So, you know when you sign up for an anonymous challenge and you're all excited thinking up what you might get and then you get your gift and you're totally blown away by what some kind soul has created just for you? Well, that happened to me just now! One of my requests was for George Cooper, the Rogue, from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness, and russian_blue went and wrote a sweet, sharp, and clever fic that gets him down so perfectly, language and intuition and intelligence and all: Third Time Pays for All. Go, enjoy!
In other news, I ended up writing more Captain America fic for the challenge (STEVE ROGERS! is basically what I'm saying these days instead of STEVE HOLT!), and got to indulge my fondness for Steve/Sam. justhuman's requests left a lot of wiggle room to write the kind of fic I wanted, which was something that would get Steve and Sam into bed together but believably, not ignoring everything they've both been through - I hope that shows up in the fic. minim_calibre did a beautiful beta on the story and suggested layers. I took the title from the national anthem. No spoilers for Age of Ultron or Ant-Man because I haven't seen either.
Between Their Loved Homes and the War's Desolation
When he wakes in the still of the night, panting, the neon-painted air of his motel room trying to push into his lungs and the bed trying to swallow him up, Sam untwists his body from the punishingly tight coils that his sheets have wound into and reminds himself that he'd volunteered to help Steve before any of them had known who exactly they were after.
It wasn't like he'd deliberately set out to rescue one of the poster boys for Best Friends Forever, so it would be great if Riley would stop pushing into his brain and laughing at him. He and Riley had only met in Basic, and granted, they'd both been young and dumb, but that still didn't qualify them for oh-so-precious friends-from-the-womb status like Steve and his undead assassin buddy.
Bucky. He has to get used to calling the guy Bucky in his head so that he doesn't slip up in front of Steve and say something about cold leads being appropriate for a Soviet-trained killer pulled out of the ice like a bottle of vodka. He wonders if Bucky can now do that squatting-and-kicking dance, if a little R&R had been built into his rigorous training regimen under the Russians, and with that he gets up, hoping the icy sting of bathroom tiles against his bare feet will snap him out of whatever weird funk he's been in. Not only is he exhibiting Riley’s terrible sense of humor, not only has he volunteered for a mission sure to be rife with collateral damage, but he's figuring things out on the personal side just a little too late to be of any damn use.
He'd thought it was Natasha who had his brain all tangled up like a crumpled cobweb. Black Widow and all, right? And there were some very good reasons she did a lot of work as a honeypot, and only one of those had to do with men having predictable libidos and a tendency for their blood to reroute from their brains when she was in seduction mode; he hasn't seen her in action, but he can easily imagine from what Steve's said. So, yeah, he'd lumped himself in with the rest and figured that it was her smoky voice that got him going, and her sweet hourglass shape that kept his momentum strong.
Only it wasn't. Yeah, she'd been there when they were piecing things together and fighting off Hydra, and yeah, she'd been part of the audience when he'd said some truly stupid things like wondering aloud if superheroes ate breakfast, as if the Avengers could run on fairy dust instead of vitamins and minerals, but that was because she only ever showed up as part of a package deal with Steve. And Steve is the one he wants.
It doesn't really matter what he wants, though. It's been weeks on the road, chasing whispers and sleeping in unsatisfyingly short snatches; his reflection in the dingy bathroom mirror is scaring him with how much it looks like he's been whittled down into a smaller, sharper-edged version of himself. And now he's gone and put himself in a no-win position as far as Steve is concerned: either he fails in his mission, disappointing Steve, or he succeeds in it, and success means he'll be bringing home the man Steve has loved his whole life. His every life.
Dumbass, he hears Riley's voice say. Looking at his drawn and greyish face in the mirror, he can't exactly disagree. Cockblocking yourself like a champ. Riley did always have a way of getting right to the point.
He presses the heels of his hands against his eyes until all he can see are stars. He remembers feeling like one, once upon a time, when he'd spread his wings.
When he falls into it for the second time, the bed feels comfortingly soft, no longer insidious as quicksand. He sleeps later than he meant to, but he wakes up rested enough to shrug it off when he realizes he slept through check-out, and he's out another fifty-nine bucks for the room.
It turns out to be a pretty good thing that he stayed put, because when his phone rings he can answer Steve's call and not get into a whole phone-tag situation. "What's up, Cap?" he says, ridiculously proud of himself for sounding ready to spring into action and not at all like he's been pining like the Jersey Barrens. His sleek little smartphone is definitely his ally, because if he had an old-school landline, he'd be twirling the cord around his finger and lolling against a convenient wall.
All the same, Steve's warm voice does weaken his knees a bit. "Hey, Sam." Steve seems to feel that a greeting is always necessary. Sam imagines that back in the day, that kind of courtesy was more strictly enforced, but it could just be Steve being Steve.
"Hey, Steve," Sam says, and waits, but all he hears is Steve's respiration, steady as a metronome. "Uh, sitrep?" he offers after a delicious moment of imagining they're together, how those breaths would feel on his skin, accelerated and deepened, how Steve might look just as arousal starts prickling at his nerve endings. Lit up like a firecracker is his best guess.
"No," Steve says, sounding surprised. "I'm not your CO." Sam can hear his swallow. "I'm your friend. And haring after Bucky isn't your assignment."
It's not, technically, but that doesn't mean Sam's glad to be kicked off it. Before he can protest, Steve's talking again. "At least, not just yours. I was thinking you and I could do it together, the way we started." He has to be imagining the hopefulness in Steve's voice. No, it's there, but it must be because Steve really believes they have a chance of finding the world's deadliest assassin any minute now if they double the search party to a whopping two people. Hope can be a terrible thing.
He wonders where Steve is, how long it will be until he can see him in person. "The more the merrier, Cap," he says, because he's not about to deny Steve anything.
"Come home, Sam," Steve says, and it's like he pulled the words - and that inviting tone - right from one of Sam's best dreams.
Sam doesn't even try to keep track of everything Steve's got going on – he hears names like Wakanda and Ultron and Vision and tunes them all out. It's better to let Steve tell him in his own time, and Sam's learned his lesson about curiosity anyway. Riley pops up in his brain to give him one hell of an ironic salute at that and Sam, running along the Potomac and looking at the morning light on the cherry trees that stubbornly still haven't blossomed, huffs a laugh.
"What's so funny?" Steve asks, popping up next to him out of thin air and already matching his best stride, the bastard. Sam can't help the little yelp of surprise that escapes him, and that has Steve laughing too. Steve looks dizzyingly bright in the sunshine when he laughs, but, as always, unaware of how he shines.
"Nothin', man," Sam pants out. Steve just looks at him for a long moment, his laugh becoming a small, quirked smile that on anyone else would read as flirtatious. "Really. Just thinking of something Riley used to do."
Steve looks away then and nods. Sam keeps waiting for him to accelerate but they stay in stride as the miles spool out ahead of them.
"How long are we going with this?" Steve finally asks, still fresh as a daisy, so Sam has no compunction about steering them back to his place where he can get his sweaty ass in the shower pronto.
When he makes his way, dry and dressed, to the living room, Steve hits him like an earthquake all over again. Steve's just standing there, golden head tilted to the side to read the titles of the books in the cheap bookshelf he'd dragged up from the curb. Sam can see Steve working out why there are duplicates of the Tim O'Briens and the Walter Mosleys – Lizzie sent them over once he finally got over himself, remembered he wasn't the only one grieving, and called her – and braces for a mention of Riley; Steve's the only one who says Riley's name to him, who speaks about loss in a way that tells Sam he understands. But Steve surprises him.
Running his fingers over the spines as gently as if they can feel his touch, Steve says, "I haven't read any of these – Bucky was into Doc Savage, mostly. Even dragged me up to the 86th floor just to check, see if he really did work in the Empire State Building." Something about the way Steve says it reminds Sam that Steve would have been around to see the skyscraper going up; he sounds like a kid at a magic show.
"Well, you can borrow anything you like," Sam says, awkwardly, just stopping himself from adding his usual except for Riley's disclaimer. He's got Steve in his apartment, within touching distance, and all he's doing is putting space between them when Steve's just being friendly. "I'm gonna go fix lunch."
He turns before he can clock Steve's reaction, heading for the little dock where his beat-up old iPod sits. Of course it has to be set to his Marvin Gaye playlist, and the light, skittering notes from the end of "Trouble Man" come pouring out of the speakers. He braces himself with a hand on either side of the dock, fingertips digging into the kitchen counter, and completely misses any sounds Steve makes in sneaking up on him.
"I know this one," Steve says, sounding pleased, but when Sam looks back, startled, he's frowning a little. "What's wrong?"
"You keep saying that like you think I'll believe you."
That's enough to get him to turn around. "Why don't you?"
"Because –" Steve starts, then cuts himself off. "Everyone knows about my past. There's a museum exhibition about it just down the road, Bucky's face and everything." He takes a step forward, boxing Sam in against the counter. "Did you know you're the only person I've met since – the only one who asked me what made me happy?"
Sam looks up to find Steve's earnest eyes on him. This close, the bump in his nose makes him look touchably real instead of heroic, and Sam is tired of treading lightly around their grief. "Did you figure it out?" he asks.
"Did you, Sam? Have you found something that makes you happy?" How is it that even this close, he can't read the expression in Steve's clear eyes?
"Yeah, I'm happy." He does good work, has friends to shoot hoops and drink beer with, has Corinne's kids to make pancakes for most weekends. He might not have Steve the way he wants, but he's Captain America's friend, and that counts for a lot. "You didn't answer the question."
"How long are we going with this?" Steve asks again, only this time Sam has zero context and doesn't know what he's supposed to say in response.
"With what?" he tries. Steve is still so close, Marvin is still singing, and the kitchen temperature feels like it shot up thirty degrees in as many seconds.
"With us," Steve says, tipping his head forward just the slightest bit, and Sam closes his eyes hopefully, pushes off from the counter like he's running toward the edge of a cliff, and soars, kissing Steve for all he's worth.
Steve kisses back, lips soft and parted, but he's as shy as he is responsive. It takes long moments of Sam rubbing circles into the thin skin behind Steve's ears with his thumbs for Steve to get a little looser. His hands are big and heavy, draped over Sam's hips, and Sam would swear he feels an actual breeze on his cheeks from Steve's long lashes flicking uncertainly up and back down before he tastes Steve's tongue.
Sam hears Steve's rough moan and knows if he's going to do the right thing and take things slow, he has to back up now. But the counter's still behind him, so he pushes at Steve's broad chest. Steve's face starts to fall at the apparent rejection, and Sam swoops him back in for another kiss, walking them both out of the kitchen, away from the music.
"Later," he promises, because like hell he's going to walk away from Steve without the promise of more. Like hell he could steer clear of the red-lipped Steve who's panting in front of him, still close enough that Sam can see faint freckles on his skin. "I did say I was going to feed you, and you are too skinny." Steve's waist is narrow between his hands, and that's when Steve ducks his head but not before Sam sees a blush paint his face.
"Buck always said he'd seen more meat on a wishbone," Steve says, and Sam doesn't know what to say to that, because he'd forgotten that Steve really used to be malnourished and sickly.
"You haven't lived until you've had my sister's mac and cheese," is the best he can come up with, and Steve's hands tangle with his as they head back to the kitchen, where Marvin's hitting the climax of his sexy, syncopated version of the national anthem. Sam shoots a betrayed look at his iPod – that's what was playing when they were kissing, so it should have been their song, but that's just too damn much, to be macking on Captain America with the Star-Spangled Banner on in the background.
Steve grins, still a little shy even when he's reading Sam's mind, even when music that's an invitation to sin is coloring the air around them, and tells him to lighten up. Just for that, Sam's not breathing a word about Corinne's pecan pie, sitting in his fridge next to the deep baking dish of her mac and cheese.
Sam went through all sorts of evaluations before he could hold a weapon, and again before he could wear his wings, but there's no test to judge how fit he is to fuck Captain America, except that Steve is begging for it. Sam was right, Steve is unreal when he's turned on, brighter than anything Sam's ever seen.
Steve's body is firm and beautiful and so damn pink, and the blue paint Sam had thoughtlessly slapped on his bedroom walls last summer is somehow the perfect shade to show Steve off, his clear eyes going all the way to electric every single night.
Steve gets that way whenever he thinks about Bucky, too, and Sam wishes he didn't have proof of it in the absent-minded sketches Steve makes when they're cuddled up together.
Summer has finally come to DC and despite the stickiness of the air and the rising temper of everyone in the city, Sam's actually glad they're stuck here, that Steve still needs to be on call with the rest of his super-powered buddies, because that means their time together is still about them instead of Bucky. Mostly.
Sam's wetting a washcloth in the bathroom, one eye on Steve's reflection in the medicine-cabinet mirror. Steve is lolling in their bed, looking blissed out and serene, but his eyes are open just enough to track Sam; Steve likes skin-to-skin contact and slow kisses, and he won't fall asleep without initiating at least one of them.
"I know about climate change, and that the weather's getting warmer every year, but I remember summers like this back in Brooklyn," Steve says, smiling his thanks as Sam wipes at his flat belly with the cool washcloth. "One year it got so bad Bucky and I saved up pennies and rode the Cyclone just to feel the wind in our hair. Course, I threw up, but he washed me up good as new."
Whenever Steve starts reminiscing, he sounds lovesick, dangerously fond of the boy he once knew, and Sam can't figure how Steve's separated that boy from the masked man who beat them all to hell not too long ago. He drops the washcloth, his fingers gone nerveless.
Steve's reflexes aren't dulled by sex; he grabs Sam's hand and strokes up his arm. "What is it?"
Sam's dizzy with realization, piecing it together even as he speaks. "I'm on board with wherever you want to go. Captain America says jump, I'll ask how high. You don't have to keep bringing him up – humanizing him – for my benefit; I'll help you find him no matter what."
Steve's mouth is an open oval and his eyes are wide and hurt. "That's not – I wouldn't do that to you, Sam."
Seeing his shock, Sam doubts his conclusions. But it doesn't have to be deliberate, or even conscious, to be effective, and Sam can't shake the feeling that Steve's been seducing him into accepting Bucky.
"Sam," Steve says, getting to his feet, looking him dead in the eye. "It's not like that."
"What's it like, then?" He remembers telling Steve to cut his losses and Steve's insisting - his absolute certainty - that Bucky would know him and remember him and give up his murderous ways.
"There's no me without Bucky – we grew up together, pretty much only had each other. He was my whole world."
"And you want that old world back."
"I watched him die, same as you had to. Wouldn't you want Riley back, if you could have him?"
"I was never in love with Riley."
Steve looks profoundly surprised. "It wasn't like that, Bucky and me. He was home, not a dream."
It's Sam's turn to be shocked. Has he really been reading Steve wrong all this time? It wasn't a test, but he failed anyway. He reaches tentative hands out to Steve, humbled when Steve steps closer ungrudgingly, already forgiving his jealousy. "I . . ." He can't figure out what to say.
Steve's voice is urgent, tinged with shame of his own. "We'd promised each other to be there to the end of the line, but I dropped the line –"
That's not what happened, but Steve's guilt is too strong for pretty words to make an impression. It'll have to be a vow. He cups Steve's face in his hands. "I'll help you pick it back up," he says.
"I'm glad," Steve says, low in his throat, and lets Sam hold him tight for too many heartbeats to count. Sam presses his lips to Steve's powerful shoulder, smelling of soap and sweat, glad to know he'll be ready, free of doubt, when Steve says go.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/454453.html.