Steve really shouldn't have even attempted the drive. Not with a major snowstorm on the way. Not when his thirteen-year-old car had broken down three times this month and his snow tires should have been replaced two years ago.
He'd disappointed Sarah Rogers once already this year, when an assignment at work had meant he couldn't make it home for Thanksgiving. He wasn't going to disappoint her again. And Natasha had practically thrown him out of the office and told him she didn't want to see him again until the New Year. He might have been spending too much time at work since he broke up with Sharon after Hallowe'en. Not that he was admitting to anything. But if he couldn't spend time in the studio, the only other place he wanted to be was Brooklyn.
So he'd headed out, even with the sky looking an ominous shade of grey ahead of him. It had been okay for an hour, the snow holding off, the clouds doing nothing but glower at him. And even when the snow had started, it hadn't been that bad, just a few flakes, not even enough to turn on the wipers for.
But when he turned onto 81, it had turned a full raging blizzard. The sort of weather everyone had warned him about when he moved to Buffalo. The sort of weather that had him clutching the steering wheel as the wipers tried to keep up with the snow building up on the windshield, and he strained too see any sign of the car ahead of him.
He'd managed for an hour, creeping another ten miles toward home, but things kept getting worse. All he could see in front of him was a swirl of snow. Drifts were piling up on the highway, making him fishtail every few seconds, and there were no snowplows in sight. It was already mid-afternoon, and he knew he was going to lose the light soon.
There was no way he was making it home today.
He sighed, and signalled, and turned off at the next exit, figuring he'd drive to the nearest town and find a hotel. Call his mom and let her know where he was. If he was lucky, the storm would let up overnight and he could get to Brooklyn in time for his mom's turkey. Assuming the snowplows got out. Assuming the storm didn't continue into tomorrow. But he knew his mom would worry more if he was out on the roads in this mess. She worried about him all the time. She'd worried about him getting a job in a strange city. She worried about the asthma he'd never quite outgrown. She worried about the heart condition that had kept him small. She worried about the fights he never seemed able to avoid. He didn't want to give her one more thing to worry about.
Once on the side road, conditions got worse. The drifts were higher, and he could feel his shoulders tighten around his ears as he had to get the car under control over and over again. He saw no other vehicles, no houses, no sign of a town, and was beginning to wonder if he'd picked the wrong turn off, if he was driving off the edge of the earth, when he saw it.
There, at the side of the road, was another car, its front crumpled against a tree.
Steve slowed, pulled over as far as he could without ending up in the ditch himself. He put on his blinkers, to warn any other drivers who might be on this Godforsaken road, and stared at the dark shape beside him, trying to see if there was anyone in it. The snow was drifted over the vehicle in a way that told Steve it had been there a while. Whoever had been driving it was probably long gone, picked up by another driver, safe and warm in whatever town lay at the end of this road.
But what if they weren't? the little voice in his head said. It was the same voice that got him into fights when a bully was picking on someone else. He never ignored that voice.
He turned off the engine, zipped his coat up and pulled his scarf tight around his neck, then sighed and stepped into the storm.
The wind pulled at him immediately, making his eyes tear, driving snow into the gaps in his clothing. He blinked away the flakes obscuring his vision, then slogged through the snow to the car, peering through the window.
There was someone in the car, slumped over the steering wheel.
"Shit." Steve tried the door, but it was locked, or stuck. So, he banged on the window. "Hey! Are you awake? Can you open the door?" The driver didn't respond, didn't move at all. "Shit," Steve said again, quickly calculating what he had to do.
A visit to his own trunk produced his tire iron. Three hard strikes against the back seat window reduced it to glittering fragments, so he could reach to unlock the driver's door. Panic blooming in his gut, he yanked it open. The driver, a man with long messy dark hair, was slumped over the steering wheel.
Steve reached out a hand, fearing he was too late, but felt a warm flutter in the man's throat. He was alive, at least. Alive, but a mess, his face covered in dried blood that seemed to have flowed both from his cracked nose and a cut on one eyebrow. There were bruises forming across the bridge of his nose, around his eyes. Whether his air bag had deployed badly or too late, his face must have hit the wheel.
"Hey, pal," Steve said, putting one hand on the man's shoulder, nudging him gently, getting no response. Steve fumbled in his pocket, pulling out his phone, hoping an ambulance could make it through the storm, but there was no cell service out here, wherever he was.
"Shit. Shit. Fuck."
He couldn't leave the guy here. Even if Steve hadn't broken his car window, he'd freeze to death out here in the middle of nowhere. But Steve had broken his window, and snow now streamed into the car's back seat, bringing with it the storm's cold wind. Steve was doubly responsible for the driver. He had to get him out of here.
Steve looked his mystery man over. His messy dark hair topped a lean frame, and even sitting in the car he looked tall. He had to have at least six inches on Steve. But Steve could manage him. He might be short and asthmatic, but he was strong. He'd taken to swimming early, lifeguarded through high school, and learned how to fireman carry even the biggest guys at the pool. Didn't mean it was going to be easy, though.
He grabbed Mystery Man's arm, hoping he wasn't about to make things worse, and heaved him out of the car and over his shoulder. He got him in the back seat of his car, long legs folded up, and covered him with the blanket he kept in his trunk, all without the man making a peep. He was about to pull onto the road, but then realized the guy might have things in his car he'd want with him. He popped his trunk to find a duffle, and a bag of wrapped gifts, tags on them for Mom, Dad and Becca. It made him feel even worse, knowing Mystery Man was on his way home for Christmas, just like Steve was.
But it would be okay. He'd drive into whatever town was closest, drop Mystery Man at the local ER, and they'd contact his family. Let him know he wouldn't make Christmas but was alive.
Steve started up his car, and headed into the storm.
It didn't take long until Steve saw the flaw in his plan. With each minute passing, the snow fell harder and the drifts on the road got deeper, until Steve realized if he went much further he was going to drive his car into a tree. And then where would they be?
He started looking at the side of the road for houses, barns. Hell, he'd have taken a well-built garage. He was starting to calculate their chances if he pulled over to the side of the road and used the car heater to keep them warm through the storm when he saw something that looked human-built.
He turned into a driveway that was barely more than an indent in the snowbank, and found a cabin tucked into a stand of trees.
"Looks like we're in luck," he said to his still unconscious Mystery Man. But his luck wasn't that good. No one answered his knock on the door, and the cabin's windows were dark. The place was deserted. It must be a summer cabin, shut up for the winter. Still, it was a more promising place to wait out the storm than the car.
The cabin's door held up to his amateur break-and-enter attempt. He was starting to consider risking smashing a window with his tire iron, hoping he could find something inside to seal a broken window and keep the storm out, when he flipped the threadbare welcome mat in front of the door. A tarnished bronze key winked back at him from the weathered boards of the porch.
He nearly cried with relief.
The cabin was basic inside, living room, kitchen and bedroom all in one room. There was a wood stove in the centre, and a half-depleted stack of wood against the back wall. Steve found matches in a drawer and got a fire going, then wrangled Mystery Man into the cabin. He put him on the couch, wrestling his jacket off him and covering him in his car blanket and then two more blankets he found in a chest beside the cabin's one bed.
There were light switches, but they did nothing, whether because the power had been turned off at the cabin or because the power lines were down, Steve didn't know. And the kitchen sink didn't yield any water no matter how far he turned the taps—the water probably depended on a water pump that needed the non-existent power—so, Steve put a pot of snow on the wood stove to melt, and explored the rest of his refuge.
There were a few cans in the cupboard, Campbell's soup and Dinty Moore stew that was all nearly expired, but enough to keep them going for a day or two. There were candles and matches, and enough wood to keep them warm for a few days.
Their immediate needs settled, Steve turned to Mystery Man. He was warm and breathing, but seemed nowhere close to waking up, and his face was a mess. Steve could at least clean him up. He found a washcloth on a shelf of towels, got the now-melted pot of snow, and started wiping away the blood on the guy's face, taking care to be gentle. Mystery Man shifted once during the process, but that was his only reaction.
Once Steve was done, he sat, satisfied he'd done what he could to make Mystery Man comfortable, hopeful that he could wait until the storm cleared for any medical help.
He checked his phone again, but there was still no reception, and outside the window, the storm showed no sign of letting up. He was stuck here, in a cabin he'd pretty much broken into, with a man whose name he didn't know. Though he realized with a start he could fix that last thing. He reached for Mystery Man's coat, checking the pockets and finding a wallet, complete with driver's licence.
According to his licence, James Buchanan Barnes was a year older than Steve, the slightly smirking man in the photo more handsome than Steve would have guessed from the bruised and swollen face he had now. That face also didn't look like it belonged to a James, somehow. Or a Buchanan.
Another pocket revealed a phone. Steve tried to open it, figuring he could find a number for James Buchanan's mom or dad, but the phone was locked with a password. On the lock screen, James laughed with a young woman, his arm slung easily over her shoulder. Steve wondered if she was the Becca on the gift he'd found in James' car. Wondered if she was a girlfriend or a sister.
Steve paced the cabin, checking every shelf and drawer for things that would make their stay here more comfortable, pulling out more blankets from the chest near the bed and wrapping himself in one. He wished there was more he could do. Inactivity frustrated him. It reminded him too much of being sick as a kid, stuck in bed and unable to do anything but watch TV and draw.
Well, there was no TV here, but he had a sketchbook and pencils in his knapsack. He grabbed the knapsack, and sat in the battered chair across from the couch, where he could keep an eye on James. He arranged the blanket around himself, opened the sketchbook in his lap, and let himself be lost in the act of drawing.
He started by working on the assignment Natasha had given him this week, logos for a local burger restaurant. He drew several versions to show her after the holidays. Turning the page, he sketched the barren shelves of the cabin, and the pot-bellied stove currently radiating heat to the chilly room.
Finally, he turned to his companion. He sketched out the planes of James' face, working on those spectacular bruises in black and white, and wishing he could capture them in colour.
He grew drowsy as the dim light in the cabin began to fade further, purple twilight showing outside. He stirred himself to light a candle, placing it on the table between himself and James, then went back to sketching. His eyes grew heavier, even as he thought that maybe he should heat up some soup for himself. He drifted off to sleep wondering what colour James' eyes might be.
Steve woke with a crick in his neck and the candle guttering on the table, sending ominous shadows flickering across the cabin. He stretched and yawned, checked that James was still alive and still asleep, then stood. His phone told him it was ten o'clock, and he was cold and hungry and needed to pee, not quite in that order. A door in the back revealed a basic compost toilet that didn't depend on the non-functioning water pump. And a quick check of the stove showed the fire almost ready to go out. He stoked the fire, lit a new candle, found a can opener and a pot, and started heating up some soup.
The soup was just starting to steam when he heard a rustling behind him. James was sitting up, looking confused and in pain.
"What the fuck?"
"You're okay," Steve said, hoping he sounded trustworthy.
"I don't feel okay." James' voice was croaky. He touched his nose and winced. "What happened to me?"
"You were in an accident."
"I feel like someone hit my face with a 2 by 4."
"Close. I found your car wrapped around a tree. You must have gone face-first into the dash."
"Great. And who the hell are you?"
"You're not a serial killer, are you, Steve Rogers? 'Cause I don't remember a goddamn thing after I packed up my car to come home."
"Nope," he said, doing his best not to look threatening. "I'm an artist."
"Yep." He pointed to his sketchbook, sitting on the battered coffee table. James reached over and flipped through it, stopping on the last sketch Steve had been working on.
"Jesus, do I really look like that?"
"Umm, yeah?" Steve shrugged an apology and hoped the fact that he'd been sketching James while he was passed out didn't come across as creepy. He thought it might be creepy.
"You're good, I'll give you that." James let his head fall back to the pillow Steve had placed behind him. "But I question your choice of subjects."
"What can I say? I like a challenge."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Steve. But if I was in an accident, why aren't I in a hospital?"
"You may not be able to see it, but there's a blizzard out there. I tried to call 911 when I found you, but there was no cell service. And I tried to drive into town, but the snow was piling up too fast. I found this cabin and figured it was the best place to wait out the storm."
"Well, that's just great."
"It's not your fault." James lay back on the couch and closed his eyes. "I'm Bucky Barnes, by the way."
"Not James?" Steve asked. Then, when Ja-Bucky raised an eyebrow at him, "I looked at your ID. Wanted to know who I'd rescued."
"Not James," he said firmly, staring at him through slitted eyes. “Bucky, short for Buchanan. My sister started calling me that when she was little, and it just stuck. I never liked James, anyway. Or Jim. My mom calls me Jimmy when she's mad at me." He made a face.
"Your sister. Is that Becca?"
"Yeah." Bucky frowned at him suspiciously. "How'd you know that?"
"I rescued your Christmas presents from your trunk. I noticed the tags."
"Yeah, Becca's my baby sister." Bucky reached for his phone and waved the lock screen at Steve. "That's the little troublemaker, right there." He opened his phone and stared at the screen." No cell service, huh?"
"Not on my phone."
"Not on mine either. Shit." He closed his eyes. "My mom's going to be freaking out. I told her I'd be home for dinner."
"Mine, too. Where's home for you?"
"No kidding." Steve sat forward. "Me, too. Mom's in Red Hook."
"My folks are in Brooklyn Heights."
Steve was going to ask him more about his home, but the soup picked that moment to nearly boil over.
"Hey, I'm heating up some soup I found in the cupboard. Are you hungry?"
"Sort of?" Bucky winced. "I'm starving, but also nauseous. Which is a bad combination."
"Well, you have a concussion."
"No kidding." Bucky paused and swallowed, looking like he might throw up. "I've had a concussion once before. Got my bell rung playing football in high school. Which is why I haven't played football since."
"What did you do for it then?"
"A heck of a lot of nothing, the way I remember it. The doctor made me stay in a dark room for the first day or two. No TV, no internet, no nothing. Just rest."
"Then this place should be perfect." Steve waved at the gloomy cabin. "No electricity, no TV, no computers, and not much light without the candles." He glanced out the window, where light from the candle showed snow still furiously swirling. "And the way the weather looks, we'll be stuck here for at least another 24 hours."
"Small blessings, huh?"
"At least we've got enough wood to keep us warm for a few days, enough food, if we're okay with canned soup and stew, and we don't have to drive through that." Steve gestured emphatically at the storm raging outside.
"Put that way, I guess we're okay."
"Yeah, we are. Soup?"
"Give me a little bit. We'll see how that sits.”
Bucky sat up, and they both ate on the couch in companionable silence. Bucky asked for a small second helping, and when he'd finished that, he sat back on the couch and looked at Steve.
"You said you found my car wrapped around a tree."
"How's the car look?"
"Damn. I liked that car." Bucky frowned, then looked at Steve like he was noticing him for the first time. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how did you get me here?"
"I pulled you out of your car. Got you into mine. Then dragged you in here."
Bucky was silent for a few moments, his mouth pursed as if he was thinking over what to say next.
"Don't take this the wrong way," he said carefully, "but you look a little small to be dragging me out of my car."
"I'm stronger than I look." Steve tensed, and jutted his jaw out, disappointed that Bucky was yet another guy who'd underestimated him. He braced himself for the usual comments about being a shrimp.
"Clearly. You saved my life. So…thanks." And that was it. Bucky didn't mock Steve's size, didn't make fun of the effort Steve had gone through to save him. He just accepted it and moved on. Relief swept through Steve like a clean wind.
"Where the hell are we, anyway?"
"I'm not really sure," Steve admitted. "Somewhere off 81. I pulled off the highway when the storm got too bad. Figured I'd find a hotel for the night. But I found your car before I found any sign of civilization."
"Lost in the wilds of New York State. Wasn't quite the way I expected to be spending Christmas Eve."
Bucky yawned. “I should probably get back to sleep.”
“Aren't you supposed to stay awake when you have a concussion?” Steve asked.
“N'ah. That's a myth. My doctor told me to get as much sleep as I could handle when I had a concussion before. Unless I had convulsions, or my pupils were different sizes. Are my pupils different sizes?” Bucky leaned toward Steve.
In the candlelight, Bucky's eyes flickered golden and grey, but in spite of being surrounded with bruises, both his pupils were the same size.
“No,” Steve said, struck all of a sudden by just how close to him Bucky was. Steve went still, trying to figure out why it even mattered that someone he barely knew, a stranger he'd pulled out of a wrecked car, was leaning almost close enough for him to kiss. Trying to figure out why the thought of kissing Bucky had even popped into his head.
Bucky got a little frown on his face, lining his forehead, like he was trying to work out a problem himself. But he didn't move back, either. He just looked at Steve, and his mouth quirked at bit at the corners, just like it did on his driver's licence picture.
“Good,” Bucky finally said, then eased back against the cushions Steve had propped him up with. “'Cause if they were different sizes, I was 'sposed to go to the hospital. And we both know that's not going to happen.”
“No, it's not,” Steve agreed, finding it suddenly easier to breathe with the extra space between them. “I, uh, should clean up.” He stood and gathered up their bowls and spoons. “You can take the bed.” He nodded at the bed in the corner of the room. “I already made it up.”
“I'm fine here on the couch.”
“This couch feels like it's stuffed with rocks. Take the bed. I'll take the couch.”
“If it's stuffed with rocks, neither of us should be sleeping on it.” Bucky's voice turned insistent. “There's room in the bed for both of us.”
“You virtue is safe with me, Steve.” Bucky must have meant it as a joke--must have--but his voice had dropped to a husky register that was all kinds of suggestive and had Steve wondering if Bucky's virtue was going to be safe with him. Steve felt his mouth go dry, and he struggled to find a reply. Bucky took his silence as assent, and gave him a nudge. “You finish clearing up. Then you should sleep, too.”
Bucky stood, dragging himself and the blankets Steve had draped over him over to the bed. He opened his duffle, pulled out another sweatshirt to go over the one he was already wearing, and crawled under the covers.
Steve stayed frozen on the couch for a few seconds more, until he was able to force himself to move. He concentrated on his task, opening the door briefly to get more snow to melt, rinsing out the bowls, building the fire up for the night. He most decidedly did not think about the man in the bed. At. All
He got out his own duffle, and brushed his teeth with water from the melted snow. He layered a hoodie over his clothes to combat the chill in the cabin that the wood stove couldn't quite defeat. He put his sketching pencils away and fumbled with his toiletries bag, anything to avoid getting in the bed while Bucky was still awake.
“I'm not gonna bite,” Bucky finally said, his voice muffled by the covers he had pulled up past his nose.
“I know that,” Steve said, firmly zipping up his duffle and, finally, climbing into the bed.
“Besides,” Bucky said, pulling down the blankets far enough that Steve could see his face, “we'll be warmer like this.” And then he winked.
Steve didn't know Bucky Barnes at all, but he knew this about him. He was a fucking menace.
In spite of being in a strange bed with a strange man in a strange cabin in the middle of a blizzard, Steve fell asleep easily, and slept deeply. He only woke once, in what must have been the dead of night, when the storm outside was raging especially hard and the wind was throwing icy snow against the windows with a clatter.
And he woke with his arm around Bucky, his face buried in Bucky's back.
It wasn't anything new. Whether he had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, he'd always ended up wrapped around them in sleep. When they'd been together, Sharon had always told him he was like a limpet when he slept. She hadn't meant it as a compliment. So, to find that he'd wrapped himself around the strange man in this strange bed was... mortifying. That was the only word for it.
He tried to keep his breathing steady, tried to unwrap his arm without waking Bucky, without letting him know the truly embarrassing thing that he'd done. But just when he thought he was going to get away with it, he felt Bucky stirring.
Bucky reached out and grabbed Steve's hand, keeping it wrapped around him, keeping Steve firmly in place. Steve's heart beat triple-time in his chest, and he waited for the consequence of his actions like a convicted man waiting for the firing squad.
“Don't be a fucking idiot, Steve,” Bucky finally said, his voice sleepy. “You're keeping my back warm.”
“But-” Steve started.
“But nothing. Move and I'll give you a concussion.”
“I suppose I can't argue with that.”
“No, you can't. Now go to sleep, Steve.”
It took a little longer this time, but Steve managed to fall asleep again, Bucky's warm body a comfort in the night.
To his relief, when Steve woke up he was no longer wrapped around Bucky, and Bucky was still fast asleep, making snuffling snoring noises with every breath.
Outside, the blizzard was still roaring, and inside, the cabin was freezing. Steve steeled himself and then got up to get the fire going once again. He got more snow to melt, and found a jar of instant coffee in the back of one cupboard that he made in a chipped I Heart NY mug. There was no milk and no sugar, and it was as far as you could get from Starbucks, but it was coffee.
He was settling on the couch, warming his hands on the mug, when he heard Bucky stirring.
“Tell me that's coffee I smell,” Bucky said.
“Lousy instant coffee.”
“I don't care. I would sell my soul for a cup of coffee right now.”
“I wouldn't know what to do with your soul.” Steve got up and put more water on to boil, then made coffee for Bucky in a mug with the Coney Island Wonder Wheel on it. “Here you go, breakfast in bed.”
Bucky eagerly took the mug and drank a sip before it had any chance to cool off.
“You're going to burn your mouth like that.”
“It's been reliably determined that my mouth is made of asbestos.” He took another sip. “Bless you, Steve Rogers. Someday you're going to make some gal a nice little husband.”
“Or some guy,” Steve said before his brain had quite caught up with his mouth. But then he thought, what the hell. If Bucky was going to freak out over the guy who'd rescued him being bi, he probably wouldn't have insisted on being the little spoon last night.
Bucky didn't disappoint him. He just smirked and nodded and said, “Make me enough coffee and I may just propose.”
“You just want me for my ability to boil water.”
“You have to admit, it is an attractive quality in a spouse.”
“You've got low standards, Bucky Barnes.”
That just earned him another laugh.
A quick check of his phone confirmed that there still was no cell service, and his battery was running at an alarming 50%, so with no escape or rescue imminent, he set about putting together what he could for breakfast. Chunky chicken noodle soup wasn't exactly a traditional Christmas breakfast, but it was better than Dinty Moore stew. And Steve was so hungry that it tasted as good as the best eggs Benny Brooklyn had to offer.
After eating, Bucky was looking tired.
“I think I could sleep some more.”
“Are you sure? Should I check your pupils?”
Before Bucky could answer, Steve leaned forward. In the muted daylight of the cabin, he could see Bucky's eyes were blue. Not the cornflower blue of his own eyes, but the blue of a stormy sea. Steve's fingers itched for a paint brush to capture the man's face and the colour of those eyes.
“So?” Bucky broke into his distraction. “How are they?”
“My pupils. Are they different sizes?”
“Um, nope. You're safe to nap.”
“Great.” Bucky stood and started moving over to the bed. “Ya know, maybe you should have a nap, too.”
“I'm fine.” Steve shooed him toward the bed.
Bucky hesitated, giving Steve an unreadable look, but only for a second. Then he crawled back into bed and was asleep almost immediately.
Steve retrieved his sketchbook and pencils and set about working on the logo project again. But cartoon burgers and fries could only hold his interest for so long, and when he stopped to stretch his back out, and found that Bucky had turned toward him in sleep. Before he could consciously decide what to do, he'd turned to a new page of his sketchbook and started roughing in the outline of Bucky's face. This time he tried to imagine him without the bruises and the swelling, tried to imagine him as the smirking guy on his driver's licence.
He tried not to think too hard about why he was so compelled to draw Bucky. He told himself it was the challenge of figuring out what Bucky would look like without having his face bashed in. Or of catching the way his dark curls ran riot around his face. He definitely did not think it was the lushness of his mouth that drew him in. Absolutely not. Probably not. Okay, maybe it was his mouth.
“What're you drawing?” Bucky said, his eyes open just a slit, his voice a sleepy drawl.
“Nothing,” Steve said, not quite wanting to admit the truth.
“That must be some pretty impressive nothing, the way you're concentrating on it.”
"You could say that."
"Hand it over, Rogers." Bucky reached a hand out of the blankets, and wiggled his fingers when Steve didn't immediately give him the sketchbook. With a sigh, Steve rose and passed him the book. Drawing his new companion couldn't be quite as embarrassing as spooning him during the night.
Bucky looked at the new sketch and smiled.
"That's more like it," he said. "I think you've almost made me handsome enough."
Steve couldn't help it. He snorted a laugh.
"You don't think much of yourself," Steve said, with no malice behind his words.
"Hey, I'm just being honest." Those words might have made someone else seem like a narcissistic asshole, but from Bucky they just sounded like snarky good humour.
"Give me my sketchbook back." Steve snatched it back, and playfully held it away from Bucky.
"Are ya gonna draw me again? Maybe I should charge you a modelling fee. Don't artists pay people to model for them?"
"We pay life models. Are you going to model naked for me?" Steve couldn't quite believe he'd said that. But he also didn't care. Something about Bucky made him feel like he could tease him about anything.
"Not in this cabin," Bucky said, without dismissing the possibility out of hand. "Even with the stove, it's too damn cold in here for that."
"My studio's warm." Though calling the spare room where he'd set up a drawing table in his apartment a studio was a bit grand.
"Now we're talking. Where is this studio?"
"What kind of an artist lives in Buffalo?"
"The kind of artist who needs to pay off his student loans. The best job offer I got was in Buffalo."
"Tell me about it. I'm working for an engineering firm in Rochester for the same reason."
"Buffalo is cooler than Rochester."
"Are you kidding me?" And just like that, they were off, engaged in a good-natured bragging war about who had the coolest adopted city. Though at least they both agreed that Brooklyn was cooler than both.
They spent the morning like that, sparring about favourite music and food and movies in between Bucky's naps. Steve drew ridiculous caricatures of Bucky every time he fell asleep and stuck them up all over the cabin.
After lunch (alphabet soup) they shared their stories—school, friends, jobs, hobbies—and Steve marvelled over how many times they had just missed meeting each other over the years. They'd both gone to PS 261, but missed each other by a year, Bucky's family moving into Brooklyn Heights the year after Steve and his mom had moved out. Bucky had switched from football to swim team in high school, and his coach had taught the lifeguarding course Steve had taken. Steve had lifeguarded at the same pool where Bucky's team, the Howling Commandos, had practised, may have even seen Bucky and his teammates goofing around while they waited for a leisure swim to end. They'd even both gotten scholarships from the Stark foundation, might have met at the foundation's annual dinner for recipients, except that Steve had had to be at RISD a week early to do an orientation for the fine art studio. Which was too bad, Bucky told him, because Tony Stark had been hilarious.
By late afternoon, Bucky was done with naps, and had long since stopped feeling nauseous, so they searched the cabin for something else to do. They found a deck of cards that was missing its red jacks, a cribbage board, and a small pile of poker chips, and created their own game, the mutant love child of cribbage, rummy and poker whose rules kept shifting depending on who'd last played a card. After a few hands, Steve started calling the game Fizzbin, Bucky called him a geek, and Steve shot back that Bucky wouldn't have recognized the reference if he wasn't a geek himself.
When the light faded, Steve broke out the last can of Campbell's soup—cream of broccoli, which wasn't great, but better than the Dinty Moore stew that they'd have to eat if they were still stuck here tomorrow—and they sat at the rickety kitchen table, slurping soup and trying not to think about the Christmas dinners they were missing.
“Merry Christmas,” Bucky said, raising a glass of melted snow.
“Merry Christmas,” Steve replied, smiling at how comfortable he felt with Bucky, how easily they'd slotted together in spite of the frankly fucking weird way they'd met. He hadn't gotten along so well with anyone since Sam Wilson had transferred to Red Hook High School in his sophomore year and had helped him stand up to the bullies who kept beating up all the queer kids at school. But there was something more with Bucky. Sam was straight and a friend and Steve had never been attracted to him like that. But with Bucky, Steve felt a growing pull that had started when he'd woken up spooning him. Steve wasn't sure if Bucky was straight or what, but he nursed a growing hope that maybe he wasn't as straight as Sam was.
“Hey, this isn't right,” Bucky said. “Wait a minute.” He got up and went over to rummage in his duffle, coming back to the table with something bundled up in a t-shirt. “Here ya go. I owe ya something for pulling me out of a snowbank.”
“You don't have to...”
“Just take the damn gift, Rogers.” Bucky thrust it at him again. “Not the t-shirt, though. I want that back, and it would be too big for you anyway.”
He took the offered lump, unwrapping the bulge from the worn Ramones t-shirt that surrounded it, to reveal... “Um, thank you?”
“It was supposed to be for Becca's stocking. She used to love those ugly things when she was smaller. Now it's a standing joke. Not that I meant it to be a joke for you,” he quickly corrected. “I just figure I owe you something, and that'll have to stand in until I can get you a real gift.”
“Thank you,” Steve repeated, this time managing to sound as sincere as he felt, staring down at the little rainbow-coloured Littlest Pet Shop bear that was apparently called Chroma Sparklears. “It's...something.”
“It's stupid.” Bucky stared at him intently. “But I mean it, I owe ya.”
Steve look at the stupid bear, wishing he had something for Bucky. And then realizing he did. He placed Chroma Sparklears carefully on the table and pulled a flat, wrapped gift from his suitcase, pulling off the gift tag addressed to Sam. “Merry Christmas.”
“You don't have to---”
“I want to.” Steve shook the gift at him. “Take it.”
Bucky took it, and carefully unwrapped the gift, his mouth opening in an O of surprise when he saw what was inside.
When Steve had gone to RISD, Sam had joined the Airforce, and he was always telling Steve, in emails and Skype calls, how much he missed Brooklyn. So Steve had drawn him Brooklyn. Or at least the Brooklyn bridge from DUMBO. Every fucking tourist posted a picture of that damn bridge on Instagram now, but none of them had an original Steve Rogers pen and ink drawing of it. But now Bucky Barnes would. He'd do another drawing for Sam. Prospect Park, maybe. Or the Wonder Wheel.
“I can't accept this, Steve.” Bucky held the picture back to him. “It's too nice.”
“Yes, you can. I want you to.”
“Okay.” Bucky looked at the picture like he'd never seen anything like it. “I'll treasure it forever.”
“And I'll treasure Chroma Sparklears,” Steve said with a grin. He wasn't even kidding.
“You're a little shit.”
“Yes, I am.” And Steve wasn't sorry. Not one little bit.
The gifts opened something up in Steve's chest, and he decided to make a leap. Talked to Bucky a bit about his exes, the girlfriends and the boyfriends. Bucky talked a bit about his own exes, every one of them a boyfriend, and the something in Steve's chest opened up even further.
Not that he was going to push Bucky into anything right this moment. Not when they'd only known each other a day. Not when Bucky had a concussion. Not when they were in the frankly ridiculous position of being stuck together in a cabin in a blizzard on Christmas day.
But still, he couldn't help but smile every time Bucky looked at him, every time they found something else they had in common, every time they practically finished each other's sentences.
When Bucky got tired, this time there was no question about them sharing the bed. Bucky got ready while Steve stoked the fire, then they both got under the pile of blankets.
Steve didn't even flinch when Bucky squirmed up beside him and threw an arm over his chest.
“When the fire goes down, it's going to be fucking cold again,” Bucky said, as if that totally explained why he'd cuddled up to Steve. “You can be the little spoon tonight.”
Steve didn't tense up, didn't pull away, didn't worry he was doing the wrong thing. Instead, he actually leaned into Bucky's hold, and took comfort in the feeling of his arms as he fell asleep.
Steve woke to a knocking on the door.
"Nate," a woman's voice yelled. "Nate, you goddamn idiot, are you in there?" There was more knocking.
Sometime during the night, Bucky had released his hold, so now he was facing away from Steve, and still snoring faintly. Steve cursed softly, pulled on the sweatshirt Bucky had left at the side of the bed, and headed for the door.
"C'mon, Nate. Don't make me break—"
Steve pulled open the door, to reveal a New York State policewoman with one hand raised to knock on the door yet again. She was as tall as Bucky and looked like she could bench press both of them. There were laugh lines around her eyes, and Steve could see steel-grey hair peeking out from under her wide-brimmed hat.
"You're not Nate," she said, frowning at him.
"Um, no." Steve pulled up his sleeve and held his right hand out. "Steve Rogers. We, um, got caught in the storm."
"Sergeant Linda Thomas." She shook his hand firmly. "I saw a car in the driveway and thought the owner had come up for Christmas. Figured I'd let him know the road's been plowed."
"We didn't break in," Steve blurted out, realizing how it must look, them in a cabin that didn't belong to them with the police at the door. "There was a key. And the road was blocked. And we were cold…"
"Don't worry about it, kid. That's why Nate leaves a key. Some idiot from Manhattan broke a window to get out of a blizzard a few years back. Nate complained for weeks about having to fix the window. Now he just leaves the key so people can let themselves in if they need to without breaking anything. There's nothing worth stealing in there but thrift store furniture and dishes he's picked up at yard sales. Though I daresay if you leave him a 20 for any food or wood you used, he'd appreciate it.”
“Will, do, Sergeant.”
The Sergeant's expression changed in an instant from friendly to concerned as she looked over Steve's shoulder. “Are you all right, sir?”
Steve glanced back. Bucky was standing behind him, the bruises on his face a spectacular mix of purple, green and blue.
“It looks worse than it is,” Bucky said, his voice raspy with sleep.
“That car wrapped around a tree five miles back wouldn't happen to belong to you, would it?”
“Yeah, that's mine.” Bucky drew close to Steve and elbowed him softly in the ribs. “Steve, here, pulled me out.”
“If you want, I can have George at the local garage tow it out when he gets a minute. Then you could tell him what he can do with it.”
“That would be very kind, ma'am.”
She pulled out her notebook, scribbled something on a blank sheet, and handed it to Bucky.
“That's George's number.” She frowned at him. "You don't need a hospital, do you?"
Bucky shook his head. "I'm over the worst of it. But thanks."
"Were you boys on your way home for the holidays?” They both nodded. “Have you been able to tell anyone you were stuck here?"
"No, ma'am," Steve said. "We couldn't get any cell service."
"Yeah, it's been down for a while. Probably be another day before they get all the cell towers sorted. Tell you what. If you boys give me the numbers, I'll have the station call your families. Let them know you're safe." She turned to a new page on the notebook and handed it to Steve.
"That would be wonderful, ma'am. If you could have them tell my mom I'll be home later today, I'd appreciate it."
"Absolutely. I've got boys of my own. I'd like to think someone would help them out, if they ever got stranded."
They wrote down their families' numbers and thanked Sergeant Thomas.
“Hey,” Bucky called out as she was walking back to her squad car. “Any place around here open for breakfast?”
“Try Jenny's Diner,” the Sergeant said. “It's on the main street. Just keep on the road and head south. Jenny's family drives her crazy so she keeps her place open as much as she can during the holidays.”
They watched her pull away in her squad car from the porch. After the engine of the car faded away, the only sounds Steve could hear were the faint plunk of snow falling from branches and Bucky's breathing beside him.
Steve felt like he'd wandered into a snow globe. Snow was everywhere, drifted around the cabin and clinging to branches. Sometime during the night, the storm had blown through, leaving blue sky and sunlight so bright it was almost painful. The light caught in the snow, reflecting back at them like diamonds, and their breath formed in front of them like miniature clouds.
"Well, would ya look at that," Bucky whispered, as if he didn't want to break the silence surrounding them. “It's a goddamn winter wonderland.”
Without thinking about it, Steve put his arm around Bucky's waist and leaned into him, nodding in agreement. He was more pleased than he'd ever admit when Bucky leaned right back against him.
With the road open, they had no reason to stick around the cabin, but Steve found himself reluctant to leave. He packed his toiletries and extra hoodies in his suitcase while Bucky packed up his duffle. A silence fell between them that was the exact opposite of the ease that Steve had felt with Bucky yesterday.
Bucky stood by the door, his jacket on, a beanie jammed onto his head over his dark hair, and Steve still didn't want to leave.
“Wait a sec,” he said, and pulled sketchbook and pencils out of his knapsack. He tore a page out, folded it, and drew a quick winter scene on the front, writing a thank you note to Nate inside. He was signing it when he felt Bucky nudge beside him. Bucky added his own note to the card, and pulled a 20 out of his wallet to go with the one Steve had already left on the table.
“C'mon,” Bucky said, punching him in the arm, and diffusing the silence between them. “Let's see if Jenny's has pancakes.”
They locked up the cabin and replaced the key under the mat, and started driving into town. Jenny's was indeed open, the sort of homey diner Steve used to see all over Brooklyn before the hipsters had taken over. Jenny herself was behind the counter, a pleasant middle-aged woman who waved them over.
“Linda told me there'd be a couple of strays in,” she said as she poured them two mugs of coffee. “Told me one of you had cracked up his car and to be nice to you. Not that I'm not always nice.” She laughed and pointed them to a booth near the window. “You two take a load off. I'll be over for your order in a minute.”
Steve concentrated on the menu, deciding on corned beef hash, and tried not to look too much at Bucky, tried not to figure out if the closeness he'd felt build so fast between them had evaporated like a mist, or if it still might exist between them. He gave Jenny his order without looking once at Bucky, then pulled out his phone to give him something else non-Bucky related to do with his eyes.
“Holy shit,” he said, as he scrolled through screen after screen of increasingly frantic text messages from his mom, and snarky ones from Sam.
“What?” Bucky said.
“Looks like we've got cell service again.”
Bucky pulled out his own phone, and they both spent the time waiting for their order answering texts, assuring friends and family they were still alive. Steve gave his mom a quick call, calming her down when she burst into tears at the sound of his voice.
“I didn't know if you were alive, and then when someone called from the State Police, I thought the worst.”
“I'm sorry, Mom. I'll be home soon.”
“I will. Love you.”
Bucky was hanging up a call, too.
“Your mom?” Steve asked.
“Was she as worried as mine was?”
“Probably. I told her I was fine, but she's going to freak out when she sees my face.”
“Aren't you supposed to tell me it doesn't look that bad?”
“I could tell you that. But I'd be lying.”
“Punk,” Bucky said, and gave him a soft kick under the table.
“Jerk,” Steve replied, and kicked him back.
They both grinned, but anything else they might have said was interrupted when Jenny returned with Steve's hash and Bucky's pancakes.
“God, this is so much better than Campbell's soup,” Bucky said around a mouthful of pancakes.
“Or Dinty Moore stew,” Steve said, washing down his corned beef hash with a sip of truly wonderful coffee. Or at least coffee that was better than the instant with melted snow water he'd been drinking yesterday. Especially loaded up with cream and sugar.
With the food, the remarkable ease that they'd had with each other returned. They teased and taunted and discussed how much trouble they were going to be in with their families. By the time they'd finished breakfast, and left a generous tip for Jenny, Steve felt like all was well with the world. Steve gassed up the car, and then they headed back toward the highway, and home.
The first part of the trip passed easily, with quick banter and comfortable silences, and Steve marvelling once again how quickly he'd become relaxed in Bucky's company. But when they hit Jersey City and Manhattan came into view on the horizon, a tension seeped into the car.
As the car descended into the Holland Tunnel, their silences became less comfortable, both of them straining to fill them with conversation that came with more difficulty. Steve wasn't sure what Bucky was feeling, but as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge he realized that there was no reason for him to see Bucky after he dropped him off. All the closeness Steve felt for him might be an illusion, or one-sided.
As Bucky gave him terse directions to the Barnes family house, Steve could feel his hands tense on the steering wheel.
“This is the place,” Bucky said in front of a pleasant-looking brownstone with Christmas lights in the window.
Steve pulled into a parking spot that had opened up.
Bucky looked at the house, and Steve looked down at his hands, not sure what to say.
“I'll pop the trunk so you can get your stuff,” he finally blurted out. “Do you need any help with it?”
“No. I've got it.” Bucky's voice sounded strained, as if he was also struggling with what to say.
“See you around.”
“Yeah.” Bucky started to open the door, then quickly closed it again. “This is stupid. Look, give me your phone.”
Not sure what to expect, Steve unlocked his phone and handed it over. Bucky keyed something in. “Now you've got my number.” He opened Steve's messaging app, sending a text. “And I've got yours.”
“Um, thanks.” Steve took his phone back and shyly replaced it in his pocket.
“We should do something together,” Bucky blurted out, then snapped his fingers. “I know, New Year's.”
“You don't have to.”
“I know I don't have to, you dummy. I want to. One of my friends always has a New Year's party. You can come. If you don't have plans, that is.”
“No,” Steve shook his head. “I don't have plans. I usually spend it with a friend.” New Year's was usually just him and Sam trying not to get into trouble with Sam's cousins.
“Bring him along. I'll send you the details.”
“Thanks, Steve.” Bucky gave his shoulder a quick squeeze, and then he was gone, getting his duffle and bags of gifts out of the trunk, bounding up the brownstone's steps. Steve pulled into traffic before the door even opened, struck by a sudden need to get away.
When he got home, his mom hugged him, cried over him, and then gave him a smack on the arm for scaring her like that. Then she fed him a proper turkey dinner. The turkey was a bit dried out, and his mom had forgotten to put apples in the stuffing, but it was still the best meal he'd ever had.
Sam had managed to get leave for the holidays, and he and Steve met for drinks the next afternoon.
“Never disappear like that again, man,” Sam told him.
“It's not like I did it on purpose.”
“I know. But your mom was a mess. She was calling me or my mom every half hour, just in case I heard something first. My mom asked her to come over for Christmas dinner, but she didn't want to leave in case you made it home. Or in case you called.”
“I'm so sorry.”
“Don't apologize to me. Apologize to your mom.”
“Well, all right, then.” Sam took a sip of his beer. “Now, tell me all about how you got stuck in the woods.”
So, Steve told him. Told him about the blizzard, and finding Bucky in a snowbank, and getting them both to the cabin, and surviving on canned soup.
Sam listened to his story, motioned to the waitress for another round, and then gave Steve that infuriating smirk of his.
“So, you like this guy.”
“Of course I like him.” Steve decided to be deliberately obtuse. “He's a nice guy.”
“No, I mean you like him, like him.”
“What are you, twelve?” Steve said, shoving an elbow into Sam's side.
“No. Did you bone him?”
“He had a concussion, Sam!”
“But you want to bone him.”
“I'm not answering that.”
“You do. You totally do.”
“You make the worst wingman ever,” Steve said, finishing the beer in front of him and starting on the new one the waitress brought over.
“I am the best wingman ever, because I make you get your head out of your ass. Are you seeing him again?”
“I don't know. Maybe? He said something about a friend's New Year's party. You're invited, too.”
“I don't want to block any action.”
“I thought you were the best wingman ever?” Steve gave him a sour look.
“The best wingman ever knows when to get out of the way. Have you heard from him?”
“But you got his number.”
“Yeah. He, um, gave it to me.”
“So, text him. Confirm your date.”
“It's not a date. It's a party.”
“To which he invited you. So it's a date.”
“I'm not going to talk to you anymore.”
“You have to. I'm your best friend.” Sam gave him his best gap-toothed grin.
“Maybe I'm in the market for a new best friend.”
“Traitor,” Sam said with no heat whatsoever. Steve just took another sip of beer. “But you're going to go to this party? When you get the details?”
“If I get the details.”
“When. I've got a good feeling about this guy. Now let's order some chicken wings to soak up all the beer we're gonna drink.”
Steve got home to his mom's that night a bit drunk, and still unsure about the whole Bucky situation. There still hadn't been a text or a call from Bucky, and Steve was beginning to think the promised party invitation was never coming. Two more days he waited, days he spent with his mom, and Sam. Days during which he was definitely not pining.
Then, the morning of December 30th, he got a text.
BUCKY: Sry lft this so L8. Party's at 115 St Marks, off Flatbush. C U @ 10?
The first thing he did was call Sam.
“He invited me to the party.”
“Yeah, it's me. Bucky invited me to the party.”
“Of course he did. And you're going, right?”
“I don't know.”
“He spelled late L 8.”
“Don't hold poor texting choices against a potential boyfriend.”
“Is he a potential boyfriend?”
“Potential hook up? I don't know. What do you want from this guy, anyway?”
“I don't know, Sam.”
“And if you don't go to this party, you never will.”
“Don't say I don't know.”
“Are you going to say I don't know?”
“Steve, just go to the damn party.”
“Come with me?”
“I'm not coming with you on a date. I'm not your mom. You're not some prissy deb in need of a chaperone.”
“And don't whine. What you do need to do is get on your phone, text Binky--”
“What kinda grown-ass man calls themselves Bucky? But, whatever. Text Bucky, tell him you're coming, and then spend the next 24 hours agonizing about what you're going to wear to impress him.”
“I won't agonize about what I'm going to wear for 24 hours.”
“I'm your best friend, Steve. I know what you're like.”
“Okay, I'm going to agonize for 24 hours about what to wear.”
“Yes, you are. But you'll come up with a kickass outfit, and Binky--”
“Bucky. Now you're just being a dick.”
“--will realize what a catch you are and sweep you off your feet.”
“Why can't I sweep him off his feet?”
“You're five foot four, Steve.”
“I carried him out of a snowbank. I could sweep him off his feet.”
“Fine. He'll be wearing a kickass outfit, you'll sweep him off his feet, and you'll both live happily ever after.”
“That's never going to happen.”
“It's not if you don't go to the damn party.”
Steve stayed on the line and tried not to hyperventilate.
“I'm going to go to the party,” he said, more to convince himself that it was true than anything else.
“You're going to the party, and you're going to have a great time. And if by any chance you do not have a good time, you can get your ass over to my mom's place where me and my cousins will help you drown your sorrows with questionable cocktails.”
“Maybe I should cut out the middle step and just go to your mom's.”
“Go see your Binky, Steve.”
“My best friend is a dick.”
Sam's only answer was a laugh.
STEVE: See you at 10 tomorrow
Questionable texting choices, indeed.
Ten o'clock, New Year's Eve found Steve circling the block of the address Bucky had given him for the third time in a row, a bottle of wine clutched in one hand.
It wasn't that he wasn't sure where the party was. Even if he hadn't had the address, he could hear the sound of music and laughter spilling out onto the sidewalk, and could see the crowds of people in the second-floor window of the brownstone in question.
No, he knew where the party was. He just still wasn't sure he belonged at it.
Though it wasn't like he hadn't taken time to get ready for it.
Just like Sam had predicted, Steve had spent nearly 24 hours agonizing over what to wear to the party, choosing and rejecting nearly every piece of clothing he'd brought with him, and a few that were still hanging in the closet of his old room at his mom's. He didn't want to look too formal, or not formal enough. He didn't want to look too much like a hipster, but he also didn't want to look too dorky for Bucky's friends.
Finally, he settled on skinny khaki trousers with suspenders, a white collarless shirt, a purple scarf, his army surplus jacket, and as many leather bracelets as he could wrap around his wrists. (Sam always told him he over-accessorized when he was nervous. Sam wasn't wrong.)
He'd just about decided to take one more lap around the block, when he heard the scrape of a window opening.
"Hey Stevie!" He turned to see Bucky hanging out of the window, the thumping sound of the music spilling out around him. "Are you coming in, or what?"
Well, he couldn't avoid going in now. Even though Bucky now knew what an indecisive asshole he was.
He pulled open the door, and tramped up the wooden stairs, a knot of dread sitting heavily in his gut. As he hit the landing, the apartment door was wrenched open, Bucky standing there with a grin on his face, and that dread became something else entirely.
The last time Steve had seen him, Bucky had been wearing sweatpants, a hoodie, and a puffy winter coat, and his face had still been swollen and bruised. Now, the swelling was gone, the bruises had faded to yellowed shadows, and his clothes… Well, if Steve had gone Brooklyn hipster-lite for his outfit, then Bucky had gone full-out bad boy: black skinny jeans, a tight black t-shirt that was practically transparent, black motorcycle boots, and a black motorcycle jacket to top it all off. With his long hair twisted into a messy bun, and there was no other word for Bucky but gorgeous.
And Steve suddenly felt even more out of place.
"You came!" Bucky said, not seeming to notice Steve's discomfort. He grinned, took the bottle of wine, gave Steve a hug, and then dragged him into the apartment. He was towed through a crowd, introduced to half a dozen people whose names he failed to catch, and brought to a small room off the kitchen at the back. The music was less loud there, muted enough that you could talk without shouting.
"Steve, these are my friends, the former Howling Commandos swim team. Howlies, this is Steve." Bucky beamed as the Howlies introduced themselves and Steve struggled to remember these names at least.
"So you're the Steve who saved Bucky," said the giant with the hipster moustache who introduced himself as Tim Dugan, but everyone else insisted on calling Dum Dum. "Bucky won't shut up about you. I have to admit, I was expecting someone taller."
"So you're Bucky's friend that he never talks about," Steve shot back, irritation trumping discomfort. "I was expecting someone smarter."
"Oh," Jim Morita said with a grin. "He's a sharp one, Bucky. Can we keep him?"
"Hands off, Jim." Bucky put an arm around Steve and leaned into him. "He's mine."
Steve told himself it didn't mean anything. That Bucky was just being friendly. But Bucky didn't let go, and he got friendlier as the evening passed.
As some point, Steve realized he wasn't nervous any more. That he was, in fact, as comfortable with Bucky as he'd been in the cabin. And he was even getting on with his friends. He gave as good as he got whenever Dum Dum fired a barb in his direction, had an amiable argument with Gabe Jones about the merits of abstract expressionism (Gabe liked Pollock, but Steve was a firm Rothko fan), discussed the best places to eat in Brooklyn with Jim and Monty Falsworth, and listen as Jack Dernier, host of the party, told him about his family's demolition business and explained in loving detail how you went about setting explosives to take down an entire apartment block.
They broke out the wine Steve had brought, and when that vanished, got into the punch set up in the kitchen until Steve had a definite glow and he could see a flush on Bucky's cheeks. And the whole time, he and Bucky kept winding around each other, closer and closer, until at a minute to midnight the Howlies disappeared into the living room where everyone else was, and Steve found himself being pulled onto Bucky's lap.
"Hey!" he protested, even as he put an arm around Bucky's neck to steady himself. "Watch it!"
"I'm watching it, all right." Bucky laughed.
"You're a menace," Steve said. But he didn't pull away.
"You know me. Always driving into things. Causing trouble."
"That's you. A troublemaker." Steve was going to laugh himself, but as he heard voices in the living room start the countdown to midnight, he saw Bucky's expression get more serious. "Bucky?"
"Stop me if I've got the wrong idea," Bucky said, and he leaned in as the countdown hit five. Four. Three.
Steve didn't stop him. Far from it. Instead, he pulled Bucky closer, so that as the crowd erupted in shouts of "Happy New Year," their lips came together. Bucky's lips felt chapped against his, and he could feel his stubble against his face, but neither thing stopped him from deepening the kiss. He felt like the kiss had ignited his entire body like Dernier's explosives, so that when Bucky pulled away, he moaned in frustration.
“What...” he started to say, but Bucky just looked over his shoulder and dumped him off his lap.
“C'mon,” Bucky said, standing and grabbing Steve's hand. He pulled him into the kitchen, to the back of the apartment, then out a door onto a narrow balcony that overlooked the neighbours' backyards.
Some time since Steve had arrived, it had started snowing, so now there was a thin layer of clean, white snow covering yards and houses, dampening all sound. It wasn't quiet like the woods after the blizzard had been quiet, but it was quieter than Brooklyn usually got.
Steve looked over at Bucky, at his eyes glistening in the dark and his mouth quivering in an expression that gave away more emotion than he probably would have admitted.
Steve felt his own heart swell with so much feeling that he finally had to look away, to look back at the snow that continued to fall, catching his lashes.
“Would ya look at that,” Steve whispered as he squeezed Bucky's hand. “It's a goddamn winter wonderland.”