice that Bucky’s face was often drawn instead.
Howard never said anything – just broke out into a mass of technobabble that wiped away all thought. The blond wasn’t sure if he was doing it on purpose, but even if he wasn’t, the scientist showed his friendship in other ways as well. He let Bucky and Steve stay in his house for weeks without complaining, making sure that they were comfortable while the blond’s leg finished mending. Howard used his connections to get Bucky a medical discharge from the army so that the sergeant could hide his newfound healing factor without any awkward questions. He secured Steve a new identity as America's look-alike first cousin and made sure that both soldiers would be able to collect the back pay owed.
Neither man would have to worry about working for at least a couple years and Steve was grateful for the leeway to figure out what he should do. During his convalescence, the captain considered telling everyone that he hadn't truly perished; he considered rejoining the SSR and picking his shield back up again.
But Hitler and the Red Skull were defeated. World War II was over and while Steve knew there would be more – another war had already claimed Dugan – he wasn’t sure he wanted to keep fighting anymore. The only thing he knew for certain was that the US government would never let him live in peace if it knew that he was here. Even Peggy wouldn’t be able to stop the SSR from turning Steve into a mascot or a lab rat and he couldn't go back to being a dancing monkey now.
The blond needed something different, a life of his own choosing, but he couldn’t seem to make himself do anything. Thinking about the future left Steve in a paralyzed terror of indecision, his courage overwhelmed by endless possibility.
He was lost, adrift in a world that had kept moving on without him, and if not for Bucky, he might have stayed in Howard’s mansion until his welcome finally wore out. But the sergeant wanted to break the news of their survival to his family in person and he was determined to drag Steve along as soon as they were cleared. The blond tried to protest, his arguments ranging from not ruining the moment to the need for secrecy but his friend just rolled his eyes.
“Don't be an idiot. You know you're family too,” Bucky told him and that was the end of that. Steve couldn't bring himself to argue when the brunet had been his family for a long, long time.
So despite his misgivings, Steve soon found himself standing next to Bucky on his family’s front porch. The other man knocked on the door and then they stood there waiting, trying not to fidget awkwardly. Bucky was clearly nervous and the blond’s own back was itching as though still on the battlefield. Steve kept glancing back at their surroundings – every person walking by carefully scrutinized – and he actually jumped a little when Mrs. Barnes opened up the door.
“Hello, ma,” Bucky said quietly. “It’s been a long time.”
“James? Are you- ? This can’t be real,” his mother whispered and for a second, Steve was worried that she would faint right there.
“Ma, it's really me,” Bucky told her, reaching out to touch her hand. When their fingers met, Mrs. Barnes gasped audibly before lurching forward to throw herself in Bucky's arms. He pulled her close and held her gently, murmuring words of comfort as she cried against his chest. Steve could hear his friend’s voice cracking and he felt a little awkward as he tried not to listen in. But he couldn't block the words completely and when Mrs. Barnes finally pulled away, she wasn't the only one wiping at her eyes.
“I can't believe you're here. I can't...” Bucky's mother trailed off with another sniff as her son handed her a handkerchief. She took it with a watery smile, dabbing at her eyes once more before remembering her manners and ushering both men inside.
“Come in. Come in. Where have you been? How is this possible?” she asked, her hands fluttering over Bucky's shoulders like she still couldn't believe that he was here. “And who's your friend, I don't rec- Stevie?! Is that you?”
“In the flesh, ma'am,” Steve replied, ducking his head bashfully. He wasn’t sure whether he should hug Bucky’s mother like he used to or just tip his hat instead. But Mrs. Barnes was having none of that.
“Get down here, you silly boy,” she ordered and at that Steve had to laugh. He felt ten years old again as he leaned in so she could hug him, returning her embrace carefully.
“Look at you! You're so tall. I guess you really did it; you joined the army and let them turn you into this,” Mrs. Barnes said, looking the blond up and down. “Sarah always said that you were Captain America, but my James and I were never sure. Rogers isn't the rarest name and my boy's letters were so censored; it just seemed impossible.”
“I know what you mean, ma'am. Sometimes I think I'm dreaming and I'm the one who lived it,” Steve told Bucky's mother with a crooked grin. “But that was me in all the movies. Sarah was right.”
“She was, ma, but if anyone asks then this isn't that Steve Rogers,” Bucky interrupted, his hand on the blond’s shoulder. “Stark got me a medical discharge but the army would probably draft this guy right back into service if they found out he's alive. Better to keep him as a cousin until we sort out everything.”
“Of course, James, don’t worry. You both did your duty and we’ll keep Steve’s secret now,” Mrs. Barnes replied. “You don’t need to worry about the neighbors either. No one here likes the draft when so many of our sons were dragged off to war unwilling and came back hurt or not at all. The government has gotten enough blood and tears from us already. We grieved for you those years that you were gone.”
“I know, ma, I’m sorry. We would have come back sooner if we could,” Bucky told her. “But we’re here now and I want to know what's happened since we both left Brooklyn. Tell me everything.”
He gave his mother a flash of his old smile, that crooked grin he always used sweet talking, and Mrs. Barnes was happy to oblige. She sat her boys at the kitchen table and fed them like she used to, plying them with bread and bowls of stew.
While they ate, Bucky’s mother passed on eight years of gossip, ranging from the personal: “Your sister is engaged to a nice boy. They're getting married in two months and she’ll be thrilled to have you there.” - to the general: “This borough is changing. Too many good men died in the war and people just don't talk to each other anymore.”
When her voice grew tired, Steve and Bucky started speaking about the war instead. Both men glossed over the worst of it – the mud and cold and killing – but they told her about some missions and explained what happened to make them MIA. Between the three of them, they talked on for hours and hours until James Barnes Sr. came back from work again. At that point, they had to repeat their explanations and for the first time in his memory, Steve saw Bucky’s father cry. The older man wept without shame as he hugged his son close, holding him tightly for a minute before embracing Steve as well.
In this moment, the blond forgot his regrets and worries for the future. He may have lost the life that he’d been planning but Bucky and his family deserved this happiness. Steve would always want to give his best friend everything.
“You're more than welcome to stay here until you find your feet again,” Mr. Barnes told them once the furor had died down. “Sarah will want to see you when she comes back on the weekend.”
“We’ve put some storage in your old room but I could fix it up real quick,” Mrs. Barnes added. “It might be a little crowded, but we’ll find the space for you.”
The offer was kind but Steve couldn’t accept it; he’d imposed on Bucky’s folks too much throughout the years. However, before he could tell his friend to go ahead without him, the other man spoke up.
“You don't have to do that. Stark managed to swing it so that we both got our back pay and there's enough for an apartment. We'll get a place together until we both find jobs,” Bucky told his parents. “You should focus on Sarah's wedding. My little sister is getting married and we've got to send her off just right.”
“Are you sure, James? You know she wouldn't mind.”
“That's why I'm minding for her. Really, ma, we'll manage. We're both grown men and we can look out for ourselves.”
“If you insist, boys. But you're staying here for dinner and I expect you back each week,” Bucky's mother ordered. “I won’t have you disappearing from our lives again. Are we clear?”
“Yes, ma'am,” Steve and Bucky chorused and the pair was good on their word. They stayed for dinner before returning to Stark's mansion and although they found their own place a few days later, they still went back to the Barnes’ house regularly. Steve felt almost human sitting with Bucky, Sarah, and their parents, laughing at each other’s jokes and trading stories from before. Here he could pretend that they had never gone to war.
Bucky got a job as soon as he was able. The brunet couldn’t find anything too fancy with his lack of schooling, but he had plenty of experience working at the docks and he wanted to give his back pay to his family for as long as possible. Bucky had always doted on his little sister and with her wedding looming, he was working double shifts.
Steve was happy for his friend and yet he also hated it. After he saw Bucky off each morning, he was left to his own devices, not even a paper route to distract him from his thoughts. A job would help, something to give him purpose instead of wallowing. But Steve didn’t need to work – for once in his life, he didn’t need the money – and he couldn’t seem to find the motivation. He just kept thinking about Peggy, the war, and all the time that he had lost. Even getting up seemed like too much effort and saying goodbye to Bucky was often the only reason that Steve even left his bed.
The whole world seemed grey and heavy and the blond felt like he was drowning in a sea of apathy. Steve could have talked to Bucky and tried to sort his head out – of course he could have, this was Bucky - but he wasn't supposed to need his friend to do that anymore. The serum was supposed to make Steve independent; it was supposed to make him better and after so many years of trying to prove that he could stand up on his own, the blond just couldn't ask.
Bucky had always been the one to make the first move. Bucky had always been the one to knock Steve from his brooding but the more time that passed, the clearer it became that the blond was not the only one who wasn’t coping well.
The other man was much less obvious about it. He bitched about his job and complained about Steve’s cooking, but both those things were normal. Bucky never seemed to mind the years that they were missing and adapted to their new lives easily.
But when Steve woke up from screaming nightmares and stumbled into the kitchen, nine times out of ten, Bucky was sitting there. He’d find the brunet at their dining table, his eyes full of shadows and a glass of whiskey in his hand.
His friend was never drunk then. Bucky hadn’t been able to get drunk after Zola, his new tolerance to alcohol just one more thing that they didn’t talk about. Steve had noticed at the time but he’d forced the issue and he didn't speak up now. Instead, the two men sat in silence, trading whiskey back and forth when they had enough to share.
Every time he took a swig, the blond would look at Bucky and feel a thousand questions crawling up his throat. Steve wanted to know how his friend did it - how he kept going every morning without something driving him. Steve wanted to know if Bucky’s head was filled with doubts and demons just like his was, if the brunet ever looked at him and saw a stranger, and if that was why the other man wouldn’t tell him anything.
Because if Steve were being honest, Bucky had been different ever since he found him in Azzano, his easy smiled splintered into broken shards instead. Bucky had still asked how he was doing and fretted himself silly over every injury, but he’d refused to let his captain worry in return. He gave and gave and never let Steve help him, and that much still hadn’t changed.
Bucky’s mask was almost perfect beneath the light of day. His smile was still charming and his humor just as filthy as it had been before. He asked the blond about his day like it really mattered and he couldn’t hide his worry when the answer was fuck all.
It would have been so easy to let him keep pretending. Steve and Bucky had gotten through the war like that just fine.
Except they hadn’t, had they? How could Steve believe the act after watching his friend down whiskey shots like water for hours at a time? Bucky was clearly hurting and he wanted to help; he wanted to support the other man the way he’d always been supported in return.
But the blond had no idea how to start that conversation. Steve could hardly give his friend advice when his own life was in shambles. Bucky might be trying to drink away his nightmares, but at least he was functional. He was still trying to help Steve with his problems and thinking about that just made the blond feel guiltier. Because if Bucky had succeeded, who’s to say he would have noticed? Maybe Steve would have gone sprinting toward the future while his best friend just imploded quietly.
He didn’t know the answer. Steve just knew that Bucky was his rock and now that rock was cracking as he stood by helplessly.
Sometimes he felt like they were still falling from Zola’s train, like he’d jumped too late and Bucky was slipping through his fingers bit by bit again
“You need a suit for Sarah's wedding,” the brunet said on Sunday, looking Steve up and down.
“I have a suit,” the blond protested automatically, but his friend just rolled his eyes.
“You mean the one that barely fit you back when you were five feet tall or the one that looked like you were spit on by a flag?” Bucky asked with a smirk. “You know my folks are going to expect something a bit more traditional and this is my little sister here. I'm not letting you near the wedding party unless you're dressed to the nines.”
“You gonna make me shine my shoes too?” Steve retorted, his lips curling in a grin.
“You know it, punk. I'll even spot you a nickel to buy a snazzy hat.”
“I'll hold you to that offer,” the blond told him. “Don't think I won't, you jerk.”
Steve did in fact buy a suit as ordered, complete with hat as well. However, Bucky was the one who set up the fitting for him and he gave Steve his marching orders on his way out the door. The blond looked at Bucky’s note with apprehension, eyeing the piece of paper like a live hand grenade.
He hadn't gone outside in several days at that point and the tailor was farther from the apartment than he'd been in weeks. The only reason Steve actually managed to leave for his appointment was because he’d promised Bucky and he felt like running back to safety the whole time.
The blond was afraid of being recognized by either fans or enemies; he wasn’t sure which scared him more. So he hunched deep into his jacket and pulled his hat low on his face, trying not to startle at the traffic rushing by. Steve felt stupid for flinching at loud noises when he knew he wasn't shell-shocked; he simply couldn’t be. The serum had made him stronger. It had turned Steve’s broken body into something superhuman and he had no right to be so anxious, not when the war had ruined so many other lives.
Honestly, no one would expect Captain America to be wandering around the streets of Brooklyn anyway. Not when he’d been MIA for a decade and the truth of Erskine's serum was still completely classified.
Even the tailor didn't realize that Steve was that Steve Rogers, not even the faintest flicker of recognition in the old man’s eyes. However, while the blond probably should have found the tailor’s indifference comforting, he only felt more lost instead. Because if no one saw a hero when they looked at him – if no one saw Captain America – then who the hell was Steve supposed to be?
As soon as his appointment was over, the blond ran back to his apartment and hid himself away from the outside world again. He didn’t leave again for days, only heading out to buy essentials when he had no other choice. Even then, Steve barely managed to dress like a real person and he knew that Bucky was growing more and more worried every day. He tried to act normal around the brunet but life just seemed so difficult and if not for Sarah’s wedding, he might have slept until the spring.
For Bucky and his sister, Steve dragged himself out of bed and took an actual shower. He washed his hair and shaved his beard before pulling on his brand new suit. It fit him well – much better than his old one – and he settled the jacket on his shoulders before grabbing his tie and trilby and joining Bucky out in the hall.
Steve's breath caught when his friend turned to greet him; the other man looked... he seemed... it was good to see him looking well. Bucky had put on his own suit and made a trip out to the barber; he seemed almost like the charming man who'd been sent off to war.
“Not bad,” the brunet said, looking Steve up and down. “I was wondering if the tailor would run out of fabric trying to cover those wide shoulders, but it seems he did all right.”
Bucky chuckled when he flushed, stepping closer to grab the tie out of his hand.
“Still haven't learned to handle one of these?” the other man asked as he looped the tie around Steve's neck. “I thought every self-respecting hero could handle a cravat.”
“Of course not; that's what we have sidekicks for,” the blond retorted and Bucky barked a laugh. His friend was standing so close that Steve could feel his chuckle and he couldn't help a shiver in response.
“What is it?” Bucky asked, straightening his tie before stepping back to check his handiwork. But the blond just shook his head.
“It's nothing,” Steve told him. He didn't know how to say, “It's so good to see you smile,” without sounding like a sap.
Indeed, the brunet beamed throughout the ceremony, watching Sarah proudly as she spoke her wedding vows. His sister’s face was radiant as she stood at the altar and Steve was truly happy for her; he was pleased for everyone in Bucky's family.
Yet seeing Sarah in her dress also made him think of Peggy and he found his good mood fading bit by bit. Steve couldn't help imagining how beautiful she must have looked when she had gotten married, stood before the world and wed a man who wasn't him. He found himself wondering if Bucky would have smiled just as widely at his wedding and whether the blond would ever be able to find out.
Bucky was bound to find a dame eventually but Steve didn't know how he'd ever replace Peggy in his heart. The thought was a dark cloud dampening his evening and when the reception started, he found himself a quiet table where he could brood in peace.
The blond nursed a single glass of champagne while Mrs. Barnes cried tears of joy and Mr. Barnes gave the longest toast he’d ever heard. He watched as Sarah and her new husband danced the first waltz together, clearly so in love it almost hurt, and he felt a tinge of worry when Bucky started to drink his own weight in alcohol. The other man kept glancing at him – his frown growing deeper whenever Steve still hadn’t moved.
Bucky didn’t look like he believed the blond’s fake smile and Steve half expected his friend to call him out right now. But every time the brunet started toward him, he kept getting caught up in the celebration and he never would have ruined Sarah’s party anyway.
So it was close to midnight before Bucky stumbled over, sitting down next to Steve and knocking their shoulders together with a sigh.
“You ready to get out of here?” he asked and Steve’s reply probably sounded a little too relieved. Indeed, when they finally flagged down a cab to take them back to their apartment, Bucky looked at him and said, “You did have a good time, right? I'd hate to think we Barneses threw a shitty party.”
“Of course, I did,” Steve told him quickly but even drunk the brunet knew him too damn well.
“If you didn't want to come...”
“Bucky, this was Sarah's wedding. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.” Whatever his other feelings, Steve truly meant the words and Bucky's smile softened visibly.
“My little sister's all grown up,” he said. “I'm glad we made it back in time.”
The other man didn't say anything else, leaving Steve to brood in silence as he leaned his head against the window of the taxi with a sigh. Neither man spoke again before reaching their apartment and trudging up the stairs together. Bucky was as close to drunk as he had been in years and the blond was so exhausted that he might have been as well. If he’d been more awake, Steve might have realized that his friend was thinking hard on something, but instead he just said goodnight and crashed down on his bed.
So the blond was completely blindsided the next morning when he was eating breakfast and Bucky sat down across from him.
“I can't do this anymore,” his best friend said tiredly.
Steve dropped his spoon with a clatter, a panicked, Please don't leave me, running through his head.
“What do you mean, Buck?” he whispered. “What is it?”
“I can't keep pretending that both of us are fine.”
“But we ar-”
“Steve, I've heard you screaming and I know you've heard me too,” the other man interrupted. “You barely leave this apartment and when you do, you come back shaking. You don't think that I notice, but I do. I know you just lost Peggy and I don't expect you to forget her; you don't forget a dame like that. But you spent six hours yesterday pretending you weren’t miserable at my little sister’s wedding. You’re always pretending so that you don’t disappoint me and I need for you to stop.”
Bucky paused, slumping down in his chair as he looked right at Steve. His eyes were dark – pained and far too desperate – and the blond couldn't even begin to think of what to say.
“Fuck, Stevie, don't you know that you could do anything? You could go to art school like you always wanted; we've got the money now. Be an artist or a teacher or a copper if you want to as long as you do something. You're my best friend, Stevie – my only real friend now – and I can't just watch you waste away. I'm not gonna leave you, I promised, but it'll break my goddamn heart.”
He sounded utterly defeated when he finished and somehow that gave Steve back his voice again.
“But what about you?” the blond burst out and now it was Bucky's turn to gape. “You want me to admit that I'm not okay? Fine. I am not okay. I'm afraid to sleep in case I lose another decade and when I try, I wake up anyway. I feel useless all the time and I don't know what I'm doing, I only know that I don't want to fight other people anymore. But if I'm not okay then I know that you're not either. You're right, Bucky, I've heard you screaming and I sure as hell haven't been drinking all that whiskey by myself. We both came back different and I'm not the only one who's throwing his life away right now.”
“Hey, at least I've got a job,” the other man protested but Steve just cut him off.
“The same dock you've been working since you dropped out of high school,” he said with a hint of his old fire. Steve might not have a clue about his future but if he could get through to Bucky, that was well worth fighting for.
“I know you don't want to work down at the docks forever. You never wanted to work there in the first place. I know your dad got sick that summer but... don't you remember, Bucky? You had such dreams when we were kids.”
“Kids grow up, Stevie.”
“Maybe. And I'm not saying that you should have chosen different. But you're smart, Buck. You always were,” Steve told him. “Honestly, Captain America wouldn't have been half as effective without that crash course that you gave me in applied geometry. You had the plans, Bucky; all I did was listen and if I can go to college, why not you?”
“I'm not much for school, pal. You know that. I prefer to learn hands on,” his friend replied. But he didn't sound as hopeless and at least he was listening.
“So learn a trade. Learn to fix those ships you've been unloading or see if Howard Stark might have an opening. You always gave him good suggestions when he was working on our gear.”
Steve could see the brunet wavering and he went in for the kill. “Look, I'll make you a deal. Just give it a try. Try to find a job you like as much as I like drawing, one you actually look forward to on most days instead of one that drives you crazy bit by bit. Give it your best shot and I promise that I'll go to college if you want.”
The blond watched Bucky nervously as his friend considered his proposal. All his cards were on the table; he had no more arguments to offer and he wasn't sure what he would do if Bucky said no now. But eventually the other man just sighed.
“All right. If this mad plan will finally get you to go to art school then I guess we have a deal. I’ll give Howard Stark a call even though he probably has a dozen better people on his payroll,” Bucky told Steve quietly. “I can't make any promises but I know we need to change things. If we keep going like we are then serum or no, we're probably gonna drink ourselves to death.”
Part III: Steve