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The Aching Light

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“T’Challa told me that Wakandan sunsets are the most beautiful ones in the world, but I dunno, Steve,” Bucky said. “Give me one in Brooklyn in late summer, when you know the Dodgers are winning ‘cause you can hear it on the radio, and the nights are just starting to cool off. Those were great sunsets.”

Steve breathed out a laugh, his mouth barely curling into a smile.

“You been back, since, you know, everything?” Bucky asked. “What’s home like these days?”

“No Dodgers, for one,” he replied. Bucky looked incredulous. “But I haven’t been back to Brooklyn in 70 years.” It hasn’t been home since you left.

They fell into an easy, well-practiced silence. The stone beneath them was warm in the dying sunlight; little pebbles threw shadows twice their size behind them. Steve pressed his fingers to the sun-streaked ground, tiny rocks biting into his skin.

“I always thought you hated camping,” Steve said, and picked up a few small stones. He passed them back and forth between his hands.

“I’m pretending it’s Central Park,” Bucky huffed out a laugh. “Hard not to with the city right there.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“Since when do rhinos roam all over Central Park?” Steve smiled for real now, the corners of his eyes creasing.

“The Zoo is still there, isn’t it?”

“Last I heard.”

“Alright then, Rogers, we’re camping at the Zoo in Central Park, and that’s the last I’m hearing about it.”

“Fine, fine,” Steve laughed softly, just once.

The silence ebbed in again with the evening breeze. Steve let himself look at him: Bucky with his eyes closed and lips parted slightly as he exhales. Bucky with the last rays of the sunset in his dark brown hair, bringing out the auburn. Bucky, alive. Bucky, in a moment without pain across his face. Bucky, here. Bucky’s eyes, open.

“I ain’t gonna disappear if you blink, Stevie,” he said, voice low.

Steve closed his eyes, letting out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “I know, Buck. I - I just wish we weren’t - that we had…” He trailed off, flinging the pebbles away. “I’m - I’m just so tired. But…”

“Come on, Rogers. Spit it out,” Bucky coaxed, low and gentle. He pulled at the soft fabric around his shoulders.

“I just want to know what it would be like. No more running. To remember what home feels like again. Because home stopped being our flop in Brooklyn the moment you left, and it wasn’t my fancy place in Washington, and I’ve been living out of a Quinjet for what feels like decades, for godssakes.” It poured out of him, like water from a hydrant. “I’ve got Natasha, and Sam, and Wanda, and Vis, and they’re like family. But -” You’re my family. You’ve always been my family.

“They need you, Steve,” Bucky whispered. He scooted closer, bumping their hips together. “I’ll be here. This place, these people…” He tucked his head into Steve’s neck. “I’m feeling - becoming - less of the Asset and more, I dunno, myself, I guess. I’m remembering things. The things that kept me sane during the war, that kept me from spilling my guts to the Nazis, the stuff they couldn’t take from me.” He rested his hand between Steve’s thigh and his own, gently brushing his fingers back and forth across the dirt-stiffened canvas of Steve’s combat pants. “I remember you, alone at your Ma’s place that first birthday after she passed.”

Steve leaned his head on Bucky’s as the last of the sun's light clung to their faces. “I remember,” Steve said. “You broke in with the spare key, and dragged me up to the water tank on the roof to watch the fireworks. Like I was some dame you were trying to impress.” He laughed; his cheeks warmed at the memory.

“Hey, it was your birthday. I was tryin’ to make sure that someone treated you right,” Bucky replied. “Anyways, we were up there, watching all those colors explode, and you smiled. The first one I’d seen since your Ma died. Enough for me to know that you were gonna be alright.” He slid his hand into Steve’s, running his thumb across his knuckles. “Home kept me sane, Stevie, but home isn’t a place. If it were, don’t you think you’d’ve found me in Brooklyn instead of Romania? I couldn’t’ve found my way out of my head if I were just looking for Brooklyn.”

“Bucky -” Steve gripped his hand tighter, looking down at their clasped fingers.

“You’re my home. Not that shit flop in Brooklyn, or here in Wakanda, or any of the places I slept between then and now,” Bucky's voice cracked, “It’s always been you, Steve.”

Steve pressed his face into Bucky’s hair; it smelled of dust and sweat as he tenderly kissed the crown of his head.

Sunlight faded to starlight. Insect chirps and the calls of night birds permeated the cooling air around them.

“I’ll come back, whenever I can,” Steve whispered, bringing his hand to Bucky’s face. “And when the running is done,” he paused and kissed him, soft and slow and full of promise. “I’ll come home to you.”