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Looking For A Place To Hide

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Endgame alternate 2012 timeline

 

Steve is staring at himself holding Loki’s scepter. There are subtle differences but he won’t focus on that until after the fight, right now it’s obvious who’s in front of him. “Loki,” he growls and the fight is on. 

They’re evenly matched and they both use the shield in the same way. It’s almost eerie how similar their fighting styles are. Except, this Steve seems tired, almost weary. He uses that to his advantage, tries harder, goes all out in this fight against Loki pretending to be him, and then he’s got Loki in a headlock. He’s going to win.

And then Loki/Steve says, “Bucky’s alive.” 

Which, of course, gives him the upper hand. Because everything in Steve stops. Stunned. Helpless. It’s like being slammed with pure, unadulterated agony. Just like that Steve has lost his breath and his will and all he can do is ask for more, even if he’s asking a desperate, lying villain.  “What?” Fighting becomes meaningless. Someone has said Bucky’s name, someone besides him is aware of that perfect man who existed and died because he was too loyal to Steve. 

Even though there is no damned reason Loki could know anything about Bucky, some part of him is so messed up that he will instantly seize on any scrap, even at the detriment to himself. Even if it means a villain might escape, hurt him, maybe even kill him. 

A hit to the face and he pulls himself together, sees the compass with Peggy’s face and realizes— this isn’t Loki. It’s him. Another him from somewhere else. An alternative Steve Rogers. Then he’s unconscious. 

He’s not out for long, comes to with Tony patting him on the back saying something about how they all took a beating this time. He’s explaining to Steve what they know so far. The Tesseract is gone, Loki took it and left. The city is carnage after the Chitari, alternative versions of themselves are all over the security cameras, including a Captain America who comes, leaves, then comes back again, returning a stone that they’ve found and locked up.

Tony is waiting for him to say something, have outrage, maybe a plan, but Steve looks around and says the only thing that matters. “Bucky.”

What if the other him wasn’t lying? And as they start piecing together what the hell happened, various camera angles making it clear that some alternative versions of themselves really had come in and then left again, there is only one conclusion. 

Bucky is alive. 

Somewhere. 

He can be found. 

This other him did it and he thinks Steve can too. They get back to Shield and everyone is buzzing about what happened, the insane battle they’ve just survived and there’s so much to do now. Sure the fighting is over but buildings are rubble, services are strained. Humanitarian assistance is the new necessity. Assignments for various tasks are being made: morale-boosting, clean up, stray alien extermination and disposal. Fury points at him, “Steve, you’re going to—“ 

“No, I’m not,” he says, because he can’t do anything until he figures out if Bucky is alive. Fury blinks at him, the only indication that he’s surprised at Steve’s refusal. “With all due respect, I’m not going to do any missions at the moment. Something has come up. Personal. I need all the information you have on James Buchanan Barnes.”

Fury’s good eye narrows at him speculatively. “I know he was your best friend. I know he’s been dead since World War 2, and I know that I need your help right now. In what way, is this urgent?”

Steve swallows hard because just saying it aloud is nearly impossible. Bucky was hope. Steve defines himself by what he’s lost and the things he’s never been able to have. What sort of fool is he to put his feelings into the world? His devotion to Bucky will be visible on his face. They’ll know how he laments a ghost. 

Once upon a time, in a life he didn’t finish living, everyone knew how he felt about Bucky. He remembered the sharp looks Peggy would give him when Bucky’s name came up, searching Steve’s face for answers. “The other me, he said Bucky was alive.”

Steve is grateful Nick doesn’t dismiss it out of hand. He thinks about it for a moment. “I thought you saw him die?”

“I saw…he fell off a train. Into a ravine,” he says, and he’s cold all over like he’s there again. His nightmare visiting the waking world. “But, um, Zola had him before that. Azzano. Did experiments on him, maybe it helped him survive?” His voice is trembling, he crosses his arms defensively, trying to protect himself. 

Fury takes his own sweet time studying Steve, apparently trying to figure out if he can force him back into line or if he needs to give in to this ill-timed disruption. He sighs and picks up the phone. “Get Natasha in here,” he orders and they both stand there awkwardly for a long moment. “She might have a better guess than I would.”

He stands near the window, waiting, stomach roiling. He hasn’t fainted since the serum but his heartbeat is odd, his skin clammy, and he almost wonders if he might go down. 

The door opens and Fury fills her in, giving Steve an inscrutable look as if he has some idea how incapable of functioning Steve is at the moment. 

And Natasha is now giving him her laser-focused attention, dissecting him visually for weaknesses. “If he survived, Zola would have taken him back. Would have experimented on him…is there a picture of him?” she asks. 

Steve pulls out his phone, goes to pictures. 

She quirks a lip at him. To call her expression a smile would be over-stating it. “Is this a picture of your picture? Gotta love a man in uniform— oh. Well, shit.” 

“What?” Steve demands. 

“You should sit down.” 

“Tell me,” he grits out. 

“They call him the Winter Soldier. He’s Hydra, Steve. And he’s their Fist, their assassin. He almost killed me once and he’s a ghost. Soulless, merciless. He is no one’s friend. He’s barely more than an animal. The Winter Soldier is the attack dog you let loose, except a lot more deadly than that. Seventy years ago he might have been Bucky, but you could call him that on the street and he wouldn’t respond. The body he’s in is a shell. For all that it matters, Bucky is dead. I’m sorry.” She even sounds it. 

“It’s been seventy years. How old is he?”

She grimaces. “Your age? Rumors are he’s only brought out of cryo when something really nasty needs to be done right. The ultimate wetwork.” 

“You mean…he’s been frozen off and on for seventy years…then taken out to murder?” Frozen just like Steve had been? A weapon just like he was but a million times worse? “How do I find him?”

She blinks at him, clearly reevaluating whatever conclusion she’d reached. Now she touches him gently on the arm. “Steve. He will kill you on sight.”

“No, he won’t. You don’t know him like I do.”

“No, I know Hydra and how they ensure compliance. I understand some of their brainwashing techniques. No one can resist. Seventy years, Steve.” 

“He could resist.” And even if that’s not true, if Hydra broke him, it doesn’t matter. He wants to say ‘I will bring him back to himself. He will return for me.’ He could never say that aloud.

“Then how come he’s killed so many people over the last several decades?”

He has no answer to that. 

“Like I was saying,” Fury says, filling in the silence, “I have a mission for you, Steve. And while you’re on it, I’ll get any information I can. James Buchanan Barnes and The Winter Soldier both. Even Azzano. If there is a way to bring him in, I’ll do it.”  He wants to say that’s not good enough and that there is no time to waste, that he can’t do anything until he finds Bucky. “Steve. This is bigger than you. And it will take time. Do some good to fill that time,” Fury said, as close to gentle as the man got. Steve must have nodded, and then he followed Natasha out into the hallway. 

“Steve,” she started. 

He held up a hand, had to stop her. “I can’t. I need a moment. Just an hour. Or two. I don’t know. I’ll come find you,” he says, disappearing down the hall. 

 

***

 

Natasha went back to Fury’s office, unsurprised to find the door open. She went inside, closed it and he glanced up at her. “In the two minutes you’ve been gone I’ve looked up the Winter Soldier, every classified file I might have access to. I haven’t even read it and I know it’s impossible. If the pictures weren’t the same I’d think they were different people. Steve knew a hero, this man is—”

“He’s not salvageable.”

Fury stood up, paced the length of his office. “If I don’t help him find the Winter Soldier, or if I authorize a kill on sight for him, I will lose Steve Rogers. He’s a valuable asset. I need him to stay with Shield.” 

“He’ll kill Steve. If he gets the chance, and,” she stopped speaking, wanting to be as precise as possible. It wasn’t something she could say lightly, “I’m not saying he’d let the Winter Soldier kill him without a fight, but he’d pull his punches, maybe try to reason with him and the Winter Soldier will have no hesitation. He will kill Steve without a pause.”

“I’ve gotta take this higher up the chain.”

“Steve won’t give you a lot of time.”

Fury nodded. “Let me know if you come up with anything helpful,” he said, and picked up the phone. “I need to speak to Director Pierce,” he said, just as Natasha closed the door. 

She pulled out her phone, did whatever research she could before she’d go see Steve. She didn’t know how many times she’d escaped death because she’d followed her gut. And her gut told her that if Steve went after the Winter Soldier, at least one of them would wind up dead. 

 

***

Nat went into Steve’s apartment, looked at the disarray. He was tidy by nature. Almost obsessively so. But now it looked like the place had been ransacked by someone trying to steal Captain America memorabilia. Pictures, papers, and sketches were on every surface, even on the floor. 

Lots and lots of sketches. The man in the sketches smiled. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that their relationship had been more than platonic. At least, it was on Steve’s side. From what she’d read, Barnes had been quite the ladies man. 

“Steve?” she called, walking in quietly. He came out of his bedroom, laptop in hand, eyes red-rimmed like he’d been crying. Jesus. If Steve Rogers was crying then the world really was ending. 

“I left him there.”

“He shouldn’t have survived. You know that. You can’t start questioning every decision you’ve made. I mean it, Steve. It’s dangerous and counterproductive. All  you can do is move forward, if you go back it could get you killed.” 

He blinked at her, swallowed hard, and she looked around for a box of Kleenex. This was the kind of shit that was above her pay grade. 

“Honestly, I don’t think I care.”

 

***

 

Pierce did the math. The Winter Soldier was valuable. He could kill anyone,  survive almost anything. When he had a mission, he saw it through to the end. Giving up a weapon like that was impossible. 

But, he also knew that if anyone was going to take his weapon away it would be Steve Rogers, who was, according to Fury, now on a warpath, determined to find the Soldier and save him. 

What was more dangerous than the Winter Soldier? James Barnes, memory recovered, knowledgable of all Hydra secrets and bases, turning his murderous and expert attention to him and Hydra, with Captain America by his side. If any duo could eliminate Hydra it would be them. 

He swore and shared a look with his top scientist. “This is a sad day for our country. God, he was good,” Pierce said, shaking his head mournfully. “Fine. We defrost him, wipe him, and we give him one last mission. Kill Steve Rogers. His new trigger is the word Bucky. If he hears that word he’s to self destruct. I want him strapped up to kingdom come. And failing that, he’s to take his cyanide pill.”

“So, a two-step process? Like a back-up failsafe. If he can, take out Rogers, and if he can’t, just himself.”

“Yes. Publicly. Rogers needs to see it.”

The scientist pushed up his glasses, brow furrowed. “Is that wise? To enrage him?”

Zola chimed in at that point, his tinny voice a little too loud. “The Captain is not a man who is healthy. He is careless, reckless. Watching his childhood friend kill himself could be the thing we need to eliminate him once and for all.”

“So be it. God, what a shame. He was just so good,” Pierce said, and then he got to his feet, buttoned his jacket and headed out. He had a meeting to get to. 

 

 

***

 

The explosion was on the news. CCTV caught it, a man with a metal arm, glinting in the sun, the brightness of Captain America’s suit and his shield, getting closer. The shout as he called for his friend and the Winter Soldier suddenly collapsing, dead at his feet, mouth foaming, body twitching. Captain America yelled, ran forward and fell to his knees beside his friend’s dead body. The whole nation wept.  

It was the scene of Captain America, on his knees beside the body of his dead friend, shoulders bowed in grief that caught on. It was everywhere. Posters, news clips, gifs, it was unrelenting. 

Something tragic the public latched onto. A superhero grieving. If he’d ever hoped to get over the death of his friend, it wouldn’t happen now. The world wouldn’t let him. 

 

***

 

The man in front of him was so pathetic Tony couldn’t even dislike him anymore. 

 “What he said was, “Bucky’s alive.” Not, the Winter Soldier. In another timeline, there is a Steve Rogers who has Bucky. I have to believe that. And if so, how? How did he do it when I couldn’t?”

“You got all that from two words during a fight where your opponent was yourself? That’s reaching,” Tony said. It was like kicking a puppy. There was a reason he went out of his way to avoid feeling guilt or empathy as much as possible. This was horrible. 

“I have to know. They came from another dimension, time traveled here. How?”

“I don’t know. Time travel is complicated. Even if it did work.”

“They made it work. Who would know?”

“No one. And if anyone tells you to ask Pym, don’t. He’s a fucking crackpot.” Tony winced. What a stupid thing to say. Now Steve was going to go find him. “Look, Steve. People like the rugged look, really, you wear it well. But I think you need to get some sleep. It’s hard now, but it will be okay.”

He knew it was a lie even as he said it. This man would not be okay. This man would never recover. Steve came closer, all grief and dead eyes. “If Pepper died in front of you, because….” He actually made a sound. A fucking sound, like a whimper which was just so uncool and sad Tony couldn’t believe it. “Because you said her name and you knew that you might see her again, just for a moment, if someone built you the right piece of tech, wouldn’t you do it?”

Well, fuck. “Let me call Banner,” he said,  scrubbing a hand over his eyes as he imagined all the work he was going to be doing. If his eyes were a little damp it was just a coincidence.

“Thank you, Tony,” he said. “I’ll go find Pym.”

“Pym? We don’t need him. Besides, he hates me.”

Cap smiled. Just a shadow of the man he used to be. “This isn’t for you. It’s for Captain America. I’m going to give it a shot.”

Which is how Tony found himself standing around a platform with the rest of the gang, waving a tearful goodbye as Steve Rogers prepared to travel through time to find his ‘best friend’ only a few months later.   

Nat gave Steve a sad nod, one final farewell. She knew, they all knew, if he found Bucky he was going to stay with him. If he didn’t find him, well, he wasn’t coming back, either. 

The newest Broadway hit was about the tragedy of Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers. POTUS had apparently cried so hard he’d wiped his eyes with his tie. 

Captain America had to go. 

Chapter Text

Steve materialized a mile outside the Avengers compound. The sun was shining despite the fact that the place looked like an apocalypse had happened. He shrugged off his leather jacket and put away his time traveling device. It went into a special vibranium case Tony had given him so he didn’t accidentally crush the thing. After all, he might want to go back. If there was no Bucky, maybe. But already he suspected he was needed here more than there. The destruction before him was immense. 

He heard something overhead, a buzzing and looked up to see a small red device closing in on him. It was just distracting enough that he failed to realize someone was behind him. He heard the click of a safety, felt the gun press against his back. “Who the fuck are you?” a low voice, asked, filled with menace. 

“Bucky,” he gasped, and he turned, uncaring at the danger, at the fact that a gun was trained on him and ready to kill him. “Oh my God, it’s you! It’s true,” Steve said, and suddenly he was crying, in a way he wasn’t sure he’d ever cried before, and he threw himself on Bucky, wrapped his arms around him and held on for dear life. 

His hair was long and thick and he buried his face in it, touched the strength of his back, felt the solidity of his chest against his own. He pulled back, looked at his face, older, serious, fine lines radiating out from his eyes, just as fucking blue as they’d always been. “You look incredible. The hair is a surprise but—“ he sobbed again. “How, Buck? How?”

And in that moment he knew, really understood just how in love with Bucky Barnes he’d always been. This man wasn’t his childhood friend. Wasn’t the young, cocky man he’d fought beside and watched die. 

It was someone different, hardened by life experiences and pain. But it was still Bucky. His body reacted instantly, a lust so strong and overwhelming that he could barely breathe through it. This was it. He was done. He would never let him out of his sight again. 

Bucky was still looking at him seriously, almost distantly, his eyes shuttered as Steve swallowed down another choking sob. Bucky frowned, holstered the gun behind him and then stepped forward. He clapped Steve on the back, shook his head like he was annoyed, but then— finally—pulled Steve in for a hug. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re alright, pal,” he said, and Steve would later be embarrassed by just how heavily he leaned on him, how tight he gripped him back. 

And he was pretty sure that the words ‘pal’ and ‘buddy’ were the most annoying words in the English language.  

An African-American man with giant wings landed next to them. He looked Steve up and down like he knew him. “Jesus Christ. What happened to the 70’s?” He reached out a finger, poked Steve like maybe he wasn’t real. “I saw you yesterday. We played bingo.”

It was possibly most surreal string of sentences he’d ever heard. “I’m not from your timeline.”

“Go on,” Sam said, while Bucky took yet another step away from him. Two feet now. More than a normal distance. Bucky who’d always touched him, put an arm around him, thrown himself into any danger to protect Steve Rogers was moving away from him like he was scared of him or something. Steve took a step closer, reached out to touch Bucky. How could this actually be real?  

He’d come all this way, jostled everyone along to make this happen but a part of him hadn’t expected to find him. For it to be this easy. A faint, inner voice reminded him that things were never easy, but he didn’t care. There was nothing he couldn’t do as long as he had Bucky. Bucky took another step back from his reaching grasp.

“Don’t,” Bucky said, and a breeze blew by, lifting his hair, dragging it across his face. 

Steve dropped his hand. Bucky needed space. Okay. He could respect that. This was a big deal. “I like the beard. I can’t get over the hair. You look like a rockstar or something,” he said, voice shaking.

“If you could stop mooning over Bucky and answer the question we’d really appreciate it,” the wing man said, sounding more curious than angry.

Steve turned his attention to him, to the wings on his back and the friendly smile. He held out a hand. “Steve Rogers. Nice to meet you.” 

Sam gave Bucky a look and then took his hand. “Sam Wilson. Do I have to give him the shield back?” he said, looking past Steve and to Bucky. 

“I don’t fucking know. Why are you here, Steve? What or where are you from?” Bucky asked, and Steve heard it again, the distance, the wariness in his tone. Even anger. 

“Your Steve came to my timeline. For the Tesseract. I fought him. He told me you were alive. I um, searched for you in my timeline.” He opened his mouth to say that it hadn’t panned out, that Bucky had died or that he’d killed him but words failed him. “I failed you.” Because that was the truth and even though it was hard to say, he wouldn’t be a coward when it came to Bucky Barnes. Not anymore.

Bucky frowned. “You searched for the Winter Soldier…in 2012?”

“Yeah. I…it got you killed. Right,” he stopped, swallowed hard. Had to wipe his eyes. “Right before my eyes.”

Bucky nodded slowly. “Maybe it’s for the best. I probably would have killed you.”

“That’s cold,” Sam murmured.

Steve turned to Sam, saw the pitying look on his face and then turned back to Bucky. “So you were captured by Hydra here, too? I let you fall here, too?”

Bucky frowned. “You didn’t let me fall. Are we talking about Siberia? 45?”

“I should have found you, Buck,” he said, and he took a step closer to Bucky. Bucky’s eyes dropped, watched him closing the distance. But he didn’t step back. “I’m so sorry, Buck. As soon as I knew you were alive I dropped everything to find you. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” he said. 

Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. Bucky closed down completely, took that step back, and then another. He looked at Sam for a long moment and Steve could feel some silent conversation happening. 

Finally, Bucky shrugged. “Show him back to the compound.” 

And then Bucky turned and walked away. Walked. Away. From. Steve. How? 

He was about to call out to him but the words stuck in his throat, memories of the last time he’d called to Bucky from a distance rising up to swallow him, the way Bucky had died right in front of him. 

Sam Wilson put a hand on his arm. “Steve, you gotta give him some time. This is a shock. But, he’s Bucky. He’s your best friend. He’ll come around. It’s just a lot. We haven’t seen you like this, in a while.”

“What do  you mean ‘like this’?” he asked, turning to look at him. “Didn’t you just say you saw me?”

Sam blew out a breath. “Look, I’m gonna need a drink for this. A big one. Numerous as well. Let’s go back and talk about it,” he said, and Steve looked back for Bucky, needing to see him again, every instinct in him screaming at him not to let him out of his sight. 

But he was gone. 

No one knew how to disappear like a sniper. He thought maybe he could feel Bucky’s gaze on him, like maybe he was watching them. But it was possible that was just wishful thinking. 

Two hours later, Steve was sitting in the common room when Bucky reappeared. Sam got up and left, giving Bucky’s shoulder a squeeze as he passed and he wondered what exactly their relationship was. Jealousy, unfamiliar and painful, went through him. They went into the hall, talking for a few minutes before Bucky came back in on his own.  

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said, quietly and took a seat opposite him. “I shouldn’t have left. It was just…a lot.”

He forced himself to nod. “It’s alright. Seeing you again is a lot too.” 

“Sam told you about the Helicarrier? About Shield being Hydra and the snap, etc,” he asked, sounding exhausted just from the single sentence. 

“He did. He also said I’m old here. Because, uh, I went back in time to be with Peggy?”   

A muscle ticked in the corner of Bucky’s jaw. For a moment he wasn’t sure Bucky would respond. “Yeah. And you know what? We still have particles. Another device. We  can find you a Peggy Carter, too. Get you on your way,” he said, and his voice went rough. 

“No!” He said, instantly. He leaned forward, wanting to hug Bucky, but it was clear that was unwelcome. “I wouldn’t do that to you. Ever. You’re everything to me. To the end of the—”

“Don’t fucking say it,” he said, deadly soft, a hint of an accent in his tone. Russian. This isn’t your Bucky, he thought, and for the first time the idea terrified him. 

He made his voice be confident, wanting Bucky to understand. “And I’m not your Steve. I don’t know why he did that. I can’t imagine what it would take for me to think that was a good idea, but, please Buck, I’m begging you, don’t assume I’m him.”

He scrubbed a hand across his jaw. “There’s an apartment, your old one, still there. It has clothes and everything. I’ll show you,” he said, and he stood up. Steve couldn’t help but look at him, at the way the modern jeans he was wearing hugged his body, the musculature of him, super soldier honed, then his shoulder, even the metal of his hand. 

A blush rose on Bucky’s face and Steve realized he’d been staring, hungry, openly admiring, wondering what he looked like undressed, how it would feel to have Bucky pressed against him willingly, to feel that stubbled jaw against his own skin, how cool the metal might be as it touched him. 

Bucky walked by him, practically ignoring Steve as he led them to an elevator and then down a corridor. He opened a door, showing him a living room and a kitchen, the open door of a bedroom and a bathroom. “Yeah, this looks just like the one I have, had, back in my time.”

“Then I guess you’ll be right at home,”  Bucky said, shifting his weight towards the exit. Ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

“Where are you?” he asked. 

“I don’t usually stay here. I have a place elsewhere.”

“But you’ll be here tonight?” He wasn’t sure he could stand to let Bucky be out of his sight when he’d just gotten him back and there was so much wrong between them. 

Bucky crossed his arms, leaned against the doorframe, all of that grave attention focused on Steve. “What is this? What’s your plan?” he asked, quietly. 

Now it was Steve’s turn to blush. It didn’t even occur to him to equivocate. “You. That’s the only plan I have. I got out of the ice and I thought I had no one. Peggy was the only one left and even she doesn’t remember me half the time. To find out you’re here, I don’t know how you think I could be anywhere else.”

Bucky looked down, kicked a booted foot gently against the carpet as he shifted his stance. “Well, I didn’t either. But here we are.”

“Explain it to me. I’m begging you, Buck. What can I do to prove to you that I’m not him? That I don’t want—” He ran out of words there. Didn’t know how to finish that sentence. Was he really going to tell Bucky he didn’t want another life? That he didn’t want a marriage and kids with Peggy because he wanted Bucky? Those seemed like massive confessions. Love confessions. When Bucky thought of him as family. A brother. 

“Need some help, pal?” Bucky offered, “I think you were gearing up to say you wouldn’t leave me for the love of your life? You know, this would actually be easier for both of us if you just said you would. You already did it once. Maybe then we could get past this. Why is this even an issue?” he said, sounding angry at himself. 

He shook his head, closed his eyes against the pain he saw on Bucky’s face. “You don’t believe me. How could you when that’s apparently what I did? I don’t know, Bucky. I can’t envision doing that to you. To us!” he said, anguished. 

“Good point. I’ll take you to him. Tomorrow. You guys can catch up, here what a ‘beautiful’ decision it was. How rewarding to,” he swallowed, “rest.” But it was like he was saying the word while shards of glass were in his mouth. 

And then Bucky left, shut the door and walked out, leaving Steve alone in his own apartment with what felt like the most bizarre case of deja vu ever. 

He went straight to the bedroom, opened the desk, pulled out his sketchbook. For a moment he wondered if it was someone else’s. But he knew his style. This was his. And yet. Every picture was apocalyptic, scenes of dark skies and dim buildings. A sun, covered by ash, dead birds on sidewalks, people grieving around large stone obelisks in the park. Pale children with hollow eyes. 

And then there were portraits, names and dated. Vision. Dead. Tony. Dead. Sam. Dead. 

And there were sketches of Bucky. As he’d looked when they were kids. In the thirties and then during the war. In one of them Bucky had a metal arm. His eyes were blank. A smudge was on the page and he knew without a doubt it was dried tears. He flipped the page. 

Natasha. In one she was smiling and it was good but the next one caused him to feel sick, the grief of it rolling off the page, her body broken on rocks, limbs at an odd angle. And then the next one was Peggy, older. Maybe 50? The energy of her, the spirit, crackled off the page. She was focused, vibrant and the longing radiated off the page. 

He put the book down, went to the closet, found more sketch books, a whole box full actually, filled with hundreds and hundreds of sketches. They were all so dark, so gray and so grief filled. Bucky over and over again, turning to ash. Sam turning to Ash. Others he didn’t even know disappearing, sometimes looking at Steve desperately, or with betrayal. Steve had failed them all. 

Sometimes he’d sketch the city and those were unpleasant in a different way. Streets were empty, storefronts abandoned. Orphanages were frequent. 

He didn’t know what living for five years in this hell did to a normal person. But what it had done to this timeline’s Steve Rogers? 

What had he become after living here with his failures for years? The weight of the world resting on him, making him crumble to dust too. Not on the outside, but on the inside, the man who’d sketched these pictures was long dead. He just hadn’t laid down like he was supposed to.  

And sure, they’d reversed the snap. 

But, even when they’d won they’d lost. Tony dead, Natasha dead. He felt himself tearing up, crying for the versions of them he hadn’t even known. He’d expected to have them in this world. 

Finally, he put the lid back on the box and tucked it away, took a shower, got ready for bed and forced himself to sleep. Tomorrow he’d get answers. 

Bucky came for him at 9am, looking exhausted. “You  understand I’m not going in with you, right? I’ll take you. I’ll even bring you back, but--”

“Why are you taking me right now, anyway? Can’t we spend the day together, catch up?” he asked, desperation leaking through. 

“Um, no, I don’t think I can. Don’t you want to hear how great your life turned out when you went back for Peggy?”

“No, not really.”

“I’m sure you’ll change your mind. Let’s get out of here.”

Steve put on his shoes and jacket slowly, not stalling exactly, but he wasn’t hurrying either. “But, doesn’t he understand how hard this is for you?” Steve demanded.

A shrug, maybe a hint of that false bravado cracking. “Yeah, he does. Which is why he won’t ask you to come get me.” Bucky smiled, that perfect, overly confident smile that Steve had grown up with. He’d had it the night before he shipped out. When everything was falling apart and they were both on the verge of crying. Yeah, he knew this smile. 

Steve nodded. “What will you do while we’re talking?”

Bucky rolled his eyes, looked annoyed. “His garden is a mess. They spent a lot of time out there, made it something special. But, you know, he can’t keep up with it all anymore so typically it’s where I wind up.”

“So, you still see him?” 

“Of course. Until…yeah, I do the best I can. I keep thinking maybe it will get easier.” He led them towards the garage, “It doesn’t get easier,” he muttered. 

He followed Bucky to a car, sleek and modern. He watched Bucky more than the road. He’d always loved to watch him drive. So effortless and in control. But there was no arm along the seat behind him, no dame he was throwing fond glances at. His posture was stiff, gaze fixed on what was in front of him. The radio wasn’t even on. “So, do you have a  girlfriend or something?” he asked, and felt like a sixteen-year-old fool. 

“I’ve been an assassin for the last seventy years and then I spent a lot of time doing therapy and being frozen because I’ve been trained to kill people rather than love them. So, no, Steve, I don’t have a girlfriend.” He paused. “Or a something else. But if someone says the magic words to me I might go on a killing rampage. So, there’s that.”

“Well, you just gotta put that on your Tinder page,” Steve said, seriously. “Words to be avoided at all costs.” This got Steve a weak chuckle. 

And then they fell into silence again. They pulled up to a curb and he turned off the car. He heard Bucky sigh softly. “Okay, here we are. Go ahead. I’m gonna go around back.”

“Should I tell him where you are?”

“He knows where I am,” Bucky said, and his voice didn’t sound resentful then, it sounded sad. 

He got out of the car, watched Bucky until he disappeared around the back of the house because he had to and then went to the front door. An old man was there, a smile on his face. Oh, wait. The old man was him. “We kept the hair at least,” he said, which seemed as good an opening to meeting one’s self, when they were old and from an alternate timeline, as any.

“And we still watch him until he disappears,” the old him says, softly, sadly and he backs up, lets Steve into the house. He leads them through a tastefully decorated and overly tidied living room and then into a family room/kitchen area. 

There’s a sliding glass door where he can see Bucky out back, stripped down to a t-shirt and jeans, a rake in his hand and his hair pulled back. The sound of the rake is audible and he sees a window open, is pretty sure Bucky will be able to hear everything they say. He wonders if old Steve did it on purpose. 

Bucky bends over for a moment, and Steve can see the skin of his lower back. Pale, perfect, and strong. He’d half expected him to be covered in scars. 

“I’ll get coffee,” old him says and he goes towards the kitchen. Steve forces himself to look away, to take in the room around him and the proof of a life lived in this house. “I have cookies. My niece brought them by. Chocolate chip. She didn’t make them so they’re edible.”

“Oh. Um, alright,” he says, but he’s not really listening. He’s looking at the pictures of Peggy and Steve. “You traveled a lot. I’m glad you got to see the world,” he says, but it feels like ashes in his mouth, like complete and utter bullshit and he wants to yell at him, demand answers. 

“You don’t have to pretend. I know you’re angry. I know it doesn’t make sense to you.” He gestures at a barstool, his hand frail, weathered.  “You’re lucky you’re here when you are. Instead of your own timeline. If it had carried on, you living the life I lived…he almost killed us, you know? When he was an assassin. And then I spent two years looking for him. Sam and I found him and it made us fugitives. He wasn’t the Bucky I’d known. He was one step away from beyond help. Every move was violence. He’d look at me and he barely knew me. He was…a man with no hope. And yet, we’d have moments where he’d remember our lives and we’d talk about it and then he….” he shakes his head, seems like he has to gather himself. Is it weird that he finds it oddly satisfying to see old him in so much pain over this conversation. He deserved to hurt.

“He went back under. Frozen. Because he was so traumatized and unstable that he feared he’d be triggered at any moment and that he’d kill people. Even me. Can you imagine what that was like? Knowing he was voluntarily gone when we could have been a comfort to each other?”

“So you ditched him and went to Peggy?”

Anger flashed across his face. “And then there was the snap. He disappeared, gone right before my eyes. He said my name as he drifted away. I gathered up his ashes. They’re in my room. Bottom drawer in the nightstand.” 

He blushed. Looked away. He’d found them. Had feared what they were and closed the drawer. Had stared at his hands for a full minute, unsure if he wanted to wash them or not. It had been a deeply unpleasant experience. 

“Every day I’d get up and there was no sun. It was so quiet. All the time. And when you met people you didn’t know if seeing them would make you feel better or worse. Usually, it was worse. I failed the entire world. And when we got them back we’d still lost. Tony was gone, left his child an orphan and Bucky was…the same. Still wondering about going back to Wakanda, not okay for missions, for life. He was as broken as he had been, but I was broken too. And when I had gone back, saw Peggy there, so full of life and strength, of possibility and peace.” He stops, a sad smile on his face. He wonders how long this version of himself will go on now that Peggy is dead. 

“Bucky and I talked about it, before I returned the stones. He said I should go. He said I should give Sam the shield, that I should try to be happy for the both of us.” 

He can’t take it anymore. “But you weren’t supposed to fucking do it!” 

Steve held up a frail hand, imploring him to keep silent for a little longer, to hear it all. He nodded tightly, half-surprised he didn’t admonish himself for bad language. “I agreed to go back, told him I’d speak to her. Only talk to her. Bucky demanded I dance with her. And he said I should stay as long as I could, that if he needed me, he’d come get me.”

“You knew he’d never come get you. As if James Buchanan Barnes would take you away from something good to help him. You know him better than that. You fucking do. So, you what? Gardened? Made fucking coffee? Went on some cruises and ate some shrimp?”

Here he looked ashamed. Like he’d suddenly aged another ten years. “I know. That part I do know. I tried not to think about it. I kept busy here. I helped as much as I could and she was strong enough when I was—”

“What about Bucky? You left him as the Winter Soldier? Let him be tortured while we played house with a woman we’d barely known? Jesus Christ, Steve, how many times did he save our god damned life? How could you?” he shouted, and he picked up his mug, threw it against the wall, shattering it into a million pieces. 

“That’s enough, Steve,” Bucky said, softly from behind them. He felt Bucky’s warm hand on his shoulder, trying to calm him. “I think it’s time we go.”

“Bucky,” old him said, imploring. 

But Bucky shakes his head. Weird that they could both be so unwilling to deal with this one version of Steve. “I swept up. I’ll come back next week, check on the oranges.” And then he tugs Steve gently back. 

“Come on, Stevie,” he says, quietly.  He follows Bucky  dumbly, out to the street and to the car. He’s in shock, his heart is beating too fast and he reaches blindly for Bucky, leaning on him like he always did. 

He’s breathing in sharp gasps. A panic attack. Ridiculous. “It’s okay, I’ve got you. You’re alright,” Bucky murmurs, soothing him, as he always did, strong and perfect, and he wraps Steve in his arms and holds him close. He can’t imagine ever wanting to be anywhere else. He holds him tight and Bucky lets him, just stays there until Steve gets himself together. 

“I failed you. I can’t believe it. I just can’t.”

Bucky makes a little sound, half pain and half something unknowable. He squeezes Steve tighter, breathes him in, and maybe, just maybe he feels the scrape of Bucky’s lips against his neck. “He was broken, Steve. We both were. Two broken people can’t fix each other. Not like we were. I think…I think if he’d stayed he would have died. He never protects himself. You know that. You’ll sacrifice yourself for anyone. And he just wasn’t the same. He’d go see Tony’s daughter every weekend and he’d come back looking more dead than when he’d left. He’d—”

“Why are you making excuses for him when you can barely look at me?”

Bucky pulls back, looks at his face, wipes a tear from Steve’s cheek, and he can finally see the crack in his defensive armor, that Bucky is contemplating the possibility that maybe he isn’t the same Steve as the one in that house.

“All you ever wanted was to fight. You got it. You got more than you ever wanted. More praise, more blame. No one could withstand all that, especially not with the snap. He tried to make me Captain America, you know, wanted me to take it. But I’m not that. Not that… ideal. That beacon of hope. And neither was he. He was the walking dead who saw failure everywhere he looked. But he didn’t see it in the past. Sometimes I think maybe he thought he could fix so much then that this future would be better.” 

He wipes another tear from Steve’s face and the look Bucky gives him, soft and familiar, a close-mouthed smile, those eyes crinkling gently, one hand on his cheek, makes him close his eyes so he doesn’t do something stupid and unwanted. 

“I know he loved me. But, sometimes, it isn’t enough. Yes, it was her, of course, he loved her, but I think it was also a relief to not have to dwell in his failures. I did tell him to go. I think he’d have died here. And it would have been my fault.”

He shakes his head but he knows what Bucky means. They’d always take the blame for it if the other fell. “I don’t think I can forgive him.”

Bucky chuckled weakly. “That’s the kind of thing you might need therapy for. You don’t have to forgive him, not really. But, you’ll be a lot happier if you can try to be generous with him. Yourself? I don’t know if its more or less confusing every time I say it,” he says, trying to make light of it all.  Bucky releases him, steps back, runs a knuckle along his cheek. “God, you’re young.”

“We’re basically the same age if you count time frozen. What’s a decade?” 

“I don’t know. You’ve got that new penny shine to you. Energy.” Bucky gets this mischievous look on his face. “Say it for me. With vim and vigor.”

I can do this all day. Inexplicably, he blushes. Pushes at Bucky gently. “You’re ridiculous. Let’s go.”

“No, that’s the cost of the ride. Tell me you can do this all day, with the smirk and the Captain America can-do attitude and I’ll get you out of here. Even take you for an ice cream.”

Steve feels the butterflies in his stomach at Bucky’s casual flirting, loves the way he’s finally looking at Steve like he used to, like there’s no one or thing in the entire world worth a damn besides Steve. 

Bucky’s phone beeps and he pulls it out, looks at it. Frowns. “A mission. Any interest in playing Captain America? I can get you a suit and a shield?”

“Dress me however you want. Just know that I’m going. Someone’s gotta watch your six,” he says, the words thick in his throat.

Bucky smiles, bumps his shoulder against Steve’s. “I think you’re a lot sappier than our Steve. Let’s pray this earnestness isn’t contagious.”  

Chapter Text

When Steve entered the room with Bucky there was silence. There had been talking but when they saw him it all went quiet. 

He nodded to Sam, smiled, but definitely felt the chilly reception. A young woman with bright red hair was looking from him to Bucky and back again. “Steve, this is Wanda,” Bucky said, doing the introductions.

“Hi, Wanda,” Steve went forward, sticking out his hand. He could see her contemplating not shaking it. 

“Hey, we’ve had a lot of love for Cap over the years. And we can’t blame him for what our Steve did,” Sam said, scolding her. She glared at Sam but shook his hand before dropping it abruptly. She picked up her phone, immediately fascinated by whatever she saw there. 

“Great. This is great,” Steve muttered, and Bucky snorted, put a hand on Steve’s lower back and urged him towards a couch. When he sat down and looked up again Wanda was watching him intensely. 

“So, you’re okay with this?” she asked, Sam.

“Steve, are you planning on disappearing to another timeline without telling anyone? Because if you are, some of us would like to know. It was rather hurtful when that happened before,” Sam said, like this was some counseling session.

He cast a glance at Bucky. “Well, no. If you’ll let me stay. I just…I’m here for Buck,” he said. 

“Yeah, that went well for me before,” Wanda muttered. She opened her mouth, was about to say something when a dark-haired man came into the room. 

“Cap! It’s Cap. And you’re so young. Does that mean I’m not taking you to Bingo tomorrow?”

“Scott, this isn’t our Cap. He’s from 2012.”

“Oh. I’m not sure what all that means. For what you know. I was in prison at the time. But nice to meet you, uh, again. Big fan,” he says, coming up into Steve’s space. He’s eyeing Steve in a way that makes him feel like a piece of meat. “Biceps are the same. That’s good to see.”

Frankly, he was so relieved someone was happy to see him, and the guy seemed so good-natured that Steve let it go, decided Scott was a good guy. They shook hands and Steve sat back down, awkward again. 

“Well, what’s happening?” Scott asked, sitting next to Wanda and patting her absently on the knee.  

“We’ve got a lot more people who’ve come back to life and a lot less food to go around. Riots are everywhere and ships with food and medicine are being hijacked. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean, out there.”

“Johnny Depp!” Steve says, and instantly regrets it. 

“He’s cute when he’s trying to be socially relevant,” Bucky says. 

“What? Why are you not shouting out stuff? Do you know who Johnny Depp is?” 

“I do. I watch a lot of movies. Have you seen the L Word? Truly, we live in amazing times.” 

“Alright, you know what?” Sam interrupts. “Shut up. I need teams of 2 to protect a supply chain as it crosses from Asia to the United States and another team for transport from the United States to Central America. I’m going to team up with Wanda and Scott you’re going with Hawkeye.”

“Oh good, I like him,”  Scott said.

“Bucky,” Sam pointed a pen at the both of them. “I’d planned on sending you and T’Challa to investigate what we think is a Hydra base that just came back online. Satellite movements are weird. Get in, plant bugs, get intel if we can and then get out again. Observe and report only.”

“What about me?” Steve said, asking before Sam was even finished speaking. 

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” Sam said, “Maybe you need some time. Jet lag. Time lag or something.” 

“It’s okay. He can go with me,” Bucky said. “I trust him. He’s Steve.” 

“Thank you, Buck,” he said, sincerely.

“Remember this moment when we’re getting shot at tomorrow.”

Sam snickered. “And when everyone gets back we’re going to celebrate Wanda’s birthday. I’ve got a cake ordered and everything.”

“Are we going somewhere?”

“Like where?” Sam asked. 

Bucky shrugged. “Shouldn’t we do something…young?” He looked at Wanda. “Like ice skating or go dancing? What do young people do nowadays?”

“See. I’m not that old. Whenever you say ‘young people’ it carbon dates you. At least, that’s what Tony says.” 

The room is suddenly uncomfortable. Steve drops his head, shakes it. Damnit. 

“I would like that. Can I think about it on the trip?”

“How about laser tag?” Clint offers. 

“No,” Sam groans like he’s in pain. 

“I know! Mini golf,” Bucky sounds pleased with himself. “We watched Happy Gilmore the other day.”

“Clint has to be blindfolded,” Wanda said, “I want a sporting chance.”

“It’s going to take more than that, darling,” Clint drawled, and then Sam managed to get everybody out of the room still smiling. Everyone filed out, but Bucky stayed so Steve did too. 

“Not bad. He’d be proud,” Bucky said. 

“Who?” Steve asked. 

They both winced. Bucky was the one who answered, “Oh. You, actually. Old you. You lead the Avengers. Well, you did.” Talk about a conversation killer. 

“Come pick up your shield before you go. The suit still fits I imagine.”

“Yeah, I saw it in the closet.” Steve’s worried he’s stepping on Sam’s toes even though it seems crazy that he wouldn’t be Captain America just because some other version of him decided to give it all up. “But, you mentioned you were now Captain America?”

Sam raised a brow. “Those are big shoes. I’m happy to fly around for a while longer,” he said, and then they dismissed him, Sam wanting to talk to Bucky for a minute alone. He didn’t like it. 

Add to that the lack of Tony and Nat and it just felt like there were gaping holes in the room. It made him hate the other him for abandoning them all. If ever there was a time when he was needed, it was now.  

“You wanna grab some dinner?” Bucky asked, when he finally came out. 

“Yeah. If you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind. Besides you look like you could use the company,” he said, making Steve feel like he was sixteen again and Bucky could read him without making the slightest effort. 

“It’s hard, you know. Being blamed for stuff he did, trying to tell myself I’m different, that I wouldn’t do that and yet, I have no real argument there, do I?” Bucky had stopped in front of him, crossed his arms, defensive. “I’m sorry. You’re probably the last person I should bring this up to.”

“Nah. I’m the first person you bring it up to. Always. And, I don’t know. How much of what we do or become is based upon experiences? After what I went through, I’m pretty sure there are things I’ll never do differently even though I might want to.”

“Like what?”

Bucky bit his lip, a sign that he was thinking. “Don’t know. Count the exits, look at every person to see if they’re carrying a weapon on them. Pick up a knife and instantly wonder what the best way is to use it as a lethal weapon. And, I hate the cold.”

“You’ve always hated the cold.”

“Well, now I’ve been frozen and defrosted a lot and my dislike of the cold has grown exponentially. It’s so bad that if we were back in Europe and you offered me your nasty extra pair of socks, I’d probably say yes.”

“Desperate times indeed.”

Bucky grinned at him. 

“That’s too bad for you, Buck. I guess there is an advantage of being frozen only once, but for a really long time. No long lasting trauma…. Although, I do have a fear of fish. Nightmares where they nibble me to death.”

Bucky shifts on his feet. “Are you lying?”   

“You don’t know? I though you said I had tells or whatever.”

“You do. That’s different.”

“How?”

“It just is,” he said, sounding exasperated. “The conditions need to be just right in order for me to know if you’re lying. Let’s go eat.”

“Whoa. No way. You’re not leaving it there. Now I have to know. What is it? What do I look to the side or scratch my nose?”

“Do you want BBQ or Italian?”

“You’re not going to tell me?”

“I might,” he said, “Someday. And I’m suspecting it will be soon,” he murmurs, suddenly looking at Steve’s mouth, and Steve cannot imagine why that makes him feel like dragging Bucky into his arms and kissing him senseless, but it does. “But not now.” 

“Hey, you guys going to get food?” Sam asks, coming around the corner. 

“Yup. You can be the deciding vote, BBQ or Italian?”

“How about Mexican.”

“You’re the worst. You always complicate things,” Bucky groans, as they head to the garage. 

“That’s a lie. You’re going to give him the wrong impression. You should know, Steve, that I am now your favorite. While this guy was on the run, I was there. Loyal. To a fault.”

“Like one of those lap dogs,” Bucky jokes, but Steve wonders if there is an edge to it. Bucky’s shoulders are stiff, his smile is a little wooden. Like he’s going along with the joke but he’s not happy about it. He wonders how difficult it was for the other Steve to keep chasing Bucky and for Bucky to ignore him for years. Pretty difficult, no doubt. He feels nauseous just imagining it.  

“What did you do before this, Sam?” Steve asked, changing the subject.

“Great. Now he’s going to tell us we need therapy.” 

“You do,” Sam agreed, loudly, as they walk towards a very sleek gray car. “Lots of it.” 

“We didn’t have therapy back in the day,” Steve said. 

“Yeah, and look how many wars you had. I have no idea how the human race succeeded after the trauma your whole generation saw.”

“I do,” Bucky says, quickly, like this is the stupidest thing Sam has ever said. 

“How?” Sam asks. “Oh crap, I meant to drive.”

“You lose, you snooze,” Steve says. 

“That’s adorably close. And yet, just totally wrong,” Bucky says. Sam is in the backseat putting on his seatbelt. Bucky turns around in his seat, looking at Sam intensely. “Hey, Sam. Just so you know, this seat, it’s staying all the way back.”

“God, I hate you. I’m gonna change the subject, help us both out. I never wanted to bring it up, but didn’t it seem weird that our Steve kissed Sharon and now she’s his niece?”

“Oh fuck, I know,” Bucky groans, and Steve is praying he’s heard wrong. “We went over there and he was trying to give Steve cookies that I think she brought over. How weird must that be? Here she is, young, hot and, you know what, let’s not,” he says, and lifts a hand off the wheel, waving it away, like he can erase the conversation from the air. 

“I kissed Peggy’s niece?” he asks, horrified. 

“I thought you were going to tell me how you old dudes survived after the war.”

“Things haven’t changed. They gave you condoms then and they give you condoms now,” Bucky says, and Steve feels a blush on his cheeks. Bucky always was so casual about sex. Maybe if he’d been as good looking and desirable as Bucky when he’d been a young man, than he’d be more casual about it, too. 

Instead, he was uptight. Downright prudish. Bucky hadn’t made fun of him for it, thankfully. 

Well, that wasn’t strictly true. He had once and Steve had punched him in the face, punched him so hard he broke his own damned finger. Steve shook his head at the memory. 

“What?” Bucky demanded, as they pulled up to a stop light.

“Nothing. Just remembering that time in France.” 

“Oh fuck, here we go,” Sam muttered. “Should have had leftover Chinese food and watched a rerun of the Golden Girls.”

“That doesn’t narrow it down any,” Bucky said, ignoring Sam. 

“We were telling Dum Dum how I broke my finger—”

“And he laughed so hard it startled a giant goose nearby—”

“Which promptly got shot out of the air and landed in my lap.” Now they’re both laughing. Sam is stoically silent. 

He slaps the back of Bucky’s seat. “Okay,  you know what, that is kind of funny. But that’s it, no more ‘remember when’ stories or I’m going to put out a jar. And it’s going to be expensive. A dollar for every story.”

“A dollar. That’s steep. Plus, this is gold. It’s history,” Bucky says, clearly enjoying how much Sam is getting irritated. 

“Remember when Coke cost a nickel?” Steve adds.

“Stop the car. I’m getting out.” 

Steve buried his face in his hand, laughing much harder than was really appropriate. But there wasn’t anywhere else he’d rather be right now, with his best friend by his side and his new friend making jokes. 

He reached out a hand, squeezed Bucky’s shoulder. “I missed you, Buck.” He hesitates, aware Bucky will give him shit again for being so sappy, but he can’t help it. “I think this is absolutely the best moment of my life since I got out of the ice. I can’t believe we’re this lucky.”  

“Oh, Stevie,” Bucky says, sounding long-suffering. “That’s the kind of stuff you’d say and it meant we never got you laid.”

“Hey!” 

 

Chapter Text

 

The mission started going south before they even left. The weather was foggy, with heavy rain, thunder, and wind.  And, even though they argued that it was fine, that they were adaptable and could handle it, the pilot refused to drop them until he had a better view of what was going on below. 

So, instead of getting on with their mission, they landed at a small military airstrip in Germany, at an American base that had been set up post WW2, while they waited for the weather to clear. They figured they’d know it was time to go if it started raining where they were. 

Which meant they had an unexpected night on the town. They’d stashed the gear and put on normal clothes then gone for transport into town. The options were literally one motorcycle. Perfect. 

Bucky gave him a smirk and held out his hands to ‘rock, paper, scissors’ for who would drive. At least it was dark so Bucky couldn’t see Steve’s face get hot as he contemplated his options. “I always lose anyway, so maybe you should just drive.”

“Nah, come on. I like it when you lose fair and square.” 

Steve rolled his eyes, not that Bucky could see it. They tied with rock twice and the last one Bucky won with scissors because Steve chose paper. “There, don’t you feel better now?” Bucky asked, bumping his shoulder against Steve’s. 

Bucky swung a leg over the bike and put on his helmet, looking effortlessly dangerous and attractive. He thought Bucky was watching him because his head was turned in Steve’s direction but he couldn’t actually see anything through his mask. 

Bucky had a gloved hand on his own thigh and Steve saw that and blinked, checking him out without really meaning to. God, he had amazing thighs. And hands. And actually his—

He forced himself to look away. It would be just his luck to get worked up while pressed up against Bucky. Hell only knew what new problems that would cause. Steve’s hands shook a little and he actually fumbled the chin strap. 

“Come here, sweetheart, I’ll help you,” Bucky offered, in that low voice and thick Brooklyn accent which for reasons Steve understood very well had always made girls swoon. 

“Very funny,” he said. And yet, he still couldn’t get the damned thing. Bucky took his own helmet off, set it down on the bars and did an one finger ‘come here’ gesture that Steve found himself helpless against. 

He could feel the blush on his chest and crawling up his neck. Thank God it was dark outside. “Oh, Stevie. Whatever will we do with you?” he breathed and reached for Steve’s face. 

And here was the problem with not having very much experience, Steve realized, because he was now practically frozen with lust while it was very clear that Bucky was unaffected. Maybe this is why the other Steve left, he thought. The sexual frustration was the final straw that broke him into a million pieces. 

Bucky’s fingers touched his face, the ungloved one warm and his fingers dry. So gentle. His palms were wide, and was he wearing cologne? What kind of karmic hell had he been thrown into? It just wasn’t fair. 

Bucky leaned a little closer, trying to see, fingers gentle as they touched his neck and then the strap, knuckles grazing his jaw. “Yeah, it’s twisted,” Bucky whispered like they were already behind enemy lines. Bucky fixed it while Steve just stood there, trying to not to sway forward into him. Bucky made a sound when he got it sorted out, and then he drew the straps together, hands framing Steve’s face again. Was that the same sound he might make if he kissed Steve? 

Bucky looked at him then, sadly almost. “It’s okay, Stevie. Just take a breath.” And he realized he was breathing too quickly, that Bucky must know how much his presence was affecting him. Bucky still had one hand on his face under the helmet, thumb stroking the bolt behind his jaw, waiting for him to calm down. Because all Bucky had ever done was see Steve’s weaknesses and then take care of him. And how had he repaid him? 

He gripped Bucky’s wrist in a hard hand, kept it next to his face, used the other hand to get the visor up and turned his head before he could think about it too much, pressing his lips against Bucky’s palm, just at the edge before his wrist, breathed him in, clean skin, a hint of chemical from his examination of the motorcycle. 

“It’s alright. I’m not going anywhere,” Bucky said, and Steve fumbled his way through a chuckle, felt a shiver go through Bucky’s arm as he gently pulled away from Steve. 

“That’s what I should be saying.”

There was grief on his face as he looked up at Steve. “Nah. I’m pretty sure we both need to hear it.” He picked up his own helmet and put it back on while Steve dropped the visor again and then climbed onto the back of the bike. 

He adjusted himself, grateful Bucky’s back was turned and then sat down, determined to use every muscle in his body to make sure there was at least one inch between his body and Bucky’s at all times. He put a hand on Bucky’s shoulder as he got settled, another on his waist and Bucky started the bike, sorted out the kickstand and waited for Steve to hold on. 

They should have god damned walked into town. Should have called a taxi and hoped no one figured out who they were. How was he supposed to do this? He let his hand slide down over Bucky’s leather jacket then snake up onto his waist, where he was all hard muscle and warmth. He wrapped his arms around Bucky’s flat stomach and Bucky put a hand over his, a gentle squeeze, reassuring, keeping Steve close. 

“Yeah,” he said, unable to articulate a single reason why he even said it or if it was an appropriate response to the touch. He let his other arm go around Bucky’s torso, holding him in his arms and the visceral joy that filled him brought tears to his eyes. 

They’d held each other for warmth growing up. They’d shared a bed for a long, long time. Growing up in the depression meant that it was normal. And in the war, when they were in the dark waiting to see if they were going to be bombed into oblivion or shot in the back, trying to sleep, they were able to hold each other then too. And then Bucky had died, Steve had gone into the water and that was the end of them both. 

But here they were. “Seventy fucking years, Rogers,” Bucky said, over his shoulder and Steve squeezed him, hope filling him that maybe they were finally going to get it right.

It took an hour to get to a medium sized town where they wouldn’t be quite so obviously noticed. If he hadn’t been ravenous he would have been happy to drive all night.  

They parked the bike and left the helmets then went into a noisy tavern, people giving them a look but then dismissing them, apparently deciding Captain America was not in their town about to grab a beer. 

Steve went out the back where there were tables, the area deserted except for a few smokers and two teens making out. He’d let Bucky order, his German so good no one would guess he was American. He came out a few minutes later, holding two beers filled to the brim in each hand. 

“Do you miss getting drunk?” Steve asked him when he sat down. Steve had never been much of a drinker, what with being ill and poor, but Bucky had loved a night on the town, coming home with a big smile, lipstick all over his collar and the smell of beer and cigarettes saturating him. 

He shrugged. “Guess I miss what it represented. Easier days. No responsibility. But, considering how often I’d wind up puking in the bushes, no. Besides, I mainly did it to get dames. Back when it was all courage, bluster and pretense.” He froze with the beer halfway to his mouth, as if he’d only just realized how that might be interpreted, then took a long drink, and changed the subject. 

“What do you mean?” he asked, hoping Bucky might just say what he’d always wanted to hear, that the moment things between them looked inevitable, Bucky had driven them apart, kept them legal, by going out with a woman.

“I’m not doing that conversation, Steve,” he said, determined.  

“I ordered food. Just said two of everything. If anything will give us away it’s the quantity of food we eat.”

“Two of everything?” he asked, appalled and maybe a little delighted. 

“In my defense, they only had four things on the menu.”

“Oh.”

“But one of them was a roasted chicken.” 

Steve took a long drink of his beer then held it up, “We didn’t toast,” he said, and waited for Bucky to say something. 

“Hey, if you want to do it you have to start it.” He closed his mouth, abruptly looked down. 

Steve noted the double entendre, wondered if that was true. And if his overtures would be well received. He suspected they would be and he was getting to the point where he had to know. Life could be fleeting. Happiness was sometimes a promise one made for another day that never came and Steve had no desire to live that way. “Right. Okay. To love. And forgiveness. And to you, Buck. What else is there?”

Bucky shook his head at Steve, seemed almost shy at the compliment. He met Steve’s gaze and then quickly looked down, staring at the table in front of him.

“And to you, Steve. I’m glad…I’m glad I never had to hurt you. That we don’t have that between us. I love seeing you be happy and so quick to smile. You seem damn young and I’m so grateful for it I can’t even tell you. To you. I’m not sure any of us could get through this without you.”

Which made Steve get a little choked up. It wasn’t just any old Steve Rogers he was talking about, but him. Him as distinct and other, a Steve Rogers who hadn’t let him and everyone else down, hadn’t been annihilated by tragedy so  that getting back up was just too fucking hard. 

It implied he had a future with the others, could help them all. Be a family. 

And then the food came, which was a damned relief because he wasn’t sure either of them knew where they went from that, anyway.

 

 

***

They ate and walked around the town until they wound up at a war memorial for fallen soldiers as one usually does in Europe. They both stood there for a long time, quiet, reflecting. Remembering the past. “You know, maybe when we have a break we should visit some of the Commando’s descendants.”

“Bore them with stories of people long dead?” Bucky asked, voice flat. “I think you’d have to do most of it. My memory comes and goes.”

“Maybe that means it would be good for you. Might jog something loose.”

Bucky shrugged, hands in his jacket pockets, his arm sliding along Steve’s at the gesture. He hadn’t realized they were standing so close together. Tried to figure out if they’d moved closer to each other or just wound up that way.

Unconsciously seeking comfort from each other at a time like this, when they were both reminded how out of place they were. “Half the time they’re not memories I want, anyway.” He exhaled, slow and long. “You know I killed a lot of really good people, right?”

“No, I know the Winter Soldier did.” He wanted to touch him, offer comfort, but he could tell this wasn’t a good time, something brittle and distant coming off of Bucky as they stood there. 

“I don’t know why I made it sometimes. There were a lot of men a hell of a lot better that deserved to survive instead of me.”

“Life doesn’t have much to do with what we deserve,” Steve said, quietly. “If we go see their families, our friends, our brothers and talk about them, pay our respects…James Buchanan Barnes saved a lot of lives in that war. And you saved mine over and over again. You deserve to be happy, Bucky. To get past this.”

“That’s what Sam keeps saying. It’s what you said.” He shifted his weight, leaned away so they weren’t touching anymore. Steve missed the heat of him, not because he was cold, but because it was proof of life, that they were here and real and had miles to go before they slept. 

If he ever got Bucky in his arms, in his bed, he wasn’t sure he’d ever let him go. 

“When he found me I was blank. Like, really blank. I kept his picture in a book. Marked so it was the first thing I’d see. I put memories in there, stuff that came back to me in the night or as I was walking around. I’d taken the damned thing from the Smithsonian gift shop, where that exhibit is of us, finding undeniable proof that I had been someone else. That my best friend had been someone…good was surprising. Confusing. I only knew death. It was autopilot, like a route to work, or going on a familiar run, I knew every turn by heart, without conscious thought— how to kill, how to get away, how to make it clean or bloody, fast or slow. Death is a really horrible art and I’m a master.”

“I know that,” he said, softly, not wanting to interrupt, knowing he was working up to something. 

“So he found me and he was looking at this book I had, the picture I hadn’t even trimmed to make fit the page, that I’d glued down and clearly stared at obsessively, and the look of joy on his face when he saw me. I was going to save him. Be his purpose. I could see it on his face. He wanted everything and he wanted it instantly. Be who I was seventy years ago, be something he could lean on like before.” He takes a breath in, a breath out.

“It didn’t matter if we’d be leaning on each other if I couldn’t support the weight.” Wind blows through the nearby trees and a few fallen leaves are swirling around the base of the monument. “The cops came in to capture me and it was like the good old days, having each other’s backs, fighting in sync, like dancing, or sex: you move, I move, both together….” he says, and it’s the least hot description of sex he’s ever heard because Bucky is far away now, mechanical and dead beside him as he pulls Steve along into the past. 

“Then I used him as a shield and threw him out the window, I slammed him to the ground and he was so horrified, under me, trusting me while I got my go bag out of the floor and I saw him realize that I would leave bodies. And I wouldn’t look back. Even with him there, the body count and the cost of me might be more than he could ever pay.”

He finally looks at Steve. “You always believed in me. Hell, worshipped me. And I bought into it too, when it was Bucky shakes his head at the idea, rejecting it. He blinks rapidly. Is he crying? “He needed me after that. He almost killed Tony trying to keep me safe. Got his friends arrested, became an outlaw and it was the first time we both looked at each other and thought, the person he got wasn’t the one described on the tin.”

“Fuck him,” Steve growls, and he feels Bucky flinch beside him, shocked at his tone and his language. Good. The blood is pounding inside of him and he feels angry, reckless, desperate and maybe Bucky needs to know it just as much as he needs to say it. “I don’t know who that guy is or what happened to him and I don’t care.” He laughs, bitterly. “Jesus Christ, the things I would do for you,” he says, voice husky, body turned towards the man he loves, “You want to know what I got from my Bucky? I said his name, I was coming towards you and you took the cyanide pill. You died and I didn’t even get the chance to be disappointed, shoulder the burden or prove myself to you. I’m not him. Don’t call me him anymore. You’re a monster? Show me. Prove it. We get in there and you do what it takes to get us out again. To protect you and me. You want their deaths to be messy and long, want to give me their hearts as a present and show me what a monster you are? Do it. Do it, Bucky. And then promise me you’ll take me home. Promise you won’t judge me by him any more or keep me away because of him and I will give you everything.” 

He doesn’t have it in him to stay away from him anymore. He steps into Bucky’s space, moves in to kiss him, a soft sound of fear coming from Bucky’s throat and he turns his head away from Steve. Rigidly keeping them apart, like the slightest give will kill them both. 

He kisses his jaw instead, soft and then open mouthed, moves along his face until he kisses the bolt of his jaw, feels the muscle there jump and he kisses down his neck, so hungry for him, to taste him and devour him and he can do this, he can be this, so hot and bright that Bucky catches flame, too. 

Bucky grabs him by the arms, holds him still, his breathing ragged. He might say Steve’s name, who the hell knows? “Stop, stop,” Bucky orders, and he does, feels like a race horse at the starting line, ready to hurl himself forward. 

“I promise. Steven, I promise. Don’t…don’t make us do this yet. I want you to see first. See me. I’m better than I was. But you have to assume this is it for me. Nightmares, flinching, going blank. I’m not saying no, I’m saying be sure.” 

And he puts his hands in Steve’s hair, pulls him down, presses his lips hard against Steve’s forehead and then his cheeks, and finally, softly, against his lips. “If we do more and you decide you don’t want me…I don’t think I can come back from that.” 

He bites back the reassurance and the promises of devotion and acceptance. Words are useless now. It’s all about what Steve does. “Let’s go.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Are you ogling me wearing this jacket?” Bucky asked, a weird smile on his face. The jacket in question was black, leather, totally plain so as to not draw attention and fit him like a masterpiece. 

Yes, he was ogling him in that jacket. But, (and this might mean that there would be a nice, toasty place next to the fire in Hell for him,) it was more than the jacket. It was the weapons that were covering him from head to toe. On his back, strapped to his thigh, on his waist, etc. Seeing Bucky in his super assassin outfit shouldn’t be as hot as it was. 

Steve blushed. “What? Okay, yes, I am, actually,” he said, deciding it was best to not mention his burgeoning weapon fetish.  “But you’re not supposed to ask about it. Besides, it’s not my fault— why do you keep messing with the zipper?”

“Oh, you sweet summer child,” Bucky said, on a sigh. “It’s an expression Wanda likes,” he said, seeing Steve’s confusion. “I’m doing it because you’re looking.”

He bumped Bucky with his shoulder. “You’re a jerk. And, you know, I was thinking about it on the incredibly uncomfortable ride back to the base, and there really isn’t any reason to wait on the kissing situation, because I’ve seen you as a sniper and I didn’t have a problem with that. You saved our lives. A lot.”  He was now almost positive Old Steve had broken under the unrelenting sexual frustration.

“The kissing, or lack thereof, isn’t a ‘situation’. It’s just temporary…I hope.” He blew out a breath, shook his head and Steve was relieved to see that Bucky was the one blushing now. Served him right. Then Bucky flashed him a grin. “Actually, remember when I showed up wearing my uniform? I swear you were stunned speechless.”

“I was. You were a menace. It was like, ‘of course two girls are going to wander away with Bucky and share him when he’s dressed like that.’ Steve wished he hadn’t sounded so bitter.

“Well, I remember when Peggy came in wearing that red dress and you practically followed her out like a dog after a pork-chop.” The silence was painful. Bucky winced. “Maybe forget I said that.”

“It’s…it is what it is, I guess,” Steve said, fearing it would always be like this; the two of them making progress and then the specter of Peggy and the other (stupider) Steve would come between them. 

“Hey,” Bucky said, coming in close, resting his hands on Steve’s shoulders and giving him a little shake until he made eye contact. “It was a stupid thing to say. Honestly, for a moment there I’d forgotten Steve Rogers had ever made that choice. Her over me. I swear it wasn’t to be an asshole.”

Steve slid his arms around Bucky’s waist. “Is that true?” he asked, wishing he could kiss him already. 

He saw Bucky’s eyes dilate as he looked at Steve’s mouth. He licked his lips and Bucky leaned in, closing the distance between them and hesitated a bare inch away, “I swear, I’m so easy for you. It’s fucking terrifying,” Bucky said, and then he kissed Steve, just a press of lips and every single thought Steve had of the mission, of later, of anything at all, vanished and every part of him focused on Bucky. The feel of him, the need to be closer to him, to be part of him, claim something of him became more necessary than breathing. 

Bucky closed the distance, pressing in close, his mouth suddenly firmer, harder as he responded to Steve’s urgent kisses. Steve gasped as he pulled Bucky in tighter, let Bucky taste him, felt the warm heat of his mouth. There was something so strange and overwhelming about kissing that it took him a moment to realize Bucky’s grip on him had shifted, that he now had a hand on Steve’s ass, was pulling him closer, and he could feel—

“Oh my God. Do the mission and then make-out,” he heard Sam say and they both separated, jumping apart from each other, decades of conditioning that that was wrong momentarily overriding the need to be close. 

“That’s why you use a phone instead of just appearing on the screen like a fascist dictator,” Bucky growled, and started fiddling with the straps of various weapon holders he was wearing. 

“Not the reference I would have chosen, but I didn’t grow up in the 30’s. I was trying to be helpful. Saw that your mission got delayed. Banner’s back and I wasn’t sure if you wanted backup.”

“No, we’re good. Just getting ready to head out,” Steve said. 

Sam rolled his eyes. “Don’t die because you’re too busy looking into Bucky’s ocean blue eyes,” he said. Sam held up a hand, “The other you kept it a little cooler. You’ve got that thirsty look—“ 

“Goodbye, Sam,” Bucky said loudly, and turned off the monitor. 

“What’s a thirsty look? Whatever. I can figure it out,” Steve said, and picked up his shield, mortified. 

“Let’s get this over with,” Bucky said, heading to the door. As soon as his back was turned, Steve touched his lips, trying to find some echo of what they’d just done. Bucky turned back, and Steve dropped his hand. Bucky frowned, then moved to the exit where they’d make their jump from. Five minutes til go time. 

“At the risk of you kicking my ass, was that your first kiss since 1945?”

“That bad, huh?”

“No, you just have that ‘what is this kissing thing people do with the tongues and the breathing’ look on your face.”

“Just because I didn’t do the kissing booth two years in a row like you did, doesn’t mean anything.”

The smug look on Bucky’s face made him want to punch him. “Think of it as the opportunity to benefit from my experience,” he said, pulling on his gloves. 

His own lack of experience compared to Bucky’s rankled. Steve pulled on his own glove and heard the fabric rip. “Fuck,” he muttered. 

Bucky had gone still. Aware of just how rare it was for him to use that word. “Steve.” He tried to keep his emotions off his face but Bucky was looking at him with such a mushy look that he felt himself becoming more emotional rather than less. “You know, I’ve never done anything with a guy before. It was always you or nothing. So, that was my first kiss too. And…even if it isn’t my first time for some things…” Bucky shrugged, like he really wasn’t happy about what he was about to say next. “You know I hope you’ll be my last.”

“How am I supposed to jump out of a plane and do a mission when you say stuff like that?” Steve couldn’t repress his smile. 

Bucky moved closer again, eyeing Steve’s mouth. “That worked for you, huh?” he said, leaning closer. “Noted, emotional vulnerability goes straight to Steve Roger’s—”

“For the lock of God, jump out of the damned plane!” the pilot ordered. 

So they did. 

 

Their parachutes were black, making them difficult to see, but it didn’t seem like it mattered much as the area around the facility seemed empty. They ditched the parachutes and made their way to the base, both of them in mission mode now that they were here. Everything else could be figured out later. 

Bucky moved differently, Steve realized as he followed him. It was an economy of movement combined with total silence and the impression that he would never tire. While Bucky was good before, very good, in fact, this was a different level. 

He moved like one of the Avengers. Something Other. 

A super-soldier assassin. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. Bucky turned, scanning the area, his profile different too, bleached of expression and fear. It was like being with a robot, reminded him a little bit of Natasha but colder. 

And that was saying something. “Three and nine,” Bucky whispered, and Steve nodded, seeing the guards he was talking about. “One each. Meet you at the entry point,” Bucky said, and then he took off towards his target. 

Which was, annoyingly, a lot closer to the building than Steve’s was. Steve hurried to his target, disabled him and went after Bucky. By the time he got there Bucky had finished dealing with the lock and after checking in with Steve, he opened the door. 

The alarm sounded instantly. “So much for that,” Bucky muttered and Steve went in front of him, using his shield to protect them while Bucky had his rifle at the ready and guarded their backs. Bucky took out guard after guard as they moved deeper into the complex. A headshot every single time. He was frighteningly competent.  

“Why aren’t we seeing anyone else besides guards?” Steve finally asked.

“Don’t know. I don’t like how many guards there are, either. The fact that it’s been one after another makes me wonder if we’re about to get slammed.” 

“We’re pretty deep in here, too.” Steve said, and then they found themselves in the main computer room. It was empty. They shared a look. Too easy. Bucky moved quickly, placing the tech Sam had given him, while Steve kept an eye out. A red light clicked on, the remote download starting and Bucky got to his feet. 

“Ready,” he said, when he was at Steve’s side. 

And then it all went to shit. Gunshots exploded around them and Steve threw himself into Bucky, shoving them down a hallway and out of the way. Almost instantly Bucky was engaged in a hand to hand fight. Him against four guards. 

Who were dead on the ground before Steve could do anything to help him. Bucky was panting lightly, there was a streak of blood across his cheek and dripping off the glove that covered his metal hand. He kept moving forward and Steve followed along, keeping as far back as he could force himself to, letting Bucky deal with every enemy that came at them. Because this was what he’d wanted. For Steve to understand how cold and brutal he could be. 

A sniper hit Bucky’s metal arm as they neared the door, and Steve used his shield to knock him out, catching it as it boomeranged back to him. Bucky didn’t even flinch. 

Steve would have flinched. 

A group of ten guards were outside the exit and Steve finally had a chance to get in on the fight, taking out a few guards while Bucky got the rest. They ran to the extraction point in silence and Bucky radioed for a pickup while they waited in the dark. “I’m thinking you were just showing off back there,” Steve finally said, keeping his eyes on the tree line just in case. 

The pilot picked them up a few minutes later. Bucky disappeared into the back of the plane, stripped off one bloody glove and then the other. He unstrapped all his weapons slowly, laying them on the table. 

Steve listened to the steady drone of the plane, punctuated by the metallic clanking of Bucky shedding weapon after weapon, and watched him worriedly. Bucky’s hands were steady, his gaze calm but he didn’t look at Steve, didn’t talk to him at all as he began cleaning his guns. He had that tight look to his jaw again, like he was using every scrap of energy to keep himself together, in the here and now. 

It broke Steve’s heart to see Bucky like this. He supposed this had been lurking under the surface of him, but it had been easy for Steve to ignore it, to be carried away with excitement at having his friend back. The opportunity to have this chance at a life with Bucky buoyed him along, so that he’d attributed some of his flatness to what the other Steve had done instead of the trauma he’s survived. 

Now he saw Bucky more clearly. He wasn’t just Bucky. He was the Winter Soldier, too. A merciless killer that had almost murdered the other him. The enormity of what had been done to Bucky snapped into focus. It was as though Steve had been treading water in the ocean without realizing that a sea of monsters were swimming underneath him. 

It made him burn with rage and helplessness. His Bucky shouldn’t be like this. Steve should have stopped this. He could have stopped this if he’d gone back for him in 1945, if he’d been one step faster, been quicker so he didn’t fall off that train in the first place. 

He could have stopped this if he’d let them go home after Azzano. Hell, he could have stopped it decades ago if he’d been stronger, able to resist the call of death and grief over Bucky’s loss and not put that plane in the ocean with no desire to save himself. 

It took Steve two tries to get his shield off and he dropped it to the ground uncaringly, walking away from Bucky, needing a minute to get himself together. Maybe Bucky was right and he was shinier and more alive than the other Steve had been. Because he could feel it now, the weight and tragedy of what had happened to Bucky, his own complicitness and failure stripping him to the bone, peeling away his own strength, dissolving some part of him so that he wanted to collapse to the ground in a state of shock and self-loathing. 

The tinkling sound of bullets rolling off the table and landing on the metal floor jolted him back to himself. Steve got himself something to drink, forced himself to shake off the despair and took a bottle of water with him as he went back to where Bucky was still working away. 

He picked up a package of wipes from a shelf and stopped next to him. “Let me clean your face,” he said, and Bucky paused, head down, hair hiding him, fingers so tight on the gun in front of him that his knuckles were white. He only looked distant, Steve realized. 

This was the other part of the test. 

Could Steve accept not just the violence of Bucky but the darkness in him, the tragedy of him and still want him? “Turn towards me, Buck. Let me take care of you.”

He turned, tall, his broad shoulders straight, eyes to the right of Steve like he couldn’t bare to actually look at him.  “You know, you have the same look on your face you’d get when it was spaghetti night at that base outside London.”

Slowly, Bucky’s gaze shifted, met Steve’s, searching intensely. “Don’t. No….” It was clear the words just weren’t there. Bucky swallowed. “You don’t white knuckle this, Steve.”

“You’re the one about to break that clip in half,” he said. He wiped gently at the blood on Bucky’s cheek. There was more blood on his forehead and on his neck. The small pile of bloody wipes grew, not a single drop of it his. “Perfect,” he said, and he leaned closer, so damn slowly Bucky could pull away if he needed to. 

Maybe it made him selfish, maybe it wasn’t morally correct, but Bucky was alive now because of the violence he’d lived, how it had become a part of his reflexes and instincts. “I just don’t care,” he said, and pressed his lips to Bucky’s. 

Pressed again when Bucky’s lips didn’t soften, wrapped his arms around him and held him close, laying it all on the line because he’d have to be strong enough to let his guard down first in order for Bucky to hear him. 

“I loved you then and I love you now,” he said. “I love you,” and he repeated the words over and over again, breathing them into Bucky’s skin and his mouth until Bucky trembled and finally, finally kissed him back. 

“I love you, too. God help us both but I do.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve got up, took a shower and then headed down to the gym and training area. “Great. That’s fantastic,” he heard Bucky saying, proudly. He stopped in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and watched as Sam and Bucky faced Wanda, her hands red and glowing as she controlled twelve marbles that were floating in the air. 

“You should put them in a shape,” Sam said. “Like a heart. Cause love is in the air.”

A marble dropped and Bucky darted forward, catching it before it hit the ground. “Ready?” he asked and Wanda nodded. He tossed it high and it fell back down, stopping abruptly at hand level and then sliding in to rejoin the others. It was kind of amazing. 

“Thank you, by the way, for the note on the fridge,” Bucky said, tone heavy with sarcasm. “It says a lot about you, respecting our privacy, letting us keep it under wraps—“

“Dude. You two were making out on the plane. The pilot complained to Fury afterward. Said it was unprofessional. There is no secret. Besides, everyone is happy for you two.”

“There was another note on the gym when I cam down this morning, but I took it down. You’re welcome,” Wanda said, flicking a fond glance at Bucky. Two marbles fell and Bucky grabbed one but the other hit the ground, rolling away. She smiled, the marbles trembled, slowly shifted around and made a heart. 

“Very funny. You’re a bad influence on her.” Bucky shifted from right to left but didn’t move away. “Well, I don’t know how useful it will be in a fight. Or anywhere for that matter. But it’s cool. Plus, you could make a lot of money at kid’s parties. As a child of the depression I can tell you that one should always have multiple, employable skills ”

Sam smacked him on the arm. “Thanks, Roosevelt. This here, it’s dexterity, concentration, multi-tasking and we all know she’s got power, but a delicate touch, that’s where it’s at.” 

Wanda held her hands out and the marbles all came to her, dropping into her hand. Bucky took a bag out of his pocket and opened it up while she put the marbles in. She looked up then, saw Steve in the doorway and the smile on her face disappeared. “Steve,” she said, tentatively. 

“Bucky was telling me about your abilities on the flight home. It’s incredible,” he said, smiling as he came into the room.  

“You’re a much later sleeper than the other Steve,” she said, after a too long pause. 

He ran a hand through his hair absently. “I didn’t sleep well last night. Had a lot on my mind.”

“Like what?” Sam asked, attempting to sound innocent. He didn’t sound innocent.

He wasn’t going to mention the relationship stuff (although he could feel himself blushing) but he did have something else that he wanted to know about. “What the hell happened to Nat? If the soul stone required giving a soul and Steve returned all the stones, why didn’t we get Nat back?”

They all looked at each other. They hadn’t expected him to ask that. “It doesn’t work that way,” Sam finally said. 

“Okay, then how does it work? What did Steve say about returning the stones? What happened? Did he give them to someone?”

“He just said he did it. Don’t think anyone was too interested in taking that trip down memory lane. Besides, it was a long time ago for him. I think. I always have to work out the time travel.” Sam said.

Steve tried to get an idea of what they thought of his questions. He feared they would tell him it wasn’t any of his business. But it was Nat. He loved Nat. And he had to have the whole horrible story. Just in case they could do something to get her back. “If it’s okay, I want to talk to him about it. Maybe Clint too? I just…I don’t think I can let it go that easily. It’s Nat. What wouldn’t she do for us?” 

Wanda looked at him thoughtfully. “I’ll go with you to see Clint,” she offered. 

Steve smiled at her. Bucky had told him how hurt she was by Steve leaving. That she’d lost her brother, her only family and how difficult it had been for her to adjust to life here and to having powers. She’d lost a lot after Thanos.  

Apparently, Steve was the one who’d usually trained with her. Bucky said they’d been close. That Bucky had found her crying more than once, looking small and alone. Bucky’d had sisters and the look on Wanda’s face, the way she was standing close to Bucky, like she’d protect him with her life if Steve hurt him, well, it was clear he’d put his brotherly skills to work. He knew Bucky and Sam were doing their best to be there for her. He wanted to be there too. 

She’d taken Steve’s leaving personally. They all had. She’d been avoiding him and now, for her to offer to go with him, that seemed like a big step. “Great. Thanks, Wanda. I’d like that a lot,” he said, hoping he could be her friend too. Convince her that he wouldn’t leave. 

If she wanted a Steve Rogers in her life that she could depend upon, then dammit, she could have one. All he’d ever wanted was a family, a place to belong. After getting out of the ice, of being this freak out of time with no one and nothing, he’d take any chance he could to create a family. 

The Avengers were his family now. Add Bucky into the equation and what the hell else was there in life to want? Goddamnit, Steve, he thought, again, disgusted at the other him for leaving this group behind. 

He pushed the thought and the accompanying disgust away. It seemed like he spent half his time thinking about Bucky and the other half wondering what the hell other him had been thinking to give up all this. 

“Alright then. Anyone wanna spar?” he asked, looking from one to the other of them, even to Wanda, so she didn’t feel excluded. 

Sam snorted and started walking away. “No, I’ve gotta go make another sign.”

“What’s written on the sign?” he asked, curious despite himself. 

“The sign says, ‘No kissing zone’,” Sam answered, too loud, apparently thinking he was some great wit. “And it has three exclamation points at the end. For effect,” he said, then walked out of the room. 

“Ignore him. He thinks he’s a lot funnier than he is,” Bucky mumbled, looking uncomfortable. “I’m just gonna run,” Bucky shrugged in apology and went to the row of treadmills. 

Steve followed along, got on the treadmill next to Bucky and set a brisk pace to warm-up. When he looked up again Wanda was gone. They ran in silence for a minute before Bucky broke the silence. “I don’t want to fight you. Even if it’s just…pretend. Maybe someday, but not yet.”

“Yeah, okay. I get it.” His fantasies of getting forced down into the mattress weren’t going to be happening as quickly as he’d hoped. He cleared his throat. “That’s okay. I don’t mind. Losing can be hard. It’s good you know your limitations,” he said, because Bucky would appreciate him lightening the moment. 

“You’re such a jerk.” 

“It’s an underrated skill.”

A few minutes passed and then Bucky upped his speed. Steve copied him. “I was thinking we could go to dinner tonight,” Bucky said.

“Oh?” he asked, looking over at Bucky and then doing a double take. His shirt was off. When had that happened? How had he not noticed? The muscles of his arms bunched and relaxed with each step, his skin just vast planes of golden perfection. “Shit!” he yelled, tripping over his own feet. His ankle throbbed and he had to hop until he got the machine turned off. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah. It’s only an ankle. And embarrassment. And I do have two ankles. This one was surplus, anyway.” Bucky turned off his own treadmill and stepped off, picking up his shirt to put back on. 

“I have an arm like that,” he said, voice deadpan. He quirked a brow at Steve. 

“I won’t even notice it in an hour,” he said, hobbled into the changing room, then leaned against the wall.

“So, is there any food you don’t want? Or should I just book us something somewhere?”

“Oh. Um, I don’t care. I’m like bi for food.”

Bucky opened his mouth, closed it again. “Omnivorous?”

“Yes, that’s a much more appropriate word.” Was there some way to get out of this conversation with a shred of self-respect? He was at a severe disadvantage here. Injured, totally distracted by Bucky’s naked chest. “I thought you were putting your shirt on?”

“Once you were safely off the machine I decided I’d hold off. You,  seemed like you liked the view,” he said. And then, because Bucky was an asshole, he winked. Winked!

“You know what? This isn’t fair. Why is this happening to me? How come I’m the only one getting injured and forgetting the English language?”

“Why don’t you try taking your shirt off and we can find out? For science?”

“Oh,” he says, reaching for the hem of his shirt. 

“Wait. Actually, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I mean, of course, I want to see you naked.” Bucky grimaced, held up a hand. “With your shirt off…naked is, of course good, too,” he said, gaze dropping quickly down Steve’s body and then back up again. “Great, even. There, happy, you didn’t even have to take off your shirt and I’m bumbling along now.” He closed his eyes, opened them again and forced a smile. “Look, we’re going on a god damned date. We’re doing this relationship proper. So, no funny business. You keep your clothes on.”

“So you can take off your shirt and tempt me but I can’t do the same thing?”

Bucky took a moment, thinking it through. “Apparently, yes. In my defense, I didn’t say it was fair.”

“Your rules seem arbitrary and capricious.”

Bucky’s lip twitched, the only indication this wasn’t serious.  “They very well might be. It’s my fragile ego, you see.”

He might have meant it as a joke but Steve knew it was true. He’d been rejected by his Steve. If he needed a little reassurance that he was wanted, Steve was happy to do it. He reached out a hand, lacing their fingers lightly together. “Just so you know, I would consider it my pleasure to do absolutely anything, anything at all to prove to you just how much I want you.”

“Three dates. You hear me? No arguing with me. We are going to have three dates before there is anyone proving anything.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Steve exclaimed. 

“Christ, Rogers. Language! You’re going to make me blush.”

Steve wasn’t going to be distracted so easily. He squeezed Bucky’s hand tightly. “No, are you serious? Three dates? We’ve known each other since we were kids! At this point, I’m basically a hundred year old virgin. Do you have any idea how sad that is?”

“Well you can wait another few days. If anyone deserves a little proper wooing it’s you. Let me take you out, be a gentleman, show everyone my best guy. We do this the right way.”

Steve groaned. “I can’t believe you’re going to be so old fashioned.” 

“Don’t you want to be treated with a little respect?”

He didn’t even have to think about it. “No, actually, I don’t. What I really want is for you to haul me upstairs and have your wicked way with me.”

He laughed sharply. “Oh, it’s a wicked way, is it?” 

He rolled his eyes, could tell by Bucky’s smile that he was blushing. “I can’t believe you called me your ‘best guy.’”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” he said, and kind of wished he could drop it because he did actually like Bucky calling him that. It made him want to curl up into Bucky and kiss him senseless. If anything he wanted to hear it again, hear how he was special to Bucky.

 How many times had he seen Bucky out with some girl, giving her the charm, the hot looks, the focused attention? And he’d been so damned jealous of all of it, even the endearments. Hell yeah, he wanted them.

“How about sweetheart?”

“Buck,” he said, repressively, trying to pull his hand away. Only it hadn’t come across like a protest. His voice had come out soft, almost breathy and his attempt to pull away wasn’t very convincing, either. Bucky tightened his grip, moved closer to him, gaze becoming hot and predatory. 

“You’re something else, sweetheart, you know that?” and his voice was like gravel. He moved into Steve like he couldn’t help himself, braced his arms next to Steve’s head and leaned closer, trapping him against the wall. He kissed Steve softly, ever so gently. “I can see on your face how much you like that. It’s so fucking hot. You my sweetheart, Stevie?”

“Bucky,” he gasped, against his mouth. He just wanted him. 

“What is it, doll?” he asked, just a hot whisper against Steve’s lips before he kissed him softly again. His eyes dropped closed, body shifting restlessly against Steve’s, the hard press of Bucky’s cock making his own cock pulse as pleasure shot through him. He didn’t know it would feel that good. Couldn’t imagine not feeling this with him every day for the rest of his life. 

“Bucky,” he repeated, weakly and Bucky’s hand strayed, went down to the hem of Steve’s shirt, slipped under and stroked along his side, Steve’s skin tingling, hips pressing forward. 

“What is it, my love? Saying my name all sweet like that,” and then his hand moved up, to Steve’s breast, cupping him there, a thumb stroking over his nipple, making him arch into Bucky. 

“Want you,” he managed, sliding his hand down to Bucky’s ass, pulling him closer. Bucky groaned against him, hips jerking, mimicking sex, like he wanted to be inside Steve. He bit his lip, the very idea of Bucky being inside him, wanting that from him, was unbearably arousing. Steve tried to move with him, for him, needing Bucky to want him more than anything, to make him tremble, too. 

“You’re shaking like a leaf,” Bucky murmured. “My pretty baby. Stevie, Stevie, fuck,” he groaned, hips rolling hard against Steve’s. 

 “Please, Bucky. Please,” he begged, and he felt Bucky’s cock jerk in response, his movements become more urgent as lust overwhelmed him too. 

Just like that, Steve understood. If this was what Bucky wanted, to know how desperate Steve was for him, that he would beg for him, he could do that. That was as easy and honest as breathing. 

Just like Bucky knew Steve was getting off on all these pet names, on being treated like he was Bucky’s best girl, he could feel how Bucky kissed him harder, deeper, thrust against him tighter when he gasped and pleaded for Bucky to touch him. “What is it, my angel?”

“Want to come. With you,” he said, and Bucky moaned. Then he went still, the harsh sounds of their breathing and the rush of blood through Steve’s body echoing around them. 

“Tell me you need me,” Bucky demanded, utterly serious, totally vulnerable. He pressed his forehead against Steve’s, eyes closed tight. 

“I do. Always. Bucky. My Bucky. Please, Bucky. Please. Just touch me. I want you so much it hurts,” he begged. “I need you. You have to, you can’t leave me like this,” he said, and it felt like the hugest mistake, a line in the sand he hadn’t meant to make, but this wasn’t a game to him, it wasn’t easy to be this vulnerable, this exposed and if Bucky pulled back now, walked away from him and left him hard and wanting, Steve wasn’t sure he’d ever recover. “It’s too much.”

He felt Bucky nod in understanding. “Husy, baby. I’ll take care of you. I’m sorry. I love you,” he said, and he pushed down his sweats, freeing his cock, and then Steve’s, exposing him, gaze fixed on Steve’s face. Steve wanted to watch as Bucky wrapped a hand around them both but the intimacy of the eye contact was scary and perfect and he couldn’t look away from the pale blue of his eyes. Bucky kissed Steve deeply, jerking them off together. “Do you like this, sweetheart? My beautiful angel?”

He held onto Bucky hard enough to bruise, his knees going weak, forcing Bucky to support them both. “I want to come with you,” he said, “but I….I don’t think I can wait.” How do I make you come undone too? But he wasn’t brave enough for that. 

“Then tell me you love me. Tell me, Stevie,” he gasped, pace picking up, breathing harsh. 

“I do. I love you. You’re mine. I’m never letting you go. Bucky. I love you. I love you. I—“ and Bucky crushed his mouth to Steve’s, so hard he tasted blood, Bucky’s cock pulsing against his as he came, pressing Steve heavily into the wall. Steve came with Bucky’s tongue in his mouth, his stomach wet with Bucky’ come, finally hissing when the stimulation became too much. 

“Thank you, sweetheart,” Bucky finally said, after they’d both had a moment to recover. And then Bucky kissed him some more, slow and lazy, like they had all the time in the world. 

“Always. Always you, Bucky,” he whispered, feeling tears on his own cheeks. He’d known it would be emotional but he hadn’t expected this. He pulled back, gave Bucky a wobbly smile and saw him blinking rapidly. Bucky dragged in a raspy breath, looked at the ceiling, trying to keep it together. But the tears slipped out and Steve kissed his face, wiped them away with his lips and his tongue and Bucky let him, his eyes closing, shoulders relaxing. 

He didn’t believe him yet. Not completely. But he would. Steve wouldn’t give up. Bucky cleaned them both up, touching Steve absently on the cheek, kissing him or pulling him close as he went about his ministration. Much more tender than Steve had expected. 

If they’d gotten together before the war, or even during the war, it would have been like this. Sweeter and more tender than he ever could have imagined. That the gentler Bucky he’d grown up with was still in there under the scars and the violence was a miracle Steve was profoundly grateful for. 

It must have broken the other Steve’s heart to see that gone, to fear it was forever, that tender Bucky had been slaughtered out of him and left only the Winter Soldier behind. If he’d seen that could they have gotten here? 

Would Steve have been able to open his heart again after losing him? Because this love was terrifying. Like heroin or something, better than anything one might ever feel but it could kill you too. 

He’d never been so terrified in his entire life. Bucky kissed him again, the corner of his mouth, the saddest smile on his face, his eyes damp. “I know, sweetheart. I know.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve came back out to the car only to find Wanda gone. He looked up and down the street then saw her sitting on a rock wall in front of the neighbor’s house. She waved and hopped down. “It was hot in the car,” she said, shrugging.

“You could have come in?”

“And he could have come out. What did the old man say?” she asked, changing the subject. 

The other Steve hadn’t come outside because he knew Wanda didn’t want to see him. Steve hadn’t wanted to touch that one with a ten-foot pole so he’d asked his questions and high-tailed it out of there. “Much the same as Clint. Abandoned, uninhabited planet, big climb to the top, Red Skull was there which is an odd situation but there we are, and—“ 

“Yeah, who is this guy?”

“Red Skull? He’s a villain we fought in the forties. I killed him. Apparently, he’s now guarding the soul stone.”

Wanda squinted at him. “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

She walked slowly with him back towards the car, twirling a lock of hair absently around her fingers, her rings glinting in the sun. “There’s all these different planets and people, must be a lot of villains in the galaxy, millions even, so why is he there guarding the stone? You think The PTB wanted you to make that trip instead?”

“Who’s the PTB?”

“The Powers That Be. It’s a thing from Buffy, meaning like the universe or destiny. It was kind of meta because they also meant the writers of the show. They were the ultimate PTB. Like, if our universe was a tv show why would he be there and you don’t meet him? If he’s Captain America’s villain, shouldn’t he be there for a reckoning with Captain America?”

“I hope not. And I don’t believe in a PTB.”

“Hmm. Speaking of PTB’s, sometimes I can’t believe Thor is a god. Or Loki for that matter. Like they shouldn’t be in charge of a universe or a creation…I’m pretty sure Rocket is the one taking care of Thor right now. If he’s the responsible one, what kind of world are we living in?”

“Who’s Rocket?”

Wanda’s eyes went wide. “Ohhh, you haven’t met Rocket,” she breathed, eyes wide. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But don’t meet him without me. I might video it.”

They got in the car and Wanda cranked up the air conditioner. “Bucky was right, you are a lot like Becca.”

“Who’s Becca?”

“She was Bucky’s favorite sister. A handful but you had to love her. She got away with murder. Bucky couldn’t say no to her. I think we were each in a few fights because of something Becca Buchanan got up to.”

“He…said that?” she asked, absently turning her phone over as she looked at her lap.

“Yeah. I’m glad he’s got you,” he said. Wanda went very still and then exploded, threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him awkwardly between the seats. He hugged her back as best he could. She pulled away from him, smile wobbly. 

“And I’m glad he’s got you. I’m glad…I’m glad you’re here.” 

Steve felt a lump of emotion in his throat and it took him a second to get himself together. He cleared his throat. “He’s taking me on a date tonight. I haven’t been on a date since the forties. I’m worried it’s different somehow.  And he’s got some sort of plan I think.”

“It means you need new clothes. And, I can help with that,” she said, a big smile on her face. 

No way was he turning that down. He hated shopping and even when he thought he was getting it right there was still something a little old fashioned about his clothes. Tony had mocked him mercilessly for it. Be it the width of his collar or the cut of his trousers. He wanted to get it right. “Great. But I need to look hot. Like smoking hot where he can’t keep his hands off me.”

Wanda giggled and put on her seatbelt. “He already can’t keep his hands off you. You’re talking about creating an international incident…and I fully support that. And just so we’re clear, because I don’t think we finished the conversation we were supposed to have, yeah, I also think we should go after Nat as soon as Rocket can get here.”

“With his spaceship,” Steve muttered, not sure why it was so fantastical after the things he’d already seen but it was. 

“The spaceship is the least of it. He’s a raccoon.”

“What does that mean? Is that like being a cougar or a silver fox?”

She was silent for a moment. “Yes, Steve. It’s exactly like that,” she said, but he could tell she was trying not to laugh.  

  

***

 

Wanda had taken him shopping and he was now wearing the tightest jeans ever. Considering how much time he spent in glorified lycra, that was saying something. The Captain America suit had give, served a purpose, this was just wrong. “How can so much be covered and yet revealed? He’s going to laugh.”

“No, he’s not. Because I made him buy something similar. Do you want to see him wearing jeans this tight?” she asked, confident in his answer.

“Well, that’s different.”

“No, it isn’t. I promise you, he won’t be able to keep his hands off you. And I thought he had a great ass.”

Steve decided to keep his mouth shut. He could talk for a very long time about the physical attributes of James Buchanan Barnes. 

“I’m not sure about the hair,” he said. 

“Who? His or yours?”

Steve put a  hand up to his hair self-consciously. “What’s wrong with my hair?”

“Nothing! It’s great. I just wasn’t sure who we were talking about. Bucky’s was a wreck before. Haircuts don’t seem to be high on the priority list when it comes to assassin maintenance. I don’t think he’s cut it since Wakanda.”

“You know, back in the war his hair was longer than it should have been but he was a sniper so he could get away with it. Plus, it gave good optics for photos. I like the hair but I think I’ve spent so much time at the Smithsonian, looking at the pictures of him there that it’s always a surprise when he comes in with these flowing locks. No man had hair like that back then. And the hair combined with the dark blue jacket? There has never been anyone hotter, ever.”

She nodded. “I’ve seen that picture. That was good hair,” she said, and picked up her phone. She started typing something. “Who are you texting?”

“Bucky.”

“Wait. What are you telling him?”

“Nothing. It has nothing to do with you. What’s your opinion on ankle boots? Suede, maybe.”

“This is going to be a very expensive trip, isn’t it?”

“Like the annual GDP of Sokovia,” she murmured.

“Don’t tell him I don’t like his hair. That’s not true. He’s gorgeous no matter what. I’m just saying it’s what I remember.”

“It’s okay, Steve. Seriously, I didn’t tell him about the hair. And we all know you like the hair,” she said, like it’d been discussed ad nauseam.  

Maybe he was gullible but he believed her. She made him buy boots and even new underwear. Hello, world of boxer briefs. She’d responded to his protest by telling him that she’d made Bucky buy them too. 

Which had left Steve stunned and speechless. Trying to imagine what that might look like had been all-consuming. It was like he’d up and left his body. Eyes vacantly staring at nothing as he imagined it, lower lip caught between his teeth, face flushed. He knew that was how he’d looked because Wanda had taken a picture and then showed it to him with a cackle. 

“Oh my God. You didn’t send him that picture of me, did you?” he asked, as she got back on her phone. 

She put it down, suddenly serious. “Steve. Do you really think I’d do that to you?”

“Actually, yes, I do.” He narrowed his gaze at her. “You sent it to Sam too, didn’t you?”

“And Scott. He sent me back that gif of Kermit the Frog eating popcorn.”

“I…I’m too old. What does that mean?” he asked, helplessly.

“Well, first of all, it mean’s he’s over forty because no one has used that since 2020. But it also means he can’t wait to see what happens next. He’s like a marshmallow. Just gooeyness.”

“Gross.”

“Let’s grab a coffee and then we’ll go back home and you can start preparing for your big date. I’m going to say this once and then I’m never going to mention it again but are you familiar with the term manscaping?”

“Right. I want to go home now.”

“But you love this coffee place. We’d always go, every Saturday morning. Coffee and croissants.” She stopped, suddenly doubting. “But, I guess…you’re not actually him, so maybe you wouldn’t like it,” she said, uncertain. And he didn’t like that, at all.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll love it. And even if I don’t I’ll be happy I’m there with you. Would you…want to start doing that again? Regularly?”

She swallowed hard. “That’d be nice. I miss that. Miss…spending time with you.”

“But,” he said, waiting until she looked at him. “What would you think about it becoming a Sunday routine? Cause, you know,” he shrugged. He wasn’t her Steve. And frankly, he didn’t want to be a stand-in for someone who’d behaved so abominably to everyone here. He could and would do better than that. He was reliable. Dependable. He was here and he was going to stay because he was home. Wherever Bucky was, that was home. It wouldn’t do a lot to distinguish the two of them but it was a start.

“Good idea. Sunday is a much better day than Saturday anyway.” 

 

***

 

Bucky came to pick him up at the Avengers compound at six pm sharp. Steve washed his hands quickly, (he’d been fiddling with his hair because he was now wondering if Wanda had a  point and he needed to change it up. Not that he had any idea what a new hairstyle would look like. Maybe a bit longer like Bucky? It was a whole new century, after all) and went to the door feeling so nervous and excited that for once in his life he wasn’t hungry. 

He opened the door and Bucky was there,  a bouquet of flowers in his hands. “You have red roses,” Steve said, stupidly. 

“I do. They’re for you,” he said, looking at Steve in a very proprietary way. Steve blushed, tried to stammer out a response and Bucky held them out. 

“I don’t…I have no idea what to say. Thank you,” he said, taking them, fingers brushing Bucky’s and a little jolt of electricity went through him at the touch. 

He smelled the flowers, pleased at the scent. Sometimes Tony would get flowers at the Tower and they were practically odorless which just seemed like a cheat. For a moment he wondered if he should have a problem with being given something so feminine but he didn’t actually care. 

They were lovely. Bucky had thought of him. Had wanted to make him feel special and so he loved it. His fella could get him flowers every damned day of the week if he wanted to. 

He gestured for Bucky to come in and went looking for a vase. Did he have a vase? Bucky was about to close the door when he heard Scott’s voice from down the outside hall. 

“Just, he probably doesn’t have one and there’s one in the communal kitchen. Oh, what?” Scott shouted to someone. Steve went back towards the door, heard people talking outside. “Wanda says there’s another vase in the kitchen and Sam just said he has a few too,” Scott said. 

Bucky was standing half in the door and half outside of it, a vase in his hands. Steve peered around him, and Scott waved to him. Wanda was a few feet away, coming closer with another vase. And then Sam came around the corner, a vase in his hands. “I thought you said there weren’t any? Now we’re all here like a bunch of creeps with no lives. This ain’t subtle,” Sam said, then he turned and stalked away, muttering. 

“You people need to get lives. You’re too nosy,” Steve said.

“If we go away will you tell us about it tomorrow?” asked Scott. “Cassie and I can make cookies tonight and I’ll bring them over and—“

“Scott. That’s too much,” Wanda whispered. 

Scott looked at Wanda like she was a fool. “It’s Captain America dating Bucky Barnes. The conclusion of an epic love story a hundred years in the making, and we have front row seats. This is history. And it’s good history! There isn’t a lot of happy history. And Cassie is going to ask me about Cap. She always does. He was our favorite in the comics, you know. I read them to her as a child.”

“Dude. Too much,” Bucky said, but Steve thought he was smiling a little. “But bring cookies.”  

“I would like to be a bridesmaid,” Wanda said, abruptly. 

Steve snapped his fingers, pointing at Wanda like she was a genius. “Way to get on that. Can you be each other’s best man?” Scott asked, like it was one of the weightier questions of the universe. 

“It’s only a date,” Bucky said, through clenched teeth and moved Steve out of the way so he could get all the way inside and close the door on them. Bucky closed the door, turned the lock loudly and then leaned back against the door. He opened his mouth to say something when Scott spoke from the hallway, voice raised but muffled through the wood. “So should we just leave the extra vase in the kitchen? There were a lot of flowers….Oh, okay, never mind. Leaving now!”

And then they were alone. As far as Steve was concerned, the sexual tension went from zero to three thousand in a nano-second. Steve stood there dumbly while Bucky pushed himself away from the door. “I like the outfit. I’m not sure whether I should thank Wanda or curse her name because wow,” he said, looking Steve up and down, his gaze so intense it was almost like he could feel an echo of it. If only, he thought.  

“Thank you. And yeah, you look…well.” He had nothing to say. And he couldn’t stop looking at him long enough to think of words. There were countries that would jail him for the way he was ogling the man in front of him. 

Obscene ogling. 

The black skinny jeans fit him like a dream and good grief they were tight. His legs looked so long and he could see the outline of his thigh muscles, in fact he could practically see the outline of—“ his brain yelled at him to abort and he jerked his gaze down, admiring his shoes instead. Not the same. At all. But they were black, shiny and clearly very expensive.  

His hair was down, shiny and softly waved and Steve just wanted to touch it, run his hands through it as he kissed him senseless. Abort! Some part of him ordered again and so he forced himself to look elsewhere. The shirt. A dark crimson button-down covered by a black, leather bomber jacket. 

They’d watched this movie a few weeks ago. Weekend at Bernie’s. It was Sam’s recommendation (Yes, he’d actually recommended it. He was being taken off the recommendation rotation for a few weeks as punishment.) But there was one part where this lecherous old guy compliments a girl’s outfit and tells her it would look better crumpled up on his floor. 

He had an almost hysterical urge to say it to Bucky. Maybe if he did, Bucky would agree with him, just start taking off his clothes as he pulled Steve back to the bedroom.

Bucky came closer, kissed him lightly on the lips. “Thank you,” he said, voice soft.

Steve blinked, took a step back so he wouldn’t throw himself at Bucky. “For what?”

“Looking at me like you want to eat me.”

Steve’s mouth went dry. To say he was flustered was an understatement. The only possible response was that he was definitely willing to eat him. And he couldn’t say that. Steve gave up, turned and went back towards the kitchen in what was definitely a retreat. He unwrapped the flowers and put them in a vase, the tension thick. 

“I didn’t get you anything,” he finally managed.  

“Well, I’m the one picking you up and I asked you out so I think it’s alright. I’ll try not to be too devastated.”

“Where are we going?”

“Uh, well, I wanted to make sure you were okay with us going out on a date first. In public. Neither of us is exactly incognito. Captain America on a date…with a guy. Maybe that’s not the sort of exposure you’re looking for.” Wait. Where was this coming from?

“Do you not want people to know we’re on a date?”

“Baby, I want the whole world to know Steve Rogers is mine. But I don’t want to out you.”

“No, I…I want everyone to know. I’m lucky to have you. I don’t mind.” Plus, he was still thinking of the way Bucky had said ‘mine.’ These stupid jeans were too tight. 

“Good. I just thought about it when I got home and I wasn’t sure if I was pushing you into something you weren’t ready for.”

Steve grinned. “Still trying to protect me?”

“Someone has to, Jesus. I used to have dreams about you getting beat up. Then shot.”

He went over to Bucky, put his arms around his shoulders. “I know. Same.” Bucky had always taken care of him as much as he could. And he’d tried to take care of Bucky. But he never wanted it to be one-sided again. “I don’t think that’s going to work anymore. I look out for you and you look out for me. We’re partners. It’s you and me, pal.”

Bucky nodded, pushed away from him. “Pal?” 

Steve groaned. “I don’t know! I keep wanting to use a term of endearment but it just isn’t working. You say sweetheart and it sounds natural. I’ve got nothing.”

“You’ll come up with something,” Bucky got a rather mischievous look on his face, leaned close to Steve, mouth next to his ear. “Besides, I’m always gonna be happy with you saying my name.”

Oh. Oh. In bed. Yes. He could do that. “I can do that,” he said,  blushing because he was such a prude at heart but he was also unbearably sexually frustrated and he’d give up going out to dinner in a heartbeat if it meant he could touch Bucky. “I could thank you for the flowers?”

“I know. I’m concerned about your thanking me for the flowers.” Bucky said, repressively. He took a step closer to the door, keeping himself away from temptation.

“Concerned?” Steve asked, looking at Bucky’s mouth. 

“Cause you’re a goddamned menace. Come on, sweetheart, let’s go.” He took Steve by the hand and led him out the door, past the communal living room where everyone just so happened to be watching tv, and then out to the car. 

“Where are we going?” Steve asked, when they got in. Great, now he could smell Bucky’s cologne and he wanted to press his nose against his neck and smell it warm and rich on his skin. 

Bucky didn’t tell him. But he did put on music, a mix of songs from when they were growing up, when they were in the military and a few that he liked but couldn’t place. “Marvin Gaye,” Bucky told him. Sam had recommended it. 

“Mamma Gia’s?” Steve asked, looking at the restaurant once Bucky parked. “We had a Mamma Gia’s in Brooklyn back in the day. The best spaghetti and meatballs ever. I remember your parents would take us there every time there was a birthday, and when we graduated from high school.”

“This one is owned by Mamma Gia’s granddaughter.”

“That’s amazing. Did you come here with the other Steve?” he asked. Not really thinking about how the comment would be received. And then he did. “Forget I asked.”

“Nah, it’s fine.” His face was cast in shadow as he turned and looked at Steve in the darkened parking lot. He could see his eyes though, the color leached out of them, looking dark and distant. It made Steve shiver. Some primal, instinctual recoil from the very idea that Bucky wasn’t himself. Wasn’t brightness, laughter and home. God, it must have been hard for the other Steve to fight Bucky.  

“Not like this. Not on a date. And, if you really wanna know, the waiter dropped a plate of dishes before the food arrived, I had a panic attack and we left out the back. I wouldn’t even get back into the car. Just set off walking into the distance. And Steve, that poor bastard, when I came back, the next day, it was clear he’d been up all night, worried. Hell, he’d been crying. You want to make Steve Rogers crumble, give him a fight he can’t win and make him watch.”   

“Oh, Bucky, I’m so sorry,” he said, putting a hand on his shoulder, offering comfort. 

“Don’t be. I mean it. It’s fine for you to ask. It’s like getting shot or something. The bullet is there, the wound can’t heal, it’s gotta come out and it doesn’t make me feel better while I’m getting patched up, but…yeah, it’s fine.” He shook his head. He could tell Bucky wasn’t done. “You know I wonder how many conversations like this he had with Peggy. I imagine him going back, showing up half dead, this facade of strength. You know he broke down the moment he saw her. I’d bet every damned dollar I had he did.” 

“I’m sure you’re right,” Steve says, softly. 

“He broke down when he saw me after coming back, too. Gave me a big old packet of letters he’d written me over the decades.”

“Did you read them?” 

Bucky was staring out into the night. He shook his head. “There wasn’t a thing he could say. I knew. I understood. And I…I’ve been trying really hard to forgive him, forgive me, hell, forgive the world for doing this to every cursed bastard stuck on this stupid, starving rock. I don’t know if I’ll ever read them. I don’t think I will. Once he made that decision….We were supposed to be to the end. It wasn’t. What else is there?” Bucky wasn’t crying. Steve knew he’d spent a lot of time thinking this through to be saying it so calmly. “Maybe he wrote them to me, but they were to himself too. Trying to justify, reconcile what he did. The choice he made to go back.”

“Regret?”

He finally turned and looked at Steve, expression inscrutable. “I know,” he said, voice vehement. “It’s all regret. You know, they say that when couples lose a child they usually don’t make it. It’s just too hard. There’s that pain between them, always. So it’s easier to walk away. It’s the only way to survive.”

He sees Bucky close his eyes, squeezed tight against the weight of the past. He takes his hand in his, covers it with both of his own. Offering his warmth. “I used to think he quit. And I was so angry that he quit on me. On all of us. And depending on the weather and how I feel that day, I may always feel that way, but sometimes, especially since you got here…I do understand. A bit. It’s not quitting if one can’t do it. If a man’s legs are broken you don’t blame him for not getting up and walking. I think,”  he blew out a breath, shaky and quiet. “He did the best he could. He’s still just a man. I never expected him to be Captain America until he decided to leave. Then I did. Be stronger. Tough it out. Prove you can do it because you can. But he was always a man. And this war broke all of them. No one won.”

Which was true. He saw it on people everywhere. “Take me to dinner,” Steve said, voice rough with emotion. They got out of the car and Steve stopped him outside the door. 

“It’s not over yet, Buck,” he said, all the fierce devotion and strength he had coursing through him like electricity. He wanted Bucky to see it in him, hear it, fucking feel how much he meant it. How strong, steady and whole he was. “We’re going to win. You and me. Us and our family in that compound. I don’t care what it takes. All I need is you and I swear I can always get back up again.” 

Bucky hugged him, buried his face in Steve’s neck and let himself stay there for a long moment. He rubbed a hand up and down Bucky’s back, felt the tension there, knew that he was working hard to keep himself steady. “You’re okay, sweetheart,” Steve said. 

“Good job. Didn’t sound forced at all,” Bucky said, and pushed back. 

“Shut up. I was being sympathetic and a good boyfriend. Oh my god! I just called you my boyfriend. What a time to be alive I tell ya. Now come on,  you need to feed this boyfriend.” 

“You are the cheesiest bastard sometimes. You’re lucky you’re adorable.”   

***

 

They were taken to a table in the back corner, away from everyone else and with some privacy. They ordered their food, got a bottle of wine to drink and talked about the past. Steve was just telling Bucky about Tony taking him to a hot dog eating contest on Coney Island when it occurred to him that Steve might have heard this before. “Wait. Have we had this conversation before?”

“Yes and no. But, mostly no. For example, you told me about Dum Dum’s daughter graduating. But you didn’t tell me the same details this time that you did then.”

Steve waits for more information because that doesn’t clear it up enough. Bucky takes a drink, then leans closer. “His daughter went to Harvard, right? Majored in Engineering. Now she’s working at NASA. Just now, we talked about that for twenty minutes. When Steve and I talked about Dum Dum’s family before he went to Peggy he told me who he’d lost in the snap. How the family home had been sold. That his daughter had gotten remarried in the interim and even had a child. I didn’t even know she went to Harvard. Same events, different mindset telling them.”

“Oh,” Steve said, and fuck did that sound depressing.

“You’re not sad. You’re not him. Comparing you to him isn’t helpful. I’m sorry for doing that, you know.”

Steve shrugged, finding it surprisingly easy to let it go. “You didn’t do it for very long,” he said, and reached out, took Bucky’s hand in his own. 

“No, but I did it. I think I’ll still do it sometimes and it will probably only cause you pain. I’ll try my best not to.”

“Thanks, Buck.”

“So, do you have any regrets yet? Wishing you could get back to your Avengers? A world less miserable?”

He shook his head sadly. “No. Not even a little. Well, I miss Nat and Tony, that’s just how it is. But, otherwise no.” Now it was his turn for a drink, just remembering how he’d lost his own Bucky tearing him up inside. It always would. “I lost you very publicly. And uh, it was everywhere. Captured on film. Made into posters. If I went back there I’d spend every day thinking about how you died. Seeing it. How I failed you. I don’t want that. That would eat me up, you know?” he takes a drink, pulls his hand back and runs it along the rim of his glass.  What if Steve staying here was just as hard as it had been for him to stay in his own timeline?

“Yeah, sweetheart. I do.” 

“How come it sounds so much better when you say it?” 

“It doesn’t. It’s the same. You just need practice.”

He’s got a sharp retort ready but the food comes then, forcing more of a space into the conversation and he doesn’t want to get distracted yet. There are things Bucky needs to understand. He’s said them before but they bear repeating. 

“If I went back I wouldn’t have you. You’re everything to me, Buck. I don’t care what happens or where I go, who I meet but you are it for me. As long as I have you….”

“You do,” he said, gravely. A promise that Steve felt wrap around his heart and make his breath catch.

He chuckled. “So you think. I might die of sexual frustration first.” 

Bucky laughed, clearly delighted that Steve was so willing to say how much he wanted him. “Would it be better if we both died together from frustration?”

“I don’t even want to joke about it. In fact, I refuse to,” he said, and he stood up. A look of alarm crossed Bucky’s face, worried Steve was walking out on him. “Stevie—“

“James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve said, before lowering himself to the ground and getting down on one knee, “Will you do me the honor of marrying me and becoming my husband?”

Bucky’s mouth opened, closed. He looked wildly around the restaurant and then back again. “You can’t. Fucking hell.” 

Which was not the reaction he expected. Bucky patted his pocket, reached in and pulled out an identical little blue box. “You impatient punk. I was going to ask you later. Back home.”

“You snooze you lose. Besides, your three dates thing is crap. We’re not waiting.” 

Bucky ran a hand through his hair. “I’d actually reconsidered that too. Why wait three dates if I could make an honest man out of you?” Bucky stood up, moved his chair out of the way and then went down on one knee in front of Steve so they were eye level. “Steven Grant Rogers, will you marry me?”

“I’m not sure. I have a proposal outstanding. But if that doesn’t—” Bucky leaned in then and kissed him thoroughly. The restaurant broke into applause, people getting out of their seats and talking excitedly. Steve pulled away, got to his feet and tugged Bucky up. Steve took Bucky’s hand, warm and solid in his own and slipped the ring onto his finger. A platinum ring from Tiffany that had two T’s back to back etched into the surface. 

Bucky flexed his hand, looked at it and then to Steve. Shock on his face. A lot of shock. “Is it that much of a surprise?” Steve asked.

Bucky took out the ring he’d gotten Steve and put it on Steve’s finger. It was the exact same ring. They looked at each other. “Wanda,” they said, at the same time, figuring it out. 

“We picked it out today on our shopping trip.”

“Huh. I asked her about it on our way back from that mission. Once you fell asleep and drooled on my shoulder. She helped me choose it.”

The flight back? He’d decided then? “But…you were all ‘heaven help me I love you but I’m depressed and tortured.’

“Well, yeah. I still am,” Bucky agreed, brushing a thumb over Steve’s finger and the ring. “But I also knew that…well, I  might not be the smartest guy to come out of Brooklyn but I know enough to lock you down if I have the chance.”

Steve couldn’t stop glancing at his ring. “I love it, Bucky. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he managed and they kissed again but this time there were the bright lights of photos being taken, people capturing the moment on their cameras and Steve knew it would be on social media before the day was over. The day when Captain America got engaged to his best friend Bucky Barnes. 

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him that by the next day it was all over the news. There were even videos that people in the restaurant had taken. By the end of the week there were posters in the shops and apparently, a musical was being written by Lin Manuel Miranda.  

 

Chapter Text

Steve was pretty sure the food was good. But when he was asked about it the next day he actually couldn’t remember what it had tasted like. They’d gotten very publicly engaged, had dinner and the whole time Steve had been in a daze. This was happening. He and Bucky were going to have a life, a future. Together. 

He’d fantasized about all the different ways they might stay together but all of them had been a compromise, and some of them better than others. If Bucky didn’t recover then he’d stay there to be with him. Or he hoped they’d be able to move in with each other. Stay friends. The cursed friend zone. He’d expected to take up residence and pray he never got evicted. 

But, instead, he was getting the ultimate dream. They wouldn’t just go back to living together as friends or even family but as lovers. They’d share a bed. They would have days together and at night, when they went to bed he could curl up next to him, hold him close, feel his bare skin pressed against his. If either of them had a bad dream, the other would be there. Comfort. Affection. Love. 

It was so overwhelming incredible that it washed away all sensible thoughts and awareness of what was around him. “Penny for your thoughts,” Bucky said.

“You know, I was all excited about saying boyfriend and now I’m going to be saying, fiancee.”

“You can still say boyfriend if you want.”

Steve snorted. “I’ll survive, thanks. I wonder if everyone will know when we get back.”

“Probably. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d actually been there hiding in the bushes.” They both laughed at the idea, Steve imagining Scott shoving his face full of popcorn as he peered through a gap in the branches, Wanda texting about it to Sam who’d be pretending to be above it all but actually just as happy to be there as anybody else. 

“We should tell Steve. Sooner rather than later,” Bucky said. 

The rest of the ride back was quiet. He assumed Bucky was thinking about telling Steve. What a strange conversation that would be. He hoped it was a happy conversation. It had the potential to go either way, Steve thought. 

How other Steve would react wasn’t what Steve kept coming back to. No, he was officially mind-in-the-gutter ready to tear off Bucky’s clothes and do filthy things with him. He didn’t know where to start. Well, he had an idea. 

Bucky parked the car and took Steve’s hand as they went to the elevator. Steve pressed the button for his floor and then Bucky was in his space, pressing him against the glass walls and kissing him, just open mouthed and hungry, eyes open, pulling back only long enough to see Steve’s face like he was gauging what he liked, refining and evaluating  Steve’s every response. 

“Do you want me to go home tonight?” Bucky asked. 

“Hell, no. If you try to leave I’ll tie you to the bed.”

Bucky kissed him again. “The things you say, sweetheart,” he said, kissing along Steve’s neck.

“Being trapped in a spaceship with you two lovebirds would have been a nightmare,” a low, husky voice said. The elevator doors were open (when had that happened?) and Nat stood there, a little pale, dressed in a comfy looking blue sweater and sweat pants. 

“Nat? Oh, thank god. How?” Steve cried, even as he was pulling her into his arms and hugging her tight. Finally he let her go, momentarily surprised when Bucky didn’t move in to hug Nat. Wouldn’t they be friends?

“Natasha,” he said, instead. “I’m glad you made it back.”

She sighed. “We should hug. You’re basically family now, right? Congratulations on the engagement by the way. It’s trending on Twitter.” They hugged. It was awkward. Neither one of them relaxed and there was as much space between them as physically possible. “I’ll try not to kill you anymore,” Nat said. 

“Oh yeah, this is the start of a beautiful friendship,” he heard Scott say. He had a smile on his face, like he was watching the end of the Princess Bride or the Little Mermaid. Deluded, was Steve’s first thought. Who knew Scott Lang was such a romantic?

Steve didn’t want to burst his bubble but he thought the more accurate description was a tentative peace with both sides hopeful of further good relations. “I just assumed you two would know each other well?”

Bucky and Nat looked at each other, just a single glance that somehow spoke volumes. “Not really,” they both said. Steve let it go, heading into the common room with his arm around Nat. Her eyes were red-rimmed from crying. “Tony,” she said, and then she was hugging Steve again, hugging him hard. “I thought I’d cried a lot of the way back home but being here and him being gone,” She swallowed, choking back a sob. 

“I know,” he said, happy to hold her for as long as she needed. She stopped sniffling, pulled away and then Steve caught sight of a fully dressed raccoon wearing a gun strapped to his waist. 

“Cap,” the raccoon said, as if they knew each other and this was a normal occurrence. 

“You are a literal raccoon,” Steve breathed. 

“My piiccttttuuurree!” Wanda shouted, sliding into the room in socked feet, phone raised. She took a picture, looked from the picture to Steve and back again. “Well, it’s not nearly as good as the picture I have of you imagining Bucky in boxer briefs but there’s a certain WTF element in your expression that I managed to capture.”

And then Thor was there, looking unbelievably downcast. Thor came over and joined in the hug unprompted, wrapping his arms around Steve and Nat so she was sandwiched between them. 

He looked aged, sallow, and it was clear that he wasn’t taking very good care of himself physically. He couldn’t imagine his Thor changing this drastically. Thor smiled, his voice sounding sincerely happy. “Isn’t this amazing? She was just there. Sitting on a rock on Vormir, fiesty and annoyed, some small creature charring over an open fire.”

“I may never eat meat again,” Nat mumbled against Steve’s chest. “I want out now. I’m feeling oppressed.”

“Sorry, sorry,” he and Thor said at the same time, letting her go. “Salad?” she asked, gesturing at a giant bowl on the table. “It’s my impromptu celebratory return dinner. It was my only request, something that had once been a fruit or a vegetable.”

“Wait. So what happened?” Steve demanded. He could tell everyone else had heard the story already but he still wanted to know. He’d been thinking they were going to head to space soon and now they didn’t need to. She was here and she was well. 

“Nothing. One moment I was falling to my death and the next thing I know I’m awake on the damned rock like nothing happened. The ghost in the robes—apparently his name is Red Skull? He showed up, said I was free to go and that was it. But there was no one to come get me. I had no way to communicate with anyone. I thought I was going to die there.”

“Nat. We didn’t know. But I still don’t understand, how did you come back to life?”

“My money is on Bruce,” Scott said, around a mouthful of lettuce. “He said he snapped and tried to get Nat back. I think he did but she was just on the planet where she’d been left.”

“Or Steve did return a soul stone to the original timeline, maybe there wasn’t a cost, after all.”

“We were going to come try to find you,” Steve said.

“Well, you’ve been saved a trip. Now you can play kissy face with your….”

“Fiance!” Bucky said, loudly, flashing a giant gin in Steve’s direction. His heart literally hurt at the sight of him so happy.  Steve suspected that there had never been a better moment than this one right here. 

“Did someone tell Hawkeye?” Steve asked. 

“Yes, he’s bringing the family tomorrow. Just in time for my birthday,” Wanda said. “Pepper is going to bring Morgan, it’ll be nice. We’re rollerskating. She got the whole rink. Just us.”

Steve looked at Bucky, unsurprised to see an equal look of horror on his face. “Remember when—“

“You owe me ten dollars!” Scott suddenly shouted, interrupting Bucky. 

“Damn it! This is ridiculous!” Sam sputtered, pulling out his wallet and looking as grumpy as a wet cat. He took out a ten dollar bill and handed it to Scott. 

“I knew it,” Scott said, expression smug. He saw the confusion on Steve and Bucky’s faces and explained. “We had a bet on how long it would take until one of you did a ‘remember when.’ Sam thought it would be 48 hours. Nat and Wanda said 24 but didn’t want in on this sweet action and I said an hour.”

Steve wanted to argue. He couldn’t argue. “We have shared history. That’s all. And we haven’t roller-skated. There was a time where Bucky and I went ice skating, and that didn’t end well.”

“Post-serum. We were in this local village freezing half to death and after a week of nothing happening, we started ice skating with the locals. Steve crashed into a tree, knocked it over and it destroyed someone’s house.”

He felt himself grimacing. “It was hard to stop.”

“Right. Everyone watch out for Steve tomorrow,” Wanda warned. 

Nat gave him a tug on the arm, pulling Steve away from the group and out into the hall. “So, you’re alternate timeline Steve? 2012?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s cute. I miss you saying, ma’am. And our Steve is now an old guy who fucked off to the past and left us for some dead chick?”

“Well, that’s one way to put it. Not a particularly nice way to put it.”

“Well, it doesn’t sound like it was a particularly nice thing for him to do. I want to go see him tomorrow.”

Bucky was suddenly there, leaning against the doorjamb. “You want us to go with you?”

“I don’t know,” she said, slowly. “I can’t help but wonder how he’ll react when he sees me. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I want Steve to be happy. Of course, I do. But, was he? Captain America goes to the past and just chills for 70 years? Let’s the fights happen and doesn’t get involved? I don’t believe it.”

Bucky blew out a breath. “Ask him. Maybe it would be a relief for him to get it out in the open.”

“Maybe,” she said. “I’m gonna go sleep for a solid twelve hours and see how I feel tomorrow. And then I’m going to eat pancakes.”

“Wait, wait. What’s going on with Thor?” Steve demanded in a loud whisper. 

Nat rolled her eyes. “He lost everything. He’s doing the best he can. He’s going to be staying with me for a while. End of story.”

Steve squinted at her, looked to Bucky then back to Nat’s carefully blank expression. “I’m sorry, but are you having intimate relations with Thor?”

“Steve!” Bucky scolded, smacking him on the arm. 

“What? Ow! You’re saying you don’t want to know?”

“Considering how much you’ve been harassed about our relationship status over the last few days, I’d think you’d be a little less nosy.”

“You’re wrong. I think it’s made me more nosy. Everyone knows our business, why shouldn’t I know theirs?” he said, half joking. But half serious. 

“Steve,” Nat said, and looked him in the eyes. “If you need to know something, I’ll tell you.” 

“Well, she shut you down,” Bucky muttered, as Nat walked away. 

“Shut up.”

A childish smile spread across his mouth. “Make me,” Bucky said, and leaned closer for a kiss. 

“Get a damned room! Where’s my sign?” Sam shouted. 

“Ten more dollars!” Scott said and did a fist pump. Steve and Bucky decided it was time to call it a night. 

    

Chapter Text

BUCKY POV

 

Bucky closed the door behind them, reeling from the day and all that had happened. Nat was alive and home. He and Steve were engaged. And maybe it made him a terrible person but all he could think was that Steve was here, in this apartment and he could have him. Whatever else was wrong with the world, they had this and right now it felt like they could overcome anything so long as they had each other. 

Which meant the prospect of sex with Steve was both thrilling and terrifying. It had been a very long time since he’d had sex and he’d never had sex with someone he’d loved.  Where the emotional component far outweighed the physical pleasure. And Steve was a virgin. He didn’t want him to have a bad experience. He wanted to make it perfect for Steve. And maybe somewhere in there was the fact that Steve was male but it wasn’t as big of a deal as he’d thought. He’d just do what he liked having done to him and work from there. 

Steve was waiting for him, gaze hot, at the end of the corridor. As if he didn’t want to risk Bucky getting by him. 

“Can I help you with something, sweetheart?” he asked, voice soft and hungry as he shrugged out of his leather jacket. Bucky knew how to do this, be the confident man that girls had wanted. Steve pushed himself upright and took off his own jacket, tossing it in the general direction of the couch. It landed on the floor. 

His cheeks were flushed, his gaze intense and Bucky could see he was hard already, the large bar of his erection visible through his trousers. Had there ever been anyone more beautiful? Anyone who ever looked at him with more conviction that Bucky was worth a damn? “God, I love you. How are you feeling about waiting?” he asked, just barely keeping a smile off his face.

“Rage filled. Don’t make me wait, Buck,” he said, and he had a flash of another moment, Steve a few feet away, imploring him— don’t make me do this. And then they’d fought and he’d shot him, stabbed him and beaten him half to death. And if the floor hadn’t given way and plunged Steve into the water below would he have killed him? Brought down that clenched fist into the only person he’d ever really loved? 

“No, no more waiting.” He tried to push that thought away because this Steve had no idea what that had felt like. Wouldn’t say those words and be reminded that Bucky had been, and probably always would be, part monster. It made him desperate suddenly, forced him into Steve’s space, a hand on the back of his neck pulling him closer and into a kiss. 

Steve groaned and tried to draw Bucky in closer, both of them knowing this wasn’t nearly enough. Steve groaned like he was in pain and Bucky wanted more of that, Steve making sounds just for him. Bucky pushed with his body and his hands, Steve unresisting as he urged them towards the bedroom. 

But Steve stopped them next to the couch, wrapped his arms around Bucky’s neck, arching his body into Bucky’s and kissed his mouth, then his neck, his hands suddenly everywhere, tugging on Bucky’s shirt. He heard the ping of a button as it popped off and smiled against Steve’s lips. “Yes, yes, yes,” he found himself saying, encouraging Steve, wanting to know and to feel how much the other man wanted him. 

Steve muttered something that could have been an apology but Bucky wasn’t sure. And even if it was an apology it was clear he didn’t really mean it, as it didn’t slow him down, fingers urgent on Bucky’s clothes, yanking hastily. 

Bucky pulled Steve closer, hands on his ass, tugging him tight against his aching cock. He wanted to be inside him. Just the thought of it, of having Steve spread out under him, giving and willing was enough to make him swear. He broke this kiss, moved down Steve’s neck, sucking hard on his neck, wanting to leave a mark, wanting Steve to feel how much he loved him, needed him. 

How could he make him understand the desperate desire he felt for him? He rolled his hips, pressing, the difference between Steve’s hardness and a woman’s soft give intoxicating. It was all so different being with Steve. Not just because he was in love with him, had probably always been in love with him but because the heat and the hardness of him, the strength was an opposing force, meeting him, demanding more. He suddenly realized they were asking the same question, wanting the same thing from each other. 

Everything. 

Women usually gave in to him, let him move them, opened for him, everything was softness and give, but Steve was taking as much as he was giving, he had that same territorial approach to sex that Bucky did. As if his body was saying ‘this is mine’ and ‘I want this now’. 

Steve’s hands were on Bucky’s jeans, popping the button and shoving them down, his breathing harsh, a fine tremble running through him. “Let me take you to bed,” Bucky gasped, wrapping both arms around Steve’s waist and picking him up a few inches. “I don’t want to come in a god damned hallway.”

“Wait. I just…I had a plan,” Steve managed, brow furrowed like he couldn’t remember what the hell the plan had been. 

Bucky let Steve down, went for Steve’s jeans and made a hmm of encouragement. “Alright, alright. Tell me what it is. What you want and we’ll do it. Anything, baby,” he said, nipping him on the jaw. 

“Hell. I don’t know. Umm…oh! The couch. Please? And this all has to come off,” Steve said, and they both took a half step back, a small pause while they finished undressing. Bucky toed off his shoes, pushed his jeans down, got rid of his socks and Steve froze, his jeans in his hand ready to toss them onto an armchair. “Fuck you’re beautiful.”

“Language, Rogers!” he said, trying not to smile. 

“No other word was appropriate,” Steve said, with a half shrug and then he was naked too, cock hard and flushed. “Stay there,” he said, unable to take his eyes off of Bucky’s body. Steve blinked. “Right.” He turned and went down the hall, his inhumanly perfect ass inspiring a host of fantasies. He was back almost instantly, towel and lube in hand. 

Steve was blushing hard as he put the towel down on the couch. He was leaning over, smoothing out the top of the towel, the large expanse of his back a tempting invitation. Bucky put a handout, in the middle of Steve’s back, resting it there. 

Steve stilled. Waited. 

“Just looking. I know you’ve got something you want. Just a sec. I wanna see you like this, just for a minute.”

He cast a glance over his shoulder, all desire and curiosity. “Is that all? You just wanna look?”

“God, I love it when you have a smart mouth,” Bucky said, sliding his hand down cupping the cheek of Steve’s ass, baring him to his gaze. 

“Are you um, going to want that? Would you want me that way?” Steve whispered, and he wasn’t sure if Steve wanted it or not but the way his voice shook implied he had some pretty strong feelings on the matter. 

“I want you every way. I want you to have me every way too. But, yeah, I want to be inside you.” He leaned down, breathed a kiss in the middle of Steve’s back, watched as goosebumps broke out on his skin. “But only if you do.”

“I do. You have no idea how much.”

He seized Steve’s hips, pulled him back, mimicking what he’d do if given half a chance. “I’d be gentle, sweetheart,” he promised, and kissed him some more, traced his tongue along his spine. 

“Yeah?”

“Of course. Treat you right,” he whispered, and slid a hand up Steve’s chest to his nipple, felt the bud pebble and Steve grind back against him.

“And if I…if I want it hard? If I don’t want gentle?”

He pushed Steve abruptly, the man’s legs bending as he fell forward on the couch. Steve braced his hands along the back, shifted so his legs were spread, threw a wild look over his shoulder at Bucky. Bucky slipped behind him, thighs on the inside of Steve’s, cock pressed against his ass. He wrapped a hand around Steve’s cock and Steve’s head fell back, onto Bucky’s shoulder. 

“Screw my plan. Do whatever you want with me,” he demanded, hips grinding back. Plan, right. Steve’s plan. Which was why the towel was there. 

He draped himself over Steve’s back, rubbed his nose against Steve’s neck. Steve shuffled his feet apart further, panting, urging Bucky to touch him. “No, baby. Another time. I want it to be good for you and I’m not patient enough right now. Besides, you have a plan.”

Steve didn’t say anything for a moment. “Then what are you doing?”

“Getting distracted?” he moved away. 

Steve got back to his feet, faced Bucky and then kissed him wet and open-mouthed. “I liked the look on your face. I love the idea of you pinning me down and having your way with me, you know. Now sit down.”

He moved out of the way so Bucky could sit down on the towel. Steve eyed him, licked his lips when he saw how hard Bucky was. Pre-come welled out of the tip of his cock and it was pretty clear Steve would like nothing better than for Bucky to tell him to lick it up. 

Steve blinked, blushed as his gaze returned to Bucky’s face. “Right. Plan. Lube. Like any great assault, preparation is key,” he said, reaching for Bucky and urging him to sit down.

“Consider me surrendered.”

Steve grinned at him, pushed him so he fell gently onto the couch and then Steve was going to the floor between his legs, gaze locked on Bucky’s hard cock. He licked his lips, an expression of excitement and nervousness on his face. “Stevie, Stevie, wait,” he said, even as his own hand went to his cock, an unconscious effort to slow this down just in case. “Neither of us has done this before. Don’t feel like you have to do things. And if,” he shrugged, “you know, if you don’t like it, that’s fine, alright?”

Steve put his hands on Bucky’s thighs, just above his knees, slid his hands up to Bucky’s hips, pulled sharply so Bucky was dragged forward several inches, legs open wider, cock close to Steve’s mouth. “I can practically guarantee you that won’t be a problem,” he said, and then he licked the head of Bucky’s cock, wrapped a hand around the shaft, and moaned. He took Bucky in his mouth, hot and wet, and then sucked and Bucky swore, head thrown back in pleasure, fingers going to Steve, one hand on his shoulder, the other on his face, gentle but shaky. 

The look Steve gave him made Bucky’s cock twitch and Steve pulled back, swiped his tongue against the slit of Bucky’s cock and swallowed. “I can taste you,” Steve murmured, pulling off and jerking him until a shudder went through Bucky and more pre-come leaked out of him. “That’s mine,” Steve said, dreamily and lapped at the head. “I want you to come in my mouth,” he said, and took as much of Steve back in his mouth as he could. He set a brutal pace, jerking Bucky off, swallowing him down, clearly with one goal in mind. 

“You want me to come, sweetheart?” he gasped, fingers clenching ever so slightly on Steve’s face. Steve’s eyes shut in pleasure and he knew the second Steve started touching himself, felt the sudden urgency in him. Desire rose in him and he tried to hold back, gritting his teeth. “I can come now. Should I wait?” he asked, the last word a growl. Considering how little refractory period they each had, he wasn’t sure he understood the point of waiting but it seemed polite to check.

Steve groaned in negation, his grip on Bucky’s cock tightening, taking Bucky deeper and deeper until he almost gagged. “God, you’re so lovely, Stevie,” he managed, hips jerking up ever so slightly. “I’m going to come,” he warned and Steve stopped touching himself, pulled back just a little, eyes on Bucky, a little wide with uncertainty. 

The orgasm rolling through him as he came in heavy spurts on Steve’s tongue. Steve swallowed again and again, eyes sliding closed, hand back on his own cock, urgent and needy. 

Bucky grabbed him roughly, hauled him up onto the couch and kissed him, tasting himself in Steve’s mouth, something dark and pleased going through him. He put a hand behind Steve’s neck, gripping tight, keeping him there as his other hand went to Steve’s cock, shoving Steve’s hand out of the way. 

“Let me,” he growled, and Steve whimpered, let Bucky pull his hand away, replace it with his own. 

“God, that’s hot. Yes, come on. Come on. Make me come. Please.” Steve demanded, and Bucky gripped him gently, jerking him off in quick, light strokes. 

“You’re very polite. All your pleases and thank yous. You gonna thank me after you come?” he said, against Steve’s lips.

“Harder, please, harder. Christ, you’re making me crazy,” Steve managed and his hips rose, trying to fuck Bucky’s fist harder. 

The wild look of desperation in Steve’s eyes, the need there made Bucky tighten his grip, drag Steve into a deep kiss. “Some other time. Come on, sweetheart. Show me how much you want me. So good. Tell me you’ll want to do that again. Your mouth, Stevie. Perfect,” he murmured and Steve came with a cry, spurting high on Bucky’s chest, his whole body tensing as he came. He slumped forward, collapsing onto Bucky, breathing harshly. 

“Yeah, I want to do that again. I’m happy to do that all the damned time. Jesus, I thought I’d like it but I didn’t know it would be that good,” he said, then sat up, ran a finger over Bucky’s lips absently. A blush rose on his cheeks. Whatever he was about to say was going to be good. “Feel free, in the morning, if you want, I mean, if you want, you could push me down there, be um, woken up properly.”

“And here I was, thinking this day couldn’t get any better.”      

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve kissed him, staying on Bucky’s lap contentedly as Bucky stroked his back and sides, his chest. They were both hard but the initial urgency had dissipated, giving them a little more time to just explore each other. “Why did you have the lube?” Bucky asked.

“Oh. I wanted to be prepared. I thought if you wanted to try anal sex that I wanted to be able to say yes. So, you know.”

“On the couch?”

Steve blushed. “I wanted to control the pace. I um, did some reading. Internet research.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I um, you know, totally prepared. Enema, shower, everything,” he said, almost mumbling. 

“Well, now I just feel like a jerk,” Bucky said, all the tension and need suddenly back. Steve was still blushing, his hands running lightly along Bucky’s shoulders and chest as if he were a little anxious. Hopeful. It wasn’t too late to fix this problem. “Let’s see you, sweetheart,” Bucky said, and he moved them both, laid Steve down on the couch, spreading him wide and putting a pillow under him. 

“What are you doing?” Steve asked, sounding uncertain. Bucky kissed the head of Steve’s cock, tasting and sucking at him until Steve began to thrust into his mouth, all hesitation gone, before moving down, kissing along his perineum until he reached Steve’s pink hole. 

“Bucky, you don’t have to, um, oh fuck.” he said, as Bucky swiped a tongue over the area, kissing him chastely and then more insistently, tongue stroking against his rim, working inside him until he felt Steve relax and the muscle start to relax. 

“My pretty baby,” he whispered and pressed a knuckle against the softened opening. 

“Bucky,” he begged, brokenly. 

“I did research, too,” he said, and finally slipped a finger into him to the first knuckle, spit slicking the way. He looked around for the lube, petting the damp hole and then returning and kissing him as deeply as he could until Steve was grinding down onto his tongue, body trembling. He poured a generous amount of lube on his fingers and replaced his tongue with a finger, sliding into him slowly. One finger in and he paused there, kissed Steve’s thigh and finally looked up. Steve was staring at him, lower lip swollen from kissing and where he’d bitten it while Bucky had opened him up. 

“I love you,” Steve whispered. 

“I love you, too,” Bucky said, and pulled out, added another finger at Steve’s entrance, waited until Steve nodded and pushed in slowly, pausing frequently. A pool of pre-come was on Steve’s stomach, leaking out of him, his cock twitching and throbbing as the preparation went on. 

“After three I want to try,” Steve said. 

Bucky looked at his hand, trying to do some guess work. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s alright,” he said. 

“I know. Now come on, oh thank god,” he breathed, as Bucky finally sank his fingers all the way home inside him. Steve was hot, clenching around him, eyes closed, gripping the couch hard and so beautiful Bucky could hardly stand it. 

“Love you like this,” he said, and put more lube on his fingers then pushed back in. Steve’s mouth opened, a silent cry, as Bucky stroked in and then out. “Good or bad? Tell me how you feel, sweetheart.”

“It feels…it feels really fucking weird. And I would say it’s not great but I also feel like I’m about to come and will kill you if you stop.”

“Interesting. Tell me when you want more.”

His eyes opened, pupils wide and lust filled. “I want more,” he said, making sure Bucky was looking at him as he said it. 

“Such a fucking tease,” he said, and took a moment to stroke himself, unsurprised that his cock was practically dripping. He took his hand away and got more lube then hesitated. 

“Come on. I want it. Want you,” Steve said, and Bucky obeyed, slowly, gently working three fingers into him. Steve went quiet, muscles lax, breathing steady, the only indication of how he felt was the way his brows were pulled together tight and the way his cock kept dripping onto his stomach. 

“Talk to me, sweetheart,” Bucky said. Was it good or bad or both?

“That’s enough, Buck,” he said, and Bucky pulled his hand away, wiped it on the thoughtfully provided towel and Steve was suddenly there, straddling him, gripping Bucky’s cock in his hand and placing it at his entrance. 

“Wait. Lube,” Bucky said, even as his hips twitched eagerly. Steve’s hole was hot and there, kissing the head of his cock and the urge to fuck up into him, to grab Steve’s hips was strong. His hands shook as he lubed himself up and then let go of his erection. 

“I don’t know what to do with my hands,” he said, voice rough. He could hardly think. Steve was here, over him, and he wanted to fuck him, needed to. “Jesus, I’m worried I’m going to hurt you.”

“You won’t,” Steve breathed and kissed Bucky’s lips reassuringly. He lowered himself a little, a sharp breath in as the head of Bucky’s cock started sinking into him. “Jesus, you’re big.”

“Stop then. Just,” and then he didn’t have words. They were just gone. He kissed Steve hard, biting his bottom lip without really meaning to. He needed to thrust, he had to. How could he just stay here and not move? Steve lifted himself a little and then went back down, a little further but not enough. Bucky whimpered in need and Steve kissed him, promising him he’d be alright. Steve’s hands laced through his, pressed him back onto the couch, anchoring him there as he rose up again and lowered himself. “Thank you, that’s better. I don’t want to hurt you, Stevie.” 

“Look at me. Bucky,” Steve said, and Bucky opened his eyes, the sight of Steve in front of him almost too much. “I’m good. I’m fine.” He lifted up again, sank down and Bucky felt him ripple around him. “Thank you for being so still. For letting me do this. You’re taking good care of me. I’m okay,” he said and under less intense circumstances he might have thought it was ridiculous. Why the hell was Steve thanking him? He was the one doing all the work. 

“I love you,” he said, instead, leaning closer, wanting to kiss him again. 

“Okay, okay,” Steve managed and then he rose up, sank down and down until he felt the weight of Steve in his lap. “You’re in me. All the way,” he said, and Bucky could hear how proud he was. 

“So good. You’re amazing. You feel so good. So hot and so tight. Fuck, Steve,” he said, and felt Steve smile against his mouth. He began to shift, rocking just a little and even that was a lot, was enough to make him squeeze Steve’s hands tight. “I’ve gotta come, Steve. You’re killing me.”

“Make me come, then,” Steve said, and he let go of Bucky’s hand. He wrapped a hand around Steve, jerking him off and within moments Steve was coming, body clenching and rippling around Bucky, triggering his own orgasm. “I feel that,” Steve said, even as his body was still clenching weakly around Bucky’s cock. 

“How are you?” Bucky asked him. Steve was slow to move, breathing in little pants as he lifted himself off of Bucky’s cock. 

“I’m good,” he said, voice hoarse. Bucky got them both into the bathroom, started the shower and made Steve stand there while he washed him from head to toe. 

He dropped to his knees. “Let me see you, sweetheart,” he said, and Steve gave him a shy smile before turning and letting Bucky look between his cheeks. He swiped a finger gently over the slick skin and Steve pushed back, trying to get a firmer touch. “What did you think?” Bucky asked, pretty sure he knew the answer. 

“I want to do it again. I want you to be able to fuck me hard. I want you to make me lose my god damned mind.”

Bucky pushed to his feet and kissed Steve hungrily. “Don’t let it be said that Bucky Barnes ever left his man unsatisfied.”

“You’re a great man of our time,” Steve deadpanned. And then it was time for food. 

Chapter Text

Wanda’s party was at two. Steve, Nat and Bucky set out to see Steve a few hours beforehand. “Nice neighborhood,” Nat said, as they got closer. Steve took in the houses with their tidy yards and kids bikes that dotted the streets. It was…nice. He was fully aware he was damning the whole thing with faint praise. 

It was so boring. Proper. 

This just wasn’t the sort of place he wanted to settle down in with Bucky. He couldn’t imagine living in this suburbia, mowing the lawn, having BBQ’s with normal people and complaining about the price of eggs when their day to day activities consisted of saving lives and the world. 

“Yup,” Bucky agreed. Not thinking much of Steve’s choice either. It was a conversational slaughter. 

Finally, Nat burst out. “I don’t understand what happened! He missed you. Missed everybody and, yeah, we both had some dark days… months… okay, years, we had some dark fucking years in there but when we went for the stones he was good. He had purpose again.”

Bucky shook his head. “He saw Tony die. He’d promised him that Tony would get a life with his family. I know he took that blame personally. And you were gone too. He wouldn’t even talk about it. Completely shut me out. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to leave his side. I was worried about what he might do.”

“Then why did you guys let him take the stones back?”

For a long time, Bucky didn’t say anything. He parked the car and they all sat there. Steve was beginning to think he’d had enough emotional conversations in cars to last a lifetime. 

“He kept it together around everyone else. And, he told me he was going. I knew. I couldn’t tell him no and…and I wasn’t going to beg. He needed to leave. And Peggy…hell, I knew she’d whip him into health and happiness. Or at least some semblance of it. So, I let him go.” 

Steve stroked a hand up and down his arm. “Let’s get out of the car at least.”

“What if he has a heart attack? Me showing up, back from the dead is kind of a big deal,” Nat said, frowning at the house like it was a crack den. 

“He’s still Steve Rogers. He’ll be fine,” Bucky said, although Steve didn’t think he was quite as confident as he was pretending to be. They went up to the door slowly, no one in much of a hurry. They rang the bell and waited. A moment later the door opened, Sharon standing there. 

“Well, hello,” she said, looking at all three of them skeptically. Her eyes widened when she got to Natasha. “Agent Romanoff, I thought you were dead.”

“It didn’t stick.”

Sharon smiled, frowned and then shrugged. “I’m not sure if you’re joking or not. But since you’re not here to see me anyway, it probably doesn’t matter.”

“Sharon. Sorry I tried to kill you,” Bucky offered. 

“Thanks. It happens often enough that I try not to hold a grudge.” If Steve had to bet money on it he’d say she was still holding a grudge.

Sharon held out a hand to Steve. “Steve, nice to meet you. I’m Sharon.”

God, she looked so familiar. “Weren’t you my neighbor? I’m sure I’ve seen you before.”

“That’s my cue to leave,” she said, ushering them in and then bolting out the front door. 

“Natasha,” old Steve said, slowly coming into the room, cane tapping gently on the floor. If she was shocked she didn’t show it. She hugged him gently, and almost instantly they were both crying. He and Bucky exchanged a glance. Maybe they should have waited in the car. Bucky made a motion with his hand, one that was totally indecipherable. A bear clawing at something? Steve shrugged in confusion. 

Bucky rolled his eyes, then silently mouthed the word ‘rake’ and Steve got it. He shook his head. They couldn’t just walk out back and start doing yard work, even if it would be far preferable to this. 

“I’m going to find some tissues or something,” Bucky murmured, heading towards the kitchen. 

“I gave the stone back. He told me you had to stay there. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry,” old Steve said, through tears. 

“It’s alright. You did the best you could. It’s okay,” she said, voice shaky. Bucky showed up with a box of kleenex and handed it to Nat, thrusting it at her before gruffly saying, “We’ll be out back. Raking.” 

Steve followed him out back and then they stood there for a long moment. “This is horrible. Much more horrible than I thought it would be.” 

“He’s in so much pain. I swear if she doesn’t forgive him I’m going to lose my mind,” Bucky said. 

“It’s nothing to do with her forgiving him. He has to forgive himself. And, honestly, I don’t know if he can. I don’t think I could.”

Bucky didn’t say anything so Steve picked up the rake and got to work. 

 

***

 

“Sharon left cookies. You sad sacks want some?” Nat asked, as she opened the slider and came outside almost an hour later. 

“How is he?” Bucky asked. 

“Oh, he’s great,” she said, sarcastically. Bucky exchanged a glance with Steve and then went towards the house. “Be nice to him,” her voice was soft. 

“I can do that,” Bucky said, and Steve finally saw a real expression on Nat’s face. 

“Yeah, you can. I’m glad we have you, Bucky. And, in that case, I’ll buy you a beer next week. We can talk Red Room. Shared experiences.”

“Great. A conversation with lots of uncomfortable pauses,” he said, but there was a hint of the old Bucky charm peaking through. Steve wanted to take him home, convince him he was totally up for another round.

Nat’s smile grew. “Yes, but this time it will be due to amnesia rather than the fact that we’re maladjusted assassins with poor conversational skills.”

“That sounds delightful,” Bucky joked. “Can’t wait.”

Steve watched him go inside and Nat came over to him, looked at the giant bag of leaves. “I like your Mr. Barnes. He’s got a personality now.”

“He’s amazing. So, what were you going to tell me about Thor?”

“I wasn’t. Get over it. Think old Steve would mind if I took some apples?” she asked, looking at Steve’s fruit trees. 

“How many do you want?”

“We were looking at Pinterest last night. Homemade apple sauce is a thing. I was going to drag Thor to a farmer’s market but now it looks like we’re set.”

“I can’t believe you won’t tell me what’s going on.”

“Believe it, Rogers.”

 

 

***

 

Bucky went into the house, hesitating next to the entryway like he’d been trained. In case he needed to leave and to get the lay of the land. 

There was no quick getaway needed here. And there wasn’t anything dangerous either. Pictures of Peggy and Steve were everywhere. A life lived. Egypt where they were on camels, smiling and sun-bronzed. In Hawaii, wearing swimsuits with the ocean behind them. Happy. They’d been happy. And now he was going to be too. He smiled and waited for a moment, just enjoying being happy and knowing Steve had been happy. That everything was okay for all of them.

He found Steve on the couch, looking small and all of his many years old. His expression was far away and distant. 

“Did you want to be Captain America?” old Steve asked him.

That wasn’t how he’d expected this conversation to start. “No. That wouldn’t have suited me at all. I barely know who I am most of the time. Sam is perfect for it.”

Steve nodded, sadly. “I’m sorry I left you, Buck.”

Bucky sighed, remembered how he’d felt standing next to that platform as Steve left them. It had hurt more than any physical torture ever had. It would always hurt a little. But it was already beginning to feel like remembered pain, distant and fuzzy around the edges. “Steve and I are getting married. We’re both going to get our happy endings. Can we leave it at that?”

A complex smile appeared on Steve’s face. Almost shy, happy, tinged with sadness, maybe even regret. “I’m glad. I knew it the moment I met him. He was me but he wasn’t. He thought I was such a fool. All the fear and hesitation I’d ever felt about my feelings for you, he’d completely thrown them away. Seeing that determination to have you, the resolution when we’d spent so long pretending feelings weren’t there….He will make you happy, Bucky. And I’m so glad.”

He went over to Steve, sat down on the couch beside him, didn’t look away when Steve examined him closely. “It’s Wanda’s birthday. Pepper rented out an ice skating rink. I think you should be there.”

Steve looked at his lap, shook his head. Bucky saw the tear fall and land on his hand. He put his arm around Steve, felt the older man crumple against him and sob. 

He was frail, bony, his strength nothing but a memory. “It’s okay, Pal. It is. She wants to see you. She’s hurt and sad. Her and my Steve get along like a house on fire. She makes Sam nuts and she reminds me of Becca. Her and I train every day. We’ve got Nat back, yesterday I saw Thor smile. You left us but we’re gonna make it. Seventy years is long enough to feel guilty for leaving.”

“I guess she does remind me of Becca now that you mention it,” he said, avoiding like he usually did. Steve Rogers was a master of deflection when he wanted to be.

“Come on, Steve. You’re not a coward. You made a choice. You had a good life. We all will be okay. Come see your friends. I promise I’ll stay by your side. Don’t let this chance go by,” he said. And it was the exact same thing he’d said to him which had made Steve leave him for Peggy in the first place. 

Finally, Steve agreed. “I have some things I’d like to give her. Presents I…” he swallowed hard and Bucky felt tears fill his eyes too. This was going to be even worse than he’d imagined. “Just some things I picked up over the years. Souvenirs, I guess.” 

“Sure, pal. Just tell me where they are.” Bucky got up and left Steve there, went to the closet in the spare bedroom and opened the sliding glass door. There was a  box for everyone. Sam. Wanda. Bucky. Hawkeye. Morgan. Nat, all written in black pen. Plastic containers no larger than a shoebox with a white lid and a name tag on each one. 

He picked them all up and carried them out to the other room, glancing quickly inside them from the side and seeing trinkets from various decades crammed into each one. Proof that he’d thought about them for all those decades away from them.

Not just thought about, missed. He’d gone about his life and tried to be as happy as he could and yet he’d never stopped thinking about them. Feeling guilty too, Bucky was sure of it. How odd must that have been to be buying things for people you missed and knowing they weren’t even born yet. Not that anyone was asking him, but in his opinion, it was really fucking sad.

Nat and Steve were definitely ready to go and so they got Steve set up with them in the front seat and headed to the ice skating rink, Nat offering her arm to help Steve up the steep walk. Bucky carried in the box for Wanda and Morgan, and his Steve stayed by his side, radiating anxiety. 

The music was loud, Taylor Swift’s Endgame playing on the speaker. He could see Hawkeye’s daughter on the ice, holding Morgan’s hand on one side while Peter was on the other, going slow so she didn’t fall down. Wanda waved at them and came off the ice but stopped when she saw the older Steve. Her eyes filled with tears. She looked from the older Steve to Bucky and then to the box in his hands. 

“Happy birthday, Wanda.” Steve gestured at the box. “It’s not much. Nothing that could ever make up for what I did, but I thought of you over the years and whenever I went somewhere….Well, these are for you.” 

Bucky saw Wanda’s lip wobble and she nodded, went to old Steve and gave him a hug. They sat down on a bench next to each other and Bucky put the box down beside Steve and very fucking happily backed away. He didn’t need to be there for this. 

Again he wondered if he could have done it.  Spent the last 70 years thinking of them, missing them when most of them weren’t even born yet. Bucky wondered if he would have wound up eating his own gun instead.

It was an odd, almost ironic twist that by going back in time he’d become a man out of time twice. It hadn’t gotten him a second bite of the apple but half an apple. He’d made a decision to go back and be with Peggy, to give up his life in the future, but here was the proof that it had been hard for him too. 

That it hadn’t been easy, probably hadn’t even felt right half the time. Peggy was a remarkable woman and he knew they’d been happy together. Bucky hoped he’d had enough happy moments to outweigh the regrets. 

His Steve was suddenly beside him, strong and vital, pulling him into a hug. “Does it make me a narcissist if I’m crying for myself?” he asked, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s temple. 

Bucky chuckled, squeezed him back, breathed him in and felt a little dizzy with how much he loved him. “What are they doing? I can’t look.”

“Good. Don’t look. It’s just awful. He’s giving her a bracelet. It’s very pink and I don’t know, maybe it’s from the 80’s? She’s so nice, she’s putting it on. Actually, it looks cute on her. Steve is saying…he got it in France. They were in Paris. 84. Oh, you can look now if you want. She’s laughing. He’s holding a….it’s a glove. A single glove. I don’t get it.”

“It’s Michael Jackson,” Bucky said, and pushed away to look. Steve was laughing, his aged face creased with joy. Wanda was smiling too, their cheeks glinting with tears and Bucky honestly felt so damned lighthearted all the sudden that he could float away. “Are we going to ice skate?”

“I don’t know. What’s their insurance policy, you think?”

“This is exhausting. I just want to go home, take off all your clothes and fuck you until we can’t see straight.”

He heard Steve drag in a breath. “I support that idea 3000%. After we leave the birthday party and you get your elderly ex back home.”

“Hmm,” Bucky murmured, non-commitally.  

Steve mentioned something about him needing a ride back to the Compound in such a suggestive manner that Bucky seriously considered dragging him into the supply closet. He didn’t. 

Not that anyone appreciated his struggle. 

They went towards the ice and saw Nat skating happily, red hair blowing behind her, Hawkeyes’ youngest son holding her hand and Thor of all people on the other side. Thor was, unsurprisingly, very good at ice skating. 

Steve was frowning at the two of them, still trying to work out the dynamic of their relationship. “If you really want the story just ask Rocket. He gossips like you wouldn’t believe. He was on the ship and he’s sneaky. I’m sure he knows all the details.”

“I might do that. It could be platonic. They’re going to make applesauce. Look at you, wise and hot. I’m very lucky,” Steve said, running a hand up and down Bucky’s back. 

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” he whispered into Steve’s ear and felt Steve’s hand clench on his waist. 

An hour and a half later Bucky helped Steve back to the car and drove him back to his empty house. He waited while Steve got settled inside and double checked all the locks because he was obsessive like that. “Sam is taking you to bingo on Monday?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Okay, then how about a movie. Wednesday maybe?” he asked, finally able to be around him and not feel like he was being decimated.

“Thank you, Buck. But Pepper is bringing Morgan over on Wednesday. We’re going to get ice cream and talk about Tony.”

“You gonna leave out all the insults he directed at you?”

“Depends on how funny they were. Goodnight, Buck. I’ll see you next week if you’ve got time,” he said, showing Bucky to the door. 

“I’ve always got time for you, pal.”