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Paradise Lost (& Found)

Chapter Text

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Two weeks away in a tropical paradise to clear his head and soothe the ache in his chest. Two weeks of seclusion with an excuse not to answer calls from worried friends or angry relatives. Well, her angry relatives. But Steve had forgotten just how much of a romantic sap he’d been, and how many extras and upgrades he’d added to the trip. It started with the two pre-ordered glasses of champagne on the flight, and was compounded by the ‘Mr & Mrs Rogers’ sign held up by the chauffeur at arrivals. By the time Steve was ready to check-in at the luxury resort – into the honeymoon suite, no less – he was already fed up with the whole thing.

“And where is Mrs Rogers?” the reception clerk asked, trying to be helpful and polite, not realising he was pouring salt into Steve’s wounds. “Will she be joining you later?”

“Uh.” Steve cleared his throat and tried to school his face into a neutral expression. “No. She won’t. Change of plans.”

The clerk just smiled sweetly. “Will you still be wanting the couple’s massage tomorrow afternoon?”

“What? Oh, er. No thank you.”

“It’s non-refundable.”

Wasn’t everything?

“Then, yeah.” What the hell. He could probably do with a massage. He always carried his stress his shoulders.

“What about the sunset cruise, and the –?“

“If it’s non-refundable, keep it. Cancel everything else.” Steve didn’t mean to sound so short, but the trip was playing on his frayed nerves. Why had he ever thought this would be a good idea?

“Okay, sir. Can I take a copy of your passport for our security? Then I’ll get you all checked in.”

The clerk disappeared with Steve’s passport and he was left, drumming his fingers on the counter top and wondering where everything in his life had gone so wrong.

The lobby was large and airy, all white washed walls, polished marble floors, and leafy green plants. A sunken bar led out onto a paved patio that looked right out onto the ocean. It was mid-afternoon and the sky was a deep blue. Palm trees wafted gently in a breeze that carried a salty tang and sent warm air sweeping round the room. The place smelt warm, not the sticky, sweaty smell of New York in the summer, or the nose-clogging humidity of DC, but something fresh and comforting, like stepping inside the orangeries of the country estate’s they’d visited in England once. These two weeks were just going to be a constant reminder of her, weren’t they?

Steve tried to push Peggy from his mind and let his attention wander, quickly latching onto a loud, rather fraught conversation at the other end of the reception desk. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but they weren’t exactly being subtle.

“What do you mean the room’s not available?” a tall brunette woman in a pretty sundress with sunglasses perched on top of her curly hair demanded; in a tone quite at odds with her flowery, casual appearance.

“I’m sorry. There appears to have been an error on the system. The reservation was not properly recorded.” Their receptionist apologised.

“But we booked this months ago!”

“It’s okay,” her brother tried to calm her down. They had to be siblings, they looked identical; same soft waves in their dark brown hair, same bright blue eyes, same slope to their nose, same dimple in their chin. Steve dropped his eyes to the floor quickly before he could be caught staring. “I’ll bunk with someone else.”

“Who?” the woman scoffed. “You’re sure as heck not bunking with us on our wedding night, and we’ve filled the other rooms to capacity already.” She let out a long suffering sigh and her shoulders slumped as her anger gave way to resigned disappointment. “First the bags go missing, now this. What else is going to go wrong? Coming here was supposed to make things easier.”

“I know, Becs.” He brother gave her hand a squeeze. “There’s really no other rooms available?” as asked the receptionist.

“I’m sorry. We’re fully booked.”

“Then I’ll sleep by the pool,” he laughed. “It’s the tropics, won’t get cold.”

“Sir, we cannot condone that -”

“Yeah, well, then you shouldn’t have double booked my room,” he smirked. He said it so charmingly that Steve found himself smiling along, in spite of everything.

“Bucky, you can’t.”

“I know, I know. There must be another hotel on the island –“

“Here you are, sir.”

Steve was pulled from the conversation with a snap as he was handed back his passport.

“Is there…a problem with their room?” he couldn’t help but ask, guesting to the conversation down the desk.

The clerk spared them a fleeting glance before returning to Steve with a cool smile. “Oh. Yes. Our system seems to have double booked a few rooms recently. Don’t worry, your booking has not been affected. None of the pre-paid ones were.” The clerk tried to assure Steve, missing his point entirely. “Here’s your room key. Room 701, top floor. Wifi code is inside. Breakfast is served daily from 7-10 in the dining hall, or you can arrange to have it delivered directly to your room –“

“Are there any other hotels on the island?” Steve was still worried about the brother-sister pair. He couldn’t help it; too empathetic, as he’d often been criticised, with a hero complex to boot.

“Not on the island, no. But there are plenty of hotels on the mainland.” The clerk tried to draw Steve’s attention back to the packet of information being handed over. “Here’s your confirmation for the massage tomorrow. The cabana is on the beach front, just through those trees, there,” he gestured beyond the patio. “Towels are available for use poolside and on the beach. We ask that only the dark blue towels are taken down to the beach. The ferry departs to the mainland twice a day, but we can always arrange a water taxi if required. If you need any help at all during your stay, please just ask.”

“Thank you.” Steve stepped away from the desk, clutching his room key and staring at the massage voucher. Two happy, Hollywood-pretty people were stretched out on massage beds, each attended by a smiling masseuse in a crisp white uniform. Behind them white drapes fluttered in the breeze and the sun sparkled on the waves. The couple were holding hands between the beds. For some reason that was the final straw.

The last thing Steve wanted to be doing was lying on a beach whilst someone rubbed lotion into his back and asked him where his wife was. He wanted to be back in his apartment, head buried under his duvet, watching a game on TV, eating take-out and doodling into a notebook until he felt like facing up to people again. He should never have come here. If it hadn’t been for the horrendous cancelation policy, Steve would never have even considered it. He gripped the handle of his suitcase and strode across the lobby, not towards the bank of elevators, but to the brother and sister now huddled by the front door, clearly trying to make other arrangements.

“Here.” He said, quite brisk and abrupt, but honestly he was just proud of himself for not actively crying. “Have my room. I don’t need it. I’m cancelling my trip.” He said by way of explanation. “It’s all paid up. Non-refundable. So. Use it.” He pressed the key card into the woman’s hands, unable to meet the eyes of her brother who was gawping at him with a look Steve couldn’t decipher.

“We can’t –“ she faltered and looked at the card. “The honeymoon suite,” she gasped under her breath and shared a look with her brother that clearly said, ‘can we really accept this?’.

“Please, just take it.” Steve tried to give her a smile but it felt more like a grimace.

“Thank you! I –“

Steve cut her off with a curt nod, extending one to her brother, before sweeping past them and out into the bright afternoon sun. He heard a squeal of delight behind him and couldn’t help but smile. At least someone was happy.

Chapter Text

It was meant to be the trip of a lifetime. Becca’s dream wedding. After everything she’d been through lately, it was the least she deserved. The three of them (that was, Bucky, Becca and her fiancee, Robert) were heading out a few days ahead of the rest of the wedding party to make the final preparations. Robert had practically been part of their family since high school, this was just making things official, and Bucky was ‘unofficial’ best-man and man-of-honour to both of them. He was looking forward to a few days of sun with the pair of them; a last hurrah before they actually grew up and settled down like married people did. But things had started going wrong right from the off. They’d got stuck on the subway on their way to the airport and just barely cleared check-in, only to find themselves squished into a crowded plane sitting behind a teething infant who didn’t stop crying throughout the entire flight. Their bags, including Becca’s wedding dress, had been misplaced somewhere in the airport, and now this. How many more things had to go wrong before they caught a break?

Bucky was only half joking when he offered to sleep by the pool, but he knew it wasn’t really an option. That was the problem with choosing such a secluded and exclusive resort; that this literally the only hotel on the island.

“We’ll figure something out,” he tried to reassure her with a smile. The glare he got in return told him she was far from reassured, but Bucky’s optimism wasn’t deterred. They were in a hotel, full of wedding guests. He was probably going to end up hooking up with someone anyway, did he really need his own room? Take, for instance, the very attractive blonde man checking in across the lobby. He’d caught the same ferry they had, standing in the bow with the wind in his hair and a tortured expression on his face. Bucky had been dying to strike up a conversation with him, but brotherly duties came first and Bucky had been preoccupied assuring Becca that her dress would turn up before the day of the wedding. Apparently telling her that it hardly mattered, that Robert loved her enough that he’d still marry her in a swim suit, hadn’t helped matters. Duly noted, Bucky had thought to himself, don’t make light of wedding issues.

They stepped away from the desk and as Becca phoned Robert for an update on their bags, Bucky let his attention wander over to the blonde stranger. He was, without a doubt, the most attractive man Bucky had ever laid eyes on. Tall and muscular, but in a very non-threatening way; wearing navy slacks and a white shirt so well fitted that it looked like he was modelling them for GQ. His watch looked like it cost more than Bucky earned in a month, as did the neat silver suitcase stopped by his feet. Honestly, it was hard not to stare.

“No luck.” Becca sighed, pocketing her phone. “The bags were definitely on the plane, so they’re in the airport somewhere. Just, god-knows-where.”

“They’ll turn up.” Bucky replied, distracted, because the tall blonde was suddenly walking right towards them. And oh, god, he was walking towards them with purpose.

“Here.” The tall blonde thrust a keycard and a bunch of papers in Becca’s direction. “Have my room. I don’t need it. I’m cancelling my trip.”

No, don’t go, wailed a small voice in the back of Bucky’s mind.

“It’s all paid up. Non-refundable. So. Use it.” He kept his eyes downcast as Bucky peered unabashedly at him. Up close it looked like he’d been crying.

Becca stumbled over her response, “We can’t –” shooting a look at Bucky, can we?

Bucky shrugged. One thing he’d learned early on in life, was that no one was too good for handouts or favours.

“The honeymoon suite.”

So this was the bugger who’d booked it out before them and made Becca mope for a week; not that they’d have ever been able to afford it anyway (“But I’d have liked the option!”). Bucky glanced down to the fingers gripped around the handle of the silver suitcase; no ring. Christ, no wonder he’d been crying.

“Please, just take it.” The poor man grimaced at them.

Becca finally relented and they guy fled. Bucky watched him go, feeling his own heart crack just a little. Who could ever dream of breaking that man’s heart?

“The honeymoon suite!” Becca gasped under her breath again. “Bucky!” she gave a squeal. “The honeymoon. Suite!”

“I know!” he grinned at her, trying not to care where hot-sad-blonde-man was going.

“Okay, well this is clearly going to be mine and Robert’s room. You can have our old one. And now you don’t need to sleep by the pool. Phew. I knew this trip couldn’t be a complete disaster.” Utter delight shone from her face, Bucky could only smile back.

It was the break they’d been waiting for, that solved their most pressing problem, so why did Bucky feel like he’d lost something important?

=

Becca kept mumbling ‘honeymoon suite, honeymoon suite’ under her breath as they rode the elevator to the top floor, and unlocked the door to one of only two rooms that occupied the space.

To say the room was extravagant was an understatement. For one thing, it was bigger than his entire apartment back home. Bucky shuffled across the threshold and peered into chain of rooms linked by large open archways. It had an entire separate living area to the bedroom, a dining room – who need a dining room in a hotel bedroom? - and two bathrooms. Two. Bucky walked around the place shaking his head. The overindulgence of it all was outrageous. He opened a set of French windows and stepped out onto a wide terrace that looked directly over the ocean. The resort complex sprawled below them; an infinity pool on a raised terrace; palm tree grove leading down to a white sandy beach, secluded cove with turquoise waters that sparkled under the sunlight. The brochure hadn’t been lying when it said the resort offered a slice of paradise.

Stepping back into the room, Bucky found Becca sprawled face up on the super-kingsize bed looking for all the world like she’d jumped onto it.

 “I can’t believe you’re gonna stay here,” he shook his head; knowing full well how much this suite cost and wondering what the hell kind of person could afford it.

“Me neither!” Becca moved her arms snow-angel style on the bed. “It’s bliss.”

“You’re gonna be spoilt, who would ever wanna go home after staying somewhere like this?”

“Ugh. I know.” she sat up, leaning back on her elbows. “Who d’you think that man was? We’ve got to thank him.”

Bucky plucked a card from between the bucket of champagne and vase of roses sitting on the dresser. “Probably Mr Rogers.”

Dear Mr & Mrs Rogers, Welcome to Juniper Bay Resort. On behalf of the entire staff we are delighted to congratulate you on your honeymoon! We wish you a pleasant and comfortable stay in our hotel.

Bucky didn’t even pretend that his heart didn’t sink a little at the sight of the word ‘Mrs’. He flicked the card at Becca.

“I’m gonna go find my room then I’ll probably head down to the pool for a bit.”

“How? This isn’t the sort of place you can skinny dip, Bucky.”

He swung round to show her his carry-on rucksack. “I always pack a spare pair of trunks, just in case.”

“Course you do.” She rolled her eyes.

“Gotta be prepared.” He grinned back. “Robert say what time he was heading back from the airport?”

“Last ferry today is at 6 so he’ll be on that, with or without the bags.” She slumped back down into the pillows.

“Hey, they’ll turn up.”

“Yeah.” She sounded lethargic. The exhaustion of travelling and the stress of the day finally catching up with her. “Did you see the robes in the bathroom? They’re so fluffy. I could always just get married in one of those.”

Bucky laughed and gave her a gentle pat on her ankle. “It’ll all be alright.” He assured her. This time it seemed to work.

He left her drifting to sleep on the enormous bed and caught the lift down a few floors to his own room. He was expecting it to feel small and stuffy after the grandiose honeymoon suite, but it was still larger than any hotel room he’d ever stayed in, with everything you’d expect from an ultra-fancy hotel: kingsize bed; 42inch tv on the wall; stone tiled bathroom with a walk-in waterfall shower; neat little desk that had never once been used; a sofa and arm chair framing a coffee table by the French windows. It was done up in soft blues, sharp whites, and flashes of gold. There was an abstract painting above the bed that reminded him Greek mythology, though he couldn’t work out why, and the lights had about a million different ‘dimmed’ and ‘mood lighting’ settings. He was pleased to find the French windows opened out onto a small balcony, poking out from the side of the hotel and looking out of the lush vegetation that covered the island. If he leant out over the railing he could see both soft rolling hills to his left, and the ocean dancing prettily to his right.

It was a beautiful room, in a beautiful place. Shame he didn’t have anyone to share it with.

Chapter Text

Bucky had been intending to spend the afternoon pool side, but after testing the feel of the bed, he too found himself succumbing to travel-weary exhaustion. He woke with a start, face down in the pillows, shirt rucked up round his hips and inelegant drool slipping from the corner of his mouth. Through the windows Bucky could see the sky was beginning to darken, and a frenzied glance at his phone told him it was almost 7pm. He’d slept for three hours. Holy shit, what a waste of a day.

Becca wasn’t answering her phone, so, after tidying up his appearance in the bathroom mirror, rinsing out his mouth and chewing on a soft mint, he decided to head down to the bar. Dusk fell rapidly and the view beyond the patio was bathed in a deep blue, tinged with the fading orange glow of the sinking sun. Bucky was headed for the beach bar when he spotted a familiar blonde head sitting with his back to the sunset; nursing a beer at the bar around the corner from reception. Bucky quickly changed course.  

“You’re still here.”

The man looked up from his beer with a crease in his brow. This time it was obvious he’d been crying; his eyes were red raw and puffy. Was it weird that Bucky wanted to hug him? Probably a little weird.

The man cleared his throat and dragged a hand down over his mouth and jaw. “Uh. Yeah. Turns out the earliest flight I can catch back is tomorrow morning.”

“So your plan is to stay here drinking all night?”

“24 hour bar, so.” The man shrugged and took another draught from his beer bottle. Bucky tried hard not to stare at his jawline, but gosh, what a masterpiece. He was half a moment away from offering to give the man his room back or suggest they share – before he remembered the ‘Mrs’, or rather the recent lack of one, and thought better of it.

He settled himself onto the bar stool beside the man instead, and caught the attention of the barman. “Two whiskey sours, please.” He ordered for both of them with uncharacteristic nerves fluttering in his chest.

The blonde man put down his beer bottle and gave Bucky a strange look.

“Well, you’re either highly allergic to hops, in which case you need to stop drinking beer. Or you’ve been crying, in which case you also need to stop drinking beer, and move on to something stronger.” Bucky said with a grin; steeling himself for the man’s response.

The man dipped his head and Bucky was delighted to see a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Actually,” he called to the barman. “Make mine a whiskey neat. No ice, just a splash of spring water.”

“Atta boy,” Bucky grinned at him, giving his bicep a slight nudge with his elbow. “I’m Bucky, by the way.”

“Steve.” The man returned.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“About what?” Steve’s voice sounded groggy. He’d definitely been crying.

“I don’t think single men often book out honeymoon suites for themselves, let alone cancel last minute.” Bucky prompted, gently. “What happened?”

Steve looked away and shook his head. “She called it off. Right at the last second. After the guests had all taken their seats.”

“Oh god, man. I’m so sorry.” Bucky’s hand twitched with the desire to reach out and give Steve’s hand a squeeze. Luckily Steve moved his hand to accept his whisky from the bar tender before Bucky could do anything brash and impulsive.

“At least she had the decency to go out and tell everyone. Not sure I could have faced doing that.” Steve practically drained his drink in one before twirling the glass around on it’s rim, swilling the remainder around the sides. “I feel so foolish. I should have seen it coming, we’d been rocky for months – years even. I’m not sure we were ever completely right for each other. But it…blindsided me. I thought we had an unspoken agreement that we’d try and make things work, y’know?”

Bucky hummed in what he hoped was a soothing tone.

“She was the first woman I ever loved. Certainly the first woman who ever loved me.” He wrinkled his nose in a fairly adorable sniff. “Sorry, I’m a bit of a mess.”

“That’s understandable.” Oh god, poor man. First loves were always the hardest to get over. And being left at the alter? It didn’t bear thinking about. But if there was one thing Bucky had learned from his therapy sessions over the years, it was that talking about it did actually help. “How did you meet?” Bucky asked, when Steve fell silent.

“College.” Steve hesitated, like he wasn’t sure he wanted to open those floodgates, but he sucked in a deep breath and braced himself with a smile. “We both majored in international relations at Princeton. I was the skinny nerd half the height of the rest of my class, and she was the posh English girl with an accent straight out of Buckingham palace. Neither of us really fit in. We both had something to prove.”

Bucky glanced sideways at Steve. Skinny? Short? Who the hell was he kidding? But Bucky knew how it felt to be different from the rest of your classmates. Knew the kind of bonds you made with people that accepted you for who you were; they struck deep.

“She’s a real firecracker. The brightest person in our class, without question, but she’s stubborn and a little…aggressive with her opinions. She doesn’t try to make herself amenable. I love that about her. She didn’t care that I was two-bit hack from Brooklyn who’d won my way there on a scholarship I didn’t really feel like I deserved. She seemed to think I was worth something when no one else did.”

Bucky listened quietly, not wanting to break the spell. The guy seemed relieved to be getting this all off his chest and Bucky was happy to listen.

“’Course that was before I discovered rowing. Miracle sport,” he gave Bucky a sly smile and finished off the rest of his whisky, signally the bar tender over for a refill. Bucky suddenly remembered that his own drink was sitting untouched, he quickly sipped at it to catch up. “I bulked up throughout the year, and over the summer I finally had the growth spurt I’d been waiting for since middle school. Then suddenly everyone wanted to be my best friend.”

“Funny how that works.” Bucky returned the smile.

“But Peggy,” Steve sighed, and whatever thought he’d been about to voice trailed off unsaid. “After we graduated, we got an apartment together in DC. She went on to become a political analyst for the CIA, and when I realised politics and policy making wasn’t actually for me, she loaned me the money I needed to start my own design company. She stuck with me through the lean years where I found my footing, and she didn’t care that it took me five years to even start paying her back. It seemed natural that we’d get married someday. It was the logical progression. I didn’t even question it. Maybe I should have done. Maybe I’d have seen this coming sooner if I had.”

“Hey, it’s not all on you.” This time Bucky did reach out to give Steve’s hand a squeeze. To his immense surprise, and relief, Steve squeezed back. “C’mon,” Bucky pulled his hand free and stood up. Steve glanced up, the pretty crease was back between his eyebrows. He pouted when he was confused, it was utterly adorable. “You’ve got one night on a tropical island, there’s no point spending it indoors. There’s a bar on the beach. Let’s go get drunk there instead.” Bucky nodded towards the patio which was by now fully dark. A line of flaming tiki torches highlighted the route down to the beach.

“Why are you doing this?”

The question stumped Bucky for a moment. Why was he doing this? It wasn’t about a hook up anymore, it hadn’t been since he’d found about the whole jilted thing. But even if that was off the table, Bucky still wanted to spend time with this man. He still wanted to get to know him. “Because I want to.” He answered honestly, giving a small shrug. “I enjoy your company.”

Steve snorted in disbelief. “Can’t believe I’m that great company at the moment.”

“And because I don’t think you want be alone right now.” Bucky added, hoping he wasn’t overstepping the mark.

“Thank you.” Steve said. His smile wobbled for a moment, but he stood up, fishing a couple of notes out of his wallet and leaving them under his glass to pay for the drinks. Bucky didn’t argue. He’d get the next round. And the one after that.

“Don’t thank me yet,” he smirked, grabbing Steve by the arm and leading him down towards the beach.  

Chapter Text

Steve let himself be dragged towards the beach, not entirely sure what he was hoping to achieve from this endeavour. Accepting drinks off attractive men in hotel bars wasn’t exactly Steve’s MO, but the guy was right; Steve really didn’t want to be alone.

He’d texted Sam to tell him he’d be coming back early, but that was it. Steve was reluctant to open up and reveal just how devastated he felt. The thing was, Steve hoped that in a few weeks - once he got over the shock of the whole thing - he’d be back to normal, and he’d rather not be constantly reminded of how he felt right now. Sam was great, Steve thought the world of him, which is exactly why Steve couldn’t talk to him about this. Steve knew if he opened up, Sam would swoop in, coddle him, and majorly dent Steve’s pride. Steve hated feeling vulnerable like that. Hated letting people known he had a weak side. Perhaps it was better to let a stranger see him through the worst of it; a stranger Steve was certain never to see again after that night.

Bucky kicked his shoes off as soon as they reached the sand and rolled up the bottom of his jeans. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes that was so utterly endearing as his face shone in the light of the tiki lamps. Steve wondered again about what he was getting himself into, but he followed suit; kicking off his shoes and plodding barefoot through the sand, half sinking with each step, as the footpath opened out onto the beach front. A wooden lean-to served as the bar, with tables and chairs set out in the sand. A fire pit glowed a crackled further down the beach surrounded by cushioned benches and hammocks. Candles glowed in lanterns and more tiki torches gave everything a soft muted glow whilst plunging everything outside of their reach into a deep darkness. Plenty of other people were clustered at the tables and milling around in the sand, but the beach felt far from crowded. The soft rush of the waves surging and retreating up the sand acted like a white noise machine, masking conversations and providing a gentle roar that Steve could focus on rather than the noise inside his mind.

Bucky led the way right up to the bar and propped himself against it, hip coked as he scoured the chalk board menu. The barman finished up mixing two enormous drinks served inside hollowed out pineapples, adding cocktail umbrellas and handing them to a pair of giggling girls, before wiping his hands on his apron and turning to Bucky.

“What’ll you have?”

“One of those pineapple things, please,” Bucky grinned.

“And for you, sir?”

Steve glanced at Bucky who was waiting on him eagerly. “Oh, go on then. A pineapple thing too, please.” What the hell, he was on holiday, wasn’t he?

Bucky’s grin widened and Steve felt an odd sort of thrum deep in his chest. He fished his walled from his back pocket, but Bucky stayed his hand.

“I’ve got these.”

“You sure?”

“Dude, you got the last round. Plus you paid for the room. These are on me.”

Steve shrugged and pocketed his wallet.

“That’ll be twenty-four dollars.” The bartender informed them, popping two umbrellas into their drinks with a flourish.

“How much?” Bucky’s eyes popped. “Fuck-me-sideways. Maybe I will let you get the next round,” he laughed at Steve.

They took their drinks to empty table further down the beach, wading through the sand and trying desperately not to spill anything over the lip of their pineapples. Steve wobbled slightly as he sat down and sent his drink sloshing over his palm. He licked it clean on impulse, only realising when he felt Bucky’s eyes on him that the move probably looked quite suggestive. Bucky quirked and eyebrow and Steve felt his cheeks burn. Hopefully it would be too dark for Bucky to notice the blush.

“Twelve dollars a drink, these had better be good.” Bucky leant forwards to slurp through his straw. He straightened, coughed, and grinned. “Whoa, that’s strong!”

Steve tried his own and nearly choked on the combination of fiery liquor and overly sweet pineapple flavour. “What the hell’s in these?”

“Apart from enough liquor to stock the mini bars upstairs?” Bucky laughed. “I think I’m getting notes of pineapple? Maybe some sugary undertones?”

That drew a laugh from Steve, half barked and catching in his throat as it surprised him. Bucky looked so pleased with himself, slurping away and stirring his straw around the drink that Steve found himself smiling back. He settled back into his chair, stretched his legs under the table and let his toes bury themselves in the sand, exhaling slowly and feeling at ease for the first time in months. He hadn’t realised just how stressed and worried he’d been about the wedding. It was nice to switch off and relax.

“Coup’la these and you’ll have forgotten your worries in no time.” Bucky plucked the umbrella from his drink, sucked the end clean, and dropped into the table. He already looked a little tipsy.

“I should warn you,” Steve said, feeling it was only fair to mention it now. “I don’t really get drunk very easily.”

“That a challenge?” Bucky smirked.

 “No.”

“You’ve clearly not tried to right stuff.”

“Oh, no. I have.”

“Yeah?”

“Row crew initiation. Second year of college. You know those yard glasses? You normally drink ale from?”

Bucky nodded that he did, still slurping from his straw, eyes locked on Steve.

“They made us drink a yard of vodka. I think they watered it down some. But. Yeah. I’ve never felt so wasted in my life. It either kicked my liver into overdrive or shut it down completely. Either way, I’ve never really been able to get drunk since.”

“Challenge accepted.” A devilish smirk curved across Bucky’s lips.

Steve shook his head, powering through his drink to catch up with Bucky’s half empty pineapple.

“So what’s your story?”

“Huh?”

“You’re here for your sister’s wedding?” Steve prompted.

“Oh, yeah. Becca’s getting married on Saturday." Bucky's smiled looked fond. "She always wanted a tropical beach wedding. A few years ago we never would have been able to afford anything like this, but then an estranged grandma we never knew about died and left us a load of inheritance. I’m still getting used to the idea that I have money now. It’s fucking weird.”

Steve knew how that felt. Even after his business started making decent returns on it its dividends, Steve had never liked spending lavish amounts of money. This trip had been the exception, and look how well that had turned out. Well, he glanced at Bucky sitting opposite him, it hadn’t been all bad, he supposed.

“Dad never talked about his parents so we always just figured they’d died already? He died when I fifteen and they never even came to the funeral so,” Bucky shrugged and slurped up the last of his drink.

Steve reeled at the sudden change in tone, and the way Bucky spoke so casually about losing a parent, though Steve suspected that it was some kind of coping mechanism. “Sorry to hear that.” Steve’s own dad had died before he was born, so he knew a thing or two about living without a father, but it was hard to grieve someone you’d never known. “That must have been tough.” It had been infinitely harder to loose his Ma a week shy of his eighteenth birthday.

Bucky shrugged again. “Hit mom the hardest I think. She’d never had to work before, then – bam – she was the sole earner. We had to make some…adjustments.” Bucky looked away and picked at the spikes on the side of his pineapple. “We adapted. I joined the army when I was eighteen and they paid for me to go to college after I was discharged.” He took to using the cocktail umbrella to stab holes in the lip of the pineapple. It was clearly still a sore subject and Steve felt awful about inadvertently bringing it up. “I often wonder if things would have been different back then, if we’d had more money. I doubt I would have enlisted, and I’d’ve probably been there when she got sick. When she…” Bucky tipped his head back and let out a breath that shuddered slightly.

Steve didn’t know what to say. Comforting words had never been his forte. His advice usually boiled down to taking action or getting revenge; neither of which were helpful in this scenario.

“Sorry. You didn’t really want to hear any of that.”

“I asked, didn’t I?” Steve said softly. “What a miserable pair of orphans we make.”

Bucky’s eyes snapped back to Steve’s; his expression unreadable.

“How about this? I’ll go and get us refills on the. Pineapples.” Steve suggested. He still hadn’t figured out what cocktail it was supposed to be other than it contained a lot of rum, and maybe even some tequila.  “And then no more talk of sad things, alright?”

“Alright.” Bucky managed a weak smile. His feet found Steve’s under the table and kicked a load of sand in his direction. Steve found it disproportionately charming. He pushed his chair back and picked his way towards the bar, glancing back at Bucky as he waited for the drinks. He’d sunk low in his chair, legs stretched out before him, bare ankles crossed. Steve watched as Bucky carded his fingers through his hair and tipped his head back to the stars.

From the moment he’d touched down on the island, Steve couldn’t wait to be gone from it. Now he wasn’t sure he’d been too hasty to throw in the towel.

Chapter Text

“I really thought you’d be able to see more stars from here,” Steve said, handing Bucky his drink.

Overhead the sky was pitch black. In fact it was near impossible to see anything beyond the orange circles spewed out by the torches and candles. The sea was a mysterious invisible force behind them, you had to really peer to see the white foam dancing up the beach.

“Should be able to. We’re too close to the fire.” Bucky reasoned.  

“Ah. Makes sense.”

“We can move down the beach?”

“No, no.” Steve went to sit down, but Bucky stood up.

“No, come on. You should see the stars properly before you go back to all that light pollution tomorrow.” Bucky insisted.

He led Steve down the beach away from the glare of the fire, settling into the sand which felt cool beneath his legs. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, a million and one twinkling stars revealed themselves against the once black sky; turning it navy blue and indigo with a cloudy stripe seeping out from the centre.

“I’ve not seen this many stars since…” Steve faltered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many stars.”

“Neat isn’t it?” Bucky had spent many a long night camped out under the stars, often with nothing but his helmet and his rifle for company. But it was a view he never got tired of.

“Strange to think that they’re up there all the time, just drowned out by the city lights.” Steve’s face was transfixed, eyes wide and jaw slack with childlike wonderment. His expression was world’s away from the tortured expression he’d worn on the ferry. It was nice to see him relaxed and at ease.

“Can you see any stars in DC?”

“Not really. It’s cloudy, usually. But even when it’s clear, no more than one or two. To be honest, I don’t often bother to look up.”

Bucky was almost offended. He always leapt at every opportunity to stargaze. “You should.”

Steve hummed in agreement. He placed his drink in the sand and lent back to get a better view.

“Will you go back to DC?” Bucky asked, copying Steve and crossing his arms behind his head in the sand. From that angle the sky opened up like a dome overhead, the stars reaching right down into the waves beyond their feet.

“To start with. I need to get my stuff from the apartment. Then I’ll probably head back to New York. DC’s a nice city. I like the museums, but it never felt like home, and without Peg…”

“The museums in New York are pretty great too.” Bucky offered, steering the conversation in a safer direction.

“Yeah they are. God, it’s been years since I’ve been to the Met. I used to go Saturday afternoons whilst my Ma was at work. Sit and sketch all my favourite paintings. I could spend hours in there. Completely lose track of time.”

“I’ve never been to the Met.”

Now it was Steve’s turn to look aghast.

“I lived in Brooklyn for a spell, but never bothered to make the trip.” Bucky admitted.

“You should.” Steve turned his own words against him.

Bucky smiled. “Yeah, maybe I will.”

“Where did you live in Brooklyn?”

“Prospect Heights, just off Washington Avenue.”

“No way.” Steve pushed himself up onto his elbows and grinned at Bucky. “I grew up on St. Marks. Is that deli still there on the corner of Dean Street?”

Dean Street? Was Steve for real? Bucky had only gone there every day for lunch whilst he’d lived there. “Oh yeah. Only the best pastrami on rye in the whole city.”

“Small world.”

“Yeah,”

Steve slumped back into the sand and Bucky continued to stare. His let his mind conjure fantasies of them crossing paths in Brooklyn instead, where Steve wasn’t nursing a broken heart. When he didn’t have to leave in the morning.

“What time’s your flight tomorrow?”

“11.10. If I catch the 8am ferry, I should get to the airport in time.”

“Ugh, that’s too early.” Bucky groaned just thinking about having to get up that before 10 on a day off.

Steve laughed at him, and wasn’t that just the most magical sound? “I thought you were an army man. 0600 drills, and all that.”

“Yup” Bucky sighed. “But just because I had to, doesn’t mean I enjoy waking up before noon. It was one of the reasons I got out.” Bucky laughed back. Admittedly it was very low on his list of reasons, but that was not a thread he wanted to pull on right now. If they opened that can of worms, they’d stray into the sad shit territory real quick.

“What unit were you with?”

“Rangers. 75th.” Bucky said, offhand. People always asked, and then nodded along, pretending like it meant anything to them. But the flicker of recognition in Steve’s face was unmistakable, even though the gloom.

“Black ops? That’s heavy stuff.” He sounded awed.

“Yeah. But I was a sniper so I saw most of the action from far away, through my scope.” His forced casualness didn’t fool Steve. “You know someone in the army?”

“Airforce. My friend Sam. He was with Pararescue? He said he worked with your unit a few times. Always sounded a little in awe, if I’m honest.”

“Nah, man.” Bucky sat up on his elbows. “The pararescue guys were the real heroes. They got us out of a few tight spots.” Sam. The name rang a bell. “What was your friend called? Sam…?”

“Wilson. Technical Sergeant.”

Holy shit. Bucky bolted upright and turned to stare at Steve. Small fucking world after all. “Sam Wilson?”

Steve sat up too, moving slowly with a frown creasing his brows and that pout back on his lips. “You knew him?”

“He saved my fucking life.” Bucky laughed at the sheer improbability of it all. “Pulled me out of Deh Bala.”

Steve’s face flickered through surprise, horror, and something dangerously close to pity.

“You were in Deh Bala?” he asked in a low voice.

Bucky’s stomach roiled. This was exactly the thread he hadn’t wanted to pull on. “He told you about that.”

“Not the specifics. It’s all classified. But I read what I could on the news.” Steve continued, talking quietly. “Eight US Rangers captured in the Nangahar Province, held captive for 43 days. 3 dead. Must have been one hell of an ordeal.”

“Yeah.” Bucky scratched at his left shoulder, a nervous tick he thought he’d got rid of. “But I got out.” Mostly in one piece. “Left the army pretty quickly after that.” He hoped Steve could tell by his tone that he really didn’t want to talk about it. He’d done talking about it; with therapists, psychiatrists, VA groups. It had helped him come to terms with everything that had happened, helped him move on. But now that he was passed it, Bucky didn’t see the point in opening up the box that was locked neatly away in the back corner of his mind.

Thankfully Steve didn’t pry.

“How is Sam? What’s he up to now?”

“He’s good. He’s my COO, now. Which basically means he runs the company whilst I get to do all of the fun stuff. I couldn’t do any of without him. Great guy.”

“Yeah.” Bucky agreed.

“What do you do now?”

Bucky grinned, now this was something he actually enjoyed talking about. “I work with WitSec, in their Midwest office; helping people relocate and find new jobs. It sounds cooler than it is. Most of the time it’s pushing paper around and doing admin,” Bucky wasn’t sure why he was playing it down. Usually he tried to talk it up, making it sound like was doing super-secret-spy-shit. Maybe it was because he knew Steve’s ex fiancée worked for the actual CIA, and maybe because he didn’t want to bulllshit Steve. “But it’s nice, helping build lives rather than…what I was doing before.”

“Sounds really worthwhile.”

Bucky shrugged. “It can be rewarding, when people get settled. But a lot of the time it’s people complaining about where we place them. I get it, though. Must be hard shutting the door on your old life, moving across country, cut off from all of your old friends and family. Even if it’s for the best.”

“Yeah…” Steve slumped back into the sand and Bucky noticed how familiar that sounded to Steve’s situation. Making a new life for himself, potentially losing mutual friends…

“Do you think you’ll stay in touch?” he asked before he thought better of it.

“What?”

“With Peggy?”

“Oh.” Steve cocked his knee and wrapped his hands around his shin, curling in on himself slightly. Bucky felt bad for bringing the topic up again. “I hope so. We were friends first, I hope we can get back to that. Might take me a while to get there.”

“No doubt.”

“God. I’ve known her for fourteen years. We were together for eleven. I can’t…” it was like he’d only just realised they might not stay in touch. Guilt flushed through Bucky, prickling unpleasantly under his skin. “I don’t even know who I am without her. I owe her everything… Everything I am, it’s because of her…” Steve’s breath caught and stuttered.

“Hey. No. That’s unfair.” Bucky pressed.  “Give yourself some credit. You’d still be you.”

“A very different me. One I’m not sure I’d like.” Steve said in a very small voice.

It hurt to hear Steve talk about himself so deprecatingly. Bucky turned to face him, and reached out to give his arm a gentle squeeze. “The guy who used to sit in the Met sketching paintings, the guy who earned himself a scholarship to fucking Princeton, the guy who gave his room to a complete stranger because he thought they needed it more, the guy who didn’t pry at my service history because I didn’t want to talk about it, even though I can tell you’re dying to ask: that’s all you. And he doesn’t sound all that bad.” Bucky said  firmly. “In fact, he sounds pretty fucking great.”

Steve didn’t immediately reply. He looked like he wasn’t sure how to respond. He swallowed, and brought his hand up to rest on top of Bucky’s.

“Thanks,” he managed, after a few false starts.

Bucky just smiled. “I’m going to go us more drinks. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

“I won’t.”

Bucky gave Steve’s arm another squeeze before he pushed himself to his feet, marvelling at the strange warmth suddenly flooding through his chest.

Chapter Text

Steve sat up and brought his knees to his chest, hugging his arms around his shins. He stared out across the gloomy waves as a conflicting mix of emotions churning through his mind. The stars twinkled before him, some of them so bright they were reflected as white smudges that shifted and rolled with the waves. He watched them, mesmerised, and found his thoughts drifting back to the wedding that never was.

“You good?” Sam had asked placing a comforting hand on Steve’s arm as they sat in the side chapel of the big old church Peggy had picked for the occasion. Steve had nodded, preoccupied with trying to quiet the nerves and jitters in his stomach.  

Then Peggy, a vision in white lace, had stepped into the room. Her hair was rolled and pinned in elegant curls. Perfect red lipstick adorned her face and a delicate string of pearls rested above her collarbones. God, she’d looked stunning. Steve’s first impulse had been for a camera or a paintbrush to immortalise her.

“Hey,” Steve had said when she’d entered, bolting up, alert and amazed. “Isn’t it bad luck to see you before?” His grin was dopey and lopsided, unable to believe his luck. Well, he hadn’t been that lucky, had he?

There’d been a pause. A charged silence that still haunted Steve whenever he was left alone with his thoughts. The beat before the other shoe dropped, before Peggy had said those fateful words and brought his world crashing down. “I’m sorry, Steve. I can’t do this.”

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his forehead to rest against his knees. He wasn’t going to cry again, he told himself. He wasn’t. Unfortunately, his body had other ideas; not helped by the amount of rum and god-knows what else sloshing around in his system. He felt a lump growing at the back of his throat and tears prick in the corners of his eyes. He lifted his head to wipe them from his cheeks, when he found half a coconut being thrust under his nose.

“They ran out of pineapples,” Bucky explained, sounding more than a little tipsy now. Certainly, when he went to sit down he misjudged the distance to the floor and landed in the sand with a thump that sloshed drink all down his front.

“Oops,” he laughed, and sucked at the stretch of skin between his thumb and finger to mop up the spill. It didn’t look as suggestive as Steve had feared, but it was infinitely more endearing. “These taste more like straight up piña coladas, though. So they’re probably safer.”

Steve tested his drink, finding it was stronger than any piña colada had the right to be, and coughed against the burning at the back of his throat. He placed it gently in the sand next to his leg, not really in the mood for another drink anyway. Coughing again to clear the lump from his throat Steve hastily wiped the salty tracks from his cheeks. He was sure Bucky had noticed them, but thankfully he wasn’t commenting it.

“What’s that bright star?” Steve asked, searching for a topic of conversation far removed from their troubled pasts.

“Sirius.” Bucky replied, after a brief scan of the stars.

“Like the character from Harry Potter?” Steve stared at the spec of white blazing slightly brighter than the other stars around it.

“Yup. Part of the Canis Major constellation.”

“The ‘greater dog’.” Steve translated. “Subtle. How did no one figure his animagus was a dog?”

“Because people like you don’t know their constellations,” Bucky ribbed lightly in a familiar and comforting way.

“Does that mean there’s a ‘canis minor’ too?”

“Yeah. Look higher, three stars in a line? Unevenly spaced?”

Steve tried to see where Bucky meant, but you could quite easily draw a line through any three stars. He never really understood what made constellations so special.

“I thought Orion was three stars in a line?”

“That too. He’s closer to the horizon, his bow and arrow just below the water line at the moment.” Bucky slurped from his straw, speaking so casually and confidently about a subject which had always baffled Steve. Steve had to admit, he was rather impressed. “See there?” Bucky leant close to Steve to better approximate his eye line and gestured to a string of stars sloping down towards the horizon. Bucky lingered for a moment, letting their shoulders brush before he pulled away, lying back on his elbows in the sand.

“I’ve never understood how you get all that from three stars in a line.” Steve admitted. Bucky tipped his head back and laughed before giving Steve a smile that crinkled his eyes and curved delightfully up into his cheeks.

“That’s just his belt. C’mere.” Bucky sat up again and took Steve’s hand, stretching it out towards the stars and tracing a shape in the sky. “That’s his shoulder, arm raised holding a sword – or spear, depends on your preference – then down here’s his tunic, belt, and other arm extended with a bow.” Steve tried to pay attention but he was more fixated on Bucky’s warm breath on his cheek and the way his fingers were wrapped delicately around Steve’s wrist. “Gotta use your imagination a little bit, of course, but I can’t see how that would be hard for an artist like you.” Bucky smirked at Steve and pulled back. “I love constellations. Used to love hearing all the stories that went with them. My dad would tell us them instead of a bed time story.” Bucky smiled fondly at the memory. It sounded lovely, and sparked a memory from Steve’s own past. One he hadn’t thought of in a long, long time.

“My ma used to tell me all the folk stories she grew up with in Ireland.” He remembered. “We’d sit down on the rocks in Gravesend Bay and she’d tell me we were looking out over the Atlantic towards home, whispering them above the wind.” Steve tried to recall one to share with Bucky as they sat looking out over the ocean, but all that came were fragmented bits and pieces. “I wish I’d written them down or paid more attention. I hardly remember them now.” He’d just assumed his mother would always be a constant in his life. Like he had with Peggy. “What’s your favourite constellation myth?” he asked quickly, to distract himself more than anything.

Well,”

Bucky waxed lyrical about all of the constellations they could see, and some others that they couldn’t. He had a wonderful way with words – even if they were a little slurred - spinning bright tales that made Steve laugh, and taking full advantage of Steve’s ignorance to make-up ridiculous stories. At least, Steve didn’t think there was an Angry Emperor Cat constellation, immortalising a furry fiend who’d terrorised a town in ancient Mesopotamia; but Bucky spoke with such assurance that it was easy to believe that there was.  

As they lazed on the sand the tide slowly crept towards them, masked in the darkness until it brushed right up against their toes and doused them in cold sea water. They leapt up in shock, expletives abounding, and scrambled back from the waves.

“Oh shit.”

“Fuck!”

The sudden rush of movement highlighted what lying in the sand had easily hidden; Bucky was very drunk. Even Steve’s brain felt cloudy and his limbs were a little slow on the uptake, but at least he could stand upright. Bucky took a step backwards and wobbled over, falling against Steve and dragging them pair of them back down in a tangle of limbs.

“Sorry,” he laughed, clutching onto Steve’s arm as Steve helped him back to his feet. Bucky wobbled again but Steve reached out to steady him and Bucky remained standing, even if he was swaying a little from side to side. “Man, those drinks were strong.”

“Steady there, Private,” Steve laughed, the words coming readily to his mouth though he wasn’t sure why – the drinks must have been strong. He kept his hand hooked around Bucky’s bicep as Bucky took another step. His foot sunk into the sand and he wavered, but Steve held him firm.

“Fuck you, I was a sergeant.” Bucky grinned.

“Oh really?”

“No need to look so surprised.”

“It’s not that. I just never thought a special ops sergeant would be such a lightweight.” Steve teased.

“I’m not a lightweight.” Bucky gave up wobbling forwards under his own power and slumped against Steve’s side, letting himself be half dragged back up the beach towards the hotel. An unspoken agreement seemed to have passed between them that they were ready to call it a night. “I’m not even that drunk.” He went on. “And as your superior officer,” he drawled.

“Oh yeah?”

“Um. Sergeant? And…” he gestured loosely at Steve.

“I was the Captain of the rowing team, if that counts.”

“Course it doesn’t.” Bucky said, but it an affectionate sort of way. “As I was saying,” they staggered past the bar and back up the torch lined footpath towards the hotel. “As the ranking officer, what I say goes. And I say I’m not drunk.”

Bucky’s argument might have been a little more compelling if he hadn’t, at that moment, missed his footing on the steps up to the patio and almost sent them both crashing into the pool. Luckily Steve was still steady on his feet.

“As you were saying?” Steve laughed.

“Fuck off.” Bucky said entirely without malice. “I’ve hardly eaten anything today. And those drinks were strong.”

Steve frowned, disproportionately worried. “When did you last eat?” he steered Bucky through the patio doors and guided him towards a sofa in the bar area. In the bright lights of the hotel the tipsy glaze in Bucky’s eyes was obvious. As was the dishevelled state of his appearance; bare foot, covered in sand, sloshes of piña colada and salt water all down his front, ruffled hair that had been run through and tufted until odd bits of it stuck up at angles.  

“Erm? I had a bagel on the plane?” Bucky squinted and screwed up his nose trying to remember.

“This morning?”

Bucky gave a lazy nod. Christ, no wonder the drinks had hit him so hard.  Steve’s altruistic nature began to kick into overdrive.

“We need to find you some food.” Would the restaurants even still be serving food at this hour? Steve wondered, helplessly.

“Pizza.” Bucky agreed. “With lots of cheese.” Bucky tipped his head back against the back of the sofa and gave Steve the biggest, soppiest smile he’d ever seen.

“Alright,” Steve laughed. For a smile like that he’d find Bucky some pizza, even if he had to bake it himself.

Chapter Text

Steve slipped his shoes back on and crossed over to the bar to find his fears confirmed: all of the bars and restaurants had stopped serving food after 10pm.

“Can we order room service?” he asked, scratching at the back of his neck.

“Certainly, sir. Orders can be called down from your room.”

“Can’t I order it here?”

“I’m sorry. No.”

Fuck. Steve cursed silently. He forced a smile and thanked the barman for his help, feeling that he hadn’t really been any help at all. Carding a hand through his hair, Steve headed back to Bucky, to find him clumsily trying to lace his sneakers back onto his feet.

“We can still order room service,” Steve explained to Bucky, as he struggled with his laces. “But we can only order it from a room.”

“Makes sense,” Bucky glanced up with heavy lidded eyes. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be room service.” He smirked and then dropped his gaze back to his shoes with a single minded determination. In his drunken haze, his hand-eye coordination was severely lacking. Steve could only watch for so long, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing at Bucky, before he dropped to his knees and took Bucky’s shoes into his lap to lace them up for him.

“Come here, you daft drunk,” he chuckled as he swiftly tied Bucky shoes for him. He could feel Bucky’s eyes boring into him. Steve’s cheeks flushed red with the attention, but daren’t lift his eyes to see what kind of stare Bucky was giving him. “There.” he gave Bucky’s feet a gentle pat and stood up, extending a hand to pull Bucky to his feet. “What room are you?”

“414.” Bucky pressed himself against Steve’s side again as they headed for the elevators. “Why? Are you taking me to bed?”

“I’m going to order you some food.” Steve corrected, cheeks burning.

Bucky peeled away from Steve inside the elevator and propped himself in the corner. He tilted his head and fixed his attention on Steve with a look that Steve was completely unprepared for.

Steve was used to being stared at. Ever since his shoulders had filled out and he’d gained an extra foot in height, people had loved to stare at Steve. Long, lusty looks that dragged over him in the supermarket, giggles that erupted in his wake as he hurried to and from the office, people finding excuses to bump into him on the metro. He knew it was harmless, certainly nothing to the jeers and threatening attention Peggy got when she dressed up – even when she didn’t – but it had still taken some getting used to. Sometimes Steve longed for the invisibility he’d felt in his youth. But this, this was something else entirely. It was so unapologetically tender. No one had ever looked at him like that. Steve dropped his eyes and looked away. Thankfully the elevator doors dinged open and they were saved from any awkwardness as they spilled out onto the corridor.

Bucky walked with his hand pressed against the wall to keep himself upright and fished his key-card from his back pocket, only fumbling a few times to try and fit it into the slot. He flicked the lights on at the wall and proceeded to face plant himself straight onto the bed on top of sheets which were already a little rucked and rumpled.

“Pizza?” Steve asked.

“Yes please.” Came the muffled reply.

Steve lifted the phone and dialled 1 for reception. “Hi, can I order room service please?” he tried again. “Yeah, a large margarita pizza and a bottle of still water, please. Thanks.” He hung up and glanced around the room. Bucky rolled onto his back and stretched his limbs out like a cat. “Ordered.” Steve told him.

“Thanks.”

“Mind if I use your bathroom?”

Bucky didn’t reply, just gestured vaguely towards the open door.

As he washed his hands in the sink, Steve caught his reflection in the mirror and realised he looked rather dishevelled himself. His hair flopped loose from its usual swept back hold, and he’d brought quite a lot of the beach back with him in the creases of his trousers. He dusted off the worst of the sand and straightened out his shirt. He tried to sweep his hair back but, stubbornly, it kept falling across his forehead. Steve gave it up a lost cause and exited the bathroom, turning the light off as he went.

Bucky had kicked off his shoes and thrown his sand covered jeans over the back of the sofa by the time Steve emerged. He was sitting up against the pillows, texting rapid fire with a look of fierce concentration on his face. Judging from how he’d failed to tie his shoes, Steve highly doubted that any of it would be legible, but he seemed settled; slightly more sober. Steve didn’t particularly want to leave, but he’d run out of reasons to stay.

“Alright, well.” Steve lingered. “I’ll leave you in peace. Thank you for everything this evening, it was nice not to be alone. I hope Becca’s wedding goes well.” He moved towards the door as Bucky scrambled upright. He knelt up, with the covers bunched around his legs, and frowned at Steve.

“Where are you going?”

“I was going to go…to the bar…” Steve trailed off. He’d been planning to go back down the bar and wait until the ferry left in the morning.

“Don’t be stupid.” Bucky shook his head at Steve like he was an idiot. “This room’s plenty big enough for the both of us. No point you sitting in the bar, moping all night.”

Steve was stumped.

“Stay here. Get some sleep before you fly tomorrow.” Bucky wobbled a little and slumped back onto his heels. “There’s nothing worse than getting on a plane hungover and sleep deprived. Trust me. Well,” Bucky considered. “There are a few things worse – quite a lot of things worse – but this is completely avoidable.” He patted the mattress next to him and scooted over to leave Steve more space. “Or there’s a sofa. I can sleep there if you’d rather?”

Steve opened his mouth to reply, not entirely sure what he was going to say – when they were interrupted by a knock on the door.

Steve stepped back to let the bellboy wheel the room service trolley into the room. He watched as the bellboy uncovered the metal cloche that had been covering the pizza and neatly laid out the cutlery, before showing him back to the door. As he fished out a couple of notes to give as a tip, Steve caught sight of the cloak room tag he’d been given earlier. He hesitated, aware that Bucky was still waiting for an answer. It was only for one night, and spending it here did sound infinitely more appealing than sitting in the bar all night. Before he could change his mind, or think better of it, Steve handed the tag to the bellboy.

“I left my suitcase behind reception earlier. Tag 37. Could you bring it up?”

The bellboy rolled his eyes like, yes he could but why hadn’t Steve asked for that at the same time as the pizza? He trooped down the corridor and Steve closed the door gently.

“You sure it’s okay?” he asked Bucky.

“I asked, didn’t I?” Bucky grinned back. “Now get over here and help me eat this pizza. There’s way too much to get through on my own.”

They found a late late tv show on the telly and sat side by side, working their way through the pizza, dinking plenty of water, and just basking in the company of someone else. Before long, Bucky fell asleep; slumped against the pillows with a piece of pizza dangling from his hand. Steve gently extracted it from between Bucky’s fingers and placed it back on the plate, covering everything back up with the cloche and wheeling the trolley to the corner of the room. He very quietly pulled his toothbrush from his suitcase and set out a fresh set of clothes for the morning. He stripped down his to boxers and undershirt and packed everything else away neatly.

After he’d finished in the bathroom Steve hesitated in the doorway, torn between choosing the sofa or crawling into bed with Bucky. Bucky had been right, there was plenty of space for both of them, and the sofa was a small two-seater that Steve would barely fit on, even if he curled right up. But still…Steve exhaled slowly and took a step towards the sofa.

“Steve,” Bucky said softly under his breath. His eyes were heavy lidded with sleep, half closed, and his voice was barely more than a muffled whispered. “C’mere.” He patted the empty space next to him and tugged gently on the covers in a clear invitation to share the bed.

It was an invitation Steve was powerless to deny.

“Wake me up before you leave tomorrow?” Bucky asked, groggy and sleepy. “Wanna say goodbye.”

“Sure thing.” Steve promised. He set an alarm for 6am and placed his phone on the bedside table. “Good night.”

“Night.” Bucky rolled away from him an fell instantly back to sleep.

Steve tensed in the dark, listening to their breaths and wondering at the fluttering in his chest. He didn’t expect to sleep very easily, it had taken him a while to get used to sleeping beside Peggy, but as soon as Steve’s head hit the pillow he felt a wave of exhaustion wash over him and he sunk into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky had been out of the army for six years, but waking up on his own time, knowing he had a whole day ahead of him with nothing planned still felt like a luxury. His head thrummed with a slight hangover, but it was nothing a strong coffee wouldn’t fix. Bucky took a moment to revel in the feel of soft pillows under his head, armfuls of soft duvet bundled against his chest, and – most surprisingly and delightfully of all – the warm weight of Steve sleeping next to him. At some point in the night Bucky must have rolled over and stolen most of the covers, and somehow their legs had ended up tangled together. Bucky vaguely recalled hooking his ankle around Steve’s calf to make sure he couldn’t leave without saying goodbye, but Steve hadn’t tried to extract his leg. Instead Bucky’s was trapped between both of Steve’s in a way that felt strangely comforting.

Now that he was awake Bucky needed to piss, but he couldn’t bring himself to move just yet. He cracked open an eye to gaze at Steve, and let out a soft ‘oh’ as he did. Steve slept on his front, with his arms crossed under his head, bunching the pillows and bulging his biceps. Blonde hair fell across his face catching the sunlight that fell through a gap in the curtains. Why anyone would choose not to wake up next to that every morning was beyond Bucky. Ever so gently he pulled his leg free and muttered a sleepy, “Good morning.”

Steve stirred. He rolled onto his back and stretched his limbs with a great yawning groan before springing back in on himself. “Morning,” he returned with a smile. They shared a peaceful moment before Steve bolted upright, grabbing his phone off the nightstand. “Fuck! My phone’s dead. What time is it?”

Oh shit. Bucky scrambled upright to swipe his phone. It was on 3% battery. And they’d massively overslept.

“10:03.”  

Shit.” Steve swore loudly, tugging his fingers through his hair.

“Can you make your flight?” Bucky asked quietly, knowing full well the answer was no.

“No. Check-in closes in seven minutes.” Steve swung his legs over the side of the bed and doubled over, clearly thinking hard.

Bucky shrunk back against the pillows feeling guilt prickle and squirm through him. “Sorry.” he tugged a hand through his hair, ruffling up his already messy bedhead. “This is my fault.”

“What do you mean?” Steve glanced over his shoulder at Bucky.

“If I hadn’t distracted you and dragged you off to get drunk…”

Steve turned around, folding his knee onto the mattress.

“It’s not your fault, Bucky. If you hadn’t kept me company,” Steve corrected, “I would have spent all evening sitting in the bar, on my own, doing my damndest to get drunk. I might have caught my flight, but I’d have been miserable.” Steve gave Bucky a sad smile. “I’ll just have to book a new flight. Again.” He pushed himself off the bed and took a few aimless steps forwards.

Bucky watched as Steve dragged his hands through his hair, interlocking his fingers at the base of his skill and let his head hang forwards. He was the picture of unhappiness, it damn near broke Bucky’s heart.

“I think there’s a flight out to Philadelphia this afternoon.” Steve’s voice was muffled against his chest, until he tipped his head back and let his hands slip down the sides of his jaw, coming to rest on his chin. “I can get a train down to DC from there.” With that plan formed he set about packing to leave: making his side of the bed, finding a charger for his phone, and digging his wash kit out of his suitcase. He’d lost of all the lightness he’d had the evening before, moving with slow lethargic movements.

Bucky knelt up on the mattress and pulled absently at the collar of his t-shirt, clawing at his throat. The words were out of his mouth before he knew it. All he knew was that he didn’t want Steve to leave.

“Or you could stay.”

“What?” Steve froze in the doorway of the bathroom.

“You could stay.” Bucky repeated, quieter.

It took Steve a few long moments to reply. “Why?” Steve’s eyebrows quirked together, he looked interested rather than simply confused. “Why would I stay?”

Bucky took a deep trembling breath and launched into a justification. “Well, you really seem like you could use a holiday. And, I mean, you’ve already taken the time off work – you’re already here. You all but told me yesterday that you have nowhere to go when you get home, and,” he trailed off, not sure why he was pushing for this.

“That’s true. Fuck.” Steve sighed emphatically. “I can’t go back to the apartment.” He pinched at the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes closed.

Bucky cursed himself internally. So far he was only making things worse.

“So, stay. For a few days at least. I know it must be weird being here…on your own. But.” Bucky faltered. “Why not take a few days? Let the dust settle? What have you got to lose?” Oh god, that sounded awful. Bucky hastened to backtrack. “Not like, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant. Everyone deserves a holiday now and then. So, stay? Please?”

Steve considered for a while and Bucky waited with baited breath. But then Steve shook his head. “One problem. The hotel’s full, remember? I already gave my room to your sister. I’m not asking for it back.”

“You could. You paid for it.”

“No.”

“Then, you…” Bucky searched for an alternative, eyes glancing to the pillows Steve had already so neatly rearranged. “You could stay here?”

Steve didn’t immediately balk at the idea so Bucky continued with more confidence.

“Yeah, why not? Last night wasn’t too weird. At least not for me. I think I actually got a better night’s sleep than I have in a long time – ‘course that could have been the rum,” he allowed with a small smile. “Or I really could sleep on the sofa if you’d prefer.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Trust me, I’ve slept in worse places.” Bucky tried to draw a smile from Steve but he was keeping his expression masked, unlike yesterday evening when Bucky had been able to read every emotion that flickered across Steve’s face.

“Thank you. For the offer. But I can’t.” Steve shook his head. “You have your sister’s wedding. I don’t want to get in the way.”

“You won’t be!” Bucky insisted. “Apart from the rehearsal dinner tomorrow evening and the wedding itself, there’s not a whole lot for me to do. To be honest, once the rest of the guests go home I’m gonna be such a third wheel.”

Bucky was staying on longer than the rest of the guests because who wouldn’t want two weeks of tropical sunshine? Paying all that money and travelling all that way for a long week had seemed like such a waste when they’d originally booked the trip. Besides, the resort offered boat trips, snorkelling, hikes into the mountains. Bucky wanted to try everything; he’d planned an itinerary equal parts adventurous and relaxing - promising not to get in the way of Becca and Robert’s honeymoon. But as much as he was looking forward to doing everything on his own, Bucky couldn’t deny it would be far more fun to have somebody to enjoy it with.

“So if you think about it, you’d actually be doing me a favour.” He finished with a smirk.

Steve dipped his head and glanced up at Bucky with a sly smile. “Is that right?”

Bucky might have been imagining it, but there was a definitely a flirtatious lilt to Steve’s tone.

“Yep.” Bucky grinned back.

“It would be nice,” Steve allowed. “To kick back for a few days. Not worrying about the apartment, or work.” He held Bucky’s stare for a moment. It seemed like an important moment so Bucky made sure he didn’t look away, no matter how much the intense stare of Steve’s bright blue eyes made him flinch. “Alright, then. I’ll stay. If you’re sure that’s okay?”

“Of course it is.” Internally Bucky gave a delighted squeal, outwardly he just grinned back.

“Alright.” Steve nodded and smiled. Tension seemed to seep out of his shoulders and, if possible, he grew a couple of inches taller. “I’d better phone Sam, let him know I won’t be in work tomorrow. What time is it?”

“10.15.”

“I think they said breakfast was served until 10.30. If we hurry, we might make it.” Steve was clearly a plan oriented man. Bucky found he kind of liked it.

Steve plugged his phone in and began to extract clothes from his suitcase. Bucky glanced around for his own and came up short. Right. It was still missing. He slung his backpack onto the bed instead and dug through the contents, hoping he’d been sensible and packed more than just swimming trunks as a spare change. Of course he hadn’t. He plucked at the t-shirt he was wearing; the t-shirt which was covered in rum, coconut juice and sea water. This was a fancy place and Bucky was trying not to disgust Steve. He couldn’t wear it for another day.

“Er. My luggage’s still stuck at the airport. D’you think they’ll let me go shirtless to breakfast?” Bucky asked Steve, holding up his pair of dark, floral patterned swimming shorts.

Steve snorted. “As much as I’d like to see that –”

Wait, what?

“– I doubt it. You can borrow one, if you’d like?” Steve pulled a shirt from the bottom of his suitcase and threw it at Bucky. It was navy blue, covered in red and white writing, and it was soft. Oh so soft.

“Thanks.”

Steve bundled up his own clothes and ducked into the bathroom to get changed, leaving Bucky standing there holding Steve’s t-shirt and trying to get a handle of everything that had just happened. Steve was staying. That was all that Bucky immediately cared about, until he probed at the reasons behind that feeling and felt everything lurch sideways.

There was no denying that Bucky thought Steve was attractive. The problem was, the yesterday evening he’d also proven himself to be one of the most lovely, charming, intelligent and genuine people Bucky had ever met. And alright, maybe Bucky was falling for him, ever so slightly. But it wasn’t like anything was going to happen between them. The man was still reeling from an eleven year relationship for goodness sake; an eleven year heterosexual relationship. Nothing could ever happen between them. Which had been okay when Steve was getting on a plane in the morning, never to be seen again. But Bucky had just agreed to share a room with him for two weeks. Fuck. What was he getting himself into?

Chapter Text

Bucky pulled himself together and changed quickly, wincing at the tightness in his shoulder as he pulled the t-shirt over his head. He’d been putting off physio for a few days and really needed to do some stretches to work out the stiffness before the whole joint seized up. Bucky rolled his shoulder a couple of times and kneaded at the mess of scars through the thin fabric of the shirt. He’d make up for it with some laps of the pool later, he promised himself.

Bucky had barely shimmied his trunks up over his hips when Steve emerged from the bathroom in another outfit straight from the pages of a summer fashion mag. He wore dark blue cotton shorts and a light blue short sleeved shirt, open at the collar with a pair of expensive looking sunglasses looped through the neck. His blonde hair was combed and neatly swept back from his forehead with a bit of bounce and, most devastatingly of all,  he was smiling broadly.

“Suits you,” Steve grinned at Bucky, nodding his head at the shirt which Bucky had barley given a second glance. Bucky highly doubted that; it was roomy in the shoulders, a little too long in the torso, and Bucky knew the blue would clash horribly with the pattern on his shorts, but there was something delightful about the fact that it was Steve’s shirt.

“It’ll do,” Bucky allowed, trying to mask how much he loved wearing it. “Thanks.”

“Do you know what happened to your luggage?”

“Not really. The bags landed, but they got lost somewhere between the plane and the carousel. Becca’s freaking out.”

“Oh. Wedding dress. Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“Still got a few days; they’ll turn up.” Bucky shrugged, ever hopeful. “Or else it’s bathrobes all round.”

That made Steve laugh.

Bucky returned a smile. “Just need to clean my teeth, then we can go.”

Luckily Bucky had almost forgotten to pack his toothbrush and it had ended up shoved into his backpack at the last minute. He stole some of Steve’s toothpaste and spent a long time making sure his breath was minty fresh, without letting himself linger over why. He ran his hands under the tap and used wet fingers to try and tame the tangled curls that bounced around his head, before stepping back to give his appearance a proper appraisal. His hair was a mess, there was nothing he could do about that, he could do with a shave, and - as he’d predicted - the t-shirt clashed with his shorts. Bucky peered closer to read the writing scrawled backwards in his reflection: ’Princeton Rowing Club 2008’ arched above a pair of crossed oars. Bucky’s hands still in his hair. The fact that it wasn’t just any old shirt, but one Steve had kept, and loved, and worn for years did something funny to Bucky’s chest.

He dragged a hand down his face, feeling his five o’clock shadow bristling beneath his fingers, and took a few deep calming breaths. Maybe it was a good thing that Bucky wasn’t looking his best, otherwise he might start to get ideas about going after Steve.

=

They reached the restaurant at 10:27. The place was emptying out and already the staff were clearing the breakfast away. The waitress on the door was reluctant to let them enter, but Bucky turned on his charm and soon enough she was waving them through, with the promise that they’d sit in the corner and order immediately.  

“Black coffee, pancakes and bacon, please.” Bucky ordered after the briefest of glances at the menu.

“And I’ll have a latte and the Eggs Florentine, thanks.” Steve added, handing his menu back to the waitress who scribbled their order and hurried to the kitchen before it closed. “I’m going to get some orange juice before they clear it away – want anything?”

Bucky scanned the buffet table across the room which was currently being descended upon by the waitstaff. “Apple juice if they have any.”

Steve slipped away to fetch drinks and Bucky tipped his head back. Steve was just being polite; it shouldn’t haven’t made Bucky feel all warm and glowing inside. Bucky screwed his eyes shut and cursed his life choices.  He was interrupted by a loud shout in what was unmistakably his sister’s voice.

“There you are!” Becca shouted across the restaurant. Bucky snapped his head back and blinked his eyes open as she hurried towards him, dragging Robert in her wake. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Are you alright?” she looked anxious.

“Fine?”

“I thought you’d died!”

Bucky laughed, brow creasing together. “What? Why?”

“You disappeared all evening, I get a text from you at 2am that’s complete gibberish and then this morning you’re not answering your phone!”

“Oh.” Bucky gave her a sheepish smile and his biggest doe-eyed look to try and melt her cross expression. From anyone else it would have been an overreaction, but after everything Becca had been through, Bucky could never begrudge her for being paranoid. He scratched at the nape of his neck. He’d meant to text her sooner, but the evening had spiralled away from him. “My phone died. And I got kind drunk last night. Sorry.”

“I was worried –”

She was cut off mid-sentence by Steve’s return. “Excuse me.” He eased himself around Becca to place the juices on the table, before extending his actual hand for her to shake. “Hi, I’m Steve. We never got formally introduced.”

Becca glared at him but shook his hand anyway. “Becca,” she said slowly, glancing between Bucky and Steve in confusion.

“Robert,” Robert piped up for himself, shaking Steve’s hand next; looking equally confused but much less worried about the fact that he didn’t know what was going on.

“Sorry, Bucky. Didn’t know you had company. Come on, Becs,” Robert steered Becca away from the table despite her protestations. Bucky shot him a look of thanks.

“Is that –? Are you –?” Becca started.

“We’ll catch up later.” Robert promised the pair of them, grabbing Becca’s hand and dragging her across the room. Becca let herself stumble after him, keeping her eyes fixed on Steve as she went.  IS THAT ROGERS? She mouthed obviously over Steve’s head.

Bucky tried to ignore her and focused on Steve instead who was smiling bashfully into his glass of orange juice.

WHAT’S HE STILL DOING HERE?

Bucky took a long swig of drink and stared intently at a flower arrangement across the room until Becca had disappeared from his peripheral vision. That was going to be a fun conversation later. It was one thing to question his own judgement, quite another to have it questioned by his sister. Thankfully their breakfasts were promptly delivered and Bucky lost himself in sickly sweet, syrupy pancakes and bacon, washed down with strong bitter coffee that cleared away the dregs of his hangover. He’d worry about everything else later.

=

Becca didn’t take long to corner Bucky by the poolside. She did at least wait until Steve had nipped back up to the room to fetch his swimming shorts and sun tan lotion before she ambushed him.

“You slept with him, didn’t you?” she asked, blunt as ever.

“What?”

“Y’know, when I said we should thank him, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.” She smirked.

“Becca!” Bucky spluttered. “I didn’t –”

“Oh sure. Yet you were eating breakfast with him, and somehow he’s still here when I know for a fact that there aren’t any hotel rooms spare on this island?” Her shit-eating-grin was just a cocky and annoying at Bucky’s own. He rolled his eyes.

“Fine. We ‘slept’ together, but I mean that in the purely literal sense.”

Becca’s grin turned smug. “How come he’s still here? Does he want his room back?”

“No. No. He, uh. Missed his flight. He’s going to stick around for a few days but he’s fine sharing with me.”

“I’ll bet he is.”

Bucky rubbed at his forehead. She wasn’t helping matters. “Becca. The man is heartbroken. I’m not moving in on that. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s straight.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, judging from the looks he was giving you a breakfast.”

What looks? Bucky wanted to ask, but he changed his mind at the last second, letting his mouth close silently.

“Besides, aren’t rebounds are meant to be good for a broken heart?” She added, still grinning.

“Oh, yeah, and you’d know all about that. How long have you and Robert been together again?” Bucky returned.

“I’m just saying,” she shrugged and trailed off, letting whatever was she was saying hang unsaid in the air between them. But Bucky knew exactly what she was getting at. She’d recently taken it upon herself to try and set Bucky up with everyone even remotely eligible. He supposed it had something to do with the fact that she was finally getting married, she wanted to see Bucky happy and settled too. He understood the sentiment, but it didn’t meant he appreciated her efforts.

After the third consecutive ‘drinks with friends’ that Becca and Robert had bailed on ‘last minute’, leaving Bucky in a bar with one of their friends or colleagues, he’d less than politely asked them to fuck-off and stop interfering in his love life. He was just fine being single, thank you very much. Relationships were messy and complicated. Becca and Robert were the exception that proved the rule. Just look at Steve, for christ’s sake; eleven years in, and the rug was still pulled from under him.

“Nothing’s going to happen.” He pressed.

“Shame.” Becca sighed. “You’d make such lovely babies.”

“Yeah, because that’s how it works.” He snarked.

“I just want you to be happy.” She said in a much softer tone. She stepped forwards for a hug and Bucky obliged, opening his arms and letting her burying her head under his chin. There had been a time when they’d been the same height. Bucky had let his hair grow long that summer and they’d tried to convince everyone they were twins. But he liked the extra height, he liked that he could wrap her up like this, like he could protect her from anything. He could tell she was fighting off stress and panic.

“I know.” He planted a brotherly kiss on the top of her head and gave her a slight squeeze. “Any news on the bags?” he asked.

“If you’d answered your phone this morning, you’d know the answer to that.” She tipped her head and smiled. “They think they’ve found them – or they know where to look at least. There was a big tour group on our flight with pre-arranged transport to another island. Their bags got loaded straight from the plane onto a boat and our bags might have gone with them. They’re looking into it. We should get them back this evening if that’s the case.”

“See, nothing to worry about.”

“Better had. The hotel shampoo feels awful in my hair.” She broke away from the hug and ran her hands through her hair to show Bucky. Their hair had always been the same, Becca’s was just longer, and Bucky knew how difficult it was to get the wavy curls to behave. It took lots of conditioner and product to stop it from being a frizzy mess in the humidity, and those little bottles of ‘all-in-one!’ shampoo/conditioner only helped to make it a straw-like mess. “Forget my dress, I’m not having my hair like this in my wedding photos,” she moped, dramatic as ever.

“I’m sure we can find you some better shampoo. Worst case.” Bucky laughed. She mock-glared at him and caught sight of his t-shirt properly.

“Steve’s?”

“Yeah.

“Huh. So he’s hot and smart.”

Bucky folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. “I’m sure Rob would be very interested in hearing how obsessed with this guy you seem to be.”

Becca gave him a solid push on his good shoulder. Bucky rolled with it and grinned.

“Hook up with him, or don’t. It’s none of my business, I know. But if you do… don’t, uh, bring him to the wedding? Sorry if that’s mean, but I don’t want to be constantly having to explain five years from now who that blonde hunk in all my wedding photos is.”

Bucky tipped his head back and laughed. “I won’t. He was very clear that he didn’t want to get in the way. Pretty sure he doesn’t expect, or want, an invite.”

“Okay, thanks.” She looked relieved. “Right. I’m going to go raid the hotel boutique and see if they have a bikinis in my price range. What are your plans for the day?”

“Swimming, reading, more swimming?”

“We’ve got those massage vouchers if you want them? You know how much I hate people’s hands near my neck,” she shuddered even thinking about it. Bucky’s hands twitched, tempted to taunt her like he had when they were kids, but he thought better of it, crossing them tighter across his chest to resist the temptation. “Last thing I want is a massage. Might do your shoulder some good?”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks.”

“Meet up for dinner later?”

“Maybe. I’ll see what Steve wants to do.”

Becca wiggled her eyebrows at him before blowing him a kiss and breezing away. Bucky watched her go with a soft chuckle and slight shake of his head. Typical Becca. He couldn’t shake what she’d said though, and thought back to breakfast, trying to remember if Steve had given him any looks worthy of note. Bucky realised he’d been too busy trying to avoid Becca’s eyes, or lost in his own thoughts to have really paid any attention. But even if Becca was right, Bucky wasn’t going to act on it. Steve needed a break, the last thing Bucky wanted to do as scare him away. If anything was going to happen – Bucky’s heart gave a little trill in his chest at the thought of that – it would have to be on Steve’s terms. He’d have to be the one to instigate it.

Chapter Text

The dining hall was very clearly closing. The waitstaff were busy clearing away everything from breakfast and trying to get the place cleaned and set for lunchtime. Steve was ready to accept the fact that they’d have to order room service again, or make do with bar snacks, when Bucky flashed a charming smile – something obviously put on, and nothing like any of the genuine smiles he’d given Steve yesterday – and the waitress was showing them to a table in the corner and taking their order. When she’d gone, Bucky deflated. His smile disappeared and he went back to squinting against the bright lights and keeping his mouth pressed into a narrow line. Steve knew a hangover when he saw one. To be fair to Bucky, the amount he’d drunk yesterday, Steve was surprised he didn’t look worse for wear. Yes, he looked tired and a little drawn, his hair was a ruffled mess, and a dark shadow of scrub lined his jaw, but he wore it all very well. A stylised scruffiness, Steve thought. The type of look hair and make-up departments would spend hours cultivating on their edgy main character, and Bucky had literally just rolled out of bed. The thought made Steve smile.

“What?” Bucky wanted to know, squinting at him.

“Nothing.” Steve assured him. “I’m going to get some orange juice before they clear it away. Want anything?”

Bucky glanced over towards the buffet table. “Apple juice, if they have any.”

“Sure.”

Steve hovered around the waitstaff, apologising profusely as filled two glasses of juice, feeling large and clumsy as he tried to manoeuvre between them. He drained his glass on the spot and refilled it, feeling fresher and more awake, before hurrying back across to the table. Bucky was deep in conversation with his sister and someone Steve could only assume was Becca’s fiancée. Steve scooted around Becca to place the glasses on the table, only realising as he cut in that the conversation was far from as innocuous as he’d imagined.

“I was worried –” Becca stopped mid-sentence to stare at Steve.

“Excuse me.” He felt awkward and intrusive, and did the only thing he could think of, holding out his hand to introduce himself properly. Becca gave him a very curious glare as she shook his hand. It was only to be expected; Steve was intruding on their wedding preparations. Whilst Bucky might not have thought his duties as brother-of-the-bride were that extensive, Steve should have realised Becca would have other ideas. Weddings did funny things to people. Steve had watched Peggy calmly deal with international crises without breaking a sweat, but the weeks leading up the wedding she’d been a bundle of nerves and stress. Of course, that could have just been because she didn’t want to get married…

Steve took his seat and tried to ignore the conversation that happened around him, fully aware that Becca was mouthing something behind his back (though judging from the adorably embarrassed look on Bucky’s face Steve figured it couldn’t be anything bad). He blushed into his glass of orange juice feeling a little like a schoolkid caught with a crush.

They ate in a comfortable silence. Steve was too emotionally exhausted to try and make conversation and thankfully Bucky seemed equally preoccupied. The thing was, last night had felt almost like a dream. Steve didn’t have deep, personal conversations with strangers on starlit beaches, that just wasn’t something that happened to him. He certainly didn’t fall asleep beside beautiful strangers and wake up with a contented thrum in his chest. But Bucky was right in front of him, real as anything; quietly stuffing his mouth full of bacon and drinking coffee like it was source of life itself. The scary thing was, Steve had opened up, let himself be vulnerable because he thought he was never going to see Bucky again - Bucky had seen him cry for fuck’s sake, bringing the number of people who had seen him cry up to a grand total of two. Yet here they were.

Bucky hadn’t seemed put off or perturbed, far from it; he’d gone out of his way to at least distract Steve, even if he couldn’t cheer him up. But he had cheered him up. What should have been one of the loneliest, most depressing evenings of Steve’s life was now a fond memory. He stared at Bucky, watching him drizzle yet more maple syrup over the remnants of his pancakes. Bucky obviously sensed he was being watched because he glanced up and smirked. Steve couldn’t help but smile back. He knew in that moment what he’d been trying to deny all evening, that it would be very easy to fall in love with Bucky.

And now they were sharing a hotel room for at least the next few days. Two weeks if Steve didn’t panic and bail early. It was a lot to take in.

Steve excused himself after breakfast with the pretext of getting changed for the pool, but once he’d locked the bedroom door behind him, he staggered to the bed and folded himself onto the edge. He dropped his head into his hands and let out a series of deep shuddering breaths. He felt anxious and guilty just at the possibility of Bucky. Wasn’t it too early to be entertaining the idea of liking someone else? Did that make him a bad person?

Steve’s phone buzzed on the bedside table, pulling him from his reverie. He reached for it, absently, and scrolled through the multiple notifications: two alerts about the missed alarm – which Steve glared at as he swiped to clear them – 48 emails from work that he tried to ignore, a weather warning for hail storms over the eastern seaboard, and 6 news messages from Sam. Steve opened up the conversation and scrolled back up to remind himself of where they’d left off.

Steve
Yesterday 3:59pm ✔✔
This is a terrible idea. i’m coming home

Sam
Yesterday 4:03pm
Yeah, man. Whatever you need to do.

Steve
Yesterday 4:27pm ✔✔
First flight is tomorrow morning. I’ll take the day and be back in work fri

Sam Yesterday 4:29pm
Don’t rush. We’ve got it covered here. Take the weekend.

Steve
Yesterday 4:32pm ✔✔
Think I could use the distraction tbh

Sam
Yesterday 4:36pm
There’s nothing to distract you out there? ;)

Yesterday 7:22pm - unread
Okay, too soon to joke. Lmk if you need a lift from the airport.

Today 6:49am - unread
What time’s your flight?

Today 8:52am – unread
Loads of travel disruption in the NE this morning. Hope you’re not caught up in it.

Today 9:46am – unread
I’m stuck in meetings all day (nothing you need to worry about) but can’t pick you up unless it’s after 6.

Today 10:37am - unread
Okay. You’re either dead (in which case dibs on your motor bike) or travelling.

Today 10:39am - unread
Text me when you land and we’ll go for drinks?

Steve suppressed a smile as he scrolled through Sam’s texts and tapped out a quick reply to let him know that he hadn’t died in a horrific plane crash.

Steve
Hands off my bike. I’m alive. I’ve decided to stay for a few days.

The reply was almost instantaneous.

Sam
Hallelujah (I’ll get that bike from you one day).

What changed your mind?

How to explain it succinctly?

Steve
Someone talked some sense into me.

Sam
Was it me? No, cant be. You never listen to me.

Whoever it was. They deserve a medal. Tell em thanks.

Steve smiled and drummed his fingers against his thigh, debating whether to tell Sam about Bucky; what would he even say?

Steve
You know him actually. Sgt Barnes? 75th Rangers?

Steve tapped back; having picked up on Bucky’s surname over breakfast when he charged the cost to their room – overruling Steve’s offer to pick up the tab.

Sam

JB! Good man. Yeah, if anyone could talk some sense into you it’d be him.

Say hi from me.

And tell him to keep that arm of his out of the sun?

Steve
Will do.

Steve replied, not knowing what Sam meant about Bucky’s arm, and wondering how on earth you got ‘JB’ and ‘Bucky’ from the same name. Was it a middle name, perhaps? Steve’s phone buzzed again in his palm.

Sam
See you in 2 weeks then?

Steve
probably

Sam

;)

Steve didn’t know what that was supposed to mean. He didn’t want to know. He locked his phone and dropped it on the bed, pushing himself to his feet and forcing himself through the motions of getting changed for the pool.

It was too soon, he decided as he smothered suntan lotion on his nose. Of course it was too soon. Even if he and Peggy were completely over – and there was no mistaking that (their argument in the chapel had left no room for misunderstanding on that front), even if Peggy had completely eviscerated his heart for all their friends and family to see, even if Steve had been left feeling like an utter fool; he couldn’t do that to Peggy’s pride. This was meant to have been their honeymoon. Hooking up with someone else seemed callous. Steve couldn’t hurt her like that, he’d loved her for too long and some part of him was still hoping they could be friends again after all of this.

But that didn’t mean Steve couldn’t enjoy himself. He buttoned his shirt back on, picked up both his and Bucky’s phones, and checked his reflection in the mirror by the door to make he’d rubbed all of the sun tan lotion in. Bucky had been right; Steve needed a holiday, and right now a few days exploring the island with Bucky sounded like a perfect plan.

Chapter Text

The view out across the bay was transformed in the daylight. Steve hadn’t given himself the chance to properly admire it the day before and as he stepped out onto the patio he stopped in his tracks to take it all in. An endless clear blue sky stretched out across waves that danced and sparkled like someone had put an Instagram filter over them; and palm tree fronds wafted gently in the breeze, shading part of the infinity pool which jutted out over the slight incline down to the beach. The place really was a tropical paradise.

Steve picked his way through the tables and chairs spilling from the bar out through the open archways, and squeezed between the sun loungers lined up in a neat row around two sides of the pool. Bucky was spread out on one partially in the shade with his head and torso covered by the shadow of a sun umbrella whilst his legs basked in the sunlight. The material of his swimming trunks was stretched taught across his muscular thighs and Steve had to make a concentred effort not to stare at the expanse of skin glistening under the sun. With Sam’s words ringing in his head, Steve couldn’t help but give a surreptitious glance at Bucky’s arms. The t-shirt Steve had lent him was a little too big on Bucky and the sleeves were large and loose, falling all the way down to his elbows. But his forearms were bare, and now that Steve was looking for something, he noticed a pair of thin silver scars that stretched down Bucky’s left forearm, one on either side. Souvenirs from some sort of injury, clearly, but it didn’t seem enough to warrant Sam’s concern. Maybe it was an inside joke.

Bucky was laid out so peacefully – eyes closed, head tipped back with a slack smile on his face – that Steve had assumed he was a sleep, but as Steve lingered over him, Bucky cracked open and eye and squinted up at him with a smile.

“Hey,” Bucky said, lifting his right hand to shield his eyes as he stared up at Steve.

“Hi.” Steve returned. “I brought your phone down.”

“Oh, thanks!” Bucky sat up to catch it. He glanced at it briefly before locking it and hiding under his towel.

“I spoke to Sam.” Steve said as he spread his towel out onto the lounger next to Bucky’s and kicked off his shoes. He didn’t bother to open out the sun umbrella over his chair. “He said to say hi.”

Bucky smiled at that.

“He, uh. Also said to keep your arm out of the sun.” Steve added, partly because he’d promised to, and partly because he was curious.

“Yeah. He would.” Bucky snorted. “I was gonna ask – you got any sunscreen I can borrow? I’m guessing you don’t want me to get this shirt wet –”

“I’d rather you didn’t.” Steve agreed.

“- and scars burn like a bitch.”

“Sure.” Steve was already handing over the bottle of sunscreen, but rather than taking it from him, Bucky stood up, stepped out from under the sun umbrella, and proceeded to pull the shirt off over his head.

Bucky was toned. The was Steve’s first impression. Slender, but strong, like a dancer or a middle-distance runner. The curve and swell of his biceps were striking and Steve wanted nothing more than to run his fingers, or maybe his tongue, over their contours.

Then he noticed the scars. They criss-crossed the entire upper half of Bucky’s left arm; reminding Steve of an ice rink after a particularly ferocious hockey match. Some of the scars were silvery and faded like the two on Bucky’s forearm, but plenty more were thick, red and hypertrophic. A few were clearly surgical, like the long red line that stretched down the front of his deltoid, and silver seam that traced his collar bone; whilst others were jagged and messily pinched together like they’d healed without much in the way of medical help.

Bucky was staring at Steve, waiting for his reaction, so Steve school his expression into something neutral; not wanting to betray either his surprise, nor how badly he was falling for Bucky. Steve didn’t care about the scars - not on any superficial level, Bucky was still one of the most beautiful people Steve had ever met – but he cared that Bucky had been injured, badly. He cared about the emotional scars that must have come with an injury like that, and hoped that Bucky wasn’t still hurting.

“War wounds?” he heard himself ask in a small voice.

“Yeah.”

Bucky hadn’t wanted to talk about his time in the army yesterday, so Steve didn’t ask how it had happened, though he wanted to. Desperately. Not from a sense of morbid curiosity, but because he wanted to know everything about Bucky. He wanted to know what had happened to him in the wars he’d fought, but he also wanted to know what his childhood had been like. What his favourite novel was, his hopes, and fears, and dreams, and regrets. Steve wanted to know Bucky with an intense desire that he’d only experienced once or twice before. But he couldn’t ask. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Bucky had to want to tell him first.  

“Must have been painful.” He said instead.

“You have no idea.” Bucky finally reached for the sunscreen. “Can you help with my back? I can’t really reach,” he gestured behind his back – or tried to, his left hand could barely reach back beyond his hip.

“Of course.” Steve let Bucky pour sunscreen into his hand and stepped behind him to gently rub it into Bucky’s shoulders. There were more scars here: a long white line tracking down Bucky’s shoulder blade and patches of shiny, scarred skin peppering his rib cage. Steve didn’t let his hands linger like he wanted to. Instead he kept his motions brisk and efficient as he made sure the scars were completely covered with the lotion.

“Thanks. Want me to get your back?”

“I already did mine.”

“Really?” Bucky smirked. “No one can get that bit between their shoulder blades properly. Let me.” He gestured for Steve to turn around, which he did, slowly; unbuttoning his shirt as he went. He shrugged it off and threw it on the sun lounger, not missing the way Bucky exhaled with a soft ‘oof’. It was Steve’s turn to smirk, but it was quickly replaced by a surprised gasp as he felt Bucky drizzling sunscreen directly onto his back; lots of it by the feel of the cool liquid dripping down between his shoulders.

“How much are you putting on?” he asked, trying to twist a see.

“Can’t let these lovely shoulders burn.” Bucky's voice radiated innocence, but when he began to rub the sunscreen in, Steve realised his motives were anything but. Unlike Steve, Bucky made no effort to keep his movements efficient. His hands swept across the length and breadth of Steve’s back, quickly losing any pretence of actually rubbing the sunscreen in and basically devolving into Bucky giving Steve a back rub. Steve couldn’t deny that it felt nice. How long had it been since someone had touched him like that? He and Peggy were never very tactile as a couple, and they’d both been so busy in the last few months that they hardly even seen each other, let alone been intimate.

“Wow, you’re tense.” Bucky said with his hands rubbing smooth circles into Steve’s shoulders.

“Nuhuh.” Steve replied eloquently, proud of himself for not actually letting out a moan.

“Becca gave me that massage receipt back. If you fancy it this afternoon. Feels like you could use one.” Bucky gave Steve’s shoulders a last comforting squeeze and then his hands were gone. Steve wobbled slightly, and found himself aching for Bucky’s touch. He collected himself, taking a few deep breaths before turning to face Bucky. Yes, a massage on the beach would be lovely. But it was a couple’s massage; the thought alone was enough to make him feel anxious and flighty again.

“It’s a couple’s massage.” Steve objected.

“Yeah? Just means it’s for two people.” Bucky looked amused. “But if it’s too weird for you, I understand. I’m not above getting a couple’s massage on my own.”

“Then you’re a braver man than I.”

“Or I just care less about what people think.” Bucky smiled.

Steve dipped his head nodded. Both were true.

“Shall we swim?” Bucky inclined his head to the swimming pool and, without waiting for a reply, stepped up to the edge. “Race you to the other side?” he arched his arms over his head and Steve noticed that there was a definite kink in Bucky’s left shoulder, which seemed to bunch up by his neck rather than rotate like his right arm did – but when he dove in it was with a graceful ease. He was half way across the pool before Steve remembered it was supposed to be a race.

He dove in after Bucky, turning the world muffled and turquoise until he broke the surface and shook the water from his hair. Swimming was still a marvel for Steve. He’d gone swimming as a kid, sure, his mother had made sure he learnt how to swim in the lidos the opened up in Brooklyn in the summer, but with his asthma and ear problems as a child, swimming was never going to be a favourite pastime. He always preferred to be on the water rather than in it, even now he’d prefer to be in a shell or a boat. But there was something undeniably calming about gliding weightlessly through the water. It took a few strokes to find a rhythm, and then he was cutting across the pool in a lazy front crawl to catch up with Bucky who was already sprawled against the far side.

“Beat you.” He beamed.

“You had a head start,” Steve sent a small wave of water splashing in Bucky’s direction.

“Touché. Race you back? Three-two-one-go.” Bucky said in a rush, pushing himself off the side before Steve was remotely ready. He sped ahead, slipping effortless through the water like he was part fish to win, again; but Steve was closer this time.

They spent most of the morning splashing around in the pool, annoying the more sophisticated resort guests who were trying to sunbathe around them. Steve felt like almost like a kid again, carefree and content as they raced, wrestled, and splashed. At some point Becca and Robert joined them, and before Steve could process what was happening, Bucky was climbing up onto Steve’s shoulders to play a game of chicken. Bucky hooked his legs under Steve’s armpits and Steve’s hands found their way to Buck’s thighs, holding tight and standing steady on slippery tiles of the pool floor as Bucky tried to knock Becca from Robert’s shoulders.

Bucky’s legs flexed and shifted as he moved, and, oh god, Steve groaned as Bucky clamped his thighs around tightly around Steve’s neck to stop himself from falling off; this week was going to be the death of him.

Chapter Text

Bucky had meant it when he told Becca he would wait for Steve to make the first move. He honestly had. But then he saw Steve standing over him, bathed in sunlight with an unmistakable look of want in his eyes, and Bucky’s resolve crumbled. Bucky wasn’t going to kiss him or anything, Steve really would have to make the first move on that front – but there was nothing to say Bucky couldn’t help convince Steve to make a move; nothing to say that Bucky couldn’t be a bit of a tease.

He let his hands sweep across Steve’s back with a liberal application of sunscreen, marvelling at Steve’s sculpted muscles and taking more time to massage Steve’s trapezius muscles than was entirely necessary. The man was built, and he carried it well. Not like the pumped up body builders Bucky steered clear of in the gym; on Steve all of that bulk looked natural – and useful, like that’s just how his body was supposed to be. Some sort of pinnacle of human physicality, carved by one of the great renaissance sculptures themselves. Once Bucky had reduced Steve to an incoherent wreck, he gave a delighted smirk and quickly pulled his hands back, suggesting they swim instead. To his credit, Steve recovered quickly, and he was soon giving Bucky a run for his money as he put those muscles to good use, racing Bucky up and down the pool.  

Bucky caught Steve giving a few less-than-sneaky glances at his shoulder, but Steve didn’t bring it up after his initial questions, and he didn’t ask how it had happened. Bucky couldn’t thank him enough for that. That was all everyone normally wanted to know – they just wanted the gory details, voyeurs for human pain and suffering – and Bucky was fed up of rehashing his history. That was what he hated most about the scars. He didn’t care what they looked like, he actually kind of liked how tough they made him look; but he hated the fact that he would never truly be able to move on from what happened – not when he was reminded every time he looked in the mirror, or every time a stranger saw his shoulder.

Steve wanted to know, Bucky could read the concern and curiosity in his gaze, but he also took care not to make it big deal; treating Bucky the same as he had before he’d seen the scars and not shying away from grabbing that arm as he sabotaged Bucky’s attempts to win the fourth consecutive race. It was the latest in long line of reasons why Bucky was quickly falling for Steve, and by the time Becca and Robert joined them in the pool Bucky was seriously struggling not to throw caution to wind, and just pull Steve in for a kiss.

It was Becca who suggested they play chicken, giving Bucky a devilish smirk as she did. Bucky didn’t protest. He climbed onto Steve’s shoulders and his stomach gave a swoop of delight as Steve lifted him effortlessly out of the water, standing unwavering and firm as though Bucky weighed nothing at all. Bucky knocked Becca from Robert’s shoulders with ease, and quickly agreed they should play best-of-three. After a struggle – clenching his thighs around Steve’s neck to hold himself steady and loving the hitch in Steve’s breath that caused – Bucky let himself tumble into the water purely so they could play another round.

They won the third, easily, and Steve carried Bucky round the pool in a lap of honour before throwing him unceremoniously in the deep end.

“Oi!” Bucky surfaced, spluttering, and wasted no time dragging Steve down with him.

By the time the four of them retired for lunch, dining under the shade of an umbrella on the patio tables, they were all at ease in each other’s company and there was none of the awkwardness that could have followed the chaos at breakfast. Steve charmed Becca and Robert like Bucky knew he would, and soon they'd all planned to meet up for dinner again that evening. Becca and Rob disappeared off to explore the rest of the resort, looking for the tennis courts and mini golf, and Bucky made his way down to the beach with Steve to sunbathe and let their lunch go down before it was time for the couples massage.

The beach looked completely different in the daylight. A swathe of golden sand curved around the bay shaded on one side by tall green palm trees, and sheltered by a rocky outcrop on the other. Impossibly blue waves lapped gently on the shore, sprinkling the sand with bubbles of white foam, that popped and disappeared as soon as the water retreated. A thick band of cloud bulged on the horizon but the skies overhead were bright blue and crystal clear. Bucky noted that bar was still open, still serving overly alcoholic drinks, but the tables and chairs from last night had been replaced with neat rows of sun loungers and more hammocks. A structure shrouded in soft floaty drapes which he hadn’t noticed in yesterday’s gloom stood at the far end of the beach; Bucky assumed that’s where the massage would be.

He had to admit he was pretty excited about it, Bucky had never had a proper massage before. Alright, he'd had some sports therapy sessions during the rehabilitation with his shoulder, which Bucky supposed might count. But he’d been so hopped up on pain killers throughout those sessions - lying on crinkly paper that covered a medical bench whilst a stern faced physiotherapist manipulated his shoulder until Bucky was practically crying – he hoped that it wasn’t going to be the same experience. The massage cabana with floaty white drapes, soft looking beds and views out over the ocean seemed idyllic; he didn't understand Steve's apprehension.

"Mr Rogers, welcome." One of the masseuses greeted them. There were two of them, in matching white uniforms with matching customer-service smiles. "Are you enjoying your honeymoon so far?"

Ah. That would be why. Steve stilled and Bucky could see him fighting the urge to turn and flee. Bucky instinctively reached out to give Steve's hand a squeeze, and said the only thing he could think of which would avoid a slew of awkward questions.

"Yes, thank you, we are." Bucky smiled brightly at the masseuse.

"Excellent. Shirts off, please, then hop up onto the tables." She instructed them. "We have the full body massage booked for you both, is that correct?"

Bucky glanced at Steve who was still standing stock still, looking like he couldn't fathom what was going on. So Bucky answered again, not really sure what he was agreeing to.

"Yes, please."

"Is this your first time staying with us as Juniper Bay Resort?" The masseuse tried to make light conversation as Bucky settled onto the table.

"Yeah,"

"Is everything to your satisfaction so far?"

"Yeah. It's been great."

"Apart from the room mix up," Steve recovered and quickly pulled his shirt over his head, not bothering to undo the buttons this time. It was a surprisingly attractive move. Bucky swallowed and tried to remember what they were talking about. Right, the room mix up. How had he forgotten about that?

“Oh yeah, apart from that.”

Steve gave Bucky a funny little smile as he climbed onto the other bed, resting his chin on the padded headrest and folding his arms in front of his head.

"I'm so sorry to hear that!"

"It's alright. We sorted it." Steve twisted his head slightly to give Bucky another smile.

Bucky was going to say something snappy in response but he was cut off by the sensation of warm liquid on his back, followed immediately by a pair of strong hands that began to work it into his muscles. The feeling was so alarming that Bucky couldn't help but give a startled gasp, which very quickly turned into a moan as the hands worked over the sensitive patch beneath his shoulder blades.

Bucky pressed his head into the mattress to try and muffle the sounds, flushing red with embarrassment. To make it worse, Steve was laughing at him. 

"I'm so sorry!" Bucky gasped. 

"That's quite alright, Mr Rogers," 

"Bucky! Bucky. My name is Bucky." He protested quickly. Pretending they were honeymooning was one thing, being called Mr Rogers was quite another. 

"It's a perfectly natural response." The masseuse tried to assure Bucky, though judging from the way Steve continued to laugh, Bucky didn't think it was. He tensed, waiting for the next brush of hands across his back. 

"Try to relax, sir," the masseuse told him, clearly unwilling to use the name more informal name Bucky had provided. 

Bucky tried to let go, tried to relax into the sensations of the massage, but he found another moan escaping his lips as soon as he did. Oh fuck. Why had he ever thought this was a going to be a good idea?

"I don't think I can do this," he mumbled into the mattress. 

"Sure you can." Steve's voice sounded soothing. Grounding, even. Bucky focused on Steve’s voice and the masseuse’s hands managed to prod under Bucky’s shoulder blades without drawing another noise from him. He turned his head and risked a glance across at Steve. He looked so at ease; stretched out of the bed, muscles glistening with the massage oil. Why wasn't he a moaning wreck too? Hadn't he almost fallen to pieces when Bucky was sun-screening him earlier? 

"Distract me?" Bucky asked, pleaded really. 

"How?" 

"Tell me a story?" 

The masseuse’s hands pressed deep into the muscles just above Bucky tail bone and he pressed his eyes closed with a little fluttering exhale. 

"Okay.” Steve laughed at him. He pursed his lips in thought for a moment before lighting on something that made him smile again. “When I was little, I used to think the fourth of July fireworks were just for me." 

“Really?” Bucky forced himself to relax into the mattress, focusing on Steve’s voice rather than the hands prodding at his sides.

“Yeah, it was my birthday. Mama said she’d pulled some strings and it was a special treat to celebrate. And, as you do when you’re a kid, I believed her. Believed her for longer than I’m proud of,” Steve added with a huff of laughter.

“How old?” Bucky managed as to ask as the masseuse ran their hands up Bucky’s legs, kneading into his thighs and getting dangerously high.

“Twelve.”

“Twelve?!”

“I wanted to believe her. That was the thing. We’d always watch them together. No matter how hectic her schedule was, or how crazy the shifts were at the hospital, she always managed to take that evening off. We’d go up onto the roof of our building with deck chairs and blankets – and cake. She always made the most amazing cakes, decorated with my latest obsession: toy story, harry potter…one year she even recreated Starry Night; it looked almost too good to eat. I don’t know how she did, where she found the time. We’d sit up on the roof together watching the fireworks and eating far more cake than is advisable in one sitting.”

“Sounds lovely,” Bucky breathed out slowly as the masseuse worked his calf muscles. He could almost picture it, sitting alongside the water tank and ventilation shafts, looking out across the low Brooklyn rooftops towards the towering buildings of Manhattan, watching the sky come alive with bright bursts of colour.

“It was.” He sounded wistful. “The year she died I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge the fireworks. The fact that they still happened without her seemed wrong, and unfair. I,” he took a shaky breath that Bucky suspected had little to do with the massage, and readjusted his chin on the padded rest. “I stayed in bed all day, headphones in, blankets pulled up to my eyes. Just waiting for the day to be over. I haven’t spent the fourth in New York since. Uh.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry. That story took a turn for the worse.”

“It’s alright.” Bucky wanted to reach over and give Steve a comforting touch, a squeeze of his hand, a pat on the shoulder, a hug maybe, but his arm was currently occupied by strong fingers prodding and poking at his biceps and working out knots Bucky didn’t even know he had. “Go on?”

“Peggy liked to go back to England once a year, so we usually went that week. Can’t get much further from independence day than going back to England,” Steve laughed but it sounded a little bitter. The masseuse was currently blocking Bucky’s view so he couldn’t see what sort of expression Steve was wearing. “We’d walk around stately homes or trek through the country side, stop in a village pub for a cream tea or a pint and a packet of crisps…not sure what I’m going to do this year.”

“You’ll find something.” Bucky promised. The masseuse stepped out of the way and Bucky finally saw Steve’s broken, crestfallen face. He couldn’t hold back any longer, reaching between the beds to find Steve’s arm, Bucky gave it a comforting squeeze.

“Can you roll onto your back now sir?” the masseuse asked, completely breaking the moment.

“What?” Bucky was caught off guard.

“If you turn onto your back, we can continue.”

Bucky snatched his hand back and tensed. What? Roll onto his back? That definitely sounded like something he couldn’t cope with. Bucky rolled off the table instead and stood up, feeling loose limbed, wobbly, and little weightless. “Er. No. No thanks. I think that’s enough of a massage for me today.”

“Are you sure, sir?” The masseuse asked at the same time Steve called out, “Bucky, you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry.” He apologised to both of them as he staggered away from the table.

“Sir?”

“Bucky?”

Bucky didn’t expect Steve to follow, but he was relieved when Steve hopped down from his own table – thanking both of the masseuses, and apologising for Bucky’s abrupt departure – to join him on the beach.

“Are you alright?” Steve caught up with Bucky and placed a comforting hand in the small of his back. Bucky wanted to curl into Steve and hide his face in Steve’s chest, feeling so embarrassed. Who else got that flustered from a fucking massage?

“Sorry,” Bucky apologised. “I wasn’t prepared for that.”

“For what?” Steve was laughing softly at him again. “They were only going to massage your shoulders from a different angle, and maybe get your quads.”

“Yeah. No way.” Bucky absolutely was not prepared for hands that high on the front of his thighs, especially not with Steve lying that close next to him. “Sorry.” He dragged a hand through his hair and tried to put on a confident air to mask how much of an idiot he felt.

“’s’okay. Massages aren’t for everyone.” Steve didn’t look as put out as Bucky had been expecting. They’d barely used half their time, after all.

“I’m so embarrassed.”

“Don’t be.” Steve assured him, he rubbed his hand in a small circle before pulling it away. Maybe it was because he was so wrung out from the massage, but Bucky ached for the touch. He wondered if maybe it would have felt better if Steve had been massaging him, rather than a stranger.

“Thank you, for distracting me. I’m sorry about your mom.” He said tentatively. He didn’t particularly want up to bring up a sore subject, but he couldn’t just leave their conversation like they had.

“Me too. She deserved so much better.” Steve’s shoulders slumped.

Bucky didn’t press further, not right then. Not when they were meant to enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the beach, and not with the ocean calling to him. “Let’s swim?”

“Now?”

“Yeah, I could float for a bit. Come on.”

Leaving his things dumped on the beach, and not waiting for Steve’s response, Bucky ran into the waves. He let the water splash around his legs until it lapped at his hips before he twisted onto his back and fell backwards into the sea. Bucky had always been able to just float. He folded his arms under his head, stretched his legs and crossed his ankles, letting the buoyant salt water keep him afloat with absolute minimal effort; it was bliss. Steve followed him in at a more sensible pace, wading through the waves until it was deep enough to lean forwards into a few graceful breast strokes. He swam around Bucky and leant back to test his own ability to float, promptly sinking completely under the water.

“How are you doing that?” Steve spluttered, shaking out the water from his hair. His blonde bangs ended up flicked over his head in a funny cowlick.

“Magic,” Bucky beamed back. “It’s so peaceful out here, I think I want to stay forever.”

“Hmmm.” Steve agreed. He took to swimming slow laps around Bucky, alternating between being on his front and back, never straying too far.

“I hope you didn’t mind earlier, when I, uh – pretended we were,” Bucky trailed off; not wanting to say it outright, still unsure how Steve had felt about pretending they were on their honeymoon. “I thought it was the easiest way to avoid awkward questions.”

“Oh. Yeah. It was. Good thinking.” Steve stopped swimming and carded his fingers through his hair, giving Bucky a shy smile.

“If there’s anything else you’ve booked that you don’t want to miss out on,” Bucky pressed on, despite the nerves jostled in his stomach and threatening to make him loose his balance. “I wouldn’t mind filling in.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, if you’d be okay with that.” Bucky let his legs sink until he was standing upright, toes just brushing the sand on the sea bed. The gentle swell of the sea tugged him closer to Steve. It would have been so easy to let the water bring them together.

“What time’s the rehearsal dinner tomorrow?”

“7.30, I think?” the question caught Bucky a little by surprise. “Why?”

“I was planning to hire a boat and take it up the coast tomorrow, there’s some sea caves I wanted to see.” Steve was staring right at Bucky and that look of want was back in his eyes. By now Bucky was pretty sure that Steve liked him back, and it took every reserve of will power to float back a little and preserve the distance between them.

“Sea caves?” he asked, almost in an exhale.

“Yeah, meant to be real pretty.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“Alright.”

Bucky tore his eyes way from Steve’s bright blue gaze to glance at Steve’s lips. They were right there. All he had to do was lean.

Just as Bucky’s resolve was about to give out, thunder boomed behind them.

“What the hell?” Bucky span around to see the clouds that had looked so far away earlier were right on top of them. He’d heard tropical storms moved in quickly when they came, but he still hadn’t been expecting it to be that fast.

“Should we…get out of the water?”

“Only if there’s lightning,” Bucky swam closer to Steve, trying to recreate the moment which was so hastily slipping away from them. No sooner had he spoken, than lightning crackled across the sky, followed immediately by another boom of thunder. “Yup, that’s our cue to get out.”

They scrambled for the shore, splashing through the shallows staggering through the wet sand. Thick heavy drops of rain began to fall from the sky, picking up intensity at a rapid pace. They’d barely bundled their belongings into their arms before the heavens opened and they were being pelted by a torrent of warm rain. Bucky had to laugh as he raced Steve back up to the path to the shelter of the hotel. Cockblocked by the weather. Fucking typical.

Chapter Text

The wind picked up as they hurried up the path from the beach. Soon the rain was slanting sideways. The palm trees began to sway and the sun umbrellas struggled against the gusts, threatening to turn inside out before the bar staff could bundle them away. Steve and Bucky hurried through the archways behind the rest of the bedraggled crowd from the beach, but whilst everyone else settled down for a drink inside the bar, or hurried back to their rooms to get dry, Steve dropped his belongings on the first chair inside the door and immediately hurried back outside.

“Steve?” Bucky faltered. He dropped his bundled up towel, phone and shirt on top of Steve’s and followed after him, hesitantly. He had to squint through the rain that pelted the patio, but it didn’t take him long to spot Steve helping the staff collapse the umbrellas and bundle them into the store room. Of course he was. Bucky ran through the rain to pitch in.

They’d barely got the patio furniture locked away in the store room when the wind kicked up a gear. The palm trees were tossed around like inflatables outside a car dealership, and the rain hammered on the pool with a ferocity Bucky had never seen before. It was humbling, standing in the face of the full force of nature, under a torrent of warm rain that felt a little like standing in a high pressure shower – if the shower happened to be in a wind tunnel. The roar of the storm was getting deafening, rolling thunder boomed almost constantly whilst lightning pulsed inside the clouds on the horizon; illuminating the billowing formations with flashed of purple, silver and gold. Bucky was already drenched to the bone and it was tempting to stand outside and watch the lightshow. Tempting, but not particularly safe. Everyone else had already hurried into the shelter of the hotel.

“Bucky, we need to get inside.” Steve’s voice was almost lost about the din of the rain and thunder but his hand found Bucky’s elbow and gave an insistent tug towards the door.

Bucky turned to face Steve. His hair was plastered to his head and his eyes were squinting through the sheeting rain, yet he still looked golden against the gloom. His hand was a comforting presence on Bucky’s elbow and as Bucky gazed up at Steve static thrummed between them that had nothing to do with the electrical storm.

Steve was staring right at Bucky, who knew he must look like a drowned rat. Unlike Steve he didn’t just glow without taking meticulous care to preen his appearance. But Steve swallowed and his grip on Bucky’s elbow tightened. Despite the storm raging around them, Bucky found himself rising onto his tiptoes and leaning in towards Steve’s lips.

Steve hesitated. Such a miniscule movement, but it was enough to break the moment. He gave Bucky the gentlest of nudges by the elbow to hold him back and Bucky instantly fell to the flats of his feet. Rejection, humiliation, guilt, and regret all swirled in Bucky’s gut for one horrible moment before Steve croaked, “Not yet.”

It was barely a whisper. If Bucky couldn’t read lips he wouldn’t have caught it at all. Steve gave a warm smile and kept his hand gripped tight around Bucky’s elbow. Not yet. Not an outright ‘no’. Not a rejection. Just not yet. Bucky’s heart swelled.

“We need to get inside.” Steve repeated, this time using his grip on Bucky’s arm to drag him back into the hotel. The staff closed up the arched windows and locked the storm shutters immediately behind them.

For a moment all they could do was stare at each other, radiating pent up adrenaline and dipping all over the hotel’s marble floors. Bucky allowed himself to hope that the ‘not yet’ might purely have been until they got inside, but Steve finally removed his hand and dragged it through his hair to send the worst of the rain running down his back rather than straight into his eyes.

“Want a drink?”

Yes. God. Bucky could use a drink. “Only if you’re paying,” he smirked to mask the butterflies in his stomach.

“’course I am.” Steve grinned back.

Bucky gathered his belongings from the chair and used his towel to try and discretely tried to dry himself off as much as possible before taking a seat beside Steve at the bar. He sat intentionally close, letting their thighs brush together. Steve didn’t shift away which Bucky took as a good sign.

“What’ll you have?” Steve asked, gesturing for the attention of the bar tender.

“Hmm. I think I fancy a mojito.”

Steve gave him a strange look.

“What?” Bucky asked through a laugh.

“Nothing. It’s just. I’m trying to work out your favourite drink, but you’ve ordered something completely different each time.” Steve smiled shyly before turning his attention to the bar man to order their drinks – a beer for Steve and a mojito for Bucky.

Bucky was touched by Steve’s thoughtfulness and a little stumped, he hadn’t realised Steve had been paying so much attention.

“I don’t do favourites,” he managed once his brain kicked back into gear.

“Oh?”

“Depends entirely on what I’m in the mood for.”

“Sounds like a good way to live.” Steve smiled at him.

“Yep. Spent too long in the army being told exactly what to eat and drink. And when.” Bucky began to explain, as if he needed an explanation. “And what to wear and where to be and where to go.” Sometimes he missed the structure and the simple monotony of following orders - the only way he’d coped after being discharged was thanks to the strict structure of his daily physio routine – and sometimes the sheer amount of choices on offer were enough to overwhelm him; but Bucky dealt with that by ordering whatever caught his eye or sprang to mind first, and not letting himself spiral into indecision. “But I have a sweet tooth.” He added. “Anything sugary, or chocolatey. Or alcoholic – I’ll love it.”

“Duly noted.” Steve smiled, handing Bucky’s drink over to him. Their fingers brushed and when Steve let his hand come to a rest on the bar top it was a hair’s breadth from Bucky’s.

They stayed close, far more tactile with each other than they had been the day before. When Bucky made Steve laugh, Steve threw an arm out to clasp Bucky’s shoulder, and when they turned towards each other, so engrossed in their conversation that the noise of the bar fell away, their knees slotted between each other like it was the most natural thing in the world. Bucky felt a little like he was floating.

He knew it was too good to last. The spell was broken when Steve’s phone began to hop and vibrate on the bar top in front of them. Steve’s face blanched as he picked it up and stared at the contact name.

“Do you have to take it?” Bucky asked.

“Uh, yeah. It’s Peggy.”

“Go.” Bucky urged gently.

“Sorry,” Steve sounded a little distracted as he untangled his legs from Bucky’s and stood up, answering the call as he staggered away from the bar. “Hi Peggy,”

Bucky didn’t miss the soft tenderness in Steve’s voice and he didn’t pretend it didn’t hurt.

He turned back to his drink, stirring the straw through the rapidly melting ice cubes. When the bar tender offered him a refill Bucky didn’t need to be asked twice.

=

“Mr Barnes?”

Bucky’s elbows were propped on the bar with his chin resting in his hands. His second drink was all but drunk and Steve still hadn’t returned.

“Excuse me, sir?” the bar man asked again, pulling Bucky from his daze.

“Sorry. Yeah?” he sat up slightly startled.

“There’s a message for you from reception. Your suitcases have been delivered from the airport.”

Finally some good news.

“Do you want them taken up to your room?”

Bucky glanced at the empty seat beside him. There was no point sitting here moping and waiting for Steve. “Nah, it’s okay. I’ll take them up. Can you. Uh.” He gestured to Steve’s spot. “When he gets back, tell him I went back up to the room?”

“Certainly.”

“Thanks.”

Bucky swiped up his phone towel and shirt and crossed the floor to the reception.

He arranged for Becca and Rob’s bags to be delivered up to room 701 and hopped into the lift with his own, gripping the handle tightly like it might disappear again at any moment. It looked a little more battered than it had when it went onto the plane, but nothing was split and when he opened it on the bed he was relieved to see nothing looked too squished or rumpled. He hurried to hang up his suits for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself, but kept the rest of it folded in the suitcase itself – he never understood people who unpacked into hotel rooms. You just had to re-pack it all again a week or so later. He’d spent long enough living out of footlockers and kit bags to know the merit of keeping everything neatly stowed and ready to go.

That done, Bucky found he was at a loss for what to do next. The mixture of salt and rain water and had dried on Bucky’s skin with an unpleasant stickiness so he decided to shower and change into more suitable clothes for dinner; taking time to shave off his stubble and properly style his hair. Even after all of that, Steve hadn’t re-appeared.

Bucky checked his phone to see a million heart-eyed and relieved emojis from Becca at the news that the bags and turned up, and one confirming that they were still on for dinner at 7pm. It was a little after 5pm. Bucky had two hours to kill, and an onset of listless apathy that threatened to overwhelm him if he did nothing to kill it. With Steve still missing, Bucky didn’t fancy sitting down in the bar by himself. Instead, he flung open he drapes to  reveal the thunder grey skies outside and dragged the arm chair across the floor until it was pressed right up against the window. He left his phone on charge by the bed and shoved his wireless headphones over his ears, curling up in the chair with his feet tucked underneath him and his forehead pressed against the glass.

Lightning cracked soundlessly across the sky and rivulets of water chased each other down the window pane. The trees strewn across the island slopes below him swayed violently in the rushing wind, dancing along to the beat that pounded into Bucky’s eardrums.

He’d only meant to loose himself for a few minutes before grabbing a book or texting Becca and Rob for some company, but when he was startled by a knock on the door a little while later, Bucky was surprised to see the LED clock on the desk displaying 18:58. Where had the time gone?

Bucky unfurled his legs and padded across to open the door, already knowing it would be Becca from her tell-tale triple knock and the persistent hammering that followed when he didn’t immediately open the door.

“Dinner?” she smiled brightly. Peering behind him into the room.

When Bucky stepped back to fetch his shoes and phone Becca followed him in, poking around the corners of the room.

“Wow, we really lucked out with the upgrade, didn’t we?”

“It wasn’t an upgrade,” Bucky mumbled, leaning over to tie the laces on his vans.

“Right, right.” Becca waved away the semantics. “We really do need to thank Steve properly. Where is he?”

“Had to take a call.” Bucky straightened up, but remained sitting on the foot of the bed staring out of the window.

“You okay?”

Bucky brought his right hand up to rub at his eyes and sighed, long and slow. “I lost time again today.” He owned up. The mattress dipped as Becca sat beside him.

“How long?”

“Coup’la hours.” It hadn’t felt like a true dissociative episode, but then again – they never really did. “I sat down to watch them storm. Then. You were knocking on the door.” He’d had no recollection of the music he’d listened to or any particular thoughts which had crossed his mind. Not even the annoying spotify adverts had managed to pull him from his reverie, and that was the supposed to be whole point of opting for the free account; their jarring discord normally stopped Bucky from spiralling into the abyss of his mind. It scared him, he hadn’t had an episode in months, he stupidly thought he was passed all that.

“It is a pretty mesmerising storm,” Becca said gently, trying to lighten the mood before adding seriously, “we’ll keep an eye on it, okay?”

It. The PTSD which Bucky hated admitting he had. The way he, Becca and Rob talked about it made it sound like an unruly pet at times.

“Okay.”

Becca reached out to give Bucky’s hand a squeeze, leaning up against his arm and resting her head in the crook of his shoulder.

“Love you.”

“Love you more.” He returned, planting a kiss into her hair which smelled like the vanilla scented shampoo she normally used. “Your hair smells nice.” It smelled comforting, it smelled like Becca, like home.

“I’m so glad I got my shampoo back. And my clothes, and y’know. My dress.”

“Was it all okay?”

“Yeah, the dress is a little creased from being folded for so long.” she sighed. “But luckily we have two bathrooms in our mega-amazing suite. So I can hang it in the other one and steam it with the shower without Rob seeing. Speaking of whom,” she freed herself from Bucky and sat up. “We should probably go and rescue him from the horror of being sat in the restaurant on his own. You know how much he hates that.”

“Very true.” Bucky let Becca pull him to his feet.

“Do we need to wait for Steve?”

Bucky hesitated before answering. Did they? Bucky didn’t know where Steve was and felt guilty that he’d let two hours elapse without trying to look for him. He couldn’t possibly still be on the phone, could he? Bucky hoped he was okay. “I dunno. He knows where we’ll be. He can join us when he’s free.”

“Alright then.”

Becca looped her arm through Bucky’s and steered him down the corridor towards the elevators, which Bucky was quite grateful for. His thoughts were a mess and concentrating on where he was walking was the least of his concerns.

“As much as I love a good storm, I hope it lets up soon.” Becca chatted as they walked. “Don’t know how our bags got through it.”

“They must’ve been here before it struck.” Bucky replied, preoccupied.

“Probably – can’t see how they’d be running the ferries in that weather. Do you think they’ve closed the airport? I just hope it clears before tomorrow, otherwise I don’t know how the others are gonna get here. Tropical storms are meant to blow over quickly, aren’t they?”

“Yeah.” Bucky sounded lacklustre.

“Hey.” Becca gave Bucky’s arm a soft pat with her free hand. “You’re going to be okay – one episode isn’t a setback, it’s normal. You know what all the doctors said.”

Bucky nodded. The truth was that was only part of his worry. Perhaps it should have been higher on his list, but Bucky had coped with worse dissociation before. He’d done it once, he could get through it again. Right then Bucky was more concerned about Steve, and how he was coping with whatever had been said on that phone call.

Chapter Text

Steve’s phone lit up with an incoming phone call and began to hop and buzz on the counter. He reached for it instinctively and found himself staring at the screen, unable to answer it. Peggy’s bright eyed smile stared back at him, unassuming and innocent compared to knot of unease it lodged in Steve’s chest.

 “Do you have to take it?” Bucky asked, soft and curious.

“Uh,” Steve faltered. “Yeah. It’s Peggy.” Why was she calling him? Why now? Was everything okay?

“Go.” Bucky urged Steve gently. It wasn’t permission, not exactly, but it was the word Steve needed to hear to be able to swipe his thumb and answer the call.

“Sorry.” Steve shot Bucky a distracted apology as he clambered up from the barstool, twisting away from the bar and hurrying to find a quiet corner of the lobby. “Hi Peggy.”

“Hi Steve. I’m glad you answered. I didn’t know if you’d actually pick up and I wasn’t looking forward to leaving you a voicemail.” She sounded forthright as always.

“Everything okay?” Steve found an empty corridor that led to who-knew-where and slotted himself into an alcove along the wall, clutching his phone to his ear and pretending his hand wasn’t shaking slightly.

“I’m fine. How are you holding up?”

How indeed? Steve glanced back down the corridor to where he knew Bucky was sitting at the bar, even if he couldn’t see him anymore. He smiled involuntarily. “I’m doing okay, actually. Better than expected.”

“That’s good.”

“How did it go with your family?”

“They’ve all gone home now, thank god – and they took it better than I expected to be perfectly honest. They were angry, as you can understand – I did drag them half way around the world for nothing – but they weren’t as upset? or disappointed? as I’d thought they would be.”

“They were probably relieved.” Steve huffed a laugh under his breath and carded a hand through his still damp hair. “They always hated me.”

“That’s not fair. They didn’t hate you.”

“No, they definitely did.”

Peggy’s father had made it clear on several occasions that Steve wasn’t good enough for Peggy, and when Steve had given her parents the courtesy of letting them know he was planning to propose, they’d voiced their concerns. They’d respect Peggy’s decision if she really did want to marry Steve, but they were sure to let Steve know that he wasn’t their first, second, third, or even fifth choice.

“You always do that.” Peggy gave an exasperated sigh. “You always put the onus on them. Maybe if you’d been less guarded and let them get know you better, they might have liked you more.”

Steve had to restrain himself from snorting out loud. Nothing in the world could have made Peggy’s family like him more – not unless he changed his entire upbringing, heritage, and political world views. He used his free hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I trust you didn’t call me to re-hash this old argument?”

“No. Sorry. I went to the bank today to separate our account and I moved all of the bills and rent into my name – I assume you’re still happy for me to keep the apartment?”

‘Happy’ was a strong word, but it made the most sense. “It’s the logical thing to do.” Steve agreed. “It was always more your apartment than mine.”

“It was always our apartment, Steve.” Peggy retorted – it was another touchy subject between them – before she added more softly, “Is that really how you felt?”

“It doesn’t matter now.” Steve could only sigh. Eleven years of being devoted to loving and knowing one person, trying to build a future together…none of it mattered anymore. 

“No I suppose it doesn’t.” Peggy went quiet for a spell. “Well,” she pressed, “I’ve started to pack up your things. I’ll leave them boxed up in the lounge. You can collect them when you’re back in the country – how is the resort by the way?”

“Really great. You’d have loved it.”

“I’m sure I would have.” Steve could hear the smile in Peggy’s voice. “There’s no rush to collect everything, I’m actually going to Paris for a few weeks with work. Daniel and I have been called in to coordinate a committee with Interpol so I’ll be away for three weeks from next Tuesday. Take your time, and if you need to stay here until you get settled, do – I’m not going to kick you out or anything.”

“That would actually be really helpful.” Steve hadn’t even started to look for new apartments yet. It seemed a little unfair that he was the one being made to pack up and leave when she’d been the one to end things, but…like he’d told Bucky, DC never really felt like home. Some part of him was actually relieved he could start looking for an apartment that would feel more like it belonged to him. 

“Great.” Peggy went quiet again, Steve waited for her to speak. She was the one who’d called him after all. “Um, what I actually called you about was. Well. There’s really no easy way to say this.” She faltered again.

It was so unlike her to be unsure. Steve dreaded what was going to come next, but then, nothing could be worse than what she’d said to him in the church could it?

“Daniel and I. We’re…going to start seeing each other.”

Steve was dumbfounded. For half a moment he thought Peggy meant literally ‘seeing’ each other and wondered how they’d ever managed to do their job without visual contact, but then he realised what she meant, and he felt his stomach sink. “What?” was all he could manage to ask as a million different questions welled up in his mind.

“I know it’s soon, and I promise you nothing happened whilst we were together, I could never do that to you.”

Steve’s mind went white with anger and confusion. “No. You’d never cheat on me. But humiliating me in front of all of our friends and your entire extended family – that’s okay.”

“Steve,” Peggy tried to pacify him, but Steve didn’t want to hear it.

“Why are you telling me?”

“I didn’t want you to hear from anyone else and wonder if – “

“How long?” Steve asked.

“What?”

“Nothing happened whilst we were together, but you clearly wanted it to. How long?” Steve bit out through gritted teeth. How could he have been such a fucking idiot?

“What I wanted was to be able to marry you, Steve. It would have been so much easier. I never wanted any of this to happen.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“Because you don’t marry someone just because it’s easier, Steve! You marry someone because you love them, and – and I don’t love you anymore. Not like that. And I know don’t you don’t love me anymore either.”

“I did, Peggy. I really did love you.”

“I know you did, darling. Once upon a time. I did too. But it hasn’t been that way between us for a long time. Even before Daniel.”

Steve’s mind was still searing white hot. He thought he felt tears prick at his eyes, but he couldn’t be sure of anything. The whole world was burning with numbing shame and anger that spread across his chest and burned up his throat and into his cheeks.

“How long?” he asked again, not sure he really wanted to know the answer, but knowing he’d wonder forever if he didn’t hear it. “How long have you been in love with him?”

“I’m not in love with him.” Peggy scoffed, but she wasn’t convincing.

“How long?” Steve pressed.

When she finally answered it was in a very quiet voice, but there was an undercurrent of resentment, like she was annoyed with Steve for making her face up to her feelings.

“Since the conference in LA.”

Steve didn’t think it was possible for the rug to be pulled out from under him twice in one conversation, but once again everything lurched sideways. “That –” he wavered. “That was almost two years ago.”

“I’m sorry, Steve,”

Steve didn’t hear her. “Two. Years? Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why didn’t you talk to me? You let me propose. Let me plan a whole fucking wedding. Let all of our friends and family travel – some of them hundreds of miles – just so you could leave me right in front of all of them…”

“I was scared, Steve. Scared of losing what we had. Because it was so good in the beginning – we just, lost our way a little somewhere down the line. I didn’t want to let that go.”

“Then don’t, Peggy –”

“I can’t, Steve. I just can’t. I don’t think we were ever meant to more than friends, we’re just incompatible that way.”

“Incompatible?”

“You always wanted to put me up on a pedestal, live this perfect version of our lives where nothing was ever contentious, or flawed. You acquiesced to everything, even when I know you didn’t like it.”

“Because that’s was what a relationship is! You make sacrifices so that the other person can be happy!” Steve protested.

“Not all the time!” Peggy argued back. “Not about everything little thing! You’re allowed to have your own wants and desires, Steve! You’re allowed to be selfish every now and again!”

Steve didn’t know who to respond to that.

“Even now, you’re far more concerned with how other people feel – about letting them down because we didn’t get married. You’re never honest with your own feelings Steve, you keep everything bottled up and I can’t cope with that anymore.”

“Then… then.” Steve grappled, trying to find a way to make things right. “I’ll try harder. I’ll be better –”

“No, Steve. I’ve tried for the last eleven years to get you to open up more and break out of your shell, but every time I try you become even more closed off and guarded. You can’t be that way – at least not with me. And I can’t live like that, Steve. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I should never had let it get so far. I just didn’t want to lose you.” She was crying, he could hear her sniffing back tears, trying so hard to keep a composure that was rapidly slipping. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Steve’s mind was a roaring mess. His breath was shallow and ragged. “I don’t know what to think right now.”

“I know, I know, darling. I’m sorry. And I know it’s soon to be…moving on…I know. I wish it weren’t like this.”

“So do I.”

“But I know there’s someone out there for you – someone better for you than I could ever be.”

Steve swallowed hard.

“I hope you meet them soon. And I hope that you can be happy. I really do. I’m – I have to go now.” Peggy sniffed. “You can collect your things whenever you’re ready. Or store them here until you get settled. Whatever you need. I’m sorry, Steve. Goodbye.” She hung up, leaving Steve a reeling mess of emotions.

He balled his fist around his phone so tight it almost cracked the screen, and let out a slow shuddering breath as he fought every urge to tip his head back and scream. When the impulse to throw his fist through the wall got too much, Steve stormed back to the lobby. Thankfully Bucky’s seat at the bar was empty, Steve couldn’t handle Bucky seeing him in state he was in. Trying to get control of his breathing, Steve marched up to the concierge and asked with a very stilted growl: “There’s a gym here somewhere, right?”

The concierge trembled ever so slightly in the face of Steve’s anger and pointed to a separate staircase around the corner from the bank of elevators. “Yes sir, lower ground floor.”

Steve fled down the stairs, using his room key to gain access to the gym, and stood panting in the doorway for a second; a pent up ball of angry energy and mortification. The gym was a long, low ceilinged room which looked out over the back of the hotel. Through a wall of tinted floor-to-ceiling windows Steve could see dense tropical vegetation being pelted by the storm. Everything was sleek black with flashes of neon green, and all of the equipment looked high-end and well maintained. A few of the machines were occupied, but it was the punch bag hanging in a walled-off corner of the room that Steve was concerned with. He threw his phone on a bench, kicked off his flipflops, angrily, and ripped almost all of the buttons on his shirt as he tore it off, before strapping up his knuckles with the roll of gauze kindly provided by the hotel. He was still in his swimming shorts and he was now bare chested, and bare footed, but it didn’t actually look out of place. And to be honest? He didn’t fucking care.

Steve lost himself in the soothing repetitive movements of strapping up his hands, making sure they were secured nice and tight, letting his mind go blank and the white-hot rage seep out of his skin. Satisfied he wasn’t going to break his fingers, Steve traced a grounding line down the centre of the punch bag with a balled fist and then let himself tear into it.  

Steve pounded all of his frustration, anger, and hurt into the punch bag until his entire body was shaking with exhaustion. When his arms felt too heavy to lift, he let himself fall against the bag, breathing deep and slow. His thoughts had settled slightly, he could at least mull over Peggy’s words without wanting to scream or tear his hair out. What hurt most, more than the shame, anger, and humiliation, was that she was right. They were, on a fundamental level, incompatible. Steve had always kept Peggy at arm’s length, always guarded his feelings, always tried to do right by her, because – deep down – he still didn’t feel good enough for her.

He’d never understood what she’d seen in him, and he’d vowed to himself from their very first date that he’d do whatever it took to make her happy; even if that meant making sacrifices for himself. He realised now that it wasn’t exactly the foundations for a healthy relationship. Things could only have gotten worse down the line, if they had married and tried to force it to work, everything would have just turned bitter and sour. Maybe it was a good thing that Peggy had the courage to do what Steve never could; the courage to step up and end it now.

Slowly, Steve unwound the tape from his fists and stumbled over to a water fountain set against the wall. He drank deeply and splashed a handful of water into his hair and down the back of his neck. He was slick with sweat and his chest was heaving, and people were staring at him; Steve could feel multiple pairs of eyes pricking at the back of his neck, but he ignored them as best he could. He wasn’t finished yet. Before his muscles could seize up, Steve crossed to the row of yoga mats laid out in front of the windows and dropped into the series of stretches that were second nature to him by now and helped soothe his mind every time.

Back when his asthma was an unavoidable part of his life, yoga had been about the limit of Steve’s athletic ability. On Sunday mornings he and his ma would push the furniture back and make each other laugh with their off-balance poses. Sometimes they’d even sneak down to Prospect Park and hide behind the trees to follow along with a group class being led on the lawn; until the instructor chased them away for having not paid. When that happened, they’d head down to the lake, giggling at each other as they watched the ducks swimming and invented their own yoga moves instead. Now, of course, youtube was filled with free tutorials all shot in soft pastels with bright, white, minimalist backdrops. Steve had watched his far share and taught himself proper technique, often wondering what his mother would have to say if she could watch them with him.

Steve’s balanced had improved dramatically thanks to careful drills with the college coaches – no one wanted a rower who’d throw the whole boat off balance – and he could hold the poses for much longer, really feeling the aching burn as his muscles began to stretch and strain; but despite everything that had changed since the last time he’d pushed up from the floor of his childhood home -  struggling to arch into a ‘cobra’ and chastising his ma for laughing at him and breaking his concentration - he was right back there every time he sunk into the position. He closed his eyes and he could almost breathe in the smell of the freesia scented laundry detergent that had clung to every corner of their home. Even after all this time Steve still missed his mother with a physical ache in his chest, especially at times like this when he could really use her advice and comforting words. He tried to imagine what she might say to him about this whole debacle, but though he could picture her clearly, and knew that she’d stroke a comforting hand through his hair, he couldn’t manifest the words that she would say.

Steve dropped out of the pose, lying face down on mat and letting himself wallow for just a moment. This was something he was going to have to figure out on his own. He forced his eyes open and pushed himself back up to standing. The sky was darkening rapidly outside and rain still lashed against the glass, but the storm had lost some of its rage. In a few hours all traces of the storm would be gone.

It hurt to admit that it was over, that Peggy was really gone, and Steve knew it was going to be a struggle to move on. So much of his life, so much of figuring who he was a where he fit into the world had been built around Peggy, but he also knew that he had to try.

Chapter Text

Steve was running late. Very late. He opted to sprint up the stairs, rather than waiting in the lobby for an elevator, and immediately regretted the decision. Before he’d reached the third floor, his chest began to ache with the tell-tale tightness that reminded Steve that he did still have asthma and that he did still need to be careful. Breathing heavily, trying to gulp down air into lungs that felt closed-off, Steve rooted around in his wash kit for his daily asthma medication. His dose allowed up to two extra pills a day if he really over-exerted himself and Steve swallowed them both down before he staggered into the bathroom for a lightning quick shower. The placebo effect from the pills worked immediately, preventing him from panicking about not being able to breathe, and as he scrubbed the sweat and salt from his body, the drugs worked their magic, loosening up his chest once again. It still ached with the hollow pangs of heartbreak; but unfortunately there was no immediate relief for that.

Steve had meant to call it a day after the yoga, but then he’d spotted the rowing machines lined up along the back wall and had been powerless to resist. He had time, so he set the timer for 15 minutes and lost himself in the smooth pull and stretch of each stroke. It was only when the sky began to darken and Steve’s limbs began to ache with an exhausted fatigue that he bothered to check the screen and realised – to his horror – that he’d set it for 15 miles not minutes. He’d been rowing for over forty-five minutes and it was rapidly approaching 7:20pm.

Cursing his stupidity, Steve hopped out of the shower and towelled himself down at record speed, dressing in the first pair of clothes he pulled from his suitcase and not bothering to style his hair. It would dry fluffy, but Steve honestly didn’t care. Not only had he abandoned Bucky all afternoon to recover from a phone call that he really shouldn’t have bothered to answer, but he was going to be more than forty minutes late to dinner. What on earth were they going to think of him?

Steve tapped his foot anxiously as the elevator slowly dropped to the ground floor, and repeatedly ran his hands across his hair to try and flatten it at least a little bit. By the time the doors dinged open and he hurried across the lobby to the restaurant, Steve had lost all of his calm and was back to being a ball of jittery nerves.

He gave Bucky’s name to the hostess and she directed Steve towards a table on the far side of the room. Steve spotted Bucky immediately, his head was tipped back and his eyes were crinkled mid-laugh. Either the asthma meds were working overtime, or something about the sight of Bucky dislodged part of the ache in Steve’s chest. He hurried over, weaving between the white-clothed tables and marvelling at golden glow of the chandeliers overhead which were reflected back in the pitch black view from the windows, like a thousand twinkling stars. A baby-grand piano stood in the corner of the room and the soft chimes of melodic notes soared above the muted conversations and gentle click-clatter of cutlery against plates. Bucky spotted Steve when he still a few tables away and grinned at him, waving him over.

“Steve!” Bucky beamed.

“Hi, sorry I’m so late,” Steve settled himself into the chair beside Bucky, shaking out the napkin over his lap and  trying not to feel too oafish in amongst the delicate plate settings and general elegance of the room. The place seemed to have been transformed since breakfast, which itself felt like it had happened a lifetime ago. “I got caught with a phone call.”

“Everything okay?” Bucky asked with such a genuine care and concern that brought a smile to Steve’s face.

“It will be.”

Bucky reached under the table to give Steve’s hand a squeeze. Steve squeezed back, a little overwhelmed by Bucky’s casual intimacy.

“We were gonna wait for you,” Bucky started, sounding a little sheepish.

“But then Bucky got hungry and ordered.” Becca finished for him, laughing.

“Sorry.”  He smiled up at Steve, all big blue eyes and mock innocence. Steve shook his head, smiling back in a manner that could only be described as fond.

“It’s alright. You really didn’t need to wait.”

Fortunately they’d only had starters, so Steve was able to flag down a waiter and order quickly; taking a leaf out of Bucky's book and ordering the first thing that caught his attention, along with a large glass of wine.

"Actually, make it a bottle," he amended. "Four glasses."

Conversation flowed easily between them. By the time they were onto their second bottle of wine, Becca and Rob felt like old friends, and Bucky was smiling at Steve with such a comforting warmth that Steve's anger and frustration from earlier in the day completely melted away. He told them about his business, and learned that Rob was a history teacher and that coached Little League Baseball in his spare time. He learned that Becca was working as a payroll clerk whilst she completed her accounting degree part time at Ivy Tech - but that she was still holding out for a career as a movie star to magically happen one day. He learned that Bucky had always wanted to be an astronaut, that he still kind of did, and that even though he was a little bit scared of heights, he'd always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon. They talked about Sam, about Steve learned that he'd gone to visit Bucky regularly in the hospital after his many surgeries to make sure he was doing okay, and that even though they hadn't seen him in years, the Barneses still got a box of homemade cookies from him every Christmas. 

The restaurant emptied around them and the candle on the table steadily burned away to nothing as they talked. When the third bottle of wine was empty and when Becca could no longer stifle her sleepy yawns, she and Rob decided to call it a night.

"Enjoy the sea caves tomorrow." She told them, standing up and pushing her chair in. "Just make sure you’re back in time for the dinner, Bucky? It starts at 7 sharp, and remember you promised to make a toast?"

"I hadn't forgotten."

"I'll get him back in time, don't worry," Steve assured her. 

"Alright. Goodnight!" she blew them both a kiss and looped her arm through Rob's, who also wished them goodnight with a small wave. They left arm-in-arm, walking with a sleepy gait and leaning against each other for support.

"We should probably turn in too," Bucky arched back his chair, stretching his right arm high over his head and kicking his long legs out under the table. “Especially if we’ve got an early start.”

“I wasn’t planning to leave before eleven.”

“A lie-in and a boat trip,” Bucky titled his head to smile at Steve. “You sure know how to spoil a fella.” The words were drawled with a confidence that promptly vanished as Bucky second guessed what he’d said. His eyes widened and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed a lump in his throat.

For the first time that evening an awkward tension cut through the quiet calm, and suddenly the lingering unease from their almost-kiss was all Steve could think of. God, he wished he hadn’t shut Bucky down like that, but Steve hadn’t been ready. He still wasn’t ready; wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for someone like Bucky – who could make him feel so much in such a short space of time. Bucky, who’d seen Steve be vulnerable, and emotionally raw, and had still wanted to kiss him.

Not yet.

Steve willed Bucky to understand that he wanted him. By god, he’d wanted few things more in his life, but Steve was scared of the weight of his feelings, and scared of giving into them so soon; scared of what it all might mean.

Soon, just not yet.

They weren’t half as drunk as they had been the night before, so there was nothing to mask the awkwardness of getting ready for bed. Bucky let Steve use the bathroom first, and afterwards Steve peeled back the covers from his side of the bed, sitting down stiffly and remembering to breathe nice and slow. He plugged his phone on charge, triple checking that it was actually charging this time, and set an alarm for 9am. He ignored the work emails piling up in his inbox (47 unread), but accidentally opened up the call log, spotting the record of his phone call his Peggy from earlier and grimacing.

“You okay?” Bucky hovered in the doorway of the bathroom, his mouth downturned in concern.

“Yeah.” Steve locked his phone and threw it on the bedside table, twisting to lie on the bed with a huff.

“I can take the sofa if you’d prefer?” Bucky asked, misreading Steve’s annoyance.

“No, no. No. It’s not that it’s…nothing.”

“If you’re sure.” Bucky flicked off the bathroom light and dropped his wash kit back in his suitcase.

Steve felt the mattress dip as Bucky climbed into bed beside him. Bucky tossed and turned for a moment, rustling the covers as he got comfy, before he reached up to turn out the beside side light and the room was plunged into darkness.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and tried to find the peace he’d worked so hard for all afternoon, but the ache was lodged back in his chest. “It’s Peggy.” He muttered, unable to keep it bottled in anymore.

“Oh. What did she want?” Bucky’s voice was muffled against the pillow.

“She’s started seeing someone.”

The bed rocked as Bucky bolted upright. Steve curled in on himself even more unable to face Bucky.

“What? Already? Isn’t that a bit fucking soon?” he gasped, before scrambling to apologise. “Sorry – I just mean…shit.”

“Apparently she’s been in love with him for the past two years,” Steve couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“Fucking hell. That’s, that’s,” words failed Bucky. “I’m sorry, Steve.”

“Me too.” Steve’s resolve finally broke and the tears he’d been holding back all afternoon, the tears he promised himself wouldn’t cry, threatened to burst forth. “I must be the biggest idiot in the world not to have seen it.”

“No, hey, no.” Bucky shuffled to cross the space between them and placed a hand on Steve’s arm.

It was the last straw, Steve was powerless in the face of Bucky’s consolation and he began to cry fat, thick tears. “I’m sorry,” Steve sniffed.

“Don’t be. I’d be crying too if it were me.” Bucky began to rub soothing circles into Steve’s arm. “And you’re not an idiot.” He settled himself behind Steve, leaving a narrow wedge of space between them, keeping his hand tracing a pattern into Steve’s skin. “Is this okay?”

Steve trembled with his tears. He didn’t know how to ask for more, so he nodded, then mumbled a soft, “yes.” He brought his hand up to cover Bucky’s and held it tight.

Thankfully Bucky seemed to be able to read Steve’s mind. He shuffled closer until he was pressed up against Steve’s back. “You’re gonna be okay,” Bucky told him softly, but with assurance. He lingered for a moment, cuddling up to Steve, holding him and stopping him from falling completely apart. “Goodnight, Steve,” he gave Steve’s hand a squeeze and went to move away, but Steve held firm, this time it was his turn to ask Bucky to stay.

“Stay, please?” His voice sounded a little helpless and pathetic, belying the courage it had taken to ask.

“Okay.” Bucky complied, settling back against Steve and tucking his head into the nape of Steve’s neck.

“Thank you.”

Bucky hummed in reply.

There was so much more that Steve wanted to say, but he couldn’t find the words.

“Goodnight, Bucky.”

“G’night.” Bucky said again, already sounding half-asleep.  

The beat of Bucky’s heart reverberated through Steve’s back. It drummed slow and steady compared to the nervous flutter of Steve’s own heart. He tried to match his breathing to Bucky’s and tried to ground himself against Bucky’s warm weight. Feeling sleep tug gently at the corners of his mind, Steve let his eyes drift shut. Eventually his breathing slowed and his heart rate evened out as he drifted off; feeling safe and reassured as he fell asleep in Bucky’s arms.