The summer months were hard on Steve. Some days, the heat was so unbearable all he could do was shuffle around the apartment he shared with Bucky in an undershirt and boxers, and sprawl on the coolest surface he could find. This last June he’d just lost another job, the high temperatures forcing his lungs just a bit too far for manual labour that he already struggled with, until one day he collapsed at work and was fired pretty much immediately. A couple of weeks into July, Steve had had a few sign-painting jobs and advertisement commissions, but the work was so few and far between that he spent most of his time puttering around their shoebox apartment. It was a bit pathetic really; Bucky toiled long shifts down at the docks six days a week, coming home exhausted every evening, covered in muck and grease. Meanwhile, Steve might cook and tidy up a bit around the place, but recently he seemed to be spending most of his time sketching or reading, and he was starting to go a bit stir-crazy.
“Steve, come on pal. I know-“
“Buck,” Steve had interjected after Bucky had come home last week to find him exhausted and furious after another day’s failed job searching in the sticky New York heat. The man at the factory had actually laughed in his face this time, after he’d slogged all the way across town to ask after vacancies.
“-come on, I know it drives you mad. But after last month –“
“Buck, seriously, stop it,”
“No Steve, let me finish,” Bucky said sharply, his eyebrows furrowing, “I know you hate this, feeling like a little kid again. You gotta know I know that. But money’s all right right now, we can manage. Your health is more important to me than getting to go dancing real often, or a new pair of shoes,” Bucky finished, his eyes widening as he’d pleaded with Steve.
Steve, caught up in Bucky’s sincerity, had shut up after that, no rebuttal coming to his mind, settling on what he had hoped was a convincing-enough glare. Bucky had clapped him on the shoulder and walked off to their room to get changed, whilst Steve was left with the lingering sensations of both annoyance and the feeling of Bucky’s warm palm against his skin.
Steve had another hour until Bucky was home, and was trying, failingly, to cool down on the fire escape. His sketchbook was propped against his spindly knees, his pencil between his teeth as he frowned over the figure that was taking shape on the paper. He had long ago given up on trying to pretend he was drawing anyone else than his best friend. Bucky’s smiles filled the pages, studies of his lean figure broken up by disembodied hands Steve knew better than his own and big doe eyes.
Steve had several sketchbooks that he would leave dotted around their apartment, but this one he kept hidden. God, he was so far gone it wasn’t funny, but even in his ridiculous, fantasy-addled brain, he still knew the fallout from Bucky’s finding out would ruin everything between them. He didn’t think he’d get beaten to a bloody pulp for being a fairy, because he knew how kind Bucky was in spite of all of Steve’s other flaws. No, Steve was more worried Bucky would be a gentleman about it, be all ‘Oh Stevie I didn’t know you felt like that’ and then ‘I’m sure flattered pal’ and then ‘Hey Steve I think it’s about time I find a place of my own’ and eventually pull out of Steve’s live completely and leave him with nothing at all. Steve would rather endure the agony of his hopeless love than never to feel any of it at all. Steve snorted to himself.
The irony was, if Bucky heard how he was making himself suffer like this about anything else, he’d smack Steve ‘round the ear for being such an idiot.
Trying to distract himself from the surfacing ache in his gut, Steve lost himself in his drawings, and didn’t notice the time until he heard the tell-tale sound of Bucky’s key scraping in the lock. Without his permission, a grin spilled onto Steve’s face, and he felt a fierce blush follow it. He really didn’t need to greet his best friend at the door smiling like a headcase solely at his presence.
Picking himself up off the fire escape, he clambered awkwardly back in through the window to be faced with a rather sweaty Bucky in a tank top. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he gulped down a glass of water, and Steve found himself flushing for another reason. Christ, was Bucky fucking gorgeous.
“Hey Stevie,” Bucky said, grinning as he finished his water. “How was your day?”
“Hot,” Steve replied, smiling back at him, trying to pretend his brain wasn’t screaming at the way his friend’s arms were just – just there. Steve swayed to the side slightly.
Often, Steve was embarrassed by the way he felt he should be jealous of Bucky and his lean, handsome physique, when instead he was mostly only really jealous of all the dames Bucky stepped out with. They got to dance with him, get all up close and personal, and to be the object of Bucky’s affections for the night. Sometimes, Steve wanted nothing more.
The sound of Bucky’s chuckling brought Steve’s despairing brain back to earth.
“So anyways Stevie,” Bucky continued as he walked to the couch and slumped down, sighing, “I was thinking we ain’t been out for a while, what do you reckon we go out and have some fun tonight, huh?” Bucky looked up at him hopefully as he finished his question.
Steve didn’t love going out to bars where Bucky would flirt all night long and rope him into dancing with some stranger, but when he was faced with the chance to spend the evening with his best friend or to sit alone in their sweaty apartment thinking about how hopeless he was, it wasn’t much of a choice. Especially when Bucky turned those big doe eyes on him.
“Sure, Buck,” Steve replied, fondness helplessly slipping into his voice.
The hum of the sounds around him in the bar was a gentle background music to Steve as he sipped his third beer. He was settled at a table in the corner, where opposite him Bucky had sat for a while before his attention had been caught by a sweet young dame with perfectly curled blonde hair. He’d smirked rakishly at Steve and some of the guys sitting nearby, and stood to go and talk to the girl.
Steve sighed gently, watching where Bucky was now twirling the same girl around the dancefloor. Unlike Steve, he moved so gracefully, despite the fact he’d had a good few more drinks than Steve. His face and neck were flushed red, his hair curling over his forehead where normally it was so perfect. He was so beautiful.
Sighing again, Steve pulled himself out of his wistful thoughts and finished his drink just as the song ended. He watched as Bucky brought the girl’s hand up to his lips and gently kissed it. Cherry red blush swept across her delicate skin, and she giggled as Bucky said something imperceptible to Steve through the noise of the bar. Bucky turned then, making his way back towards the corner, a grin plastered across his face that was still slightly red from dancing. It changed to a gentler smile as he sat back down opposite Steve.
“Looks like you had a good time there, Buck,” Steve greeted him, “Not gonna ask her for another dance or two?” Bucky wiped his face with his sleeve and unbuttoned his top button. Steve carefully looked at his friend’s face.
“Nah Stevie, she was sweet and all but I’m getting a little tired. How do you feel about heading out?”
Steve was a bit puzzled at that, as usually they’d stay out a bit longer. Maybe Bucky felt bad for him, or he had had a few too many and with the heat felt a bit queasy. Saying nothing, Steve nodded, and they made their way out onto the street.
The oppressive heat had faded since night had properly fallen, and the still, cool air was a welcome contrast to the sticky, cloying days they’d been having. They walked in companionable silence, their footsteps echoing across in the empty street. Steve glanced up at his friend, reflecting on the evening they’d had. Despite knowing he could never have the thing he wanted most, Steve cherished nights like these dearly. He knew that this was the most he was ever going to get, and he treasured the scraps he was thrown. An arm around the shoulders, a fond smile, an evening out dancing where he could watch the man he adored being happy. This was enough, he told himself.
He was lucky. One day, terrifyingly soon, Bucky would find a girl with perfect hair and a perfect smile and they get married and have perfect babies and Steve would have nothing other than his memories. He had this. It was more than enough. Glancing up at Bucky again, Steve noticed a furrow in his brow that hadn’t been there earlier.
“Hey man, not thinking too hard are ya?” Steve asked, his joke veiling this true concern. Bucky looked up to meet his gaze, the seriousness mostly fading as he smiled at Steve.
“I’m fine, pal, just tired is all,” Bucky replied, repeating his earlier claim.
“Come on, Buck, since when do you tire that easily? There a dame on your mind or something?” Steve knew he was pushing it, but didn’t buy his friend’s excuse. He could tell there was something up. Bucky sighed wearily.
“Seriously, Steve,” he pleaded, “I’m fine.” Bucky smiled again at him, a little forcefully, but Steve left it for the rest of their walk home. He didn’t want to add to his friend’s upset by being annoying if there really was something eating at him. If Bucky was still sore in the morning, he’d try to get to the bottom of it then, he resolved.
Once they got back to their apartment, Bucky sat down on the couch with a heavy sigh, whilst the smaller man went to get a glass of water amid the tense quiet. Steve really was worried now. Normally a night out made cheered Bucky up if he’d been in a mood, but tonight was a polar opposite. He’d gone from cheerful and smiling when he’d got in from work to downright miserable now. Steve stared at Bucky from across the small room, and was about to break his earlier resolve about not bothering his friend when Bucky broke the silence.
“Steve, I—” he started, and broke off again. Steve searched his face for any hint to the cause of this apprehension in his voice, but saw only uncertainty and something he couldn’t place.
“Steve, I’ve got to tell you something. I promised myself I’d tell you, and you’re going to hate me, but I’ve got to say it.”
Oh fuck. Oh shit. He knew. Somehow, Bucky knew how Steve felt. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Bucky must have found his sketches, or seen the way he responded to his friend’s innocent touches, or just seen the way Steve’s eyes lingered. Oh shit, Bucky was going to tell Steve he knew what a pervert he was, that he knew how he felt about his best friend. This was it, Bucky was going to sock him in the jaw for being such a creep and leave him forever, and Steve knew which punishment was worse, by a mile. And from the way Bucky was saying it, he was the one that sounded apologetic, like he was sorry for Steve for how pathetic he was.
Bucky must have seen how Steve was reacting, because he hurriedly continued, “No, Steve, please just listen to what I have to say, pal, please.”
And Steve never could resist him. Not when he was seven and asking Steve to come out and play, not when he was fourteen and persuading Steve to skip school and go to Coney Island, not when he was twenty-one and about to shatter Steve’s life into a million pieces.
Steve walked over to the couch on shaky legs and sat down next to Bucky, who continued.
“Steve, Stevie, please don’t be mad, but I just gotta tell you this. It’s been so long, and I—” he tried, trailing off again. Stunned by Bucky’s display of emotion and his own terror, Steve wordlessly let Bucky continue.
“I’m in love with you.” The confession seemed to reverberate around their tiny room, leaving Steve’s ears ringing.
“What,” Steve said plainly, devoid of any emotion. He must have misheard, or drunk more than he’d thought.
“Stevie, I’m in love with you. I have been for years. I thought I could just ignore it, just be a good friend to you, but it’s not fair- it’s not fair on you, and I’m sorry.” Bucky said plainly. Steve couldn’t move, too caught up in the white noise in his brain, his mouth fallen open and his eyes wide, as Bucky continued.
“Tonight, I just…” he paused, “I tried so hard to do right, Steve, but I was dancing with that dame, Stevie, that gorgeous dame, but all I could think about was you.” There was a long pause. Bucky shifted, as if to start to move away or to say something else, but Steve interrupted as his brain finally got itself together.
“Bucky. Shit. Bucky,” he began, searching for his balance after Bucky had comprehensively flipped everything he thought was certain completely and utterly upside-down. He wanted to ask if this was some kind of sick joke, but the fear in Bucky’s face had faded to only a sad resignation and he just knew that Bucky was telling him the truth. And if he weren’t, if every single thing Steve though he knew about the person he knew and loved most in the world turned out to be wrong, what did he have left to lose?
“My God, Buck,” he tried again, feeling his mouth start to turn up at the corners at the surreal place he found himself in, “God, I love you so much. I’m so in love with you, too, it’s ridiculous.”
The wariness on Bucky’s face slowly began to slip, a brave smile starting to carefully take its place.
“Stevie,” he tried, his voice weak, “Stevie, you gotta be kidding me.”
Steve shook his head, making himself dizzy between the beer and how strongly he denied it.
“I’ve been in love with you for years, jerk,” he whispered, barely audibly, not wanting to break anything in the moment. It all seemed so fragile, so precious. This was everything he’d ever dreamed of. Bucky broke into a full smile, his beautiful face bright with joy.
“I’ve loved you since I knew how, Stevie,” he responded, equally gently.
In the darkness of their apartment, the sodium streetlight glow casting a pale glow over Bucky’s face, Steve felt something inside him finally come loose. As slowly as he could, telegraphing his every movement in case, somehow, he’d made some mistake, he leaned towards Bucky’s warm body, the other man mirroring him. They held each other tightly, and Steve never wanted to let go. He was so warm. He was so beautiful. He was everything he’d ever wanted. He was here.
Finally moving to close the little remaining distance, Steve tilted his head up the final few inches and found himself kissing Bucky. It was even more magical than he’d ever imagined, all thoughts of terror of being wrong or broken whisked away by the soft warmth of Bucky’s lips and the gentle hand cradling the back of his head.
After what seemed like an eternity, despite it being only a dry, chaste kiss, they pulled apart. Steve burrowed his face into the warmth of Bucky’s neck, and they sat quietly, basking in each other’s adoration.
“I really can’t believe it,” Steve started, Bucky responding with a snort.
“Me neither, Stevie, me neither.”
“You really want me?” he asked.
Bucky suddenly shifted and pulled Steve into his lap with only a small yelp. He carefully brushed a lock of Steve’s hair, loose from the night’s activity, off his forehead, only to rest his own against it.
“Sweetheart,” he implored, the name sending another shiver through Steve, “I want you more than anything.”
Tears welled in Steve’s eyes as they held each other close. He felt like someone had unhooked a great weight from him, and that he might just drift away. But Bucky had him, he knew.