He moves through the museum slowly, keeping pace with tourists and school groups, head down and face hidden under the baseball cap he stole from a sidewalk stall three blocks away. His left arm is hidden under long sleeves, hand tucked into his pocket. There is no name on his wrist. The metal plates are smooth and bare. Assets do not have soulmates.
The Captain is everywhere. His face, fixed in a wide grin in vividly colored posters, solemn and tired in black and white footage, is on every wall. When he turns away, the Captain’s head seems to turn in the edge of his vision. He feels the Captain’s eyes on the back of his neck.
Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. You’re my friend. You–
On the helicarrier, the Captain had peeled back the sleeve of his battered uniform to reveal the words on his left wrist. The handwriting had been neat cursive, James Buchanan Barnes still crisp and clear, seventy years after the name should have blurred into illegibility after Sergeant Barnes’ death.
Sergeant Barnes is on the walls, too. Not as often as the Captain, not centered in the photographs, but he looks out just the same. There is a clip of Sergeant Barnes and the Captain laughing, arms thrown over each other’s shoulders, that he watches over and over until the pressure of standing still becomes too much, and he must drift with the crowd.
Sergeant Barnes had a left arm of flesh and bone. Sergeant Barnes had a name on his wrist.
One of the final exhibition cases in the museum contains a display of two photographs: two wrists, the skin washed out to white, the names in solid black. James Buchanan Barnes. And next to the Captain’s wrist, the Sergeant’s, with another name. Steven Grant Rogers.
He looks at the names, his own reflection hanging in the glass above the photos. His face is mirrored on the walls around him, Sergeant Barnes looking back at him. He balls his left hand in his pocket so he won’t take it out to double check, won’t trace over his blank metal wrist looking for words that aren’t there. Assets do not have soulmates.
When he leaves the museum, he takes one of the discarded name tags a visitor has left on the floor. He picks up a pen off the sidewalk and puts it in his pocket. He doesn’t take his left hand out of his pocket. He keeps walking.
Later that night, in the privacy of his squat house, he takes the pen and carefully, with a hand that only shakes a little, writes Steven Grant Rogers across the name tag. He folds the edges back so the tag is slightly smaller than one of the broad plates of his wrist, so the paper will not catch and tear as the plates shift with his movement.
He peels off the plastic backing and smooths the tag over his wrist, tracing the letters again and again, Steven Grant Rogers, as he lies in the dark and waits for sleep to come.
(Several people wanted more of this one, so here’s a quick Steve POV scene that gets them to a more hopeful place.)
By the time Steve finally got back to his wrecked apartment (first he had to convince the hospital that he really was the medical marvel he had claimed to be, and no he didn’t need follow-up surgeries, and yes he could shrug off bullet wounds and incipient pneumonia with enough food and sleep, and yes, fine, he would sit in the damn wheelchair on his way out the door if they would just let him leave), the building had already been cleared by the D.C. metro police. His neighbors had all cleared out–half of them had been SHIELD anyway, and the rest didn’t want to live somewhere the entire world now knew had housed Captain America and been shot up by the Winter Soldier. Police had cordoned off the building and moved on to more urgent cleanup sites.
Steve ducked under the yellow caution tape and climbed the stairs to his apartment. It was uncannily quiet without anyone else in the building. He’d never walked down his hallway without hearing kids yelling, or the sounds of someone cooking, or at least a TV playing somewhere.
Someone had locked his apartment door. Sharon, maybe, or one of the SHIELD techs called in after Fury’s shooting, locking up on their way out. Steve fished his keys out of his coat pocket, opened the door, and came to a dead stop.
Bucky was sitting on one of the remaining intact chairs, elbows propped on his knees, hands folded in front of him and conspicuously empty. He didn’t look up at the sound of the door opening.
(continues beyond the cut)