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The first time he wakes up, he can’t move.

He hears voices, feels his hands at his sides and his legs beneath him, and knows that he is awake and he is alive and he is somewhere, but his fingers don’t clench and his heart doesn’t race, even though his mind is running at a thousand miles an hour, spinning and spinning- and someone says sir, the monitor’s picking up significant activity in his- and then the world fades again.

The second time he wakes up, he moves.

His hands clench around the sheets and he thinks bed? He can’t open his eyes because they seem to be stitched shut, pinned down by some impossible force. There are still voices, but he can’t make them out. As his hand moves, they talk louder, and then something presses on his chest and he thinks fight and his hand swings up to fend off the attacker, and he hears hold him, hold him, Graves- and something sour prickles at his neck and the bed is gone and he is alone again.

The third, fourth, and fifth times he wakes up all feel the same.

He can think, and he can move, but both are sluggish. Every time he tries, someone holds him down, and every time he fights, they put him under. He hears things like significant improvement and if this works, he’ll be invaluable, and his blood turns cold.

Captain Rogers, one of them says, on his sixth time. Captain Rogers, can you hear me? He moves his head to the side with a herculean effort. He’s responsive, he hears. Captain Rogers, can you understand me?

He waits, and does nothing. If they think he’s useless, maybe they’ll just kill him and be done with it.

But he has no such luck.

Neural signals are responding, a voice says.

Captain Rogers, do you know where you are?

He wills himself still and prays for it to be over.

After that, he doesn’t wake. He swims in and out of half-consciousness, head swimming. Every breath feels like it turns him upside down, like he’s tied to the mast of a ship and forced to brave the swells and the sirens. He thinks he feels hands on him sometimes, moving him, prodding his skin, inspecting. They send goosebumps down his arms every time. He can’t count the hours or the days, but it feels both like a blur and an eternity all at once, and then-

The seventh time he wakes, he opens his eyes.

They give him a plastic card and tell him it’s money, and he goes down to the bank and asks for as much cash as he can get. He winds up with a police report and SHIELD officials hurrying in to explain to authorities that yes, he really does have 8.3 million dollars in his bank account, and yes, it’s actually been growing since 1945, and no, he’s not hostile.

They say it like he’s not standing there, listening to every word.

But they give him his money. He leaves the account with a few hundred thousand to stew, and takes the rest and stows it away back in Camp Lehigh. He knows they can follow him, he knows that the car they give him is traced and they know where every cent is, but it’s an illusion of freedom.

Halfway out of New Jersey, he stops at a car repair shop. It’s across from a local church, and it must be Sunday because he can hear music dully ringing from behind the white walls.

He meets a woman with a big brown braid who introduces herself as Jessie, and she shows him her truck. It’s a big thing, four wheel drive, with a cover over the back. The back left tire is slashed through, and the windshield is shattered.

“I drove some kids out of my diner last week,” she explains, looking at the sorely-beaten truck. “It’ll take about half a year’s savings to pay it off.” She folds her arms and sighs. “Little shits.”

“You know their names?” he asks.

“Sure.” Jessie shrugs. “But I’d bet my left foot they wouldn’t have enough to pay for this, even if their mommas made them.” She gives Steve a wry smile. “They’re always trying to mooch outta the diner- stealing the salt packets, the cups of peanut butter, you name it.”

“Napkins,” Steve says, remembering. “They take those too?”

“By the case.” Jessie nods. “They tried to sneak back into the kitchen last week. Shouted them out before they could make off with my bread. And then I closed up last night and found this waiting for me in the parking lot.” She nods at the truck again, and Steve watches as three crewmen haul it up onto a lift and start taking the ruined tire off. “Had to walk home, then I paid to get her towed over here.”

She sighs again, and then looks at Steve. “What about you, sugar?”

“Me?” Steve looks awkwardly at the SHIELD-issued car waiting in the lot. Jessie gives a low whistle.

“That yours?” she asks. “You don’t see cars like that around here, I’ll tell you that. Where you from?”

“1945,” he answers, without missing a beat.

Jessie laughs. “Tell you what,” she says, grinning at him. “You look like you could use a meal. Give me a spin in that four-wheeler of yours, and I’ll whip you up something nice.”

Steve smiles. “Tell you what,” he says. “Give me that truck, and it’s yours.”

The mechanics seem slightly taken aback by the sheer amount of cash Steve has available, but he pays them off for the tires and the windshield without a second thought. Jessie tries to hand him a check, but he hands it right back to her and says, “give that to those kids of yours, and we’ll call it even.”

He knows she might not have use for a sleek sports model, but at the very least she can sell it for about ten times what her old truck is worth. Steve leaves an extra five hundred in the glove compartment before he drives away, feeling light and easy for the first time since 1945.

“Trouble sleeping?”

Steve doesn’t turn to face Fury. He doesn’t want to know how Fury had found him here- in the tiny old-fashioned gym down on the southwest corner of Manhattan. He doesn’t want to think about how SHIELD has eyes on him wherever he goes. He keeps his truck in a storage unit that he pays for in cash every month. SHIELD had given him a new bike in exchange for his apology for losing their car. It’s still traced, of course, but it’s not bad.

“You here with a mission, Sir?” he asks, unwrapping the tape from his fingers.

The gym is empty but for them.

“I am,” Fury says.  

“Trying to get me back in the world,” Steve guesses, nodding to himself.

“Trying to save it,” Fury says, and Steve looks at him.

Fury is something of an enigma; Steve can’t read him. But he knows enough about people to know that not being able to read them usually means something. He hasn’t spent much time around the man- Fury might have been the first friendly face he’d seen after he’d stormed out of the fake hospital room and sprinted head-first into the twenty-first century, but Fury had only been the second person to try to earn his trust.

And Steve doesn’t trust a damn thing about this world, not anymore. Not after waking up to the ghost of a world he’d known, to a smile that had cracked at the edges, to a room that had crumbled at the slightest touch.

“I think the world’s more than capable of saving itself,” he says, turning back to his tape. He slides the last of the strip off of his left hand and starts to fold it carefully, knowing it’s just busywork.

“The world needs people who can fight harder,” Fury says. “People who can test the boundaries of possibility. People like-”

“People like me,” Steve says tiredly.

If this works, he’ll be invaluable.

“Yes,” Fury says. “People like you. There’s a fight coming, Captain-”

“There’s always a Fight,” Steve says, knowing that Fury won’t understand what he means. “And I’ve already fought mine.”

Fury hesitates, just for a moment, and Steve knows he’s surprised. Captain America is supposed to fight the good fight, lead the battle against evil, triumph and save the world. He’s not supposed to be tired.

“We’re looking at a potentially supernatural threat,” Fury says. “One that I think you’ll remember.”

And oh, Steve remembers. He remembers blue, he remembers the way Schmidt had just ceased to be, how one moment he’d been there and the next, he just hadn’t. He remembers letting the Tesseract fall into the ocean, watching it go, remembers deliberately not mentioning it, not wanting anyone else to find it, just wanting it gone.

“You should have left it in the ocean,” he says bitterly, folding the two strips of tape together and heading over to the beaten punching bag, lying on the floor. And maybe, a long time ago, someone would have taken those words as a final hit, would have let them ring in the air, let them throw the punch they were meant to throw.

“Well, it’s not,” Fury says, and the hit misses. “And now we’re facing-”

“Trouble that you knew would come, the moment you went looking for it,” Steve finishes for him, picking up the bag and hauling it over his shoulder. “I’m not interested.”

Fury gives a hum, like he’d expected this. Steve knows he’s lying- he’d hesitated before, he’d come here with a folder in his hand. He’d expected Steve to be a good soldier and take the mission, be a good soldier and do his duty, be a good soldier and march into the front lines, one more time.

He offers the folder out and Steve takes it without looking at him.

“Think about it,” Fury says, and Steve lets him have the last words. They hit, one-two-three, and then the gym is empty and Steve is alone with nothing but a broken bag, a folder, and his mind.

He leaves his phone at the gym.

He covers the bike plate and walks it over to the storage unit, then stuffs it in the back of the truck. He drives down to the car mechanic shop in Jersey and tells the man there to hold his truck for a day. He stops by Jessie’s diner and orders two house specials, tips her with a fifty-dollar bill, and leaves before she can try to give it back.

He drives halfway to Camp Lehigh and takes the cover off the plate, then drives the rest of the way. He knows they’ll be watching, he knows they know where his money is hidden. He lets them see as he takes it out, case by case.

He drives them halfway back to the mechanic shop, covers the plates, and then continues.

No one at the shop asks what the cases are, or why he needs two trips to haul them into the back of his truck.

He leaves the bike at the diner and heads West.

Late June turns to July, and the road is hot and bright around him. He makes it to a forest in Ohio, driving for as long as he can and pulling off to sleep on sidestreets, in parking lots. He barely needs to sleep- only four hours or so will get him through a day- and so he passes the time by listening to the radio.

There’s a station that plays swing-time music on the weekends, one that plays classical, and another that plays songs from the 70’s and 80’s. He flips between the three most days, and every once in a while he’ll stop by the modern stations and nod along to the dance music. It’s all thumps and shouting, but there are a few songs he can pick out that he likes.

When he reaches the other end of the forest, he finds a motel and stays for three nights, stretching his back and helping himself to the continental breakfast. After getting gas, he spends almost two hundred dollars at the little grocery store next door, buying nothing but protein bars and bottled water. Two hundred dollars buys a lot less than he’s expecting, but it’s enough.

“Cash?” the cashier asks, when he pulls out two neatly folded hundred-dollar bills.

“Yeah,” he says, handing them over. “You take cash?”

“Yeah,” the cashier says, taking the money. She holds them up to the light and squints, then looks at him.

“What,” he says. His voice is gruff and cracked from lack of use, and he clears his throat, rubbing his lower lip. He freezes for a split second as he feels the coarse hairs over his mouth and chin. He hasn’t shaved in a month, he’s starting to look a little run-down. He offers a smile, trying not to look like a strange homicidal person.

“Nothing,” the cashier mutters, and punches in 2-0-0 onto her till. The drawer slides open and she fishes for his change. “Um. A dollar eighty-nine back for you.”

“Keep it,” he says, and takes the cases of protein bars in one hand and the water bottles in another.

He makes it to Nashville near the end of July and stops for a few days, re-stocks on gas and food, sleeps in another bed. He finds a concert and watches for an hour before heading back to the truck and packing up.

He finds a German inn in the middle of Missouri that inexplicably serves pizza, with a view of the Table Rock Lake from the top window. He buys another few sets of clothing around town, finds an Apple store, and leaves the inn a five-star review on Yelp.

By the time he reaches Colorado, the scruff on his face is a beard. He drives to the mountains and parks in the middle of the woods and stays for three weeks. He hikes up Pikes Peak and Sheep Mountain, and runs into the town below and sleeps in a bed-and-breakfast and showers before hiking back up the mountains and finding his truck again.

He makes it to the Grand Canyon and sits and draws the sunset in a cheap sketchbook he’d bought five cities back, already half full of unfinished drawings. He lets himself listen to the radio and learns that the world is indeed safe, that New York has been alien infested and bombed and fought over, and he turns it off and listens to the wind instead.

He reaches the Californian coast in a place called Monterey, and stops.

The city is small and sleepy. They have a regional airport and a few parks, and a long beach that faces the bay. There’s an aquarium, even, and Steve spends a month just living. Hiking in the parks when he can, or else running on the beach.

At the tail end of summer, he’s doing just that. It’s a gentle beach; long enough that no one place is ever too crowded. He’s just about to make it to the ice cream stand that marks the end of Monterey and the beginning of Sand City when he sees it.

A little girl, out in the waves, drifting dangerously out into the ocean.

“Chelsea!” he hears a woman yell, and he sees a stout-looking woman with a scruff of blue hair running towards the surf.

The little girl opens her mouth, but they can’t hear what she says over the rush of the ocean. It’s late summer- the winds are getting a little stronger, the water’s a little colder.

“Chelsea,” the woman says again, and throws her arms to the side. “Chelsea, swim over!”

The little girl- she can’t be much older than six- doesn’t appear to hear her mother, because she keeps trying to fight her way back forward, towards the shore.

Steve runs.

The water is shockingly cold against him, but he ignores it. He feels the pull of the riptide as it shoves him back, shoves him out towards the ocean. The little girl- Chelsea- sees him and gives a shriek, paddling away as fast as she can.

“Calm down,” Steve shouts, over the wind and the waves. “Calm down, I’m going to help you get back to shore. Okay?”

“No!” Chelsea yells, still trying to swim away. But Steve is a supersoldier and she’s a six year old, and he catches up to her easily and grabs the back of her little swimsuit with one hand.

“Take a deep breath,” he tells her, “can you do that for me?”

“No!” she yells, trying to kick her way out of his grip.

“Chelsea,” he says, quietly. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I want to bring you back to your mother. Okay?”

The tide pushes them back out another foot, and Chelsea looks at the shore. Her mother, barely visible now, gives a frantic, helpless wave.

“Okay,” Chelsea says.

“Take a big breath,” Steve says. “And hold it.”

“Okay,” Chelsea says, and blows up her face like a balloon.

Steve tucks her under one arm and kicks off, tugging at the water with his free hand. He veers to the left and swims until the water below his feet stops pulling, about another hundred feet. The water splashes over them, soaking Steve’s hair and his coat. Chelsea keeps her eyes squeezed shut, and he fights the water and swims, and swims. It’s easy work for a body like his, and before he can feel the tug of exhaustion on his legs, they’re free.

They drift back to shore and he picks Chelsea up in his arms and runs her back alongside the sand. Her mother sprints to meet him and she takes her daughter into her arms and thanks him over and over, and he smiles and says it’s nothing, and she shakes her head.

“No,” she says, “no, it’s not nothing- you saved my daughter’s life. You- are a hero.”

And something in his chest twists and he rubs the back of his neck, hair soaked and sticking to his skin. “Shucks,” he says. “I’m not-”

“You’re more of a hero than those clowns over in New York,” the woman says, leaning in as if she’s telling him some sort of inside joke. And then she gives a laugh that’s half humor and half breathless relief.

And maybe, Steve thinks. Maybe he’s made the right choice.

He stops by a barber shop and walks out feeling lighter. He decides to keep the beard- though he’d had them shorten it considerably. It still feels new on his face, and it’ll be more work to grow it back than to change his mind and clip it off. He buys himself a shaving kit and a pair of scissors and shoves them in the glove compartment for safekeeping.

California is still warm, even when September comes. There’s an Army Hotel on one hill, overlooking the beach, and he stays there when it actually gets cold out.

Chelsea’s mother- her name is Karen, Steve learns- works there as a receptionist- she gives him free room service and cable. Chelsea, when she sees Steve again for the first time- gives him a handmade thank-you card, framed in colorful macaroni. He stows it in the truck’s glove compartment and allows himself a smile.

He’s halfway through his eggs, one November morning, when an argument breaks out in the lobby.

“What do you mean, they cancelled?”

Steve squeezes out a dollop of ketchup onto his second plate, watching as a weighty man, slightly red in the face, barks at Karen from across the counter.

“They called this morning,” Karen explains, shaking her head. “There was an accident last night, apparently the van’s unusable.”

“They don’t have another one to spare?”

Karen shakes her head again. “I asked, but they said they’re booked today. They do have a few openings tomorrow, though.”

The man sighs, running a hand down his face. “I can’t wait until tomorrow,” he groans. “How in the hell am I supposed to drive a couch and four chairs over to San Francisco without a van?”

Karen sighs. “I’d offer, but I don’t have a car nearly large enough.”

“Thanks, miss,” the man says, and groans. “I don’t believe this.”

Abandoning his eggs, Steve stands up. “I’ll do it,” he says.

“Steve?” Karen says, blinking.

“I have a truck,” Steve says, shrugging. “It might take me a couple trips- I don’t know if I can fit in the chairs and the couch at the same time, but. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours to drive up there, few hours back. I could get it done by tomorrow morning.”

“Really?” The man’s eyes widen. “You’re a godsend. How much will I owe you?”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Uh. I guess. Twenty?”

“Twenty bucks an hour,” the man agrees, nodding. “I’ll take it. It’ll probably take you, what. Seven? Eight hours? How’s a hundred and sixty sound to you?”

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head. “No, I just meant twenty flat.”

The man gapes at him. “No,” he says. “Come on.”

“I really don’t need the money,” Steve says, shrugging. “And I’m happy to help out.”

“He won’t take no for an answer,” Karen advises the man, smiling knowingly.

“I really won’t,” Steve agrees, smiling and holding out a hand.

The man narrows his eyes. “This feels fishy,” he hums. “Take fifty, at least.”

“Forty five,” Steve says.

“Deal,” the man says, and takes Steve’s hand.

He has no trouble loading the van at all. The man- Dave, he learns- and Karen watch open-mouthed as he single-handledly lifts the couch up into the back of his truck. He has to take the back cover off to fit the damn thing, but it works. He fits in a chair beside it and they all work to strap the things down, and then he hops into the front seat and sets off for San Francisco.

The drive up takes an hour and a half, and he finds the address Dave had written down for him easily. The drive down is another hour and a half, and then they lash the last three chairs to the back together, and then he drives up another two hours, and then down two hours.

Dave hands him a wad of bills, and he pulls out a twenty and tries to hand the rest back, but Dave won’t have it.

“Don’t you dare,” he tells Steve.

“Steve,” Karen says, and smiles with a sparkle in her eye. “He won’t take no for an answer.”

And Steve remembers Jessie, and looks at her truck and smiles. “All right,” he says. “All right.”

Karen makes him a stack of business cards, bearing the name Steven Grant on the top. He buys a little flip phone and a notebook and she puts the phone number down alongside his name.

It’s nice, keeping busy like this. He doesn’t charge much- simply because he just doesn’t need the money- and he’s courteous with people and careful with their belongings, and soon most of Monterey seems to like him.

It’s when he stops by Jacks Peak Park for a hike and the tour guide recognizes him that he realizes he has to go.

He packs up into his truck and leaves without signing out of the hotel.

He decides to go North- maybe he’ll go up to Canada. Canadian customs might be a problem- but maybe he can find a way to sneak through.

He makes it to the bottom of Oregon within two days and finds a forest path. Up north here in late November, it’s cold. He runs hot, so he doesn’t mind the chilly air filtering in through the top of the windows- he keeps them cracked open. The radio keeps him company as he finds his way through the woods, onto a road marked Pinecrest, and then Merlin. There’s a river alongside the road, and he drives and drives until the sun goes down. And here, away from the city and the lights, the stars overhead shine true.

He makes it to a road called Galice, driving steadily with his headlights on high and his radio tuned into The Swing Years, and he turns a corner and someone’s standing in the road.

It takes him a second to register the person, but in the split second that Steve’s headlights illuminate them, Steve looks.

It’s a man.

He’s short. Shorter than Steve by a long shot. He’s alone, it looks like, standing on the side of the road. He doesn’t have a car or a bike- the only thing he has is a backpack, hung loose on his shoulders. It’s cold out, but the only thing he’s wearing is a leather jacket and a tight pair of black jeans. The headlights illuminate the tuft of brown curls at the top of his head, framing a sharp-jawed face. There’s not a shred of stubble on his cheeks, and his eyes cut through the darkness, staring directly up at Steve. He can’t be older than twenty.

And he’s holding a thumb out.

Steve makes a split-second decision and slams his foot on the brake.

The truck skids to a stop by the side of the road, and the man jumps out of the way, startled.

Steve flicks the headlights down and tugs the door open.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Bucky,” the kid says.

Steve looks at him.

The headlights illuminate the trees around them, which is enough to cast the kid in a faint glow. Steve can see now that his leather jacket isn’t even zipped up, showing off a loose grey shirt, unbuttoned. It opens to his clavicle, which glows almost white in the dim headlights. His jeans aren’t jeans at all- they’re sleek and black and they hug his skin, as if they’ve been painted on instead of pulled.

“Where’re you headed?”

“Brooklyn,” Bucky says.

And ain’t that just the way.

“Get in,” Steve says.

Steve can’t fathom why or how Bucky had ended up on the side of this back-road, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a jacket and a backpack, but he doesn’t ask. It’s not his business, and Bucky doesn’t seem intent on sharing.

Bucky’s quiet, which is a welcome relief. Steve keeps the radio on The Swing Years, but it’s turned down low enough that he could talk over it, if he wanted to.

He doesn’t want to.

Steve drives. He’s not tired in the slightest- even though it’s nearing one in the morning. Bucky, beside him, doesn’t look sleepy at all. He alternates between looking out the window and looking at Steve, watching the road or watching Steve.

Steve gives him a glance after twenty minutes and sees Bucky’s hand tense in his pocket. He gives a little smile.

“What’s that?” he asks, and his voice nearly stumbles over itself, it’s so low. “You got a knife?”

“Pepper spray,” Bucky says quietly.

“Huh,” Steve says. He reaches over to the glove compartment and taps it. The back of his elbow brushes against Bucky’s chest as he does, and he’s not sure which of them shivers. “There’s some energy bars in there,” he says. “If you’re hungry.”

Bucky nods wordlessly, and shivers again.

Steve turns the heat on, guiltily. “Sorry,” he says. “I don’t get cold.”

“S’ okay,” Bucky says.

And then Cab Calloway picks up Take The ‘A’ Train and they’re lost to the music and the night again, and Steve forces his eyes back onto the road and drives and drives and drives.

Somewhere along the way, Bucky sets his feet up onto the dashboard and kicks his shoes off. He’s got two different colored socks on, one of which is torn at the top, his toes sticking out. Steve smiles when he sees it, and Bucky tosses his shoes underneath his seat. He doesn’t take his left hand out of his pocket, but he leans back in his chair and stretches his right arm over his head, so Steve takes that as a good sign.

They turn right, and Cab Calloway melts into Duke Ellington, and Brown Betty starts to play.

Steve steals a look out the side window. There’s no one else out here, on these back-roads, just the trees and the stars. He can make out vague constellations through the branches if he tries, but he doesn’t know enough to name them. He squints at the only one he knows- the Big Dipper, and tries to find the north star, because they’re connected, he knows, and-

Bucky yawns beside him, sliding his left hand out of his pocket. He lets it rest on his right, hands folded on his stomach. He flicks a glance at Steve, who looks away quickly, turning back to the road. Who hopes to god he’s imagining the warmth creeping up his ears.

Artie Shaw starts up Bedford Drive, and Steve watches out of the corner of his eye as Bucky reaches for the volume and turns it down four notches.

And then sets his hand down carefully, so carefully, over Steve’s thigh.

Steve freezes, foot on the gas pedal. The truck soars over the road, trees brushing past, wind creeping in through the crack in his window.

Bucky’s fingers deliberately curl, pressing into his jeans.

He can’t do this. He cannot do this. Christ, what if this kid really is a kid? What if he’s a sixteen-year-old runaway? What if Steve’s technically kidnapping him right now?

And somehow, impossibly, that thought does nothing to steer himself away from the situation. On the contrary, he feels himself twitch behind his jeans.

Bucky must feel it too, because Steve hears a soft intake of breath beside him, and then that hand slides up and over to the inside of his thigh. He doesn’t stop there- as Steve tries to keep his breathing down, Bucky’s fingers slide down, down- until they’re curled right around the bulge in Steve’s jeans that’s suddenly straining against the fabric.

He sucks in a breath of his own, and he sees Bucky smile out of the corner of his eye. And then before he has a chance to speak- to catch his breath, even- Bucky squeezes lightly, rubbing at the muscle under Steve’s jeans. They’re cheap denim, so he knows Bucky can feel exactly how big he is, even through two layers.

Steve refuses to meet his eyes- but he can see Bucky darting his gaze between Steve’s legs and Steve’s face, trying so, so hard to catch Steve’s eyes.

Steve tenses his hands on the steering wheel, staring steadfastly at the road, at the pavement soaring towards him. He can’t do this, he can’t condone this, he can’t-

He hears a click, and then Bucky’s scrambling up out of his seat and crawling onto his stomach, lying straight over the flat emergency brake between them. Steve has a split second to realize exactly what he’s doing, before Bucky leans down and presses his hot, open mouth directly over the bulge in his jeans.

Steve’s cock jumps at that, pressing insistently up against his jeans- and he swerves on the road. Another little breath slides out of him, and Bucky matches it with a soft noise, almost like a laugh. Steve tightens his grip on the steering wheel and keeps driving, knuckles pale.

Below him, Bucky’s thumbs hike up under his shirt and tuck around his hips, as he presses his tongue firmly against the denim. Steve’s hips push up against him, against that soft heat, and Bucky’s hands push him right back down into his seat.

A car passes by and they both freeze.

The light illuminates Bucky for a split second, the flush on his cheeks, the cherry-red of his lips, the ocean-blue of his eyes. He’s lost his jacket, somehow, and the soft grey cotton hangs over his small frame, hitches up just above his lower back, and his skin glows white for a flash before-

The car speeds away, and they’re left in the dark again.

And dear god, Steve thinks, dear god, someone’s going to see. He has to stop, he has to- to tell Bucky no, to pull over and have a talk and maybe send him off with a couple hundred dollars at the next rest stop, he has to-

Another car passes, and Bucky’s hands tense on his hips. He gives a low laugh, and somehow that’s what sends Steve’s cock twitching again, that low little sound. He barely even realizes when Bucky’s fingers slowly, slowly start to undo the front button of his jeans, barely realizes when Bucky bites down around the zipper and pulls it down with his teeth, barely realizes when Bucky reaches that cocky little hand down past his briefs and just pulls him out, easy as anything. It’s not until he breathes, hot and heavy, over the thing, until he gives a soft little noise and then just drags his tongue up the whole length, like he can’t stop himself.

He can’t be doing this, Steve thinks desperately, as Bucky’s tongue slides straight from the base of his cock to the tip, what the fuck, he can’t be doing this.

And somehow- somehow this is the point of no return, when Bucky’s tongue gives a little flick over the head of his cock and he realizes just how hard he actually is- he’s dizzy with it, and he swerves again on the road, his hips jerking in his seat. The truck veers to the left and he throws out a hand instinctively onto Bucky’s back, foot easing off the gas, looking down at Bucky for just a moment.

And Bucky looks back up at him, and Steve can see something in his eyes- something excited. His eyes are blue and sweet and wide, and he blinks and Steve feels something turn over in his gut from that baby-sweet look- and it’s immediately and completely nullified by the way Bucky’s lips twist into a smirk and he parts his cherry-red lips and suckles the tip of Steve’s cock into his mouth.

Steve huffs out a noise, a guh, and he steers the truck off the road, into a little clearing off the pavement into the trees, and fumbles for the clutch and parks. Bucky gives a surprised little noise and pulls off, bracing himself. The truck lurches to a stop, but the headlights still glow on the trees and the radio still croons, having moved on to Hal McIntyre, playing Twilight Time softly from the speakers.

The truck sinks back as its momentum finally runs out, and Steve reaches down and yanks on the handle by his seat, and it smacks back down. He looks down his chest at Bucky, who looks back at him with wide eyes, bright blue now in the light of the headlights off the trees. Steve opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He can’t say please, he can’t say keep going, he just stares into his eyes and hopes to god that Bucky understands.

And he does. Steve doesn’t know how, but he does. Bucky’s eyes flash wild with something- excitement, adrenaline- and then he wraps his lips around the tip of Steve’s cock, closing his eyes, and sinks down, slow as anything. And Steve can see his throat swell, he can see it, as Bucky slides down his length. His fingers twitch, itching to grab that scruff of hair that curls just so, itching to yank it, shove him down.

But he can’t. He can’t.

So his fingers tremble as he watches Bucky swallow him down, Jesus Christ, so easily. His fingers tremble and reach, and almost, almost touch his hair.

Bucky feels it, though, and he cracks his eyes open. He gives a little hum as he sees Steve’s hands, then blinks up at Steve through his lashes.

It’s another little threshold Steve crosses when he lets himself do it, lets his fingers dip under those little tufts that aren’t quite curls but so, so want to be. His hands shake, but he doesn’t stop, just slowly threads his fingers through until his palms are flush on Bucky’s head. Bucky’s eyelids flutter at the touch, as Steve’s fingers muss his hair around.

Steve gives the barest nudge and Bucky responds, trigger-ready. He slides his mouth down until he takes the last bit of Steve’s cock into his mouth, his nose pressed against Steve’s skin, giving a heady moan around him. And then-

And then all semblance of teasing is gone. Bucky somehow manages to give Steve a smirk around his cock before he twists his tongue and slides up and off, and then sinks back down with another moan. Steve watches his throat contract and then swell with every bob of his head, and wonders if Bucky’s jaw is aching.

Bucky slides up to the tip and suckles again, swirling his tongue in lazy circles, tonguing at the slit and lapping up the precome that Steve knows is leaking out of him. Bucky pulls off with a pop and licks his lips, giving Steve a grin, and Steve-


Steve grabs his shoulders and yanks Bucky up on top of himself. Bucky gives a quiet little shocked sound before Steve’s mouth is on Bucky’s and he’s kissing him, yanking furiously at his hair, shoving his tongue past Bucky’s lips and sucking the goddamn life out of him. Bucky’s hips grind down onto his own, and Steve grabs his hair with one hand and his waist with another. He’s so light in Steve’s hands, Christ. Steve could pick him up and bend him over without a second thought.

Bucky’s hands paw blindly at his chest, grabbing at the muscle under Steve’s shirt. He gives a little whine against his mouth, and.

And Steve realizes just how much he must want it. He’d started it, hadn’t he? He’d had the sheer gall to reach over and feel up Steve’s fucking leg, the gall to lean over and put his mouth right over Steve’s cock, without a word of invitation.

Steve smiles.

Bucky hesitates for just a moment as he senses the change, and that moment of hesitation is all Steve needs to dig his fingers into Bucky’s hips and rock up against him, cock smearing against Bucky’s soft grey shirt. He thumbs that shirt up and his cock slides against Bucky’s stomach, baby-soft, leaving a trail of spit as it goes.

Bucky shivers, whimpering quietly.

“You want that,” Steve says before he can stop himself. It’s the first thing he’s said in hours, and it’s low and dry in his throat. Bucky shudders at the sound. He kisses Bucky’s lips, tugs at the bottom one with his teeth and suckles on it, not too hard, just teasing him. Bucky shivers against him, and he knows he’s won.

He works the hand on Bucky’s hair down, down, until he’s feeling the front of Bucky’s stupidly tight pants- leather, he realizes. Jesus.

His hand is so big against Bucky’s hips that it’s easy as anything to cup him gently, thumb over the outline of his cock through the leather. He’s hot and hard and firm under Steve’s touch, and Steve knows what he wants.

He wants this kid to sit on him and ride him like a goddamn truck.

And that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, but he doesn’t fucking care.

“You want this?” he says, and gives his hips a pump. His cock slides on Bucky’s stomach, smearing slick over his skin. It shines obscenely in the dim headlights reflecting on the trees around them.

“Yeah,” Bucky breathes against him, breath huffing into Steve’s mouth. His voice is rough and needy, higher than Steve’s but low enough that Steve’s worry about sixteen-year-old runaways sags, ever so slightly. “You want it too,” he murmurs, and Steve freezes. “You want me? Want to fuck me, ‘till I’m screaming?”

“Little shit,” Steve growls, but Bucky’s voice is like milk chocolate. He’s never done something as impulsive, as dirty as this in his life before. And he can’t- he can’t, but-

He wants it.

Fuck, but he wants it.

He slides his hand down the back of Bucky’s pants, underneath the waistband, and gives his ass a squeeze. Bucky jolts, gasping, and reaches down for Steve’s cock in return. Steve groans, low in his throat, running his fingers down the cleft of Bucky’s ass, tugging him forward and rocking him down again.

“Lube,” Bucky grunts, and Steve blinks. “Jacket. Left pocket.” He sucks in a breath as Steve’s index finger brushes over his rim. “Condom, too.”

Oh my god, Steve thinks, as everything clicks into place.

Bucky’s clothes. The time of night. The thumb curled up, bright white in the headlights.

“You’re,” he says. “You’re-”

Bucky groans impatiently, groping around in the dark for his jacket. He fumbles around with it, searching frantically for the pocket.

“You,” Steve says, and his voice slides down. Bucky freezes, and Steve grabs the jacket right out of his hands. He finds the pocket easily and slips his hand inside, grabbing the two packets of lube and the foil packet.

Bucky stares at him as he tosses the jacket over the back of the seat.

“You wanted this, didn’t you,” Steve murmurs. Wanted to feel this-” He brings a hand onto Bucky’s hips to steady him as he slides his cock up again. “All up in you. Didn’t you.”

And he sits up and fastens his lips over Bucky’s neck and suckles, feeling his skin rumble and vibrate as he moans at the touch, shudders when Steve’s teeth nip and tug at his pulse point. Steve flattens his tongue over the baby-soft skin, so smooth, salty with sweat, and God, Steve just wants to eat him right up.

He holds the lube packets and the condom in one hand, sliding his other back down into the cleft of Bucky’s ass and teasing his fingertips around the ring of muscle.

Bucky whimpers as two of Steve’s fingers start to pry him apart, try to open up that tight little ring, and Steve bites down on his neck, sucking hard.

“Yeah,” he whines, shuddering in Steve’s arms. And Christ, the whole of him fits in Steve’s lap. Steve could engulf him entirely.

Steve pries his lips off of Bucky’s neck with a wet smack, kisses the mark he’s left, and brings his mouth to Bucky’s ear.

“Would you believe me,” he breathes, “if I told you I was clean?”

Bucky gives a breathless laugh. “That’s what you’re tellin’ me, mister?” he says, and Steve has the distinct impression that he could do anything to this kid right now, and Bucky would just lie there and take it. Absolutely anything- and all Steve has to do is ask. “You know,” Bucky breathes. “You wanted me, too. I know you did. You want to stick that cock in me, you want to wreck me.”

And that seems enough like a yes. Steve tosses the condom straight out of the window, flinging it through the crack. It falls somewhere on the ground beside the truck, and it’s out of his mind even before it’s out of his sight. Bucky gives a surprised little noise as he does it, but doesn’t make a single move to try to get it back, so Steve takes that as a green-light.

He doesn’t feel guilty for doing this, because the serum keeps him squeaky-clean. He can’t exactly say that to Bucky- at least not right now- but right now he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t fucking care.

“Up,” Steve says softly, and Bucky obeys. Steve thumbs down his leather pants until his little cock is free, until his ass is bare to the world. He detaches one lube packet off of the strip and tears it open, then reaches back to pour it straight down his cleft. Before it can drip too far, he slides his hand down and catches it, slicking his fingers up.

“Down,” Steve says, and Bucky sits back down on his knees. Steve wriggles his fingers against Bucky’s rim one more time before tucking just the tip of his index finger past the muscle- and easing it inside.

It’s easy. Jesus, it’s so easy.

“You’re used to this,” he says, sitting up as Bucky leans down, so they’re flush against one another. He suckles Bucky’s neck gently. “You’re a tart.”

“A tart,” Bucky echoes, and gives a laugh. It cuts off as Steve’s finger slides inside entirely, and he lets a breath shudder out of him. “What are you, ninety?” He snorts. “You think a good boy would let a stranger fuck him on the side of the road?” And he reaches over and grabs Steve’s bicep, giving it a squeeze. “Course I’m a tart.”

“Want this,” Steve says, rocking himself against Bucky. Their cocks slide together in a messy movement; Steve’s slick with spit and precome, Bucky’s dry but for the tip. “In you?”

“Yes,” Bucky moans, impatiently. “Hurry up.”

“Oh, I’m not going to fuck you,” Steve purrs, and he slips his finger out and runs it in circles around Bucky’s rim. He’s done this to himself a hundred times, and he knows how to tease himself. He wants to tease Bucky now- until he’s crying for it.

Bucky whines high and breathless against him, pressing his forehead against Steve’s.

“You’re going to fuck yourself on me,” Steve says. “Little tart.”

And just like that, he slides one finger inside and runs another around the rim. The lube is warm from Bucky’s pocket, pleasant on his skin.

Bucky shoves his hips down, arching his back. “Then get me open, c’mon,” he whines, pushy. He blinks over at Steve and bites his own bottom lip, batting his eyelashes. It’s a practiced trick, Steve can tell, but fuck if it doesn’t work.

Steve takes one look at that face and shoves two fingers straight past Buckys rim and wriggles them around inside of him, and it’s easy, it’s so fucking easy. Bucky’s eyes roll back as he works his fingers in rough, repetitive movements, and then they flutter closed, eyelashes quivering. He fucks himself back against Steve’s fingers, panting hard.

Steve teases a third but doesn’t push it inside, even as he humps up against Bucky, slicking his cock up with his own spit and Steve’s precome, and Jesus Christ he’s the most beautiful fucking thing in the world.

He wants to do this with two fingers, he wants to, he wants.

But as the truck begins to rock softly, a sliver of sanity makes its way into his brain. He’s not a boastful man, but he knows how big he is. And he knows Bucky’s going to need at least three fingers. And so he adds that third one in and watches as Bucky keens, arches for it, until it’s buried in along the other two. The lube squelches loudly, ringing in Steve’s ears.

He takes his hand and presses it gently over Bucky’s cock, just cupping him. Bucky’s small enough that Steve’s hand swallows him up entirely, engulfs him. Steve keeps his hand steady, and Bucky gives another little whine before moving his hips, fucking up against Steve’s palm.

“That’s it,” Steve murmurs.

“Please,” Bucky breathes.

“You ready?” Steve purrs, into his ear. He gives it a nip, licks and kisses the skin beside it. “Want me to fill you up?”

Bucky opens his mouth, and a litany of sounds pours out- he’s breathy and desperate and he’s rocking between the fingers inside him and the hand on his cock. His face, Steve can just see, is flushed pink, the color spreading and disappearing beneath the collar of his shirt, and he full-out shudders at Steve’s words.

“Yes,” he moans, needy, shifting restlessly. “Yes, yes, give it to me, c’mon.” He snaps his hips and Steve feels the tip of his little cock slap up against his thumb. “Gimme your cock, honey,” Bucky whines. “Wanna feel it, wanna ride you, hurry up.”

And Steve somehow finds the other lube packet from between the seats where he’d dropped it, and they’re still in the middle of the goddamned road, and the window’s still half open, and what the fuck is he doing-

And he tears the packet open with his teeth and slicks himself up and takes his hands away. He gives Bucky’s temples a light kiss each and sits up and hauls Bucky’s legs around his waist, tugging his leather pants down as far as he can, and he looks at Bucky, and Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ-

“Go on, then, Sugar,” he says. “Climb on. Don’t be scared.”

Bucky, trembling all over, lifts himself up onto his knees. He grabs Steve’s cock and lines it up- it takes three tries because his fingers lose their grip- and then the head of Steve’s cock finds his rim at last and he starts to sink down.

Steve watches him as he does it, as his knees bend and his eyes roll back again, until he’s got all of that thick length buried inside of him, and fuck, fuck, Jesus wept.

If he tries hard enough. If he tries, he can just imagine he can see Bucky’s stomach swell a little. And something about that- something about thinking he can actually see himself, inside Bucky like that- sends a goddamn electric shot of arousal down his nervous system. His cock twitches inside Bucky of its own accord, and he knows Bucky can feel it because he tightens around Steve and sucks in a breath.

And Steve can’t help it. He can’t.

He kisses Bucky, moaning hard against him, yanking at his hair with his clean hand and grabbing at his ass with the other. Bucky groans desperately into his mouth, his pitch riding up every time Steve’s fingers pull tight enough on his hair, and he moves.

Steve can do nothing but witness as Bucky lifts himself off and drops back down, grinds himself against Steve, and pulls up to do the whole thing again. Bucky’s breath comes in short bursts, almost sobs, and Steve swallows them all down, not breaking the seal of their mouths for a second.

But. The thing is.


This has never happened to Steve before.

He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do other than hold Bucky close and kiss him like his life depends on it, and try to ignore the fact that his truck is starting to shake from the movement-

And Jesus, with the headlights on, anyone who sees them will know exactly what they’re doing- but it’s one in the morning, and who the fuck is going to be on this back country road, and Steve doesn’t care.

If anyone comes, he’ll punch them out, and oh god, “Oh, God,” he moans, and sucks at Bucky’s neck, and slaps his hips up to meet his movements, “oh my God.”

Bucky stills and lets him just fuck up into that tight heat, pressing a hand to brace himself on the roof of the truck. As Steve pumps his hips, Bucky lets out a moan that’s so loud and unrestrained that Steve wonders for a moment if anyone else can hear- because that window is still open, oh Christ.

But Bucky doesn’t stop, and Steve mouths over his neck, feels the rumble of his voice through his skin, feels as his beard brushes over the marks he’s already made, scratches in new ones.

He sits up and grabs Bucky around the waist, just holding him as they move together. And he swears, he swears he can feel it- he might be imagining it but he swears he can feel his own goddamn cock punching up and up and again and again, he can feel it through his skin. He yanks Bucky’s shirt up to his shoulders, but doesn’t pull it off. He sucks and bites over his chest, wanting to mark up every single inch of him. He wants to get his mouth over every part of Bucky that he possibly can.

He reaches down and holds Bucky’s cock in his hand, the hand that dwarfs it in side, and he thumbs over the head, groaning and flushing red with the shame of it all, with the noise, and the shaking.

His hands would fit around Bucky’s waist, he thinks to himself. One on either side, he could wrap them right around Bucky’s little body and just bounce him on his cock, and fuck, he wants it- but he just doesn’t have the energy.

Bucky takes the reins as Steve lags, picking up speed with his own hips, just fucking himself over and over, tightening his ass around Steve’s cock, moaning as his own cock fucks into Steve’s hand. Steve thumbs over his head on impulse, and Bucky lets out a shout, high and thin and long and desperate.

It strikes Steve, then, that he’s never heard anyone make this kind of noise before.

He’d never ventured that far into the internet- it hadn’t appealed to him, much, seeing strangers like that- and he’s not very loud when he gets himself off. And so that sound, that high, piercing whine-

It’s the most delicious thing he’s ever heard in his life.

He digs his fingers into Bucky’s sides and comes like a fucking rocket, giving one grunt and then a long, drawn out groan. His cock twitches, pulsing and spilling into Bucky, hot and sticky. And Bucky gasps, clenching his ass as hard as he can around Steve, milking him for all he’s worth. Steve opens his mouth to say something, and nothing comes out but a shudder of breath as Bucky expertly squeezes out the last of his seed, rocking up against him, still so tight.

Steve gives his cock a little squeeze and then Bucky’s off, coming all over Steve’s hand, spurting up onto his own stomach as he goes rigid, and-

And then he falls down, hand dropping from the ceiling to clumsily catch himself against Steve’s broad chest, gasping for breath.

Steve feels his cock twitch. He knows he could do it if he wanted- knows he could just fuck up into him and come again if he wanted to.

And then the breeze from the window brushes his face.

And reality slams him back down.

He’s sitting in a truck, balls-deep in a hitchhiker- who’s probably a hooker-  what the hell is he doing, what the actual hell is he doing-

But he can’t move.

Bucky’s just… lying on him. Lying and breathing, and so he sits, numb with the shock of it all, as the evening breeze brushes over them both.

It takes a few moments- or maybe a few minutes- before Bucky shivers. The sweat on him must be drying cold, and he’s only got a shirt on, for Chrissake. Steve watches as he blinks open his eyes and slowly meets Steve’s gaze. Steve watches as his eyes see something and then fade. Steve watches as his mouth drops for a split second before forcing its way up into a little smile.

“This the part where you tell me to find a different ride?” Bucky asks quietly, and his voice seems to quiver. He clears his throat and sits up slowly, and Steve just looks at him, and Christ. Christ, he’s a mess.

“This is the part where I tell you to go in the back and find the blanket,” Steve answers. “Because it’s two in the morning.”

Bucky swallows something thick in his throat- oh, and isn’t that just the mental picture Steve’s looking for- and climbs off of Steve’s lap. He winces as the head of Steve’s cock catches on his rim, but he pulls off all the same, getting back over to the other seat.

“There’s water in the back, and a towel,” Steve tells him gently. “If you want to… clean up.”

Bucky nods wordlessly, and opens the door.

Steve looks down at himself. He’s got a bit of come on his chest, but not too much. His hand, though, is a mess. He wipes it on his ankle and waits for it to dry as he hears Bucky clamber into the back. Bucky shuffles for a bit, and Steve sees him find the blanket tucked neatly on the side, and then he curls up and lies motionless.

Steve sighs, and pulls the truck into gear.

By the time Bucky wakes up, they’re in Idaho.

Steve slides off the highway and makes it to a road lovingly named Gopher Knoll Road, and they follow the river for a while. It’s Monday, now, and The Swing Years won’t be back for another five days. So he switches the dial over to the 70’s channel, keeping it low.

The sun comes up somewhere along the way, and Steve sees something shift in his rearview mirror.

He doesn’t pull to the side for a while, just keeps driving. Bucky rolls over a few times, giving a few minutes for each side as he wakes up. And then, just as Steve crosses over onto the Old U.S. 30 road, he gives the separation plastic a tap.

Steve pulls over onto the grass and stops, and Bucky hops out of the back and stumbles sleepily around to the front. He takes his sweet time, stretching his legs, reaching his arms to the sky, bending right over and trying to touch his toes. Steve can’t blame him- the back isn’t the most comfortable place to sleep. It’s why he stays in hotels every so often, to give his back a break.

But Bucky has to face the music sometime, and Steve waits it out.

Bucky’s still in his leather pants, but he’s wearing a different shirt. Steve frowns as he sees it, but then remembers Bucky’s backpack. Christ. He really had been prepared.

He unlocks the door as Bucky reaches for it, and waits as Bucky clambers up into the truck and sits down in his seat, looking anywhere but Steve’s eyes.

For a moment, neither of them speak. Bucky’s knees knock together and he stares, steadfast, out of the window. Steve watches him, breathing silently.

“Seatbelt,” he says.

Bucky jumps at the noise and reaches for the leather band, dragging it over his chest and clipping it into place.

Steve eases back onto the road, and then they’re off.

“Where are we?” Bucky asks, after a few minutes.

“Idaho,” Steve says. “Hungry?”

“Yeah,” Bucky admits. “You said you had…?”

“Glove compartment,” Steve says.

Bucky reaches over and unclips the glove compartment, and Chelsea’s macaroni drawing slides right out and lands on his lap. Steve blinks as he sees it, and Bucky holds it up, curiously. The macaroni shapes form three humanoid figures, all standing in a line.

Steve is written beside the tallest one. Me, beside the middle one, and Mommie beside the last.

“Steve, huh,” Bucky says.

Steve flushes. “That’s me,” he agrees.

Bucky stares down at the picture in mute horror. “Steve,” he says blankly. “Steve, are you- you’re not-” And he glances at Steve’s hands, resting softly on the steering wheel.

Steve blinks, and then bursts into laughter. He holds up his left hand first, and then his right, showing Bucky his fingers.

“Not married,” he says, still chuckling a little. “Promise.”

“Jesus, you scared me,” Bucky groans, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes for a moment.

“I met a kid, back in California,” Steve explains. “She got caught out in the ocean, so I-”

“Jumped in to save her?” Bucky guesses. He gives a low whistle. “Geez, all right. Paragon.”

“It was- nothing,” Steve mumbles, turning slightly left on the road. “Anyone else woulda done it.”

Bucky stows the picture carefully back into the glove compartment, rummaging around for an energy bar. He finds a few and yanks them out, shutting the drawer.

“Sure,” he says, rolling his eyes. “And ‘anyone’ woulda picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Just outta the goodness of their heart.” He unwraps the first bar and takes a bite, looking shrewdly at Steve.

“Who said I did it outta the goodness of my heart?” Steve shoots back, quirking an eyebrow up. “Maybe I just thought you were hot.” He thumbs over the rough line of his beard, keeping one hand on the wheel.

“Oh, please.” Bucky rolls his eyes. “You weren’t picking me up for a hookup. I did that all on my own, thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome,” Steve hums, and Bucky splutters indignantly.

“You know what I mean,” he huffs.

“I also seem to remember you saying ‘please’,” Steve hums.

Bucky crosses his arms, throwing his feet back up onto the dashboard again. “Fine,” he mutters. “Wait,” he says. “Did you even sleep?”

“No,” Steve admits.

“Jesus fuck,” Bucky swears. “You gotta be tired. Why didn’t you find a parking lot, or something?”

“I’m fine,” Steve says, shrugging. “Promise.”

Bucky narrows his eyes. “Right. Was that the same kinda ‘promise’ you made when you said you weren’t married?”

“I’m not!” Steve says, cheeks flushing red.

“Not anymore?” Bucky tries.

“Not at all,” Steve grumbles. “Hush, you.”

“You expect me to hush, all the way to Brooklyn?” Bucky hums, putting his hands up around his head. He flashes Steve a cocky smile. “You got high hopes, mister.”

“Why Brooklyn?” Steve asks, changing the subject.

“It’s home,” Bucky says.

“Oh?” Steve blinks. “Me, too.”

“Yeah?” Bucky laughs. “What’re you doing all the way out here, huh?”

“What are you?” Steve counters.

Bucky kicks at the dashboard. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“You gonna do this all the way to Brooklyn?” Steve snarks, and Bucky gives him a laugh for that. “Here,” Steve says, reaching into his pocket. It had fallen out the night before, the little spray can. He tosses the pepper spray up, and Bucky catches it clumsily.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, picking his jacket up again and shrugging it over his shoulders. He stows the pepper spray back into his pocket and sits back in his chair, a little looser, a little more relaxed. “I figured it was time to go home- I hitchhiked my way to the coast,” he says after a minute. “Ran away from home at sixteen.”

Steve’s foot slips off the gas pedal, and the truck jolts on the road.

“Whoa,” Bucky says, holding a hand on the dashboard.

“Sorry,” Steve stammers, looking straight ahead at the road. “Sorry, uh.”

Bucky quirks his lips into a smile. “Worried?” he hums. “Don’t be. I’m twenty, you’re fine.”

“Christ,” Steve sighs, sinking into his seat.

“Mm, now you can’t make fun of me for thinking you were married,” Bucky says, poking his side.

“Ow- hey,” Steve yelps, batting his hand away. “You always a little shit, huh?”

“Mostly,” Bucky hums. “You always got a stick up your ass?”

“The only one between us with anyone up their ass would be you,” Steve points out.

“Now which one of us is the little shit?” Bucky sticks out his tongue.

“You certainly don’t act like you’re twenty,” Steve mutters. “Forgive me for doubting you.”

Bucky opens his mouth, but he’s out of comebacks. He snaps his mouth shut and folds his arms, pouting. Steve smirks to himself, scoring another mental point to himself.

“You seriously gonna take me all the way to Brooklyn?” Bucky asks, after a few minutes of the Bee Gees.

Steve shrugs. “I got nothing better to do.”

And Bucky laughs.

Chapter Text

Traveling around with a normal human being drastically changes Steve’s schedule.

Bucky, of course, actually has to sleep on a regular basis. And he’s young enough that he still needs a good eight or nine hours. He doesn’t seem to mind sleeping in the back of a truck, as long as he gives himself a good stretch, after.

Steve messes up the timing, three days in. He runs himself dry and finally feels the exhaustion pawing at him, but it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and Bucky is wide awake. Luckily, Steve wakes up after four and a half hours and they get back on the road by 7:00, but Bucky doesn’t let him hear the end of it.

Then again, Bucky doesn’t bring up the fact that Steve only sleeps four hours, every other day. Or the fact that Steve eats about three times as much as him. So Steve lets it slide.

Besides, he knows Bucky enjoys the four hours he gets to himself every so often- it’s the only chance he has to listen to the modern radio station- after he’d cranked it on for six hours straight and Steve had put his foot down. And besides, he has his phone to keep him busy.

It’s annoying, the little glowing thing. Bucky uses it day in and day out. He doesn’t have a charger with it, though, so the moment they reach a gas stop he’s up at the front counter, bargaining with the cashier.

“Listen, I’d let you,” the cashier tells him. “But we don’t have a way to charge a cost for that.”

“So just lemme do it for free,” Bucky says, shrugging.

The cashier runs a hand through her hair. “I can’t let you do that, Sir. I’m sorry.”

“Come on,” Bucky prods. “Look, I’ll give you a twenty.”

Homeless, hitchhiking hooker, Steve thinks. And ready to drop a twenty just for a charge. What a world he’s woken up to.

The cashier thinks. “I shouldn’t,” she mutters. “But. All right. Twenty’s a deal.”

“Great!” Bucky beams at her, then looks at Steve. “Pay up.”

Steve, who’s halfway down the chips aisle, blinks owlishly. “Excuse me?”

“Twenty bucks,” Bucky tells him. “I need it.”

“What makes you think I have-”

“Oh, please.” Bucky rolls his eyes. “You pay for everything in hundos.”

“Hun- what?”

Bucky rolls his thumb over his other fingers, winking. “Hundred dollar bills,” he says. “I know you’re loaded like a Stark.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just ask me for anything,” Steve splutters.

“Aw, doesn’t it?” Bucky sticks out his bottom lip. “Come on. Please? Pretty please?”

Steve shoots him a vicious look, ignoring the way his gut gives an interested twitch.

“Fine,” he mutters, and fishes out a bill from his pocket. “Just this once.”

“Remember, a week ago? When I said ‘just this once’?”

Bucky gives a long, drawn out groan. And it’s an impatient noise, not a pleasurable noise, but Steve can’t deny that it sends his mind spinning directly into the gutter.

“Last time,” Bucky says, holding a hand out. “ This one’s the last time, come on, I promise.”

“Fool me once,” Steve starts, and Bucky snorts.

“Look, what does it matter if it’s been three times or four?” he says, shrugging. “C’mon. Please?”

“Um,” says the gas station attendant.

“Shut up,” Bucky tells her.

Steve smacks his shoulder, frowning.

“Don’t be rude,” he says. Bucky scowls up at him, sticking his tongue out.

“Fine,” he spits. And then, looking at the attendant- “Sorry.”

“I was just going to say,” she says, and Steve reads her nametag. June, it says. “We have car chargers available, if you’re interested.”

“Car chargers?” Steve echoes blankly.

June points across the room to the tiny rack of electronics by the check-out desk.

“What’s a car charger?” Steve asks before he can stop himself.

“You plug it into the twelve-volt thingy in your car,” Bucky explains, shrugging.

“And it- charges?” Steve guesses.

Bucky and June stare at him. June with disbelief, and Bucky with something… different. His eyes sparkle, and his mouth opens half an inch, and before Steve can get a good look, he’s back to normal.

“Well, duh,” he says, knocking Steve’s arm with his elbow.

“You know about these things?” Steve realizes. “And you- you didn’t tell me?”

Bucky grins from ear to ear.

“And you’ve been making me pay for outlets?” Steve thunders. “I- you little-”

“We’ll take one,” Bucky tells June.

“You little fucking shit,” Steve growls, pinning Bucky down with his entire weight. Bucky, lying on his stomach on the driver’s seat, just laughs.

They’re parked off the road again, this time with the headlights off. Steve’s hands are curled around Bucky’s waist, holding him down as he fucks into him mercilessly. The truck squeaks every time he moves, jittering back and forth, and in the silence of the night it’s that much more noticeable. They’re closer to a town, this time, which makes Steve’s nerves stand on edge. Bucky, however, doesn’t seem to mind.

“Aw,” Bucky says. “You love it, though.”

“I’d love it,” Steve says, bringing one hand up to Bucky’s shoulder and pressing him down against the seatback, “if you’d shut up.”

“Six out of ten,” Bucky says, letting Steve push him down. Even pulled down all the way, the seatback isn’t flat. And there’s not much wiggle room, with Steve straddling him as he slams his cock forward again and again. “Not that clever.”

“I should just dump you back on the side of the road,” Steve growls, thumb pressing into the nape of Bucky’s neck.

“And let someone else pick me up instead?” Bucky shoots back. He gives a soft little hah as Steve’s cock punches up just right, and wiggles his little ass back. “Let someone else have all this?”

Steve doesn’t gratify that with an answer, just drives his cock into Bucky as hard as he can. He feels Bucky radiate with pride over a point well scored.

There’s no teasing this time, no baited breath. There’s no rush of adrenaline from the pure shock of oh god this is happening, it’s just carnal and desperate and hard.

“Fuck,” Bucky breathes, grabbing onto the headrest. “There. Right there- yes-”

There’s something about how Bucky’s still clothed, how his pants are tugged down to his ankles and his tank is hitched up to his shoulders, how Steve hadn’t even taken the time to undress him- there’s something about that that sets Steve’s gut on fire.

“Steve,” Bucky says, and that does it.

Steve comes silently, gripping onto Bucky like a lifeline. He’s probably going to leave bruises- handprints- but Bucky doesn’t complain. Steve spills into him, sucking in breath, and Bucky humps furiously against the seatback- and Steve can tell when he comes, because he lets out another high-pitched whine, arching his back up and tensing all over.

Steve holds him, one hand curling around his belly, until Bucky’s up on his knees. He’s so light in Steve’s arms, so boneless, that it barely takes an effort at all to keep him upright. Steve reaches for his cock, which is still twitching, and gives it a few gentle little strokes. Bucky jerks in his arms, breathing hard, and dribbles out a few more beads of come.

“Too much,” he gasps, after a moment, and his breath catches on the next word while it’s halfway out. “S-sensitive.”

Steve takes his hand away, but keeps his hold tight. Bucky sags, breathless, and Steve gives a low chuckle.

“You got all over my seat,” he purrs. Bucky blinks, looking down at the come-stained upholstery.

“Shit, yeah,” he says, and gives a laugh of his own.

“Clean it up,” Steve says.

“All right, all right,” Bucky says, impatient. “Where’s your towel, again?”

“No,” Steve says. “Clean it up now.”

“Excuse me?” Bucky barks, trying to spin around in Steve’s arms. “You want me to what, now?”

Steve feels a stab of something that might be embarrassment, but steels himself. “You want your charger, you clean that up,” he says.

“Oh my god,” Bucky moans. “Jesus, fine.” And he twists himself around in Steve’s arms and grabs his face and kisses him, tongue fucking straight into the back of Steve’s mouth.

Steve kisses back, confused, and Bucky pulls off with a smack.

“You’re not gonna like what I taste like after,” Bucky explains, and leans down over the seat.

Steve watches as he licks his own come off the leather, that ruby-red tongue darting out and splaying flat, dragging up and slipping back into his own mouth. He makes a show of it, giving little moans and wriggles as he goes. When he laps up the last of it, he pulls off and licks his lips messily, covering them with spit.

“Huh,” Steve says.

“It’s not that bad when you get used to it,” Bucky says, shrugging. And then he holds out a hand. “Charger, please.”

They’re a mile and a half away from Honeyville, just dipping into Utah, and Bucky’s got his mouth over Steve’s cock and Steve’s trying not to swerve, because they’re in broad daylight- well, twilight.

“You need to practice," Bucky had told him.

“Practice what?” he’d asked, and Bucky had smirked and undone his seatbelt and turned the radio down again and Steve had had a second to pull his foot off the gas, just in time- because the moment Bucky had reached over and cupped him through his jeans and he’d realized what exactly was about to happen, his foot had given a twitch, sliding right off the pedal.

Now, though, it stays steadily on the gas pedal as they soar over the road, southbound. Bucky bobs his head steadily, lips wrapped tight around the base of Steve’s cock. He gives a little hum every time they drive over a bump and Steve bucks up into his mouth just that little bit, pushing the head of his cock down that little throat.

Steve, gritting his teeth as Bucky does something exquisite with his tongue, squints in the dimming light outside as something on the road catches his eye. It twinkles for a moment before it’s under them, and then-

The truck gives a lurch as it drives over a pile of something . Steve’s cock punches up as the truck stabilizes, giving another bump over the pile with its back wheels. Bucky yelps, voice muffled, and grabs onto the armrest. He pulls off, coughing, and scrambles back into his seat.

“Shit,” Steve mutters. The truck lists to one side, and the engine rumbles. He pulls off into the open grass beside the road and the truck gives a grateful sigh, rolling to a stop and shutting down. Steve doesn’t even have to hear the hiss of air escaping outside to know that at least one of their tires is ruined.

And sure enough when he buttons his jeans back up and steps outside, the right two tires are useless. Cut up with glass and flat on the ground.

“Damn,” Bucky says, hopping out of the truck to see for himself. He shivers a little as the early December wind pushes against his thin leather jacket. “Well. We’re fucked.”

“We’re not fucked,” Steve says.

“You gonna call for a tow?” Bucky asks, folding his arms. It’s probably half for the pose, and half to keep himself warm.

“Don’t have a phone,” Steve admits.

“I do,” Bucky says.

“I know,” Steve mutters. “And no, I’m not getting a tow.” Getting a tow means putting his truck on record, which means SHIELD will be one step closer to finding him.

“How the hell are we gonna get into town, then?” Bucky frowns.

“Get in the car,” Steve tells him.

He hasn’t had to do work like this in a long time, but it comes easy as anything. The right side of the truck lifts up off the ground, and when Bucky pulls the emergency brake off and sets the truck into first gear- which takes about fifteen minutes, as he doesn’t know the first thing about driving cars- Steve gives a push and the truck starts to move.

He sees Bucky watch him through the window in awe, that sparkle in his eyes, and Steve grits his teeth and focuses on the task at hand.

It takes twenty minutes to drag the truck a mile and a half into Honeyville, and another ten to find an auto repair shop. Bryce’s Body & Glass appears as if by divine intervention, and Steve pushes and pulls the truck into the driveway and sets it down and wipes his hands.

“-some kinda superhero,” one man in overalls tells another, as Steve motions for Bucky to get out of the truck.

“Hey, fellas,” he says, nodding to the two mechanics. Mart, reads the shorter one’s nametag. Doug reads the other, older and greyer.

“Hey,” Doug says, looking him up and down. Mart looks at the truck tires.

“I need a couple new tires,” Steve says. “How much would that be?”

“If you’re not looking for anything fancy,” Mart says, squinting, “it’ll probably be, what. A hundred and fifty for both?”

“Deal,” Steve says. “Bucky.”

Beside him, Bucky gives a little start at the sound of his name. “Yeah?”

“Come on,” Steve says. “Let’s find a hotel.”

There’s a Camelot Inn on the next block. It’s a short little yellow building that’s four doors wide, with a white-painted sign on the front reading Hotel Rooms.

Bucky practically vibrates with excitement as Steve checks them in, standing next to him and looking the place over.

“One bed or two,” the receptionist asks, looking down at her notepad. They have a cash machine, but it’s worn and out of date.

Steve opens his mouth, and then closes it. The receptionist looks up at his silence, eyes flickering between him and Bucky. He sees her take in Bucky’s leather jacket and leather pants, the cock of his hip as he leans on one leg, looking around at the hotel lobby. She narrows her eyes.

“Two,” Steve says.

The receptionist scribbles the number down on her notepad. “That’ll be seventy-five for one night,” she says. “Plus twenty for another person, with tax, that comes to…” She punches in the numbers into a little calculator. “Ninety-nine, fifty-six for you. Will that be cash or card?”

Steve smiles. “Cash.”

He takes Bucky to a run-down diner by the edge of the town and orders his usual double-portioned eggs benedicts, with two sides of bacon. Bucky watches him order, eyes sparkling. And then he perks up as the waitress turns to him, and prattles off about waffles for a good two minutes.

“Sweet tooth, huh,” Steve says, as the waitress leaves.

“What can I say.” Bucky shrugs. “I’m still a kid.”

Steve flushes at that, looking down at the table.

Bucky snorts. “Stop having an existential crisis,” he says, picking up the salt shaker and playing with it. “I’m twenty, I told you. It’s okay.”

“That’s only slightly better,” Steve grumbles.

“Dramatic,” Bucky hums. “I thought I was supposed to be the dramatic one.” And he gives Steve a cocksure grin. “I am practically a kid. As you so lovingly pointed out.”

“Stop that,” Steve mutters.

“In further news today,” says the little television pinned to the top corner of the diner, “A terrorist attack in Mumbai was stopped this morning by the vigilante team now calling themselves ‘The Avengers’. Reports indicate an attack targeting the National Institute of Industrial Engineering.”

Bucky watches the reporter on screen as he plays with the salt shaker. Steve watches out of the corner of his eye, pretending to look at the edge of his water glass.

“The Avengers are currently stationed in New York, where the supernatural attack on the city introduced the world to this team of fighters,” the reporter states, and then changes on to a story about drug trafficking in New Mexico.

“Superheroes in New York,” Bucky says quietly. The shaker topples over, and salt spills all over the front of the table. Bucky wipes it off with his hand, not even bothering to look sorry. “You heard of them?”

“Yeah,” Steve says.

“Ever seen ‘em?”

“Seen ‘em,” Steve says, and gives a small smile that he knows Bucky won’t understand. “No.”

They stop by Lainie’s Country Store on the way back to the hotel, and Bucky fills two baskets full to the brim with sugar and hydrogenated oils. Steve glances at just the top of the first basket and sees two bags of powdered donuts, a box of twinkies, and a jug of what looks like orange… liquid. It’s not juice, whatever it is. Juice isn’t that orange.

Bucky buys the lot, despite the full minute and a half of arguing Steve had half-heartedly started up.

Well. Bucky convinces Steve to buy the lot.

Well. He bats his eyelashes just right and sticks out his lip, and Steve hands three twenties to the lady at the counter and sighs and wonders how long it’s going to take Bucky to eat through it all.

They get back to the hotel and Steve tries to stuff as much of the cheese and juice as he can into the little fridge in the corner, and Bucky dumps his bags and his backpack against the wall and kicks his shoes off and takes a running leap at the bed by the window and lands on his back, the air rushing out of him in a whoop.

“Sheets,” he says, at Steve’s baffled expression.

“A luxury,” Steve says, amused. “Enjoy yourself. We’re pushing off tomorrow.”

Bucky pouts, rolling onto his stomach and propping his head up on his hands.

“Quit that,” Steve tells him. “Take off your shirt.”

Bucky beams and rips his jacket and grey shirt off in one swift movement, baring his white-boned chest to the room. The lamplight is warm and comforting, and it casts him in a lovely golden glow. Steve holds a hand out and Bucky throws both his shirt and his jacket over. Steve catches them easily.

“Pants, too,” he says, nodding meaningfully.

Bucky’s eyes widen and he nearly falls over trying to shimmy the pants off his legs. He toes his socks off as well, and Steve sees for the first time that he’s only wearing what looks like a string around his waist. Whatever it is- because it’s not a pair of briefs or boxers by any means- it cups over his cock easily, but vanishes as soon as it hits his thighs.

What is that, he asks.

“Wha-guh,” is what he says.

“What?” Bucky asks, batting his eyes and tucking his knees together. “It’s just a thong.”

“You’ve been wearing that for a month?” Steve says weakly, as Bucky tosses him his leather pants. He catches them and folds them over the shirt carefully. “That- I mean. That’s. Doesn’t that get. You know. Uncomfortable?”

Bucky watches him flounder, grin spreading wider with every word that tumbles out of Steve’s mouth.

“Naw,” he says, giving a snort. “You get used to it after a while, it ain’t so bad.” And he winks, letting Steve gape for another moment before snorting again and waving a hand. “No, I’ve got a couple pairs in my bag,” he assures Steve.

“Give them to me,” Steve says.

“Geez, all right.” Bucky thumbs under the string at his waist, eyebrows raised.

“I meant the ones in your bag,” Steve says, hurriedly. “Not the- those.”

“I was gonna say,” Bucky mutters, grinning. “Moving a little fast, there, Rogers.”

“Oh, shut up.” Steve rolls his eyes. Bucky sticks his tongue out, but he rolls off the bed and heads to his backpack, unzipping it with a flourish and yanking out a clump of clothes.

“If you’ve got a thing for my underwear, you coulda told me from the start,” he says, zipping the pack up and turning back around. “Cause I gotta say, they’re not so fresh anymore-”

He’s interrupted by the thwap of fabric against skin as Steve’s shirt lands on his face.

“Wha’?” He peels the thing off with his free hand, squinting up at Steve, who’s now shirtless and looking more than a little amused. “What was that for?”

“That’s a shirt,” Steve says. “It’s for wearing. You put it over your head, see.”

“Okay,” Bucky says, heading back to the bed with Steve’s shirt in one hand and his old underwear and tank in the other. “I mean, it’s kinda weird to make me take off my shirt and then put another one on before you fuck me, but all right.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “I’m putting your clothes through the wash. Didn’t your ma ever teach you not to count your chickens?”

He’s expecting a bite back, but Bucky doesn’t offer a snarky reply. He tries for an exaggerated eyeroll, but it falls flat. Steve sighs.

“Give ‘em here,” he says, reaching for the clothes. Bucky hands them over, and then looks at Steve’s shirt.

“What about you?” he asks, frowning.

“Me?” Steve repeats blankly. Bucky gives a vague gesture with the shirt. Steve flushes. “Well,” he says. “You get colder than I do, so.”

“You run hot, huh,” Bucky says.

Steve smiles. “Something like that.”

They set off the next afternoon.

Steve wakes up at 5:30 on the dot, his internal clock ringing. But Bucky sleeps in until the sun’s halfway through the sky, and Steve runs out of patience by noon.

He shakes Bucky awake, and Bucky bats him away with an impatient hand, screwing his face up and muttering five more minutes. Steve gives his cock a squeeze and he squirms awake, and Steve gives his stomach a pat and says, “we’re leaving in ten, get dressed.”

The cooler from Laninie’s is big enough to hold two jugs of juice and a box of yogurts, and the bag of ice stays cold with the winter air pressing in at the windows.

Steve drives them back to Colorado, and takes Bucky to Pikes Peak. Bucky whines and moans about the exercise, and Steve finally cracks and carries him on his shoulders for the last half mile. They make it to the top of a foothill and Bucky collapses on a flat rock, heaving his breath as though he’s just run a marathon.

Steve carries him the whole way back.

They find an Italian restaurant in Trinidad with a performing waitstaff, and Steve watches in awe as four waiters form a barbershop quartet right in front of their table and sing Brown Eyed Girl, which is a little out of place in an Italian restaurant but hell if either of them care.

Steve tips them with a handful of twenties, and Bucky gets two phone numbers with his receipt.

(Steve tears them up the minute they leave the door.)

They take turns sleeping in the back. Bucky sleeps every night, Steve for a few hours every other day. It’s a little cramped, when they stock up on food and stuff the boxes and the fruits and the bags back behind the plastic divider. With just Steve, it had been easy- protein bars and water had been more than enough. Eating had been a means to an end- a method of survival.

But with Bucky, it turns into something else.

It turns into powdered sugar on the dashboard and a sugar-coated sheepish smile, and powdered sugar passing from one pair of lips to the other.

It turns into orange peels tossed out of the windows, into juice dripping onto the seats and into the upholstery, to orange-stained teeth and sweet, tart juice licked off fingertips and thumbs.

It turns into cookie crumbs in the carpet and empty chip bags under the seat and so, so, so much more than protein bars and water.

Bucky buys armfuls of cakes and cookies and candy bars and chips and eats them all the minute Steve hangs up the gas valve and steps back into the truck. Steve eats about twice as much as a normal human, but he watches in awe as Bucky downs an entire box of Twinkies before they’ve even hit Kansas.

And then he has the gall to whine when they cross the border.

“I’m hungry,” he moans, poking Steve in the side. The day’s still young, but the December sun doesn’t do much to warm them, or even brighten the sky. The overcast sky is enough to put them in a sluggish mood- they haven’t made as much headway as Steve had been hoping.

“You’re not hungry,” Steve says, without looking away from the road. They’re on a highway for once, because there’s just no other way to get into Oklahoma from where they are on the southern Kansas border.

“Yes, I am,” Bucky whines.

“You just ate-” Steve looks around the seats, counting. “Four bags of tortilla chips. And a case of those what-do-you-call-em’s.”

“Ho-hos,” Bucky moans, miserably. He slumps into the back of his seat, staring sadly at the roof of the truck.

“We’re not stopping,” Steve says.

“But I’m hungry,” Bucky moans, and something in Steve snaps. He doesn’t give an answer for a few moments, and they listen to the rush of air through the cracked windows, to the roar of the heater on Bucky’s side, to the static of the road beneath the tires.

And then Steve gives a sigh.

“If you’re really hungry,” he says, and takes a hand off the wheel. Bucky watches mutely as Steve tucks his thumb under the waistband of his jeans and starts to finger over the button. “The least you can do is actually eat some protein.”

He sees Bucky’s entire posture change, out of the corner of his eye. Bucky stops slouching and goes tense, staring at Steve’s hand.

“We’re in the middle of a highway,” he says, voice small.

“I know,” Steve says, and flicks the button open. He chances a glance at Bucky, and watches those cherry-red lips drop open in surprise. When he meets Steve’s eyes, Bucky snaps his mouth shut, turning pink.

“That was a terrible line, too,” he says, but his resolve is crumbling as Steve watches.

“Hurry up, or I’ll change my mind,” Steve says, shrugging.

“Y’know,” Bucky drawls, and his old swagger is back. “I think I’ve been a bad influence on you, Stevie.”

Steve snorts, and Bucky unclips his seatbelt and leans over to unzip Steve and pull him out.

“Maybe,” Steve admits, as a brush of cold air hits his cock. Bucky’s hand is on it immediately, and he hums out a breath and lets his legs fall open, right foot resting gently on the gas. And however much he hates to admit it, he’s a little bit used to this now. “I don’t see you complaining,” he adds, watching as Bucky uses his other hand to inch Steve’s jeans down.

“No complaints here,” Bucky reports, all false cheer, and Steve snorts and reaches a hand down to give Bucky’s hair a ruffle- because it’s just so ruffle-able now that it’s grown out a little.

Bucky tries to duck his head, but it’s too late. Steve’s fingers catch through the strands, and Steve can see him smile despite it all, looking up at him with a happy little shine in his eyes.

“Go on, then,” Steve says, and forces himself to look back up on the road, because they’re still driving, after all.

“Someone’s impatient,” Bucky mutters, but before Steve can snap back a response, he teases his lips over the length of Steve’s cock, tonguing right up the side, right over that vein that he knows drives Steve mad.

It’s strangely easy, now. And it’s different. Where the first time had set Steve’s nerves on edge and his heart spiraling away with adrenaline, this time feels warm and comfortable. And it’s December and they haven’t had a speck of sun in a good few days, so it’s a welcome relief. He runs his fingers absently through Bucky’s hair, not really paying attention to the movements.

Bucky gives a little sound as he does, and finally opens his mouth and sinks down without any more preamble. On another day, maybe he might have teased at the head a little first, but not this time. It’s not rushed, though, it’s just pure and simple cocksucking.

Bucky’s tongue flattens over him, sliding from side to side, lapping up Steve’s sweat and precome and making him slick with spit all over again. Steve chances another quick glance down, and Bucky’s lips are red and shining- and God help him, his chin’s a little wet, too.

And Steve thinks hell, why not make a day out of it- and he flicks on the radio with the hand in Bucky’s hair, turning the dial over to the forbidden modern station. The truck pulses with a bass beat that Steve thinks he recognizes- but a lot of these songs just sound the same, if he’s being honest.

Bucky recognizes it, because he gives a pleased little noise around Steve’s cock as he hears it, suckling hard. He doesn’t even bob his head, and the whole thing sends them both into a little lull for a moment, and Steve lets his eyes wander out of focus, and-

Someone honks beside them, and Steve yanks left on the steering wheel just in time as a flashy sports car merges onto the lane beside him.

And then that fizzle of adrenaline is back, and Steve bits his lip as he feels his cock absolutely jump in Bucky’s mouth, because it’s the middle of the day, Jesus Christ, and anyone- anyone could look over and see what they’re doing.

Bucky catches on in an instant, and Steve feels him smile around his cock- again, what the hell, how- and then he goes to town.

“Buck,” Steve breathes, and Bucky gives him a lick underneath the head of his cock in response. “Buck- shit.”

He swears he can feel Bucky laugh around him, as he pulls off with a wet slurp and then sinks back down with an exaggerated moan, sending a low vibration down Steve’s cock, straight to his spine. And then a warm hand cups around the base of his ballsack, squeezing gently, and his foot sinks an inch further down on the gas pedal.

The truck lurches forward and he yanks his foot back hurriedly, breathing hard.

“You little,” he starts, but the insult doesn’t even make it halfway out of his mouth. Bucky tongues down that vein again, pulling off.

“Somethin’ the matter?” Bucky says, voice honey-sweet.

Steve grits his teeth and merges into the right lane, just as the idea comes into his head. Bucky must see his expression change, because he gives a little sound, confused.

And then Steve puts a hand on the back of Bucky’s head and gives an experimental push, just a nudge.  

Bucky shivers. The heat’s blasting on over them both, and Bucky’s got his tank and his shirt and his jacket, so Steve knows that shiver isn’t from the cold. Steve nudges his hand down again, and feels as Bucky lets his tongue and his throat go lax, just letting Steve take control.

He’s so pliant in Steve’s hand, so ready and willing to just let Steve take whatever he wants. Steve doesn’t look down at him, but he’s willing to bet that Bucky’s looking up at him with the biggest eyes imaginable.

Steve gives a low chuckle. “Tongue, sweetheart,” he murmurs, and makes a mental note at just how quickly Bucky responds to that nickname- he rolls his tongue in hurried circles, slurping and swallowing, pushing his head back up into Steve’s hand. “There you go,” Steve hums, as he watches he exits fly by.

He merges right again, because as much fun as this is, there’s not a chance in hell he’s going to come on the highway.

“Fuck, that’s it,” he moans, pushing down on Bucky’s head and forcing him to swallow another inch. “You’re damn good at that.”

And then it stops being Bucky moving, and it starts being Steve. He pushes Bucky down in slow, gentle movements, and Bucky just follows his hand as he goes, willing and ready.

He hears a little thump and chances a glance over at Bucky- and he blinks in surprise when he sees Bucky’s hips driving into the side of his seat, desperate for friction.

All right, he thinks, all right, and he takes the next exit and heads down the street and turns left at the turn and drives into the woods.

“Down, sweetheart,” he murmurs, pushing Bucky down and holding him there. Bucky sinks right down, right as he says it, and Steve gives a little noise of pleasure as Bucky’s throat works around Steve’s cock, tightening and twitching. He feels Bucky’s breath rush out through his nose, brushing over Steve’s stomach.

They’re not on the highway anymore, so Steve looks straight down at him and meets those big blue eyes, color blown out, dark and needy.

“Fuck,” Steve breathes, and forces himself to look back at the road so they don’t crash into a tree. “Fuck- that taste good to you, huh? You still hungry?”

Bucky makes a low, wanting sound, throat rumbling around Steve’s cock.

“Go on, then,” Steve says. “Eat it.” And he doesn’t even know what he’s saying, but he knows Bucky loves it. He sucks like he was born to do this, to eat cock like a goddamn champ. Steve pushes him down and pulls him up and pushes him back down again, feeling the edge start to creep up again- as he watches Bucky drive his hips against the seat. “Gorgeous thing, there you go, that’s it. Take it, take it, take it- you gonna drink it down, sweetheart?”

Bucky groans obscenely around him, tongue working furiously.

“You better not make a mess of my car,” Steve warns him, though his voice is strained. “Fuck, fuck, fuck-” And then he holds Bucky’s head down as far as he can and just shoots off down his throat, and Bucky swallows and swallows around him, gulping it down, and they’re still speeding along the road, only swerving a little bit-

And that’s the bit he’s proudest of, honestly.

He doesn’t realize Bucky’s still mouthing over his cock until that tongue brushes over the head and he jerks, unclenching his fingers from Bucky’s hair. They’ve been driving in the wrong direction for god knows how long. And as he pulls Bucky off, he hears a soft little whimper.

“Want me to take care of you too, sugar?” he hums, easing his foot a little off the gas. Bucky’s probably ready to shoot off at the lightest touch, and hey. Steve’s got a free hand.

“Please,” Bucky gasps, mouth red and wet and open, nodding fast and scrambling back upright. “Please.”

And Steve grins. “Come on up here, sweetheart,” he says, and pats his thigh. It’s not the biggest truck, and Steve’s not the smallest person, but Bucky’s small enough to fit, and what the hell.

He’s barely even said it, and Bucky’s on his lap, tucking his face into the curve of Steve’s neck and shoulder, and Steve still has a clear view of the road, and he wonders if Bucky had done that on purpose. He feels those lips on his neck and those little hips twitch forward in his lap, and Bucky’s murmuring, “Steve, Steve, oh god.”

He gives another little laugh, low in his throat, and reaches down with his right hand and drives with his left- priorities, says a voice inside his head. Shifting his hips to get comfortable, he grabs Bucky’s cock and thumbs over the head, slicking him up with precome, and then moves his hand in quick little strokes. He stops every few pumps to give that head another thumb over, but his hand is big enough that it’s holding the whole of Bucky’s cock even so. He gives a glance down and spits, adding to the slick.

Bucky gives a keening moan when Steve spits, shuddering in his lap and moving his hips thoughtlessly, without even rhythm, desperate for release.

“Go on, honey,” Steve murmurs into Bucky’s ear, and he usually hates that nickname but somehow here it sticks, “go on, let go.”

Bucky bites down on his neck and comes silently, shaking all over. He dribbles into Steve’s hand, spilling all over his fingers, sticky and thick.

“There you go,” Steve whispers, stroking him through it. “There you go.” He pumps that little cock one more time before pulling off and setting his come-stained hand back on the steering wheel.

Bucky slumps against him and tries to breathe, hands curling into Steve’s shirt.

“Better?” Steve asks.

“Better,” Bucky mumbles. “Fuck.” His voice is absolutely wrecked, rubbed raw and cracked at the edges. Neither of them mind.

Steve turns back onto the highway and they pick up speed, Bucky slumped in his lap, Steve with his hands on the wheel and his foot on the gas.

A billboard passes by, and Steve smiles and merges into the exit lane.

And ten minutes later they pull into the parking lot, and he rubs Bucky’s shoulder. “All right, sweetheart,” he says softly, “get off, now.”

Bucky tries to snuggle in as close as he can, almost like a koala, but Steve grabs his shoulder and gives it a little shake. Steve watches as he blinks his eyes open and squints, sliding out of Steve’s lap and stumbling back to his seat, looking around, perplexed.

Steve watches his eyes find the waffle house sign, up on a post, watches his face light up and his mouth break into a grin.

“You’re gonna get me waffles?” he says, voice weak, but he sits up and thrums with excitement, and Steve can’t help but smile back.

“Well,” he says smugly, “you did say you were hungry.”

Bucky laughs, and Steve rolls his eyes and reaches down to do up his jeans, making a mental note to stop in the bathroom the moment they walk in, because his hand is a sticky mess, and-

“You’re the best,” Bucky says, and Steve looks up and Bucky smacks a kiss onto his mouth.

And Steve’s brain kind of stops working for a second.

Because, sure. Sure, he’s been calling Bucky nicknames. But that’s mostly when they’re fucking. And sure, they’ve given each other handjobs and blowjobs and Steve’s fucked him twice, but. They’re isolated incidents. And sure, Steve cares about Bucky, but. He cares about people. They’re not-

They’re not exactly together. But they’re not nothing, either.

And a kiss like that, well.

It sets Steve’s mind down a street that he’s afraid to walk down.

Bucky’s stomach gives an almighty growl, and Steve snorts, opening his door.

“Get a move on,” he says, “or they’ll close up before we get in.”

“Waffle house is twenty-four hours, Rogers,” Bucky crows, laughing. “Welcome to the future.” And he hopes out of the car and disappears behind the two front doors before Steve’s out of the truck.

They’re headed down Hale Mountain Road in Arkansas when the radio gives a crackle and turns to static.

“No,” Bucky moans, as Listen to the Music dies halfway through the chorus. “No!”

“Huh,” Steve says, frowning down at the dial. Bucky fiddles with it for a few minutes, but no dice. Steve’s not entirely surprised- nothing lasts forever. He doesn’t even know how old this truck is, or how long Jessie had had it- and he and Bucky use the radio pretty liberally.

“Come on, come on,” Bucky mutters, and punches the power button.

“Bucky, you’re gonna break something,” Steve warns.

“It’s already broken.”

“You’re gonna break it more.”

Bucky huffs, slumping back into his seat and folding his arms moodily. “We gotta buy some CDs,” he grumbles.

Steve barks out a laugh. “We,” he repeats. “Right. Like you’ve bought a single thing this entire trip.”

He almost wants to just let the silence hang and see how long it takes Bucky to completely lose his mind. Steve’s more than used to silence- he’d sat in it for a good seventy years, after all- but Bucky is cut from a different cloth.

It takes less than a minute for Bucky to toss his entire weight around so he’s lying backwards, on his stomach. He taps his fingers on the armrest that’s set down between them, bounces his foot on the floor, looks around at everything he can set his eyes on. On a road like this, with grass and trees and a few foothills in the distance, there’s not much to hold his attention. And sure enough, fifteen seconds later-

“Let’s play a game,” he says.

Steve snorts. “Suckin’ me off can’t be your replacement for radio,” he says. “For starters, you’re gonna run me dry.”

But there’s something off about Bucky. Maybe it’s the twitch in his fingers as he taps them faster and faster on the upholstery. Maybe it’s just how little time it takes him to start fidgeting. Maybe it’s how Steve suddenly can’t remember the last time they’d just been quiet around one another.

“Get your mind outta the gutter, Rogers,” Bucky huffs. “Let’s play twenty questions.”

Steve laughs at that. “What, you didn’t wanna go for Truth or Dare?” he snarks, but it’s not malicious. “Twenty questions, Jesus. You sure you’re not sixteen?”

Bucky takes the jab and rides it right back. “It’s my youthful energy,” he says, and reaches over to shove Steve’s shoulder.

“Sure, you just call it that,” Steve hums.

“You gonna play or not?” Bucky punches his shoulder, harder this time.

“All right, all right.” Steve rolls his eyes. “But you go first.”

“Wuss,” Bucky sighs. “All right, fine. What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue,” Steve says, thinking of red and fire and skulls. “What’s yours?”

“Oh, that doesn’t count,” Bucky snaps. “You can’t count that as your question, you lazy-”

“Fine, then it just counts as an answer,” Steve says, “I don’t care.”

“Red,” Bucky says immediately. “Now you go.”

“Uh,” Steve says. “Do you. Have any. Siblings?”

“Sister,” Bucky says quickly. “I already know you’re an only child, so.” He shrugs. “Would you rather… have no arms, no legs, or an arm and a leg?”

“What,” Steve says. “How is that a question?”

“It’s valid,” Bucky says. “Go on, then.”

“Well. I,” Steve says. “I mean.” And then he thinks. “Would the arm and the leg be on the same side?”

“No, they’d be opposites. You’d have to be balanced, duh.” Bucky rolls his eyes, as if this is an extremely obvious concept.

“No legs,” Steve decides.

“No shit,” Bucky says.

“How old are you?”

Bucky groans and lets his head thunk back against the headrest. “I’m twenty. Turned twenty in March. Born March 10, 1992. It was a… Monday, I think. You ass.”

“You think,” Steve says shrewdly, narrowing his eyes and fixing Bucky with a look. “That’s mighty suspicious, Barnes.”

“Well, what about you?” Bucky fires back. “What year were you born, Rogers?” And there’s something wild in his eyes that dies the moment the words leave his mouth, as though he’s stepped over some sort of line that he can’t pass back over.

And Steve opens his mouth and says, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to-”

And then his brain catches up to his ears.

And for a single, blindingly horrible second, he looks at Bucky and sees someone wearing a SHIELD emblem on their right shoulder, someone with a phone in their hand and a codeword on their lips. And his little truck had never been secret, not really, not since the moment he’d left the city, and they’re going to come for him any goddamn second, swooping in from the skies and fetching him back to the tower, back to the city, back to the Fight.

“…Steve?” he hears, and then it’s Bucky again.

Bucky’s hand hovers over his arm but doesn’t touch, and Steve very suddenly realizes that the word Rogers has left Bucky’s lips before.

He tries to ignore the guilt lining his stomach-  because of course, of course, Bucky isn’t with SHIELD. He’s young and he’s reckless and he’s wild, and besides- if Bucky really had been trying to take him in, then SHIELD would have been on him before he’d even left Oregon.

“How long did that take you?” he asks, genuinely curious. The question breaks the tension, as Bucky shrugs.

“I mean,” he says. “I saw your face, that morning. After.” He clears his throat. “I mean, I saw it in the light, and I kinda thought about it. But then the beard…” He trails off, uncertain.

“That soon?” Steve lets out a breath. “Man, and I thought I was slick.” Before Bucky can say anything, he narrows his eyes. “Mind outta the gutter, Barnes.”

“I know your face by heart,” Bucky says, shrugging. “You were kinda. My childhood hero. For a while back there, I thought I was just goin’ insane. Projecting you onto my-” He stops himself at the last second, eyes wide. “Onto you,” he finishes, sheepishly.

“Onto your what, Barnes?” Steve gives a sly smile. “Cause if you were gonna say your dick.”

“I wasn’t!”

“I mean, we haven’t even gone there yet, but just give it some time,” Steve continues, rambling a little bit.

“Oh, shut up,” Bucky says, punching his arm again. “I’ve been a terrible influence on you.”

“You really have,” Steve says, admonishingly. “I didn’t even know what a Twinkie was until you jumped aboard. And I’m not so sure I ever wanted to know.” He sighs. “I still can’t believe you just… knew.”

“I didn’t figure it out right at the beginning, stupid,” Bucky says, giving a snort. “It was really when the tires blew that I started thinkin’ about it. Like. You were so damn strong, I thought you might be like those guys out in New York, and then. Well.”

“And then?” Steve repeats. “And then, what? You just decided to keep it hush-hush? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Worried I was gonna be wrong,” Bucky answers easily. “And I guess I was worried you didn’t want me to know, y’know?”

“Well,” Steve says, voice low and confident, “I don’t think you’re gonna tell anyone.”

It comes out as a threat. It really comes out as a threat. And Bucky tenses up in his seat, not breathing, and Steve stumbles over himself in an attempt to correct himself.

“I don’t- didn’t mean,” he stammers. “I just.” He takes a breath. “I trust you.”

Bucky’s hand reaches his arm this time, and he breathes again and Steve knows they’re fine. “Don’t worry,” Bucky says. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

Steve lets them have that moment. Because they’re comfortable again, and they’re different now, because it’s another threshold that they’ve just crossed. They pass by a church on the side of the road, and Steve gives a silent prayer- whether for thanks or forgiveness, he doesn’t know.

“I’m still confused,” he says, after a few minutes. “Why were you afraid to be wrong?”

Bucky frowns. “What?”

Steve shrugs. “I mean, I don’t think anyone would be offended. That’s sort of a compliment, isn’t it? To say someone’s like-”

The words Captain America don’t even make it past his throat.


“Oh,” Bucky says, and goes all red in the cheeks again, laughing and looking out the window. “I just,” he says. “I didn’t want- I mean.” He shrugs. “Childhood hero, and all that. It was an… illusion, I guess. A bubble.” He fixes his eyes on something on the horizon, staring dreamily. “I didn’t want to pop it.”

Bucky being bashful is something Steve almost never gets to see, and it is an absolute delight.

“Well,” he says, allowing himself a smirk. “You popped something , that’s for sure.”

“Oh my god,” Bucky groans. “I’m leaving. I’m gonna jump out the truck. That was terrible.”

Steve frowns. “I thought you’d like that,” he says, honestly confused. “What, the idea of popping Captain America’s cherry doesn’t appeal to you?” The title is easier to say now, somehow.

“Popping Captain America’s what, now?” Bucky splutters. “You mean you’re.”

“Was,” Steve corrects him. And maybe a month ago, that would have made him blush. But now, after so much time with Bucky, he just gives a little grin and flashes him a side-eye.

Bucky shakes his head. “Wow. I mean.” He crosses his legs. “To be honest, I kinda fantasized about the reverse, but y’know what? I’ll fuckin’ take it.”

And that image goes straight into Steve’s head. Bucky says something else after that, but he doesn’t hear it. His cheeks go warm and he feels his lips part just a little, enough so that he can feel the outside breeze on his tongue.

“Oh,” Bucky says. “Oh. You like that.” Steve can’t think of anything to say to deter him, and so- “You like the idea of defiling me, don’t you, Stevie?”

And that’s not the first time he’s said that name, either.

“You’re a terrible influence,” Steve grumbles,

“Seems like you’re the terrible influence,” Bucky shoots back.

“What was that about projecting me, huh?” Steve tries, desperately changing the subject. “Projecting me onto what?”

Bucky doesn’t take the bait. “Onto the guy who plows me into the mattress for the first time,” he says, smile wicked.

“You’re gonna ruin me,” Steve moans, dropping his head forward onto the steering wheel. It still smells like sex, and they’ve done a hundred filthy things in this seat, and he remembers every single one of them. “This ain’t fair,” he says. “You know, I thought you were some kinda kid at first- you jerk- but at least I was polite enough to ask you about it.”

“What was I supposed to say?” Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Hey, are you a dead World War two hero?”

“That’s another thing,” Steve says. “Did you just forget I was supposed to be dead?”

“I did take American History,” Bucky says. “Only for a couple years, but still.” He shrugs. “I dunno, it made sense. In a weird way. And besides, I know your face pretty well.”

“Lots of people do,” Steve points out. “But no one’s looking for it. And besides, I’ve got this thing.” He brushes his beard with his index finger and his thumb. “I even go by Steve, and no one’s batted an eye.”

“I,” Bucky says. “Spent a lot of time at your museum exhibit?”

“I have a museum exhibit?” Steve mutters, but it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is why Bucky’s the one bringing it up. “You don’t really strike me as a museum kinda fella, though,” he muses.

Bucky shifts his legs in his seat, looking out of the window again.

“Especially not before sixteen,” Steve murmurs, thinking out loud.

“Excuse you,” Bucky says, affront thick in his voice. “I’ll have you know I love museums.” He snorts. “Goin’ somewhere where I gotta be quiet and I’m not allowed to touch anything? It’s exhilarating.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Uh huh,” he says. “Not bein’ able to touch anything- yeah, that sounds exactly like you.” He snorts. “This comin’ from the man who felt me up, an hour after getting in my car.”

“It’s a cool exhibit!” Bucky protests, throwing his hands up. “There’s videos and photos of you that you can’t see anywhere else, and there’s all this stuff about the Commandos, and Agent Carter, and there’s pictures of you when you were smaller, and a breakdown of all the different changes, and stuff- and-”

He realizes he’s rambling and goes pink, and Steve pushes a little harder on the gas pedal and they speed over a river.

Peggy’s another road he doesn’t want to walk down.

He knows she’s still alive. But he hasn’t gone looking. And God knows how long she’s got left by now, but. He can’t risk going back into the city. And God, he wants to, wonders if she even knows he’s still around, if they’d bothered to tell her.

But she’s had a good life, he knows.

It’s bittersweet. And part of him thinks she’ll be better off without the guilt of knowing he’d been alive, all along.

So he lets her go, for now.

“Yeah,” he says. “I wasn’t always like this. Used to be a twiggy little thing, just like you.”

Bucky doesn’t snap back immediately, like Steve’s expecting. Steve looks, and Bucky tears his worried eyes back onto the window.

“I ain’t twiggy,” he says, folding his arms. “I’m twinky. Totally different thing.” He looks back at Steve and winks. “Thongs, remember? Twinky. And you’ve seen this ass. Nothing twiggy about this ass.”

“You’ve certainly got a cream filling by now,” Steve says before he can stop himself. And the juxtaposition is so strange, as he thinks about Peggy in one second and saying something as ridiculous as that in the next, but he’s okay.

“What’s your goal in life?” Steve says.

Bucky frowns. “What kind of a question is that?”

Steve smirks. “It’s valid.”

“Ugh.” Bucky flops back onto his back. “I dunno. Not to die?”

“Come on, you can do better than that.” Steve gives him an honest look. When Bucky doesn’t return it, he sighs and tries again.

“You got any hobbies?”

“I dunno.” Bucky shrugs. “Is sucking dick a hobby?”

“You could always go back to school,” Steve offers. “Who knows. Maybe you’ll be someone famous in a hundred years.”

“Why do I gotta be something?” Bucky asks.

“Hell, if you’re into sucking dick that much, you could study that,” Steve says. “Sexology, I think it’s called.”

Bucky gives an almighty laugh, big and bellowing.

“What?” Steve frowns. “Why is that funny? You got the rest of your life ahead of you, y’know.” Bucky says nothing. “You have to want more than just… this,” Steve finishes.

And for the first time, the little cramped walls of his truck don’t feel so perfect. They’re dirty and smelly and as much as Steve thinks of this truck as home, it’s not much to offer. The flat space in the back is barely enough to sleep on, and the cooler can only keep their food cold for a day or two before it goes bad, and now the radio’s broken too and now all he has to offer Bucky is himself and the road.

“Remember the whole ‘ran away from home at sixteen’ thing?” Bucky asks. Steve nods silently. Bucky shifts in his seat. “I’m just glad I didn’t die on my way to the West Coast.” He looks over at Steve and gives him a smile with too much weight behind the eyes. “So I’m pretty content with what I got.”

“Everyone wants something,” Steve says quietly.

Bucky looks back out the window.

“What do you want?” he asks, voice soft.

Steve watches the river as it slides nearer and nearer, and then passes under them.

“I wanted to make the world a better place.”

“You did,” Bucky says, and lays his hand over Steve’s, eyes still fixed on the distant foothills.

“Yeah," Steve says, thinking of Jessie, who’d refused to sell out that group of kids that had wrecked her car because she’d known they couldn’t afford to pay the consequences. Of Karen and Chelsea, and the time Karen had taken eight days of work in a row and caught the cold that was circulating around town. Of all the people he’s seen who beg cashiers to let them scrape by without paying those last few cents.

And of Bucky, standing alone in the middle of an empty Oregon country road with nothing but clothes and his thumb, hoping for a miracle.

“Yeah,” he says. “A better place.”

Bucky leans over to rest his head on Steve’s shoulder for a moment, and then kisses his cheek feather-light and doesn’t say anything else.

And it’s Saturday night, and Steve remembers.

And he punches the radio so hard that the glass cracks on the left edge, and by the grace of God, it fizzles back to life, and Steve presses the second preset button and The Swing Years starts to play.

And they drive, and they drive, and they drive.

Chapter Text

The Tennessee border flies past, and Bucky gasps.

“Steve,” he says, voice suspiciously casual. “You’re from around here, right?”

“What?” Steve says. “No, I’m from Brooklyn.”

“Really?” Bucky cocks his head to the side. “I thought you were from Tennessee.”

“Why would you-”

Bucky slams his hand down on the dashboard and Steve jumps a foot out of his seat. “Because,” Bucky says, eyes wider than Steve’s ever seen them. “You’re the only ten I see.”

Steve narrows his eyes and turns the radio to the classical music station.

Bucky puts up with him as he puts up with Bucky. They push and shove and give and take, and in the end they equal out.

“Did you have to eat, like, stale bread all the time?”

“Uh,” Steve says. “I mean, I guess I’ve had stale bread. Everyone’s had stale bread.” He squints down at the package of bread in his hand, trying to find an expiry date.

“Yeah, but you were poor and everything.” Bucky doesn’t shy around the word- he must know how it feels to live dollar by dollar, cent by cent. He grabs a loaf of sugar-topped cinnamon toast bread and dumps it into their cart.

“I had a job,” Steve says, shrugging. “I got by. Lived in a place with a few other people- I took the attic room, so I didn’t have to pay as much rent.”

“Sounds fun,” Bucky muses.

“Oh, it was great,” Steve drawls, finally finding the little stamp mark on the back of the package. It’s not due for another month, they’ll be fine. “The draft from the rafters always givin’ me colds, the ceiling always leaking on me whenever it got nasty out, the bugs that lived under my bed…” He shrugs. “Honestly, it wasn’t so bad.”

“Damn,” Bucky hums. “Better than the back of a truck, at least.”

Steve quirks his lips into a smile, dropping the bread into the cart. “You know, I’m reserving judgement on that one.”

It’s refreshing, how earnest and blunt Bucky is. He doesn’t shy away from asking if he has a question- even if it’s a stupid question.

“So were you born in a log cabin?” he pipes up one morning, over a breakfast of canned peaches.

“Were you born in a barn?” Steve fires back, as peach juice runs straight down Bucky’s chin. Bucky sticks his tongue down to try to lick it off, but it drips onto his lap. Steve laughs. “No,” he says. “I was born in a hospital.”

“A log hospital?” Bucky tries.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he says. “And they had coal-workers who’d run out and get firewood to keep the fireplaces hot, cause we didn’t have heating.”

“Ha, ha,” Bucky drawls, now picking his foot up and tugging his leg into his lap to get a better angle. “I know you didn’t have heating.”

Steve waits for a moment, but Bucky doesn’t correct himself.

“We had radiators,” he says, and Bucky just rolls his eyes, tongue halfway out and dragging up the side of his ankle.

“Uh huh,” he says, voice garbled. He pulls his tongue back and smacks his lips, letting his leg thump back down onto the car floor. “Sure.”

It’s hard to tell when Bucky’s joking or not. Every time Steve thinks he’s got Bucky’s tells all sorted out, Bucky yanks the wool over his eyes and plays him like a goddamn fiddle.

But what Bucky always, always forgets-

“One bed or two?”


- is that Steve can play him better.

The receptionist looks pointedly at Bucky. Steve hooks his thumbs under his belt loops and looks at Bucky, too. They’re in Virginia, at the Red Roof Inn, and the sun’s nearly gone over the horizon and neither of them are tired, but Bucky had asked to stop for the night.

Bucky notices neither of them, face buried in his phone. He doesn’t notice how Steve rakes his gaze down from his shoulders to the curve of his leather pants over his ass. He doesn’t notice how Steve gives a carefully constructed jolt, looking back at the receptionist, doesn’t notice how Steve’s face goes sheepish even though his cheeks don’t go pink in the slightest.

“Right,” he says, thumbing over the back of his neck and reaching into his pocket. “Uh, how much will that be?”

“Two hundred fifty for the night,” the receptionist says. That gets Bucky’s attention. He looks up off his phone and frowns at her. She gives him a polite look of disinterest.

“Oh,” Steve says, feigning disappointment. “Um.”

“We have two separate rooms that might be cheaper,” the receptionist continues, looking between them both. “If you and your… friend don’t mind.”

Bucky frowns.

“No, I’ll-” Steve stops himself, giving another embarrassed grin. “We’ll,” he corrects himself, as if he hasn’t had to say we in a long, long time. “We’ll take the double-bed.”

The receptionist narrows her eyes, but types in their room details all the same. She takes a keycard from her desk and slides it across the table, not meeting Steve’s eyes. Bucky looks between them, but doesn’t say a word.

“Breakfast starts at 6:30,” she says. “And ends at 9:00.”

Steve flashes her a smile. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“What the hell was that?” Bucky demands, the moment they close the door behind them.

Steve blinks innocently, setting the keycard on the bedside table and shrugging his jacket off. “What do you mean?”

Bucky hooks his hands on his hips. “You just made the receptionist think I was your hooker, genius.”

And part of Steve wants to say well, it’s true.

“Mm,” he says. “And?”

“And that was two hundred fifty,” Bucky says. “For one night. You’ll take that when there’s two perfectly good cheaper rooms?”

Steve tries to fight the grin that’s trying to spread on his face, and turns away before Bucky can see it. “I get cold at night,” he tries.

“Thought you ran hot,” Bucky says dryly, not missing a beat. Steve hears the shuff of fabric and knows that Bucky’s taken off his jacket. “Real hot.”

“You can get your mind right out of the gutter, Barnes,” Steve hums. The heater on the side of the wall huffs to life, and a puff of warm air rushes over his legs. Still trying not to smile like a giddy little kid, he tugs the bottom of his shirt up until it pulls over his head.

He waits, but Bucky’s evidently just enjoying the view.

And the window’s still shut, so he curls his fingers into the indent at the bottom and tries to shimmy it up. It sticks, and he frowns.

“Well, you’re the one who’s paying near three hundred dollars to share a bed with a call boy,” Bucky’s voice says, and Steve can’t fight it. He smiles to himself, guilty and loving it, turning to look at Bucky. Bucky perks up as he does, flopping onto his stomach on the bed and arching his ass up just a little. “If you wanna blow your fortune on bein’ warm, though, I won’t stop you,” he says.

Steve snorts. He’s only a little disappointed- he’d expected Bucky to whine a little more, maybe start begging. Bucky’s the beggar between them, after all. But two can play at this game, and so he turns to the window and gives it another push. It slides up with a thunk and Steve, keeping his gaze trained on the curtains, reaches down and thumbs the button open on his jeans.

“I spend three hundred every week on you every time we stop for gas,” he says, thinking of donuts and chocolate covered pretzels, and how chocolate tastes different in the future but he’s getting close to liking it again. “I don’t see you balking at that,” he says, looking over his shoulder at Bucky. Bucky grins at him, clearly enjoying the view of his bare back.

“What are you saying?” Bucky sing-songs, kicking his feet up in the air. “I don’t show enough appreciation?”

Steve shrugs, and puts a hand on the window. “You could stand to-” He pulls, and the thing slides up with another thunk. “-show it a bit more.”

“Well,” Bucky says, caught hook-line-and-sinker. “If you wanted to come join me over here, I’d be more than happy to demonstrate.”

“Mm,” Steve says, turning to face him full-front at last. Bucky’s just shown his hand, and Steve has a hidden ace. “That’s an awful tempting offer.” He crosses one leg over the other and just watches as Bucky’s gaze finds his unbuttoned jeans and he licks his lips. “But,” Steve adds, and Bucky’s face freezes. “I’m gonna have to pass on that.”

Bucky blinks.

“Can’t have anyone thinking I’m defiling you in here,” Steve chides, “can I?” And he winks, because he has every intention of making Bucky wait until the lights are out and it’s absolutely silent in this building- in their little hotel room that sits directly above the lobby, separated only by a layer of flooring and a cheap carpet. He’s never said ‘no’ to Bucky before, and he watches the fallout play its course over Bucky’s face.

Bucky’s eyebrows skyrocket. He shifts on the bed, getting onto his knees and sitting up properly. Steve, leaning on the windowsill, links his arms together lazily.

“You’re not,” Bucky says. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“I’m a paragon of virtue,” Steve says, unable to keep the cocky, self-satisfied smile off of his face. “I gotta maintain my image, don’t I?”

It’s almost acting, and it’s almost serious- but it doesn’t matter, because there is absolutely no way they’re getting through tonight without Bucky winding up helpless in Steve’s arms. Bucky’s eyes widen as he realizes it, too, and a small smile slowly makes its way onto his face.

“Sure you are,” he hums. “‘Cause that image didn’t go right out the window when you fucked my face on a highway.” He lets his tongue roll over his lips pointedly, and for a moment Steve’s tempted.

Really tempted.

But he steels himself and takes a breath, brushing his hands off and heading for the bathroom. “I’m gonna get a shower,” he says, aiming for nonchalant. “I’ll save some hot water for you, after.” Bucky opens his mouth to protest, but before he can, Steve holds up a hand. “Don’t do anything while I’m gone,” he adds.

He hears a half second of indignant spluttering behind him before he laughs and turns to the bathroom door, and then Bucky’s scrambling up off the bed and marching over to him and slamming him up against the wall with as much strength as he can muster, and he’s slamming his mouth up against Steve’s, propped up on his tiptoes.

Steve laughs against his lips and gives him the kiss, lets Bucky’s hands grab his wrists and pin them up by his shoulders. Bucky’s tongue forces its way past his lips, and Steve slides his own alongside it, recognizing the faint taste of butterscotch.

Werther’s, he thinks. When they’re out of candy, there’s always a half-pack of Werther’s hidden in the glove compartment.

Bucky takes a breath, and Steve turns the door handle in his hand and steps back. Bucky stumbles forward, arms falling out to catch himself, and Steve gives him one last grin before he tugs the door shut.

To their credit, the first fifteen minutes pass by in absolute silence.

The hotel soap smells like honey-almond, and the shampoo is hibiscus and orange, and Steve thinks he could be content to just hold Bucky in his arms and inhale the whole of him, just let himself evaporate and condense and absorb.

So he opens Bucky up with four fingers this time.

“Hush,” Steve tells him, the first time he lets a soft little moan leak out from between his lips. “Hush, sweetheart.” And Bucky just nods, breath heavy, and stuffs his little fist into his mouth and bites down, and Steve gives his stomach a kiss and strokes his index finger up again, and Bucky shudders over the sheets, knuckles turning white.

And it’s easy work, for fifteen minutes.

And then it’s sixteen minutes and Steve’s fingers find his prostate, and he gasps in a gulp of air and lets it out in a low, guttural noise that curls right down Steve’s spine.

And from the floor, they both hear the unmistakable sound of wood on wood as a chair scrapes over the floor, and they both freeze. Bucky, sprawled on his back with his legs spread, one hand in his mouth and the other clenched desperately around the sheets; and Steve, head at his waist, with four fingers slotted perfectly inside of him. Bucky looks down at him in mute panic, and Steve understands.

He’s not afraid someone’s going to hear them.

He’s afraid Steve’s going to stop.

They’re naked now, both of them, and Steve’s never felt more at ease in his life. He lets Bucky hold that panic for just a moment, savors the little thread of control- before he slowly, slowly presses his lips to Bucky’s stomach and starts to kiss.

He hears a soft sigh leave Bucky’s lips as he moves his mouth over Bucky’s skin, slowly, slowly. And Steve might have a little trail of hair from his navel down to his waist, but Bucky is fine and baby-soft. Steve reaches his navel and noses around the thing, tongue flattening over it.

This time, Bucky’s sigh catches on his throat and drags a moan along with it.

Steve clamps a hand over his mouth, two fingers slipping past his lips by sheer accident, and Bucky’s eyes close in what Steve hopes is contentment. And Steve looks at him and thinks.

Because they’ve been down this particular road so many times- whether it’s been Bucky’s mouth on him, or Steve’s mouth on Bucky, or Bucky in Steve’s lap, or Steve curling around him, and Steve can barely remember the specifics because they’ve been so high on it. So this time.

This time, he wants to savor it.

He kisses his way up Bucky’s chest, ravishing him slowly and surely, not even leaving marks. Bucky’s skin is so smooth, so unlike his own. Steve is calloused and worn, but Bucky. Bucky is exemplary.

Fifteen minutes are gone now, and so are sixteen, and Steve doesn’t feel the other minutes pass, just lets them rock by as they wish. They’ve all the time in the world, now-

And doesn’t that pound at the door Steve’s desperately been keeping closed.

-and Bucky’s beyond words. He hisses as Steve’s lips, cracked and dry, brush over his little pink nipple, as his tongue swirls around it, laves, worships. He gasps and shudders, and Steve gives those fingers a twitch and he jolts, because he’s completely forgotten about them, about the way Steve’s index finger nudges just right up against his prostate. And he tries not to bite down around Steve’s fingers, but it’s a close thing, and Steve just watches him breathe, listens as his little gasps and moans slide up and up and up in pitch, watches his eyes water around the edges, and-

Bucky swallows the first little sob down, clamping his eyes shut.

Steve pulls off with a start, staring down mutely. Bucky’s chest quivers again, and he blinks, and something leaks past the corners of his eyes.

“Bucky?” Steve whispers.

“I’m fine,” Bucky says. Steve watches his throat contract as he says it, hears the wobble in the words. “I’m fine,” he says again, shaking his head. He takes another breath, and it comes one-two-three, as if his lungs don’t have enough stability to hold all the air he needs. “Don’t,” he says, and Steve feels the first pang of fear in his heart. “Don’t stop.”

Steve hesitates.

Bucky’s lying underneath him in a hotel bed, and he smells like honey-almond and hibiscus and orange, and he’s crying.

And Steve doesn’t know what to do.

“Bucky,” he murmurs.

“Please,” Bucky says, and his whole body jumps again, his jaw tightens, and Steve sees his lips start to wobble unsteadily. “Steve- please-”

Steve kisses down Bucky’s chest, from his collarbone to his nipples to his navel to his legs. Steve kisses his thighs as he starts working his fingers in slow, gentle motions, stroking softly against his walls. Bucky’s cock, hard between his legs, starts crying in turn, and Steve presses his lips to the head and licks, and Bucky sobs again.

“Sweetheart,” Steve says, pulling off, and Bucky melts. “Sweetheart,” Steve says again. “Hush. It’s okay.”

It just makes Bucky whine a little louder, but he tosses an arm over his eyes and takes a deep, slow breath. Steve waits it out, nosing gently at the base of his cock.

“I’m okay,” Bucky whispers, after a moment or two. “I’m okay. Steve, please.”

And Steve’s heart aches with want to stop, to ask Bucky what on earth is wrong, but he can see plain as day that questions will do nothing right now, and they have the night over them and the sheets under them and if nothing else, Steve can give him this.

He fastens his lips around Bucky’s cock and sinks down, nose brushing the fine little hairs below his navel. And it’s an absurd thought, but Bucky fits so well like this, and Steve fits so well over him, and it’s almost like Steve’s mouth had been made for this, for this night.

His hand roams over Bucky’s chest, thumbing and stroking over every inch he can find. He finds one of those nipples again and tugs, softly, and Bucky goes boneless under him. He barely notices as Bucky’s cock slips right out of his mouth, as his lips find Bucky’s stomach again and he kisses up and up and up, as his fingers slide out and he crawls over him and their hips slot together and he rocks and rocks and rocks.

Somehow his hands slide around Bucky’s waist and pull him up, and somehow someone’s hand lines them up, and then Bucky’s in his lap and he’s holding him there, hands gliding over his back, holding him, holding him, holding him.

Bucky’s small. He’s not unhealthy, but Steve can feel his spine though his skin clear as anything.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he murmurs, the words coming of their own volition. Bucky gives a small little noise at that, and Steve presses their foreheads together and bends down and swallows that noise with his mouth, his hand coming up to rest on Bucky’s neck, thumbing over the nape.

Bucky kisses him back for a moment before his breath catches up to him and he pulls off, gasping again as a sob forces the air in and out of his throat. He squeezes his eyes shut and buries his face into Steve’s shoulder, and his legs shake as they wrap around Steve’s waist, and Steve holds him.

“Shh,” he murmurs. “I’ve got you.”

He starts to shake, wrapped up in Steve’s arms. Steve feels little teeth nip at his neck, and that tongue working over him, and lets Bucky have it as he holds him close and moves.

They move slowly together. Steve’s hips barely move at all- he keeps his arms around Bucky, one on his waist and one on his neck- and he rocks the whole of him in his lap, just feeling where they’re connected. Bucky is warm and tight and trembling around him, and Steve wants to keep this moment with him until the day he dies.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” he murmurs, and Bucky makes a noise against his neck, high and long. Steve shudders at the sensation of Bucky’s voice on his neck, and Bucky sinks his teeth back into Steve’s skin and sucks, trying to mark him. Steve shivers  as he feels tears smear over his skin, cooled by the breeze from the window.

His hand reaches blindly down and finds Bucky’s cock, still leaking and slick, and he squeezes it and strokes him gently, so gently.

“Don’t come,” he murmurs.

Bucky whimpers against his neck again. “Steve,” he gasps. “But I- Steve.

“Shh, sweetheart,” Steve hums. “Shh, shh, shh.” The hand on Bucky’s neck presses into the back of his hairline as he fucks up into him. All he can hear is Bucky’s breath in his ear, ragged and riddled with sobs. “Not yet,” he says, because he’s going to feel Bucky come in his mouth if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Bucky’s hands wrap around Steve’s waist, draw up at his neck, and his nails dig into the skin so hard Steve thinks he might bleed. And if Bucky Barnes wants him to, then by god he will bleed himself dry.

“O-okay,” Bucky whispers, breath catching on the word. He takes a breath that’s jagged around the edges. “Okay,” he says again.

Steve lifts Bucky up off his lap, pulling out without even a noise. Bucky lets out a broken, desperate sound as Steve leaves him, red little mouth dropping wide open. Steve sets him down on his back and slides those four fingers right back into him and presses his lips to Bucky’s collarbone and slides down and down and swallows his cock right down without a word of warning, slotting himself down here where he was  meant- where he was made to be.

Bucky’s fingers reach his hair and grip tight, and Steve pushes up against his touch, pulling off and pressing his lips wetly against the head of his cock, suckling and lapping and sinking right back down. And Bucky moans, long and loud and needy, and Jesus, the noise-

Fuck the noise- Bucky is so much more important-

And when.

When did Bucky become so important.

Since the moment he’d stuck his thumb out in the middle of the road, says the back of his mind.

Bucky gives a hiccuping little sob, shuddering as Steve works his fingers steadily, swirls his tongue in circles, looks up at him and hopes to god that Bucky understands, though he doesn’t know what in the world he’s trying to say.

“Steve,” Bucky says, high and breathy, and then his hand pulls at Steve’s hair and he’s coming, shaking all over, shaking so hard Steve worries he might just collapse entirely, and Steve stays down and drinks it, sucks him and milks him for all he’s worth, stroking that sweet spot inside him.

Some switch seems to flip, then.

Steve pulls off and sees him, one hand over his face, jaw clenched, cheeks red, tears leaking out even from between his fingers. And he can’t do anything else but reach his arms out.

Bucky soars up and latches around him, crying.

There’s no flowery sobs or beautiful tear tracks. Bucky cries loud and thick and messy, breath jittery and clogged in his throat and his nose. Steve holds him through it, holds him and strokes his back and his hair and kisses his forehead. Bucky’s loose and pliant under him, weak as a kitten and whimpering.

“Sweetheart,” he breathes, and Bucky howls into his chest. “Sweetheart, it’s okay, let it out. Sweetheart, sweet, sweet thing.”

Bucky tucks his head under Steve’s chin, curls tickling Steve’s jaw, and Steve reaches down for the coarse hotel blanket and pulls it up with one yank of his hand, and brings it over them both as he holds Bucky in his arms and lowers them slowly, slowly down to the bed.

Bucky cries and cries and cries, and Steve waits it out until his breath stills every so often between hitches, until his chest rises and falls against Steve’s, until his grip slacks around Steve’s waist and he tucks his arms up in front of himself and his eyes go soft around the edges and he sleeps, and Steve wonders what the world has done to this man, and how he can make it pay retribution.

Steve hasn’t slept in a day and a half, and he doesn’t want to now. He wants to burn this feeling into his memory for as long as he can, wants to stay right here in this bed, in this hour, for the rest of his life. He holds Bucky in his arms as the night starts to take over, and thinks my god, my god, I never want to let him go.

But even Steve can’t fight forever.

He gives Bucky’s forehead a kiss, even though he knows it will go unnoticed, and he falls asleep with a hand in Bucky’s hair and an arm around Bucky’s waist, and his heart aching more than he can ever remember.

He keeps his eyes closed when he wakes.

He can feel sunlight on his chest, warming him up from the inside out. It starts to burn, but he doesn’t move. He can feel sheets under him, soft and honey-almond sweet and empty.

It’s morning, now.

Steve wants to sleep. He wants to keep his eyes closed and go back, sink back down into the darkness and the weightlessness, wants to forget, if only just for now.

But he knows far too much of waking up.

He opens his eyes. The hotel room is yellow and warm, sunlight sliding in through slotted blinds, draping over the bed, dragging bars over Steve’s head and shoulders. The other side of the bed is empty. The heater gives a small rush of air from the corner of the room, but apart from that there are no other sounds. There’s a small table by the only window in the room, and a small chair in front of it.

Bucky sits silently, bent over a pad of hotel paper, pen in hand.

Steve sits up.

As he blinks awake, he gets a better view of Bucky, lit by the overlapping beams of sunlight. His hair is wet, hanging straight past his ears. Steve’s flannel shirt is draped over his shoulders, hanging baggy and loose off his frame. It sways as he writes, arm shifting over the table every few seconds. He hesitates for a moment as the blankets shift over the sheets when Steve moves, but he keeps writing.

Steve swallows.

“Bucky,” he says, and the blinds rattle as a breeze brushes past them. It ruffles Steve’s shirt over Bucky’s body, slides up the bottom of the bed and across Steve’s bare chest. He shivers, because it’s barely still January and Steve might be a supersoldier, but even he feels the cold sometimes.

He feels it more than ever when Bucky says nothing in reply. He stills his pen, but keeps his gaze steady on the paper in front of him. Steve breathes.

“Bucky,” he says again, and Bucky sets his pen down.

“This place is nice,” Bucky says. And a hundred questions soar from Steve’s stomach to his throat, but he clamps his mouth down on his tongue before they can leave, and he waits. “Do you think,” Bucky says after a minute. “Do you think we could stay here another night?”

The blinds rattle again, but Steve doesn’t shiver this time. Bucky does- he tugs Steve’s shirt tighter around himself.

“Bucky,” Steve says. “What’s waiting for you in Brooklyn?”

And Bucky turns.

His face is hollow, weak and worn. His eyes are tired and red around the edges, and there’s no light behind them when he gives Steve that crooked smile, the exact same one he’d given that first night, when he’d been so sure Steve was about to boot him right back onto the road. It’s a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes, doesn’t even come close.

“Not a hell of a lot.”

They stay three more nights in Culpeper.

Every night, Steve asks if Bucky wants to talk, and every night Bucky says no. And on the morning of the fourth day, Steve wakes up and Bucky’s dressed to the nines, leather pants and leather jacket and all, with his backpack on his shoulders and his phone in his hand.

And they leave.

It’s a cold March night, four years before SHIELD officials will push and shove and prod and force the Arctic Ice to part for them, when Winifred Barnes wakes up to a knock at her door.

She’s surprised, but only a little. Rebecca lives on her own now- and that was a miracle in and of itself. She’d been more than capable, of course, but it’s hard to leave the nest. Winifred knows that- oh, yes she does. Rebecca comes by every week on her days off, bringing a strawberry tart from Ladybird Bakery or a tin full of half-burnt shortbread cookies, or sometimes two bottles of wine and a gallon or two of tears.

But Rebecca’s never shown up this late before, and Winifred can’t help the knot of worry that starts to tangle itself deep in her stomach.

The knock comes again, hard and insistent, and Winifred has a moment to think about how heavy it is, and how Becca’s knocks come in clear, little rhythms, not animalistic pounds, and she pulls open the door.

George Barnes slumps forward off the door, soaked through to the bone and red-rimmed at the eyes.

“George,” she says, stepping back. He falls to the ground heavily and grabs blindly with two meaty hands to steady himself back up again. “George,” she says again, “what on earth-”

George Barnes on her doorstep is an anomaly. Because she only sees George twice a month now, on par with the divorce settlements. Bucky comes to her on the first weekend of every month, because he’s still under custody for another two years and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t have at least a voice in his life. George might have moved him away, but he can’t take Bucky from her. Not all the way.

“Fucking,” George slurs, and Winifred takes another step back. “Useless.”

“George,” she says. “Are you drunk?”

He gets to his feet and slams a hand on the wall, glaring at her. “The fuck does it look like?”

“What’s going on?” Winifred demands. “I swear to God, George, you take one more step towards me and I’ll-”

“Call the fuckin’ police,” George finishes for her. “Go right ahead.”

And she knows he’s not here to hurt her. And this- this is really the point where the knot of worry starts to tighten, because if he’s not here for her, then he’s here for something else.

“Becca’s not here,” she tells him firmly, and she’d have said it even if Becca was upstairs right now. But she knows he knows that, even still.

“Becca,” George spits. “Figures. You got the perfect one.”

“George,” Winifred hisses.

“Not the,” George mutters, waving his hand vaguely in the air. “Useless. Lazy. Stupid fuckin’ runaway piece of-”

“One more word,” Winifred warns, “and I’ll have you out of here. One call, that’s all I have to make.”

“Do it,” George says, and looks at her.

His eyes are gone, red and rubbed raw. And she realizes that it’s not just rain on his face.

“George,” she says slowly. “George, what did you do?”

And she helps him up, arms around his waist, pushing the door shut behind him. He breaks as she does it, pushing his head into her shoulder and giving a low, drunken sob.

“I’m not like you,” he moans, as she heaves him onto the couch. He looks up at her with sad, sad eyes, moustache messy around the edges, chin prickly. “They don’t love me like they love you.”

“They love you,” Winifred says quietly.

“No,” George says. “No, he doesn’t.”

“Bucky’s,” Winifred says, and sighs. “He’s…” Different? Going through a lot? Both are true, but neither say enough.

“Gone,” George says, before she can finish.

Winifred goes white. “What,” she says.

“Fuckin’,” George slurs. “Fuckin’ left a note. Took all the goddamn cash in my drawers, stole my watch and my wallet.” He spits onto the floor. “Took everything outta my accounts. It’s gone, Winnie. All of it.”

“No,” Winifred breathes. And then, panicked- “George, where’d he go? Have you asked his friends-”

“What friends,” George mutters.

“George!” Winifred barks, and he winces. She sits up, staring hard at him, panic overtaking anger. “George, he’s sixteen, he won’t- he can’t-” She swallows. “He doesn’t know how to  live on his own, we have to find him, you have to tell me where he went, where you saw-”

“You’ll find him,” George says bitterly, words slurring together harder than ever. “Oh, you’ll find him. Prob’ly face down in a ditch somewhere, in a couple weeks.”

Winifred brings her hand down on his face, and for the first time since leaving him in the courtroom she wishes she had her wedding ring on, if only to leave a welt.

They’re heading north out of Virginia on Hartwood Road when Steve spots a sign.

“Hey,” he says. It’s the first time either of them have spoken in two days, and Bucky gives a little jump. He doesn’t have his hand over his pepper spray this time, but it transports Steve back to that first night again.

Bucky tucks his knees together and looks out the window, breath fogging up the glass.

Steve gives the gas pedal a boot, and they soar past trees and paths and posts. “Want to go to D.C.?”

Bucky lifts his head off the window and Steve turns his gaze back to the road just in time. And out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he can just make out a smile on Bucky’s face.

“What the hell,” Bucky says. “Sure.”

February crests as Steve drives over the border into D. C.

Bucky’s asleep in the back, content to lie by the cooler and the empty bags. They’re still well stocked from Culpeper, and Steve’s fairly sure they won’t need to make another supply run. If they stay in D.C. for the night and pack up in the morning, they’ll reach Brooklyn in a few hours, and he’ll drop Bucky off, and then he’ll-

Midnight comes, and now it’s Saturday. February first.

Steve flicks on the radio, volume set to the second lowest notch, and Woody Herman floats out of the tinny speakers that had started to crackle ever since he’d punched the radio back to life.

He finds a nice little parking lot by a park that’s covered by trees, out of the way and inconspicuous. D. C. is a popular city, full of tourists and civilians alike, and one truck among the cars won’t draw too much attention.

Bucky sleeps until 11:30, and Steve takes him out to waffles at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop. He’s still in the restaurant bathroom washing his hair when the waitress comes to take their order, so Steve gives her a smile and does it for them both. Steve takes two eggs benedicts and  orders Bucky his usual- a chocolate chip waffle with strawberry sauce, syrup, and whipped cream.

Bucky comes back to a stack of sugar-loaded waffles and asks Steve if he thinks Lincoln ever ate waffles, and then asks him if he’d ever eaten waffles, and Steve replies yes to both.

He buys them both Good Humor bars out of the cooler on their way out, and Bucky gets chocolate all over his chin and Steve laughs and gives him a napkin he’d swiped from the table, and just like that they’re okay again.

They go to the Air and Space museum first, and Steve pays for their tickets in cash. The lady at the till gives them an odd look but gives them their tickets all the same, and they spend two solid hours ogling the planes and the uniforms and the rockets. Steve points out a few models he remembers seeing, back in the day, and Bucky tries to snap a few pictures of him posing in front of them, but Steve brushes him off with a laugh every time.

He can’t afford any pictures of himself to end up online, but he also can’t tell Bucky. Maybe if they were back in Colorado, on top of Pikes Peak, he’d take a gulp and a breath and explain all about SHIELD, but they’re not. So he doesn’t.

They only have today. And he’s not going to ruin it by talking.

The Air and Space museum had been Steve’s pick, and the minute they step outside, Bucky drags them to the National Zoo. It’s a fifteen minute drive, and Steve’s barely parked when Bucky throws his door open and runs for the gates.

The zoo takes more than two hours.

Much, much more.

Steve figures out the pattern once Bucky stops by the clouded leopards, the asiatic lions, the cheetahs and the bengal tigers.

They stop by the bird-house and seven parakeets land on Steve, and Bucky laughs so hard at Steve’s bewildered face that he has to lean on the hand railing for support. And as much as Steve threatens to throw his phone down into the canopy below, Bucky manages to snap a picture of him, red in the face and adorned with feathers.

Steve’s personal favorite is the invertebrates exhibit. They watch an octopus try to squeeze its way through an overhead tube for ten minutes before Bucky starts trying to do impressions of it and Steve snorts so loud that he marches them away out of sheer embarrassment.

They stop for lunch on their way out, and Steve orders four hot dogs and eats them one right after the other. He buys a ridiculously pink plastic cup shaped like a lion for Bucky, who tries to scowl at first when he sees it, but drinks out of the thing nonetheless.

Bucky drags them into the gift shop before they can leave, and Steve lets him look at the walls of shirts and stacks of stuffed animals, and surreptitiously buys him a ridiculously foreshortened tiger ball-cap and  a shirt with a gigantic cheetah’s face over the chest. He waits for Bucky outside, and Bucky turns up and shoves a twelve-inch stuffed bald eagle into his hands.

“Very funny,” Steve says, looking at it. It looks back with beady eyes staring in different directions.

“I’m just kidding,” Bucky says. “I also got you somethin’ nice.” And he offers out a shirt. Steve takes it and the thing unfolds, showing a blue octopus swirling around from one side of the shirt to the other.

“You got me two,” Steve says, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I’m lucky I came prepared.”

And he hands Bucky the cheetah shirt and the hat. Bucky unfolds the shirt and snorts out a laugh, and pulls it right over his grey shirt and tugs his leather jacket on over it, topping the whole thing off with the tiger cap. Steve snorts the moment he sees the full ensemble and Bucky kicks him in the shin, and they set off.

“So,” Bucky says. “Where we goin’ next?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Steve shrugs.

“Come on.” Bucky nudges his arm with the plastic lion cup. “You picked the first one, I picked this one. We can go to…” He pulls out his phone to check the time. “One more place, probably,” he decides. “It’s about 6:30, so as long as we don’t spend, like, half a day somewhere, we’ve got time.”

“You choose,” Steve says.

“I chose this one,” Bucky protests.

Steve shrugs. “I don’t care.”

He won’t say he wants to treat Bucky today, because that’s one step closer to acknowledging that this is their last day together, and Bucky feels the moment about to crest, because he pipes up-


Steve smiles. “One more museum, Barnes. Where do you wanna go?”

And Bucky smiles right back.

“This,” Steve says, tugging Bucky’s tiger ball-cap over his eyes, “is a terrible idea.”

“This,” Bucky says, hooking his arm around Steve’s and dragging them into the exhibit, “is an amazing idea.”

The Captain America exhibit is sparsely crowded. Steve’s not surprised- he’s not exactly a hot topic nowadays, having died nearly seventy years ago. Still, there’s a fair crowd reading over his old story, gawking over his pictures and the few little clips history had managed to cling to over the years.

He has a beard and an octopus shirt and a tiger ball-cap, but he still feels like he’s dragging around a neon sign on his back.

Bucky’s not too concerned, so Steve lets himself have the moment- it’s their last day, he reminds himself. He can let Bucky have this.

They wander around the place, looking at the scant few photos of Steve standing five foot nothing. They’re faded and old, but Steve recognizes himself clear as day. And for a second he can remember the tug behind his lungs and the catch in his throat.

In the back left corner of the exhibit, they’ve got a reel set up. It’s a small little theater, but as they peer through the doors they see grainy clips playing, one after the other. Steve’s mouth falls open as he sees the faces of ghosts he’d forgotten, repeating and repeating. Howard, Peggy, the Commandos- even a little flash of Commander Phillips- all interspersed with clips of himself in uniform.

“Whoa,” Bucky breathes, wandering inside.

A handful of people are chattering in the front seats, so they sit in the back row. For a few minutes Steve just watches, as faces and words pass him by, one after the other. And though his gut twists every time he sees Peggy’s face, and Howard’s and Gabe’s and Dernier’s- he doesn’t feel a sting behind his eyes. They’d won. They’d won and they’d gone home, all of them. And that’s all he ever could have hoped for.

On the third loop of him jumping over a tank and dodging a blast of blue energy, Bucky leans over and rests his head on Steve’s shoulder and slips his hand into Steve’s back pocket.

It’s… nice. Bucky’s breath is steady against his own, and somehow it’s easier to watch this with someone else here. Bucky must be thinking the same- and Steve’s heart jolts at that. It’s so different, to have someone care. To have someone want to be beside him. To have-

Bucky gives an impatient noise and slips his hand underneath Steve’s jeans, cupping his ass.


Steve can’t suppress the snort as he realizes, and Bucky’s face is just visible in the dim light of the projection. Bucky bites his lip around a smirk, slowly raising his eyebrows.

“Wanna?” he says, voice quiet as anything.

And Steve can’t exactly tell him off in his own exhibit. He gives a worried glance down to the gaggle of people still sitting in the front row, and then a glance at the door. He can’t see anyone through the glass window, but he can see a sign directing to the bathrooms.

And a little part of him doesn’t want to- because this is their last day, and he wants to spend it making moments he can remember. He wants to remember Bucky happy and snarky and infuriating.

Bucky gives his ass another squeeze, and Steve thinks hell, he’s not going to get a better memory of Bucky being infuriating.

He grabs Bucky’s arm. “You’re insatiable,” he mutters.

Bucky snickers quietly, following him out of the chairs and out the door and through the hallway and through the bathroom doors. Steve barely registers as Bucky flicks the lock shut behind them. They’re single use bathrooms, thank god, so Steve has more than enough room to pin Bucky to the door-

Bucky’s faster. He yanks at the collar of Steve’s coat as Steve’s hands try to find his shoulder, and then he yanks and Steve stumbles forward, and Bucky’s back smacks against the door, and his mouth is on Steve’s and they’re kissing harder than Steve can ever remember. Bucky’s surprisingly strong for his size, and Steve’s mouth drops open in surprise as Bucky takes control, grabbing around Steve’s neck with his hands, thumbing over the brush of hair Steve keeps clipped beside his ears, tangles one hand into Steve’s hair.

And maybe a month ago, this would have gone differently.

But this is now, not then. And so Steve kisses him back.

And Christ, he wants to ask what that means- because you don’t just kiss people like that unless they’re something real special, unless they’ve been waltzing around inside you to the beat of your heart.

But they don’t have time for that, not anymore.

So he kisses back and pins Bucky up against the wall, one hand on his shoulder and the other cupping his jaw. The moment he feels Steve reciprocate, Bucky rolls his body up off the wall and flush against Steve’s. And Steve swears he can feel Bucky’s heartbeat behind his shirts, feels his body heat radiating out into Steve’s skin, and Steve takes it all and swallows it up.

“I figure,” Bucky says against his lips when they part for breath. “If I get to have you here-” And he looks over his shoulder at the door that leads to the museum, the exhibit, the veritable shrine to Steve. “-it’s the closest I can get to sayin’ fuck you to whoever made you run.”

And Steve shivers.

It might have gone unmentioned, but Steve had been alone, without a wallet or a phone or a home, on a back-road in Oregon, and Bucky had never asked but of course he must have wondered- he must still be wondering now. But they don’t have time, they don’t have time-

They have this.

Bucky kisses him gently, just the press of his satin lips against Steve’s corduroy. Steve’s heart thrums in his chest- It’s half past 9:00 and Steve knows that the moment they leave this room, they’ll head back to the truck and the day will be done. They don’t have all the time in the world anymore, only these scant few hours.

Bucky’s hand finds his thigh and searches, feeling over the rough of his jeans. His fingers find the button that he’s undone so many times by now, and he thumbs the fastenings open wordlessly, still mouthing over Steve’s lips, soft and slow and sweet.

His hand tucks under the waistband of Steve’s jeans, searching, and then-

“Steve?” he says, pulling his hand away. Because Steve’s dick is soft in his pants, and now he’s the one with tears in his eyes and a tremble in his throat. He’s the one whose breath starts to shake. He’s the one who tries to speak but can’t get anything past his throat because it’s clenched so tight.

Bucky’s the one who wraps his arms around Steve’s waist as he stands up, and just holds him.

Bucky's the one whose breath is steady as it ghosts over Steve’s lips for a split second.

And Bucky’s the one who kisses him.

Shame burns in Steve’s stomach as the tears that refuse to fall from his eyes start to smear over Bucky’s cheeks. Bucky doesn’t care- he drags a hand around Steve’s neck and just puts his hand over the scruff of hair back there. It’s rough and coarse and unkempt but Bucky’s fingers run through the strands like they’re threads of silk.

Steve doesn’t know how long they stand there, up against the back of the bathroom door, in the middle of the American History museum. But it ends, as everything does.

“Bucky,” he says, when his voice is steady enough. “Did you want to…”

And it’s wrong, it’s all wrong. Bucky’s not supposed to be the one holding him. Steve’s supposed to be able to say this, he’s not supposed to swallow his tongue around the words and cast his gaze to the floor and thumb over his own fingers.

“Did you?” Bucky asks.

“For you,” Steve says. “I’d do it for you.”

Bucky huffs a laugh. “Well, damn. I was gonna do it for you.”

“Guess we’ve got ourselves a good-old-fashioned standoff,” Steve muses.

“The only thing around here that’s old-fashioned is you, pal.”

“Bucky, we’re in the middle of a history museum.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “And?”

They make it to the American City Diner ten minutes before it closes, and Steve can see the murder in the waitress’s eyes as she hands them their menus and heads back to the front to start sweeping. It’s a retro-themed place, all red and leather and neon. There’s a jukebox by the front and a little machine for quarters at every table, and a gumball machine that stands taller than Bucky at the end of one of the booths.

“Relax,” Bucky says, as Steve ducks his head guiltily. “Just give ‘em a real nice tip.”

“You think everything’s solved with money,” Steve grumbles.

Bucky smirks. “It usually is.”

“I wasn’t,” Steve says.

Bucky shrugs. “Debatable.”

Steve opens his mouth to argue, but Bucky’s looking at him with that gleam in his eyes, and Steve snorts and takes a drag of water.

“Order up,” he says. “Anything you want.”

“Careful, Rogers,” Bucky hums, taking a sip of his own water. “That’s a dangerous invitation. I just might run you dry.”

Steve shrugs. “I got another six million in the car, I think I’m all right.”

Bucky chokes on his water. “You’re kidding,” he gasps, in between coughs.

“I’m kidding,” Steve agrees. “I’ve actually got seven.”

By the time they make it back to the truck, it’s almost midnight.

Bucky tugs his jacket off and reaches for Steve’s coat, fluffy and down. It’s what he usually uses as his blanket whenever he sleeps in the back, and Steve watches him shrug it on with an aching heart.

Because he’d thought. He’d thought.

He’d thought they’d have one last Night together.

Maybe in a hotel. Under clean sheets, lying on a cumulonimbus, pressed up against one another, warm and soft and light. Maybe under the dim lights of the room, maybe with a window cracked open and a soft breeze over their hair, their bodies tucked under the covers.

But it’s midnight, and he’s not sure there’s a place around here that will let them check in this late, and the last thing he wants to do is make Bucky wait awkwardly beside him while he tries to haggle with a receptionist. They’d had a last Night after all- it’s just not this one.

And so Bucky curls up into Steve’s coat and drops out of the truck and stretches his arms over his head. There are cars around them, but no one stops to look. They’re alone here, just as they’ve always been. Alone together.


Steve blinks back into reality, as Bucky pulls the back panel of the truck open to climb inside.

And if Steve can’t have one last Night, he’ll take one last night.

He flicks the radio on- because it’s Saturday night and Sunday morning and if that’s not a goddamn sign from heaven, he doesn’t know what is- and sets it to play in the back.

And when they’re settled under the overhead cover, cramped in the little space bordered with bags and wrappers and a cooler-

When Bucky’s wrapped up in Steve’s coat and Steve’s warm just in his flannel, and the radio’s somehow louder than the soft rush of cars around them-

When Bucky takes a breath and nestles up against Steve’s chest, and Steve slides his arms around his little waist and holds him and they breathe together-

The night passes.

“I’m not tired,” Bucky whispers after ten minutes, and Steve huffs out a breath that he thinks is a laugh.

“Yeah,” he says. “You are.”

“I’m-” Bucky yawns. “-not.”

“Sleep, Buck,” Steve murmurs. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Bucky gives a little hum and presses his nose between Steve’s pectorals, giving a little sigh as Steve’s coat covers his neck and his ears. And through the crackling speakers, Steve hears Bing Crosby sing thanks for the memory, of sentimental verse, and his stomach turns inside out in his chest because he knows this song.

Bucky can’t hear it, or he’s not listening hard enough, because he just keeps breathing against Steve’s chest. But Steve listens with every fiber of his being, and every single word claws open a crevice in his heart.

He buys himself as much time as he can before Bucky’s breath sends him rolling towards the edge, too. And so he holds his arms steady around Bucky’s waist and they fall together.

She tries the police first.

“He’s only sixteen,” she begs. “I don’t know where he is and I don’t know how to find him. Please, you’re the only ones who can help me.”

“Ma’am,” says officer McDowell. “I’m sorry, but the U.S. doesn’t classify runaways as illegal cases. At best it’s a status offense.”

“Can’t you look for him?” she tries. Sitting behind her, George gives a quiet little snort. She shifts her feet on the floor, looking plaintively down at the police officer behind his desk.

“We don’t actively look for runaways,” McDowell explains, shaking his head. “Not unless there’s proof of a kidnapping.”

“Well-” Winifred stutters. “Well- I’m sure there must have been.”

McDowell’s eyebrows raise. “You think someone took him?”

“Absolutely,” Winifred says, nodding hurriedly. “He’s only sixteen, and I don’t know where he would have gone- he wouldn’t get far on his own, someone must have taken him.”

McDowell seems to take the bait. He nods and reaches for a pad of paper on his desk. Winifred thanks the gods in heaven as he clicks his pen on and looks up expectantly.

“Okay, ma’am,” he says. “Why don’t you tell me a little about your son? Who were his friends? Did he ever make any enemies? Get into fights?” He raises an eyebrow. “We can deliver charges for Harboring a Fugitive, if you think you know someone who might have helped him.”

“Er,” Winifred starts, but she’s interrupted by the thump of boots on the flooring as George stands up.

“No one took him,” George growls.

“George,” Winifred hisses.

“Sir?” McDowell looks at George. “Do you have any more information-”

“He left this,” George spits, throwing a wadded up piece of paper onto the officer’s desk. “Took four and a half thousand out of my account. He’s probably halfway across the country by now.” He gives a bitter snort. “If he hasn’t already-”

He stops short at the murderous look on Winifred’s face, and has at least the grace to look ashamed.

McDowell looks over the letter, frowning. “He doesn’t mention anyone else.” He turns the page over to look on the backside, but it’s blank. And Winifred can just make out her son’s tight handwriting, scribbled from line to line- before McDowell flips the page back towards himself to read it again.

“Didn’t have anyone else,” George says, shrugging.

“What do you mean, he didn’t?” Winifred balks.

George shrugs, going back to his chair. “Never brought anyone over. Never stayed anywhere else.”

“You said he was doing fine.” Winifred’s eyes narrow.

“He was!” George shrugs. “I mean, his grades were fine, I never got calls from the school-”

“Ma’am,” says officer McDowell. “I’m sorry, I know this must be difficult for you- but I think your son is going to be okay. If he has... “ McDowell looks uneasily at George. “...resources, then he should at least be able to find somewhere safe to go.” He gives Winifred a gentle smile. “Most runaway cases come back within a few weeks, especially when they’re at this age.”

“Sir,” Winifred breathes.

“Try to relax, all right?” McDowell plucks a business card out of the stack on his desk and hands it out to her. “If he doesn’t come back in two weeks, give me a call and I’ll see what I can do.”

Winifred takes the card. “Sir?”

“Yes, Ms. Barnes?”

“Do you think I could have that?” And she points to the note, unfurled and lying on McDowell’s desk.

“Oh,” McDowell says. “Well, I don’t see why not.”

“It’s mine,” George says. “He wrote it to me.”

McDowell looks uncomfortably between both of them. “I can make you a copy?”

“God,” Bucky moans, as they cross through a woodsy stretch of Wawa road on their way through Pennsylvania. “If I have to listen to this for one more second, I’m gonna slit my fuckin’ wrists.”

And he switches the dial off of The Swing Years.

“Hey,” Steve says, reaching down to switch it back. But Bucky bats his hand away.

“Nuh-uh,” he says. “Boogie-woogie-bugle my ass.”

“I already have,” Steve snarks, though it doesn’t make sense. Bucky laughs anyway.

“Come on,” he says. “It’s my last day here. Least you can do is let me listen to my shitty music in your shitty car.”

“Hey,” Steve says.

The dial finds the local news before it finds Bucky’s modern station, and Steve hears about two seconds of a report about- aliens?

“-think this has anything to do with the extra-terrestrial attack last month?” a man asks.

“Oh, absolutely,” an angrier man answers. “They’re all connected. You know, none of this stuff started happening until the attack back in June. It’s been eight months and we haven’t had a week without an incident. Who do you think is responsible for these attacks?”

“I’d say the ones doing the attacking,” says a woman.

“You can’t deny-” says the angry man, and Bucky turns the dial.

“Oh, fuck,” he shouts, startling Steve out of his seat. Through the speakers, a song Steve doesn’t recognize starts to play, and Bucky slams his head down as the downbeat comes.

“What,” Steve says.

“Pop it,” Bucky says. “Lock it. Polka-dot it.” His words move to the beat, and Steve realizes he’s not saying them at random, they’re lyrics. He’s heard this style of music before, he thinks, just not all that often. “Countrify, then hip-hop it.”

“Bucky,” he says.

“Put your hawk in the sky, move side to side,” Bucky chants. “Jump to the left, stick it-” He slams a hand to the roof of the truck. “Glide.”

“Bucky, oh my god-”

“Zig-zag,” Bucky spits, bordering on aggressive. “Cross the floor. Shuffle in diagonal.”


“When the drum hits, hands on your hips-”

“I’m trying to drive, you’re gonna-”

“One footed one-eighty twist, and then a-”

Steve sighs.

“Zig-zag, step, glide. Lean in left, CLAP-”

And he reaches over and slaps his hands together, one-two-three, right in front of Steve’s face. Steve gives a cry, tugging the steering wheel to the left as he tries to duck out of the way. Thankfully they’re the only ones on the road, but Steve still narrowly misses a thatch of particularly large trees.

“-THREE TIMES-” Bucky shouts.

“I will make you walk the last seventy five miles to Brooklyn,” Steve snarls, and Bucky kicks his feet up over the dashboard and howls with laughter. “How do you even know this song?”

“Had to do it in middle school,” Bucky says, shrugging. “Eighth grade, no joke.”

“Huh,” Steve says. “School’s different than I remember.”

“Hi, mom. It’s Becca, I’m just checking in. I made it over to Seattle okay- the overlay flight was delayed a little because they had ice on the wings, but I’m here now.

“I’ll send you some chocolates or something when I get settled.

“Love you.”

Winifred smiles tiredly as she hangs up, wandering to the kitchen and looking through the cupboard. It’s already been a whole year since Becca’s moved out. She listens to the voicemail sometimes, when getting up is particularly difficult.

It had been hard to lose one child, but losing the other had taken its toll.

Of course, she hasn’t lost Becca. Not really. She still calls every other week, comes to visit every few months, for holidays when she can get them. She understands, Winifred thinks. She understands how things had changed, since Bucky had left. Since Winifred had waited with baited breath for news for two weeks, stormed down George’s apartment in tears, come home shaking and ashen-faced. How she’d stopped calling down her list of every homeless shelter from coast to coast, after a year had passed. And she understands how Winifred can’t stop herself from hoping, not even now, after four long and empty years.

So Becca calls when she can.

Winifred closes the cupboard and reaches for the list pinned to the fridge with a magnet. She’s out of bread, which is the final straw. If she doesn’t get out for groceries today, she’ll starve herself by the end of the day.

Brooklyn Fare, she decides. She needs more produce than anything else, and their asparagus might be five dollars a bunch, but it’s worth it.

She’s still in Brooklyn, after all these years. Becca had asked her to move to the West with her, but she’d shaken her head and said she didn’t want the fuss or the bother, and Becca had nodded and pretended to believe her. They both know why she’s still here.

Because if Bucky’s still-

The pen slips, and the word bread stutters on its way out. Winifred pulls it away, clicks the cap back over the tip, and breathes.

If Bucky’s ever coming home, it’ll be back to Brooklyn.

After an hour of arguing, Bucky finally agrees to swap to the 70’s station.

Hotel California strikes up as the bridge into Brooklyn slides into view. They’re on the I-278, clustered alongside rows and rows of trucks and cars and bikes and cycles, and Steve’s nerves keep his fingers busy on the wheel. Bucky doesn’t notice- he’s too tense himself. Steve watches him bite his fingernails down until the edge of his ring finger starts to bleed.

The traffic stops just before the bridge, sunlight beating off the banks of snow on the streets. It’s February- the dead of winter for New York- and the air chills right through coats and walls, right down to the skin.

“Bucky,” Steve says, and Bucky stiffens. “You sure about this?”

Because there’s nothing stopping them from turning around. There’s nothing stopping Steve from merging into the outside lane and turning right, turning away from the island and heading back. Back where, exactly, he doesn’t know. But he hadn’t known, back when he’d set off for the West, and maybe not knowing is what makes it that much more interesting.

“I’m sure,” Bucky says, and his dreams of the West die.

“Can I ask you something?” Steve says. Bucky shrugs, but doesn’t shoot him down. Steve takes a breath. “Why did you want to come back?”

Bucky keeps his eyes down on the water as it churns under them, frothing at the rocks.

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. “Guess I was just tired of being alone.”

Steve gives a hollow smile, and the traffic starts to move.

“Where do you want me to drop you?” he asks, as Brooklyn starts to dawn on them.

Bucky thinks. And smiles. “Prospect park.”

Steve nods, and then they’re over the bridge.

The radio slurs into a Chicago song, and Steve’s heart trips in his chest as he hears the words. It’s cruel irony, and he reaches down to change it- to anything, even Bucky’s ridiculous modern station- but Bucky’s hand stops his.

He chances a glance off the road and Bucky’s eyes meet his. Bucky slowly but surely takes his hand off the dial, and Steve wonders if this will be the last song they ever listen to together. They’ve had so many songs, and they’ve all been counting down to now.

But no- they stop at a red light halfway there and the song fades out and Phil Collins fades on, and Steve thinks maybe he can do this after all.

“Here,” Bucky says, far too soon. Steve rolls to a stop at the side of the park and Bucky unlocks his door.

Steve helps him load his things out of the back and into his backpack, and before Steve knows it, Bucky's packed and ready to go, standing in front of the truck and looking at Steve, and Steve can’t do anything but look back.

“I,” Bucky says, and rubs the back of his neck. “Thanks, Steve. For… everything.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. He wants to give Bucky something- anything- but all he has is himself and the road, and now Bucky’s saying goodbye to both.

Bucky hesitates, as if he’s expecting something to happen, expecting Steve to say something, expecting some force to pull him back into the truck and send him flying back to Oregon. But nothing happens, and he lets out his breath and grabs the straps of his backpack and buckles them together.

“Well,” he says. “This is it, I guess.”

Steve nods. He’s thought of this moment a hundred times, thought of words and sentences and hands on his cheeks, but none of it comes. And then Bucky rushes up to meet him, gripping him around the neck in a hug and burying his face into Steve's neck. And then there's no snow around them, no nip of wind, no cold. There's just Bucky. They breathe together, trying to stretch this moment out for as long as they can. 

"Careful," Steve murmurs, after a while. "Don't let me hold you too long, or I'll never let you go."

Bucky sniffs into his neck and pulls off, scrubbing at his eyes. And then Steve heads back into the truck and settles behind the wheel and swallows thickly, just looking at him.

“Good luck,” Bucky tells him.

“Yeah,” he hears himself say. “You too, Buck.”

Bucky nods. He gives the truck one last, longing look, and then turns away and starts to walk. In the overcast February light, the snow is so white against his black leather, and he kicks up snow with his boots as he makes his way into the park.

Steve looks back at the dashboard and pulls the gear shift out of Park, and sets his foot on the gas, and-

In the bowels of the glove compartment, a phone starts to ring.

Three bags isn’t an enormous burden, but Winifred has to lift one under the crook of her arm as she shoulders out of the Brooklyn Fare grocery store. And honestly, thank goodness she hadn’t bought that extra bag of flour, or she’d be down on the floor by now.

It’s a short walk from here back to her house, and so she fumbles with her earbuds to hold them in place, with a grocery bag in each hand and one wobbling precariously in the middle.

The New York streets are snowy and slippery in February, so she takes careful steps as she heads down Flatbush Avenue. Not many people are out and about- not nearly as many as the summer months- but she still scans their faces as she walks, as she always does. Most of them are tourists, usually. They come to gawk at the lights and the buildings and the occasional celebrities.

But not Winifred. Winifred will be here until her dying day. Brooklyn runs through her, easy as breath. She’ll be pushing fifty in another few years, and though her back and her legs are starting to feel the years, she won’t call herself old until she has to push herself around in a chair. And perhaps not even then.

She passes by the tip of the park and scans the snow-covered treetops and bushes, the stamped-over paths muddied by boots and heels. Christmas is the only excuse tourists have to visit in the wintertime, and now that the holidays are over and done with, the park’s scant visitors are almost solely Brooklynites. A handful of them sleep under the benches, desperate for warmth, and Winifred thinks to herself, Lord, I should make some sandwiches.

She spots one of them wandering by the plaza, skinny and cold. He’s younger than the other homeless she sees in the park, hair draped over his ears and his eyes like a blanket. And her heart aches, because it’s scheduled to storm tonight and the poor boy looks like a five-knot wind would knock him right over.

She crosses the street.

Steve fishes out the tiny, beaten mobile phone Karen had gifted him all those months ago. The rest of the glove compartment tumbles to the floor below the passenger seat, but Steve barely notices.

The phone rings in his hand, a number that he doesn’t recognize. And for a moment, he lets himself believe that it’s Karen, or someone from Monterey who’s kept his card and needs a pickup. And then the moment passes and his heart grows cold in his chest, and he forces himself to accept the call.

“Captain Rogers,” a smart British voice says into his ear. He says nothing. “My name is Agent Hunter. I direct the STRIKE team under the name of SHIELD. We have orders to take you in.”

Steve takes a breath.

“You have been charged for harboring a fugitive and going AWOL,” Hunter says. “As military and therefore SHIELD property-”

“Property,” Steve says.

“- we have the authority to extract and contain you for a maximum of five years. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney-”

Steve snorts.

“-one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

Silence won’t count. Steve can keep his mouth shut and they won’t have a handle to grasp when they try to detain him. If he waits for the line of traffic to break behind him, he can swerve left and drive back to Jersey.

He looks at the park and sees nothing but snow and trees and empty footprints.

“Yes,” he says. “I do.”

Winifred sets her bags down on a bench and sorts through them, looking for the non-perishables. The bread, peanut butter, and the handful of energy bars go into one bag, and she fits the rest into the others and leaves them be.

The slender-figured homeless man now on the other side of the park reaches a tree and leans against it, looking down at the ground. Winifred looks him up and down, taking in the too-tight pants and then slick looking jacket. He’s a kid, she realizes. And with attire like that, he’s not living a glamorous life.

She takes the bag and trudges through the snow towards the kid, whose hair is a little thick with grease, unkempt and unbrushed and soaked through now with snow. He’s shivering.

And Winifred knows why he makes her heart hurt like it does.

“Hello,” she says kindly as she reaches him. He gives a little start at her voice, looking up. His hair falls out of his face, and his eyes meet hers. They’re dark blue, so dark they’re navy, and they widen around the edges almost comically as he sees her.

The bag drops right out of Winifred’s hand, landing and spilling out onto the snow.

“Bucky?” she whispers.

And Bucky runs.

Chapter Text

They flank his truck.

Steve barely hears Hunter’s voice in his ear as he unbuckles out of his seat and unlocks the door. He doesn’t see the STRIKE team members on either side of him until they’re marching down the sidewalks towards him in plain view, hands on their waists. Weapons, Steve realizes.

“I’m sorry we have to take you in under such…” Agent Hunter muses for a moment, searching for the best adjective. “Aggressive circumstances,” he finishes.

Steve says nothing. Two STRIKE members flank him on either side, as a third pulls open the door of his truck and heads inside. Steve stands outside the truck, phone held to his ear.

“But laws are laws,” Hunter continues. Steve doesn’t know what he looks like, but he imagines a smug face- someone like Private Hodge. He closes his eyes and remembers Peggy throwing a punch across Hodge’s face, and wishes she could be here now to do the same to every single member of the STRIKE team.

But at the same time, he doesn’t.

“I understand,” he says.

“Excuse the, ah, excessive force,” Hunter says. Steve scans the roads and spots at least five more STRIKE members hovering, as the two flanking him draw their weapons and hold them steadily to their chests. “After all, the last we heard of you was when you went AWOL and stole almost ten million from SHIELD. We expected more of a fight.”

“I’m done fighting,” Steve says. The bite about money tempts him, but he lets it go. He can’t argue every single nitpick- and at this point there’s nothing he can do.

“Well, that’s good news for us.” Hunter laughs. “Captain Rogers, if you’d follow them into the car, please.”

The STRIKE members at his side take his arms and start walking him towards the street, and he follows them without argument. They load him into a black van, take his phone, and slide his hands into cuffs the size of boxing gloves, steel and unyielding, and sit him down at the back.

And as the van soars over the broken pavement, as light flickers in past the tinted windows, as Steve looks at his lap and tries to think of anything else other than the men beside him-

They aim their weapons steady at his chest.

“Bucky,” Winifred breathes, as snow kicks up at her ankles. By the time she comes to her senses, he’s already yards away, sprinting as though his life depends on it.

But Winifred’s not going to lose him again, not this time. She’s going to find him again if it’s the last thing she ever does.

“Bucky!” she shouts, running after him. He’s young and quick and she’s old and out of breath, but she’ll be damned if she doesn’t run until her lungs give out. Bucky's boots dig into the snow as he tears across the park, backpack oscillating from side to side on his back. Winifred wonders how heavy it is- and god, what's inside it- but she doesn't have much time to wonder because Bucky makes a sharp turn to the left and she's one step too slow to follow him. She skids to a halt, sliding, and a clump of snow sinks down into her boot. Ignoring the sensation of sudden, icy dampness, Winifred scrambles back upright just in time to see Bucky's face for a split second, as his hair brushes back past his ears. 

He's terrified. His hands are clenched so tight around the backpack straps that they're almost as white as the snow. And his eyes-

Lord, no. 

His eyes are wide and frightened, and she remembers them with every bit of her heart. 

Winifred had pleaded, every night, for someone to bring her son home. But not like this. 

Her heart sinks, and her feet falter for a fraction of a second-

Bucky vanishes behind a copse of trees, and when Winifred finally reaches it, panting, his footprints are muddied along with everyone else’s, impossible to track- and as hard as she looks at the throngs of people mulling about the park, she doesn’t see him anywhere.

“Damn it,” she breathes, pounding her fist into the tree and shaking snow from the branches. “Damn it.”

Winifred slams the well-worn door open, feet thundering on the office floor.

“Winnie?” Officer McDowell looks up, startled. His little bobblehead figure of Iron Man jiggles on the corner of his desk. Winifred ignores it.

“Mark,” she says, shaking her head. “I saw him.”


In the last four years they’d known each other, Winifred’s conversations with Mark McDowell had slowly progressed from desperate pleading about her missing son into steady, week-by-week talk. Winifred knows that he knows why she still comes by, phones him every so often- he knows there’s no killing her hope. But it’s not just the hope of finding her son again that draws Winifred back to Mark’s office. He’s a kind man and he has a kind voice, and he’d offered to pay for a few meals here and there, and how could Winifred tell him no to an offer like that? (And besides, you don’t just cry in front of someone that many times and not call them at least a friend.)

But it’s been a long, long time since she’s burst in like this, with her eyes wild and red-rimmed.

“I saw him, Mark,” Winifred says again. “Ten minutes ago, in Prospect Park. It was him, I swear it was him.”

“Sit down, Winnie,” Mark says, nodding to the chair. Winifred takes a gulp of air and sits, hands shaking. “Okay.” Mark eyes her warily. “Tell me what happened.”

And so she tells him- about seeing the homeless boy in the park, following him across the clearing with a bag of food, seeing his face and breathing his name and sprinting after him and losing sight of him for a second-

“Breathe,” Mark says calmly. “Breathe, Winnie.” He touches the tips of his fingers to the ginger scruff on his chin, leaning back. “Jesus, I can’t believe it.”

“He’s alive,” Winifred croaks into her hands. “Lord, he’s alive.”

“He’s alive,” Mark agrees. “God knows how he managed to make it this far. Did he look okay?”

Winifred nods, still shell-shocked. “I thought he was one of the regulars that slept in the park, I didn’t even recognize him. He’s still smaller than all of them.”

“He’s only twenty,” Mark muses.

“But he’s…” Winifred tries to remember his face, his stature. He’d been cold and under-dressed, but his cheeks had been flush and his chest had filled out his jacket. “Healthy,” she finishes. She knows starving people when she sees them, and her boy had been just fine.

Well. As fine as anyone can be when they’ve been on the run for four years.

“Well,” Mark says, shaking his head still in disbelief. “That’s real good to hear.” He gives her a gentle smile. “I’m happy for you.”

Winifred blinks, taking her head from her hands. “You-” she stutters. “Mark, you have to find him.”

“Find him?” Mark frowns. “Winnie, he’s more than an adult now. He can go anywhere he wants.”

“I can’t just lose him again.” Winifred shakes her head. “Mark, please. There has to be something- facial recognition. You can look for him.”

Mark sighs. “It’s a little more complicated than… TV kind of stuff. And it usually works the other way around- if we have an image of a suspect, we use it to match up similar-looking license photos. But we can’t just search every single security feed in the city for one specific face.”

“Then- you could send a picture of him out to your officers,” Winifred flounders. “Call a search.”

“I don’t have the jurisdiction to do that,” Mark says, biting his lip. “He hasn’t broken any laws, so there’s no reason for anyone to report him.”

Winfred sags in her chair, looking hopelessly out the window.

“He hasn’t broken any laws, has he?” Mark asks, carefully. “That you can remember?”

Winifred tears her eyes from the overcast clouds and blinks at him. “I,” she says. “I don’t know.”


Winifred thinks. “I…” She blinks again, remembering.

Bucky, looking sullenly up at his parents from the back of the break-room table, up above the store floor. The security officer explaining to Winifred and George about how he’d watched Bucky take two boxes and two bottles and a handful of candy off the shelves and shove them into his backpack.

George, shouting himself hoarse that night over the dinner table as Bucky remained stubbornly silent, Bucky shutting his door and locking it, George demanding him to open this door right now, young man, we are going to have a talk- and Winifred pulling him away, forcing a glass of water into his hands and telling him to calm down.

And Winifred herself, opening the letter from the store management the next week. They’d fined him the cost of his stolen goods, and tacked on an extra hundred- the minimum they could have charged. She’d mailed the cheque back to the store, and that had been that. No call from the police, no write-up. Looking back, it had all gone about as well as it could have.

“There wasn’t a police report,” she says slowly.

Mark taps his chin. “I don’t have to mention that.”

Not a day later, Winifred’s phone rings.

“Someone just spotted him down in Queens,” Mark tells her, a little out of breath. “The shelter on 150th- Officer Gregson saw him heading in about an hour ago.”

Winifred knows of every shelter in New York by heart by now, knows the streets and the names and, in a few cases, the staffers. She knows exactly which place Mark’s talking about, and exactly how to get there.

And so she goes.

It’s not a glamorous building. A metal plated wall drapes down over the front, and a little windowed door by the side is the only thing that suggests this building houses any business at all. A sign over the window reads After-Christmas Toy Drive: Donate your unwanted toys here to children in need! Clothes and bedding are also always accepted!

She pushes the door open.

“Hello,” greets a woman with a sharp black braid and warm brown skin, sitting behind a little desk. “How can I help you?”

“I’m just,” Winifred says. “Browsing.”

The woman’s name-tag reads Zulema.

“Are you dropping off a donation today?” Zulema asks, frowning a little.

Winifred shakes her head, a little guilty. “I’m looking for someone,” she explains.

“Oh,” Zulema says. “Er, okay.” She points to the room behind here. “That’s the commons, the back left door leads to the sleeping rooms.”

“Thank you,” Winifred says, nodding.

The shelter is empty, for the most part. A few people mull about in the big open room Zulema had called the commons, organizing boxes of donated toys and clothes, or else taking down belated Christmas decorations and stowing them away for the next year. It’s February, but Winifred understands leaving decorations up past their due date. The little bits of festivity are always good for a smile or two.

She pushes the door to the sleeping rooms open and steps inside, taking a shaky breath.

It’s sparsely filled with people- some of them asleep, some of them sitting on the beds, some of them talking. The unconscious ones don’t seem to mind the chatter- Winifred supposes they must be used to sleeping with background noise.

She must look out of place here, she thinks, with her freshly-laundered coat and her hair done up in a neat bun, tucked just above her neck. But no one pays her a second look as she wanders past the rows of beds, looking.

And in the back corner, she sees a slim looking figure, curled up under a paisley blanket on the bottom bunk of the very last bed.

His hair is long enough to fall into his face and slip past his lips. As Winifred steps closer, she can see it flutter as he breathes, feathering over his skin. It’s not greasy or unkempt- which raises a few questions- and he smells very, very faintly of almond, hibiscus, and orange.

He must be exhausted, she thinks, watching him sleep. His eyes knit tight together for a few moments, then go lax again as he lets out a breath.

“He yours?” someone asks, and Winifred jumps about a foot. She whirls around and sees a man with a russet, reddish-brown face looking curiously at her. He gives a gesture towards Bucky, who shifts a little at the sound.

“Yes,” she says, nodding.

“He’s been asleep since he got here,” the man says. “They lock up after nine, I think he tried to sleep outside.”

Oh, Bucky, Winifred thinks.

“Came in at ten in the morning, we brought him back here,” the man continues. “He didn’t say a thing.”

“Thank you,” Winifred says.

“He a runaway?” the man asks.

Winifred looks at Bucky’s face, sees slight bags under his eyes when his hair slides out of his face.

“Yes,” she says.

She sits on the side of his bed and waits, just watching him sleep. His face is so different, after four years. He’s lost a little bit of baby fat, his cheeks hollow in and his jaw is a little sharper. But he’s still her Bucky, still her baby. He’s a little taller, a little fuller, but not much. Perhaps, she thinks, if he’d stayed-

Perhaps she could have helped him grow.

She waits for two hours before Bucky wakes, under the gentle touch of her hand on his back. He stirs a little, eyes closed, before going stiff and clutching at the sheets under his hands. And then he lets go and lets out a breath, and Winifred’s heart tugs in her chest. She thumbs over his shoulder and he freezes again.

“Bucky?” she says, as quietly as she can.

Bucky’s eyes don’t meet hers. He closes them and turns into his pillow, shoulders tense.

“Bucky,” Winifred says again. “I’m not going to make you come with me. I won’t even ask, I promise.”

She takes her hand off his shoulder and sits back a little, giving him some space. He tucks his legs up and lifts his head off the pillow, but doesn’t look at her. His hair hangs down the front of his face, shielding his eyes.

“But please, let me talk to you?” Winifred tries. “I know you don’t want to see me. I don’t know why, but.” She licks her lips, cracked dry and rubbed raw with lipstick. “I’ll respect that.”

Bucky sucks in a little breath, and she waits.

“I,” he says. “I did want to see you.”

Winifred’s heart soars.

“But I didn’t want you to see me,” he mumbles. “Like.” He tucks his arms in front of his chest. “Like this.”

He’s still dressed in his tight leather jacket, she realizes, and remembers the slick black pants over his legs.

“I was gonna go get a haircut,” Bucky mutters, voice getting a little faster, a little hoarse around the edges. “And some new clothes, and- and I was gonna find you, honest.” He looks at her then, hair falling out of his eyes, and Winifred’s hands tremble at her sides when she sees tears at the corners of his eyes. “I didn’t want you to think I was just some- some-”

His breath catches in his chest, and Winifred’s hand finds it way to his shoulder again without her even having to ask it. Bucky shudders at the touch, leaning in, and before Winifred knows it he’s in her arms, hugging her around the middle. She holds him there, a hand on his head and a hand on his back, until he gives a little sniffle and moves to pull away. But she holds him tight and he stays, nose going into the crook of her neck.

“Listen to me,” she says, pressing her lips to his hair. “I don’t care what you’ve been doing, or who you’ve been doing it with. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

Bucky whimpers under her arms and she kisses his forehead, the top of his head, everywhere she can reach.

“I missed you, mama,” he whispers.

“Oh, my baby,” Winifred breathes. “I missed you, too.”

She takes him home in a cab and holds his hand the whole way back.

He’s not too weak to walk up the stairs, even with that backpack on his shoulders, so Winifred lets him walk ahead of her- not wanting to lose sight of him again, not even for a moment.

“You remember where the shower is?” she asks, and he nods. “Good,” she says. “I’ll get some fresh clothes for you and put those ones in to wash- go and get yourself a good clean.” It comes back without effort- the gentle mother-hen edge to her words. She hesitates, wondering if she’s gone too far, but Bucky’s mouth lifts into a smile, and he nods as he heads for the bathroom door.

She trades his clothes out for a fresh pair of jeans and an old Pink Floyd tee with a faded label. His old leather things she decides to put on Delicate Wash- in past experience, she’s found it’s always best to be careful with leather.

By the time she’s put them down to wash, Bucky’s still showering. Winifred had expected as much- Lord knows the last time he’d had a proper shower.

And so she heads into the kitchen and pulls out a few things and sets about making lunch. She’d been saving that half-pound of ground beef for dinner, but Winifred will damn herself out of heaven if she doesn’t give her boy the best she can.

And it’s worth the extra trip she knows she’ll have to take later- it’s worth the sun in the sky to see Bucky’s face light up when he steps out of the bathroom, in jeans and a Pink Floyd tee, and smells the meat sizzling on the stove and hears the bubble of cooking pasta permeating through the kitchen.

“I’ve been living off’a diner food for forever,” he moans, when she spoons him a plate and pours out a heaping dollop of fresh sauce right in front of him.

“Careful,” she warns him, taking a plate for herself and sitting down on the other side of the corner, right beside him. “What did I always tell you about your diet?”

“Something about vegetables?” Bucky guesses, shrugging. Winifred laughs, and Bucky scoops up a hefty forkful of pasta and seems to swallow it whole, without even chewing. Before Winifred can chide him, he rolls his eyes back and groans happily, tapping the side of the plate with his fork. Winifred smiles behind her own fork, just watching him eat. “I musta scrambled my brain when I was gone,” Bucky says, after he’s downed the first bite. “Cause I don’t remember anything you made ever tasting this good.”

“There’s not much else I can make,” Winifred admits. “Becca even had to show me how-”

Becca. Becca.

She has to tell Becca.

Not now, certainly. The last thing Bucky needs is the stress of another relative. But sometime soon. Winifred marks it away in her little mental checklist, nodding faintly to herself.

Bucky takes another bite of pasta as Winifred thinks.

“How is she?” he asks, after some time.

“Good,” Winifred says, nodding. “She was living in Brooklyn for a while, before-” She hesitates. “You left,” she finishes. “But she moved to the West Coast about a year ago, up to Seattle.” Winifred takes a sip of water to wash the words down, watching Bucky carefully. “She keeps in touch,” she adds, and Bucky smiles around his food.

“That’s good,” he says, voice a little muffled.

“Talking with your mouth full?” Winifred raises an eyebrow. “Has all my parenting been for nothing?”

“Weren’t all yours,” Bucky fires back, as he always had- always with a quick tongue, a comeback ready. Winifred had always laughed, every time, but now-

Bucky seems to realize he’s stepped over a line, or perhaps a threshold, and the clock over the kitchen radio is suddenly the loudest thing in the room. Bucky turns back to his plate, backing down and starting to close his walls up again.

“I’m sorry,” Winifred says, before he can close off entirely.

Bucky looks up, eyes laced with fear. Winifred hates it- hates that Bucky thinks, even for a second, that she poses a threat.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, meeting his eyes. He deserves this- honest and to his face. “I should have seen how hard it was for you. I knew you were having trouble, but…” She sighs, closing her eyes for a moment and wiping them. “I didn’t know how bad things were until he told me you were gone.”

Bucky sits up. “He told you?”

“Oh, yes.” Winifred nods. “Came right to my door,” she says, remembering. “Absolutely marinated. Plastered. Wasted.”

Bucky looks down at his plate.

“What did he say?”

“He told me you left,” Winifred says. “That you’d written a note, taken his card, and up and left. He was…” Winifred sighs. “Sad,” she remembers.

That’s evidently a surprise to Bucky, because he freezes in place, looking at his mother. Winifred tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, thinking.

Bucky tears his eyes away from hers and stares down at his lap. “I thought he’d be relieved,” he says quietly. “That I was gone.”

“Baby,” Winifred breathes. “No- not at all.”

Bucky shrugs. “He was always saying I didn’t pull my weight up around the house. I mean, he was right.” His mouth cracks into a self-deprecating smile, and Winifred’s heart tugs at her chest. Bucky absently pokes his fork at his pasta. “Typical teenage slob, y’know?”

Winifred hesitates.

“He always thought you and Becca loved him a little less,” she says. “He wasn’t ready to be a father.”

“What do you mean?” Bucky frowns.

Winifred sighs. “We didn’t plan on having Becca.”

Bucky stares.

“When I told him I was pregnant,” Winifred goes on, “he agreed to stay with me and help raise her- because he loved me. And I think he really did believe he wanted it- a family.” She gives a small, sad smile. “Because then, years later when I asked to have you, he agreed. But two children was more than I think he could handle.”

She’s never told him this before. Becca had asked, before she’d left for Washington, and they’d had one last night of hot chocolate and a few shared tears, and Winifred had given her the truth. And now Bucky deserves the same.

“It wasn’t fair to him,” she says, stirring her coffee thoughtfully. “But more than that, it wasn’t fair to you. In a way, I think he believed he lost me because of you two.”

Bucky eats in silence for a few moments, finishing up the last of his pasta and chasing it with a few gulps of water.

“He didn’t,” he says after some time, biting his lip. “I mean, he never...”

Winifred shakes her head. “No,” she says. “He wasn’t violent, thank goodness. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t…” She sighs. She doesn’t know exactly how George had been with Bucky, but she’d never imagined good things.

Bucky opens his mouth, and Winifred waits. She watches as something crawls its way up Bucky’s throat and rests on his tongue, watches him fight, trying to decide whether or not to let it out. And then he swallows thickly and takes a sip of water.

Winifred lets him have the silence- it’s his story to tell, and she won’t ask for anything he doesn’t want to give just yet. She tries to will the silence into anything else but the uncomfortable stretch it’s turning into, but it doesn’t yield.

“But,” Bucky starts, suddenly. “If he hated us-”

“He didn’t hate you,” Winifred says softly.

“If he didn’t- like kids-” Bucky tries again. “Why’d he take custody of me?”

Winifred worries her lip and stalls, taking another drag of coffee. But Bucky keeps his gaze steady, and Winifred sees the new years of experience on him as they straighten his spine and sharpen his eyes. He’s grown so much, even in just four years, and she wonders desperately why he knows how to hold his own so well.

“George was…” she says. “Impulsive.”

Bucky lets out a little breath that might be a laugh.

“I think he meant it to be a blow against me. Or against you and Becca. I’m not sure- I never asked him.” Winifred taps her fingers around the edge of her coffee mug. “Either to keep you from me, to give me the child I hadn’t asked for and take away the one I had-”

Bucky winces.

“-or to punish you two for taking me away from him, by separating you from each other.”

Bucky looks faintly sick, staring at the table.

“I’m sorry,” Winifred says again.

“I didn’t know Becca was…” Bucky swallows thickly. “Unplanned.”

“I love her with all of my heart,” Winifred says firmly. “I always did, from the moment I knew she was going to be part of my life.”

“Does she know?” Bucky asks.

“Yes.” Winifred nods. “Things were different when I had her,” she explains. “Understand, though, I wanted to keep Becca from the start. I’d always known I wanted children, I just hadn’t thought the timing through.” She sighs. “And getting an abortion wasn’t an option.”

Bucky shifts uncomfortably in his chair. Winifred stands and takes their plates off the table, glad for something to do.

“George stayed,” she continues, thoughtfully. “He promised he’d see things through to the end.” She gives a small smile. “I always forget how much he loved me.”

“Loved?” Bucky asks, trepidation in his voice.

“Well,” Winifred says, setting the plates in the sink. “I doubt he loves me now.”

“So he’s still…?”

“Lord knows where George is,” Winifred sighs.

Bucky makes a soft, strangled noise. Winifred abandons the dishes and reaches for the cupboard, pulling out a mug. She finds the jar of cocoa without having to look for it, and spoons out a good heap into the mug. It’s the one Becca had given her, before she’d left for the West- wider than it is tall, and bearing two little orange ears on the top and a tail for the handle.

Situations like this, Winifred knows, deserve the cat mug.

She heats a few cups of milk in the microwave, pours it into the mug, and stirs until she can just smell the little hints of orange around the chocolate.

Bucky curls his hands around the mug when she sets it in front of him.

“Mama,” he says, and she sits down beside him again. “Did you.” He looks into the mug like it’s a crystal ball and he’s looking for an answer, a sign, anything. And then he looks up, eyes hesitant and scared again. “Did you look for me?”

“Baby,” Winifred breathes. “Oh- baby, yes.”

“You did?” Bucky’s hands tighten around the mug.

“Of course I did,” Winifred says, shaking her head. “Called all the shelters and hotels in New York- then up and down the coast. Day and night, for weeks.”

“I took a plane to L.A.,” Bucky says, very suddenly. And Winifred’s insides warm- because for so long she’d wondered- feared that her baby had been stuck under a park bench, under a tree, under a bank of snow that had frozen him from the inside out.

“We thought you might have flown somewhere,” she says, nodding.

“We?” Bucky asks.

“George and I,” Winifred says.

Bucky looks back down at his mug, uncomfortable.

“It was George’s idea, actually,” Winifred remembers. “Since you’d taken about four thousand from his account, he figured you might have spent it on a plane ticket.”

“I spent it all,” Bucky admits, quietly. “I knew it was his money, so I.” He swallows again. “I just bought as much as I could, the moment I got to California. I was down to about a hundred before I’d been there a week.”

And impossibly, Winifred feels herself smile. Bucky sees it and hesitates, confused. “I’d love to tell him that,” she explains. “Lord, how angry he was that you’d taken everything. It’s gone, Winnie,” she says, voice gruff. “All of it.” She gives a hollow bark of a laugh, and her right hand twitches a little, ever at the ready.

Bucky finally, finally takes a sip of the hot chocolate. Winifred knows how to make it hot, but not too hot. Creamy, but not thick. Sweet, but not overbearing. She watches his eyes close slowly as he takes another sip, humming softly. He licks the edge of the mug before he sets it down, chasing the last of the taste as far as he can.

“What did you say?” he asks.


“When he came to you,” Bucky clarifies. “That night.”

“Say?” Winifred says, raising an eyebrow deftly. Bucky looks at her, puzzled, and that sly smile finds its way back to her lips. Her right hand closes into a loose fist, cradled in her lap. “I didn’t say anything.”


Steve wakes up to glass walls and sore wrists.

He’s sat, propped up on the back wall of a little cot, and his neck aches something terrible. His old flannel and tank are still over his shoulders and his jeans are over his legs, but he’s barefoot.

The cell itself is large enough to hold perhaps twenty people comfortably, with three solid walls and one glass one facing the rest of the room. With the light from the cell, Steve can see the rest of the room, which is walled with the same solid material that lines the back of his cell. It reminds him of a bunker.

“Good morning, Captain,” says a now-familiar voice, and two figures swim into view. Two men stand behind the glass wall in front of him, both wearing slick black uniforms with silver circular patches on their left shoulders. “Apologies for the sedative, but we didn’t know what kind of force we were going to have to deal with when we had to retrieve you.”

“I came quietly,” Steve says.

“You didn’t leave quietly,” Hunter points out, and Steve bites his tongue before he can retort yes, actually, I did.

“I understand,” he says instead.

“Captain Rogers,” Hunter begins.

“I’m not a Captain anymore,” Steve says, cutting him off. “I lost that title a long time ago.”

“You regained your title the moment you regained your heartbeat,” snaps the man on Hunter’s left, narrowing his eyes. “And, frankly, you should consider yourself lucky SHIELD gave you that back at all.”

“Were they on the fence about it?” Steve snaps back.

“Rollins,” Hunter mutters, giving his friend a sharp look. The other man bristles but falls silent at Hunter’s side, head slightly bowed. Hunter turns back to Steve. “Captain Rogers, we are on the same side.”

Steve looks pointedly at the wall between them.

“Where am I?” he asks, letting it go.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly where,” Hunter says. “As this building doesn’t exist on official records. We’re in a SHIELD compound- underneath one, actually.”

“What do you want,” Steve says, not bothering to add an inflection to the question.

“You,” Hunter says, shrugging. “To be honest, you’re just about the most valuable man in the world right now.”

Steve bristles.

“A blood sample alone tells us more than the last six decades of research can,” Rollins adds, with a nervous look at his superior. Steve closes his eyes. The serum, he thinks. It’s always, always about the serum.

But Hunter and Rollins don’t pull their faces off to reveal blood-red faces. Steve’s seen monsters out of men before, and these men are not monsters.

“Okay,” he says.

Hunter brightens. “Perfect. I’ll get someone from medical to take some samples, whenever you’re ready.”

“I’m ready now,” Steve says, already itching to break through the walls around him- the second set of walls he’s woken up to under SHIELD’s name. If it means having to see a doctor to get out of here, then so be it. 

“Excellent,” Hunter says. “Rollins, would you get Doctor Cho down here?” Rollins nods.

Steve’s stomach sinks. As if he’s reading Steve’s mind, Rollins answers before Steve can even ask. “You’re still technically a threat,” he explains. “At least to SHIELD.” He gives an apologetic smile. “When we found you, we woke you up with the understanding that you might not be, well, you.”

“You might have lost everything but your body,” Hunter agrees. “You were always a potential threat.”

Steve looks Hunter in the eyes. Didn’t take the label off when I was up and walking, he thinks.

“I understand,” he says.

Hunter stays as Rollins heads to the back of the room, out of sight from the glare of the glass.

And maybe, a long time ago, Steve would have held his gaze. Maybe, a long time ago, Steve would have met his eyes and dared him to look away first, to twitch, even to blink.

But that was a long time ago, and this is now. And now, Steve sits on his cot and stares at his thighs and waits.

“Captain Rogers,” Rollins says, what feels like an hour later. Steve bristles at the title and looks up to see him leading a polite looking Korean woman into the room. “This is Doctor Helen Cho.”

Steve nods, and Doctor Cho nods back. Hanging from her hand is a slim briefcase with two clips on the end and a keyhole between them. Rollins leads her to the side of the room, where a small digital panel protrudes from the wall.

“Captain,” Rollins says, and Steve grits his teeth. Rollins is apparently alone this time, Hunter nowhere to be seen. “Please stand by the far wall.”

Steve retreats and leans against the back wall, crossing his arms. He can’t see clearly through the class, but he thinks Rollins gives a small smile before turning to the panel and typing in a series of numbers, and then an enter key.

A small section of the wall slides to the side on either side of the glass, and Doctor Cho steps into the little hallway. She emerges into the cell and gives Rollins a nod. Rollins presses the enter key one more time and the walls slide back, sealing.

“Doctor Cho will take a few samples from you, Captain,” Rollins says, and Steve’s hand curls into a fist again at the title.

Doctor Cho’s eyes flicker down to it, for a split second.

“Try not to punch her,” Rollins adds. “She’s almost worth as much as you.” He chuckles.

If this works, he’ll be invaluable.

“Doctor Cho,” he says, glancing down at the briefcase in her left hand. He holds out his right, and Doctor Cho takes it in a careful grasp, shaking it once.

“Mister Rogers,” she says.

Chapter Text

He’s in Steve’s arms.

Steve’s hands are strong around him and they hold him tight against that gigantic chest, and Bucky lets his nose tuck into Steve’s neck, as Steve’s lips brush the top of his head, pressing a soft kiss to his hairline.

A hand brushes over his shoulder, and Bucky shivers.

“Steve,” he whispers into Steve’s neck. Steve gives an answering sound, thumbing over Bucky’s shoulders, over the soft, thin fabric of his shirt. Bucky trembles again, losing his footing. Steve holds him up effortlessly.

Careful, he wants to say. But the word doesn’t even make it past his throat before it’s drowned out by a stuttering intake of breath as Steve bends his head down and starts to kiss his way down Bucky’s neck.

His touch is electric again, like Bucky remembers it. Every brush of his lips against Bucky’s skin sends tendrils of excitement through his body, down to his fingertips, and his knees buckle and Steve catches him before he can fall.

“I missed you,” Steve murmurs in Bucky’s right ear. “Bucky.”

Strong hands close around Bucky’s waist, and two thumbs dig into the small of his back, and Bucky blinks and he’s turned. His hips fall back against a big, powerful lap, and his heart skips in his chest.

“I,” he says. “I missed you, too.”

“Missed this?” Steve guesses, thumbs sliding down until they’re slipping into the cleft of his ass, and Bucky realizes he’s naked. The sheets and the blanket beneath them are familiar, but the walls aren’t. The curtains are closed, and Bucky can’t tell if it’s day or night- but he doesn’t care. None of it matters.

He tries to say yes, but all that makes its way out of his mouth is a tiny, whimpering sound. Steve apparently takes it as an affirmation, because he gives a soft laugh and pushes his fingertips against Bucky’s rim. They’re slick and warm and before Bucky can take another breath, he’s opened up to three fingers, wriggling and stuffing him full, and Steve bites down on the back of his neck, breath hot and heavy, and Bucky breathes with him, and-

Wakes up to sweltering sheets.

He sucks in a breath, looking around the pitch-black room. The old alarm clock on his bedside table blinks out the time, and he squints to see that it’s almost half past three in the morning.

His dick is straining in his boxers, leaking and soaking through a spot in the front. Even as Bucky shifts to get a better look at the clock, the fabric brushes over the head of his cock and he has to suck in a sharp breath.

His mother is downstairs and across the hall, he reminds himself. And this is nothing he hasn’t already done in this house, in this room, in this bed.

And so he shoves his boxers off and tosses them down to the carpet. He keeps the blanket over his legs, tells himself it’s because it’s only March and Brooklyn still hasn’t quite shaken off the last few dregs of winter, and wraps his hand around his cock.

The sound of Steve’s voice against his neck sends a thrill of arousal down his spine, and he tries to remember the exact way his own name had sounded, in that low, dark chocolate growl. How that breath had brushed past his skin, hot and warm and heavy. How those hands had gripped him, fingers digging hard enough to leave bruises. And how those fingers had felt, pushing right past his rim and filling him up-

He shoves three fingers from his left hand into his mouth, still working his cock with his right. Steve’s fingers had been so thick, so big- even four of Bucky’s fingers would probably only feel like two of Steve’s. He swirls his tongue over the tips of his fingers, and dives back into the memory of his dream, of sitting in Steve’s lap, feeling those hands around his waist, feeling that breath behind him, hearing that voice in his ear.

It’s not enough.

Why, he thinks suddenly and acutely, why is he limiting himself to dreams?

And at once, a barrage of memories fills his mind’s eye, and he’s back in the truck, sprawled on his stomach over the driver’s seat, as Steve pins him down and fucks him from behind, as that cock fills him up again and again- he’s back in the hotel room with fresh sheets that feel like cardboard, and Steve smells like cheap hotel soap and he feels like heaven- he’s back in the back of the truck, Steve curled up behind him, the cold winter wind on his face and the whole heat of Steve inside him, as Steve rocks up into him again and again, slowly, purposefully.

“Fuck,” he gasps, as his cock jerks in his hand, adding another dribble of slick to the mess already smeared over his stomach. He slides his fingers out of his mouth and presses his index against his rim, impatient. His hole hesitates for only a moment before relaxing open, and he shoves his spit-slick finger right past, until it’s buried down to the knuckle. He barely needs to wait before he can slide a second finger right in next to the first, and he scissors them, trying desperately to believe they’re Steve’s.

It doesn’t work, of course. Steve’s hands are coarse and thick and gentle and warm and home-

Bucky comes, his orgasm overpowering and instantaneous. Come spills out between his fingers and splatters onto his chest, and in the last few moments of awareness, he forces his mind to picture Steve over him, as he’s lying fucked out in the back of the truck, he tries to imagine Steve coming inside him with Bucky’s name on his lips, tries to imagine Steve reaching down to his stomach, still buried inside him, and taking his cock in hand and stroking it even after Bucky’s already come, until he’s so, so, so sensitive-

It’s not another orgasm that the memory wrenches out of him.

It’s a shaking breath, a breath that drags along the sides of his throat on the way out and almost pulls out tears. He blinks furiously, refusing them.

The clock on his bedside table reads a quarter past three. Bucky sighs, throws his arm over his eyes, and falls asleep to thoughts of hands and breath and words.

He wakes to the smell of buttermilk waffles wafting in under his bedroom door.

Light poking in through the corners of his blinds tells him it’s morning- really morning, this time. He throws his covers off and heads straight for the shower, dipping through the hallway as fast as he can. The soap in the shower is unscented, made for sensitive skin, and he scrubs it up and down his body, washing off the sticky evidence of last night down the drain. He grabs the shampoo- also unscented, something to do with repairing hair- and works it into his hair as fast as he can, rinses it out before the bubbles even have a chance to work up a lather.

He shuts off the water and grabs a towel from the hook on the wall, and dries himself, giddy and impatient. There’s nothing Bucky Barnes loves in this world more than fresh, fluffy waffles, and he doesn’t intend to miss out.

His boxers go on backwards and his socks don’t match, and he barely throws on a tank top and jeans before he’s stumbling down the stairs. He’s twenty goddamn years old but he feels like he’s twelve, for the way his heart thunders in his chest and his legs want to run him off the top of the stairs and straight into the air.

Grinning, he jumps the last couple stairs and skids around the corner into the kitchen, to see his mother humming as she leans on the kitchen counter, batter simmering hot in the pan, and a plate next to her stacked high with-

“Pancakes,” Winifred says, smiling as she sees him.

“Oh,” he says.

Winifred flips the cake cooking in the pan, and it turns over, showing a perfectly golden-brown finish on the top.

“I thought I’d make you something special,” Winifred continues, setting her spatula down and looking at him.

Bucky glances around the kitchen, as if expecting to see Becca sitting expectantly at the dining table. But no one else looks back, and so he blinks at his mother, confused. Winifred frowns.

“It’s your birthday,” she says.

When she asks him what he wants, the first word out of Bucky’s mouth is “clothes.” He’s spent four years on the same rotation of skin-tight rags that work well when he’s trying to dress up as a whore, but aren’t so useful when the wind turns cold and the rain freezes before it hits the ground. It’s March now, and they’re heading towards warmer weather, but Bucky doesn’t care. Before he knows it, the summer will have passed him by, and it’ll be winter again, and he doesn’t want to have to face the cold alone again.

He thinks abruptly of a cold, abandoned road in Oregon, and of the fear in his chest- he thinks of looking over his shoulder at the blessedly empty road, and hoping, praying, for a miracle.

“I don’t know most of these stores,” Winifred tells him, as they pull into the mall parking lot. They have to cross to Jersey to get to the nearest mall, and some tiny part of Bucky wants to put up a fight about it. “I don’t come here much,” Winifred explains. “But I’m sure we can find something that’ll fit you.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and makes a mental note not to make his mother spend more than a hundred dollars on him. One coat and a few cheap shirts. And maybe some more pants.

Two hundred and thirty seven dollars later, they’re in the food court, and Bucky’s digging into a delicious mall pretzel, complete with fake cheese sauce. Winifred watches him like he’s hung the moon, as he gets grease and salt all over his fingers.

“Slow down before you hurt yourself,” she hums, passing him a napkin.

Overhead, a string of television screens display the latest deals-of-the-week, and Bucky watches them absently. He’d forgotten just how alluring moving pictures were, and he almost can’t tear his eyes away. Winifred just sighs fondly and stirs at her empty bowl of ice cream, watching him.

It’s not a busy day at the mall. It’s only the beginning of March, so there are no holidays to shop for. The weather is getting better, but it’s still not sunny and inviting. Bucky likes it better this way. He doesn’t have to yell to his mother to be heard, and they can walk side by side without having to squish together to brush past people. It’s just a quiet, private day out between the two of them, and he couldn’t be happier.

He’s almost done with his pretzel when he hears a voice.


Winifred jolts in her seat, whipping around. Bucky looks up to see a man walking towards them, smiling brightly and dressed in a security officer’s uniform. He tenses in his seat, instinctually.

“Mark!” Winifred says, getting to her feet and reaching for his hand. He grabs it and tugs her into a quick hug. “What are you doing here?” Winifred asks, as they part. She tucks a loose lock of hair behind her ear. The man called Mark tugs his short ginger beard between his fingers, as if he’s fidgeting.

“I got a friend who works here,” he says, shrugging. “He had a family emergency, and since I used to work here part time, they still had my stuff on record. I’m just filling in for a week or two.”

“What a step up,” Winifred says, and they both laugh. She looks back to Bucky, and Mark follows her gaze.

“Hello,” he says.

Bucky says nothing.

“You must be Bucky,” Mark says. Bucky nods. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Bucky looks at his mother.

“Bucky,” she says. “This is officer McDowell.”

“I’m a Staff Sergeant for the BPD,” Mark says, stepping forward. Bucky shrinks back in his seat, and Mark stops, instantly. “Hey, now,” he says, holding his hands up, palms forward. “I just wanted to say hi. Your mother and I spent a lot of time looking for you, you know.”

Warmth blooms behind Bucky’s chest, and he can’t help it. He gives a small, shy smile.

“It’s good to see you,” Winifred says, and Mark looks back at her. “I was going to give you a call, but-”

“But you found your son and you’ve been busy catching up?” Mark guesses. “Winifred, how dare you. I thought I was higher on your priority list.” He chuckles, and Winifred gives a sheepish smile. “Don’t worry,” Mark says. “I was going to call you, as a matter of fact. But you have no idea how crazy the BPD has been, lately. What with the Avengers, and the thing with the robots back in January- we’re still dealing with that mess.” He drags a hand through what’s left of his ginger hair, sighing. “It’s been crazy. They don’t train you for this sort of stuff in the academy.”

“Lord, I can’t imagine,” Winifred says, shaking her head. “I’m lucky I was over in Seattle when that blew over.”

Bucky, halfway through taking a swig of water, chokes on his ice. Mark looks at him, as if he’d forgotten Bucky was even there.

“Well,” he says. “I won’t keep you- I’m sure you have lots to catch up on.”

Lots on which to catch up, Bucky thinks instinctively.

“We’ll talk?” Winifred says.

“We’ll talk,” Mark agrees. “Take care, Winnie.”

And he bustles off into the mall again, leaving them alone in the food court. Winifred watches him go and sits back down, giving a satisfied sigh.

“Well, well, well,” Bucky says. Winifred looks at him, almost startled. He grins at her.

“What?” she asks, shrewdly.

“Someone’s been busy,” Bucky hums.

“James Buchanan Barnes,” Winifred snaps. “You do not talk about your mother that way-”

“So you have,” Bucky gushes, sitting up and beaming. “Mama-”

“Hush,” Winifred says. “Not a word.”

Bucky turns the radio up as high as it will go for the drive home, and Winifred tries her best to sing along. Bucky fills in the gaps for her, all too happy to belt out lyrics to songs he remembers Steve hating. Winifred doesn’t chastise him, just lets him sing. And when they get home, she carries all of his bags for him, not even blanching at the weight.

“I want to go to the doctor’s,” Bucky says, apropos of nothing as he shrugs his coat off and sets it on the back of the couch.

Winifred sets the shopping bags down on the kitchen counter and looks at him. “Okay,” she says, carefully.

“I just,” Bucky says. “I want to make sure everything’s… okay.”

“Baby,” Winifred says. “Of course. We can get you an appointment this week, all right?”

Bucky nods. “Thanks, mama.”

And then the air between them is suddenly thick with things unsaid. There’s so much that Bucky hasn’t told her, so much that he doesn’t know if he can tell anyone. There’s so much that he regrets, so much that he’s still scared of, so much that he wants to block away forever. But his mama had looked for him, and she’d been scared too, and so she deserves at least some of it. The best of it.

Bucky sits down on the couch.

“I met someone,” he says.

Winifred abandons the bags of clothes begging to be de-tagged and heads to the couch too, sitting beside him. She gives him more than enough elbow room, keeps her knees together, her hands in her lap.

“Back in,” Bucky thinks. “November,” he remembers. “I was up in Oregon, and I met a guy.” And he smiles at the memory, at the miracle that had driven up and asked his name. He looks at his mother, and she’s biting her lip, looking worried. “He’s not,” Bucky says. “No- he’s not why I want to see a doctor, he’s-” And he laughs a little. “He’s how I got home.”

Winifred’s worried face disappears, and Bucky’s heart feels a little bit lighter.

“What was he like?” she asks, and Bucky tells her.

He leaves out most of the intimate details, but he tells her how Steve had found him on the road, had picked him up and driven him all the way across the country- how Steve had bought him groceries and played his music and laughed with him- how Steve had complained about his phone but still bought a damn charger for it- how Steve had asked him if he was sure, before driving over the bridge to the park and letting him go.

When he finishes, he realizes his heart is tight in his chest and his eyes are wet.

“Baby,” Winifred says softly, scooting closer to him and pulling him into a hug. “He was good to you.”

“Yeah, mama,” Bucky mumbles. “He was.”

Bucky picks at the collar of his tank top, staring at the blank document in front of him.

“You’re kidding me.”

“I’m not,” he says, squeezing his phone between his ear and his shoulder.

“You’re such an idiot, Buck, holy shit.”

“Well- I-” Bucky stutters.

“He had a condom,” Becca says, fighting back what might be laughter and might be anger, “and he was gonna use it, and then you just- said no?”

“He said he was clean,” Bucky tries.

Becca sighs into his ear, sending a rush of static through the speaker. “They all say they’re clean, Buck.”

“Look,” Bucky says, “he was the only one- I made all the others wear ‘em.”

“And I’m very proud of you,” Becca hums. “But you’re an idiot.”

“Hey, my tests came back clean,” Bucky points out.

“You got mom to give you a test?”

“She’s the one with health insurance,” Bucky says, shrugging. He taps out a sentence onto the document, thinks better of it, and then deletes it again.

“So, what- does she know?”

“About some of it,” Bucky says. “I mean, I think she does. She kind of implied it?”

“Only you,” Becca groans. “Only you, Bucky, would get away with this.”

“With what?”

“Running away for four years and becoming a hooker.”

“I was not a hooker.”

“You were definitely a hooker.”

“I was a part-time hooker.”

“Still counts.”

“Oh my god, would you just help me with this essay?”

Becca snorts. “I said I’d help if you gave me sex details. You’re still holding up your end of the bargain.”

“I gave you sex details!”

“You only got to the part where he threw the condom out,” Becca says. “You’ve still got three months of sex details to go through, buster.”

“You’re the worst,” Bucky moans.

“Rome fell in 476 AD,” Becca says. “And the quadratic equation goes along to the tune of ‘pop goes the weasel’. Other than that, I’ve got nothing.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky says. “You went to college, you’re supposed to be smart.”

“Supposed to be,” Becca agrees. “Look, email me whatever you’ve got and I’ll look it over, okay?”

“I haven’t got anything,” Bucky whines.

“Then stop jacking off to the thought of your long-lost condom-hater and start writing,” Becca scolds.

“I am not jacking off-”

“Love you too, Buck,” Becca says. “I gotta go to work, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Becca, you piece of-”

“You’re breaking up,” Becca says, voice slightly distorted as if she’s holding the phone away from her face. “I can’t hear you- Bucky- tell mom I love her-” And then her voice comes back. “And tell her to send more gingerbread.”

“I swear to god, you-”

And the line goes dead.

Bucky sighs, tossing his phone down onto the bed. The document on his computer screen stares at him, mockingly. He’s supposed to finish a five-page-essay on a character of his choice in The Crucible by Friday night, and it’s Wednesday and he hasn’t even started. It’s been a weird few months.

He can hardly believe it’s already May.


Bucky looks up as his bedroom door opens and Winifred smiles into the room.

“Hey, ma,” he says.

“I heard shouting,” she says. “Is everything all right?”

“Oh,” Bucky says. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Just Beccs, being Beccs.”

Winifred rolls her eyes. “You two,” she says. “I swear.” Bucky gives a what can you do shrug, and she laughs. “How’s your essay coming?”

“Great,” Bucky says immediately. “It’s going great.”

Winifred raises an eyebrow. “Haven’t written a word, have you?”

Bucky sighs. “Nope.”

“Well,” Winifred says. “How about this. Finish a page and I’ll take you out for dinner.”

“Tempting,” Bucky says. “Make it Indian and we’ve got a deal.”

“Deal,” Winifred says. “Let me see what you’ve got by 7, all right?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Yeah, all right.”

Winifred blows him a kiss. “Love you, baby.”

“Love you too, mama,” Bucky says, and turns back to his essay as she pulls the door shut behind her. He opens his book up and tries to find a passage about Reverend Hale that might be of some use, and before he knows it his fingers are on the keys, typing out an outline.

He likes this version of school much better.

It had been Winifred’s idea, finishing his GED online. And it’s not like Bucky’s planning on getting any sort of fancy job anytime soon, but if he’s going to do anything, this is the place to start. Even though he doesn’t have a plan, it’s productive. And so days don’t pass by without meaning anymore. Now he has at least some sort of purpose.

He makes it to a page and a half by six, and he sends it off to Becca for editing before he heads downstairs.

It might finally be May, but the nights are still cold enough to warrant real pants over shorts, and so Bucky hikes on a pair of loose fitting jeans and they head out for Pearl Indian.

Bucky downs an entire flat of naan bread and a pot of lamb kashmiri, and by the time they head back home he can barely walk. Brooklyn is still alive at night, and just like he remembers, and he’s warm and full and happy, and-

Steve stares at him from across the street.

Bucky stops short, almost tripping over his own feet. Winifred reaches to catch him, but he doesn’t fall. He stares at the little newsstand, at the row of newspapers lining the stall of the cart, propped up on the sidewalk. And before he knows what he’s doing, he’s running across the street, leaving his mother behind.

“Bucky!” she shouts, following him, and by the time she reaches him he’s already grabbing a paper out of the display, unfolding it as fast as his trembling fingers can move.

“Bucky,” Winifred scolds, sounding angry for the first time since he’s come home. “Bucky, what on earth-”

But Bucky isn’t listening.

Freedom Rings Again, shouts the title. And then, in smaller print: Captain America Returns! And underneath the headline, Steve looks straight up at Bucky from behind a mask, and all the warmth from the last three months drops straight out of Bucky’s stomach.

“Well,” Tony Stark says, looking at the wreckage of the warehouse. “That went well.”

“Well enough for you,” Clint Barton groans, his comm flickering in and out as he clambers out of the debris, bow snapped in two and half an arrow left in his quiver. “The rest of us actually had to fight.”

“Hey, I fought,” Tony says.

“Girls, enough fighting,” butts in Natasha Romanoff, helping Clint up out of the rubble. They make their way out onto the street, and Clint winces every other step. “You’re both pretty. Now can we please get back to the tower and get this paperwork over with as soon as we can?”

“Hey, now,” Tony whines, floating down and hovering a few feet off the ground. “We just stopped an inter-dimensional smuggling ring, don’t you think that deserves a celebration?”

“Inter-dimensional is a strong word,” says Bruce into all of their ears, as he pilots the Quinjet over to pick them up. “True, they were using an inter-dimensional portal to transfer the equipment, but technically the only dimension they were accessing was this one, just a different location-”

“Someone shut him up,” Clint moans. “Tony. Do something.”

“No, he’s got a point,” Tony says.

“Enough,” Steve says, and the group falls silent.

The Quinjet lands on an empty stretch of grass that might be considered a park, and the battered team heads inside. Natasha helps Clint over to the back of the jet and he starts stripping his gear off as she fishes around under the seats for a med kit.

“Whoa, Barton,” Tony mutters. “Save it for the afterparty.”

“I said enough,” Steve says, and Tony rolls his eyes.

“Lighten up, Cap.” He claps Steve on the shoulder. Clint and Bruce stare at him in horror- Natasha sets the med kit on the other seat and fishes for bandages.

Steve brushes his hand away. “We did good work,” he says. “But we still lost a lot of people their jobs and their homes. Right now, we should be focusing on fixing that.”

“Dad never mentioned how much of a stick-in-the-mud you were,” Tony muses, not seeming bothered in the slightest. “Or should I say a stick-in-the-ice?”

“Tony,” Bruce warns.

“All right, all right.” Tony rolls his eyes. “No ice jokes. Got it.”

“Careful,” Natasha adds. “Or he might give you the cold shoulder.”

Clint barely holds in a snort, trying his best to mask it as a sneeze. Tony gives him a pitying look.

“What?” Tony says. “It’s a good way to break the ice.”

“Would you all just chill?” Clint adds, a little quieter- as if he’s still afraid Steve might explode.

Bruce looks warily at Steve, who hasn’t said anything, still staring out the window of the Quinjet as they take off, soaring back to the city.

“See,” he says quietly, and so, so sadly. The rest of the Avengers all hold their breath. Steve turns to look at each of them, the weight of almost a hundred years under his eyes. “This is why we can’t have ice things.”

“Well done,” Hunter says. Steve feels the Thank you, Sir on his tongue but he doesn’t let it pass. Hunter flips through the paperwork files and nods silently. “All right, Rogers,” he says. “Rollins will take your blood sample and then we’ll be good to go.”

“Rollins?” Steve frowns. “What about Doctor Cho?”

Hunter shakes his head. “She’s working on Barton at the moment,” he says. “Rollins knows what to do.”

Steve gives Hunter an even look, but doesn’t protest. Beside Hunter, Rollins avoids Steve’s eyes.

“Okay,” Steve says.

He follows Hunter and Rollins down to the familiar lab chamber, and sits down on the cot by the side of the room, undoing the top half of his suit. It peels off his shoulders, wicking sweat away as it does, and he offers his arm out.

“You know what you’re doing?” he says to Rollins, voice low enough that Hunter can’t hear from where he’s standing at the door, still sifting through the paperwork of the day’s mission.

“Course I do,” Rollins mutters back. “Was that a threat, Rogers?”

“No,” Steve says, as Rollins prepares the needles for blood sampling. “I just like to know I’m working with professionals when I get stuck with needles. You know, usually.”

Rollins digs the needle into Steve’s arm and draws a slow, steady stream of blood. Steve doesn’t wince, just keeps his eye contact steady with Rollins. Four needles of blood later, Rollins packs them up into the case and stands.

“Wait,” Steve says. Rollins looks back at him, a challenge already on his face. Steve just looks down to the puncture wound on his arm, which is still bleeding steadily. “You’re not gonna dress it?”

Rollins sits back down.

“You’ve got a mouth on you, Rogers,” he growls, as he yanks out the sanitizing wipes hard enough to send the package clattering to the floor. “Careful. That’s gonna get you in trouble someday.”

Can’t get in much worse trouble than this, Steve thinks, but holds his tongue.

Rollins bandages the little wound, tosses out the blood-stained wipes, and stands to go. Hunter looks up, as Steve shrugs his uniform back on.

“Done?” Hunter asks. Rollins and Steve both nod. “Good,” Hunter says. “You’re free to go,” he tells Rollins, who nods and vanishes out of the lab, handing Hunter the briefcase full of blood samples as he goes. “And you,” Hunter says, looking at Steve. “Regular confinement. Stay in the tower unless otherwise notified.”

Steve grits his teeth.

“Yes, Sir,” he says.

None of this makes sense.

No, that’s not right. It makes sense, it’s just wrong.

Bucky reads the article until he knows it word for word. Steve Rogers is alive and well, freshly thawed out of the ice- wrong- and has been working with the Avengers since the end of March- March, he hadn’t even lasted two months- only now coming out publicly with his identity. There are dozens of lies scattered around the whole thing, down to the little details. The article’s written like an in-depth interview, complete with a little question-answer section near the end. And as hard as Bucky tries, he can’t picture any of it in Steve’s voice. It’s just so blatantly not him that it makes Bucky’s stomach crawl.

Becca sends him his half-finished essay back the next day, but he ignores it. He searches as hard as he can, but the only solid article he can find about Steve is the one from the newspaper. Everything else is reports of sightings around the city, or photos of Steve in his uniform, fighting in some unnamed city for some unnamed reason. Most of them are blurred beyond real recognition, but there’s one that catches Bucky’s attention more than the others.

Steve’s crouched low, shield in hand, looking up at an unseen threat. He’s getting back up to his feet, and the mask is charred around the edges. Bucky can make out little scratches and smears of blood on his cheeks. And his eyes-

They’re exhausted.

Steve is tired and worn through and suffering, and Bucky can’t do a damn thing.

He comes downstairs for breakfast when the sun comes, with bags under his eyes and murder in his heart. Winifred sets a plate of eggs and sausages on the table, and he heads for the fridge. She smacks his hand away from the syrup bottle before he can reach it.

“You’re going to give yourself diabetes,” she scolds, and shuts the fridge before he can argue. “Go on, eat your eggs.”

Bucky gives the fridge one last mournful look before retreating back to the table. He pokes at his plate, but all he wants is a steaming hot waffle, with chocolate chips and strawberry sauce and syrup and whipped cream and Steve’s smile-

He drops his fork.

“Baby,” Winifred says, giving him a worried look. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

Bucky shakes his head. He doesn’t even know how to begin to explain all of this, as much as his mother deserves to hear it.

“Nothing’s wrong, mama,” he says, and they both know it’s a lie.

“Sweetheart,” Winifred says, pulling a chair beside him and sitting, tugging him into her arms. “I let myself believe that once and I lost you. I’m not letting that happen again, you hear me?”

Bucky nods.

“So.” Winifred pushes his glass of water closer. “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong, or do you want to eat your eggs?”

“Eggs,” Bucky says.

The tower is surprisingly quiet, considering the fact that it’s built on Tony Stark’s name, and nearly everything with even remote ties to Tony Stark tends to be loud and abrasive. But the tower is quiet, most days.

It’s almost remarkable how the days pass without him noticing, with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Steve finds himself glued to the Stark-issued computer they give him, looking up whatever he can, watching documentaries, learning names and dates. He’d never cared before- and honestly, he still doesn’t- but if he can’t get out then he might as well do something productive.

More than a few times, he thinks of looking Bucky up.

But he doesn’t. He knows Bucky’s full name, he knows he could probably find Bucky’s family if he tried, but that’s never been any of his business. And besides, Bucky had left.

It’s not Steve’s place to go chasing after him.

He remembers a time when his blood would have boiled at the idea of having a place. And it still does, but there’s not a damn thing he can do about it, and fighting’s not going to change anything. Peggy had told him once, during the war, that fighting for the sake of fighting, even if defeat was inevitable- it was noble, and it was necessary sometimes, but wars weren’t won with nobility. Not always. Wars were won with skill and intelligence and caution. And sometimes that meant retreating and regrouping, even if it gave the enemy a shred of victory in the process.

And so he stays.


He starts, slamming the lid of his computer down.

“Whoa there,” Tony Stark says, holding his hands up. “If you’re, uh, busy,” he snorts. “I can come back later.”

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head. He opens the computer back up, embarrassed, to show a Wikipedia article about the Cold War.

“Oh, Jesus,” Tony groans. “You’re on Wikipedia? Who raised you?”

“Um,” Steve says.

Tony waves the topic away with his hand, shaking his head. “Whatever, I’ll get you a book about it later. And there’s a couple spy dramas about- right, the point was-” He claps his hands together. “Since today’s the first anniversary of the team- well, the team, sans-you, anyway- we’re all going out for drinks. Thor’s not, we don’t know where he is- oh, you don’t know Thor, do you? He’s nice. Big, Beefy Blonde, just like you, you’d get along.”

“Tony,” Steve tries.

“But anyway, we’re going for drinks- and I think you can’t get drunk but it’ll still be fun, we’ve got-”

“I can’t,” Steve says.

Tony blinks. “Why not?”

“I’ve got,” Steve says. “Plans.”

Tony gives his computer a pointed look. Steve looks at the screen, then back at Tony. He shrugs, halfheartedly.

“Right,” Tony says. “Whatever floats your boat, Cap.”

“Floats my what?” Steve says.

“It’s an expression.” Tony rolls his eyes. “It means you can jack off to whatever you want, I won’t judge.”

“I can- what?”

“Last call for drinks, you in or out?” Tony asks, running him over.

“I,” Steve says. “Sorry, but-”


And he spins on his heel and walks straight out the door, leaving Steve alone half bewildered and half disappointed.

“Where’s Rogers?” Clint asks, arm still hanging in a sling around his front. Tony shrugs as he slips into the booth beside Bruce.

“Couldn’t make it,” he says, picking up the little laminated menu and browsing it for specials. “I thought I told you to pick somewhere nice.”

“This is somewhere nice,” Bruce says reproachfully, nudging his side. “Be nice, Tony.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Fine. But only for you.”

“Get a room,” Natasha hums. “Why couldn’t Rogers come? I was hoping to get a good look at him.”

“Wow,” Clint says. “I’m right here.”

Natasha gives a sly smile, flicking his ear. “You know what I mean,” she says. “I want to see what he’s like.”

“See, that sounds even worse,” Tony says.

“It really does,” Clint agrees. “I mean, I want to fuck him, too. I think everyone else at this table would be with me.”

“I wouldn’t,” Bruce says.

“Liar, but we appreciate the effort,” Tony says, patting his shoulder. Bruce swats his hand away.

“So he didn’t give a reason?” Natasha prods, taking a sip of her White Russian.

“He said he was busy,” Tony says, shrugging. “I took that to mean he was gonna jerk it for the rest of the night and I left him alone.”

“Tony,” Bruce mutters.

“What?” Tony puts up his hands. “He’s got a supersoldier metabolism, his libido’s gotta be through the roof.”

“Maybe,” Natasha muses. “But I thought he’d come.”

“Oh, just let him jack off in peace,” Clint says, grabbing her drink and taking a swig. She snatches it back, but she doesn’t give him a scowl, just a knowing smile.

“You think we should buy him a vibrator?” Tony muses. “I bet he doesn’t even know what they are.”

“They had vibrators back then,” Clint says, and then pauses. “Didn’t they?”

The four of them pause to think about it.

“Let me look it up,” Tony says, and pulls out his phone. Bruce gives an exasperated sigh, and takes a drag of his Arnold Palmer.

“He’s so,” Clint mutters. “Weird.”

“Who,” Natasha says. “Tony?”

Tony reaches over to smack Natasha’s drink out of her hand, but she digs her fingernails into his hand before he can reach her. He yanks his hand back, hissing, and nearly drops his phone.

“Watch it!” he yowls, holding the phone up. “Don’t you want to know if Cap ever had a vibrator?”

“I’m not sure any of us want to know,” Bruce says.

“No,” Clint says, completely ignoring them and looking at Natasha. “I mean Cap.”

“He’s from seventy years ago,” Natasha points out. “He’s bound to feel a little out of place.”

“I don’t mean like-” Clint makes a complicated gesture with his hands. “That. I mean, like.” He pauses, mind apparently trying to organize itself into words the others can understand. “Any of you noticed he never leaves the tower?”

“So he’s an introvert,” Bruce says, shrugging. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“No,” Clint says. “I mean he never leaves.”

They all pause. Natasha takes a sip of her drink. Bruce looks thoughtfully at the wood grain of the table, thinking. It’s true- none of them have ever seen Steve leave the tower, apart from missions. And he’s always first to suggest they head home, always the first to shut down offers of drinks or celebrations, always the first one off the jet. They see him around the tower, but he’s always quiet and slow and reserved, he keeps to his floor and his room. He’s only come down to one movie night, and it hadn’t been a disaster, but he’d stayed to himself like a wet paper towel, stuck in the old uncomfortable chair by the heater, and none of them had had the heart to tell him he was bringing the mood a little down.

He’s shut himself in, he’s cut himself off, and he must be utterly, utterly alone.

“Got it!” Tony says. “It was a steam powered machine invented in 1869 called The Manipulator.”

Steve’s almost asleep when his Stark-phone rings, startling him out of lethargy and sending him to his feet. If it’s another mission, he’s tempted to call out- it’s barely been twelve hours since they finished busting up the warehouse, he’s entitled to a damn break every once in a while.

But the number on his phone is Rollins’s.

He picks the call up.

“Rogers,” he says.

“Hey,” Rollins says. “Can you be down in the lab in ten minutes?”

“What?” Steve frowns. “Why?”

“I need a few more samples,” Rollins says.

“Why?” Steve asks again. “Did you lose one?” He sighs. “Look, Doctor Cho only needs one, the others are just in case something messes with the first sample, so if you lost one-”

“No, I just need some more,” Rollins says. “Rogers, I don’t exactly got a lot of time to argue with you about semantics, so would you just get down here?”

“Listen,” Steve says.

“That’s an order,” Rollins barks, and hangs up.

Steve sets his phone down before his hands can crush it, and gets to his feet. Rollins technically outranks him, no matter what his stage title may be. And an order is an order. Not to say that Steve’s never resisted orders before, but he’d always had good reason. Resisting something as stupid as this would just end in a lot of lecturing and a lot of paperwork, and Steve’s not in the mood for either.

And so he shrugs on a shirt and jeans and heads down to the lab.

Rollins takes ten more blood samples, five from each arm, and loads them into a case. He takes his time with each of them, drawing as much as he can into the little tubes and setting them carefully into their padded compartments.

Steve has to remind him to treat the needle wounds again once he’s done, and he gives Steve a scathing look as he dresses them, not bothering to put any sort of antibacterial ointment on before he bandages them.

“That’s all,” he says when they’re done, packing up the case.

“I can take those up to Doctor Cho,” Steve says, reaching for it. “I’m on my way up, anyway.”

“No,” Rollins says, tugging the case out of reach. “I can handle it. You don’t need to baby everyone, Rogers.” And he gives a small, patronizing smile. “You can go, now.”

Steve narrows his eyes. It’s the first time he’s left the lab before Rollins, and something about it feels unnerving. It’s an unfounded fear, of course- there’s nothing Rollins can really do in the lab that’ll put him in danger- but that doesn’t stop his skin from prickling as he brushes past Rollins out into the hallway. He scratches his shoulders absently, looking over his shoulder as he walks to the elevator at the end of the hall, and presses the button.

The ride up to his floor is longer than usual, and he shrinks to the corner of the elevator, walls feeling a little too close for his liking. And then at long last, the car slows to a stop on his floor, and he lets out a breath.

The doors open and Natasha Romanoff levels him with a look, arms crossed.

“Hey,” she says.


Chapter Text

“Any luck?”

Natasha sidesteps Tony before he can sling an arm around her shoulder, barely hiding a satisfied smile as he loses his balance and nearly topples to the floor.

“You know luck never has anything to do with it,” she says, pushing him away as he nearly steps on her toes trying to steady himself. There’s a sort of puppy-dog excitement that thrums through him at all times, which launches him now onto the balls of his feet.

“Ease back, Nat,” Clint calls from the couch, where he’s fiddling with a handful of darts. “I don’t think he understands subtlety.”

“I do too understand- tell him I understand subtlety,” Tony whines, sticking out his lower lip at Natasha.

“I try my best not to lie to Barton if I can help it,” Natasha says apologetically, the smile leaking a little more from the corners of her mouth.

“Liar,” Clint scoffs, and then the smile’s out.

“You two are disgusting,” Tony moans, heading behind the minibar until he’s safe, back with his bottles and his glasses.

“Well, when Thor’s not here to flirt with you,” Natasha hums, “we have to make do.”

“So you admit you’re flirting?” Tony’s eyes flicker between them triumphantly.

“I’m a happily married man,” Clint says, wiggling the fingers of his left hand.

“Fifty grand says that’s fake,” Tony says, squinting at the band around Clint’s ring finger.

“So did you talk to him?” Bruce asks, stepping carefully behind the counter to take the bottle of Crown Royal out of Tony’s hands. Tony makes a small whining sound but lets him tug the bottle away and set it back up on the counter.

“I did,” Natasha says, heading to the couch and sitting down next to Clint. He tosses her a dart and she catches it without looking, giving the room a glance.

“And?” Tony prompts. “You get any answers?”

“Yes,” Natasha says. “And no.”

Tony makes a sound that’s somewhere between a howl, a moan, and a yawn. Bruce pats his back sympathetically.

“Cmon,” Clint says, grinning. “Cut him some slack.”

Natasha sighs. “He’s putting up a front. Clearly, he’s hiding something. I don’t know what it is, exactly.”

“Isn’t it your job to figure out what people are hiding?” Bruce says, and Tony gives an appreciative howl-moan, reaching for the Crown Royal again. Bruce pushes it out of reach.

“It’s also my job to be his friend,” Natasha says, crossing her legs. “Whatever he’s hiding, he’s scared of being found out. If I push too hard, he’ll spook.”

“Scared?” Tony snorts. “He’s two hundred pounds of raw beef, what does he have to be scared of?”

“Raw?” Clint shrugs. “I’d say he’s more well-done.”

“Very well done,” Bruce agrees.

“Whatever it is, it’s going to take some digging to find,” Natasha hums. “I think it’s got something to do with STRIKE.”

Clint perks up at that. “What about STRIKE?”

“No idea.” Natasha shrugs. “Maybe they’re sore we left for the Avengers, so they’re trying to recruit him in.”

“I guess Rumlow’s scary enough,” Clint says, shrugging. “But Cap could take him in a single round, couldn’t he?”

“There’s more than one way to threaten someone,” Natasha says, and the air in the room is suddenly silent. “Try to get some laundry through,” she tells Clint, who screws up his nose.


Natasha quirks an eyebrow. Clint’s eyes widen.

“No,” he says. “Awh, no, c’mon.”

“No, what?” Tony frowns. “What’s he talking about?”

It’s Clint’s turn to moan now, and he throws the darts haphazardly as he falls back into the couch. They hit the ceiling in a perfect triangle, and he scowls up at them as if they’ve insulted him by landing so nicely in his time of crisis.

“She’s gonna drag me back to STRIKE,” he grumbles.

“What?” Tony gets up from the minibar at that, to Bruce’s relief. The bottle of Crown Royal goes back under the bar, and Bruce shuts the little doors carefully. “The emo-vengers?”

“Just because they wear black,” Bruce chides Tony, leaning on the minibar.

“They’re all moody,” Tony says, waving Bruce away. “Moody and grumpy. And they all wear black. It’s like they’re a boyband and they forgot you’re only supposed to have one Bad Boy.”

“And what does that make us?” Clint pipes up, “One Direction?”

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve got a few more directions than just one, between us,” Bruce says with a small smile.

“Why do I feel like you’re talking about me?” Tony frowns, pointing an accusatory finger over at Bruce.

“I’m not the one with twelve public sex tapes,” Bruce says, shrugging. Tony opens his mouth, hesitates, and then closes it again.

“You gotta teach me how to do that,” Clint says dreamily, looking over at Bruce.

Bruce smiles, small and sly. “Do what?”

“Nevermind,” Natasha mutters. “We don’t need Thor after all.” Bruce turns away, cheeks a little pink, and she smirks. “I’ve got a meeting set up with Fury in two days,” she says, nodding to Clint. “Start thinking of pitch ideas for why we’d want to go back into STRIKE.”

“That’s gonna be hard.” Clint scratches the back of his neck, half-sitting up to look her in the eyes. “Thought we were pretty clear when we left that STRIKE team Delta was over.”

“Well.” Natasha shrugs. “Delta is the symbol for change.”

“Sorry, I don’t speak Completely Irrelevant,” Clint gripes. “Are you sure we have to go back to STRIKE? If I have to work next to that barrel of cologne one more time, I’m gonna throw up.”

“Rumlow wears cologne?” Tony raises an eyebrow. “I thought he just smelled like that.”

Clint wrinkles his nose. “Take it from someone who’s seen the inside of his locker.”

“Any stories there?” Tony cocks his head.

Clint smirks. “You got no idea.”

Steve hates to say it, but the STRIKE crew are an unpleasant bunch.

He’s the last person in the world to judge on appearances, but there’s just something about them that unsettles Steve to his core. He tries to pin it down, mission after mission, but it’s not the way they all clench their jaws, or the way they all shave their dark, intimidating hair. It’s not the way all their eyes are dark and all their mouths seem permanently downturned in little scowls.

Okay, maybe it’s some of that.

But mostly, it’s the way they look at him. None of them meet his eyes. Most of them are afraid of him, he can tell. They’ll grip their weapons a little tighter when he gets closer, or they’ll stand by the door and glance at it every other minute. Most of them tuck their shoulders tighter together when Steve enters the room, get a little closer to one another.

Most of them.

Rollins and Rumlow are the exceptions. Every time Steve pushes the door open to meet with STRIKE before a mission, Rollins will look right over and give Steve a smile that feels like it’s about seventy percent there. It’s in his eyes, it’s not fake, but it’s not all there.

Rumlow’s a different can of worms. He smells the vacuum that the other STRIKE members are making by avoiding Steve, and he steps right in to fill it every time. He’s the only one on the team that talks to Steve at all, always meeting his eyes, always stepping just a little bit nearer to him, just a little too close.

“We’re up in twenty,” Hunter says, closing the manila folder and setting it on the desk. “We’ll intercept the Lemurian Star at nineteen-hundred. Suit up.”

Rumlow bumps Steve’s shoulder with his own. “We got you a new stealth suit,” he says. “Non-reflective. They wanted to make it all black, but I vouched to keep the blue.”

“Thanks,” Steve says flatly.

“Figured it would be better for blending into the water,” Rumlow adds, shrugging.

“Just tell him it matches his eyes and be done with it,” says another voice that Steve recognizes. Natasha Romanoff steps in front of Rumlow and smiles up at Steve.

“Hey,” Rumlow says, demeanor changing entirely. The smile slides off his face and his eyes go cold and hard again. “Hey, hey, this is the STRIKE room, remember? Go back to your boy-band closet.”

“Closet’s too full with Stark in there,” says Clint, stepping up beside Natasha and looking Rumlow up and down. “And here I thought you’d be glad to see us.”

“So now I gotta watch you two flirting again?” Rumlow fires back

“We have to watch you pine after Rogers,” Natasha says, still looking at Steve. “Call it even.”

Rumlow huffs, taking a step forward, but Rollins appears out of thin air and tugs at his arm. “Seventeen minutes until launch,” he reminds Rumlow. “If you’re not in the jet, we’re taking off without you.”

“You leave without me and you can kiss the Lemurian Star goodbye,” Rumlow calls after him as he heads out the door with the rest of STRIKE. “Welcome back to the good fight,” he nods to Natsaha and Clint. And then he’s gone, pushing the door as he walks through it, as if it’s done him a personal wrong.

“Not exactly what I’d call it,” Clint mutters, folding his arms and watching the door swing back on its hinges. He snorts. “Nice to see you, Cap.”

“What are you doing here,” Steve says, voice low and flat.

“Picking up our old jobs,” Natasha shrugs. “Clint and I worked on STRIKE before the Avengers were, well. Assembled. We were STRIKE team Delta.”

“We’ve been around the SHIELD block more than a few times,” Clint adds, shrugging. “Everyone else on the team’s just a wannabe, but we’re the O-G SHIELD.”

“O-G?” Steve repeats.

“We’ll explain on the way,” Natasha says, ushering him out the door. “Come on, Rogers. Let’s go pirate-hunting.”

It goes relatively well.

Steve takes the main crew out before they can sound any alarms, and Batroc himself is a good fight but ultimately nothing Steve can’t handle. Hunter had given STRIKE orders to keep the ship intact at all costs, but hadn’t mentioned a thing about the hostages. Luckily, Steve’s the one in charge of the damn team, and so he prioritizes half of STRIKE to the main room where the civilians are being held.

He’s halfway there when he passes by a room and sees Clint and Natasha crouched over a computer. Natasha types slowly and casually, a little memory stick stuck to the side of the laptop.

“Hey, Cap,” Clint says, holding his bow by his side. Natasha looks up, pausing only for a moment before tapping on the keyboard again, a little faster. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“What are you doing?” Steve demands, frowning at the computer. “We’re supposed to be rescuing hostages.”

“No, you’re supposed to be rescuing hostages,” Natasha corrects him easily.

Steve unhooks the shield from his back and widens his stance. Clint’s fingers close around the edge of his bow. “You’ve got ten seconds to start talking,” Steve growls. “Or I’ll call Fury.”

“He’ll think it’s a little weird that we’re calling on the job,” Clint muses. “But all right, sure.”

Steve narrows his eyes.

“Lower your damn hackles, Rogers,” Natasha hums. “I’m just doing my job, same as you’re doing yours.”

“So what’s he here for?” Steve asks, nodding to Clint. “Moral support?”

“Hey,” Clint pouts.

“Pretty much,” Natasha says, shrugging. She types one last thing and stands back, pleased. “That should be all of it,” she tells Clint, and then turns to Steve. “You ever had frozen yogurt before?”

Behind metal walls, Steve can hear shouting. A few thuds, and a muffled gunshot.

“Can’t say that I have.”

“I’ll tell Tony.” Natasha smiles, pulling the memory stick out of the computer. “We’ll make a day of it.”

“You’re gonna get Tony in on this?” Clint whines. Natasha fixes him with a look, stuffing the memory stick down the front of her uniform and heading to the door. Steve steps back and follows her and Clint down the hall towards the sound of a scuffle.

“Kind of hard to make anything interesting happen in the tower without including Tony,” Natasha says in explanation, breaking into a slight jog.

And then a French pirate turns the corner and starts shooting and the rest of the mission is chaos.

“I still don’t understand how this is different from ice cream,” Clint says, digging his spoon into the mountain of gummy-bears in his bowl.

“It’s healthier,” Bruce says.

“Oh, good,” Clint says, stuffing the spoon into his mouth.

Steve looks down at his own cardboard bowl. Tony had given him a swirl of strawberry frozen yogurt and a sprinkling of Oreos. Of all the things to make it to the twenty first century, Steve thinks dully, the universe chose Steve Rogers and Oreos.

He wants to be mad at Fury, he wants to be mad at SHIELD- and he is. But there’s something under the surface that hooks his curiosity. He works with STRIKE more often than the Avengers, and yet. And yet he’d sooner put his life in Barton’s hand than Rumlow’s. Maybe that’s just Rumlow.

The thought of Fury sending Natasha and Clint on a separate, confidential mission without telling STRIKE should make Steve anxious, but somehow it doesn’t. Fury doesn’t trust STRIKE either, apparently. And so Natasha and Clint and Steve are on the same page. He doesn’t mention the memory stick to anyone else, and Natasha gives him a small wink when she slips it out of her pocket and heads into Fury’s office.

“It didn’t kill your family,” Tony says, sliding onto the couch beside Steve and looking at his slowly-melting bowl of frozen yogurt. “You can eat it.”

“I don’t see how those two things correlate,” Natasha says, crossing her legs on the chair opposite the couch, on the other side of the coffee table.

“He’s looking at it like it’s gonna poison him,” Tony says, pointing at Steve as if he’s not sitting there, in the same room, less than a foot away from him.

“He’s sitting there, in the same room, less than a foot away from you,” Bruce says. “You can talk to him.”

“You can try,” Steve says. Clint snorts into his gummy-bears.

“Let him breathe,” Bruce murmurs, sitting next to Tony. The couch is somehow big enough to sit three people comfortably, and Tony slings an arm around Bruce’s shoulders, holding his own cup of frozen yogurt up.

“Want some of mine?” he asks.

“I wouldn’t take that,” Natasha advises, as Clint leans on the back of her chair. “He’s spiked it.”

“You can’t spike frozen yogurt,” Clint says.

“You can spike the frozen yogurt machine,” Tony corrects. “And it is delicious, thank you.”

“Is alcoholism a twenty-first century thing?” Steve muses, stirring his soggy Oreo bits around. “Or is it just you?”

“Both,” Bruce says.

“He’s funny.” Tony smiles. “Brucie, did you see that? He’s funny.”

“I dressed up in tights and booty-shorts for a living,” Steve says dryly, crossing his legs. “I used to be funnier.”

“How do you know what booty-shorts are?” Tony howls. Steve winks, knowing that no matter how many answers run through Tony’s mind every second, not a single one of them will come close to a string of motels and top-40 hits and powdered sugar. Clint chokes on his gummy bears, nearly spitting on Natasha. She smacks his hand.

“How was STRIKE?” Bruce asks them. Tony’s foot, crossed over his knee, brushes Bruce’s. Bruce stiffens a little, not looking at it.

“Same old, same old,” Clint says. “They hired a new Frenchie while we were gone.”

“Is that offensive?” Tony pipes up. “I don’t think it’s offensive. But it sounds offensive.”

“You’ve had a pint of whisky-frozen-yogurt,” Bruce says softly. “I think you might need a break.”

“I’m fine,” Tony mutters, pushing his foot against Bruce’s knee. Bruce jerks as his leg kicks involuntarily, going a little pink around the ears. “Hey,” Tony says, eyes lighting up. He drops his cardboard bowl and Bruce catches it just in time before it can fall onto the carpet below. “Hey,” Tony says again, grinning broadly at Steve. Steve scoots back an inch, raising an eyebrow.


“Did you have a Manipulator?” Tony breathes.

“A what?”

Clint snorts. Tony grunts impatiently. “A Manipulator,” he repeats. “A fuckin’. It’s steam powered. Has these pistons and everything.”

“A vibrator,” Natasha translates, reaching over to put her empty bowl on the coffee table. “He wants to know if you had a vibrator.”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Uh, no. I didn’t.”

Tony looks supremely disappointed, probably both from the lack of a ‘yes’ and the lack of a blush. Steve clears his throat and looks away, trying to seem embarrassed.

“Aww,” Tony coos. “Cap, it’s okay. You can tell us.”

“Tony,” Bruce warns.

“I didn’t exactly have much money to spend on stuff like that,” Steve says, choosing his words carefully. “Most of my money went to medical bills.”

“You had medical bills?” Tony squints at him. “You’re three hundred pounds of beefcake.”

“Two hundred seventy-five,” Steve corrects swiftly, bristling. “You want this?” He hands over the cup of strawberry-Oreo goo. Tony takes it without a second thought, grabbing Steve’s spoon.

“Have you ever even looked Steve up?” Bruce asks Tony, disbelieving.

“Didn’t have to,” Tony hums, halfway through a bite of Steve’s yogurt. “He was a family name.”

Steve shifts uncomfortably. “Howard didn’t know me for very long.”

“Coulda fooled me.” Tony tips the cup to his lips and drinks the rest of the yogurt down, giving a long, satisfied sigh as he finishes it off. “So you never had a vibrator?”

“Can’t say that I have,” Steve says, leaning back and crossing his legs. They’re not so bad, this bunch. They remind him of the Commandos, just a bit. Tony certainly reminds him of Howard.

“You want one?” Tony asks. Bruce smacks his shoulder.

“Sure,” Steve says, staring straight at him.

It’s not the answer Tony was expecting, because he chokes on nothing and sits up, halfway between spluttering and laughing. Bruce puts a hand on his back, patting him worriedly.

“Seriously?” Tony wheezes.

“No,” Steve says. “I’ve got a right hand.” He lets the moment sit for a second, and then- “and a left.”

The night stretches longer than Steve thinks it will. And before he knows it they’re two rounds of frozen yogurt deeper and Steve’s sides hurt a little from laughing. Tony passes out half from exhaustion and half from whiskey around midnight, and Bruce takes him back to his room and comes back with his ears pink and his collar a little crumpled. None of them mention it, but Natasha takes a long sip of her drink and that says enough for the rest of them.

Steve stretches his arms behind his back and pretends to yawn. His sleep schedule is still nowhere near a normal human being’s, but he can try to make the rest of them feel comfortable.

He hasn’t wanted to make anyone else feel comfortable in a while.

“Mind the company?” Natasha asks, following him to the door. “Clint and I are heading out anyway.”

And Steve smiles. “What the hell,” he says. “Sure.”

“Did you just take the Lord’s name in vain?” Clint gasps, appearing on Steve’s other side. “For shame, Rogers. For shame.”

Steve rolls his eyes and leads them down the hallway, letting them bicker behind him. They take the elevator down and walk down another few hallways, and Steve turns his key in the lock, and.

And the key turns without the slightest bit of resistance.

Steve stills, hand on the doorway. Natasha steps beside him, frowning but not making a sound. Clint walks straight into Natasha and stumbles back, holding his nose.

“What,” he says, but Steve holds his hand up, eyes on the door. He nods to the handle, and looks at Natasha. She nods back to him, lifting her foot up and dragging a small knife from her heel. Clint’s eyes go wide and he looks around, as if expecting to see his bow leaning on the wall by Steve’s door.

Steve goes first. Even if he doesn’t have his shield with him, his chest will just have to do. Natasha follows behind him, and Clint behind her. The door swings open silently, and The Swing Years slides straight into Steve’s ears and down to his gut. He hesitates- as if his foot is falling asleep on the pedal- before stepping forward again.

The floor is dark, all lights off. Steve’s eyes find the skid-mark of blood on the carpet, and he follows it around the corner into his living room.

Sitting in the corner of the room, tucked behind the couch, is Fury. He’s sitting, legs out and feet up, leaning on the back of the couch. A faint trail of blood follows his head, and bits and pieces of broken glass litter the floor by his feet. His coat is in tatters, somehow still intact enough to hide what must be injuries. He meets Steve’s eyes and flicks his gaze to the ceiling.

Natasha stills as she sees him, looking around the room for security cameras.

“My wife kicked me out,” Fury says slowly.

Natasha presses her lips to Steve’s cheek. He frowns, not pulling away, and she slides her lips over to the shell of his ear, taking his hair in one hand and smiling sickeningly. “Ears everywhere,” she breathes, and he gives a microscopic nod.

“Didn’t know you were married,” he says, taking a small step forward. Fury moves, hunching over a little with obvious pain.

“There’s a few things you don’t know about me,” he mutters, and pulls a broken phone out of his pocket. A moment later and he turns the screen to the three of them, and Steve squints to read the words.

SHIELD is compromised.

Steve almost laughs. “So why’d you come to me?”

“The best connections to make,” Fury breathes with effort, trying to sit up again, “are the ones. You know. No one else has.”

“That’s the benefit of keeping to yourself,” Steve murmurs. “You get to know all the secrets.”

“Not all of them,” Fury gives an exhausted, pained smile, and opens his mouth-

The window explodes. Fury’s knocked back by the force of the bullets as they come, one-two-three, straight to his chest. Natasha’s on him in an instant, whipping out a phone and barking orders. Clint and Steve go to the window, it’s completely shattered and there’s no sign of anyone on the other side- for good reason, they’re fourteen floors up. Steve looks out at the night and down- and can just make out someone heavily clad in black, running on the roof a few floors below.

Steve jumps.

He lands and rolls, and something large and metal hits the ground beside him. Clint had found the shield and thrown it. He grabs it and gets to his feet, just as the black clad figure, with arms the size of cannons, reaches the end of the roof.

Steve throws the shield with a grunt, and the man turns.

Steve can’t see his eyes. All he sees is the mask over the man’s face. It’s black metal, with a messy, faded skull scrawled over the front. In a split second, the man’s arms come up in a cross and the shield ricochets off and falls to the ceiling with a clang.

“Who are you?” Steve barks.

“Hail HYDRA,” spits the man, and Steve’s blood goes cold.

He takes two steps and the man launches himself off the roof. Steve reaches the edge and he’s alone.

Fury’s pronounced dead at 1:03 AM.

He wakes up at 3:58.

He’s not lucid yet, and the Avengers wait tentatively in the decrepit looking base that Natasha’s found. It’s off the grid and now so are they, so it’ll have to do.

“You’re sure it was him?” Clint’s the first one to ask.

“I’m sure,” Steve confirms. “I heard his voice. I know what I heard.”

“And he said,” Clint says slowly. “He really said…”

“HYDRA?” Bruce interjects softly. “As in.”

“As in the Nazi organization that went down with the, yknow.” Tony raises an eyebrow. “Nazis.”

“That’s what he said,” Steve says, shrugging. “I don’t understand.”

“Fury said SHIELD was compromised,” Clint says, pacing around the dimly lit room they’ve been given. “So the shooter had to have been from SHIELD.”

“So, what,” Bruce says. “What, SHIELD’s been taken over by a zombie Nazi organization? How does that even work?”

“He could have been an outlier,” Natasha says. “There are stories of people like that all the time. People spouting Nazi propaganda. He could be alone.”

“He’s not alone,” Steve mutters.

The group falls silent. Tony gives it about two full seconds before breaking, letting his lips part in an impatient tsk.

“Now’s not the time for being dramatic, Cap,” he says. “If you’ve got something on your mind, go ahead and spit it out.”

Steve looks at them.

Natasha’s worn down in a way that Steve’s never seen before. In the months of living in the Tower and working with her, with the Avengers and with STRIKE, he’s never seen her look like this. Her eyes are dark and tired, and her posture is slumped, exhausted- yet relieved. She’d truly been worried about Fury.

Tony’s itching for a drink, Steve can tell. It’s his go-to fidget, it’s what he does when he’s nervous. And he should be- his own tower isn’t safe anymore. Tony keeps his eyes flicking between everyone in the room, too impatient to look at any one thing for more than a few fractions of a second.

Bruce is looking at Tony, mostly. And Clint’s beside Bruce, fiddling with the end of his bow. He must have felt naked without it, Steve muses. He remembers a time when his fingers had twitched every time he hadn’t had his shield on him- but that was war time.

But then again, he supposes. This is looking more and more like then.

“I woke up in a SHIELD complex,” he says, “in 2011. And I.” He takes a breath. “I ran.”

That gets their attention. SHIELD hadn’t gone public about Steve’s rebirth- and Steve knows why. If they’d needed him, if he’d taken Fury up on his offer all those months ago, then they would have made his name into something. Then the world would have known about Captain America. Then people would have looked for him on the streets, come up to him and asked for a picture and an autograph and a smile.

But Steve hadn’t. And so the world hadn’t known- or hadn’t cared.

“I came back,” Steve says stiffly, “and. They found me. Took me in. Said I was military and SHIELD property and-”

Harboring a fugitive.

“And they brought me back,” he finishes.

“And you can’t leave the tower?” Natasha guesses.

That means something to the whole group, apparently, because Bruce, Tony, and Clint all look at Natasha with wide eyes.

“So,” Tony says after a moment of tense silence. “Not just one freak at SHIELD?”

And at that exact moment, a SHIELD agent called Maria hill pokes her head into the room and tells them that Fury’s awake and asking for them.

“Project Insight,” Fury groans, as the Avengers watch him with rapt attention, “has to be stopped.”

“Oh, does it now,” Tony says. “You mean the plan to launch three helicarriers worth of weapons into the sky to be hijacked by everyone under the sun for a million and one easy murder-plans. That project? That has to be stopped?”

“Tony,” Bruce says.

“No, don’t Tony me here,” Tony snaps. Fury gives him a level look. “You used my tech to make superweapons- something I’ve been spending about a decade trying not to do.”

“We were trying to save lives,” Fury starts, but Tony runs him over.

“If you can control it, that means someone else can,” he spits. “It means anyone can if they try hard enough. And the people that want weapons the most are generally the people you want to keep away from them.”

Bruce has the good grace to look a little impressed.

“Point taken,” Fury admits. “But now’s not the time to talk about life lessons, Stark. If we don’t stop Insight before it goes up…”

Steve bows his head. “HYDRA will be able to target anyone they want.” He glares at Fury. “Sending weapons up into the sky, huh. Doesn’t sound like a fair fight to me.”

“You don’t win wars with fair fights,” Fury says.

Steve narrows his eyes. “I did.”

“My question is,” Clint says, butting in. “What was Rumlow doing in a mech getup and a mask? And how did he jump off a damn roof and survive?”

“I’ve got a theory,” Steve offers.

“By all means,” Fury says. “The floor is open for discussion, apparently.”

“They’ve been taking my blood,” Steve says bluntly, and that shuts Fury up. “They take it after every mission. Usually Dr. Cho takes it, but the last month it’s been Rollins. And he’s been taking more.”

“You think they’ve been experimenting?” Natasha says.

“Might be.” Steve shrugs. “But I guess Rumlow didn’t turn himself into the perfect Supersoldier, he had to add the arm bracers to compensate.”

“Not the only thing he’s compensating for,” Clint mutters.

“Regardless of what Mr. Rumlow may or may not have done to himself,” Fury cuts in, impatient but sounding shaken- and Steve takes that as a win. “Our priority is stopping Insight.”

Natasha makes a small sound, and everyone turns to look at her. She’s standing to the side, looking at her phone and frowning.

“That might be a little difficult,” she says, “because apparently Star Spangled Ass over here is a national terrorist.”