It had been...hard when Bucky died. Steve could barely remember receiving the letter informing him of his best guy’s death. Oh, he knew he had gotten one, the actual memory was lost in a haze of grief, alcohol, and tears. He’d really only come out of the mess when the Barnes clan had descended on him and dragged him kicking and screaming back to life.
And it had been a good life. Steve had done well with himself, managing to get settled in the SSR when Peggy Carter had hunted him down to talk about Bucky. He hadn’t been healthy enough to be a field agent, but he had been her support. And Bucky’s sisters and mother had pretty much openly adopted him and he’d ended up part of the clan. (No one had to admit Steve had become a widower with that letter. The Barnes family just knew.)
Now, Steve was old and he was tired. He slept a little longer than usual, took longer to get around. The typical old man things like embarrassing his grand nieces and nephews when they came to visit.
Which he was enjoying doing right now, honestly. Poor Sarah looked mortified as she sat before him. Her face was flushed red and she tried to hide from Steve’s laughing gaze even as he cackled madly at her.
“Uncle Steve,” the young woman whined, “Please stop.”
“I can’t,” Steve wheezed out, propped up on the pillows the nurses had arranged behind him, “It’s just...Sarah you got arrested at a peaceful protest! I’m so proud of you!”
“I wasn’t even protesting,” she moaned in agony. “I didn’t mean to accidentally hit a police officer…”
“That’s what makes it funny,” Steve cackled for a bit longer before his lungs started to seize up. It was that tell tale tightness that had him calming down and settle back into his bed, “But seriously Sarah, I’m so proud of you.”
Sarah, beautiful with dark hair and light grey eyes (so like her biological grand uncle that it made Steve’s heart seize some days), just smiled and leaned forward to press a quick kiss to Steve’s cheek. “That you uncle,” she murmured, voice loving for the man all the Barnes clan kids saw as part of their own, “You know, mom was talking to me again…”
“Oh not this again,” Steve huffed grumily. Which he could do. Because he was an old man, he was allowed to be grumpy. “I told her, I’m not going to be moving into her house.”
“And you know she’d love to have you there. We all would,” Sarah reached out to gently take his not frail hand in her own, “Uncle Steve, it would be so much better if you just moved back in. Your family and you should be with us, not in some retirement home.”
“I know sweetheart, I don’t want to do that to your mom,” Steve admitted gently, “I’m an old man. And I’d rather you all visit me here than get weighed down watching me every day at home.”
It was a familiar argument, one Steve had with multiple grand nieces and nephews monthly. Many of them hated the idea of him being in a home and offered a more familiar home for him to live the rest of his days in. But Steve was stubborn, and remembered the strain from his own mother’s sickness and he would not inflict that on his family. Not when they still came to visit him pretty much daily and harassed the nurses for news on him.
Still, watching Sarah leave always left Steve feeling a little bit empty inside. The emptiness of his room reminded him of those first few days after he received the letter telling him Bucky had died. Just for a second, and then Steve would forcibly push those memories away and go about the rest of his day.
By the time evening rolled around, Steve had been tucked into bed by the nurses who were always kind to them. They wished him good night, leaving him to read for a while under the light of his bedside lamp for a while before he went to bed.
Or at least, that was the usual plan. But it ended up getting interrupted that night.
It happened when Steve was starting to doze off. The sound of the window latch opening caught Steve’s attention. He blinked slowly back into awareness, making sure he continued to lie there quietly. As long as the intruder thought Steve was sleeping, he would have the advantage over them. No one expected sleepy old men to be willing to fight to the death, but Steve was always willing to fight (even if his body wasn’t).
Except no one attacked him. There was no click of a gun, no slide of a knife or bruising grip. Just soft breathing in the room and hesitant footsteps. Maybe it was one of Nick’s agents coming to him with a problem. Steve had dealt with that several times already. All of the SHIELD agents knew where Director Fury’s mentor’s retirement home was and would come by with questions. A frequent visitor was Clint, who Steve was rather fond of even if the nurses wanted to end the man for bringing his dog in all the time.
But Clint was never so silent. So maybe Natasha? She liked picking his brain before missions…
Except the feel of cool metal on his cheek felt like a hand, and no one Steve knew had a metal hand (except Tony but he was louder than Clint when he visited). The newness had Steve’s eyes fluttering open as he blinked blearily at the figure sitting before him.
A painfully familiar face was staring back at him. More worn than Steve remembered, hair longer than ever. But so familiar it had Steve rearing back in shock. Tears started to well up, but Steve refused to let them fall so they wouldn’t blur this beloved face.
“Bucky,” Steve whimpered, reaching out…
And breaking down sobbing when a warm, living flesh hand caught his hand and pulled it against a strong chest with a beating heart. Bucky, his Bucky, smiled sadly, his metal hand gently brushing a tear away. “Hey Stevie,” Bucky murmured, voice rough. “I’m home.”
Steve reached out with his free hand and pulled Bucky in close. He clung tight, tucking himself into what had to be a dream. “I’m dreaming,” Steve whispered weakly, going limp when Bucky hugged him back, “I have to be dreaming. You’re dead Buck…”
“Can’t be dead,” Bucky murmured gently, pressing a sweet kiss to Steve’s forehead, “I promised you I’d come back when I left. Can’t break my promise to my best guy.”
And really, that was all there was to say on the matter. Sure, Steve could ask about the metal arm. Could ask where his Bucky had been. But he was just so thankful to cling tight and be held in return that he refused to ruin it. And judging by how Bucky held him back, he felt the same way.
After that night they settled into a new pattern. Bucky would creep into the room in the dead of night and stay besides Steve until the older man fell asleep. And Bucky always seemed so full of wonder as they’d talk softly. There was reverence as he would run a hand through thin white hair, or cling to a hand weakened by age. He seemed delighted to see how rich of a life Steve had lived, always asking for stories of the hordes of children who called Steve uncle and came to visit him in the day.
But there was one thing that bothered Bucky. An issue he always thought about when he would listen attentively to Steve talking about his life and his adventures.
“So Steve,” Bucky murmured, perched on Steve’s bed as he gently tucked the blankets around the thin body, “Is there a Mrs. Rogers I should know about?”
A broken laugh left Steve even as tears started to fall down his face. “No,” he admitted softly reaching out to take Bucky’s hand in his, “Becca and Peggy tried to set me up, but I always refused.”
Bucky leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together. “Why not Stevie?”
Steve’s eyes slid closed. “As far as I was concerned, I got married to the best man back when I was a child and I refused to betray him until I had actual proof he was dead.”
“Must have been an idiot to leave you,” was the grumbled reply and oh Buck was so cute. He was so jealous and it just made that find feeling in Steve’s heart squeeze tighter.
“He really was. Falling off a fucking train of all things,” Steve grinned at the wide eyed, hopeful expression on Bucky’s face.
“I was faithful husband mine,” Steve murmured leaning forward to press a kiss to Bucky’s stubbles cheek, “Never betrayed your memory. Never gave up believing you would come back to me.”
Bucky turned his head to kiss Steve, curling himself around the prone form on the bed. “Never leaving you again doll,” Bucky promised, “Going to stay right here.”
Steve smiled, delighted to curl into Bucky’s warmth. Tomorrow he would ask where Bucky had been and about the metal arm. He would deal with the consequences then, tonight he was just happy to be held by his husband again.