Steve plodded down the street in the predawn, during the worst days of February. The sun would rise, technically, but nobody would enjoy it. The air was bitterly cold, the eventual light dull and the color of tin, and Steve survived his commute by the power of coffee and the thought of the conservatory in the back of the shop alone.
He noticed ice on the pavement and made a mental note to go out and put down salt. The busyness of opening the shop was distracting, though – lifting the metal shutter and unlocking the door, turning on lights and checking the window displays. The shop was warm, at least – they had to keep it that way for all the live plants – and he didn't have to face the walk-in freezer until well after the coffee had really hit his system, and he could feel his fingers and toes again.
Steve loved his job, and his job loved him. He had good hours, could leave his work at work, and was allowed to sketch or read when it was slow, largely by virtue of being basically the only employee. Dr. Erskine closed Mondays and Tuesdays and every holiday. He came in to work his magic a few days a week, and left the rest to Steve, and between the two of them they actually turned a good profit. And they maintained the antique greenhouse, all full of white-painted metal lace, ferns and little waterfalls and rich, oxygen-filled air. Steve was pretty sure that was Dr. Erskine's true love, and the business was just a nice side gig that paid the bills, but it also paid his bills, and he loved the big, bright room too.
Today it was just him, though. He made sure the chime would go off if someone entered the door and that his hearing aides were on and working (there had been some awkward moments) and hunkered down to build some centerpieces, going off of existing designs.
He had forgotten entirely about the ice on the sidewalk out front.
He looked up just as the man slipped and fell spectacularly, hitting his head on the pavement. Steve could move fast and he did, making it to the man's side in seconds. “Shit shit shit shit shit,” he said.
“Ngh,” the man on the sidewalk said, groaning and trying to sit up.
“Hey, no, no,” Steve told him, carefully keeping his voice easy and kind. “You whacked your head good, just stay there.” He pulled off his sweater and tucked it under the poor guy's head, and looked up at the crowd forming.
“You, call 911,” he told the first person he saw. “The rest of you, fuck off.”
They did not fuck off, but Steve snarled and they kept away at least.
The man on the ground groaned again. “ Fuck ow.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed softly. “That looked ow. Hey, stay with me buddy, okay? What's your name?”
“James Barnes,” the guy said, and Steve noticed he was already slurring his words. Shit, where was that ambulance? There wasn't any blood, at least – Steve had checked James' thick hair.
“Pleasure to meet you, James,” Steve said, and James huffed a laugh. “Help's coming dude, I promise.”
“Mmmm.” James' eyes closed, then he obviously forced them back open. “My ankle hurts.”
“I'll make sure they know that,” Steve promised. “You a New Yorker?” Small talk helped, right? With keeping people awake?
“Uh huh.” James blinked, and squinted at Steve. “Hey...”
Whatever he was about to say was cut off, though, with the arrival of an ambulance, blessedly fast. Steve told everyone to fuck off again, was ignored again, and told the EMT's everything he knew, awkwardly clutching his sweater in his hands as they got James stabilized enough to move.
Finally, at long last, with the picture of human misery gone, the crowd fucked off and Steve was left alone on the sidewalk, tense and worried.
He went back inside and got the salt immediately, and got hit by another thought as he was thoroughly salting the sidewalk. They were liable for the sidewalk. The guy was gonna sue – he had to, and if he didn't, his insurance company would on his behalf. The shop did okay, but they couldn't really take a lawsuit. Or would insurance cover that?
“Fuck,” he said aloud, and was blessedly ignored.
Steve bit his lip, and made a plan.
It didn't hurt to have a near-photographic memory, an afternoon off, and access to employee-discounted flowers. Steve had called around to a bunch of hospitals the night before, was pleased and a little worried that James was nearby – was it bad enough to warrant a short trip? Or just convenient? – and stayed a little past the end of his shift putting together a nice bouquet. Mostly daisies, some snapdragons, a pretty fern – nothing exotic, but interesting, layering colors and textures and brightness. He grabbed one of their simplest vases (and cheapest – Abraham paid fairly, but Steve wasn't rich), and headed for the subway.
Steve would never like hospitals, but he was okay with them now. Maybe even used to them, as he followed directions to the correct floor, and down what felt like half a dozen corridors, to James' room. Well, his curtained cubicle.
“Hi,” he said, peering around the end of the curtain, hoping he wasn't intruding, and attempting to not die of awkwardness. Shit. James was handsome. Okay he was also pale with dark rings under his eyes and still looked kinda blurry around the edges, but he was also deliciously thick and well-built, with powerful arms (set off by his hospital gown, which did nothing for his complexion, Steve absently noted). His hair was long and wavy and also thick, as Steve had learned. There was a heavy bandage around his left leg from toes to knee, and it was propped up on a pillow, but otherwise he looked unhurt, aside from looking a little bit like he'd died yesterday.
“Hello,” James said cautiously, and squinted at him. “Sorry do I...oh, shit, dude, I'm so sorry if you're my date the other night. I took this fuckin' swan-dive into the sidewalk and I have short-term amnesia, I swear I didn't forget you on purpose, baby. You think I'd forget a guy like you?”
Steve swallowed his tongue.
Well, he wanted to.
“Uh,” he said. “I'm not your date? Um. I'm. The guy that saw you fall? I mean, I got to you first. But I guess you don't remember. My name's Steve.”
“Oh!” James said, and did not look one tiny bit ashamed. “Shit, dude, sorry about that. Like I said – retrograde amnesia. Last thing I remember before last night was day before yesterday. Uh, have a seat, though,” he added, gesturing to a plastic chair.
Steve set the flowers down and took a seat. He was a six-foot-one, muscled, butch queen , and he sat like one. It was a fun litmus test.
James didn't even blink, just smiled at him. “Thanks for the flowers. I'm okay though, really.”
“You're welcome,” Steve said. “Busted your ankle up?”
“Yeah, broke it,” James admitted. “Not bad, though. They wanna keep me another night but I get sprung tomorrow.”
Steve nodded. “Hey,” he said quietly. “I'm glad it's not bad, I'm really glad. But you did get hurt, and I just wanted to say – please don't sue the shop. The owner doesn't deserve that. I'm the one that forgot to salt the sidewalk. I ain't gonna blame you, medical care's expensive, but if you or your insurance company has to pursue someone, come after me. Please?”
James blinked a few times. “I. Huh.” He blinked again. “Did your boss put you up to this?” he asked, quiet and so fierce it startled Steve.
“No,” Steve said firmly. “He knows someone fell in front of the store but that's all. Just – dude. He's old, he loves the shop and he's so good at what he does. But we ain't exactly raking in millions, y'know? He's just this nice guy, loves flowers, can do amazing things with them – a real artist. He goes to synagogue every Saturday and waters half the plants himself.”
James blinked, looked at him hard, and smiled suddenly. “ Steve . Right, Steve. Well, I obviously can't go after one of my fellow Chosen People.” His smile softened. “Hey, don't worry about it. No one is gonna pursue legal action against anyone else. Promise.”
Steve let out a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said.
“Did he make the bouquet? Your boss?” James asked, nodding towards it.
“Oh, no. That was all me,” Steve said.
“It's beautiful,” James said. “Honest, it really is.”
“Thank you,” Steve said, because he'd had being gracious about such things beaten into him.
They made small talk a few more minutes, but James was clearly tired, so Steve made a polite excuse and headed out, feeling thoughtful. James was lovely, of course. But there was something about him, something that nagged at Steve. He chewed it over in his brain a little, riding the subway back home, but nothing gave quite yet.
Some stuff I couldn't find tags for:
- You know that "I hit you with my car!" meet-cute thing? This is my non-car-owning version of that.
- It's much more my *own* trope, but I do love relationships to blossom over a broken limb. I have a Brand, guys.
- It's not explicit, but there is a whiff of medical kink if you look just right.
- HOW IS CHUBBY BUCKY NOT AN OFFICIAL TAG. For real, is there another one I should have used instead?
Chapter 2: getting the band back together
Hi, I felt bad about how short the first chapter was, so here's something to sink your teeth into.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Steve handed the wrapped bouquet over and bid the buyer goodbye. She had been nice to work with, friendly and funny and open to ideas, and he and Dr. Erskine had worked together to make her a real piece of art. It was clearly going to be appreciated, which Steve appreciated an awful lot. He mostly loved being a florist, but it was awfully nice when he could be sure it wasn't a 'sorry I fucked up' bouquet.
He checked what was next on the to-do list, and was about to grab a few more boxes of glassware from the back when the bell on the door rang. Steve looked up to see James, on crutches, try to push his way in.
Steve didn't exactly vault over the counter to get the door, but it was pretty close. “James! Hey, come in, sorry, let me get that for you,” he said, words falling all over themselves because Steve was not always wonderful with words and also it turned out that James was really hot.
James laughed and came in out of the cold, Steve shutting the door behind him and ushering him over to an overstuffed velvet sofa he had rescued a year ago. “Come and sit down, you look so much better!”
“Well, I'd hope so,” James said, letting himself be ushered over. There was a bright purple cast on his leg from toes to knee, and a funny little half-sock protected his toes from the cold. He moved slowly, but seemed to be okay on crutches, but also very grateful to sit down. “Whoo. Those take getting used to.”
“Oh, man, I can imagine,” Steve said sympathetically. “You want some water? Or a cup of tea?”
“No, no, of course not, I'm fine,” James protested. “Honestly, I just dropped by to say hi, and thank you.”
“...Thank you?” Steve asked. He had fucked up and James had gotten hurt.
“Yes,” James said patiently, but before he could continue the door opened again, and James waved Steve to go help the customer.
It turned out to be a pretty big order, with great detail, and it might have taken a lot of Steve's will to give the woman his full attention. He could be at least sort of charming, and that got him through a lot. Being handsome helped him the rest of the way, and he was pretty shameless about that, especially right then.
When she had left and Steve had a sheaf of notes in front of him, he really did need a cup of tea, and James finally accepted one too.
Steve brought their mugs over and pulled a chair nearby, checking again that James was okay. Did he need to put his foot up?
“I'm fine,” James promised. “This sofa is ridiculously comfortable. Thanks for the tea, though.”
“You're welcome,” Steve said, curling up on the big chair and breathing in the steam from his drink.
James smiled, a little bit more than the situation maybe required, Steve thought. Maybe it was the obvious eyeliner Steve was wearing, but he was pretty sure it wasn't. Hm. James didn't seem the type to be all hyper-masculine and asshole about it.
“So I wanted to say thank you,” James said. “For making sure I got help. I'm sorry I don't remember any of it, but I can't imagine you weren't kind.”
“It was literally the least I could do,” Steve protested. “If it wasn't me, it woulda been somebody else.”
James shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. People are funny.” He rubbed his left arm and shook his head. “So yeah. I wanted to say thank you. And don't worry about anything. My insurance is just gonna...do its thing. No going after anybody. It's surprisingly good.”
Steve let out a breath. “That's good. I mean, for your sake.”
“And yours,” James said, and grinned. “Okay, I meant everything I said but I also came to – you really don't recognize me?”
Steve frowned. “Sorry, I'm really bad with, like, famous people, shit, sorry....”
James threw his head back and laughed, and it finally hit Steve, and he almost dropped his tea.
“Ohmigod,” he breathed. “Bucky.” He set his teacup aside and threw himself into his best friend's arms.
Well, okay, Bucky had moved away when Steve was twelve, but they had been best friends up until that moment, and Steve hadn't had a best friend since then so it counted.
Bucky was still laughing softly as he hugged Steve tightly, Steve kneeling between his legs, face buried in his shoulder. “Took ya long enough, ya big galoot. Emphasis on the big.”
“Shut up,” Steve muttered. “Puberty hit you like a train.”
“You too, I see,” Bucky said, rubbing Steve's back. “I had to recognize you by your selfless idiocy.”
“Shut up,” Steve repeated, his throat thick with emotion. “Oh my God, Bucky.”
“Shhh,” Bucky soothed. “Oh, you're still one big feeling with legs, good to know.” He pulled back and cupped Steve's face in his hands. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” Steve said around the lump in his throat. He was a big nelly queen and refused to change. He sniffled and wiped his eyes. “Barnes? That's new.” He grinned. “You meet a nice Jewish boy?”
Bucky laughed and urged Steve up onto the sofa beside him. If anyone came in to buy flowers right now he would kill them. Hop them to death or whatever. “Nah, Mom did. Second time around she picked a good one, so we all took his name.”
Steve nodded, and folded one of Bucky's hands between his. It felt so good to just touch him again. “James instead of Bucky?”
Bucky shrugged. “In addition to. Not many people call me that anymore, but you can.”
Steve smiled. “Good.” He squeezed. “Are you okay? Really? If you need anything at all...”
“I'm fine,” Bucky assured him. “Getting around is a little slow, but I should only have the cast for another five weeks or so. My concussion is healed – just gotta go without whacking my head for a few months.”
Steve nodded. “You need anything at all, you get in touch,” he ordered. “I still make a mean kugel.”
“Well, I would hope so, Mom spent long enough teaching us,” Bucky said, and winked.
Steve looked up when the door went, heart sinking a little. Work was probably not the place to have a reunion.
“Oh my God, I'm keeping you from your job, go,” Bucky urged him. “I'll leave my card, call me when you get off?”
“Absolutely,” Steve promised, and went to go help the man who'd come in – a regular, thankfully, who was ine with service that was a little bit distracted.
He had a few customers then, a little lunchtime rush, and was only kind of aware of Bucky finishing his tea and slipping his card behind the cash register. They managed to wave to each other, and then Steve was busy again going over options for table centerpieces.
Work was steady until it was time to tidy up and close up the shop. Steve did a thorough job, but he did it quick , Bucky's card burning a hole in his back pocket.
He spent his commute fiddling with his phone, then examining Bucky's card. It was plain, just a name, phone number, and e-mail address. It was letterpress – real letterpress, Steve could feel the stamped letters into the thick card, and it made him smile. Bucky was still a gentleman, and still very extra.
He texted as soon as he was inside his apartment, asking if it was ok to call, and getting an affirmative within seconds. His hand was maybe shaking a little when he hit the call button and curled up on his love seat.
“Hey, Stevie. Good day at work?” Bucky's voice was already familiar – he'd moved away before it had broken, but Steve felt at home in the rhythm of his words. The light, gravelly baritone was nice too, of course. Really nice, and he told Bucky so. After he'd acknowledged a good day at work. He still had a few manners.
Bucky laughed and Steve grinned at the sound. “Thanks. You've got a nice voice too.”
“Uh, thanks” Steve said, suddenly aware of just how extremely thick his Brooklyn accent is. “Hey, I'm really sorry I didn't recognize you. When did you know it was me?”
“I've changed a lot, I wasn't hurt,” Bucky assured him. “And it was when you basically made me promise to sue you. You're lucky it was me, you dingbat.”
“I don't care,” Steve sniffed. “It was the right thing to do.”
Bucky sighed, but didn't fight it. He'd learned that a long time ago, at least, Steve somewhat smugly reckoned. “So yeah, that was when I knew. And you still sit the same, and you have the same accent.”
Steve smiled at that. “Guess so. Brooklyn's still home – I mean, I still live there. Here. Whatever.”
“Same apartment?” Bucky asked, laughter in his voice. “I'm in Queens, by the way. Astoria. That's how I got to your shop so easy. Thanks for leaving a card taped to the bottom of the vase.”
Steve groaned. “Shit, I should have taken that off, sorry, I was kinda in a hurry. And no, new place. When Mom died, I lost the apartment.”
“Fuck, that's right,” Bucky said. “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay,” Steve assured him. “I got a nice place now – little one-bedroom. Rent-controlled, subletting from some distant great-aunt who can't take New York winters anymore. Or summers, for that matter.”
Bucky laughed, and Steve heard him shift, heard his voice ease a little. Good, he must be getting comfortable too. “Smart lady. Fuck this weather.”
“Tell me about it,” Steve agreed. “Hey, you good for everything? Groceries and all that?”
“Steven, it is the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Nineteen in New York City, I can get anything delivered from a sex worker to a gourmet breakfast for the two of us for the next morning,” Bucky drawled, while Steve groaned. “I am good for everything. But if you want to come over and hang out, I would like that very much. I'm not great at long distances from my apartment just yet,” he apologized.
Steve rolled off the love seat and started to pace a loop through his apartment. It was calming, and anyway the view of the back of the building across the alley wasn't exactly comforting, despite a few determined house plants in the window.
“Hey, no problem,” he told Bucky. “When's good for you?”
They made a date for the next afternoon, since Steve got off early, and he got Bucky to promise to text if he needed anything and Steve would pick it up on the way.
There was a long silence.
“I don't wanna say goodbye,” Bucky said softly.
“Me either,” Steve admitted. “I missed you, Buck. Never had a friend like you since.”
“Same,” Bucky said. “Wish life was fair. I still hate that I couldn't be there when your Mom...”
“Same,” Steve said. “Not angry at you. You were a kid. Not even angry at your parents. But. Yeah.”
“Come over now?” Bucky asked. “Please? I won't keep you late, I know you got an early day tomorrow, but I don't wanna stop talking to you.”
Steve grinned, already slipping his shoes on. “I'll be there fast as I can, Buck. Text me your address?”
“Okay.” Bucky was laughing. “We're so dramatic.”
“Don't care. Wanna see you again,” Steve said. “Okay, I'm hanging up now so you can text me. I'll see you real soon, honey.”
“Okay. Bye. For a bit,” Bucky said, and finally they hung up together and Bucky texted his address and Steve sighed in relief – it was a quick bus ride away, and just around the corner from his store. Bucky hadn't had to get himself very far that morning, and they were only a few miles apart now, as the crow flies.
Bucky buzzed him in and was standing in the doorway as Steve left the elevator, crossing the space between them in huge steps and going into Bucky's arms for a long hug, careful of the crutches he was balancing on.
“Hey Stevie,” Bucky whispered into his ear.
“Hey,” Steve whispered back, absorbing the hug down to the core of him. He had friends, had had boyfriends, but he hadn't had a Bucky since the summer of 1995.
They finally separated, and Steve was a little afraid that it would be a wrench, but it was organic, and sweet.
“Come on in,” Bucky said warmly. He pivoted easily and lead Steve into his apartment, minimalist and light and calming. He ushered them both over to the sofa, where a bottle of kombucha and some glasses sat. “Drink?”
“Thank you – no, Buck, I've got it,” Steve insisted, narrowing his eyes until Bucky gave up, sat down, and put his leg up.
“I'll catch you off-guard eventually,” Bucky grumped.
“Uh huh, right, sure.” They grinned at each other, and Steve leaned in for another hug. “Sorry. I just...missed you.”
“I missed you too,” Bucky told him softly. “I didn't miss...most of my life here. But I missed you so bad.”
Steve nodded, hugged him tight, and touched his left arm once they'd parted. “This looks better.”
“Uh huh. I had a couple surgeries, and that helped a lot.” Bucky turned his arm over, smiling down at the inside of his wrist. “You seem...well.”
“Not terrifyingly skinny and sick all the time?” Steve supplied, and sipped his drink. “This is wonderful, do you make your own?”
“Guilty,” Bucky admitted, and grinned. “And yeah, I guess that's what I meant.”
“Hah! Yeah. I outgrew some stuff. ACA got me better healthcare.” Steve shrugged. “And the foster system is broken, but Medicare's pretty sweet.”
“Oh,” Bucky said in a small voice. “Oh, I didn't realize that's where...”
Steve nodded, and patted Bucky's knee. “Don't sound sad, okay? My foster family was great.”
Bucky frowned. “But they didn't adopt you?”
Steve sighed. “No. But it's not...look, it's not because they didn't love me. They did. They do . But foster-to-adopt is...hard. I'm their son. But it didn't work out. Don't be sad, okay? Or blame them? Please?”
Bucky nodded. “Okay. I believe you, Steve, I promise.” He smiled. “My stepdad is really great.”
“ Good ,” Steve said, so hard Bucky shivered a little. “Sorry, but not actually sorry.”
This made Bucky laugh, and Steve remember that making Bucky laugh was one of his favorite things.
“Yeah, it's good,” Bucky agreed. “Oh, I'm still gay.”
“Ditto?” Steve grinned, settling into the sofa that was made for snuggling into. Gray velvet – he wasn't surprised. Bucky liked the good things in life, and even better, he deserved them. “I'm asexual, though, so I don't really date.”
Bucky gave him an odd look. “I thought that was aromantic?”
“Oh, it is,” Steve explained. “But it's such a meat market. Who'd want to date me but never have sex?”
Bucky got a funny smile on his face. “I don't seem to have any problem with that,” he said quietly.
“I. Wait. What?”
“I'm asexual too,” Bucky said patiently. “And also a slut, within the bounds of what makes me comfortable.”
“Yeah,” Steve said without thinking. “But you're hot.”
“Oh,” he said, after seeing the look Bucky gave him. “Ugh, fine, yes, I own a mirror. But still.”
Bucky shook his head. “Look. If you don't want to date, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that, sweetheart. But if you do...asexuality doesn't contraindicate that, y'know?”
Steve curled in a little on himself. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Hey, hey, hey. We're too old for me to scold you,” Bucky said, setting his drink aside and resting his hand on Steve's shoulder. “Just...letting you know, okay? At least, that's my intent.”
Steve smiled at him and nodded. “I get it. Thanks. I'm not surprised you're beating them off with a stick.”
Bucky laughed and squeezed Steve's shoulder and stretched out. “It's fun,” he agreed. “And I'm pretty hot.”
Steve grinned at that. Well, Bucky was hot. “Ugh, sorry, we did all the heavy stuff first. What d'you do now? For work, I mean.”
“Heavy stuff is important stuff,” Bucky argued. “I'm a writer, mostly. Teach some too.” He smiled shyly. “Also I guess technically I'm Dr. Barnes – got my Ph.D. But that's pretty new and it feels weird still.”
Steve blinked. “Holy shit that's so cool.”
“It's pretty cool,” Bucky admitted. “Teaching is okay. But I love writing. I don't have much published, but...yeah. I'm getting there.”
“Holy shit,” Steve said. “You were always the best in the grade at English. I'm so proud of you, Buck.”
“Aw. I'm proud of me, too.” He rested his head on Steve's shoulder, cozy in the lamplit room. “I'm proud of you too. You're a good man, y'know.”
“Thought I was a dumbass,” Steve heckled gently.
“I mean, that too. But mostly good.” Bucky smiled when Steve scritched his hair. “Did I thank you for helping me? When I fell?”
“You did,” Steve said quietly, slipping his arm around Bucky's shoulders. “Memory still fuzzy?”
“Mmmhmm. Around that, anyway.” Bucky snuggled a little closer. “This is nice.”
“Good,” Steve said, and squeezed Bucky's shoulder. “Are you okay? Really?”
“I'm okay, really,” Bucky promised him. “I mean, the whole broken ankle thing isn't much fun. And I wish I could remember the days I lost, that's kinda creepy. But there's no permanent damage done.”
“And that guy you had a date with will understand,” Steve pointed out. “The one you confused me for?”
Bucky groaned and put a hand to his forehead. “God, don't remind me, I'm sorry about that. Yeah, he understood, but we didn't much hit it off next coupla times we talked.”
“Back to the drawing board,” Steve said sympathetically.
Bucky made a gagging noise.
“Oh come on,” Steve said, face entirely straight. “You can suck dick better than that.”
“Oh for fuck's sake,” Bucky said, dissolving into laughter. “Great, great, you're still obscene, good to know.”
“Some things never change,” Steve said happily, while Bucky facepalmed.
Steve stayed a little longer, and they hung out like they always had. A bit of gossip, a bit of something deep, and a bit of whatever came into their heads. There were new things to talk about, now that Steve and Bucky didn't know every detail of the others' life. They were adults now and that changed things. But not very much.
Steve politely excused himself when Bucky started to yawn, even over Bucky's protests.
“You're tired, and honestly so I am – we can't all have the option to work from home,” he teased, and Bucky grumped but didn't resist. He was tired, and Steve did have work the next morning.
He insisted on getting up to see Steve to the door, arguing that it was good for him to move around a little.
“God, I forgot how...you, you were,” Steve said quietly at the door, and Bucky pulled him into a long hug.
“It was good seeing you again,” he said, and felt Steve nod against his shoulder.
“Call me if you need anything at all,” Steve said, and Bucky sighed and promised and finally got him out the door and into the night.
It did feel good to move around a little, so there Steven, and Bucky tidied up here and there, just little things that he could tackle easily before he went to bed.
Bucky brought a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with him, all prepared to be a bitchy academic about something, but got lost in the words, thinking about Steve. He was still beautiful, and queeny, and fierce. All the things that had driven Bucky insane and also made him follow the skinny kid around the schoolyard until it occurred to Steve that he had a friend now.
The fact that Sir Gawain was self-sacrificing and dedicated to chivalry far beyond the other knights, or what was good for his self-preservation, was not lost on Bucky. He had been fascinated by the story since the first time he'd come across it, and he was self-aware and had been through therapy and read a lot of Brene Brown, and so was honest enough with himself to know that there was a lot of Sir Gawain in Steve, and probably a lot of Steve in Bucky's fascination with Sir Gawain.
There were other things, too. But Steve had been his first taste of that drive, and he wouldn't ignore that.
And Steve was back in his life! Treat of treats, his Stevie was back, his number was in Bucky's phone and they'd cuddled on the sofa just like they always had, and they were friends just as close as they'd been the last time Bucky had hugged Steve goodbye before getting in the car and going off to a separate life.
They'd come back together, though, and that thought had Bucky smiling as he drifted off, for all that he was uncomfortable on his back and his leg hurt and he had to teach an class (blessedly, an online one) tomorrow. But he had Steve back.
I think all the tropes are covered in the tags, except for 'childhood friends, reunited'.
Also, the story of Sir Gawain is going to be a thread running through this whole story -- I hope, anyways. It was one of the things that got me into writing these two in just this way.
Chapter 3: The first appearance of Jewish Soul food, integral to the plot
There are...a nonzero number of references to Angels in America in this chapter. (Honestly, in the whole story.) You should be able to skip over them pretty easily, though.
(That said, oh my God, the fucking octopus aria. I need to see if that's on YouTube or something. It is a beautiful thing to witness, you guys.
WHEN NATHAN LANE SAID THE LA CAGE LINE YOU GUYS.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
[ a text conversation ]
Steve: Hey, so I've got off tomorrow – you wanna hang out? I can come over to yours, obvs.
Bucky: Oh, hell yeah! I'm not great for much, but we can order in & hang out.
Steve: You ok bud? You need me to pick anything up?
Bucky: No, that's ok. Might need a hug. I don't like having a broken ankle :(
Steve : Aw, Buck. How about two hugs?
Bucky : Well, now, I wouldn't want to get spoiled....
Steve: Shut yer gob. Two hugs it will be. MINIMUM.
Bucky: I have the Angels in America scripts, we can reenact the fucking prophet scene.
Bucky: You can even be Prior.
Steve grinned at his phone as he came off lunch break. Bucky still, instinctively, knew just where to get him. He'd have to be sure to dress in a long coat and a turban. Laughter was healing, right?
“You look very happy,” Abraham Erskine commented, smiling at Steve. “Some good news?”
“Sort of. I'm meeting up with a friend tomorrow, and looking forward to it,” Steve explained, showing Abraham the conversation. His boss may have been forty years older, but he was a mensch, and they were friends, and Steve was proud of that.
“Steven! You have a boyfriend and you didn't tell me!” Abraham scolded, clapping his hands in delight.
“Oh, uh, no. Bucky's a friend,” Steve explained, and gave him a very potted history of them.
Abraham looked skyward for some reason, and smiled kindly. “A friend, then, who is not a boyfriend. Of course. My mistake. But if he is hurt, you must bring him something – pick something out from the greenhouse. On the house.”
Steve protested a little, but finally let himself be ushered into the fragrant greenhouse, happily breathing in the humid air. He made a beeline for their cheapest houseplants, little ones in pretty plastic pots.
Bucky did not have a surplus of green stuff, so Steve and Abraham agreed on a jade pothos. “It will match his apartment, because it matches anything,” Abraham decided.
“And he'll have to work to kill it,” Steve agreed, and set it aside in a little bag to go home with him that night.
After he'd slept in a decent amount, made a detour to get bagels, lox and schmear, and basically frozen to death waiting for the bus, Steve made it to Bucky's.
Bucky met him at the door with a carefully-balanced hug. He was pretty sure that Steve was trying to subtly take most of Bucky's weight, and hugged him extra-tight for that before moving aside and crutching back over the new center of his universe, his sofa. At least it was comfortable, and long enough that he could stretch out for naps.
A sofa and naps were not, in Bucky's experience, the ideal centers of his universe.
“How are you?” Steve called from the kitchen, getting their brunch together.
“Eh,” Bucky tried to call back, and then gave up and waited for Steve to get out with the food. “I'm okay,” he picked up, and brightened when he saw the spread around a pretty little plant. “Oh, Steve, is that one you grew?”
Steve laughed and set the big platter down where they could both reach it. “Nah, they come from a nursery. But it's, um, for you. Abraham – my boss – said I should bring it. A little get-well gift.”
“Awwww.” Bucky carefully leaned over the lox sector of the platter and hugged Steve tightly. “You really are spoiling me.”
“Bucky, if bringing food and a plant over is spoiling, we have to talk about how you've let yourself be treated,” Steve said in a very serious voice.
Bucky was pretty sure he was kidding. After all, he was also dressed like an old-school drag queen, sparkly turban and all, although he did turn out to have jeans on under his long, gownlike coat. Not that Steve had ever needed an excuse to be dramatic. Bucky smiled at Steve and winked, and helped himself to a generously-topped bagel.
Steve actually shut up for the eating part of the morning, or at least the first wave of satisfying hunger. He'd made a fresh pot of coffee as well, and happily refilled both their cups as needed, until Bucky was pleasantly full and caffeine-warm and lightly buzzed from both of these things.
“So tell me of the outside world?” he asked wistfully, and sighed, tapping the edge of his cast. “Between the cold and the ice and the crutches, I don't really go out.”
“Oh, Buck,” Steve said. “That really does suck. Hopefully it'll warm up soon, and we can go out. Or you can come to the store anytime, just hang out in the greenhouse.”
“Thanks,” Bucky said, and meant it. “I will – once it gets a little better out.” He made a face. “You know, in March. A month reknown for being beautiful weather.”
“Hey, it must be beautiful somewhere,” Steve said, and shifted things around so he sat more closely next to Bucky. “Guessin' you still wanna collect on that hug?”
“Pretty much always,” Bucky said, and leaned in, letting himself melt into his friend's embrace. Steve was always the best hugger. “Oooooh, yes. That helps immensely.” He giggled when Steve accidentally cracked his spine, very audibly. “Oh, God, I'm not even kidding.”
“I'm not even surprised,” Steve sighed. “How many hours a day do you spend on a computer?”
Steve shook his head against Bucky's. “All that, and crutches, and your leg hurts still, I bet. Bucky, you're hopeless.”
“Uh huh,” Bucky said very happily. Steve was not letting go.
“You want me to rub your back?” Steve offered. “I can't do, like, a full massage, but it'll help you feel a little better at least.”
“You're an angel,” Bucky said, already feeling sort of fuzzy around the edges. How had he survived the last however many years, without his Sir Gawain?
Steve helped him onto his stomach, making sure his leg was propped up so his toes weren't squished, and fetching a bottle of lotion to help smooth things along. Bucky managed to get his own shirt off, and lay down, already sinking into the soft cushions.
“There we go,” Steve murmured, sweeping his hands across Bucky's back. He didn't press hard, or try to make it a real massage – the touching and the warmth and giving tired muscles the space to relax was the important part here.
“Feels amazing,” Bucky sighed, because it did. Steve gently pressed his shoulders down where they ought to be, and he felt days of struggling on crutches flee his body.
“Good,” Steve said, his voice as warm as his hands. “I did this for Mom, when she got sick. She said it helped.”
“I'm not even sick and it helps,” Bucky assured him. Oh, Stevie. Sarah had been awesome, and Bucky ached for his friend, but also thought it might be good to remind Steve that he wasn't going anywhere. “Oof, oh, damn.” This when Steve did...something... to the small of his back and Bucky was pretty sure his hips were now aligned. He hadn't even known he was tense there.
“Good,” Steve breathed, and Bucky gave him a little time and quiet to gather himself, come back to the present if he needed to.
“No,” Steve said, just a few moments later. Well, good, at least he wasn't losing himself, or remembering sad things too sharply. Bucky would have to end the massage to give him a hug and perform the fucking octopus aria, if such a thing should occur. “You're not sick,” Steve said warmly, and palmed Bucky's shoulders. “Jesus, you're fucking trade. When did you get butch, Bucky Barnes?”
“Oh my God,” Bucky muttered into his pillow. Steve was such a dork. “How old are you, Steven? Even the twinks have muscles today. Also, pot, the kettle called...” Where Bucky was a big guy, muscle and fat both, Steve was just pure muscle. His hips were about the size of Bucky's thigh, he would swear to it. Well, maybe a little bigger than that. But not by much.
“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said, and probably flexed, not that Bucky could see from where he was melting into the sofa. “You're still trade.”
“We're both trade, accept it,” Bucky mumbled, and moaned when something else in his back went pop and all his muscles released simultaneously. “Jesus.”
Steve cackled, because he was an asshole, and kept at it until Bucky was mostly asleep, warm to the bone, and finally, finally didn't hurt.
He made a little noise when Steve covered him with a blanket. “Don' go,” he said, voice a little more pathetic than he meant.
“Who said I was goin'?” Steve's head was right next to Bucky's, his breath warm on his cheek. “Just float there and enjoy it, Bucky. I'll be here.”
“Kay,” Bucky murmured, and although he didn't quite sleep – he could hear Steve moving around, getting a fresh cup of coffee, poring over Bucky's bookshelves – he felt heavy and relaxed, both wholly in his body and wonderfully distant from it. Well, from his ankle at least. Just a few more weeks, anyway, and then he and Steve could go out for brunch, and then maybe go to the botanical gardens, or Prospect Park, get out of the house and into the world.
Maybe he really did sleep; the next thing he knew he opened his eyes and Steve was sat beside the sofa, lost in a book. Bucky blinked and stretched. He felt...amazing. His body rested easy, and he felt light and good as he rolled up, moving just a little carefully. He propped his leg up on an ottoman, but hardly needed it.
Steve smiled up at him. “Better?”
“So much better,” Bucky said. “Thank you. I'm sorry. It's a bit rude to just fall asleep on you.”
Steve shrugged. Like he'd ever care about Bucky taking what he needed. “I like this. Can I borrow it?”
A little bit to his embarrassment, Bucky saw that it was his book – his translation of some early English myths, including a couple of the Arthurian stories. “Of course,” he said. “Borrow anything you like.” He grinned. “Please don't hate it, though. That was my Ph.D work.”
Steve laughed, and set the book aside. “I promise not to hate it. You like them, though? Those kinds of stories, all knights and chivalry?”
“Mmmhmm. I discovered them – well, re-discovered – when I did my Master's. The stories are...they're so much more than what we learned as kids, you know? The language. The traditions. The things they teach.” Bucky smiled and stroked Steve's hair back from his face. “Do me a favor? Tell me when you've read the story of Sir Gawain. I want to know what you think of that one especially.”
Steve leaned into the touch. “Promise. Hey, you need anything? Water, more coffee?”
Bucky groaned, and laughed. “No, I need to deal with the aftermath of coffee,” he teased, rising and settling on his crutches. “Go help yourself if you like, though.”
“Will do.” Steve grinned at him and headed to the kitchen. Of course he already knew where everything was and got his way around easy as anything. They always had slotted into each others' lives like that.
Bucky reckoned he was getting faster; he made it back to the sofa before Steve emerged from the kitchen. He propped his ankle up, but it didn't hurt the way it did even yesterday, and his toes weren't swollen anymore. He was still stuck in the cast a few more weeks, but it wasn't so bad, really. He got Stevie back, and his concussion wasn't too serious, and neither was the break in his ankle. It could have been worse, all of it.
Steve settled beside him on the sofa and Bucky twisted to pull him into a hug. “I missed you,” he said. “Did I tell you that already?”
Steve smiled and hugged him back, long and strong. “Yeah, but it's worth saying again. I missed you too, Buck.” He settled them both, neither man seeing any reason to pause the cuddling. “So what happened to you, between moving away and getting a doctorate?”
Bucky slipped his arms around Steve's waist and wriggled until he was absolutely, perfectly comfortable. “Not much, honestly. I told you I had a bunch of surgeries on my bad arm?”
Steve nodded and rested his hand for a moment on Bucky's left forearm, where it was draped over his stomach. “It looks like you can use it way more than even when we were kids,” he said.
“Mmmhmm. It's weaker than my right, and honestly mostly metal at this point, but I can use it, and I should be done with major surgeries.” Bucky wiggled his fingers, making a point to tickle. “Other than that...not much happened,” he admitted. “School. Being gay in school in the midwest, which was not awesome. I left home the day after I graduated high school.”
Steve's arms tightened like it was a reflex. “Good,” he said, and Bucky could feel him biting his tongue.
“Oh shit, you've grown as a person,” Bucky said, and did not regret in any way that this earned him a noogie. “College was awesome. College was really awesome for being gay at.” He smiled, eyes closing with memories. “Oberlin. Still the midwest but...different. Amazing. Eye-opening. I learned so much, and had so much wake up inside of me,” he said softly. “People I met, and loved, and who loved me. It was so good, Stevie.”
“Good,” Steve said warmly. “You always did pull people into your orbit. You can't help but love you, Bucky.”
Bucky hugged him tight. “I guess. But yeah, it was good. And, um. I did a year at Oxford, to get my Master's.”
“Of course you did, genius,” Steve said. “And doctorate?”
“Columbia. That's what got me back in New York,” Bucky admitted. “I just finished it last year.”
“Decided to stay?” Steve asked casually, like he was ever casual about anything. Bucky was never letting this man out of his life ever, ever again.
“Yeah. Oh yeah. I love it here,” he assured Steve. “It's home, y'know? It was my first home, and I want to live here forever.” He smiled. “You're smarter'n me, you knew to never leave.”
Steve laughed. “I left a little,” he protested. “Two years in Berlin.”
“What? That's awesome ,” Bucky crowed, sitting up. “Tell me everything!”
Steve smiled, a little shy, and ducked his head. “It wasn't anything special. I got invited to join an artist's collective. So I did.”
Bucky made a little noise of joy. “Oh my God, Stevie, that's amazing!”
Steve all but hid his face in Bucky's shoulder. “It was good,” he admitted. “Really, really good. I got pushed so hard. Did some graffiti. A lot of graffiti,” he added. “A lot of drag. Not like RuPaul, like art drag. It was awesome.” He smiled, eyes distant now. “The collective broke up about the time I was getting too homesick, but they were so good for me. Coupla them have come through New York, over the years.”
“Steve, I'm so happy for you,” Bucky said, and hugged him. “We did good for ourselves. Can't ask for more.”
“Truth,” Steve agreed, going easily into Bucky's arms.
Steve stayed a little longer, through a late lunch, the two of them talking of this and that. Bucky was still a huge pop science nerd, and Steve was happy to listen to him rave about this thing or that, especially since he could get another meal into Bucky, and make sure he was comfortable, didn't have to manage too much, and kept his foot up.
Finally, chores for Steve and a nap for Bucky called an end to their visit. He couldn't keep Bucky from getting up to see him out, but he was able to figure out how to arrange their bodies so he could give Bucky a long, full-body hug.
Bucky kissed his cheek, and straightened Steve's collar. “Talk to you soon?”
“Talk to you soon,” Steve promised, and kissed his cheek back. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Stevie.” Bucky smiled at him. A little thing like decades apart couldn't get him to stop loving his best friend. “You have a good week. Promise I'll come and visit if the sidewalks clear up.”
“Only if they clear up,” Steve said, and with a flourish of long coat, turned and headed for the bus stop.
Thank you for reading!
Of course, it snowed that night.
Bucky took one look at the fat flakes drifting down, and decided that God and everybody wanted him to stay in bed that day. With the help of a travel thermos and a backpack, he got coffee and a leftover bagel back to his room, and ate and drank, trying to enjoy how pretty the snow was. Up here in his apartment, he could ignore the fact that it was instantly turning to gross black stuff on the roads far below.
His phone went off, and Bucky did not need to be even a little bit psychic to know it was Steve.
Steve: You ok for food and stuff, babe? I can run out for you after work.
Bucky smiled and wrote back, assuring Steve that he had plenty of food, and was fine for a few days.
Steve: OK, but I am only letting this go on because I've seen your kitchen. Txt if you need anything, I'm working all week so I'm already in your neighborhood.
Bucky: I will, I promise! Gonna stay in bed with a good book. Hope work goes ok!
Steve sent him a thumbs-up emoji, and Bucky settled down with a fresh cup of coffee and a book, just like he'd promised. It...wasn't the worst thing? He had to do some research for a paper anyway, and his ankle didn't hurt at all. Neither did his back and shoulders, thanks to Steve. (And, he thought a little proudly, getting better at crutches.) And the snow was pretty, making the light gray as it drifted thick and lazy, and Bucky lost himself in his book, safe in his little cocoon above the city.
Steve had a date for a drink with Sam after work, and was a little grateful for their timing. He liked seeing Sam a lot, of course, but now he had someone new to gush about Bucky to. Abraham asked after him a fair amount, smiling kindly when Steve remembered some story from when they were kids. He did make a mistake about Steve and Bucky dating again, and Steve had started to worry a little, but otherwise his boss was sharp as a pin, and he was gracious when corrected. “Friends, of course,” he said, and stroked his beard. “I will be glad to meet your...friend...when the weather clears.”
The snow petered off by mid-afternoon. Steve had shoveled and salted religiously all day, of course, but none of the sidewalks were too bad, he was relieved to see. Maybe they'd get a warm spell, and Bucky could get out of his apartment for a bit. Or he could rent a wheelchair? That was a thing, right? He'd check, see if Bucky would like that.
Sam had beaten him to a table in the only bar left in the entire world that didn't play music too loud and attracted patrons who didn't need to communicate at top volume. Steve and his half-deafness sincerely loved it, and he greeted Sam with a hug and stealing one of his onion rings.
“Oh my God, dude, I've just had the wildest week,” he said. “Remember that guy who ate it in front of the shop?”
“The one you told to sue you?” Sam asked dryly. “Yes, I do. Did he do the sensible thing?”
“You're such an asshole,” Steve said fondly. “No, but guess what? We were best friends when we were kids! It was Bucky!”
Sam actually startled a little at this, and grinned. “Well, how about that. So he's definitely gonna sue you, then?”
Steve gave him a withering look. “What is your obsession with that?”
“I like to see you suffer for being dumb,” Sam said. “I keep hoping it teaches you something. But you guys reconnected, I guess?”
Steve nodded. “Uh huh. He recognized me and came by the shop and then I recognized him , and it was like no time had gone at all. We hung out the other day – it's kinda hard for him to leave the house right now but you'll meet him soon. You'll like him,” he said, stealing another onion ring. “He likes seeing me suffer too.”
“I'm sure I will like him,” Sam promised.
“Anyway, how was your week?” Steve asked. “Oh,” he said, as the waitress came by. “I'll have the cheeseburger and a side of onion rings. Thanks.”
After Sam ordered, Steve grinned at him. “See, I have some manners.”
“Hmm,” was all Sam said, before plunging into a monologue about the latest drama at work. Steve knew damn well that Sam dealt with a lot of actual pain at his job, so they both lived for the inconsequential stuff.
He tried to not gush too much about Bucky, but he just kept remembering something Bucky had said, or done, and it was all applicable, really, and Sam didn't seem too bothered by it. He smiled a little more every time Steve brought Bucky up, actually, and Steve vowed to have the two of them meet someday.
They parted ways at the end of the meal, hugging at the corner they had to split off, Sam to go one direction and Steve another to get home. “Hey,” Sam said. “I'm glad you found Bucky again.”
Steve laughed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Sorry if I talk about him a lot. Just. He's a good friend already.”
“Friend, of course.” Sam's smile grew. “I'll talk to you soon.”
Steve gave him another hug and kissed his cheek. “Talk to you soon. Text me if you need to vent for real, okay? I always got time for you.”
Sam looked honestly touched, and promised he would, and they headed off, each to their own home.
Steve lived up a couple flights of stairs, and was grateful his asthma was mostly abated. It would be a few weeks before Bucky could come visit – no one with even the slightest mobility impairment should have to deal with the narrow old servant's stairs that were the final flight up to Steve's little aerie. But he could start introducing Bucky around in accessible places, maybe meet Bucky's friends, and then eventually host a cocktail party or something once he was walking easily. Make people show off their best glamour, he decided, watering a couple of the plants he was trying to keep going, despite the less-than-direct light he got.
Bucky sent him a picture of a dumb-looking cat later that night, which Steve immensely enjoyed, and he responded with a picture of a really fat squirrel he'd seen in the Botanical Gardens. They texted back and forth for a little bit then, catching up on each others' day, until Steve begged off to go to sleep.
He smiled when Bucky wished him sweet dreams. What a nice guy. Steve plugged his phone in to charge, turned off his light, and dropped off.
In his own bed, not so very many miles away, Bucky smiled at his phone, pleased he had a friend back in his life. He'd told Nat the highlights the last time she'd come to check on him and make sure he was still basically in one piece, and was already daydreaming about having both of them over for brunch. He'd order in some blinis and put out tea with cherry preserves and they could have a good Generalized Old Country time. Maybe he'd track down some soda bread for Steve. Dreaming a little of traditional foods and friends around a table and maybe getting his plant a friend, Bucky dropped off easier than he had in the past few nights.
“The stars have truly aligned this day!” Bucky proclaimed as Steve let himself in. It was just a few days after Bucky had asked both him and Nat to brunch, and they were both suddenly free, after Bucky thought for a time it might have taken them months.
“My standing brunch date cancelled,” Steve admitted, and leaned over the sofa to hug Bucky hello and give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “No, don't you dare get up, I know where everything is in your kitchen now.”
Bucky got up, standing smoothly and following Steve into the kitchen because nobody was the boss of him, and anyway, he had been on crutches for weeks now and he was pretty good at them.
Steve sighed loudly and set him to chopping fruit. He'd been kind enough to stop by the grocery story with his list and Bucky's, and they would have a good spread for when Nat got there.
“You wouldn't love me if I wasn't a pain in the ass,” Bucky gloated, eating a slice of kiwi.
“I mean, we could experiment and try...” Steve grinned over his shoulder. He'd put on mascara and done his brows and was wearing a very pretty flowered blouse with his jeans, and felt damn good about himself.
“Nah, don't wanna chance it,” Bucky decided. “Here, I'm done with this, what else do you need?”
“Nothing, honest Buck.” Steve came over and kissed the top of his head. “Tell me all your sisterly gossip, I have decades to catch up.”
“Oh, Jesus, where to begin.” Bucky sighed, scrubbed his face, and tried to give a potted history of all of his sisters. The Barnes children had managed to all follow unusual paths. Bucky was pretty much the most boring one, when you came down to it.
He was only partly through – he hadn't even gotten to Winnie's stint at the Lusty Lady! – when they heard someone come in.
“In the kitchen!” Bucky yelled, and Steve rinsed one more dish and dried his hands, wanting to be at least minimally acceptable for Bucky's friend.
“Steve meet...oh. You know each other,” Bucky said dryly, as Nat shrieked and rushed into the kitchen, flinging herself into Steve's arms. Steve expertly dipped her, as they proclaimed their love to one another in Russian.
Steve righted her and they turned to grin at Bucky.
“So how long did you have this planned?” Bucky asked.
“What plan?” Steve said. “I'm as surprised as you.”
“Oh like a week,” Nat said, and smiled sweetly when they looked at her. “Bless. I'll just make the tea, okay? Bucky, I'm getting you a samovar for when I come over, at least until you can go to banya with me, this teapot business is untenable.”
Steve looked at Bucky and grinned. “I swear, I didn't know.”
“You just...do that, when Nat throws herself at you?” Bucky asked.
Steve shrugged. “Basically, I guess? It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Steve has excellent reflexes, unlike some people in this kitchen,” Nat said.
“Hey!” Steve and Bucky said in unison. Bucky was kidding, but Steve looked serious, and Bucky gave him a little kick. With the cast.
Steve gave him a grumpy little glare. “It was an accident, you have excellent reflexes,” he said, with what dignity he had, and went to get the cherry preserves out of the fridge.
Nat bumped him a little with her hip as she carried the teapot to the table, and all was forgiven, the three of them settling down to an Eastern European/Irish/Jewish festival of carbs and cheese.
Of course they had to trace their connections – Bucky's story was easy, Nat had lived down the hall from him when he first moved to New York City, the two of them sharing a floor in a converted brownstone. “We pretty much turned two apartments into one,” he admitted, and Steve hid a smile. “What! It worked.”
“No, no,” Steve said. “I believe you. I just...know both your décor styles. Um.”
Nat laughed. “Yeah, chrome minimalism meets over-the-top bohemian is an experience. We made it work.” She smiled so fondly at Bucky that Steve forgave everything. Their shared home must have been lovely, he decided, and was a little sad he'd missed that part of Bucky's life. Along with all the other parts he'd missed.
He watched his friend, the way Bucky smiled so easily as he ate, and noticed the crows-feet at the corners of his eyes. The softness of his body, and the way he sat at ease. He watched Bucky use his left arm as easily as his right, when before it had been not much more than a dead weight.
Steve wasn't dumb . He knew a crush when he had one, and of course he had a crush on Bucky, handsome and charming and so kind. It would fade back into friendship – it had to. Bucky hadn't shown any interested in Steve beyond being friends. Being close, very close, texting each other and snuggling when they had the chance, but of course they were both affectionate people. And they had so much time to make up for, the years they'd missed each other. Probably this was just a part of that. The urge for more, to kiss and make out and hold hands on the street – that should fade about the time they really could hold hands easily, Bucky's ankle completely healed.
Steve took these feeling, and put them on a shelf in his mind. It wouldn't do to feed his crush too much. So instead he got up to pull the cinnamon buns out of the oven and make sure everyone had enough to eat, and tell Bucky about how he and Nat knew each other.
It was kind of a winding tale, but Bucky finally worked out that Nat had dated someone in the artist's collective that Steve had lived with in Berlin. The guy hadn't been there then, but Nat had been in town and dropped by the shared house to visit and say hi, and one thing led to another until she and Steve wound up sitting on the roof sipping vodka and talking as the sun rose over the city. They had kept in touch ever since, up to a standing brunch date when they both wound up in the same place again.
Bucky wasn't particularly surprised – Steve was the kind of guy you met once and then attached yourself to for life, he reckoned. Nat worked her way into you slower, but just as surely, and you knew she was feeling you out just as you were getting used to her and uncovering all the ways you loved each other. But Steve – all that happened all at once.
Bucky smiled when Steve refilled his tea cup, and kissed his arm in thanks. His own fierce, loving Sir Gawain – they were so lucky to find each other again. Maybe it would have happened anyway, they had Nat in common after all, but Bucky wasn't sorry in the least if he had to eat it on a sidewalk and wind up on crutches for six weeks, if it meant he got his Stevie back. It was good to be the two of them again.
They sipped coffee and shared a joint, opening the kitchen window for as long as they could stand it in deference to not making Bucky go outside, where the sidewalks still had the last traces of ice and snow. It was an easy, sweet kind of Sunday brunch, and they agreed to do it all again soon.
Nat left first, and Steve walked her out to her Lyft, gentleman that he was. He found Bucky starting to clear the table when he got back to the apartment and pitched in, the two of them making short work of things.
“I should go too,” he said regretfully. “But this was wonderful. Thanks for playing host, sweetheart.”
“Thank you for being my grocery boy,” Bucky said, insisting on at least walking Steve to his apartment's front door – for his own value of walking, anyway. He balanced easily now as Steve gathered him in for a hug, the two of them just holding each other, warm with coffee and pot and good friends.
“Love you,” Steve said, and kissed his cheek. “Call if you need anything.”
“You tell me that every time you say goodbye,” Bucky said, warmly bemused. “I promise, I will. I love you too.”
Steve winked at him and let himself out and back onto the street. There was the tiniest breath of warm air – promise of spring coming. He couldn't wait.
What's that I spy? Some pining? OH YOU BETTER BELIEVE THERE'LL BE SOME PINING.
Sam is already pining for a pre-Bucky life of quiet and peace, for example.
Chapter 5: It was all a dream, and you were there, and you!
That breath turned into a breeze, turned into a warm spell that melted the last of the ice and hinted that spring might come back some day. By that Wednesday, the sidewalks were clear and dry, and the bladed winds of winter were long gone. It was sunny and sweet out, and Bucky was going to leave his house at last.
Bucky finished the e-mails he absolutely had to write, which took him nicely to lunch. He'd surprise Steve, he decided, although maybe it wasn't that much of a surprise when Steve basically constantly told him to come visit the shop as soon as it was warm enough. Well, now it was warm enough.
It was just a few short blocks, so he was only kind of sore and tired as he let himself in through the front door. Instead of Steve at the counter, though, there was an older man with salt-and-pepper hair and a kind mien.
“Oh, you must be Dr. Erskine,” Bucky said. “I'm so sorry, I thought I'd surprise Steve.”
Abraham's face lit up with a wide smile. “And you must be Dr. Barnes!” He laughed at his own joke, instantly charming Bucky. “Steven is out on a quick delivery, but please, you must join me for a cup of coffee until he gets back.”
Bucky tried to protest, and had his words waved away. “It is a slow day, and if it speeds up, I can hear the door,” Abraham insisted. (He also insisted on being Abraham, not Dr. Erskine.) “Please, it would be my pleasure to host you. Go get settled in the conservatory, and I'll be in shortly,” he urged.
Bucky did as he was told, sitting gratefully at a small wrought iron lace table set to one side, matching chairs near it. He didn't need to keep his leg up all the time anymore, but it did feel good to rest. The air was humid and smelled rich and warm, and he breathed in green smells happily, taking in the big, blowsy flowers and dramatic ferns that showed the space off to its Victorian best.
Abraham was only a few minutes longer, coming in with a tray that held a small silver coffeepot, mugs, and plenty of cream and sugar.
He asked after Bucky's health first, of course, and was pleased to hear that he was doing as well as could be expected, with no aftermath from the concussion at all. Bucky asked how he'd come to own the shop, and enjoyed the potted history he got. Abraham's family had come to America after the first world war and settled in the Jewish neighborhood, the mix of old and new. Abraham had been born in an old brownstone in New York, and Yiddish had been his first language. He bar mitzvahed at the synagogue he still attended, and had bought season tickets to the Yankees for, approximately, decades. Bucky felt a little like he'd come home himself, sitting with this kind older man.
Those first immigrants, Abraham's grandparents, had bought the shop and modeled it after the great cafes of Vienna, taking advantage of the conservatory and the surprising amount of space. The table and chairs were left over from those days; Abraham's father had seen how the neighborhood changed, and had liked flowers better, anyway.
“I cannot say I disagree with him,” Abraham admitted, and Bucky readily agreed as well. The shop was pretty magical, and seemed to do a brisk business – Abraham was pulled away twice while they drank coffee together, although both times it was for quick purchases. Quick, but beautiful; there was art in every inch of the place.
By the time Steve got back from his delivery, Bucky had been invited to join Abraham and his wife at their synagogue for Purim (or any other time he liked), and they were laughing and telling Yiddish jokes like old friends.
Bucky looked up and grinned when Steve's considerable body filled the doorway. “Sweetheart! Hey! Uh, surprise!”
Steve laughed and came over to kiss his cheek. “Welcome to the best-kept secret in the neighborhood. Want to come with me to get lunch? Unless you need me for anything?” he asked his boss.
Abraham waved him away. “Take him around the corner, to the Pho place,” he said. “Good for the bones.”
Steve shrugged. Sure, why not? It was also cheap and cheerful and tasted amazing. He politely helped Bucky up, happy to see him out and about. The dense greenery and a particularly radiant hibiscus complimented, well, all of him. Pale skin that Steve guessed would go olive in the sun still, dark hair, even Bucky's handsome sweater. Bucky laughed as both Abraham and Steve helped him into his coat, teasing them both about how flattered he was to have the attention, and Abraham startled all of them, possibly including himself, by winking at Bucky.
Steve thought maybe Abraham might calm down on the boyfriend-sorry-I-meant-your-friend comments, now that he'd had the full force of Bucky Barnes plopped right in front of him.
Abraham and Bucky bid each other a warm goodbye, and Steve lightly herded him out of the shop, watching the path before them, but all was clear and dry. There wasn't quite the smell of spring in the air – aside from the fact that you didn't really get nature-smells in most of New York – but it felt like the worst of winter was over as they made the short journey to the pho place together.
They attacked their bowls with proper vigor, Bucky adding enough hot sauce to make him go red and teary and very, very happy. The only downside to the place was that there was a loud background hum of everyone else getting their lunch. Bucky gave Steve a concerned look, and they...well, they tried for conversation? About the third time of Steve turning his better ear to Bucky and going 'say that again?', they both smiled, Bucky shrugged, and they ate in silence. The food was good enough to justify that, and anyway, they didn't need to fill the air with words every single time they were together. They texted pretty well every day and Steve saw Bucky at least once a week, and they were comfortable together in silence.
The loudest group left as they were finishing their soup and mostly sipping tea, but of course Steve simultaneously looked at his watch regretfully.
“Go back to work,” Bucky urged. “I'll slow you down. And I got this, okay?”
“Buck,” Steve protested, but quickly subsided. He'd get the next one. They'd even out over time. And he really didn't want to be late back to work...
“Go. Shoo. Don't you get my Purim invite cancelled,” Bucky said, making a little waving motion with his fingers, and Steve gave up and laughed.
“You just love me for my boss,” he said, and Bucky shrugged.
Steve leaned over to kiss him goodbye, and with the usual 'text me if you need anything', headed out to go back to work, pleased as punch that Bucky could finally get out and around a little bit. He had asked about renting a wheelchair, and Bucky hadn't been overly into it. “It wouldn't help with most places I want to go with you,” he pointed out sensibly. “And anyway, my last x-rays showed I get a walking boot soon. I can stick it out.”
Steve privately was of the belief that Bucky should not have to stick anything out, but it was Bucky's life and Bucky's broken ankle, so he only argued a little bit. For the principle of the matter. And he was pretty sure Bucky liked arguing back.
Still at their table, Bucky took advantage of not being at his place to linger. It was a little hard to people-watch from his high-up apartment, and he drank in the rhythm of moving the city always had at ground level. The restaurant emptied out, so he didn't feel so bad about having another cup of tea and savoring the memory of the conversation with Abraham. It sucked a little bit that he and Steve hadn't been able to talk much, but they could go someplace quieter next time. He still had to see Steve's apartment! And it had been good to be near him, to smile at each other. Steve was still apparently unaware of the purpose of a comb, and it was fascinating to watch how carefully he moved. He had got used to his big, strong body, Bucky reckoned, over the years.
Well, and he had changed too. Bucky used his left hand with ease now, except on the very worst days. He had been a skinny kid, and now decidedly was not a skinny adult, muscle and soft fat layering to make him into a pretty big guy, though his shoulders still weren't quite as broad as Steve's. He made up for it in thighs, Bucky figured.
They'd both always known they were gay, they'd both always loved each other and been best friends. Proof that some things never changed, and Bucky wondered if Steve had always known he was ace. It had taken Bucky time to discover such things, and settle into not feeling a little bit wrong all the time. He hoped Steve had always known, and also had had people who loved him without sex. Something to gently dig into; they were slowly but surely catching up on the years they'd missed.
Bucky paid up and headed home. He was forced to be a little bit slower than he would have anyway, and he kind of enjoyed it, drinking in the familiar world around him and soaking up being a part of the city before he went home again. Long walks weren't a thing he could do, and he ruefully figured it would be awhile even after he was technically walking again. Maybe by the end of the summer. Maybe he and Steve could go spend a weekend in the Catskills and go hiking.
Of course, other people could home along too, Bucky guessed. If they wanted.
His arms were shaking when he got home; crutching around his apartment was nothing like steady moving forward for blocks at a time, Bucky had learned, and he made a beeline for his sofa. At least his ankle didn't hurt; it itched a little now and then under the cast, but actual pain was far in the past. He lay down and put his leg up anyway, just in case, and rested until the trembling in his arms stopped at least.
Bucky's breathing slowed and eased right away, and he dozed, remembering that first day in the hospital. His leg had hurt even through the drugs, and his head ached and he was fuzzy and all wrong, and then Steve had showed up. What a complete meatball. He'd brought flowers and asked Bucky to sue him and hadn't recognized him at all. And he'd been so kind...
Bucky drifted off, still smiling.
“Shit! Steve!” Bucky knelt by his friend, who lay in the mud. A battle raged around them, and Bucky hefted a big round shield onto his left arm, holding it up and over them, because Steve was down.
“It's all right,” Steve panted, half-sitting up.
“No it isn't!” There was a gouge in the meat of Steve's thigh, slicing through the bright blue of his uniform. Bucky ripped the fabric the rest of the way, and groped for his belt. Tourniquet. Steve needed a tourniquet.
The hail of bullets was letting up, which was good because he needed both hands for this. He was strong and rangy, built like he was when he was twenty. Steve was a brick shithouse, and Bucky got his pant leg cut off and his belt around Steve's thigh, slowing the flow of blood.
“You know I'll be okay,” Steve complained. “You just want a look at my gams, doncha?”
“Yep. That's why I signed up for the Howlies. To admire your legs,” Bucky assured him. The blood was slowing. Steve was going to be okay. They were both alive.
Steve moved the shield to hide them, just for a moment. Bucky took his shot. One hand on Steve's warm, muscled leg, he leaned in for a kiss.
Bucky woke up and blinked at the ceiling, and licked his lips. “Oh,” he said, “ Oh . Shit. Well.” He licked his lips again, remembering the kiss. It was not the friends kind of kiss he and Steve exchanged now. He squeezed his hand on his own thigh, remembering the swell of muscle in Steve's leg, well-known and well-loved, familiar under Bucky's hands. He remembered fear and relief and love , bone-deep and complex.
“Oh,” he said. “Well then.”
He closed his eyes again, filing the dream away and marking the start of his absolutely raging crush on his best friend.
Chapter 6: The fountain's not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter
The chapter title and the line Steve quote "We won't die secret deaths anymore." are both from Angels in America.
CW: Discussion of Steve's mother's death. In this universe, she died from a systemic infection caused by AIDS. There's a passing reference to Bucky's abusive father.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Okay,” Sam said. “But for real. You know you have a crush on this dude, right?”
“Oh, completely,” Steve said. He paused to permit Sam time for an overly-dramatic reaction, and was not disappointed. “Samuel,” he sighed. “You know I'm not that bad.”
“I know that my lil queen is all grown up,” Sam said, wiping a faux tear away. “Why, when I met you...”
Steve sipped his drink with immense dignity. “Being unaware that I was clinically depressed and accepting that I have a crush are two very different things,” he said.
Sam grinned. “Sure, sure. You're so self-actualized! Steve, I'm proud of you.”
“You mean that,” Steve said, a little surprised, and let his hackles down. Slightly. “Going back to your original question, yes, I have a crush on Bucky Barnes.” He did not scrub his face with his hands, because he had a face full of makeup, but the overall thought was there. “It feels funny, Sam,” he said quietly. “I love him. He's my best friend. And it's not like I feel eros for anyone, but it's like...agape-plus?” he tried to explain. “The love of a friend, but...with add-ons?”
“I think that's a fair thing,” Sam said. “You love him, you love me. But he's the one you want to make out with?”
Steve held his hand up and wobbled it. “Yeah, broadly. It feels bigger than physical. Also, with respect, please don't compare this to how I feel about you. I love you too, Sam, and you're the friend who helped me through fire. I can intensely love two people at the same time, with different...flavors.”
Sam bowed his head a bit in acknowledgment. “Heard, and understood. I don't feel hurt or anything, by the way.”
“So what did you think of him?” Steve asked. Sam and Bucky had finally met over dinner just a few days before; rain and cold had kept Bucky mostly in, but spring weather burst through again, and they'd all met near Bucky's apartment.
Sam shrugged. “He's fine. I liked him. I don't quite see him with your starry eyes, but I'm not mad if he's the one you're going for.”
Steve made a face like sucking a lemon. “Oh, I don't think anything'll come from the crush.”
“Oh?” Sam asked, and bit down hard on a leading question. Steve wasn't a chatty Cathy, but he could usually fill a space with words. Also Sam was pretty sure this was about to be adorably pathetic.
“Oh,” Steve mimicked him, and winked. “I don't. Bucky's shown no romantic interest in me. He dates a lot, it sounds like. I'm sure he's got a line of guys waiting for him to get back on his feet. And I don't want to mess up a good thing.”
“Right,” Sam said, thinking of the long hug Steve and Bucky had shared when they saw each other, and the way they touched each other all through the meal, and the long hug goodbye and the kiss. They hadn't been so much 'flirting' as 'a pre-made married couple'. “Well,” Sam said, “don't completely rule it out.”
Steve smiled and shook his head. “It'll never happen. Bucky could do so much better than me, and he deserves it.”
Sam was so very, very sorely tempted to agree, but he was trying to be nicer and less weirdly toxic-masculinity-sarcastic, so he split the difference, shrugged, and changed the subject.
Steve let himself into Bucky's apartment – they'd exchanged keys the last time they met up, just to make things a little easier. Bucky was curled up on the sofa with a book, the spring sun making his hair glow, and Steve's heart gave a sweet little skip.
“Hey bud,” he said when Bucky looked up, and they grinned at each other. “Hold on, don't move, you look amazing,” Steve continued, and quickly took a few photos while Bucky laughed, but held still as requested.
“See?” Steve came over to kiss him hello and show him the photos, Bucky laughing in sunshine, sitting easily. Even his broken ankle was curled under him, though a little mindful of the hard cast.
“I see, I see. You look good too, sweetheart,” Bucky said, patting his back. “Thank you.”
Steve kissed the top of his head again, because he could. They were emotionally liberated queers, they could touch each other and have it mean friendship and kindness and a love that didn't need a label like dating , thank you very much.
He helped himself to a cup of coffee from the pot in the kitchen, and topped up Bucky's mug, coming back out and settling on the sofa next to his friend. Steve was pleased to note that the little pothos he and Abraham had given Bucky was thriving well on its shelf.
“You really do look good,” Steve said warmly, resting his hand on Bucky's cast for a moment. “How'd the last appointment go?”
“Good! She thinks I can get this off and get a boot next week,” Bucky said, and laughed when Steve whooped and dove in to hug him, careful of their coffees. “You dork.”
“I'm so happy,” Steve said, and Bucky laughed and hugged him tightly.
“I'm so happy too,” he said. “It'll be a little bit before I'm back to full strength, but yeah. The break healed well and she didn't see any problems. This'll all be over soon.”
Steve pulled back a little and smoothed Bucky's hair down, cupping his face in his giant ham hands. God, no wonder he and Bucky hadn't recognized each other at first – they'd grown up so different from their kid-selves.
Well. Different looking . Bucky had been sweet and perceptive and gentle as a child, too, Steve remembered.
“How about your head?” he asked gently. “You were pretty loopy there.”
Bucky smiled and leaned against one hand. “I'm fine . I promise, Stevie. I gotta be a little careful for the next few months still, but the effects faded and no one's found any problems since then.”
Steve nodded. “You be careful, then,” he ordered. “You ate it pretty hard.”
Bucky pulled him into a warm hug again. “Oh, honey. You saw it happen, didn't you?”
Steve nodded from his very safe, very happy place snuggled in Bucky's arms, face pressed against his neck. “It was really bad when it was just a random dude,” he mumbled. “It's worse when it's you.”
“Shhh.” Bucky hugged him tighter a moment, and kissed the top of his head. “It's all over,” he said. “I feel so good, sweetheart. And you were right there. Uh. Not that I remember it,” he admitted, and Steve giggled. “But I'm sure the me in the moment appreciated someone being nice to him.”
Steve hugged him tight, and reluctantly pulled away so they could drink their coffee. He...actually, he probably could spend the whole visit snuggled in Bucky's arms and it would be just fine. But it felt a little not quite ethically sound for him, and anyway, he kinda needed this cup of coffee.
So they settled next to each other and gossiped a bit, their friend circles slowly converging. Bucky had liked Sam well enough, and he wanted to introduce Steve to his friend Janet, and Steve had a great frenemy named Tony who Bucky would have to meet next time Tony was in town, and so on and so forth.
When the first wave of catching up started to recede, Bucky looked deep into his cup of coffee, his hands tight around the mug, and bit his lip. “Steve?” he asked quietly. “Can I ask you something kinda hard? And sad?”
“What is it, sweetheart?” Steve asked, every cell of his body lighting up in alarm at a nervous Bucky.
“Did your mom die of AIDS?” Bucky asked his cup of coffee. “My parents never gave me a good answer.”
Steve let out a huff of breath. “Oh, fuck. Yeah, she did, Buck. It's okay, you can ask about it.” He smiled sadly, bitterly. “We won't die secret deaths anymore.”
“I love her and I miss her and I'm pissed I wasn't told right when she died, or what she died from,” Bucky said sharply.
“Me too,” Steve said.
Bucky took a deep breath, and let it out slow. Anger was for his mother and the choices she'd made. Love and gentleness was for Steve.
“You won't hurt me if you gotta be angry,” Steve said, because either Steve was psychic or Bucky was not exactly inscrutable. “I was angry then. I'm still angry. About...everything.” Steve rubbed his eyes. “AZT bought us another year. If the ARV's had been available...”
“Oh, I have the requisite deep-burning rage,” Bucky assured him. “And if anyone fought an angel for more time, it was your mother. Or you. Oh, Steve, sorry...”
Steve laughed as he cried. “If I fuck up my eye makeup you gotta help me fix it.”
“I promise,” Bucky said, and wrapped his hand around Steve's. “I mean it, though.”
Steve laughed, and cried a little more, and held Bucky's hand tight. “What did your mom tell you?”
“Just that she was really sick, and she passed away,” Bucky said, holding back just as tight. “I know she hadn't looked good when I moved away. I mean,” he corrected, “she'd looked unwell. Your Ma always looked good.”
Steve laughed and wiped his eyes. “Uh huh.”
“I asked what she was sick with, and Mom just kind of...didn't answer.” Bucky made a sour face. “I was a lot older when I started to put two and two together. And I remembered meeting you out front of St. Vincent's once.”
Steve nodded. “Smart guy,” he said, and they smiled at each other, Bucky reaching out to wipe a stray tear off of Steve's cheekbone.
“I'm so, so sorry,” he said quietly. “May her memory be as a blessing.”
Steve sighed and leaned in for another hug. “She died okay,” he said quietly. “Not like some of the stories you've heard. There was an infection. It took her fast. She didn't hurt, at the end.”
“Thank you for telling me,” Bucky said. “I'm glad she didn't suffer. Poor love.” He kissed Steve's cheek. “You okay, baby?”
“Not exactly. But I will be. Thank you for asking, Buck. I didn't know you didn't know...”
Bucky smiled and hugged him. “Does she have a square on the quilt?”
“Uh huh. You wanna see?” At Bucky's nod Steve pushed away a little and got out his phone. It took a little hunting through albums, but he showed Bucky the huge square, with his mother's name and things she'd loved, stitched and painted and made beautiful by Steve and his mothers' friends.
“Oh, it's wonderful,” Bucky said, and blinked at the tears welling up. “Can you send me the photo?”
“Of course.” Steve kissed his cheek and e-mailed it to Bucky right then and there.
Bucky gave Steve a little hug. “Thank you. For...all of this. I'm sorry I made you cry.”
“I'm not,” Steve said, and grinned. “I don't mind, really Buck. I'd rather you knew for sure. And I meant it, when I pulled out Prior's words on you. She was never ashamed of it, and I was never ashamed of her. It shouldn't be a quiet death.”
Bucky nodded firmly, and sighed. “I wish there'd been a good way to get away from Dad, and stay in New York. I wish I could have been there.”
“Not if you had to stay with that man,” Steve said fiercely. “I missed you, Buck, don't get me wrong. But you had to get safe, you and your whole family. I'd give up anything, so you didn't get beat up anymore.”
Bucky's breath did a funny thing, and it was his turn to go into Steve's arms and get protected from the world for a minute. “Don't say stuff like that,” he finally said. “We know it doesn't work that way.”
“Still. But I won't say that to you again,” Steve said, not quite keeping the grumpy out of his voice.
Bucky didn't move from the hug. “I love you. And I'm safe now, and my arm's even better. And we're together again, so it all worked out.”
“Yeah,” Steve said softly. He really, really, really wanted to kiss Bucky. Kiss him a lot. Instead he closed his eyes and hugged his friend tight. “Everything's good again.”
No real added tropes, I just wanted to note that I have a lot of feelings about how the way Sam is often written, and how that compares to Belize in Angels, and how Belize is a white man's dream of Black Gay liberation.
“Hey, sorry I'm late, oh good, you two found each other,” Bucky said, puffing just a little as he came over to their table.
“Yeah, you got no excuse,” Steve said warmly, jumping up to simultaneously hug Bucky and help him to a chair.
“What he said,” Janet told him, just as cheerfully. Steve was quietly pleased when she hugged him for exactly as long as Steve had. He had given Bucky a totally normal hug that a friend would give a friend.
Bucky collected kisses from both Steve and Janet, and laughed when Steve poured him a glass of water. “You're going to spoil me.”
“Going to, pfft,” Janet said and rolled her eyes. She also nudged the plate of pretzel bites they'd gotten towards him.
“Well, I would hope so,” Steve sniffed, and he and Janet grinned at each other.
Bucky had texted them both descriptions of the other, when he figured out that it was going to take him longer to get to the restaurant than he'd thought, and they had found each other easily. That was a thing, when the shortest woman in the place was looking for the tallest man.
They'd introduced themselves and hit it off from the start as soon as they both figured out they worked in the arts – fashion for Janet, and Steve's array of skills from flowers to drag. He casually mentioned Paul Poiret, and they were off to the races, good friends in moments.
Bucky, who was definitely not liking this whole 'crutch slowly' rather than 'walk' thing, was immensely pleased with himself.
It was a surprisingly warm spring evening, and they ordered food and drinks, settling into comfortable conversation as Bucky caught his breath and rested a little.
“Not much longer?” Janet asked sympathetically.
“Tomorrow, if it all looks good on my x-ray,” Bucky said. “And not one moment too soon.”
Janet patted his hand. “Sucks,” she agreed. “But it'll be over soon.”
“Mmm. And I complain too much anyway,” Bucky pointed out cheerfully, while slapping a hand over Steve's mouth to prevent his contradiction.
Steve settled for a mighty glare, and licking Bucky's palm.
“I'm disappointed in you,” Bucky said, wiped his hand on his pant leg, and dug in as their food arrived.
“Are you seeing anyone now?” Janet asked, when dinner had made way for espressos and one last beer for her.
Bucky shook his head. “Not at the moment, why?”
“Ooooh, 'cause I have the perfect guy for you!” she sang out.
Steve studied his cup of coffee extremely intently. He didn't have the best poker face, and it was usually best to hide as much as possible. Perhaps he could make up a work emergency?
Bucky laughed, but it sounded overly polite, and Steve opted to put a hold on the flower shop being simultaneously on fire and flooding.
“You always do,” Bucky teased.
“He is, though, you'll love him!” Janet said. “He's an artist – mixed-media – and he's Ace too!”
Steve was a big guy, and not a violent one, but, well. He could definitely take out another artist.
“I'm sure he's great,” Bucky said gently, “but honest, Janet, I'm not into it right now.”
Steve's heart leapt. Bucky wasn't into dating. Not only did Steve have to worry any potential rivals, he was right to completely and utterly hide this crush from Bucky, who would clearly be uninterested. Revealing his feelings would harm their friendship. He was deeply pleased to have been proven right in this.
“You should set him up with Steve, they'd get along great!” Bucky said, and Janet turned her gaze upon Steve.
“Hrrblurh,” Steve said, and almost dropped his espresso cup.
“He's awesome boyfriend material,” Bucky said, continuing his pitch while Steve wilted under Janet's appraising look. “I mean, look at him! He's super-sweet, just the nicest guy. And he's an artist too, so they already have something in common.” He nodded firmly. “Also Ace. They're a perfect match.”
Janet tilted her head to one side, and Steve looked at her hopefully. He was wearing his hearing aides and maybe this guy hated disabled people. Did he smell funny? Maybe he smelled a little funny? He was deeply socially challenged. Anything .
“Mmm,” Janet said. “I'll ask him, but I think blonds aren't his type. No offense, Steve.”
“None taken,” Steve said, and took his first full breath in perhaps a little too long. “Can't blame people for that kinda thing.”
“Hmph,” Bucky said. “Here, Janet, I'll text you a really good picture of Stevie, and then you show the guy. He might not be into blonds, but Steve was made to be into.”
Janet blinked, looked between them, and smiled. Huh, that was kinda sweet – it was really similar to Abraham's smile. Funny that. “Oh, we'll see. I think he's, uh, pretty set in his ways.” She smiled wider. “What a good night it's been with you two. Bucky, you're such a sweetheart for coming this far.”
Steve was touched by how her voiced changed, how genuine it was. Not that Janet was faking before, but there was real love there, and Steve appreciated it. Everyone should be in love with Bucky, he reckoned.
“Aw, Jan.” Bucky leaned over and squished her into a little hug. “It was my pleasure, you know that. And I'm glad you two get on, we'll have to do this again.”
Steve had no trouble heartily agreeing with this – he really had liked Janet, and really had liked the evening, minus the Bucky-dating portion. (Or the fixing-Steve-up portion, for that matter.)
Bucky politely refused a Lyft, but finally agreed to let Steve walk him home in the warm evening. The sun had set, but it was still light, a sweet spring night coming down on them. They both hugged Janet goodbye, and set off slow, Bucky setting the pace.
They were most quiet, or talked of this and that, until Bucky quietly asked to sit down for a bit on a bench in a small park. Steve just about managed to not bodily pick him up and carry him over, just helped him sit and get comfortable.
“You wanna put your foot up?” he asked. “I make a good pillow.”
Bucky giggled and leaned into Steve, so of course Steve wrapped his arm around Bucky's shoulders. It was nighttime . It was chilly! And Bucky was only wearing a light jacket.
“No, this is perfect,” he assured Steve. “Just gotta give my arms a break.”
Steve nodded, and smiled when Bucky snuggled a little closer. “Chilly?”
“No, just like this,” Bucky said, and smiled up at Steve. “I'm glad you like Janet.”
“I really do,” Steve said, and meant it. “And, uh, who knows, maybe I'll have a date soon?”
Bucky's face flickered. “Oh, shit, yeah, I gotta send her a good photo of you.”
“Oh, jeez, just take something now,” Steve said, but Bucky shook his head.
“No, I have a really good one, from when you were over a few weeks ago. You caught the sun just right, you looked...beautiful,” he finally said, and smiled. “You want to date?”
Steve swallowed and licked his lips. 'Yeah – you,' wasn't a good answer. Besides, Bucky was taking a break from dating. He had enough to worry about, Steve guessed, his ankle healing up and all that. “Oh, I guess,” he said. “For the right guy.”
Bucky looked down, then back up a little too quickly. “Well, yeah,” he said. “The right guy always makes a difference.” He smiled and turned his head, nosing Steve's shoulder. “If you settle, I'll kick you. With the hard foot.”
Steve giggled and mussed up his hair. “You won't have a hard foot after tomorrow! Well, not as hard,” he amended, and Bucky made a pouty face.
“Hmph. I'll kick you anyway. You deserve the best, Steve.”
Steve smiled, and helped Bucky up, as he was ready to go again. “So does everyone, Bucky.”
“Well, you deserve it extra,” Bucky said, and they plunged back onto the sidewalk, caught up in the life of the city again.
Spring meant wedding season was gearing up which meant that Steve didn't have a whole lot of downtime at work. It was fun being busy, knowing the shop was making money and that he'd get a few more hours if he wanted them, but it also meant he didn't check his phone until he had closed up and clocked off and was ready to go home.
Cast is off!!!!!! Bucky had texted him, along with a photo of his very pale, somewhat grubby leg. Steve almost dropped his phone as he gave a little whoop, and went to text back, when, like he was in a fucking movie or something, he looked up and Bucky was right there.
He was still on crutches, and his bad ankle was in a boot from toes to knee, but he was standing on both legs and grinning fit to beat anything.
“Buck!” Steve laughed and pulled him into a huge hug. “Shit, I already set the alarm, or I'd buy you some flowers to celebrate.”
Bucky laughed, throwing his head back, clear and sweet, and he hugged back. “Don't you dare,” he said warmly. “I just wanted to surprise you. Wanna come back to mine? I got some cava and we can order takeout and celebrate.”
“Only if you let me treat. No, I mean it – this is our busy season and, uh, I get bonus pay and tips for deliveries and stuff,” Steve said. He very reluctantly let go so they could head back to Bucky's, and he admired how easily Bucky moved – still with a lot of his weight on the crutches, but he was walking too. And he looked so happy.
Bucky floated on air back to his place, where he carefully did not acknowledge that maybe he'd started by walking a hair too much on his leg, and after all his sofa was right there! And Steve was smart enough to not comment when he got them something to drink and settled down next to Bucky.
“So I guess everything is good?” he asked, and Bucky nodded.
“The broken bits are all healed up, I just have to get some strength back,” he said. “My x-rays look perfect, apparently.” He broke into a huge grin. “I probably won't even have the boot too long – I'm allowed to walk as much as I want as long as it doesn't hurt too much.”
Steve laughed and hugged him and sipped his cava. “I'm really happy for you, sweetheart. We'll have to celebrate good when you're out of the boot and off the crutches.”
Bucky nodded, settling very comfortably in place. “Totally,” he said with a happy sigh. “And hey, you.” He poked Steve a little. “How've you been? I promise I'm not normally this self-centered.”
“Bucky, you saw me last night,” Steve said. “I'm still fine.” He poked Bucky back. “I'll be busy for the next coupla weeks, so if I take a little bit to reply to a text or whatever, it's not you, it's the mother of the bride in front of me.”
“Oh man,” Bucky said sympathetically. “I hope it's not too stressful.”
Steve shrugged. “No more than usual. We have good customers. And, uh, Abraham has a policy where if someone is really rude or annoying, we give them a competitor's card and suggest they go there.”
Bucky burst out laughing. “Oh, glorious!”
“Pretty much,” Steve said, grinning. “It's really fun to do. And we have more business than we can handle, so it doesn't hurt us any.”
“Bliss.” Bucky stretched a little. “I've got two classes to teach this summer, and a journal article I want to work on, so I might be a little scarce too, sweetheart.”
“Ah,” Steve said, pretending his heart didn't sink at the very thought of seeing slightly less of Bucky. They'd be able to do so much when they could get together! Not that he didn't love hanging out at Bucky's place. But still. They'd have to make up for it, at the end of the summer. Really go on vacation together – he had friends with places on Fire Island, and he reckoned Bucky did too. “I can't wait to read the article,” he added, remembering his manners. (And also that Bucky was a genius.) “I loved your book.”
Bucky laughed and covered his face. “Steve! You don't have to lie to be polite.”
“I'm not lying!” Steve insisted. “I loved it, for real Buck. You're...really smart.” He groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Um. Let me try that again.”
Bucky giggled at him. “Uh. Thanks. I'm glad you liked it, really.”
“Oh my God yeah.” Steve gave up and just started waving his arms around, ridiculously excited. “Like, how it starts in Rome? They don't include that in kids' versions!” He pauses. “Mostly because it's totally weird and confusing.”
Bucky giggled, and it was only like 10% the cava. “As opposed to the magical green knight who is totally normal?”
“Well, yeah,” Steve said. “He is normal – it's a Christmas story, a fairytale nearly. Magic stuff is fine, it's the strange history lesson connecting Arthur to the classical heroes and the founding of Britain that's kinda left-field.” He looks down and rubs the back of his neck. “I mean, to galoots like me.”
“Hey, no,” Bucky said firmly, and wrapped his hand around Steve's chin. “Unh unh. If this makes you feel bad about yourself, we stop. You're not a galoot, Stevie. You're smart as fuck, okay?”
“Okay,” Steve said softly, and smiled. “Okay, but that was weird, right? Like compared to most of the Arthurian stories?”
“That was weird,” Bucky confirmed. “That's why I mostly ignored it.”
Steve grinned and messed up Bucky's hair to show him the error of his ways. “Ugh, fine, I'll find another critical analysis.”
“For real?” Bucky asked, and at Steve's nod started to get up.
“Don't you dare,” Steve said, beating him to it. “Tell me where to look. And figure out what you want for dinner, we should order soon.”
Bucky subsided, and even put his foot up, because he knew when to start behaving. “In my bedroom – the blue bookcase. Top shelf to the left, green spine, author Rambeau. You'll love it.”
Steve nodded and went on his mission and tried not to creep on Bucky's bedroom too much. The bed was big and messy, with a deep blue duvet and gray bedding, unremarkable and simple. Some framed medieval prints on the wall, and a brass rubbing. An old bureau had various things scattered on it, the little bits of Bucky's life, and of course a bookcase in the corner. Everything was comfortable and unremarkable and lovely.
Steve found his book quickly and went back out into the main room, filing the mental image of Bucky's bedroom away. It wasn't like he'd be spending time in there, and there were better things to wonder about, like how soon they'd get food to cut through the cava humming through his veins, and that Bucky thought he was smart, and also what did the Cheshire dialect the poem was written in sound like?
By the end of the night he was full of gourmet burger, and had had the deep pleasure of Bucky's low voice reading some of the original text to him. The poem had a rhythm like the subway train, and he caught words here and there, but mostly they sounded like flowing water, smooth and blending and nearly singing. That soft poetry followed him home, replacing the cava to bubble up inside of him. It was almost enough to distract him from how handsome Bucky had been, how his smile made Steve smile instinctively, how happy they were just hanging out and getting tipsy and being together.
NB: my source for most of my knowledge about the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight story is the excellent In Our Time episode on the topic.
“Aren't we being a little dramatic?” Nat asked. They'd pulled her up on video chat, since she was traveling for work. 'Somewhere in Asia', apparently, and no one had been dumb enough to ask for more details.
“No,” Sam said.
“Nat, you've been away, it's gotten worse,” Janet said.
“You're all being dramatic,” Abraham said. “But you're not wrong either.” Although not strictly part of their growing friend group, Sam had had a hunch and stopped by the flower shop on a day he knew Steve wasn't in, and Abraham had gleefully joined in their plans.
It had been a month since Steve had met Janet, and they'd all hung out together in various configurations. Always with Bucky and Steve together, and always the two of them insisting they were friends. And then privately admitting their raging crushes on each other. It had taken an embarrassing amount of time to both compare notes and find a time when everyone could get together for a planning brunch.
Sam kindly topped up everyone's coffee while Janet passed around a plate of rugelach that Abraham had brought. (He promised to make more when Nat was next in town.) Thus fed and caffeinated, they sat down to plan.
“Okay, but really do they want to date?” Nat pointed out. “Crushing and actual relationship are two things. I'm not saying they're not both complete blockheaded wimps, but the whole 'don't ruin my friendship' thing isn't wrong.”
“They are already married,” Abraham pointed out. “At least, that is how they behave with each other.”
“Agreed,” Sam said. “And we're not going to force them to date or anything. Just...provide extra encouragement.”
Janet nodded. “Okay. I'm good with that.” She sipped her coffee, musing. “I wish we could just lock them in a room together, but that's not that romantic I guess.”
Sam brightened at this. “It is if it's in the woods and there's a fireplace. My sister has a cabin in the Catskills we could probably shove them in for a weekend.”
Abraham grinned. “Oh, yes, that is perfect. My family – we would go to the resorts there every summer. I had my first girlfriends in the Catskills. It is a very beautiful place, even now.”
Janet lit up at his words. “Oh, they always sounded awesome, but the resorts were closed down by the time my family could afford to go,” she breathed.
“By the time you were born,” Abraham teased her, and Janet grinned.
“Pretty much. But you're right, they're beautiful, and it's easy to fall in love there. And Bucky's been itching to get away and spend some time out of the city, specially now that his ankle's all healed up,” she reported in, pleased to have intel to share.
Abraham nodded. “Good. Steven doesn't take enough time off as it is – hopefully this will be a good influence on him. We're very busy through June,” he explained apologetically. “I truly do need his help. But after that, I will encourage him to take a week with Bucky?”
“Bucky's not teaching classes in July,” Nat reported. “He can easily take a week off then. He'll pretend to write from the cabin, I guess. Start with him – he'll want to go and he can convince Steve to go too.”
Sam grinned widely. “I'll get in touch with my sister. A week in July should be fine – they're not up there all summer or anything like that.”
“And we only have to make it another two months before they're forced to come to their senses,” Abraham sighed in relief.
“Hey sweetheart, you sure you're up for this?” Steve asked. He'd met Bucky at his front door with a big, warm hug, and they were about to tackle the stairs up to his apartment for the first time.
Bucky laughed and hugged him back. “Oh my God, you're so dramatic. Of course I am. And if I get tired you can give me a piggyback ride the rest of the way up.”
Steve's eyes lit up, and Bucky sighed.
“Look, let me do one flight for my own sense of pride?” he asked.
Steve grinned like it was his birthday come early, and Bucky sighed even more loudly. He'd taken the bus over, which had been a questionable choice, but he was pretty proud of surviving public transit on crutches. Being able to put weight on his foot helped a fair amount, and it meant he made it up to the first landing relatively comfortably.
Steve was basically dancing in place when Bucky laughed and rested his crutches against the wall. “You're the one that has to run down and get these for me,” he pointed out.
“Uh huh, uh huh, c'mon, it's my turn to be the butch strong one,” Steve said, turning and crouching down so Bucky could clamber onto his back. For once. Finally. It had constantly been the other way 'round when they were little, and at last Steve was getting his due.
“Steven, we were seven, and even then I wasn't butch,” Bucky pointed out as he snuggled against his friend's back. Steve stood up fully, his hands under Bucky's thighs, and Bucky's arms looped around his shoulders.
“Hey,” Bucky said softly. “I'm not skinny. This okay? I can keep going if it isn't.”
Steve dug his fingers into the meat of Bucky's thigh, making him yelp a little. “You're fine,” he said. “Honest, Bucky.” He gave a little squeeze and headed up to his little apartment while Bucky hung on and giggled and enjoyed the ride. It felt really, really good to be so close to Steve, and getting the piggyback ride was fun.
Steve got them into his apartment and gently deposited Bucky on the sofa, promising to be right back with his crutches.
Bucky took the few minutes alone to catch his breath, file that away in his absolute best memories, and take in his best friend's apartment. Sure, bits and pieces had appeared in photos Steve had sent him or whatever, but it wasn't the same, and he was sincerely happy that he could finally make it here.
The apartment was sunny, the top floor of a brownstone that actually got some light despite the other buildings. A straggly tree could just be seen from his spot on the sofa. It was a studio, and Steve's bed was in one corner, half-hidden by bookcases, messy and unmade and incredibly comfortable-looking. The rest of the space was a kind of tidy chaos; the floors were clear and everything was clean, but every surface was covered in books or canvases, paints or pencils, fabric and trim everywhere. Plants filled in the few spots, including a veritable forest hung around and over the bed.A glorious curly aqua-colored wig had pride of place atop a bookshelf, and the walls were covered in art. There wasn't room for much more than the sofa, a coffee table, a very tiny desk and a easel, and Bucky loved it immediately.
Steve didn't take long, letting himself in and setting Bucky's crutches down within arms-reach before plopping down beside him.
“Your place is amazing,” Bucky immediately said, because it was. It was riotous and colorful and chaotic, and perfectly Steve.
“Aw, it's okay, but thanks,” Steve said. “It's pretty small, but I like it.”
“It's gorgeous,” Bucky assured him. “You really make the space work.” He grinned, and held out his arms. “Thanks for the ride up.”
Steve laughed and went in for an extended hug, very happy to let Bucky cuddle him close. “My pleasure. How you doing anyway?” he asked, touching Bucky's knee.
“Honestly, I'm fine,” Bucky assured him. “Still have some strength to build up obviously, but everything looks good. I shouldn't have any lingering problems or anything.”
“That's really good to hear,” Steve said, and kissed Bucky's left shoulder. “You deserve an easy healing.”
“Oh, honey.” Bucky hugged him tightly. “This is like the exact opposite of that.”
“Hmph,” Steve said. “Oh, before I get too comfy, you want anything? Janet just dropped off some kombucha her housemate made, it's really good.”
“Oooh, yes please?” Bucky requested, and settled himself a little more comfortably while Steve was getting them glasses. They didn't exactly owe each other, ever, but Bucky figured he would be really glad to, someday, let Steve relax on the sofa while Bucky fetched whatever.
He could be a good guest, at least, and they shared a few tokes from Bucky's vape pen. Steve opened the big windows up and the late spring filtered into the room, everything made bright and sweet from the kombucha and the pot and the being together, Bucky finally well enough to make it over to Steve's and up to his apartment.
Steve returned to cuddle in Bucky's lap, lounging happily, head resting on Bucky's soft belly. “How's Janet doing?” Bucky asked. “Oh, and did she ever hook you up with that guy you found?”
“She's good! I think we're gonna try to collaborate on some fabric design or something,” Steve reported, and laughed when this earned him a proud little squeeze. “And I don't know? I didn't ask, but I haven't heard from him.”
Bucky snorted in disgust at this human being who got Steve basically delivered to him with a bow on, who didn't take shameless advantage. Bucky would never be so dumb.
Steve just laughed. “Calm down,” he teased. “Maybe I really wasn't his type.”
“Steven, you are a Universal Type and you know it,” Bucky said testily, just to make Steve laugh even more.
“One, James, there aren't UT's anymore, Alan Helms is the last of them, bless him,” Steve said. “And two, you know very well I'm way too femme queen to be a UT anyways.”
Bucky narrowed his eyes and grunted, and Steve laughed harder in his lap, because G-d presumably wanted to punish Bucky a little more, by putting his gorgeous best friend/crush object right in his path, single and cute and charming as fuck. Bucky sort of wanted to kick the guy who didn't even give Steve a chance, but also – now he didn't have to share Steve and Steve's time with anyone .
“What about you, Buck?” Steve asked. “You're doin' so much better – time to go back on the market?”
Bucky shrugged. Maybe he should. The best cure for an unrequited crush was to actually get in a relationship? “Enh. I'll see what comes my way.” He smiled down at Steve and wove their fingers together. “It won't kill me to be single for a little bit, and it's not like I miss sex?”
Steve smiled up at him, eyes closing in pleasure, not unlike having a very big, blond cat in his lap. “Heh, true. That helps a lot.”
“How long's it been since you dated, honey?” Bucky asked. They'd always been pretty physical, but Steve gave off a little air of being touch-starved. Well, he had until Bucky came along and set that to rights, anyway.
“Mmm, year or two?” Steve shrugged. “I'm kinda picky, and I think I haven't had your luck at finding people who are good with the Ace thing.”
“I'm sorry,” Bucky said, and meant it. “It's not anybody's fault, but it sucks.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “And I'm pretty monogamous. It's a lot to ask from someone who's allosexual.”
“Have you ever dated anyone Ace?” Bucky asked, and Steve shook his head.
“Not for lack of trying – but there are fewer of us than there are of them,” he pointed out.
“True.” Bucky gently freed his hand so he could pet Steve's hair and scritch his head. He sipped a little more kombucha, feeling buzzy and content. He could maybe never want more than to sit in Steve's apartment, full of life and art, his best friend splayed on his lap. “Did you always know? That you were Ace?”
“No,” Steve said. “It took awhile. I don't absolutely hate sex, so I kind just went along for awhile.” He blushed. “It took me a long time to figure out that my whole 'well, if I never had sex again, that would be kind of a relief' thing meant I was ace.”
Bucky traced a fingertip around Steve's ear. “Oh man, yeah. It's hard to get to that point.”
“What about you?” Steve asked.
“I think I always knew,” Bucky said softly. “I'm still a virgin, I ever tell you that?”
Steve smiled up at him, and reached up to touch Bucky's chest, right over his heart. “You didn't, honey. Sex-repulsed?”
“Uh huh. You ever need a unicorn caught, I'm your guy,” Bucky bragged, and Steve giggled.
Bucky moved his hand to rest on top of Steve's, and smiled down at his best friend. “So yeah, I kinda always knew.”
“Was it hard for you?” Steve asked.
Bucky shrugged. “It was harder being gay? College made being Ace easier too – I highly recommend a liberal arts college full of hippies, by the way, excellent for the soul. It took a little while, but it was kinda...not on the list of hard things I've had to deal with?”
Steve nodded and sat up, face deadly serious. “Long as you know now that there's nothing wrong with any part of you. And that you deserve to be safe and loved and happy.”
Bucky swallowed hard. “I know. I always knew, even with Dad...” He and Steve were suddenly hugging each other hard, and Bucky buried his face in Steve's shoulder for a moment.
“Li'l too serious?” Steve murmured, and Bucky smiled into his skin.
“Maybe. But we needed to say it all.” He pulled back and gave Steve his best smile. “Hey, it's a good day. A really good day. Talk me through the art on your walls? And tell me the story of that wig, please?”
Steve brightened at this, and jumped up to refresh their glasses, and brag about all his friends and their art and that time he'd been in the Coney Island mermaid parade.
The resorts Abraham mentions are the Borscht Belt of the Catskills, and they are fascinating.
I guess 'friends plotting to get you together' is a trope?
Also, I hope it is clear from this story that frankly Abraham Erskine is my favorite character in it :P
Chapter 9: and there was ONLY ONE BED
UGH jesus fiiiiinally
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Not Quite Two Months Later
All the pieces fell into place, as quiet and easy as could be.
Sam casually mentioned to Steve that his sister had a place in the Catskills and hey did Steve ever wanna use it? It was pretty basic, couple of beds, a small kitchen, fireplace, all of that, but it was near a small, cute, Catskills town and plenty of woods.
Steve filed it away as a nice favor.
Nat happened to mention the old Catskills resorts a week later, how Steve should ask Abraham for stories about them – they were a neat part of American Jewish life no one really knew about anymore.
Steve did not stop to ponder how Nat knew his boss, it was a very Nat thing to happen.
(The cabal, as they called themselves now, had discussed Janet bringing it up but thought that might be suspicious.)
Bucky had lit up at the sound of a place in the woods. He was more than up for short, easy trails. Maybe long, easy trails even; his ankle had been healed for weeks by then. Steve narrowed his eyes, and there was some fear the jig was up, but it turned out he was just worried about Bucky overexerting himself.
(“You spent our childhoods overexerting yourself and all I did was encourage you,” Bucky said. “Or do I have to start asking you where your inhaler is every twenty minutes like our moms had to?”
“That was different,” Steve said, with immense dignity. “Also, it's in my messenger bag and I hardly need it anymore.”)
Finally, the great engine of 'get them actually together' turned over and things began to move. Steve asked Bucky about weeks he was free in July, then asked Sam for weeks he could go up to his sister's cabin, and finally, shyly, asked Abraham for a week off, which was of course happily granted. They settled on mid-July, a kind of late birthday party for Steve. He politely asked around if some other people wanted to join them, even for a day or two, but everyone else was busy with one thing or another. So Steve shrugged, rented a car for the week, and he and Bucky made the short drive up on a lovely Friday morning in the depths of summer.
“Holy shit, I think it's ten degrees cooler here,” Bucky said as they pulled into the parking lot of the nearest grocery store.
“Easily,” Steve agreed. He still wasn't sure about not-city, but it was cooler and easier to breathe, and he had a whole week of not working. The wedding season had been crazy, and he was quietly kind of pleased that Bucky could make it; they had a lot of hanging out together to catch up on. Steve had even packed a bunch of puzzles for them, and Sam had promised his sister had good taste in board games. They were gonna be old men in the woods with plenty of good food and drink, and they were gonna love it.
They picked up some groceries to supplement what they'd packed, and headed out again, following smaller roads through beautiful countryside to the little patch of woods that would be theirs for seven days. Bucky had cautiously let Steve drive, and had started out correctly terrified, but even twisty old roads and the general not-in-the-city-ness had convinced him to slow down, . Steve tried not to preen as they successfully did not die from his driving as apparently Bucky had feared.
The cabin was small and pretty, and Steve unlocked the front door while Bucky grabbed the first round of luggage. He opened it up to a neat living room, outfitted with comfortable, worn furniture. There was a kitchen off to one side, and a tiny bathroom next to it. Absolutely everything was wood-paneled.
“Oh my God, this is so retro. It's not even retro on purpose, just someone bought it in 1970 and said 'yup, we're good',” Bucky exclaimed, dropping his bag and Steve's just inside the front door. “I love it. I love every inch of it.”
Steve laughed and they explored a little. The door off to their right led to a small bedroom almost wholly taken up by a bed. What they thought might be a second bedroom proved to just be a closet, though, full of extra linens and things.
“Oh,” Steve said. “I'm sorry, Buck, Sam said they have an extra bed set up, but I guess not. I'll take the sofa.”
Bucky snorted. “The hell you will, that thing will destroy your back.” He peeked in the bedroom again. “That's at least a Queen, plenty of room for us to share.” He grinned and elbowed Steve. “We can even top and tail it, if you fear for your delicate reputation.”
Steve elbowed him back. “Oh, fuck off, you just wanna be able to kick me in the head. Of course we can share the bed.”
Bucky grinned and turned back to finish unloading the car and plan how to high-kick Steve in the head. In his sleep.
They had a happy, quiet day, that first day there. Unloading and unpacking for their week ahead, and then exploring the cabin and the land around it. Both were fairly unremarkable, but cozy and beautiful, and Bucky found a trailhead just a short walk down the driveway. They followed it a little bit, but soon turned back and headed back to the house, deciding to leave a hike for another day. It was deliciously cool in the woods, and not exactly quiet (the birds and wind and squirrels saw to that), but free of traffic sounds, or the sounds of any other people, really.
The two of them set themselves up on the front porch in giant Adirondack chairs, with beer and snacks and a view. Bucky cheerfully put his feet up on Steve's lap, and Steve just a cheerfully pretended to be annoyed by it.
He sipped his beer and rested his other hand across Bucky's feet, comfortable and easy. Bucky's ankle had long healed by now, though he limped a little when rain was coming; Steve was pleased to find no puffiness or swelling, just matching fine bone structure, strong legs, a nice feeling of connection.
He was really gonna have to do something about this crush one of these days. But not while they were on vacation.
The rest of the day was happy and peaceful, the two of them hanging out at the cabin and enjoying the view. Steve, unbelievably happy to not be run off his feet and surrounded by floral arrangements, took a mid-afternoon nap. Bucky even read something for fun rather than work, and they cooked dinner on the little grill out back, both of them somehow with stronger appetites just from being out of the city and in this lovely place.
The bed turned out to be plenty big enough for both of them, and Steve only halfheartedly shoved his feet on Bucky's calves.
“Oh my God, that doesn't even work in summer,” Bucky pointed out, catching Steve's foot between his legs. “And you don't run so cold anymore, I bet it wouldn't work in winter.”
“It's the principle of the matter,” Steve said loftily. “If it was good enough for us when we were seven...”
“Yeah, yeah.” They'd shared a bed then too at sleepovers; always at Steve's of course. Bucky felt a little pang at the memory, and how much safety he'd owed Steve and Sarah.
“You okay?” Steve murmured, and Bucky went into his arms for a little hug, that turned into a little cuddle.
“Uh huh. Just remembering the last time we did this,” he said, and smiled. “Your breathing won't keep me up all night anymore.”
“I'm pleased I can give you that gift,” Steve said dryly, and Bucky laughed.
“Oh, shut up. You know I'm so happy you're doing okay. Better than okay.” Bucky hugged him tight. “I don't think you got a single cold this winter.”
Steve smiled and rubbed Bucky's back. “I know, sweetheart. I did get a cold, before we found each other again. But yeah. We're both doing so much better.”
Bucky smiled so hard it made his face ache a little. He meant to give Steve a little space, but fell asleep before he could un-cuddle.
Bucky woke up to sunlight streaming into the room past the curtains, lighting the whole room up gold. He was still in Steve's arms, head resting on Steve's chest, and he instinctively snuggled a little closer. This was heaven, the two of them sharing body heat under the old comforter, nothing but a week of rest and fun ahead of them. Bucky's whole body was at ease, any ghosts of the past well-chased-away.
He tilted his head up to look at Steve, and caught his breath. The sun was always extra-kind to Steve, and he was soft and sweet and golden in the morning light, long lashes against his cheek, easy and asleep.
“Oh,” Bucky said, as he got it. “Oh. This was a set-up.” It was all so obvious, every part of it!
He was almost angry it had worked .
Bucky poked Steve in the side to get him to wake up, he had to share this new discovery. It was absolutely vital. They could sleep in another day.
“Huh? Ungh. Bucky? Everything okay?” Steve rubbed his eyes and blinked at Bucky, kind of nearsighted and precious.
“Steve.” Bucky aimed for Steve's better ear. “Steve, we're in love.”
Bucky sat up and pulled Steve up with him. “We're. In. Love,” he repeated. “You and me. Isn't it obvious?”
Steve blinked as the full force of Bucky's words finally penetrated. “Oh, shit,” he said. “We are .”
Bucky laughed and pulled Steve into a hug, making sure he was on the side where Steve had a chance of hearing him. “I love you,” he said. “I love you, Stevie.” He gasped a little; Steve's arms around him were so tight it almost hurt. “I can't breathe.”
“Sorry.” Steve loosened his grip a hair. “Buck, I love you too. I can't...oh shit, we're so dumb.”
“We are dumb.” Bucky laughed and pressed a long kiss to Steve's neck, just below his ear. “We were also set up.”
“What? No, wait, hang on, I wanna hear you. And see you.” Steve grinned and kissed Bucky way too quickly, before taking care of hearing aides and glasses. “Okay, that's better,” he said, leaning in for a longer kiss.
Bucky slid his arms around Steve and laid them down together, breathing together, their bodies aligned. Steve's arms wrapped around him and held him easily as they just kissed. Of course they'd kissed each other before, but not like this .
“What do you mean, we were set up?” Steve asked, grinning up at Bucky when they finally took a break.
“Ugh, all of this.” Bucky waved around them. “Doesn't it seem very convenient that someone has a cabin with only one bed? And it's free on a week when both of us but no one else we know can take a vacation? And Abraham gave you the week off without even thinking twice, and we were promised two beds, and all of that?”
Steve blinked. “Oh my God, we were set up.” He grinned shyly. “I think this is my fault. I was, uh. Pretty open about having a crush on you. To everyone.”
“Everyone but me,” Bucky pointed out, crossing his arms in mock-annoyance. “Steven Rogers, did you moon over me? In front of people?”
“Maybe,” Steve said, and he at least had the grace to look kind of embarrassed.
“You're paying for the fruit basket we have to send everyone,” Bucky decided. “At least I had the good grace to keep my crush to myself.”
Steve smiled shyly. “You got a crush on me?”
“Yeah,” Bucky said, and leaned in to kiss him, soft and sweet. “I think I do.”
Steve cupped Bucky's face in one hand, thumb smoothing over the point of his cheekbone. “Honey, I hate to tell you this, but you're not real subtle. I think people guessed.”
“Yeah, but you didn't,” Bucky said, and touched their foreheads together. “Steve.”
“I know,” Steve murmured, and he pulled Bucky close again, the two of them tangling arms and legs, lying down together. Bucky pressed a soft kiss to Steve's throat, then his jawline, while Steve slipped a hand under his shirt to rub his back in long, slow sweeps.
“We should talk about what we want,” Steve mumbled.
“At some point,” Bucky agreed. “Also, coffee.”
Steve laughed and both their bodies shook from it. “Also coffee.”
Bucky took one last kiss, long and sweet, and finally pulled away. “Stay in bed,” he said. “Enjoy the morning. I'll bring us coffee and muffins.” He wanted to do for Steve. Not just in thanks for the months that Steve had patiently come to him, brought him stuff, done things around his apartment that he couldn't, but also just because he could. Because it was all okay now. They had loved each other before, but now the tenor had changed, and Bucky felt a burst of relief in his chest. No more checking his heart; he got to kiss Steve as often as he wanted, and have it mean even more than it had when they were friends.
Bucky loved the feel of the world that morning. Wood floors warm under his feet, and sunshine filtering in. Kettle on the stove and putting muffins in the oven to warm slightly, then onto a pretty plate. The plate was acid blues and greens, and he even loved that. There was room for two steaming mugs, of course, and he brought the whole thing to Steve, setting it on his bedside table and crawling onto the bed, kneeling on his guy's legs to kiss him again before breakfast.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Steve said, passing over coffee and muffin. “You spoil me.”
“Oh, Steven. Innocent baby angel Steven. You have not even begun to be spoiled,” Bucky said. “The full force of a Bucky Barnes courtship is not for the faint of heart. Do you think you can take it?”
“And people say I'm the dramatic queen,” Steve mused over his coffee.
Bucky smirked, because he knew he was right. But that was all later – now he could stretch out and enjoy the morning, and enjoy being shamelessly set up, because he had Steve right next to him. They were going to go on a hike today, something appropriate for city boys (and Steve's completely unfounded worries over Bucky's ankle), and read in the sunshine and probably kiss a whole, whole lot.
They spent most of the morning in bed that first day, nursing coffees and snuggling in the green light of the forest. “Oh God,” Bucky said at one point. “We have to thank everyone.”
“Later,” Steve said, from where he had pillowed his head on Bucky's chest, one hand rubbing his tummy. “I'm busy.”
Bucky giggled. “There's a lot of me to be busy with,” he noted.
“I know,” Steve said, very happily. “I love it.” He hugged his squishy lover tightly, and went back to exploring how soft and easy Bucky was, the way fat layered over muscle that hid, just a little, how strong he was.
Bucky just smiled, and stroked Steve's hair, and indulged them both.
The hike was a success, in the sense that they both not only survived nature, but enjoyed it. They held hands and took pictures of each other near trees and breathed in clean air, and the wet green smell of summer woodlands. It was fun, they decided together, although Bucky perhaps quietly longed for a smoothie shop or something on the way home.
He had started to limp just the slightest bit as the house came into view, and patiently suffered being sat down on the front porch while Steve went in to get post-walk beers for them. He continued to patiently suffer taking his boots off and elevating his foot into Steve's lap, with Steve's beer acting as a kind of temporary ice pack.
“It doesn't really hurt,” Bucky pointed out.
“That's nice,” Steve said serenely. “Oooh, look, a blue jay!”
There actually was a blue jay, which was kind of cool, and Bucky sipped his beer and continued to suffer under Steve's overprotectiveness. As he informed Steve.
“That's nice,” Steve said again. “Boyfriend.”
Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Your sweet-talk designed to make me melt won't work,” he advised.
“Whatever you say, Bucky,” Steve said. He looked entirely too pleased with himself for Bucky's liking, but Bucky grumped and let it go.
When they were full up with forest and quiet and how peaceful the woods were, and Steve was content that Bucky's ankle hadn't swollen or anything, they headed indoors, put on a little music, and proceeded to make out on the sofa like teenagers.
Bucky finally came up for air, giggling. Steve kissing his neck tickled , okay? “Baby, c'mon,” he said between giggles. “Staaaahp.”
Steve grinned, but he also stopped, and Bucky hugged him extra tight for that.
“We should talk stuff we like,” Steve finally said, and smiled when Bucky pulled him into his lap, giving Steve a very nice place to rest his head on Bucky's shoulder.
“We should,” Bucky agreed, one hand rubbing Steve's back slow and soft. “You start, love?”
Steve glowed a little at the casual endearment, and Bucky pressed a kiss to his forehead.
“I don't ever really want sex, although that sounds like it won't be something we need to negotiate,” Steve started, and Bucky nodded. “I occasionally like to get myself off, but, uh, I kinda prefer privacy for that anyways?”
“Sounds good,” Bucky said. “I average, like, a wet dream a year and that's about that.”
Steve giggled and nodded, nuzzling just a little closer. Touching Bucky was the best thing in the world. “Is kissing okay? Or, I guess, are there kissing things you don't like?”
Bucky shrugged. “None that I've found so far? I mean, I've had partners kiss me everywhere, and it doesn't really mean less or more. Oh, and tongue's okay and all that. Basically the sky's the limit.”
Steve smiled up at him. “That sounds good. I sorta do want to kiss you from head to toe.”
Bucky giggled. “Back atcha. Would that be okay, though?”
Steve went quiet, and Bucky carefully kept space for him to think and work it out. He kept his hand heavy and steady on Steve's back. “For you, yeah,” Steve said finally. “I trust you. Uh. I'm sorry, Buck, I don't date so much. There might be some surprise boundaries.”
“Well, of course,” Bucky said. “There always are, baby. Long as you speak up, and know I love you, and just want to make you happy.” He smiled when Steve squeezed him tight. “Good.”
Steve smiled, eyes closing like a cat purring in sunshine. Bucky settled down for a long session of watching Steve wear his feelings on his sleeve, his long body draped over the sofa, and over Bucky. Bucky daydreamed about the two of them going all out on a glam night out. And then coming home, getting changed, drinking water against a hangover and maybe a little snack, taking turns in the shower. (Tiny New York bathrooms were not conducive to two large men sharing a shower. Someone was just always cold and wet.) Bucky could give Steve a light back massage – his spine was better than when he was a kid, but he spent time under heating pads still, sometimes. They'd kiss deep into the night, holding each other, no fear of someone wanting what couldn't be given. Just kissing, and falling asleep together to do it all over again in the morning.
this also contains my personal trope of characters talking about their boundaries with each other.