The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hardly know each other yet. They are acquaintances who will be suddenly made into partners. Fate, as it’s surely done to all of us before, brings these two guys together because they were both best friends with a different, third guy, at very different times. Just days away from the premiere of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s unclear whether Sam “Falcon” Wilson and James Buchanan, a.k.a. “Bucky” Barnes, will actually have much to talk about, or if this will be one of those awkward, sparkless friend failures, which is just how these social setups go sometimes. Once your bro-in-common is exhausted as a conversation topic, will there be anything left to say? In this case, though, that might be less of a problem, even after covering all the extra-legal, world-saving heroics of their shared pal Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America. Because Sam and Bucky will still have to hash out their buddy Steve’s bizarre, probably unparalleled, frankly unsettling route to losing his virginity.
As a young man, Steve was never horny for women—only war. Coming in at a birdlike 95 pounds and standing 5-foot-4 as a 20-something, Steve was allergic to hedonism or levity, sleepwalking through double dates with his handsome, normal-sized best friend Bucky. Seemingly at peace with his unattractiveness, Steve was less interested in women and more focused on fighting in World War II. But military recruiters kept telling him he was too small for the work, plus he was beset with a number of other worrisome conditions: asthma, sinusitis, chronic and frequent colds, high blood pressure, easy fatigability, heart trouble, nervous trouble … the list goes on. Steve was too patriotic to listen to his body, though, and put the lion’s share of his energy into crafting illegal fictions about who he was in order to get overseas. He kept failing at this, and he kept being unaware of all the rootin’-tootin’ 1940s dames all around him.
Then, something changed. Steve’s undying commitment to his country was noticed by a scientist with certain executive powers. Abraham Erskine was a German Jew who fled for America and worked as an Army special project man, and he saw that Steve had tried five different times to get into the military. Erskine admired his persistence. Maybe he also noticed that Steve somehow spoke in the voice of someone a foot taller and 145 pounds heavier, kind of like Chris Evans, and thus decided to help Steve manifest his inner hunk. Either way, Erskine gave Steve a path into the Army, rubber-stamping his application in spite of all his defects.
And then Steve fell in love. (This is still Tiny Steve we’re talking about, to be clear.) He met Strategic Scientific Reserve training deputy Peggy Carter, and was enamored of her beauty and commitment to winning World War II. As Steve used his ingenuity and mettle to outperform his peers through a series of training obstacles, he and Carter shared a sequence of knowing, increasingly flirtatious looks. Erskine chose Steve as the winner of his spiritual exercise that was constructed to identify the heart of a super soldier, and then injected him with his fantastical substances. Tiny Steve became swole Steve; Steve was so swole that he was no longer even Steve; he was Captain America. The look upon Peggy’s face when he emerged from his metamorphosing experiment, newly huge and glistening, was unmistakable: She now not only wanted Steve’s soul, but also clearly desired the Captain’s body.
You would think that, from here, the stage would be set for arguably the hottest guy in the 1940s. Whether he was to develop a long-term bond with Peggy or hit the open market, Steve and his huge, wet muscles would lead a romantically healthy, sexually fulfilling life. Instead, things got weird: The Captain had been put on a winding path to becoming a time-traveling virgin whose only prior experience with a woman’s touch would come from dabbling in interfamily kissing.
Erskine was killed, and his project seemed to die with him as swole Steve was not used as a super soldier, but instead wrapped up in a tight, shiny, very American, very sexy suit and made to debase himself as a mascot for Iron Man’s dad to increase bullet industry sales. He learned Bucky was missing, though, and then forced his way into action to save him, in the process saving the world itself from the demonic Red Skull—a Nazi so evil that even Hitler didn’t want him. In the middle of this nationalistic whirlwind, Steve and Peggy shared a kiss as Steve exited a moving car. It looked to be the first of many.
But Steve’s mission required him to become a frozen martyr. He sacrificed himself to sink Red Skull’s Armageddon plane into the Arctic Ocean—flirting with Peggy over radio on his way down—and then was presumed dead. He wasn’t found and thawed out until the 21st century. Rogers was now technically in his 90s, but he entered the modern dating scene as hot as ever—he was a man out of time. In the first Avengers movie, set vaguely around 2012, he was clearly resisting the trends of the day. When he wasn’t doing superhero stuff, everything he wore was brown, plus he still tucked in all his shirts and shaved on the daily. He appeared to be sepia-toned in a psychedelic world. It wasn’t until 2014’s The Winter Soldier that he started sporting form-fitting athleisure fits that advertised his whole-meal pecs.
The Winter Soldier saw a number of other important developments in Captain America’s sexuality, as well; it was the true spring of his hibernating hormones. Most of these things were textual—actually in the movie—but one other existed only in the fan universe, imagined so aggressively that you would think the film gave you more reason to fathom it. But, no: People out there just really wanted to see Steve and Bucky get busy. The Captain’s old best friend, it turns out, had survived the 20th century while remaining in impeccable, smoldering shape, too—but he was tragically brainwashed and turned into the stone-cold, titular killer who worked for HYDRA, the secret organization carried on in Red Skull’s memory. Steve and Bucky are, as such, the only two people alive who fought in World War II and have managed not to age. “Believe it or not,” Steve says in The Winter Soldier, “it’s hard to find someone with a shared life experience.”
“Stucky,” as particularly fertile parts of the internet call it, is the idea that Steve and Bucky are a romantic item. It’s quite the love story, and the text of the movies, plus the comics they come from, are rich with jumping-off points for it. Steve was, after all, willing to go to war with Iron Man, Spider-Man, Vision, War Machine, Black Widow, and Black Panther for Bucky’s honor in Civil War. “Bucky was all Steve had growing up,” MCU director Joe Russo noted in 2016, in acknowledgement of the Stucky timeline. It is, arguably, the horniest alternate stan-world ever centered on two male superheroes, and has been erected at least in part as a commentary on the MCU’s exclusion, thus far, of openly gay characters—a trend set to end with 2021’s Eternals. It is, as well, just a natural result of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan both being incredibly attractive—fierce yet gentle, sharp yet soft—and saying lots of tender and nostalgic things to each other on a movie screen.
But the juiciest parts of that relationship ultimately exist outside of the MCU text. More formally, The Winter Soldier also introduces us to Sharon Carter. She is one of the many women mentioned suggestively to Steve by Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff, his work friend who is always trying to be his wingwoman. Viewers are led to wonder if Steve and Natasha have a thing going on, but real MCU heads understand them to just be playful flirt-buddies, even when they share a kiss (it is, for real, part of their job on that day). During Black Widow’s persistent pryings into Steve’s interior life, though, Steve does finally acknowledge an attraction to Sharon. But perhaps you recognize that surname from earlier films, and yes, that’s right: Sharon is Peggy’s grand-niece. Sharon is assigned as a deep-cover pretend-nurse who lives next door to Steve, but she’s really an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and her real job is to monitor and protect the Captain.
In 2016’s Civil War, Steve kisses his crush’s grand-niece. Peggy, as he has learned in the previous movie, is still alive but has not been treated to the organic anti-aging effects offered by getting frozen into the Arctic Ocean, and thus looks like a normal person in their 90s. She ended up marrying a guy who Steve saved in World War II, it turns out. So, yeah, Steve kisses her grand-niece instead. It was “late,” Steve says afterward, and it’s worth asking whether he means the kiss after his few-years flirtation with her, or his 70-year thirst for her grand-aunt, when he says this. It is a super-weird moment, and it does seem he still pines for Peggy, or maybe just that he is romantically illiterate. Which is understandable, to be honest. (Sharon will also be appearing in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, so maybe she’ll have something to say about the whole episode, like perhaps that Steve is an “extra-dimensional himbo.”)
All of this was prelude to Steve saving the world with all his super-friends in Avengers: Endgame, in which the gang relied upon a time machine to revisit scenes of past movies in an amusement-park style. And that was prelude to Steve, basking in victory, appropriating the time machine to go back to the 1940s and find Peggy. At the conclusion of the movie, Sam and Bucky find an old man sitting on a bench. It’s Steve. He seems … satisfied. He won’t say why, but what we soon learn is that after he finished his superhero business, he traveled to the time around when Peggy was still in her zenith, and before she married another man (whom he saved from a Nazi worse than Hitler). And then, the implication is, they did it. A lot of times. For many, many years. (No word on what happened to Peggy’s now not-husband.)
Sometimes you are just so horny for someone that you save it for them for several decades while rescuing the planet, and are ultimately compelled to mess around with the space-time continuum to do something about it. If you fall in love in such a way, you might have to reinvent your style several times through the decades, only to go back to your most archetypal self for your cathartic moment, scored by a big-band ballad. You might even have to lead on and spurn a grand-niece as a part of your twisted romantic journey, which also happens to be modern cinema’s leading fusion of lust, nostalgia, and time travel. That, Sam and Bucky will surely agree, is certainly one way to finally get laid.
John Wilmes is a writer and professor in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @johnwilmeswords.