Bucky has a mission, one that came about long before the Winter Soldier existed. He's had this mission since somewhere round about ‘34, as well as he can remember. (Which is a lot better, nowadays.)
It's always been pretty important, too. Not quite as important as stop that fucking idiot from busting his nose again, honestly, how much more can he take, but a bit more important than pick up that new hair ribbon for Becca, though she would probably protest at the thought.
This mission is almost as difficult as protecting Steve’s nose from his sense of righteousness. At first, he blames Steve for his lack of success.
“Man, c’mon.” Bucky complains, pulling up the grass underneath his fingers absentmindedly. “You know all its gonna take is for you to get out there a little bit, just a few hours. You can't expect them to know you exist if you never, you know, do shit.”
Steve looks up from where he's bent over his drawing. The sketchbook is resting in his lap. The pages are all mostly filled in, but Steve keeps finding little blank spots to add a new drawing. Bucky knows neither of them can afford a new one right now, so he must be trying to make it last.
Steve raises an eyebrow at Bucky. “No.”
Bucky rolls his eyes, but doesn't feel deterred. “No” is practically Steve's favourite word, anyway. He could deal with it being ignored once in awhile.
“Steve.” He says, instead. “It'll be fun, you know that. It doesn't even have to be that often. Just a few dates, that's all I'm asking.”
Steve looks back down at his sketchbook, and picks up his pencil. “Well, I mean, if you put it like that…”
Bucky can smell the bullshit a mile off, but he decides to play ball. “Yeah?” He says hopefully.
Steve doesn't even look at him. “Yeah, absolutely not.”
“Steveee,” Bucky groans, lying back on the grass and throwing an arm up to shield his eyes from the sun. Also for the dramatic aspect, but still. “You're killing me. I'm dying, painfully.” He tilts his head just enough to catch a glimpse of Steve hiding his grin.
Steve just shakes his head at Bucky's suffering. Bucky rolls his eyes again, mostly for his own sake as his eyes are still partially covered.
He'll let it drop for now. They're not even finished school for another two years, Steve can have a bit more time.
A few years later, when he's working full time and Steve’s in college for art, he starts pestering Steve more. It's getting almost pitiful now, really. Steve isn't even making any effort to take a dame out, it feels like Bucky has to drag him everywhere. So that's what he does, repeatedly. He does all the asking, carries most of the conversation, figuring that that's the problem, Steve's just shy. Everyone's noticed that Steve gets ridiculously tongue tied around ladies, especially the said girl he's supposed to be entertaining. Bucky knows he's hilarious, though, he just needs to relax.
It's only a few months later that is hits him. It's not Steve that's the problem, not completely anyway. It's often the girls.
“It's not that he did anything, really. He's a sweetheart.” Marianne assures him. Bucky doesn't really have any idea where this came from, honestly. He thought last night's date went swell. Marianne had promised to bring her friend, Bucky had brought Steve. He'd even picked the cinema for the date, so Steve wouldn't have to embarrass himself dancing.
“He's just, you know,” Marianne said, making that face that conveys you obviously know what I'm talking about, when Bucky really, really didn't.
She must have noticed that in his expression, because she sighed. “Look, he's a real gentleman, alright? Really sweet. But he's just not,” she shrugs a little, “a girl's first choice, you know?”
Bucky scoffs because he's Steve, he's great, and then he narrows his eyes when he sees she's serious.
Then, that's when he realizes, it's not completely Steve’s fault. These girls are too... stuck up or something, to realize how great he is. They're not looking past the fact that, ok, he's a little on the short side, and yes he's not exactly well-to-do, and sure, Bucky knows some people hate the Irish for no damn reason, but you can't even really tell his parents were immigrants, until he swears in Gaelic, ok that's a bit of a giveaway, and-
Ok, Bucky thinks as he trudges home. He knows the problem now, he just needs to adapt. Instead of getting Steve to see as many girls as possible, he gonna make sure he finds the right girls.
And that goes well, for a while. It's hard at first, but he keeps trying, keeps dragging Steve out, because dammit, his friend will not end up alone if he has anything to say about it. He starts getting a feel for it, finding girls who will like Steve. They appreciate him for his art, and for his fairness, they find his damn stubbornness endearing. Bucky's pretty proud, and he's sure that's soon enough Steve will actually find someone.
But Steve, in classic, aggravating Steve style, doesn't. And it just drives Bucky crazy.
“Steve! Man,” he says, following Steve into their apartment. “What was wrong with her? Seriously?” He shuts the door rather forcefully.
Steve looks at him, frowning slightly as he starts undoing his tie. “Huh? Nothing, don't be rude.”
“Rude?” Bucky says, aghast. “Me? You're the one who won't give any of them the time of day. She liked you, Steve, why the fuck wouldn't you even kiss her?”
Steve just rolls his eyes, and turns away to hang up his jacket.
Bucky continues, trying to make him angry. He hates fighting with him, but that's the surest way to get Steve to talk. He knows that (and Steve, fortunately, hasn't figured that out yet.)
“You're impossible.” Bucky huffs. “Impossible to please. What was wrong with this one? She step on your toes? You've done that often enough, I think you can manage to forgive her just this once.” He says, his voice dripping in sarcasm.
Steve just rolls his eyes. “Oh, shut the hell up. You know it isn't that.”
“Apparently I don't, seeing as I can't find the problem here! Just can't find anyone good enough for you, can I?”
“Not every goddamn thing is about you!” Steve yells, whirling around to face him.
“Then what the fuck is it? Wait, let me guess,” Bucky continues sourly. “She just wasn't your type. Adorable, sweet, thinks you're brilliant but no, that isn't your type.”
Steve glares at him. “Sure, let's go with that, not my type! Drop it.”
“I said drop it!” He shouts, still glaring. “It's none of your damn business.”
“It is my damn business!” Bucky says angrily. “What's wrong with these girls, Steve? I'm just tryna help you and you're making it so goddamn difficult-”
“There's nothing fucking wrong with them, I'm just not interested!” Steve yells, and he looks so angry Bucky's almost regretting starting this, but he's to pissed himself to care anymore.
“You're not interested? You're not interested in any of the girls in New York! What do you want me to do, find a nice pretty guy for you to fuck, huh? Girls just aren't good enough?”
“Why the fuck not!” Steve yells. “You're so eager to find me a girl, but I'm telling you you fucking can't!”
“I fucking swear, Ste-” then he takes in Steve's face, shocked, eyes wide, and then he thinks about what he just said, and-
“Oh my god,” Bucky says, barely above a whisper.
“No!” Steve continues shouting. “Shut the fuck up!” He starts backing up, and then seems to think better of it and stands his ground. “Shut the fuck up, Barnes, I didn't say a damn thing!”
Bucky stands there, frozen. Steve glares at him, hands balled into fists. “I didn't say a damn thing.” he repeats, quieter, but his voice is shaking.
“Steve-” Steve isn't talking over him, this is Bucky's chance to say something, to set this whole fucked up mess straight, but- he has no idea what to say. “It's not…”
“It is.” Steve hisses, and that doesn't even make sense. “You wanna hear it, fine. I like fellas, just like I like gals. I don't give a fuck what you think, but if you're gonna punch me, let's fucking ge-”
That pushed Bucky into speaking. “Woah, woah, Steve. Stevie. I ain't punching you, what the hell?”
Steve sneers at him “-know you want to, c’mon!” He tilts his head back, on an angle, as if presenting his jaw. “What, don't you wanna take a swing at the fuckin-”
“Stop tryna provoke me, dammit!” Bucky yells, taking a step forward. Steve raised his fist, to - Bucky's not gonna think about that - but Bucky catches around his wrist and holds him there.
Steve’s eyes fall to his wrist, but Bucky keeps looking at his face. Eventually, Steve's eyes flicker back to his. He's breathing heavily, and his eyes are filled with anger, but behind it there's fear-
“I ain't gonna punch you,” Bucky says again, voice low. “I don't care about any of this shit. You know I've never been as religious as you.” Steve looks ready to punch him all over again, though Bucky's not sure why this time. “You… you really like fellas?” He let's the curiosity creep into his voice, because well, it's Steve.
Steve’s eyes are roaming all over the room, not focusing on any one thing for more than a few seconds, but he isn't trying to loosen the grip on his wrist. “I, yeah.” He says, so quietly. “I do.”
Neither of them say anything for a moment. Eventually, Bucky releases his hold on Steve's wrist.
“Since when?” He's got a million thoughts rushing through his mind, but this is the first to make it past his lips. When Steve doesn't answer, he starts speaking again. “Steve…”
“Since we were kids, I don't know, somewhere around the start of high school,” Steve says suddenly, all in a rush. “Bucky, you gotta believe me,” he reaches up and grabs Bucky's shoulder, and then withdraws his hand quickly, as if scalded by the touch. He continues, panic evident in his tone. “I didn't, you were never the…”
“Hey,” Bucky says, in as much of a soothing manner as he can muster. “I ain't accusing you of nothing, just settle down for a second.”
He understands what he's saying though, I didn't want you, you were never the one I was looking at, you don't need to worry, we can continue the way we did.
Bucky hates himself a bit for it, but at that moment it stings. He can't even explain why, he knows he would have freaked out if Steve had admitted to begin… being attracted to him. But Steve, so eager to reassure him that he isn't interested in Bucky, it just stings.
“Are you,” He starts, not even sure what he's asking until it's too late to take it back. “You got your eye on a specific guy?”
Steve's face goes through a collection of expressions before finally settling into something… sad, maybe. “Buck,” his voice is pleading. “I can't, you know I can't.”
“Right.” Bucky says, and suddenly he feels like he's drowning, and it's all hitting him, how much this means. He takes a step back, and then another. “Right, it's none of my business.” He looks down at himself, and finds that he's still dressed to go out. “I'm gonna-” he gestures sloppily at the door behind him, and turns to leave. He catches one last glance of Steve standing there in the middle of the kitchen, looking terrified and angry and just a little bit helpless, but he walks out the door and closes it behind him.
He heads down the stairs blindly, the wind nipping at his skin. It's cold, but he doesn't have anywhere to go besides home, and Steve's there.
He can't go home to Steve, not straight away. It's just…. God, Steve? Queer? Bucky can't even wrap his mind around it, it's Steve. It's not like Steve's an angel, always getting in fights and too damn stubborn for his own good, but he's always done what he believes is right.
Bucky looks around, briefly, and starts down the street. He's heading toward the docks, and he knows it'll be colder there, but he needs the peace of the rhythmic lapping of the water. He doesn't know how long he walks for, trying to think of anything but what had just happened, but his thoughts keep coming back to Steve.
Steve is a queer. Steve likes fellas. Steve wants to fuck men, or… maybe he wants them to fu-
Bucky shakes his head as if to get rid of the thought, and starts walking faster. It's… it's Steve, alright? Bucky doesn't give a fuck, really he doesn't, it's not his business anyway. Except that his mind keeps coming back to I didn't want you, never. Bucky wants to kick himself for it, for god's sake, Steve just told him he's queer and all Bucky can think is why not me?
Fuck, Bucky caused this whole thing. Obviously he didn't cause Steve to like guys (I didn't want you) but he pushed Steve into fighting with him, into getting so angry he wasn't even thinking about what he was saying. Dammit, he's been dragging Steve out on those dates for years. He's known him almost their entire lives, what kind of fucking friend is he that he didn't know.
What kind of friend is he now? He pushed Steve into this and then he left him. The damn idiot is always so dramatic, knowing him, he probably thinks Bucky's leaving for good or something.
With that thought in mind, Bucky turns around sharply. He has to go home, back to Steve, and then they can get started on figuring out what to do.
It feels like forever, the walk home, as he's imagining all the things Steve must be thinking right now. Bucky bounds up the stairs, taking two at a time, making no effort to be quiet in consideration of the late hour.
When he opens the door, he sees Steve sitting at the kitchen table. Bucky takes a step towards him, and then another one. Steve doesn't move from where he has his head pillowed in his arms, resting on the table.
Bucky quietly pulls out the chair next to his, and sits down. Steve still doesn't stir. Bucky gently shakes his shoulder.
He sits up, suddenly. His face is a mess, his eyes a mix of crying and sleep, and his sleeves have left creases in his skin along the side of his face. “Buck?” He says, blinking groggily.
“Hey,” Bucky says, withdrawing his hand from Steve's shoulder. “If you're gonna sleep, why aren't you in bed?”
Steve blinks some more, and then looks away. “I didn't know if you were coming home.” He says quietly, which has nothing to do with the question.
Bucky doesn't say of course I was, punk, because really, Steve couldn't know it was an of course.
“Steve,” he says instead. “You're not getting rid of me that easy, pal. I'm with you till the en-”
“Don't say that.” Steve groans. “Buck,”
“-till the end of the line.” Bucky finishes, firmly. “And I don't care where that line leads, as longs as we're both there. You've gotta know that, Steve.”
“Bucky, you can't say that.” Steve says, looking close to tears again.
“I can, and I will.” Bucky replies. “This doesn't have to mean shit, Steve. You said you're still like girls, yeah? You just have to find one, she don't need to know that you also like fellas.”
Steve starts shaking his head, rapidly. “I can't Buck, I can't,” he says, sounding like he's choking on something at the back of his throat.
“Shhh,” Bucky says, pulling him into a hug. It's so awkward, god, the both of them sitting on their own chairs. Steve freezes against him, stiff as a board, barely even seeming to breathe. “Stevie, it's ok.” he whispers. After a moment of hesitation, he turns his face into Bucky's neck, his cold nose pressed against warm skin.
Bucky doesn't know why Steve can't, whether it's that he doesn't want to lie to his wife like that, or, fuck, maybe he already has a fella-
Bucky has to ask, he can't just not know.
“Steve,” he says quietly, unwilling to let go. He can hear Steve start breathing a little louder, but there's no response. “Steve.” He says again, pulling back a little bit. Steve turns his head back up to look at him. His eyes are blotchy, worse than before. “Who?” is all he asks.
“He's not like me, Buck.” Steve says, resolutely.
Bucky feels his breath as he says this, and he suddenly notices how close their faces are. Then he wonders if he would have noticed, before.
“You sure?” he asks.
He wonders if Steve notices. He wonders if Steve's been this close to a guy before, close enough to lean in, just a little…
“...Buck,” Steve says, as if trying to get his attention. Bucky's eyes fly up to meet his, questioning. “You…” he trails off.
Bucky can't breathe. There's a guy that Steve wants, who doesn't want him back, and it's like with all those girls all over again, how could they not want him, he's Steve, for god's sake-
“Buck!” Steve says sharply. Bucky finds himself, head tilted, closer than he remembers being.
He looks back to Steve's eyes again. They look scared, and so wide.
“What are you doing?” Steve asks, a bit quieter. When Bucky doesn't have an answer, he says “Don't play with me. Not like that.”
Bucky doesn't respond, he doesn't know where this is coming from. He leans forward, his eyes fall closed. It's so quiet, their breaths seem all the louder. One of Steve's hands winds it's way into his hair, and-
Steve pulls him away. Not far, but. Bucky's eyes open, enough for him to see, but they stay hooded.
“You're not like that, Buck.” Steve says firmly and so, so quietly.
“Steve,” Bucky says. His voice feels rough, as if from disuse, though it's only been moments since he spoke. “Steve just,” he closes his eyes, and whispers, “just let me try. Please.”
There's nothing, just the hammering of his own heart and the sounds of their breathing, and then-
The hand in his hair brings him forward, gently, and the other hand rises to tilt his jaw. Then Steve's lips are pressing against his, softly.
They stay like that for a moment, neither moving, and for a moment it feels like Steve might pull away. Bucky raises his hands and clasps at the front of Steve's shirt, grounding him there, and then begins to actually kiss him.
It's… it's not dissimilar to kissing a girl; Bucky's not sure why he thought it'd be. It's late in the evening, though, and a small bit of stubble scratches at his skin as he turns to get a better angle.
Steve makes a soft noise of surprise as he deepens the kiss, but clings on harder. He slide the hand resting on the Bucky's jaw along to cup the back of Bucky's head, pulling him closer. Bucky takes this as encouragement, and draws him forward until Steve stumbles, practically in his lap. Bucky grabs his thigh and pulls him up until he's straddling him, feet on either side of the chair.
They keep kissing for god knows how long, eventually backing down from the passionate kisses into soft, gentle presses as they catch their breath. Eventually, Steve pulls back enough to speak.
“Buck,” he says, coaxingly. “Buck, c’mon” he pleads. “We can't.”
“Shhh,” Bucky hushes him. “We can. Just let me-” he catches Steve's lips in another kiss, and his hands leave the front of Steve's shirt to where it's rucked up around his waist.
Steve bites Bucky's bottom lip, briefly, before he pulls away again. “Do you even…?” He asks, though he looks like he doesn't want to hear the answer.
Bucky understands the question he isn't finishing. “I don't know,” he confesses, “I don't know. Just, kissing you-” he kisses him again.
Steve sighs against his mouth. “This can't end well.” He whispers.
“Hey, hey,” Bucky says backing up just enough to catch his gaze. “You don't know what the future holds, alright? Just,” he closes his eyes briefly, “we have this now.”
Steve stares at him for the longest time, and then ducks his head. He uses his slight height advantage, from where he's perched in Bucky's lap, to tilt Bucky's head back and kiss him again. “We have each other, for now?” he asks. He doesn't wait for an answer.
“Steve,” Bucky says, in between kisses, so honest it hurts. “You'll have me as long as you want me.”