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This is pretty damn long. Broken into two parts for LJ's length limits. See the notes at the end of part 2 for at least an attempt to talk about the gender issues and intent behind this?



"Remember when I made you ride the cyclone at Coney Island?"

"Yeah, and I threw up."

...

Captain America was previously otherwise. Even Erskine is a little surprised by how truly, truly transformative the process is.

After the process and before the power failure, he notes at least twenty-nine finer variations aside from the large, obvious ones. Steve's hair is light brown before; it goes subtly blond afterwards. The jaw grows clear and firm; the face widens. The nose is finally in proportion to the rest of the face, and the eyes become clear, striking blue. Is Steve stronger? Clearly so, by quantifiable measures. The voice has changed, deepening substantially. Are there other changes?

"We did it," Erskine says to Colonel Phillips, in the hushed, enormously loud silence afterwards. In this version of the story, government officials do not come down from the viewing booth to congratulate everyone involved and make jokes about people in Berlin being nervous. They are nervous themselves. They stay in the booth, frozen in their seats; technicians run about in a half-state of frenzy. Phillips does not make a joke about whether the Senator likes Brooklyn now. Howard seems dazed.

"The serum takes the innermost qualities of the heart and gives them voice. It works from the underlying desires and values," Erskine says. "This is exactly what was supposed to happen."

Phillips is too furious to even pretend. He grips Erskine by the elbow and pulls the scientist towards him. "If we put the other one, Hodges, what are we going to get?"

"We can put him in and see, but you saw the psychological profiles. We began with the stronger candidate. "

"We put the other in there, what are we going to get? A -- "

A Hydra agent detonates a bomb, opens fire, destroys all of the remaining serum except for the one vial he takes. Steve leaps to go after him, but realizes that Erskine is dying on the floor. Peggy opens fire and gives pursuit.

...

The nurse at the recruiting station comes in to murmur in the doctor's ear about the undersized kid from Brooklyn having special clearance from upstairs.

Peggy still sits in the car and listens to a quiet, calm voice talk about how in the last few years, dancing didn't seem to be that important anymore.

Abraham Erskine touches Steve Rogers on the chest, right above where the heart feels like it should be.

This is story of becoming Steve Rogers and Captain America.

...

James Buchanan Barnes rescues his friend in an alleyway. He has deployment papers in his left hand, and his brand new, clean, freshly-pressed uniform on his shoulders.

"Why don't you pick on somebody your own size?" he says and pulls off the man, who promptly swings for Bucky, but isn't very good, is still off-balance. Even with the new uniform and the deployment papers and newspaper, Bucky manages a solid blow to the guy's face with his right hand, watches the guy get up, then kicks him in the rear down the alley with his new shoes for good measure.

Bucky comes back down the alley.

"Sometimes, I think you like getting punched."

There is some short, harsh breathing and a lot of leaning against a concrete wall that smells like piss and last week's garbage.

"I had him on the ropes," Stephanie replies. She is still doubled over, trying to figure out whether she has lost any teeth. The face that she turns up to look at Bucky is narrow, pale.

The story of Captain America is the story of Captain America.

...

To be explicit: a skinny girl from Brooklyn goes into the chamber and becomes Captain America. Expected? No. Intended?

Beforehand, Peggy sits in the car and listens to a quiet, calm girl talk about how dancing doesn't seem important anymore. Peggy looks over and studies the girl: The uniform doesn't fit very well on the girl. There is room in the chest and the hips where she doesn't need room; there isn't room at the wrists and knees where she does need room. The uniform hasn't been tailored, either; it's the first time that she has work a woman's uniform since joining. Peggy got it straight from the commissary half an hour before they got into the car and left it, folded, on the locker room bench for while Stephanie showered, alone for the first time in weeks.

The short hair, cut like a man's above the ears, doesn't work either. Stephanie sits, neat and straight, hands on her knees like a man. She is tall, though, so she has to fold her legs up a little more than Peggy. In the course of the ride, the skirt has hitched up; the slip shows a little.

The car is crossing the bridge to Brooklyn, and she looks over at Peggy.

"You can keep on calling me Rogers, like it says on the folder," she says.

"Do you want me to?" Peggy says.

...

"I had him on the ropes," Stephanie says to Bucky. This is patently untrue.

The two of them are in the alley. She is still doubled over, trying to figure out whether she has lost any teeth. Are her lungs working properly? Maybe. Probably not. She knows she is wheezing and gasping, and it feels like there are giant rubber bands all up and down her chest. Her stomach is is definitely not happy, either. Bucky sighs audibly.

"What happened this time? How did Paramus work out?"

"They had everyone sitting in the medical exam room, shirts off. I didn't make it past the door."

Bucky doesn't say anything about them not letting girls into the army, though he could, or anything about the long list of reasons why he thinks Stephanie should try to become a nurse instead of enlist directly even though it's illegal first and crazy second, why she wouldn't make it past even basic training unless she planned on spending the rest of her deployment showering in a corner and pissing hip-deep in a bush, why she could get a guy, if she wanted to. He looks at her, though, wearing the raincoat, the wrinkled collared shirt, the cheap brown suit with matching tie. The pants. She cut her hair short, too. Bucky's first reaction was to yell at her about it, and when that didn't work, he made fun of her, telling she looked like she just came out of a fever ward, but that didn't work either. Now, standing in the alley, watching Stephanie fight for breath, he doesn't say anything.

Stephanie straightens up part of the way by leaning back against the wall and keeping her arms rigid out in front of her, braced on her thighs. At least she doesn't have a bad nosebleed. By now, it's mostly stopped. She tries to blink the tears of pain out from her eyes, and Bucky keeps standing there, and it takes her a moment to register what Bucky is wearing.

"You get your orders?"

...

"Remember when I made you ride the cyclone at Coney Island?"

"Yeah, and I threw up."

"This isn't payback, is it?"

...

The alley is quiet, and Stephanie studies him for another moment, then lets out a breath. She looks at a patch of ground to the left of her right foot. "I should be going."

A bruise is starting to form on her cheek.

"Come on," Bucky says, and he touches her under the chin, gets her to look up.

"Why didn't you tell him you were a girl?" Bucky says.

She doesn't say anything, so he says, "Look, it's my last night," Bucky says. "Put on your best dress. I'll pick you up, and we'll go out."

Stephanie swallows, gingerly. She can taste blood in her mouth. "I cut my hair. And I got -- " She gestures at the cut on her cheek, the blooming bruise that is on its way.

"Prettiest dress, Steph, and wear a hat. If the bruise gets worse, I'll get you some meat to put on it. You can use some of the makeup you still have from your mom."

Stephanie gingerly touches her nose and sees her fingers come away bloody. Not too much, though. Bucky still has his arm around her shoulders; he looks over, sees Stephanie wearing the old ugly suit and trying to find a handkerchief to wipe her fingers off on. He brushes some of the alley dirt off the collar. Thinks about what an odd duck his best friend is.

"Don't worry," he says. "Where we're going, nobody'll notice."

"Where are we going?" Stephanie asks.

Bucky shows her the newspaper. "The future."

...

"Steph, do you remember when you tried to convince the Burgess boys that women should be allowed to -- "

...

"Steph, do you remember when you got it into your head that you wanted to get in between Michael Feeney and Fred Lane when they were trying to kick the shit out of that ki -- "

...

"Do you want to kill Nazis?"

"Is this a test?"

...

"The needle will go right through him. Her."

Erskine looks over at Phillips.

...

"Do you want to kill Nazis?"

Stephanie starts and looks over. It's a small man wearing a white coat like a doctor or a scientist. He has grey-and-white hair, a beard and a heavy accent that sounds German. He is also shorter than her.

"Pardon me?"

He gestures at the poster, and she stares at him. "Did they kill somebody in your family?" he asks. "Your brother? Father? Boyfriend?"

"Who are you?"

They're in one of the passageways at the Stark Expo. There are recruitment posters, along with posters for flying cars, suits made out of spider silk, cities with moving sidewalks. Bucky picked her up even though they could have ridden the subway in, and they walked around for half an hour, forty-five minutes, just the two of them. It was a strange feeling. Bucky is off with some girls now, that he knows from a bar where he goes sometime and the girls wanted to watch an exhibition, and Bucky wanted to dance, and Stephanie --

"I saw you a month ago, at the recruitment center a Tompkinsville on Staten Island," the man says. "You wore a suit. Brown jacket, terrible collar, terrible suit. I think you got them all at the same time, or maybe borrowed it from someone who got them all at the same time. I saw you again, on 42nd Street, and I know you went to two other recruitment centers and were in Paramus this morning, up and down outside on the sidewalk, wondering if you should go in. Up and down. Go into the diner across the street, have some coffee, then come back. Up and down. I have photographs. They're in the file."

Stephanie blinks, breathing out slowly.

"How do you know all of this?"

"I saw you on Staten Island. The asthma alone would have disqualified you -- if you'd been a man. I saw you again in Manhattan. And I know you went to Paramus this morning. So I'm asking you, did they kill somebody you loved?"

"No. I still don't know who you are."

"You still haven't answered my first question. Do you want to kill Nazis?"

"Is this a test?"

A couple pass behind them, talking about Howard Stark and the plant he is opening up in the Brooklyn Piers where they'll assemble ordinance. Lots of jobs.

The little man doesn't take his eyes away from Stephanie's face. "Yes," he says, and the reply follows quickly and naturally from that. Somewhere, far away, a band is playing.

"I don't want to kill anyone," Stephanie says. "I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from."

...

She looks small even in the room, in the blue and white dress, the old-fashioned gray hat with two black feathers. She has a small pearl necklace on, but no earrings, and she looks back at him.

"Is there anyone you need to say goodbye to?" Erskine says.

She shakes her head.

"A chance," Erskine says. "That's all I can give you."

...

To be clear: a skinny child from Brooklyn loses her father from mustard gas. Her mother was a nurse in a TB ward until she caught it, too. Tuberculosis is a slow death for those who are strong and have motivation to live, and Stephanie's mother has a daughter to live for. She lives until three weeks after Stephanie turns seventeen, and Stephanie stands by while the minister talks about life everlasting and hope. Bucky is there. So is a woman who was on the bus. She got on to visit the grave of her sister, dead a few years, to bring her some flowers on her birthday. For forty five minutes, the three of them are the only people on the bus; twenty minutes in, the woman starts weeping in her seat, quietly. Stephanie looks at Bucky, then looks back at the woman. Stephanie goes over, sits by her. They talk about baseball. Movies. Film stars, the President. The way the war is going. The woman's sister, and she stops crying.

They stop at the graveyard. Stephanie says goodbye, gets off the bus.

"Who are you here for?" the woman asks Bucky, who is still in the aisle and standing a little behind her.

"Her mother," Bucky answers. They look out of the window, and Stephanie is standing in the strong afternoon sunlight, wearing her brown dress and squinting, trying to find the undertaker. Leaves blow past her feet.

Is it a different story if the woman looks out the window and sees a boy standing there?

What does it have to do with the person underneath?

After the woman puts flowers on the grave of her sister, she goes and stands with Stephanie and Bucky while they bury Stephanie's mother. Erskine tells Stephanie that he can't promise her anything. He can only give her a chance.

...

Can Stephanie really pass as a man?

Never underestimate the power of assumption and context. The training is only a little more than week, and the questions asked by the other men, without even knowing it, are only the following:: is Rogers part of an Army training unit? Does anyone treat Rogers like a girl? Does she act like a girl, or look like one? Is her hair cut like a girl's, or does she wear girl clothes? She wears the same clothes as the men do. She has a thin, narrow body with no chest or hips to speak of, and she is in the back of the squad on runs. She keeps her head down when men talk about sex with girls, has a bed in the corner, goes to bathroom only in the dark. Behind the scenes, Erskine does convince Phillips to install stalls in the showers, and if anybody has a suspicion, any has a sneaking idea --

Hodges talks about all the broads he has slept with. Hodges is the most popular man in the squad, even after or maybe perhaps because Agent Carter belts him one in the jaw.

Hodges kicks barbed wire down on Rogers. Rogers needs no help to tumble backwards on the net crawl and fall almost back to the bottom.

Rogers figures out how to get the flag down.

Rogers pitches herself on the grenade that Phillips throws into the middle of the squad, six inches away from Hodges's feet. Stephanie shouts for everyone to get away.

...

Does it really matter if Rogers goes into the chamber with a girl's name and comes out with a body that looks like it belongs to a man? Erskine explains to her the night before that his work has to do with taking what is inside and making it bigger, visible. It amplifies what is already there. It gives reality to the deepest tendencies and desires. What happened to Schmidt made that clear to Erskine long before he came to America and made the two purified, advanced courses.

"That is why we chose you. A strong man, who has known power all his life, they lose respect for that power. The weak man knows and knows compassion. And a woman, a woman who has lived your life -- "

Erskine trails off.

"And Hodges?"

The question hangs in the air. Stephanie looks young, but is that judgment on that calm face?

Erskine shrugs. "Colonel Phillips. He thinks you're too skinny. And he knows you're a woman."

Stephanie reflects on that. There is a gleam in Erskine's eye as he takes both glasses of schnapps and downs them both.

Does Erskine expect or intend her to come out of the chamber looking like a man? Probably not. Does he have an idea, stronger than a suspicion, that it might happen? Yes.

...

The woman stands with Bucky and Stephanie at the grave. Stephanie stands, shoulders hunched with misery but not quite able to cry, not quite able to hold Bucky's hand or lean against him, but after a moment, the woman puts her arm around Stephanie's shoulders.

The minister talks about transformation. He talks about life eternal and everlasting.

The life waiting for us beyond this life.

...

"Whatever happens tomorrow," Erskine says to her. "Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me that you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a -- "

Stephanie looks him, thinks about it. Nods.

...

Steve Rogers wakes up almost seventy years later. He remembers the Dodgers game that was May 25, 1941. Dodgers versus Phillies. He remembers going to the game with Bucky; he remembers wearing a dress to that game and sitting in the second deck behind third base. Blue and white print dress, hat. Gloves, shoes that pinched his feet, empty soda pop by his feet, Bucky almost catching a pop fly. Steve hangs onto his hat with his right hand and cheers with his voice for Reiser bringing in three runs to put the Dodgers on top in the bottom of the 6th.

The eyes don't feel any different. The fingers don't feel any different, but Bucky looks at her for a moment after failing to catch the pop fly. It went three rows behind them, so no chance. Bucky is still standing, and looks over to see if she is disappointed. She is wearing a cheap dress and cheap hat and cheap gloves; he brought her to the game as a make-up for two weekends ago when he had a date he didn't want to cancel, a really gorgeous girl. It hurt, but it doesn't matter. The weather is good; the Dodgers are up by two, and Steve remembers Bucky standing there for a moment after the ball had been caught and everybody else sat down. He was standing; she smiled back at him, he stayed standing and was still looking at her, and for a moment --

The crowd roared and came to their feet to dispute balls-and-strikes, and the moment disappeared.

The heart doesn't feel any different. The memory doesn't feel any different. What does Stephanie know about identity politics? She knows that she loves Bucky, believes that might doesn't make right.

...

When Stephanie was seventeen and Bucky was nineteen --

When Bucky was eleven and Stephanie was nine --

...

"Remember when I made you ride the cyclone at Coney Island?"

"Yeah, and I threw up."

"This isn't payback, is it?"

They are standing on the edge of a mountain in winter, waiting for the Hydra train to pass underneath. A zipline runs over their shoulders. Steve looks at Bucky for a moment, and Bucky looks back at Steve.

The heart doesn't feel any differ --

...

When Stephanie is seventeen and Bucky is nineteen, Stephanie's mother finally dies of tuberculosis after fighting it for years.

When Stephanie is nine and Bucky is eleven, Bucky's father came home drunk in the middle of the day and almost beat Bucky to death.

...

The Hydra agent kills Doctor Erskine and destroys the entire rack of serum meant for Hodges. He steals one tube, which breaks on the ground. The scientists to siphon it up from the concrete, but it has oxidized by exposure to air, become contaminated with the concrete and dirt and everything else. Stephanie loses the most powerful advocate that she has, and what are they going to do with her now? She is a woman who looks like a man. What does she think of herself as? She knew what was happening in the chamber, but shouted out for them to continue because she could take it.

There are a lot of words to describe what Stephanie becomes, but to the Senator, to the Strategic Scientific Reserve, "combat material" isn't what comes to mind.

Hodges hadn't known, for sure, that the other test subject was a woman until he saw Steve come out in the tank top with the WAAC skirt. Awkward, not quite steady. Stephanie is clumsy in heels.

Since there isn't serum for him, Hodges gets sent back to the front. Stephanie gets dispatched to on a war bond tour.

...

"I asked for an army," Phillips turns around and says. "And all I got was you."

Is it necessary for Phillips to say the line about how Stephanie is not enough? Or specify why, exactly, she is not enough?

...

The Senator looks at her, and there is silence for a while. Phillips is yelling at people about how he wants to be in the air yesterday. Mechanics run around and past. Agent Carter is gone, following in Phillips's wake.

Does it show on the face?

"We spent a lot of money on you, miss," the Senator says, finally, not unkindly, as though she still looks the girl that she feels herself to be. "I pulled a lot of strings. You have a chance to make it up to everyone."

...

"Remember when I made you ride the cyclone at Coney Island?"

"Yeah, and I threw up."

"This isn't payback, is it?"

...

The first time she borrowed Bucky's old suit, he called her Steve, as a joke.

"How do you like it, Steve?" They're standing in front of a mirror. Stephanie is as tall as he been at at sixteen, but even skinnier. Her hair is pinned up, but later that day, she cuts it off and gets Bucky to trim any pieces that stick up.

...

The shield is made out of tin-plated steel and was spray-painted behind the stage in Indianapolis.

"You sell a few bonds. Bonds buy bullets. Bullets kill Nazis." The stage manager is from the Senator's office, but doesn't appear to know.

Notes are taped inside the front of the shield. Steve reads them.

Girls dance in two lines, wearing silver heels and dark stockings. Steve punches an Adolf impersonator with a glued-on mustache.

"You sell bonds. Bonds buy bullets. Bullets kill Nazis." This time, it's in Milwaukee. The stage manager definitely doesn't know.

"Play ball with us," the Senator's aide says in Indianapolis. "You'll have your platoon in no time."

One of the showgirls winks at Steve in Buffalo. Another asks if he has a sweetheart.

In Chicago, Steve packs a three-tier theater, three shows in a row; in between, he goes directly back to his dressing room and closes the door and strips off the uniform and pulls off the hood and sits on a trunk and looks and looks and looks at himself in the mirror.

Reflexively, she smoothes down the front of the shirt, pulls the pants up a little.

...

What does Steve remember about life outside of a traveling, war bond selling, stage show where she has muscles bigger than any man in the audience? Brooklyn. Trolleys, taxis, the sound of traffic. The bridge in the distance, the smell of the piers closer in, and closer in still, the smell of cooking and car exhaust, the nearness of the neighbors. Living on the road with fifty-five dancing girls, twelve members of the United States Army Band, four stage and specialist technical crew, and the Senator's office people -- the closeness of being on the road with so many people reminds Steve of every apartment building she has ever lived in. The walls in dressing rooms are thin; in fact, Steve is the only one with a dressing room to herself. She also has a room to himself in hotels, and she takes to sitting by the walls at night and listens to radios play in the next room or to people passing outside on the street. The stage manager knocks on the doors, asks what Steve would like for dinner.

Coffee. Sandwiches. The taste of sandwiches that he brings are real enough. The size of the hands she uses to hold the bread are real enough; they make the mug look small, fragile. At first, she is a little surprised by the quantity of food that they bring her, and she feels bad about it, but then she realizes that is how much people expect her to eat it now, and at the end of the day, she is, in fact, hungry enough to eat it all. Other people know her body better than she does.

What does she know about being a man?

One night, a delegation knocks on his door. It's a wet night, but Steve has the window open for fresh air. She is in the hotel room and has her sketchbook in his lap.

"I'm tired," she says.

"Come on, Steve. Put down your sketchbook, and come with us. Just for a drink or two," the brunette says, sliding her hand into his and trying to pull him upright. She smells like cold cream; Steve looks up into her face and sees that she took off her stage makeup and put on normal, street makeup. She knows Steve is looking at her and smiles, dimpling.

Steve starts to back away, pull her hand out of the girl's, but the other brunette is a little more perceptive than her friend. She puts her hand on Steve's shoulder.

"The guys from the band are coming, too. It's a whole bunch of us."

Steve lets himself be pulled up onto her feet, but brings the sketchbook.

...

What does Steve remember about Bucky? In vivid detail, everything about Brooklyn and then some. The baseball game in May and Reiser bringing three runs across the plate. The tree in the front yard of the apartment building, leafing out in pale, shining green, with Steve sitting on the floor and helping Bucky with his math. The first time, too, someone referred to her as Bucky's kid sister because they honestly didn't know she wasn't. The first time she borrowed some of Bucky's old clothes and put her hair up in a hat and went out as a boy -- Bucky's dad was no good, so his mom worked all the time, and who would know? It started as a joke, something to match the pants, but she remembers the first time that Bucky called her Steve without hesitation, and she remembers lying on the fire escape outside Bucky's window on a hot summer night, drinking soda with the game on the radio, listening to Bucky talk about girls and the war and fighting with his mom when she was around.

The first time Bucky said he was busy and it was because he had a date.

The first time Bucky said he was busy and saw the look on her face, and admitted it was because he had a date.

The first time that Bucky touched her on the arm, casually, and it felt like --

It's raining, so they take a cab back. It's late, so the brunette who put on new makeup to go out yawns and tucks up against Steve -- she isn't asleep. In fact, she isn't really even pretending to be asleep because she has a smile on her face and turns her face into Steve's shoulder and takes a deep breath of the way that Steve smells. This close, in the lights from the street signs and the other cars, Steve can see the place where her lipstick doesn't quite cover the edge of her mouth, the places where the powder has brushed away and shows the skin underneath. The girl seems beautiful, genuinely gorgeous to Steve. Her legs are pressed against Steve's and are almost as long as hers, even though Steve has a good half-foot on the girl in height.

Steve can't take her eyes away.

Bucky was the only friend she ever had.

"Hello, gorgeous," the girl says, eyes still closed, but puts her hand on Steve's knee.

Her friend on the other side, the other brunette, snorts and turns to look out the window.

Steve pulls his arm out from under her; it hangs in the air for a moment, and then, when nobody seems to move, nobody seems to mind, when it seems to be expected -- she puts it around the girl's shoulder.

...

Forty-five minutes later, Steve comes back and knocks on their door. There are thirty seconds of silence, then some rustling and a few sharp words, indistinct through the door, and then the door opens.

"I left my sketchbook back at the club," Steve says. "Do you remember the address, or what it was called?"

The girl leans against the hotel door frame in Chicago. She is wearing a nightie, pale blue with trim on top. It looks too nice to actually sleep in, and Steve glances roommate is inside, too, has gone into the bathroom and closed the door tightly, and the girl -- her name is Jean, Steve thinks -- puts her hands behind her. The light from the hallway light is not particularly bright, and only one bedside lamp inside the room is on.

Jean tilts her head back and waits. It's a pose from pinup, Steve knows.

"I remember the name of the club," she says. "I'll tell you for a kiss."

Steve looks at her. The girl smile at Steve. Inside the bathroom, the roommate turns on the faucet, and Steve takes a deep breath and thinks about --

...

What does it matter if Steve has memories of being a girl?

Does it mean she doesn't want to kiss --

...

What memories does Stephanie have of liking being a girl?

...

On the first day of vetting, Peggy punches Hodges so hard he falls to the ground.

...

On the fourth day of vetting, Steve takes the pins out of the flagpole -- is too out of breath from the running to answer the drill sergeant, barely manages to put the flag into the sergeant's hand, then herself up into the jeep behind the driver and Agent Carter.

...

Steve looks at her. The girl smiles at Steve. Inside the bathroom, the roommate turns on the faucet, and Steve takes a deep breath and thinks about --

What memories does Stephanie have of being a girl? The ones with her mother end at the age of thirteen, and everything after that is tied up with Bucky. Bucky and the way he looked outlined in the alley that, tall, straight in the shoulders and so proud of his uniform and deployment papers. Bucky and his easy way with girls, Bucky and his easy way with fixing cars, Bucky listening to the Dodgers on the wireless, Bucky taking her to ballgames. Bucky at the Expo, her hand tucked into his arm and her mother's hat and pearls and all the Expo around them, the strange ache in her chest at seeing all the other couples there, and Bucky telling her not to do anything stupid, and her telling him not to win the war until she was over there.

Bucky, and the time he slept on her couch for two and a half weeks -- his mom kicked him out; she loved him and his father, he loved her and didn't love his father, so Bucky slept on her couch with his coat drawn up over him and Stephanie's spare sheets on the cushions. The apartment smelled like him. He left his shoes by the door. He brushed his teeth in her kitchen sink, used the common bathroom down at the end of the hall. At night, they ate together at a card table, and he tried to teach her how to dance with the music hour from the radio. In the morning, Stephanie stood in the doorway of her bedroom every morning, wrapped up in a housecoat, watching him in the light from the windows before dawn.

...

What memories does Steve have of being a girl? She was always small, thin, awkward. Brown hair, old clothes. Stubborn, unwilling to settle for less because she was small or thin or awkward or a girl.

She remembers her mother braiding her hair at the kitchen table. She remembers being in Bucky's arms, dancing in her tiny apartment to the radio and laughing on a hot August night. She remembers Bucky semi-accidentally-on purpose getting her drunk to celebrate her first real job; she remembers telling her to put on her prettiest dress, so they could go to the Expo. She remembers watching girls on Bucky's arm, Bucky wearing his second-best suit or a nice shirt or a plain t-shirt underneath his work coverall and smiling, the girl smiling back at him, and the feeling, a mix of shame and embarrassment and envy and pure, unadulterated desire, rising up out of Stephanie's chest and almost choking her.

For Bucky? For the girl? Both of them?

...

Steve looks at her. The girl smile at Steve. Inside the bathroom, the roommate turns on the faucet, and Steve takes a deep breath and thinks about kissing her.

Minutes beforehand, it feels like this happens:

"Rogers," Peggy says, pitching her voice to be heard over the engine. "I'm told you're from Brooklyn."

Steve is still breathing hard, still fighting the asthma and the stitch and the pain in the legs. It's been about a mile since they left everyone behind, and she is still fighting to get breath into her lungs. Then, she looks up and sees, in the rearview mirror, Agent Carter's face -- really, it's the first time Steve has had a chance to look at her. It's a narrow strip. Just the eyes, the eyebrows. The upper corner of the mouth. Peggy smiles; the late afternoon sun touches her hair with gold, and a jolt goes through Steve all the way down her legs.

Steve is a good person, a fundamentally happy person. When Steve thinks about the word girl, she remembers being in the back seat of the Jeep and the sight of Peggy in the rear view mirror.

When she is in Europe, she remembers being back in Chicago, standing in the bathroom door with the girl looking at her and waiting to be kissed.

How much does an ugly, poor girl feel like a girl? More than an ugly, poor girl who wonders about kissing other girls.

...

On the sixth day of vetting, Phillips rolls a training grenade six inches from Hodge's feet. Rogers jumps ten feet forward to curl herself around it.

...

Nine days after the start of vetting, Steve is in a car with Agent Carter. They're driving back to Brooklyn. Steve wears a Woman's Army Auxiliary uniform with her short hair.

...

Steve looks at her. The girl smile at Steve. Inside the bathroom, the roommate turns on the faucet, and Steve takes a deep breath and thinks about whether she wants to kiss Jean. Thinks about Bucky.

The bathroom door opens, and the roommate sticks her head out. The faucet is still running in the sink.

"We went to the Aragon, Steve. You can take the Red Line to the Lawrence stop, or tell the cabdriver to take you to Lawrence and North Broadway." She closes the bathroom door again, and Steve looks down at Jean.

For a long, long moment, Steve thinks about kissing her anyways.

...

Can she pass as a man?

The night they board the ship to Europe, Stephanie sits in her dressing room after the last show and looks at herself in the mirror. They're in nice theaters now; the mirror is almost as tall as she is, and she takes off the boots and the mask and the shirt and the tights, and sits down in her underwear in front of the mirror, and for a long time, she looks at herself. Music from the dance they're having for military couples filters in through the door, and Stephanie turns around and looks at her back in the mirror. No doubt it's a man's back; no doubt these are a man's hands. Her face is a man's face, and when she talks, Stephanie has gotten over being startled at the way her voice sounds, even inside her own head.

Afterwards, Steve gets dressed in regular clothes and puts her dog tags on underneath, then folds and puts away the stage uniform, then walks back to the hotel and goes to bed, alone.

She dreams about the Hydra agent, dead at her feet on the pier in Brooklyn, the feeling she of flying when she jumped from car to car while chasing him.

Also, Bucky.

...

"You're more than this," Agent Carter says in a tent outside a forest in Italy.

On the stage in Italy, the men shout for the girls to come back on the stage.

...

" -- still don't know how to dance," Steve says.

...

What tools does Stephanie have to talk about how she feels? She isn't even sure what she is, what she can or should call herself. After her mother died, who treated her like a girl but Bucky, who was never going to want her anyways? Hasn't Stephanie always wanted to kiss girls? She has multiple memories of seeing Bucky with his hand around a girl's waist, Bucky with his lips against a girl's neck, and she knows, if she closes her eyes, that her mouth comes up with the image of touching her lips to skin, rather than of being the one being kissed. The smell of powder, the smell of scent, a single pearl earring and hearing the girl make a noise, like she imagined the girl made for Bucky. Stephanie had gone out for drinks with some of the other girls at the ad agency, and Bucky met them at the bar and established himself comfortably in the middle, wearing his second-best suit, girls on each side and was kissing one of the telephone operators afterwards, in the shadows outside the bar.

What does Stephanie even have to tie the sense of being a girl to, except for wanting boys and being pretty when young, and being a mother and having a family when older? Stephanie's childhood memories don't exactly involve teacups and dolls. Her mother is dead. Her country could use her, so being a girl shouldn't be something that Stephanie should mind giving up, should it? She thinks about it the night before they go to Europe, standing in front of the mirror and looking at her new body and hearing couples dance together outside. It's war. Everyone makes sacrifices. What was the likelihood she was ever going to marry and have a family? Would she ever want a man besides Bu --

There are very few good parts to being a girl for Stephanie Rogers. She doesn't join the Army because she wants to be a man, but if they're going to make her one --

It's war. Everyone makes sacrifices. Does it mean that she's any different on the inside?

There is an enormous gap between Peggy and Stephanie because even without the smooth hair, the elegant makeup, the tailored clothes, Peggy is beautiful. Still, Peggy and Stephanie don't need to have a conversation about every door being shut in their faces. Even though Stephanie is screaming inside the chamber, high and terrified, shaking with agony, Peggy doesn't come down into the experiment room and shout for the process to be stopped.

...

"You can keep on calling me Rogers, like it says on the folder," she says.

"Do you want me to?" Peggy says, looking at her.

Stephanie looks over at Peggy. She doesn't ask why a beautiful woman would want to join the army or volunteer for the intelligence services. She doesn't talk about waiting for the right partner; she doesn't talk about dancing. They understand each other, quite clearly, and Peggy holds the look for a long, long moment. She almost reaches a hand out to touch Stephanie, but Stephanie turns to look out the window because her cheeks are bright red. Suddenly, she is almost shaking. Suddenly, she is almost afraid of what she has committed herself to.

Erskine has a vague idea that the Super Soldier Serum might make Stephanie turn into a man. He has mentioned it to Stephanie in passing, and Peggy --

Peggy reaches over, and while Stephanie is still staring fixedly out the window at this borough she has lived in her whole life, Peggy reaches over and takes Stephanie's hand. She presses her hand over Stephanie's; Stephanie presses her hand back. It's quick, and then they pull back to their opposite sides of the car. Stephanie keeps her eyes fixed on the streets, the people, the other traffic. She blinks back tears. Peggy watches Stephanie.

Inside the chamber, Stephanie shouts out for them to go on; she can take it. Peggy doesn't intervene.

...

" -- thirty miles behind the lines, through some of the most heavily fortified territory in Europe. We'd lost more than we'd save. But I don't expect you to understand that because you are a --"

Steve looks back. Agent Carter is behind her right shoulder. Colonel Phillips is in front of her. Rain pours down around the sides of the tent.

"Because you're a chorus girl," is what Phillips says, and even though Steve has a very clear idea that it is coming, Steve can't quite manage to say anything in reply. Peggy feels her expression tighten, knows that she squares her jaw and stands a little more stiffly.

Phillips comes out from behind the desk, and after a moment, Steve says, quietly, "I understand."

Rain falls outside. Peggy leans forward and puts her arm on Steve's elbow, and there is another long moment.

"You can understand it somewhere else," Phillips says. His voice sounds like it comes from the back of the tent. "From what the posters say, you're supposed to be somewhere else in thirty minutes."

Peggy's hand is still on Steve's elbow.

"Yes, sir," Steve says.

Peggy takes her hand off Steve's elbow. They never had a conversation in the car about every door being shut in their face because it wasn't necessary; they never have a conversation where Steve throws Peggy's words back at her about being meant for something more than this.

Peggy looks back at her.

Howard flies both of them out.

...

"Who is that?"

"It's me. It's Stev -- Stephanie."

"You're that guy from the newsreels."

"I thought you were dead."

"We've never met before."

Later, skittering along the hallway, and a slow realization.

"Did it hurt?"

"A little."

"Is it permanent?"

"So far."

"Why did you do it?"

"Why do you think?"

"What do they call you?"

"What do you think?"

Steve guides them around a corner; Bucky has to lean hard against her to keep his balance because his legs won't take the strain, and once he has his breath back, he asks, "How does it feel?"

Steve doesn't answer, but after getting hit a few times by Schmidt, the moment comes with the factory floor in flames. Bucky makes it across on a shaky beam, and still has to jump for the railing. He pulls himself over and turns to look.

...

What does Bucky remember about the world outside the torture chamber?

Not much. Pain made his perception of time dilate, and the interior of the weapons plant had no natural light, so how many weeks? How many months had he spent? When he gets back to the camp and talks to people, he realizes that only two weeks passed since since they were captured by Hydra. Six days, maybe seven, since they took him into the isolation chamber. In the hallway, sliding and slipping, it feels as though his legs have entirely gone, as though the muscles are new and do not know what it means to be used.

"Some of these men need medical attention," Steve says to the Colonel, meeting him eye-to-eye. Steve tries to surrender himself for discipline, and --

Bucky has a hazy memory of collapsing and being helped to the medical tent.

...

Steve comes to the medical building -- an actual building, not just a tent pitched in the mud. There is a chair already by Bucky's bed, because he was popular with his men, a couple chocolate bars saved from rations. The man that Bucky had been trying to save from a beating died in the camp, but other men in that cell survived. The man's brother, who was also in the 107th, came by to thank Bucky.

Steve sits down on the chair. It creaks. There isn't anyone else around.

A full minute goes by. Bucky looks at his arms stretched in front of him. Now that they're out of the sleeves, they can both see the extent of the bruising. The restraints caused solid bands of purple.

"Who knows?" Bucky asks.

"Colonel Phillips. Agent Carter. Senator Brandt and some other people like that." Steve looks him in the face. "You."

"Did it hurt?"

"Yeah."

"A lot?"

Steve swallows. "Did it hurt when you were in the isolation ward?"

Bucky looks down the tent, and he watches a group of soldiers -- other guys in the 107th, coming to see a friend they thought was dead. They crowd around his bed. The guy in the bed makes a joke, and friend closest to him throws an arm over his shoulder. They lean against each other, and a third friend smuggles a little liquor out from under his jacket.

"I walked all the way back to camp," Bucky says, by way of reminder. "Thirty-five miles."

"You refused to ride in the truck, and you dropped into the mud once we got back to camp, and you've been in here ever since. Howard says that you have some unusual burn marks."

"Howard?"

Bucky looks at Steve, and Steve shrugs.

Steve says, "Howard Stark. He makes weapons -- dark hair, mustache." Steve pauses, then adds. "You were reciting your serial number and rank when I came in, and I know that Agent Carter and Colonel Phillips were in here for two hours, talking to you."

Bucky doesn't answer.

"When we were in the factory, I told you to go," Steve says.

...

"Is it permanent?"

"So far."

"Why did you do it?"

"Why do you think?"

Bucky remembers Stephanie and does not have any illusions about her having done it for romantic lo --

...

What does Bucky remember about the world outside the torture chamber? All the things that Steve remembers, and more, because the world offers more to good looking men than plain. awkward women with the same amount of money, namely, none. The feeling of walking down the street on a Friday night with pay in his pocket and girls smiling at him. The feeling of driving fast. The pleasure of being liked and admired. The burn of alcohol on his throat and the feel of a woman's bare leg under his hand.

What does Bucky remember about Stephanie? The ballgames, the nights lying on the fire escape. Mrs. Rogers, tired from the hospital but sitting at the kitchen table and smoking and watching Stephanie and Bucky eat dinner that she had made. The first time that Bucky saved Stephanie from getting hit for arguing about the things that girls should be allowed to do, for standing up for someone who really didn't want a skinny, scrawny girl who wasn't even pretty trying to defend them, and she wasn't sorry, wouldn't admit she was wrong even afterwards. What could he do about the words? Not much. Stephanie would have to learn about that on her own, if that's what she wanted.

The first time they figured they could manage a paper route together if Stephanie stuffed her hair into a cap, the time that Stephanie got her first regular job, doing artwork for an ad agency for eighteen bucks a week. The time that Bucky's father came back drunk, shoved his way into the apartment when Bucky's mother was pulling a shift at the plant and rifled through all the drawers looking for something to sell until Bucky flew at him. His father picked Bucky up by the shirt and threw him into the wall and started beating him, with Bucky screaming through the blood and pain that he was going to get a gun and kill him.

Bucky was eleven; Stephanie was nine. Stephanie ran to get the building super and Mr. Collins from 3C, and together, they pulled Bucky's father off him.

The first time he ditched her to take a pretty girl out. The first time he took her to a ballgame to make up for it, and the first time he realized, looking at her, two things. First, she was in love with him. Second, she was never going to be beautiful or pretty enough for him to want her.

Then again, with Steve sitting by the bed and trying to talk to Bucky, the light in Steve's hair and the shirt across Steve's shoulders tight from muscles, Bucky thinks: does it count as being in love when someone is the only family that you have? Does it count as wanting if you just want to touch them to see if they're real?

...

"I'm the same person," Steve says. "It's just the outside that changed."

...

"I don't want to kill anyone," Steve says. "I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from."

...

"When we were in the factory, I told you to go," Steve says.

"That's right. I didn't go," Bucky says. They're sitting next to each other in the pub. The other men are at a table in the other room. Steve came over to point out that Bucky wasn't sitting with them; Bucky refrained from pointing out that he was the only one who knew Steve back when her mom used to braid her hair at the kitchen table. Wireless on, Bucky hiding from his parents fighting in the apartment below, watching Stephanie's mother put the clip in and kiss Stephanie on the cheek.

"I wasn't sure if you heard me at first."

"I heard you."

"You didn't say anything back." Steve pauses. "If you want to be in the unit, you have to follow orders."

Steve thinks of adding something else -- probably about understanding why Bucky might want a break, want a rest, so before Steve figures out whether he should say it, Bucky adds. "I mean, you saw the injection marks. I wasn't even sure that you were real."

Beer mug in hand, Bucky looks over at Steve to see whether Steve concedes the point. It isn't every day your upstairs neighbor and adopted kid sister shows up at your bedside, transformed into a six-foot two, blond, muscles, a hero at the beginning of his story. Reflexes, incredible strength, the ability to jump twenty feet with a small running start, the ability to lead a one-man assault against a heavily-armored military plant where the security guards have energy guns, and lead four hundred men back out. The comic book stories don't begin to describe it

Steve's expression doesn't change.

So Bucky asks, "Did you enlist at the Expo?"

"Yes."

"I thought I told you not to do anything stupid."

"They didn't put the serum in me until after that."

"Are you really the same inside?"

Agent Carter walks into the pub wearing red satin.

...

Bucky knows that if he had kissed Stephanie, back when she was Stephanie and back when they were in Brooklyn, she would have kissed him back. If he'd asked her to go to a hotel room with him, she -- she would have hesitated, but she would have said yes after only a moment. She loved him. He was everything in the world to her and more besides. That day at the ballgame, when he failed to catch the fly ball and looked at her face, he saw it written, clear as letters on a newspaper.

Bucky looks at Steve, watching Carter walk away, and wonders whether Steve would follow him anywhere.

"I'm the same person," Steve says. "It's just the outside that changed. You remember when you used to call me Steve as a joke, right?"

...

"It's like I don't exist," Bucky says. After a moment, the thought occurs to him. "Does she know -- "

"She knows," Steve says, looking a little stupid in the face. "She was with me in the car on the way to the treatment. I think she doesn't mind."

Bucky knows his mouth is hanging open.

Steve looks even stupider in the face and has to at least try to cover it by ordering a drink from the bartender.

...

Steve worries that Agent Carter and Howard Stark have a relationship.

Bucky reads a newspaper account of the rescue and knows that his name won't appear in it. Phillips's adjutant has been drinking for weeks on the story of being in the tent when Captain America decided he was going to liberate the 107th; Bucky buys the man a beer and hears the story. By then, the man is too drunk to realize that B-a-r-n-e-s, James Buchanan is sitting in front of him.

Bucky is not too drunk to put two and two together and figure out that Steve did not go into the encampment to find him.

"I'm the same person," Steve says.

Falsworth tells Bucky that the Captain was kissing the cool blonde piece who sits outside Jackson's office, the one who always looks like she smells something rotten but has legs for days and days -- he was kissing her, and Agent Carter caught him doing it and just cut him dead. He slunk, Falsworth says. He positively slunk to briefing.

Morita laughs. "Couple hours later, I heard he was in the weapons lab when Cap got his new shield, the one that deflects bullets? Technician swears Carter grabbed a Luger. Just opened up on him, and he hid behind the shield until it was over."

...

What does Bucky remember about the world inside the torture chamber?

What experience does Bucky have of being jealous of Stephanie, no matter what she goes by now?


Part 2.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-14 03:48 pm (UTC)
droolfangrrl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] droolfangrrl
Lovely as usual.

fyi, I thimk you wanted a try in here

"The scientists to siphon it up from the concrete"

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-14 04:16 pm (UTC)
droolfangrrl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] droolfangrrl
Oh hon, sometimes i think I spend more time fixing mistakes than writing. Oh and i was wrong, this fic is more than lovely, it's brilliant.

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