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My Darling, My Love, My Lover

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For as long as Steve Rogers could remember, he and Bucky had shared the Notebook. It wasn't just one, no, they had a collection of them dating back to the very beginnings of their friendship, in first grade, when Steve was six and Bucky was seven. Bucky had started school a year late, putting him on the same level as Steve. On their very first day, Bucky had walked into the school room, his pants freshly pressed and shirt brand new, and by some stroke of luck he'd decided to sit next to the scrawniest kid in the room, the one with the most worn out, patched clothing. He'd taken a crisp new notebook out of his bag and in it, he'd written My name is Bucky. Do you want to be friends? Check yes or no. and then he'd passed it to Steve.

Steve, of course, couldn't read anything but his own name and sometimes he accidentally spelled it S-T-V-E-E because the letters always mixed up when he looked at them, no matter how hard he tried to get them to stay still. He frowned at the notebook and looked up at Bucky with a furrow in his brow. "I can't read." He stated loudly.

Bucky's eyes had widened- heretofore he had associated solely with children whose nannies doubled as tutors the same as his did and all his friends knew how to read- and he took the notebook back and smiled anyway. "It's okay, I can teach you," He'd said. "Look, it says, my name is Bucky. Do you want to be friends?"

"I ain't never had a friend," Steve had gasped. "D'ya mean it?"

"Sure. You seem swell." Bucky had held out his hand, clasping Steve's in his own. "What's your name though?" He held the notebook up. "I wanna write it down."

"I can write my own name!" Steve reached for the notebook with one hand, pushing his too long bangs off his forehead with the other. "Ma teached me how."

When he handed it back to Bucky, the older boy had looked at it then back at him with a smile. "Nice to meetcha, Stevie. I think we're gonna be great friends."

***

Bucky did teach Steve to read and their teacher thought he was doing such a good job that she let them continue to sit together despite the notebook passing back and forth and the constant whispering and giggling. It was Bucky who discovered that when Steve looked at words through a colored candy wrapper, the letters stopped moving. Eventually the notebook went from being used to teach to being used to carry on the conversations they couldn't have out loud.

The first time Steve had gone home with Bucky to have dinner and sleep over at his house, his jaw had just about hit the floor when the car had pulled up to the huge townhouse- he'd known that Bucky's family had a lot of money, after all, kids from Steve's neighborhood didn't get picked up from school by a chauffeur in the family car. But he hadn't expected the house to be so big or opulent. He wasn't even sure why Bucky was attending his school, but he didn't really care to ask either. Bucky had grabbed his hand and dragged him into the house, not even letting him pause in the entryway to get a good look. He'd dragged him up the stairs, pointing at various doors that Steve would never remember, stating that those were rooms only grown ups were allowed to go in.

"And this is my room!" Bucky had exclaimed, pushing open a heavy wooden door with fancy carvings on it to reveal a room painted soft blue with white curtains on the huge windows and toys scattered everywhere. "You can play with anything you want while I go ask Nanny if we can have a snack before dinner."

As soon as the other boy had left, Steve had lunged for the Notebook and had written carefully, his tongue sticking out one side of his mouth, Your house is the best place I've ever been.

The next morning, the words But your ma makes your house feel like a real home were written underneath Steve's.

They didn't talk about that again.

***

The first time Steve got pneumonia, when he was eight, Bucky filled up five whole pages with Please don't die please don't die pleasedont die pleasedontdie pleasedontdiepleasedontpleasedont die pleasedontplease don'tdiepleasedontdieplease-.

***

When Bucky got his first girlfriend at fourteen, Steve didn't like her. With her flaming red hair and freckles covering every inch of her skin and her blue, blue eyes, she was everything that Steve knew Bucky didn't need. They went to Rockaway Beach and Steve stood with his arms crossed while Bucky spent all the money his ma had given them for their lunch and bus fare trying to win a stupid stuffed bear for her. They got in an argument on the ride home in the back of the freight wagon about it and Steve stormed home, forgetting he had the Notebook in his backpack.

When he got over his anger, he flipped it to a new page and wrote, very small in the corner, I don't want to lose you because of her. I'm sorry..

Bucky broke up with Dolores the next day after school.

They didn't talk about that either.

***

The night after Sarah Rogers' funeral, neither one of them slept, nor did they speak. But the lamp kept burning and they passed the Notebook back and forth so many times that they almost filled it up. Bucky had meant it when he'd told Steve that he didn't have to do it on his own. He wrote that he'd already withdrawn some of his trust fund and they could look for an apartment that wasn't too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer as soon as Steve felt up to going out.

Steve didn't understand why Bucky would give up his lush life at home to live with him but he was just desperate enough not to be alone that he didn't try to fight it. The sun was rising in the east when the crushing weight on his heart finally got the better of him and tears started rolling down his cheeks. Bucky noticed- of course Bucky noticed- immediately and wrapped him in a tight hug, rubbing a hand up and down his back while Steve sobbed silently until his eyelids were too heavy and sore to stay open.

He didn't notice when Bucky brushed his bangs off his forehead and placed a kiss on the too warm skin, he was already asleep.

***

November 23rd, 1938

"Royal flush." Steve placed his cards on the table for the rest of the players to see before reaching for the pile of money and jewelry in the center of the table. "Thanks for the game, gents. Was a pleasure."

He was always careful not to play with the types that looked to be troublemakers if they didn't win, but even so he was relieved when no one tried to keep him from heading back across the bar to where Bucky was sitting in a booth, his girl of the evening tucked against his side. Steve slid into the other side, grinning at Bucky as he lifted his bag. "I'll buy us a round. Poker table was good tonight."

Bucky rolled his eyes with a snort. "How many times I gotta tell you, punk, you don't gotta play those games. I can-"

Steve shot him a dark look. "Don't even think it."

"Okay, okay," Bucky lifted his hands. "Sorry. Our drinks are getting low so if you wanna get the next round, I won't complain."

"Okay, I'll be right back," Steve fished some of his newly won money from his bag and slid from the booth, heading for the bar. He placed the money on the counter and signaled the bartender. "Another round, please, for me and my friends."

"Coming up."

He propped his elbows on the polished wood bar, letting out a huff of breath that did very little to push his bangs off his forehead. The air was heavy with smoke and his lungs were definitely feeling it, but he would last until Bucky was ready to head home. Unless Bucky was bringing his friend home with them. The thought soured Steve's stomach.

He'd thought it would be easier to watch Bucky go through girls like he went through money, like it was a thing of no consequence, but he should have known, really.

It would never be easy to watch Bucky with anyone that wasn't him.

He glanced back at the booth and quickly away when he saw the way the girl was pressing kisses to Bucky's neck.

"You wanna watch out about that one."

Steve turned, frowning at the older man sitting at the bar next to him. "I'm not sure what you mean. Be careful about who?"

The man gestured at the booth. At Bucky. "He has a gorgeous lady practically in his lap and the majority of the rest of the females in this establishment that wish they were. And yet," he shook his head. "And yet he doesn't even notice. He just watches you like you're the only person in this entire building."

Steve's jaw dropped but he snapped it closed almost immediately, swinging around to look at Bucky again. It wasn't possible. He would have noticed.

And yet.

Even with the girl still mouthing along his collarbone, when Steve glanced over, his eyes met Bucky's from across the room. Bucky grinned at him and mouthed Ever gonna get those drinks, pal?. Steve rolled his eyes and turned back to the guy next to him.

"You're wrong," his voice was soft, the disappointment masked as reproach. "We grew up together, like brothers. There's nothing else to it."

"Then you're blind." The guy shrugged and slid off his stool as the bartender brought Steve's drinks over. "Not my problem though."

Steve wanted to grip the guy's shoulder, yank him back around to face him and laugh in his face. At the idea that Bucky would ever look at him and see anything more than his best pal. At the idea that the fella even thought Steve would care. Like it wasn't the thing he wanted most in the world.

He'd pretty much always known that Bucky was the one and only for him. As a child it had been easier to accept, no stigmatized views influencing him to suppress it. He just knew he wanted to be as close to Bucky as possible, all the time. As he grew older though, discovered that the fairies weren't just looked down on, but openly hated and frequently murdered; that men and men and women and women were illegal, he learned to lock that part of him away to a place where nothing but the deepest recesses of his mind could reach it.

He released a slow breath through his lips and turned to grab the drinks from the bar, offering a tight smile and thanks to the bartender before weaving his way back to their booth. The beer sloshed over the rims of the mugs when he sat them on the table, wetting his hand with the sticky liquid. He flopped onto the seat and brought his fingers to his lips, licking it off them one by one. No sense wasting it.

Bucky's gal, Eva, wrinkled her nose at him, "There are napkins here, Steven, we aren't heathens."

"Aw, leave 'im alone, Sweetheart," Bucky drawled, lifting his own mug in a sarcastic toast at Steve. "I know you're a real lady and all, but Stevie grew up in the heart of DUMBO, bless him. A real penny pincher, he is."

"Lay it on thick, why don't you?" Steve rolled his eyes in exasperation, glancing at Eva. She was pretty, real pretty, with long golden hair that fell around her shoulders in soft waves, pouty pink lips and bright, amused blue eyes. He could see the appeal, understand Bucky's attraction. If he weren't already hung up on the arm candy she was proudly displaying, he might even be jealous that she wasn't his date instead. "Just didn't wanna find my way through all this smoke to the bathroom to wash the sticky off my hands, is all."

Immediately, Bucky's expression shifted, changing to concern. "Is it too much? We can-"

"I'm fine. Jesus."

"Don't get peevish, I'm just checking." Bucky turned his gaze to Eva, trailing the knuckles of his free hand over her cheek. "What about you, My Lady? Wanna get out of here? Find some place with fresh air and...less people?"

His tone of voice and the pink tinting her cheeks left no guessing as to what, exactly, Bucky was implying. Steve lifted his mug of beer and drained half of it in one gulp. It was bitter on his tongue, bitter like his heart. Yeah. Blind indeed.

***

The soft scritch scritch of pencil lead on paper was barely audible over the sound of the rain pouring on the roof. Steve was sprawled across the floor on his stomach, one pencil between his teeth, another in his hand as he doodled on his scrap paper. His art professor had assigned a portrait to be done by the beginning of next term, three feet by two feet.

Steve's first thought had been Bucky.

He hadn't worked up the nerve to ask yet.

Blowing out a breath, he dropped his pencils and rubbed his hands over his face as he sat up on his knees, looking over at where Bucky was sprawled on the couch, a cigarette between his lips and a science textbook in his hands. He hadn't done anything with his hair that morning and with the rain, it was falling across his forehead in soft curls. Steve ached to run his fingers through them. He cleared his throat. "Buck?"

"Mm?"

"So I have to do a portrait for school and-"

Bucky sat up straight, his eyes sparkling through the haze of smoke surrounding him. "You wanna draw me? Hell yeah."

Steve let out his breath, smiling back. "If you don't mind, yeah." He gestured to the huge paper he had bought that morning. "It's gotta be big so it'll probably take a week or two of sittings."

"Not like I got anything better to do." Bucky put out his cigarette in the ash tray. "When d'ya wanna start?"

"Haven't thought about it much." Lie. He thought about drawing Bucky constantly. He had several hidden sketchbooks full of hasty drawings of him. "I mean, I could probably get down a bit of an outline now, but I don't want to work on the full thing until there's better lighting."

With a hum in agreement, Bucky pushed to his feet. "Well, let's wait and see how the weather is tomorrow then. Since it's already near dark and your eyes probably won't appreciate you trying to sketch in bad lighting. Whose turn is it to make supper again?"

"Yours," Steve rolled his eyes and shaded the wing of the plane he had doodled absently. "As you are well aware, since you spent last night complaining that my cooking is boring."

The answering scowl was flat out comical. "You don't season anything, Steve."

"We didn't all grow up spoiled rotten on unnecessarily rich food."

"Shut up, you ate at my house as often as you did your own and I know Cookie taught you how to cook when we got our own place because we were both forced to learn."

Steve shrugged and shifted back onto his knees, slowly pushing himself into a standing position, his sketch and pencil clutched in one hand. The joints of his spine cracked roughly when he stretched. "If you want to complain then you can do all the cooking."

"Why you-" Bucky pointed the knife he was using to peel potatoes at Steve warningly. "You're just trying to get out of cooking, aren't you?"

"Maybe," he grinned. "Or maybe not. Guess you'll never know."

But when he headed to the bedroom to put his things away, he took the Notebook from where it sat on his nightstand and, under Bucky's latest message that read you snore he wrote I don't mind cooking, I'll try to season it better but please stop putting the spices up so high that I can't reach them without a chair.

***

They decided, in the best interest of Steve not getting pneumonia, but for the best possible lighting, to do the sketch in the bathroom. Steve still marveled sometimes at the luxury of their apartment compared to the tenements he'd grown up in, where they were lucky to have one bathroom to an entire floor instead of the whole building sharing one. And now, thanks to Bucky- or rather to his substantial trust fund that his parents and grandparents had been growing for years- they had their own bathroom. With hot water and an actual claw foot bathtub instead of a metal washtub and windows that let in the golden evening light beautifully.

In the sketch, Steve had blocked out Bucky's figure sitting on the edge of the tub, clad in just his undershorts and a thin tank top, one knee propped up and his cheek resting on it as he stared at steve through his lashes. Despite the cold temperatures even with their furnace running, Bucky didn't mind the lack of clothes. He'd always run so hot anyway.

Steve had dragged a chair from a kitchen into the bathroom and settled into it to work. Hopefully today he'd be able to finish detailing Bucky's body and start on the background. At that point, he wouldn't need Bucky to sit for him anymore. He dug his teeth into his lower lip hard as he glanced between Bucky's mouth and the likeness on the easel. The curve of the lower lip wasn't quite right-

"Can feel you overthinking it from here." Bucky rasped, lifting his head to peer at Steve. "What's the matter?"

"Your lips. I can't get them right." Steve huffed, running his hand through his hair with a frustrated breath. He never got them right. "I don't know how to get them so...plump?"

Bucky smirked.

"I'm being serious, you're constantly biting at them and making them swell up and I've never been able to get it right." He poked the drawing with a sigh.

"I don't know why," Bucky shrugged nonchalantly, "you certainly stare at them enough."

Steve snapped his head up to look at Bucky and his chest was already tightening and oh fuck was he caught? "Of course I do." He scoffed. Play it cool. He could brush it off as nothing. "I'm an artist and artists pay attention to the details. Especially the ones that I can't get right.." Or because he ached with how badly he constantly wanted to kiss and bite them raw.

"'M tired of sittin' here anyway, my ass hurts. We should call it a day. Try again tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay." Steve tossed his pencil down and grunted as he stood up and stretched his arms over his head. "I am getting tired."

Bucky hauled the chair back to the kitchen while Steve tucked the portrait away in the hallway closet before joining his best friend on the couch. Bucky was curled against one arm, the Notebook propped on his knees and his brow furrowed as he chewed on the end of his pencil.

Now which one of us is overthinking? is what he wanted to say but instead he grabbed his tattered copy of The Hobbit from the end table and opened it to his bookmark. He'd read it enough times by now that he'd practically memorized it, but it never got old. The idea of a different, magical world existing out there in the universe somewhere... Bucky was crazy about science, couldn't get enough of the journals he picked up in the city, and he'd said that alternate realities weren't outside the realm of possibilities. Steve supposed if that were right, there was probably a universe out there somewhere that he wasn't sick and he was actually doing something with his life to help others. To fight for those who couldn't.

Ma had said he just had a healthy Irish temper.

That was probably true too.

He was nearly finished with the chapter when Bucky snapped the Notebook shut with a sigh, tossing it on the couch. "Steve."

"Hmm?"

"If you were strugglin' with something about yourself and weren't sure what to do about it or- or how to address it to anyone, what do you think would be the best thing to do? I'm asking for a friend here, they won't tell me what's going on, just that they don't know what to do."

Closing his book, Steve pulled his knees up to his chest and propped his chin on them. This was something he had a bit of experience with at least, from his size and illnesses to the fact that it was Bucky himself who turned his head instead of the ladies. He'd had his fair share of existential crises' in his twenty years. "Well," he started, "I've often found that if I'm struggling with something, it helps for me to take a step back and think about the long term effects of it. For example, I can't change my size, I can't change that I get sick if someone so much as breathes in my direction. It just isn't meant to be. And I won't lie, it's not an easy thing to accept, but it's not the end of the world. All I've ever wanted is to make a difference where it counts. I don't need to be big or have the best constitution to make that happen. I just need people to not treat me like I'm glass. To not treat me like I'm small. You have never treated me any different because of what I look like. You see what's inside. And that matters a whole lot to me, Buck. Even my Ma tended to treat me like a glass trinket."

Bucky furrowed his brow, scraping his fingernail across the edge of the couch cushion. The sunlight coming through the window dappled across his skin, making his eyes brighter, almost incandescent when he looked up at Steve. "You've made a huge difference, Steve. I know I always snap at you for getting in fights, but they're always in the right state of heart. And if not for you, I probably would have ended up one of those assholes that you're always fighting. You've always made me better," he shook his head. "I don't think that's exactly the kind of thing my buddy is dealing with though."

"If it's a...personality thing, then I'd probably tell him to think real long and hard about whether or not it even needs to be changed at all. If what he's struggling with isn't hurting anyone, then is it really even an issue at all?" He shrugged. "Soul...personality... it's what makes folks who they are. Trying to take that away or change it is just wrong, you know? I'm a firm believer in that, no matter what the law or folks say."

"Yeah. You're probably right."

"And anyway," Steve picked his book up again and gave a half smile, "things have a tendency to sort themselves out on their own timetables if you just be patient and wait for it. Fate has a way about it."

***

Steve had charcoal dust in his hair. It wasn't an unusual occurrence, the stuff was messy, it got all over his hands and as a result of that, all over whatever he touched. The majority of the portrait was going to be in black and white, with the only spots of color being the blue of Bucky's eyes and the red of his lips. Not that Steve could actually see the exact shade of them, the colorblindness making them a muted orange shade. But he could imagine.

He sat his charcoal to the side and leaned back, squinting at the portrait. They'd been working on it for about a week and a half now and he didn't need Bucky to sit for him anymore, just working on the final shading details before adding in the color and highlight that would really bring the image to life. The apartment was empty- Bucky was out having lunch with his cousins who were visiting for the holidays from Chicago or somewhere. Might be Cincinnati. He had a lot of cousins. The weather was uncannily nice for mid-December though, so Steve had thrown the windows open as soon as Bucky was gone, letting the fresh air in. Oh, it was still chilly, but he had a few sweaters on and the place desperately needed a nice airing out. He stretched his arms over his head, wincing as his spine cracked loudly. Bucky liked to call him a bowl of Rice Krispies, the way his joints Snap, Crackle, Pop, Stevie! Steve didn't even like Rice Krispies, but he humored Bucky with it anyway.

The radio crackled, spilling Christmas tunes into the air. It was a little over a week and a half until Christmas and they still hadn't gotten around to putting up a tree. Granted, they'd been distracted with finishing up school, turning in last minute assignments and such. But Steve well remembered how opulent the Christmas decorations had been at Bucky's parents' house growing up. The tree went up on the first of December, there were garlands and ribbons and candles galore. The cook churned out batch after batch of cookies and pies and hot apple cider. He and Bucky and Becca had built marvelous families of snowmen in the front lawn, stealing Mr. Barnes' hats and Mrs. Barnes' scarves to dress them up even though they got scolded for it.

Steve hadn't celebrated Christmas last year. His Ma had died in January and it was too close to the year anniversary for him to feel cheerful. He'd never spent Christmas without her before. It was easier this year. Not as sharp a pain.

He pushed to his feet and wandered over to the window, peering down at the slushy streets below. They were only on the second floor, there having been no apartments on the lobby level, but no elevator in the building so they took the one with the least amount of stairs to reach it. The view from the window wasn't spectacular, just of the shops in the street below and the city off in the distance but they were in one of the cheaper but still nice parts of Brooklyn Heights.

Little Molly O'Reilley was sitting on the stoop, seemingly despite the cold, wet concrete that was more than likely seeping through her skirt. She had her shoulders hunched and her arms wrapped around her knees, her school books next to her.

"Hey," Steve called down to the ten year old, pasting a friendly smile on his face. "Everything alright?"

She jerked around, squinting up at him. Even with his less than spectacular eyesight and the distance, he could see the tear streaks on her freckle spattered cheeks. "I'm fine," she muttered. "My Da just locked me out again."

"It's pretty cold out to sit on the stoop until he lets you in," Steve observed. He had his issues with Mr. O'Reilley and this was just the tip of the iceberg. He'd seen the kids locked out more often than not in the summer and there were regular bouts of screaming fights coming from the apartment right above Steve and Bucky's. "Where are your brother and sister?"

"They're both staying with their friends today. It's just me."

"Do you want to come up and stay at mine until they let you in? I've got stew on the stove and a game of checkers." He could use a long break from drawing anyway, his back ached and his stomach was rumbling. "Bucky isn't home but I've got a feeling when he gets here he'll have a bag full of pastries and such from his family."

She hesitated for only a moment before she snatched her books up and leapt to her feet, dusting off the back of her skirt and bounding up the steps. "I'll be right there!"

He pulled away from the window, shutting it and the others he had opened. She'd been out in the cold long enough without him letting in the brisk air. He stored the portrait and his art supplies in the bedroom, stepping back to the main room just as Molly knocked on the door. "Come on in," he said, and opened the door and stepped aside to let her into the apartment. "You can put your coat and such on the rack. Did the slush get your dress wet? I think there's some of Becca's clothes still here from the last time she stayed over." They'd be too big but the apartment was chilly and it was better than her freezing in wet clothes.

"No, I'm okay; my coat is wool so I don't even think my dress is damp. Thank you though." Molly handed him her stack of books so she could tug off her mittens, scarf and hat.

"I'm just going to go dish up some stew for us, then." Steve sat her books on the shelf, standing on his tiptoes to retrieve the checker board and tin of pieces from the upper shelf and sitting it on the table in front of the couch. "You can set up the game right? I prefer to be black but you can have those if you want."

"I like red anyway." Molly grinned at him and plopped onto the floor by the table, opening the tin. "I can handle this."

He tugged on one of her carrot colored braids with a smile. "I believe you can."

In the kitchen, the stew he had started this morning smelled wonderful. Thick with potatoes and the beef Bucky had brought home last night. He'd intended to let it simmer until suppertime but taking a couple bowls out now wouldn't hurt. His hands hovered over the glassware they usually used and settled on the tin bowls instead. Just in case. Yes, they weren't hurting for money, but he didn't want to be needlessly careless and risk Molly accidentally breaking some of the good dishes.

He headed back into the front room and handed her one of the bowls before settling on the other side of the table, leaning back against the couch. "Wanna go first?"

Molly was a character, that was for sure. He'd talked to her every now and again, but only in passing. Much the same as with any of the other neighbors. She was smart and strategic as a whip, meeting every one of his moves with a counter-play that left him cornered or losing his men at a dramatic rate. And he could beat Bucky every time they played. He sat his empty soup bowl aside with a sigh. "Good golly, Miss Molly. Who taught you how to play so well?"

She giggled, "Mam, mostly. She's real good."

"I believe it," he shook his head. "You sure have me beat."

They had just finished up the game when there was a loud thump on the door followed by a familiar grunt. Steve frowned, standing and heading to open it. "Bucky, what on earth-"

"Hey, Stevie," Bucky panted, grinning at him. He had one hand on his cocked hip and the other arm wrapped around a fat Christmas tree. "Look what I got."

"Jeez, Buck." It was beautiful, springy and just the perfect shade of green. Must have been hell to get up the stairs alone though. "You could have come and gotten me to help carry it up, you jerk."

"That would have ruined the surprise! Besides," he tilted his head toward the stairwell. "There's more boxes in the car. Ornaments and baubles and garland and such. You can help carry those up if you want."

"I'll help!" Molly bounded up, squeezing beside Steve to stand in the doorway. "We don't have a Christmas tree at home. Please may I help decorate yours?"

Bucky shot Steve a confused glance at the appearance of the child, but shrugged and grinned. "Sure, Sprout. I don't see why not. You grab your coat while Steve helps me get the tree into the sitting room."

When they had wrestled the tree into the corner by the bookshelf, Bucky paused, wiping the beads of perspiration from his brow. "When did we acquire a child?" He whispered.

"Her good for nothing father locked her out; I couldn't just let her sit outside, cold and hungry until he decided to let her in. Who knows how long that could have been?"

"You're a bleeding heart, Steve."

"Shut up, it was the right thing to do." He lightly smacked the brunet's upper arm and went to the rack to fetch his coat, slipping his arms in the sleeves. If anything, Bucky was more of a bleeding heart than Steve was. After all, he'd been putting up with Steve and all his issues for the majority of their lives when most would have viewed him as a lost cause. "Ready, Molly?"

The child nodded eagerly, tugging at the cuff of her coat sleeve.

"Let's get started then," Bucky strolled over to them, bending slightly at the waist and offering his elbow to Molly. "After you, my lady."

They clattered down the steps, Steve finishing the buttons on his coat as they reached the bottom. The cold air was a good deal more shocking to step out into than it had been when he'd had the windows open still and was used to it. It snatched the breath from his lungs, leaving him grimacing and coughing. Goddamn asthma. Bucky patted him on the back, concerned but Steve waved him off. This was hardly anything to get worked up over.

Bucky opened the back door of the car, revealing the seat full of boxes of decorations. Familiar things that Steve had seen pulled out of the attic of the Barnes house for years. He raised his eyebrow questioningly.

"Mother and Father decided to get all new stuff and pawned all this off on me," Bucky shrugged. "Not sure where we're gonna store it after the holidays but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It'll be nice for the place to look festive though." He grabbed one of the boxes that looked to be full of the red and gold ribbons they always wrapped around the garlands and staircase railings and the tinsel for the tree and handed it to Molly. "This one's not too heavy, Sprout." He hefted another one, full of candles, balancing it on one shoulder before reaching for the box with ornaments and holding it under his arm. "Grab a box, Steve."

"You don't have to take so many, you know." He rolled his eyes as he took the box of garland, propping it on his hip so he could shut the car door.

"Less trips if I do."

Well, he wasn't wrong. Steve shrugged, following them back into the building. It took them four more trips to get everything unloaded; apparently when he had said his parents decided to get all new decorations, he meant they decided to get all new everything. There was quite a bit of non-Christmas decorations too. When they finished the last trip, they were all panting- Steve might have been wheezing a little, but he would tell no one- and thirsty. Molly recovered first, gulping down two glasses of water before seemingly regaining all her energy like magic, bouncing around the room in excitement and peering into all the boxes with exclamations of wonder.

God, Steve felt old.

Bucky wasn't far behind Molly, sorting through the boxes until he found the one with the tree skirt and the matching red velvet curtains, the gold tablecloth, and the stockings. They didn't have a fireplace like the Barnes townhouse, but he supposed the radiator would work just as well. He helped Bucky change out the curtains while Molly crawled under the tree to arrange the skirt. Steve, Bucky, and Becca had always fought over being the one who got to do that.

"'S a bit different from all our other Christmases, yeah?" Bucky grinned at him, opening a box marked glass ornaments. He laughed, lifting one of the blown glass angels that Mrs. Barnes had ordered from Japan when they had been about twelve. "Remember when we first got these and you dropped one? God, I swear the look on your face was hilarious. You looked like you were straight up going to shit your pants."

"Your father terrified me as a kid." Steve took the ornament and ran his thumb over the painted on golden hair and flowing robes. "Thought for sure he was gonna kick me out and never let me come back." All Mr. Barnes had done though was turn the page of his newspaper, take a long pull from his pipe and tell them to clean it up before Mrs. Barnes came back downstairs from her bath. He shook his head, looking up at Molly, who was hovering behind him, obviously intrigued by the beautiful ornaments, but polite enough not to ask. "Let's get the tinsel on the tree first and then you can help put the fancy ornaments on, okay? As long as you're very careful with them."

She nodded sharply, "I promise. The tinsel is in that box, I found it."

It was a three person job, draping the shiny silver and gold strands on the branches of the tree. Bucky took the upper section, having been directed by Steve's adept eyes for enough years that he could lay the tinsel artfully with no prompting or correcting. Steve and Molly got the middle and bottom sections, Steve guiding her hands in not wrapping it too tightly or too loose. When they brought out the glass ornaments, Steve could tell that Bucky was hesitant in handing them to Molly, but she did marvelously, not even coming close to dropping them. Far less damage than the two of them had caused over the years.

"C'mere, Molly," Bucky moved the packing in the box aside, revealing the angel for the top of the tree. She was clad in a golden silk dress, feather wings extending from her shoulder blades. Molly gasped when she saw it, ran her hands over the doll in awe when Bucky handed it to her. "I'm gonna lift you up and you can put her on the top, okay?"

"Alright," she clutched the angel to her chest as Bucky wrapped his hands around her waist and stood, holding her up high enough for her to reach the top. His hair was curling madly with perspiration, but his eyes were glowing and he was grinning as he watched Molly arrange the angel's dress and wings carefully.

He'd be a great dad someday. Becca was only two years younger than Bucky, so Steve had never really seen him interacting with a child that much, beyond smiling at them in the store and such. And it was kind of like a bullet to the chest, the realization that someday he would be. He'd find a dame eventually that would make him want to settle down and start a family and there'd probably be a half dozen little Bucky's running around calling Steve uncle.

When Bucky turned that beaming grin on him though, as he lowered Molly back to the ground, Steve couldn't help but smile back, digging his fingernails into his palms. "It looks good," he observed, not taking his eyes from the brunet.

"It's beautiful," Molly sighed.

"Yeah. Yeah, it really is." Bucky tugged on her braid. "We did a good job, Sprout."

The reverie was slightly disturbed by the slamming of a door overhead and boots clomping across the floor. Molly tensed up, clenching her hands in her skirt. "That'll be Da leaving." She brushed at the pine needles in her hair. "I should go home. Mam will be looking for me."

"Alright," Steve agreed, removing the few bits of greenery she had missed from her coppery braids. "But any time you're in a situation like you were today, just know you're welcome here. The streets aren't safe, especially if it becomes an overnight thing. Our couch is always open." He retrieved her books from the shelf and handed them to her.

She nodded, her chin quivering slightly, "Thank you. I 'preciate it."

"I'll walk you up to your place." Bucky placed his hands on her shoulders. "Just let me grab your coat and things from the rack."

When they had gone, Steve abandoned the boxes of decorations still to be displayed and fetched the Notebook from their shared bedroom. He perched on the end of his bed with it, fiddling with the pencil for only a moment before the words came to him.

I wish sometimes that I could better take things in when I'm in the moment instead of looking back and thinking, 'Oh, that was an important moment and I didn't appreciate it when I should have.' My mind runs faster than I can keep up with sometimes and I'm always distracted from reality, looking at things I shouldn't look at and dreaming of things I'll never be able to have. This afternoon was so much nicer than I had imagined it could be, I wasn't entirely sure I was ready to celebrate again, but I think I'll actually be able to handle it. I had fun decorating with you and Molly. You did well with her. I think you'll make a good dad someday. If you can ever find a girl who wants to settle down with your sleazy ass, that is. I don't really even know where I'm trying to go with this, just wanted you to know that I appreciate what you did today and I enjoyed it, even if I seemed a bit quiet and lost in thought at times. Also, I wanted to say that you better stop leaving your laundry all over the bedroom or I'm going to give it all to the neighbors. I'm tired of tripping over it in the dark.

***

"Maybe it would be less packed if we waited until next year," Steve huffed as yet another frenzied parent screeched at their overexcited children that were running toward the skating rink. Rockefeller Center was positively choking with people.

"I doubt that!" Bucky laughed at him, handing the man in the booth a silver dollar and telling him their sizes. "I brought Becca here when it opened back in '36. It's only gotten more popular since. Gonna be a regular fixture in the city from now on. I'd wager my last dollar on it." He handed a pair of black figure skates to Steve. "Now shut up and put on your skates, Pal. I'm not leaving until we've been out there, now that we've waited in line so long for our turn."

The sunken garden was protected from the wind but it was snowing lightly and bitterly cold. He was loath to remove his gloves but the lacing on the skates was difficult and took too much effort to be worth it. But Bucky wanted to skate, so skate they would. He'd gone skating a couple of times as a child, on a frozen pond in a park but he had spent the majority of the time falling on his ass and he had little hope that it would be any different this time. He tightened his scarf and got to his feet, wobbling slightly on the thin blades.

Bucky- who of course was as steady on his feet as ever- put a hand to his elbow to stabilize him before dragging him toward the rink with a grin. "C'mon, it's gonna be fun!"

"So say you," Steve groaned. The moment he put a foot on the ice, it was already trying to slide out from under him. He grabbed onto the railing, clinging to it for dear life. "Surprised you didn't bring a girl. Seems like just the kind of date that would get you anything you want."

"Nah," Bucky shrugged. "If I brought a girl, she'd expect me to skate slow around the rink with her, holding her hand. But I came to have fun. And you won't mind if I go off to try and copy the fancy skaters who know what they're doing because you're gonna be stuck on the wall the whole time and you'll yell at me if I try to teach you."

"I would not!"

"Really?" He grabbed hold of Steve's elbows and pulled him away from the wall, out closer to the middle of the rink.

The lack of solid support to cling to made his breath catch in his throat. He gripped the lapels of Bucky's coat in his fists and glared up at him, his heart thundering in his ears. "You let me go right now, James Buchanan Barnes. I swear on all that is holy if you pull me any further away from that wall, you get to do all the chores for the next three months."

"Point made," Bucky smirked at him, "but okay." He abruptly released his hold on Steve and skated off, backwards no less, laughing as Steve's feet shot out from under him and he landed solidly on his ass.

If not for the excess of children around, he would have let loose with a string of very unsavory words to describe his asshole of a friend. Instead he scowled, rolling to his knees and crawling his way back toward the wall. The ice was seeping through his gloves and his pants but it was better than taking another fall when he hadn't even figured out how to keep his feet under him. "You know, I really hate you sometimes!" Bucky just grinned in response to his angry shout, skating down the length of the rink as if he had been born on skates.

"Asshole," Steve muttered. He gripped onto the wall and shuffled forward a few inches, his feet sliding wildly. Why was this so hard? How did they make it look so easy when in reality, no matter what he did, he was still off balance and failing?

"Having trouble?" A pretty young woman with raven hair and cheeks pink with the cold skidded to a stop in front of him. She didn't seem to be having any trouble staying on her feet, at least. "Sorry, I couldn't help but notice you and your friend. That wasn't very nice of him."

"Yeah, Buck can be a real jerk sometimes." He huffed out a breath, pushing his bangs off his forehead. "I'm fine. Doubt I'll move from the wall though."

"Oh, don't say that!" The girl pouted, widening her dark eyes. "It's really not so hard once you figure out how to keep your feet under you. Your problem is that you're putting your weight on your heels when you need to keep it here," she lifted one skate, tapping the ball of her foot. "Skates will go right out from under you if you lean too far back and if you're leaning on your toes then you'll trip over them. It's pretty simple. Here," she offered one gloved hand to him. "Try it."

He cautiously took her hand, focusing on keeping his weight balanced where she had said. And was pleasantly surprised when his feet stayed steady. "I'm- I'm doin' it."

"Well, not quite." She giggled. "Now you've actually got to skate. Remember to keep your balance and then just push off with one foot and glide on the other." When she showed the movement, her momentum pulled him forward too. "And then the same thing on the other side. Just skate with me, left foot first, okay? You've got this."

He took a steadying breath and pushed off at the same time as her, the corrections she gave doing a world of difference for his balance. And she still hadn't turned loose of his hand. That was pretty nice too. "You really didn't have to help me, you know. Not that I'm not appreciative; I am."

"Skating's my favorite thing in the world probably," she shrugged, glancing over at him. "And I can't bear to see anyone looking as miserable as you did while on the ice. Everyone deserves to feel what it's like when you really start flying across the surface. It's magical. Makes you feel all bubbly and like nothing in the world could possibly bring you down. If I can share that with one person today, then I've done a good job. My names Beatrice, by the way. Just call me Bea though."

"Steve Rogers."

She suddenly shifted around in front of him and grabbed his other hand so she was towing him forward while she skated backward, smirking over his shoulder. "It's very nice to meet you, Steve Rogers. And I believe your friend is jealous."

"Bucky?" He tried to peer behind him but promptly tripped over his toes. Bea caught him, directing his balance back to steady. "He's probably just shocked. That I'm actually skating and not falling and that a female other than my mother or his little sister deigned to talk to me. 'S not a common occurrence. He's used to being the one having all the attention lavished on him."

"I find that hard to believe," Bea raised her eyebrows, "and anyway, I don't think that's his deal. He's glaring at me so hard, if looks could kill I would be six feet under. Are you two-"

"No." He maybe cut off her sentence too quickly, resolutely not looking around for Bucky like he desperately wanted to. Wanted to see if she was right. "Just good pals; we grew up together. Buck's not- he's not like that."

She shrugged, "I mean, it's not like I would care if you were. We're pretty much strangers and your personal life doesn't affect me at all. But are you sure he doesn't feel that way? Because if a fella looked at me the way he looks at you, I guarantee I would marry him immediately." Her eyes widened. "Oh shit, he's coming this way. Act natural."

Bea's words may or may not have had his heart fluttering and his mind flashing back to the guy in the bar, but he'd had enough practice over the years that his poker face was unshakeable and when Bucky skated up next to them, Steve met his gaze with a deadpan expression.

"Well, well, well. He finds his footing at last. All it takes is a pretty girl and he's good to go!"

"Fuck off," Steve rolled his eyes. "It's not like you actually wanted to teach me how to stay on my feet since I'm not magically good at it like you are."

Bucky's smile was brittle, his body held tightly as he glanced between Bea- who was observing the exchange silently, her smile demure- and Steve. "You know I would have if I thought for a moment that you were interested in learning. I mean, I did bring you here and not someone else because I thought after you figured out how to stay on your feet on your own we could actually have fun."

And that-

That almost sounded as though Bucky had intended this as a date.

Judging by the I told you so expression that Bea was giving him, she'd come to the same conclusion. He hesitated, before dropping her hands and letting his arms hang at his sides. "I thought you only dragged me along because you didn't want to come alone."

"Christ, Steve-" Bucky snapped his mouth shut, glancing at Bea guiltily.

"I need to be leaving anyway, my lunch break is probably about over." Bea smiled at Steve, reaching out and squeezing his upper arm. "Take care of yourself, Steve Rogers. Don't let your friend here knock you on your ass again."

"I didn't knock him-"

"If you were ever so inclined to visit, I work most afternoons at the Met. You've got paint on the sleeve of your coat; I think you're the type to enjoy something like that." With a final pat on his arm, she skated off toward the entrance of the rink.

"I didn't mean to run her off," Bucky sighed.

"Yes, you did." Steve hedged, not entirely sure how far he wanted to push the issue. He'd really like to know what Bucky was thinking right now. If he really brought Steve here because he wanted to bring him somewhere fun for an afternoon. God, that sounded so much like a date, so much like his dreams that he could practically already picture the two of them gliding around the rink hand in hand. Of course, even if Bucky felt the same about him and they were both comfortable with it and acting on it, that was still something that they would never be able to do. Bea seemed like she couldn't care less if they were queer or if they weren't, but it just wasn't a common thing and they'd always be looking over their shoulder and- and here he was letting his thoughts run away from him again while Bucky was still just watching him silently. "You were kind of being an asshole to both of us, you know."

"I know. I'm sorry." He ran his hand through his hair, the dusting of snowflakes it had gathered while they were outside scattering with the motion. "I was gonna teach 'ya, though, if you had stopped fighting me. Figured maybe you'd be more comfortable figuring it out on your own without me hovering over you."

"It wasn't you teaching me that I had a problem with. It was your method, the way you just yanked me out toward the middle without even bothering to tell me how to keep my balance," Steve grinned a little. "You've become a pretty shit teacher since first grade, Buck. What happened?"

"Shut up, it's a sight different from reading, isn't it?" He shook his head. "That's how I learned, when I was about twelve. My cousins visited from Minnesota that year, remember? They took me and Becca to a pond and taught us to skate by towing us out to the center and making us chase them around the ice playing tag until we were comfortable on our feet. Took a few hours but it's kinda like a bicycle. Once you learn it, it just sticks with you."

He remembered that year well. He'd been stuck in bed for weeks with an unusually rough flare up of bronchitis. With his asthma already weakening his lungs, he got bronchitis even with the littlest cold. Steve grimaced, sniffling. The cold air wasn't doing his sinuses any favors, leaving his nose constantly runny. He pulled the handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped his nose.

"Are you feeling okay?" Bucky's expression morphed into concern and he shucked a glove to lay the back of his hand against Steve's forehead.

"Jeez," he slapped Bucky's hand away, the abrupt motion knocking his balance off, his feet flying out from under him. He landed hard, one of his hands reaching back and catching the brunt of the fall. Pain shot up his arm but he didn't dare show it, opting to just scowl up at Bucky. "It's just the weather making my nose run, I'm not dying." His wrist was throbbing though, but he hadn't heard a crack so hopefully it wasn't a break. Though honestly, he wouldn't be surprised. Just his luck. He was tired and cold and hungry and Bucky might be willing to teach him how to skate but there was no way that Steve could stay on his feet without holding onto someone. And there was no way the other patrons of the rink wouldn't notice if they fucking held hands.

"You don't gotta snap at me," Bucky extended a hand to help him up. "I don't want you to get sick, is all. God, I'm trying to be nice and all you ever do is get peevish over it."

"I'm fine," he ignored the helping hand and rolled to his knees, slowing pushing himself to his feet with his good hand. "My feet hurt and I'm cold though, so I think I'll call it quits and go over to the restaurant and get a coffee or something while you skate."

"Steve-"

"Just have some fun, Bucky. Before they tell you your time is up and kick you off. I'll be in the restaurant." Somehow he made it back to the wall without falling and slowly made his way off the ice. He could practically feel Bucky's gaze on him like a physical thing, but he didn't look back. It was nearly impossible to get his skates off with the pain in his wrist. It was swelling up rapidly, enough to raise his concern over it, but Bucky had gone back to skating, albeit without as much enthusiasm and he didn't dare interrupt him. With any luck, he'd be able to hide the injury altogether. He returned the skates to the rental stand and trudged to the restaurant, feeling around in his pockets for enough change to get a cup of coffee. Keeping his injured arm clutched to his chest so his wrist was above heart level to minimize the throbbing as much as possible, he sunk into the booth the waitress pointed him to and groaned.

As the circulation began to go back to his legs after being out in the cold so long, they ached. As a child, the pain only happened when he would step on the cold floor while barefoot or even in socked feet; he could stand it for a few minutes before the shooting, burning pains would start traveling from his toes to his hips until he was crying from the agony of it. As he'd gotten progressively older though, it would happen even if he had a solid pair of shoes between his feet and the cold. He eventually got used to it and realized if he just rode out the pain, then eventually his legs would go numb and it wouldn't be noticeable until they started warming up again. He didn't dare ever let Bucky see his feet bare in the winter though, if he had been even remotely chilly; these days it only took seconds in the cold until his toes turned blue.

He offered the waitress a small smile and thanks when she brought his steaming cup of coffee, removing his gloves and wrapping his fingers around the hot glass. The restaurant was relatively quiet, for the amount of people that were waiting in line to go skating, just some couples and a few families eating and chatting quietly. He wasn't entirely sure he even dared look at the menu the waitress had left with him, judging from the décor around the room, it was likely to be anything but a cheap burger and fries. His coffee alone was probably going to wipe out all the pocket change he had on him anyway.

He sipped at the bitter brew as it cooled, watching his wrist and hand continue swelling in mild fascination, the pain still sharp but becoming a constant thing that he could push to the side and dissociate from. He should probably get some ice for it and something to wrap it with but there would be no way to conceal that and he really didn't want Bucky to fuss over it if it wasn't absolutely unavoidable. It wasn't necessarily that he minded being cared for, per se, but that if he didn't push Bucky away when he got close, then he wouldn't be able to at all.

"Steve-"

Speak of the devil himself.

He took in a slow breath and looked up at Bucky, who was hovering next to the booth, his hands deep in his pockets. "Hey. Your hour on the ice up already?"

"I left early," Bucky shrugged. "There were a bunch of kids that kept getting in my way anyway. Can I sit?"

"Sure. Dunno why you even needed to ask." Steve ran the forefinger of his good hand around the rim of the coffee cup as Bucky slid into the seat opposite him and reached for the menu.

"So, I- Jesus Christ, what happened to your hand?" Bucky dropped the menu in favor of reaching out to grab Steve's dreadfully swollen hand, his face pale as he leaned forward to look at it. "This is from when you fell, isn't it?" He didn't wait for the confirmation before gently prodding the swelling and twisting Steve's wrist to one side and the other, apologizing when he winced and bit down hard on his lip at the sudden stab of pain. "Do you think it's broken?" His thumb traced back and forth over the puffy, sensitive skin.

"I didn't hear a crack and I can still move it, even if it hurts, so..." Steve shrugged. "I don't think so. Probably just a sprain." His breathing was shallow as he followed the motion of Bucky's thumb with his eyes.

"It's really swollen..." Bucky's gaze met his, brimming with concern and apology. "I'm sorry. I should have caught you."

"It's not your fault. I'm just a clumsy bastard." He flexed his fingers within Bucky's grasp and very decidedly did not whine.

"I think we should go to the doctor."

"That's unnecessary." Steve tugged his arm free of Bucky's grasp, rolling his eyes. "If, on the off chance, it is broken, it'll just get worse by tomorrow. It's better to wait and see." He took a sip of his coffee. "I'll wrap it up and put ice on it when we get home."

And he probably should have anticipated the way Bucky stared at him with an impossibly nonplussed expression for what felt like five minutes straight. But, sadly, he hadn't. He definitely should have anticipated the way his best friend snapped that's not soon enough and signaled the waitress to come over so he could request another menu and a bowl of ice and a towel.

And the waitress, clearly having seen the injury and the way Bucky was harping over it, brought not only a towel to hold the ice, but another flour sack towel as well as a pair of scissors so they could use it as a makeshift bandage. "Not the first of this kind of injury I've seen since working here," She smiled at them when she set the stuff on the table. "You gentlemen need any more ice or decide you're ready to order, just let me know."

"I like her." Bucky wasted no time in grabbing the scissors to cut the towel into long strips. "Give me your hand."

He huffed out a breath that ruffled his bangs and extended his arm across the table. "The point of waiting until we got home was that there wouldn't be a bunch of people watching."

"No one's watching us, Steve; we're in a corner booth." The brunet's brows were furrowed as he focused on wrapping the cloth round and round Steve's hand. Though the binding was tight, he was careful to be as gentle as possible on the injury, as always. He tied off the bandage and turned his attention to piling ice into the other towel. He cradled Steve's hand in one of his and pressed the cold pack to the injury with the other. "You hungry?"

"At these prices? I can wait."

"That's not what I asked, Stevie. God, we've been friends for like fourteen years now. When are you going to stop being stubborn and let me take care of you?"

And looking into the sincerity in his eyes was like waking up in the morning and seeing sunshine when you expected snow. It was pleasant and regular and everything he should have been seeing all along, but had blinded himself to in his own insecurities.

Really, he probably should have realized before.

He'd always assumed if there was a defining moment when he realized okay, he really feels the same as me that it would be a shock, a slap to the face. That it would knock the breath from his lungs and send him reeling into something he truly didn't know how to handle or respond to. But it didn't.

“Oh," he whispered, his gaze dropping to the tabletop. He should be dragging Bucky from this restaurant right now, taking him home and talking about everything. Maybe just for now he wanted to bask in the feeling for a moment before adding onto it with everything that would surely come after. So he gave a half smile and pushed his bangs out of the way to peer up at the brunet. "I could take some stew."

 

***

 

Bucky Barnes hated his week to do the housework.

It wasn't necessarily that he minded putting in his share of the upkeep; he was just so bad at it. The mirrors and windows always ended up streaky and he never quite got the scuffs off the floor the way Steve did or the way the help had at home during his growing up years. He was getting better slowly- the beds always looked nice when he finished spreading the fluffy quilts out over them and he always made sure to get every last speck of dust off the bookshelves and such. Places that Steve couldn't see or reach. If he could do anything to help prevent the asthma attacks and the allergies, he would.

Steve had been quiet in the few days since they'd been to Rockefeller Center, watching Bucky with a sort of awe in his features that he'd never worn before, but when Bucky asked what was on his mind, he just smirked and shook his head, going back to his sketchbook.

Peculiar little bastard.

He raised his eyebrows at Steve as he eyed the stack of canvasses propped against the wall by the door. "What was that you were saying about me leaving my clothes lying around? At least they don't take up massive amounts of space." It wasn't that he minded them being in the sitting room, Christ, no. He just wanted to needle him a little.

“I can't move them," Steve sighed pitifully, looking at Bucky with ridiculously big puppy eyes. "My hand... it hurts."

"You're so full of shit." Bucky bounded across the room and hopped on the opposite end of the couch as the blond. "I might have believed you until you pulled that face."

Steve had been right in his guess that his hand wasn't seriously injured, because he had been using it normally since yesterday morning and the swelling was completely gone. But being the asshole that he was, he'd gone from protesting Bucky's concern for him to milking it for everything it was the second he didn't need it anymore.

"Be that as it may," Steve lifted his hand and wiggled it, "you can't prove anything either way."

"Punk." Bucky kicked his thigh lightly before standing up again and going to grab the canvasses. "I'm putting these in your room."

"'Kay."

Steve's bedroom was plain, his bed covered neatly in the double wedding ring pattern quilt his mother had made him for the last Christmas before she died. A lamp sat neatly in the middle of the bedside table along with an alarm clock, a book on art theory, their Notebook, and a framed picture of him and Bucky at Coney Island from the year they were fourteen. They'd spent so much time outside that year that even Steve's Irish fair complexion had turned coppery golden from the sun and he'd been covered in freckles.

Bucky leaned the canvasses against the foot of the bed and sat down on the mattress, reaching for the Notebook. There was a pencil shoved in between the pages, keeping a spot. He ran his hand over the worn, doodled on cover. They'd had this one going for a good six months or so now and they'd need to get a new one soon but until it was full or it fell apart, it would do. When he let the pages fall open to where Steve had left off, his breath caught in his throat. Scrawled across the entirety of both pages, in neat block letters read, That lie you're living... how's that going for you?

"God damn it," He whispered. He traced a finger over the lettering, the precise lines that Bucky could never hope to emulate with his pathetic chicken scratch handwriting. He should have known this was coming; should have known he'd been too careless lately and exposed himself and all of his forbidden feelings. The fucking day at Rockefeller....

Why could he never be content with what he had?

"What's takin' you so long, you lug? Are you sniffin' my undershorts or some- oh." Steve stumbled to a halt in the doorway, his arms hanging by his sides as if he wasn't quite sure what to do with them.

Bucky looked back down at the notebook, entirely out of his element of how to respond. All pretense of smoothness he might have possessed had fled at the first sign of danger. "What is this supposed to mean, Steve?"

"I think you know exactly what it means. Don't you?"

Okay. No playing dumb, then. He'd have to change tactics. Swallowing around the lump lodged in his throat, he set the Notebook back on the table and ran his palms roughly up and down his thighs a few times. "Look, it doesn't have to change anything. It's- I know you don't-"

"No offense, Buck," Steve took several long steps across the room until he was standing right in front of Bucky, close enough that he had to tilt his head up to look the blond in the eyes. "But you really don't know much about me at all if that's what you think."

So this was it then. The end of the line for their friendship. Steve wanted nothing to do with him and he would spend the rest of his life drinking away his inheritance in misery and eventually be forced to marry a woman he didn't love and produce a gaggle of little Barnes children to pass along the family name and fortune. And he would never want a bit of it. And-

And.

Oh, and Steve was kissing him.

His hands spasmed in his lap, his mouth falling open in shock. "What," he whispered against Steve's lips.

Steve pulled back slightly, still cupping Bucky's jaw. "You are such a moron. That you could ever think I wouldn't want you," he smiled, tracing a thumb over Bucky's lower lip.

"Jesus, Steve." That was about all he could get out before it became too much and he lurched to his feet, his hands coming to grip at Steve's waist tightly, probably too tightly but Steve wasn't complaining. His fingers slid through Bucky's hair, tugging at the strands in the best way as their lips met again and this time he doesn't freeze up, doesn't fall apart in shock. This time it's right.

He bunched the rough wool of Steve's sweater up, sliding his hands against the bare skin on his lower back. Steve kissed like an angel, for all his inexperience. Hot and wet, his plump lips sliding against Bucky's as if it's all they were meant to do. His calloused artist's hands, always too big for his body roamed over Bucky's shoulders and chest. He grabbed hard to the front of Bucky's shirt when Bucky darts his tongue out to trace the seam of those sinful lips.

"Mmm," Bucky hummed into Steve's mouth, letting him set the pace. It wasn't soft; it was almost frantic, like neither could get close enough. Like burning up in hell but taking a throne in heaven at the same time. His heart thudded against his ribcage in time with the sliding of their lips. Abruptly, Steve yanked his hands out of Bucky's hair in favor of planting them on his shoulders and shoving him backwards.

Caught off guard by the sudden movement, Bucky stumbled, losing his balance and sitting hard on the bed. For a moment, he was choking on the fear rising in his throat but then Steve straddled his lap and oh, he had never wanted anything as badly as this.

Steve tasted bitter on his tongue, like black coffee and asthma cigarettes and Bucky had tasted a lot of lips in his life, but nothing could have ever compared to this. To the pure thing that was just Steve. He cupped his palms around Steve’s jaw, pulling back just enough that their lips barely brushed. Close enough to share breath. “I don’t know what you want from me here, Sweetheart. Tell me what you want me to do.”

“I want,” Steve’s hands rucked up the back of Bucky’s T-shirt, frigid cold fingers tracing over his bare skin. “I want everything with you. Whatever you want. I have been in love with you for my entire life. There’s not a thing in the world you could ask of me that I would ever say no to.”

He couldn’t stop the half-sobbed gasp that escaped, but he muffled it in Steve’s throat, pressing kisses there. “I love you too,” he whispered. “I love you beyond what spoken words could ever convey.” He flipped them, easing himself over Steve.

“You’re such a poet, yet you call me the bleeding heart.”

Bucky caught Steve’s wrist, undoing the button at his shirt cuff and kissing the pulse point. “I’ve always been a bleeding heart for you.” He carefully tugged Steve’s shirt off, laying kiss after kiss on each inch of bare skin. His sharp collarbones and the shape of each defined rib. His stomach and hips, along the waistline of his pants.

Steve swore and begged and threatened until Bucky laughed and obliged, taking his own pleasure in making his lover fall apart underneath him in every way he knew how.

When they collapsed, breathless next to each other, he could have sworn angels were singing. He let his hands trail across Steve’s skin, just for the joy of doing so because he could. “I never thought this would ever-” his words caught in his throat. “I really do love you. I hope you always believe that. Nothing but death could ever part me from you.”

Steve smiled at him. “Put it in the Notebook. Maybe someday, after we’re long dead, people will find them and they’ll say to themselves, ‘this is the greatest love story of all time’. Maybe they’ll make a movie or a book about it.”

“Greatest love story of all time?” Bucky reached for the discarded notebook and the pencil on the table. “I suppose I had better put all my so called poet skills into making sure these future rare historical relics live up to that title then. Best get started now.”

***

From the 1938 Notebook of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.

My Darling, My Love, My Lover,
This letter is for you. For your ability to always be the idealist and to see the best in people and in the world. This is for your belief that we will be known as the greatest love story ever. A love cocooned in fear and suppression as it grew, but a love so strong it overcame it. We overcame it. And I have faith that we shall overcome everything else this world throws at us. Be it the law or anything else. You have been the axis my entire world revolves around for as long as I can remember, so here are some details. For you, for that book that an unknown future stranger might write.
I was eleven years old the first time I looked at you and lost my breath in awe. You were laughing at me, over something I can’t even remember now. I just remember feeling simultaneously like my entire perspective on life was different but at the same time like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Forever with you.
I was fourteen when I had my first kiss and she was beautiful but the only thing I cared about was the fact that you didn’t like her at all and I felt like I was betraying you. Even though I didn’t know why.
Seventeen when watched you save a small child from being run over in the street and thought to myself: Yes, this is my person. The one I would marry if I could. The one I will spend my life with even if the law and people try to tell me I can’t. Until we are as old and gray as dust and the earth recognizes us when we fade away into her, together.
Twenty Two when I thought I would rather die than upset you, would rather walk away and leave my shattered heart behind me, with you, than have you unable to bear to be around me because of how I love you but to kind to tell me that you want me gone.
The fact is, Sweetheart, my soul recognized you the moment we met. Recognized you and knew that this is everything I’ll ever need to be happy in my entire life. I could lose everything; my family, my inheritance, my home, even my humanity but I promise you. I will always find my way back to you. And when we die and discover another lifetime waiting for us, I’ll find you then too.
So let it be known, this is the greatest love story of all time. And perhaps it will stay untold forever. But we know. And that’s really all that matters to me.

-James Buchanan Barnes