Fury asks him, when the time comes to bring Bucky home, “Captain Rogers, how do you know this isn't just the Winter Soldier playing the long game?”
“With all due respect, Director Fury, if there's anything I know in this world, it's Bucky Barnes.”
Steve knows Bucky like his own skin, but the man is still full of surprises. The first night Bucky falls asleep in the big, strong arms of his newly-minted boyfriend—the word is so (too) completely ordinary, but strange and exotic and wonderful on Steve's tongue—he whispers, already well-into the process of drifting off.“I'd forgotten I could even feel this safe.”
Steve knows when the long shadow that the Winter Soldier casts over the life they're trying to build together starts to recede. Bucky's mannerisms start becoming more familiar. Steve is in love either way, but this Bucky's spine lacks military rigidness; he's more likely to fling a companionable arm around someone's shoulders. His smoke breaks are invitations instead of three minutes of stony-faced silence.
They're out on the balcony, and the smoke from Bucky's cigarette, held between metal fingers, curls up, up towards the light. Bucky's free hand reaches towards his sternum, curling around the empty fall of space where flat, engraved metal used to lie.
Steve files away that little gesture in the corner of his brain reserved for Bucky, somewhere next to that spot in the small of his back that makes him hum in quiet contentment when Steve puts his hand there, and exactly how Steve needs to touch his shoulder when Bucky wakes up from a nightmare (carefully, at first, and not right away). He twines their fingers together, so that Bucky's hand has somewhere to go, and watches the smoke.
Bucky smiles at him, blinding even in the dim patio light, and blows rings, showing off.
They're at the Brooklyn apartment (Steve bought it, because sometimes they need to be alone and away from the tower, and because back-pay and his meager savings well-invested had amounted to far more money than he'd known what to with). A late dinner's almost done in the oven, and filling their little home with its rich, savory smell—it's Bucky's night to cook and he did something with the eggplants from the rooftop garden.
Their plot up there is entirely his doing—Bucky's into the new-Brooklyn culture of their building—though Steve comes with him to help water plants. Half the time they just wind up sharing slow, lazy kisses in the sun until someone else comes up to the garden. For the record, Bucky is terribly amused by the polite little sounds people make when they've caught Captain America making out with his boyfriend on the roof of their building and are trying to alert him of their presence. Steve, on the other hand, is highly embarrassed. (They still haven't had sex on the roof, regardless of how many times Bucky's tried for it. It's not that Steve isn't tempted, but there's kids in the building).
Bucky's in the kitchen, mixing up a side salad and peeking into the oven to make sure the cheese on top of the dish doesn't burn, and Steve's on the couch, intent on the TV.
“Hey, they're announcing the result of the vote, Buck!” He calls into the next room.
Bucky rushes over and, contemplating the cushions of their plush couch, sits himself down on Steve's lap instead, artful in the way he manages to achieve maximum physical contact without compromising Steve's view of the television. Steve laughs and wraps his arms around Bucky's waist. When gay marriage is pronounced legal in New York state, they kiss, and it's full of possibilities. They don't have plans, but it's nice to have options.
Bucky's giddy in spite of himself. “Thank fuck it passed—those ads you were in would have been really embarrassing if it hadn't.”
“Shut up,” Steve says, hiding his face in Bucky's shoulder, “You're just jealous because you weren't on a billboard.”
“Oh yeah. Coulda been me up there, shirtless and holding a sign, with your symbol painted on my bare chest.” (Bucky smirks, but kisses his ear). “I'm real torn up about it.”
“It got a lot of attention, which was necessary to generate letter...or I guess e-mail-writing campaigns and get people calling their state senators and representatives.”
“I know, I know,” Bucky says, “who's gonna tell Captain America, Avenger and war-hero extraordinaire, that he can't marry his 'unidentified mystery boyfriend?' Gotta put yourself out there, for the cause.” He smirks. “Even if it's most of you being put out there.”
Steve looks up, smile wicked. “Are you jealous of my unidentified mystery boyfriend? Cheer up, Buck, the tabloids have been giving it their all trying to figure out who you are. They just keep being stumped by the fact that you were KIA seventy years ago.” Steve's face does that thing where it goes entirely, instantly sincere. “We can go public about you being you whenever you want. It's gonna be a hell of a story, though. Gotta make sure you're ready to deal with being hounded by the press.” He goes in for a quick kiss.
Bucky shakes his head. “I think I'm gonna let 'em run a few more 'Captain America's Lost Love? Unidentified Mystery Boyfriend bears an uncanny resemblance to fallen Howling Commando Bucky Barnes! See the exclusive pictures and read their story!' articles before we come clean.”
“Those stories are pretty good, though I'm not entirely sure where they keep getting new-old pictures of us, or who their sources are for some of that info...Should I ask Fury to have someone check that out?” Steve wonders, a perplexed little furrow in his brow.
Bucky snuggles in a little closer. “Nah, I think the pictures are mostly just different stills from the old footage, and the stories are mostly just creative takes on the stuff people already know about you. Mmm, I am so comfortable right now. We're never getting up.”
“Okay,” Steve says, straight-faced, “Though I reserve the right to carry you out of here when the stuff in the oven catches the apartment on fire.”
“Shit! The food!” Bucky sprints over to the kitchen, where he pulls his concoction out of the oven—a little crispier around the edges than he'd planned, but unburned.
They're at the table, and in moments Steve is halfway through a super-soldier-sized portion of dinner. “I knew there was a reason I decided to shack up with you, Barnes,” Steve says, between shoveling fork-fulls of food into his mouth. “Never expected it would be the cooking, though.”
“You're a romantic, Rogers.” Bucky shoots back. He still takes his dinner Russian-style—that is to say, accompanied with shots of vodka instead of a glass of wine or a bottle of beer (Steve is careful to never point them out, these little things that aren't the same as before). He stops every once in a while to fill up his shot glass, one of the souvenirs Natasha sometimes sends them while she's out on mission.
“You love it,” Steve tells him, and it should be impossible, but his plate is already clean.
Bucky looks at Steve like he's some rare, otherworldly treasure, and then chases the lovelorn look out of his eyes. “Whatever gave you that idea, pal?” Bucky says, grinning.
The plates are all cleared, and they're back on the couch, once more basking in the glow of the television. Steve's got an arm around Bucky, and Bucky's got his head on Steve's shoulder; they're curled up in their little corner of domestic bliss.
“I'm gonna have to make you let me up one more time,” Steve says, kissing his hair, and pulling away.
Bucky groans. “You're gonna have a hell of a time makin' that up to me,” he shoots back, watching Steve's face for the answering smirk. He's got a mania for this, making Steve smile.
“I've got my methods,” he says, darting into the bedroom.
(Steve comes back a moment later, with a little, gift-wrapped box). “I got you a present!”
In an unexpected twist, Bucky blushes. “Steve, you ain't gotta do anything like that. I ain't some dame you gotta go courting with.”
“I want to,” Steve shrugs, tossing him the box. “Open it up!”
“Is this Captain America wrapping paper?” Bucky says, snickering.
Steve makes a face. “Pepper wrapped it for me. Open it!”
Bucky tears at the paper. “Having Ms. Potts shop for me, eh?”
“I picked it myself!” Steve protests, “Pepper just helped get it made, and Tony, I guess.” He can't keep the giddy anticipation out of his eyes.
“Okay, okay! I'm opening it!” Bucky says, entirely too amused by Steve's eagerness. He opens up the box, and there's no more laughing. Bucky is quiet and still as his fingers brush cool metal.
Steve swallows, overcome at seeing Bucky so overcome. “You lost your old ones, so I figured...”
“Steve, this is amazing,” Bucky says, pulling the new set of dog tags out of the box and holding them up to the light. “Holy shit, holy shit. One of these is yours.”
“Yeah. I wanted one of yours, so I traded 'em. We get matching sets this way. Figured you wouldn't mind,” Steve says, grinning.
“Mind? Fuck, Steve, we match?” Bucky stands up and hauls Steve in for a kiss (he uses the metal arm, so he needs just the one), keeping the dog tags cradled to his chest between them. “Shit, I'm gonna fuck these up, Steve. I gotta put 'em somewhere they'll be safe.”
“They're dog tags, Buck, I'd rather you, ya know, wear 'em,” Steve says. “They're made out of the same stuff as the Iron Man suits, which I guess makes them pretty hard to destroy.”
“Fuck, Steve, fuck,” Bucky says, putting the dog tags around his neck, “You asshole—can't even believe you did something like this. 'M all fucked up now, and stop looking so goddamn smug, if you wasn't so damn...” He kisses Steve again, hard. “I love you.”
Steve just beams at him like some damn beacon of goodness, all of the goodness in Bucky's life, and it's unfair because that's exactly what Steve is, and he's just standing there looking at Bucky like he's the one who hung up the moon, not to mention the sun and the stars. “Love you, too, Buck.”
Bucky's eyes go very wide. “Put yours on. You put yours on right this instant, Rogers.”
Steve obliges, he's wont to do, where Bucky's concerned—besides, he wants to wear them, wants both their names just a sliver away from his heart. (They don't stay in the living room long, after that).
Steve calls Pepper to thank her for her help again, the next afternoon. Bucky snatches the phone away a minute into the conversation.
“James!” Pepper says—she knows enough about the likes of Bucky to recognize what's happened with the cell. “I hear you liked your present?”
“Please, ma'am, it's Bucky, and you have...no idea.”
“Alright—Bucky, but only if you promise never to call me ma'am again.” She says, her smile audible.
“Fair deal. Just, thanks for helpin' us out, and all.” Bucky tells her.
“You know, I've got your wedding most of the way planned already,” Pepper says. “Something I pulled together in the spare time I don't have—don't you dare ask why. Very tasteful, you'll both be in uniform, of course. I've got the vendors holding a few different dates. You think having Captain America's wedding on the Fourth of July would be a bit much? Or just the right amount?”
“Feel free to lie to yourself another few months, but I'll be needing you to give me a definite answer on the date before too long,” Pepper tells him. “Goodbye, Bucky, I'm glad you liked your present. Give Steve a kiss for me.”
Bucky looks at Steve's phone, smiling. “Pepper wanted me to give you this,” he says, giving Steve a quick peck on the lips, which Steve winds up drawing into a proper kiss.
“I see she's got you off of calling her 'ma'am,” Steve says, taking back the phone and then taking Bucky's hand. “She did the exact same thing with me. What'd you guys talk about?”
“Nothing much,” Bucky looks down at their entwined fingers, and then at the dog tags around Steve's neck, identical to the ones around his own. “I mean, I think you'll find out soon.”