IT HAS BEEN four months and eleven days since the day everything changed.
Four months and eleven days since half the universe’s population didn’t go poof.
Since I was reunited with the love of my life.
Since he told me he loved me.
Since our first kiss.
Since we first made love.
So why can’t I shake the feeling that this is all just too good to be true? That I’m going to wake up soon and find it was all a cruel dream.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I WASN’T ALWAYS this paranoid.
Seriously. Once upon a time in Brooklyn, New York, I had the world on a string and girls lined up around the block to date me.
It was a very good period in my life.
Best of all, I had the one person who meant the world to me at my side. Sure, he was short and scrawny, but he was my best friend and the brother I always wanted. My boy had pluck by the boatload and then some.
Then, the second world war came and we grew up.
Him, literally. Height. Muscles. Stature. A military science experiment gone right, my best friend was America’s hero overnight. He saved my ass from the enemy twice. Once back then and again more recently.
We lost each other and I lost myself. For decades. No sooner had we reunited after he rescued me from the Nazis during the war, I took a swan dive off the top of a moving train along a German mountainside thanks to one of their bullets.
Those jackbooted thugs weren’t done with me yet as it turned out. They fished me out of the river below and played doctor. Not the fun version either. After fucking with my head and tinkering with my body, I had been turned into Frankenstein’s monster.
If the monster had been an elite assassin for the world’s most dangerous intelligence agency.
I was the perfect soldier.
The perfect killer.
Until that fateful day when his and my paths crossed again. We were on a collision course and didn’t even know it.
Steve calls it fate.
It sounds nice. Maybe it’s even true. I hope so.
Despite everything, he never gave up on me. Still hasn’t.
Even though I cost him a good friend. I will never forgive myself for that.
At some point, I fell in love with Steve Rogers. I’m not sure exactly when as I’ve loved him my whole life.
He told me after the first time we had sex that he been in love with me since we were kids. It wasn’t until after our initial run-in in Washington, D.C., when he saw me again for the first time in seventy-two years — and I tried to paint the city red with his blood — that it hit him.
(That period I like to call my Winter Soldier phase. Primarily because I was known as the Winter Soldier and I prefer to think of those decades as a really long and violent phase that I would rather forget, but instead will atone for until the day I die.)
Okay, so you’re probably wondering, where does the paranoia come in? This sounds like the most amazing romance ever. Minus the blood on my hands and the lives I’ve ruined. I can almost feel Steve leveling that steely gaze of his on me. The one that says, We both have done things we aren’t proud of, but it’s what we do going forward that will show the world the men we truly are.
He’s adorable when he’s noble.
Where was I? Right. The paranoia.
Well, when you come back to yourself after spending decades shoved away in a part of your brain to find out you’re a mass murderer who has been reprogrammed by a Nazi spy organization, let’s see how well you fare.
Yet somehow, I manage to help save the world and get the guy.
Oh and there’s also the part where Steve fell for a truly amazing woman named Peggy Carter. I watched it happen. Right before I “died.” Further research shows she went on to be a founder of one of the most elite American intelligence agencies. A kickass agent who was smart, confident, and beautiful.
She was better than me in every way. Even in death, she haunts me ... taunts me. Peggy casts a huge shadow and it’s so damn easy for me to just surrender to the seemingly inevitable.
But then, I think of Steve. My biggest cheerleader. My heart.
I can’t let him down.
I won’t let myself down.
I fought too hard to find my way back.
So how do I convince myself he’s not going to slip out of my life and find a way back to her? With multiverses and sorcerers who can manipulate time (we know at least one), don’t think it’s as far-fetched as it sounds.
IT’S SNOWING OUTSIDE on a bitter cold afternoon in late January. We’re enjoying a cozy snuggle on the couch inside our Brooklyn apartment while Rebecca plays on the television. Joan Fontaine is hearing about the former mistress of Manderley from Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers and a chill runs down my spine.
Steve hugs me closer, the soft hair from his beard brushing against my forehead. “You cold, Buck? I can turn up the heat or grab an extra blanket. We have plenty.”
I smile at the tone of his last comment. He’s teasing me. It’s come to our attention that since we have moved in together I’ve become a bit of nester. I love nothing more than to get under a blanket and plaster myself either against him or a comfy pillow. Preferably him.
Currently, there are ten blankets scattered throughout our apartment. I’m always on the hunt for more, but I haven’t found anything to my liking of late. I suppose ten is enough for now.
“I’m not cold.” I press my own bearded face into his chunky white fisherman’s sweater for a moment to collect myself, then turn back to the screen. “Danvers just creeps me out. Always has.”
He’s quiet for a few seconds before humming. “You never told me that.”
“She creeps everybody out,” I reply, lifting the shoulder that’s not crammed against him. “No big deal.”
“You okay? You seem a little off.”
“That’s my default.”
The screen pauses on a closeup of Judith Anderson. Shit.
“Bucky, what’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just want to watch the movie.”
Judith Anderson stares me down. I feel Steve move as he prepares to do the same. Now those blue eyes are filled with concern and questions.
“Talk to me.”
Barely a second do I last looking at him before I’m up and heading to the bathroom to grab a tie to pull back my long brown hair into a knot. I rub my hands over my face as I stare at my reflection in the mirror.
With a determined exhale, I walk back to the living room where he’s waiting for me. How do I tell him? Where do I begin? The easiest place seems to be with the phone call he got earlier.
“Why is Sharon stopping by again? It’s not like your friends.”
Inwardly I flinch at how childish and petulant I sound. Sharon’s a good person. I honestly like her. I also honestly hate that Steve kissed her in front of me two years ago in a carpark in Berlin. On the bright side, he later admitted that it was a bad idea that would not be repeated. She didn’t seem to mind that nothing came of it.
“Jealous?” Steve arches his eyebrow as he asks, knowing how unlikely that scenario is with Sharon of all people.
“Not of her,” I mumble.
Dammit. Why do I always forget how good his hearing is? Fucking super serum. The same shit they pumped in me, they pumped into him.
Thankfully, I’m saved from answering by the buzzer at the front door. Before I can take a step, Steve is up and moving.
“To be continued,” he whispers in my ear as he brushes past.
He’s also a stickler for finishing what he starts.
Fuck my luck.
Don’t even get me started on his distaste for foul language. We may have come from the nineteen-forties, but I always have had a potty mouth. However, there is a time and a place for everything, and Steve absolutely loves it when I talk dirty when we’re in bed.
I climb back onto the couch, pulling the blanket I discarded earlier over my lap, as he opens the door to a tall blonde wearing a green puffer jacket with a lilac knit infinity scarf wrapped around her neck and matching beanie shoved down over her shoulder-length curly hair.
Sharon Carter is cute, I’ll give her that. She must have gotten her looks from Peggy’s side of the family. I randomly wonder if all the Carter women are attractive. On second thought, I don’t really care.
What I do care about is why she’s intruding on our alone time.
Did I forget to mention she is Peggy’s niece? Chew on that for awhile.
“Hey, Sharon!” Steve greets her warmly. To his credit, he doesn’t try to hug her. “What was so important you had to trek out in the snow?”
She’s all teeth when she smiles. “What this? This is nothing. I’m actually heading out to Montauk with friends for a bonfire party this evening. It’s going to be so much fun! You two should totally do it sometime!”
At least she’s not inviting us to tag along. Honestly, being out on the beach with a roaring fire and Stevie in my arms with a blanket draped over us sounds amazing.
“We should do that, Steve. It could be romantic and fun. Two things you could use a lot of help with, if I’m being honest.”
He lifts the corner of his very pretty mouth in a lopsided grin. “Are you now? See, I clearly remember you having a ton of fun last night … and this morning. A few times this morning, actually.”
“The sex is great, babe, but there is more than one type of fun. You may have America’s ass yet you tend to forget to remove the stick that wedged itself up there many, many years ago. The tragic effect of my not being around for so long.”
Sharon snorts a laugh, not even trying to hide the huge smile on her face.
Steve pretends to be annoyed and asks again why she’s here. He’s so easy to tease. Even better, he enjoys it every bit as much as I do. My heart tightens as I watch him in profile.
It nearly crumbles into dust when I hear the reason for her visit.
“So the other day, I was going through a box of Aunt Peggy’s that she had designated for me before she died. I had forgotten all about it. Anyway, as I was rummaging through it, I found this.” She opens her purse that’s hanging crossbody from her right shoulder to her left hip and pulls out a white envelope.
“Peggy wrote me a letter?” Steve sounds as confused as I feel, but I’m betting he’s not immediately going to the worst case scenario.
I’m convinced it’s a confession of love that she wrote on her deathbed and just like that, I’m mourning my relationship. If my best friend Natasha were here, she’d punch me in the face, knee me in the groin, and tell me to stop moping and talk to Steve already. So I vow here and now to do so.
As soon as Sharon leaves.
Like hell am I going to unload weeks of pent up neuroses and fears and frustrations while she’s here looking like she got lost on her way to her impossibly pink dream house.
She lifts her free shoulder. “I guess so. Not like I opened it.”
“Doesn’t that make you a crap spy?” God, it’s so damn petty, but I can’t help it. Sometimes, it’s like I have Tourette’s. I blame my low self-esteem. Perhaps, Nat’s right about me seeing a shrink.
“I like to think it makes me a trusted friend,” Sharon volleys. Looking at Steve again, she adds, “Whatever is in there must be important if she wrote it down. You know how she was in the end. Her good moments were practically non-existent. Fucking Alzheimer’s.”
She bows her head for a short moment to collect herself. Once she’s done so, her bright smile is back. “Alright. Mission accomplished! I gotta go. Enjoy the rest of your day and the snow, guys!”
Two seconds later, she is out the door. It’s almost like she was never here. Only the white envelope Steve holds in his hands like it’s something precious proves otherwise.
“Go on, then,” I encourage as I pick up the remote. Judith Anderson seems to be willing me to return with her to Manderley and who am I to argue? “I know you’re dying to find out what she has to say.”
He tears his eyes away from the object of desire he’s holding to gaze upon me in surprise. “Bucky….”
“It’s fine. Just do it in the bedroom, okay? I want to finish the movie.”
A gauntlet has been thrown. Neither of us move a muscle. The remote control sits in my hand, thumb on the play button that I can’t seem to press, as I continue to stare at the screen. Steve hovers between the door and the couch not taking his eyes off me.
In the end, he blinks first. He returns to the couch and, to my surprise, tosses the envelope on the coffee table. His head rests on my shoulder as his arms wrap around one of mine — the super-powered metallic one given me by my evil ex-bosses after they fished me out of the drink; my original destroyed in the fall.
“Then, let’s finish the movie. Manderley waits for no man. Only Rebecca.”
But I can’t do it. Peggy Carter is our Rebecca whether Steve realizes it or not. He may not need to know what’s in that letter, but I do. I know he’ll tell me unless she specifically asks him not to. Now, it’s my turn to blink. I put down the remote and pick up the letter.
“Manderley will wait a little longer.” I ignore Judith Anderson, frozen on the screen, practically begging me to press play and to delay whatever may come from Peggy’s words. With a slow exhale to steel myself, I hand him the envelope with his name on it.
“Can I ask why?” Steve queries softly, lifting his head.
“Why it’s so important to you that I read this now.”
“Because it’s important to you.”
“Language,” I scold lightly.
Not a glimmer of humor. I sigh. “Because she’s important to you and maybe whatever is in there will finally exorcise her from our relationship.”
“Bucky, I chose you,” he reminds me.
“Did you? Really? Or was I just convenient?”
His eyes grow wide as his mouth pops open. I didn’t expect to go down this path so soon, but if not now, when? Time to rip off the Band-Aid.
“You are so many things to me, Buck, but convenient is not one of them.” Steve ignores the envelope and focuses on me instead. “What on earth has gotten into your head to make you think that I don’t love you with all of my heart? When I told you I have loved you all my life, I wasn’t just saying platitudes. You are my life, Bucky. I am the man I am today because I wanted to prove myself to you. I wanted you to see I was worthy of your love and affection.
“What do you need me to do to finally convince you I’m yours? That I always have been and always will be?”
“If you always have been, we wouldn’t be dealing with the fedora in the room.”
There’s no heat to my words. Steve’s plea has me feeling sick — heartsick, to be clear. The thing is, I do believe him. I trust him implicitly. Truly.
Only I can’t stop hearing this voice whispering in my ear.
Even worse, I can’t stop listening to it.
“Open it.” I nod at the envelope in my good hand.
With a heavy sigh and a look of resignation that’s like a knife to my fragile, bruised heart, Steve finally takes the envelope from me and opens it. A curious look crosses his features as his brow furrows. Just as I’m about to ask what’s wrong, he pulls out another, smaller envelope from within the bigger one.
To my shock, he hands the second envelope to me.
“It’s for you.”
IF I’M BEING one-hundred percent honest, my paranoia regarding Steve and our relationship is relatively new. Six weeks to be precise. I know the exact source of it. I just don’t know why I dreamt of it in the first place.
Yes, my subconscious has effectively scared the crap out of me.
The dream starts simply enough. Steve and I are in a park with our friends Sam and Bruce. Only Bruce is large and green and wearing Clark Kent glasses, a hybrid of himself and his alter ego The Hulk, which is the stupidest part of the whole thing yet we all just go along with it because dream logic.
Turns out, Bruce is working on fixing the kinks in a time machine of all things so Steve can return the Infinity Stones — the same ones that together nearly wiped out half the known universe thanks to one megalomaniacal purple asshole and his gaudy gold glove — to their rightful place within the timeline.
Come to think of it, Smart Hulk makes more sense for a name since Bruce is mostly internalized.
It’s what happened next that scarred me. (Though I haven’t been able to look at Bruce the same way since.)
I don’t remember if he came right out and said it or if it was alluded to because, again, dream logic, but I knew Steve wasn’t coming back. That he was going to find Peggy and build a life with her because that was his heart’s greatest desire and, presumably, hers.
At least, I hope it was. If not, then my boyfriend is the world’s biggest dick. Or at least dream Steve is. This is getting way more complicated as I think about, so let’s not.
Ever since that first night, when I woke up soaked to the bone and completely freaked out, I’ve had a voice in my head whispering how I’m just window dressing. That Steve will never be satisfied with a man, let alone one that’s as broken and fucked up as me.
And that voice belongs to none other than yours truly.
Every time I close my eyes now, I see Steve and Peggy back in our time dancing in the living room of their house. They look so damn happy it makes me nauseous.
My stomach rolls and my hands shake now as I sit on the bed in our room holding the envelope with my name scrawled across in Peggy’s handwriting. Why write to me? What could she possibly have to say?
Curiosity takes charge as I flip the envelope over and open it. I’m alone as I do it. Having Steve sitting here next to me would be too much, so I turned him down flat. It was sweet of him to offer. He is handling this way better than I am. Another reason we’re so good together despite what I tell myself in my darkest moments? We balance each other out.
I sniff the letter, wondering if I could smell her perfume or something. There’s nothing and I feel like a tool for bothering in the first place. Peggy was the type of woman who most likely smelled clean and fresh, perhaps occasionally indulging in a little perfume should the occasion call for it. Steve could probably tell me I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t dare ask. Mostly since it’s none of my business.
With a deep breath, I unfold the sheets of paper — there are two — and begin to read. It has been more than seventy years since I last saw Peggy Carter, yet her voice fills my head and it’s as if she’s right here with me.
I am sure you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing writing you. We barely spoke when we knew each other for those few days way back when as we both were too busy trying to get a certain captain’s attention — when not trying to save the world from the Nazis, of course. Even then, despite your rather lame attempt at flirting with me, I knew your heart belonged to our darling Steve.
Part of me also knew that his heart belonged to you, as well, though I was too willingly blind as I fell head over heels for him. Please don’t fault a foolish young woman who was enjoying the game too much to pay attention to anything so delicate as someone else’s feelings.
My mind is nearly gone at this stage of my life. By now, I’m sure you have heard. At least, I’m hoping Steve told you and that you are with him. Today is one of my better days. Possibly the last best day. I feel myself slipping away and one day soon I won’t return.
Therefore I am writing now. To tell you the things that have been weighing on my heart over the years — particularly since Steve has returned and brought me the closure I so desperately wanted for so long. His visits have been a blessing … and a curse. I never wanted him to see me in my decline, but that’s my vanity talking.
Enough of that. There are more pressing matters to discuss.
While for the longest time I believed Steve and I would have lived happily ever after had he never crashed that plane into the ocean for the greater good (on my not-so-good days I lament over not being clever enough to see another way — rest assured there was no other way), I eventually made my peace with our fates. Had I not, I would never have allowed myself to notice the wonderful man who came to be fighting by my side — and arguing with me, naturally. I miss Daniel every day since he’s been gone. We adored each other and I can only hope that I will get to see him again soon.
Your death nearly killed Steve. I saw it then and I can see it now. The light in his eyes was incandescent when he told me you were alive. He spoke of your transformation — what he knew of it — into the Winter Soldier. But it was the hope he carried that spoke volumes. You saved him the day S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed in more ways than one.
Steve is gone now. Off to find you and bring you home. Not to D.C. or any location the world has to offer. You are each other’s home. I see that and cherish it for you both.
I sincerely wish this note finds you in each other’s arms, happy and safe. He was mine for a few minutes, Bucky. He will be yours forever. Past. Present. Future. You will always find each other. Just as you were meant to do.
PS Make sure you get him to dance with you. I once made him promise me a dance on our date that never was. My parting gift to you.
My cheeks are wet as tears stream down them. I don’t remember when I started crying, but I can’t stop. Peggy’s words have destroyed me in the best way. It’s weird. It’s almost like I can feel myself shedding all the neuroses and paranoia that have threatened to be my undoing.
I feel free. Like I’ve been blessed by the Pope or something. Knowing how Peggy truly felt about everything and that she took one of her last lucid days before the Alzheimer’s kicked her ass for good to unburden herself to me means more than she will ever know or that I can even express.
There’s a tightness in my chest that takes me a second to recognize. My heart is fit to burst. It’s light and full of love. Peggy was brave by writing this wonderful letter that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s only fair that I pay it forward with my own act of bravery.
STEVE FINDS ME sometime later. I have no idea how long I’ve been laying on the bed, curled up on my side; the letter forgotten on the bedspread. He climbs onto the bed, mirroring me. His blue eyes are filled with worry and I feel horrible for my behavior of late. The longer I stare at him the more the guilt threatens to consume me. What was his crime? Since that fateful day when we expressed our true feelings in so many ways, the only thing he has done is love me. How do I thank him? By waiting for him to leave me and blaming a dead woman who did nothing wrong.
Christ, I’m the worst boyfriend ever.
“I’m sorry.” It’s all I can manage to say, knowing it’s not nearly enough.
“For being a shit boyfriend.”
“You are not a terrible boyfriend.”
“I guess love really is blind.”
“Buck, what is this all about? What’s going on with you? First, you freak out about Sharon dropping by. Then, about Peggy and her letter. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how off you’ve been the past few weeks. I can feel you pulling away even when I think we’re closer than ever. Talk to me.”
He reaches for me, his thumb caressing my cheek. I lean into the touch that I crave. So starving for his affection am I that whatever he gives me will never be enough. It terrifies me how much I want him, need him.
“I’m not blind,” he tells me. “I’m scared that I’m losing you all over again in a way that cuts deeper than when I thought you died. Please. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong. I want to bring you back and I don’t know how to do it.”
Tears slide down his cheeks as his voice breaks while pleading. I shatter into a million pieces, then pull myself back together. This is my fault. How could I have been so fucking selfish? Steve isn’t the blind one. I am. My myopic vision has been centered on me. Had I been thinking clearly ... well…. I was going to say I would have seen he was suffering right along with me. In truth, had I been thinking clearly, I would have understood that everything I have been feeling of late was all in my head. I have the best boyfriend in the universe. Someone who cares for me and adores me and is only happy when I am.
I’m done being the asshole who breaks everything he touches whether he means to or not. It’s time I start cleaning up my messes and appreciating the amazing gift literally staring back at me.
I kiss him. His lips. Chin. Cheeks. Nose. Forehead.
Then, I do it all over again in reverse order.
As I move my mouth all over his face I tell him he’s done nothing wrong; that he’s perfect.
“I’m not perfect. I can’t even keep the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Stop.” I take his face in my hands. His eyes never leave mine. “I did this. Not you. I let one niggle of self-doubt take root and spread like weeds within the cracks of my psyche.”
“You doubted us?”
Jesus. The vulnerability he’s exuding and the tremble in his voice threaten to unravel me, but I refuse to let it. Not when we’re finally talking.
“I did. It was stupid. I convinced myself you were still in love with Peggy. That you always were and always would be. You were always the better man, Stevie. We know I have blood on my hands that will never come clean. You deserve the best partner. I want that to be me so damn bad, but I’ve cost you so much.
“Maybe it was never about Peggy,” I slowly begin to realize. “Maybe it was my insecurities about myself and how I know I’ll never measure up — to you or to myself.”
Once again, I’m crying. I hurt all over though I know it’s my heart that’s taking the biggest beating. Hearing my own pathetic confession, I hate myself for the wreck I’ve become. I wasn’t lying when I said I had been the cool guy back in my day. Okay, I’m hearing it. Time to stop waxing nostalgic on the way I was and focus on the man I am now.
The one I hope to become.
“I want to be better,” I whisper.
Without a word, Steve pulls me to him and holds me tight. He rubs my back as I cling to him, his fingers in my hair. At some point, the top knot came undone. For the longest time, we stay like this. It’s wonderful. I never want it to end. To make my point, I bury my face in the curve of his neck.
“You will be better,” he says softly into my ear. “We’ll be better together.”
Slowly, Steve rolls onto his back, taking me with him. I lay pressed to his side, head on his chest. His hand slides under my shirt to rub my back and I nearly purr in contentment. My foot pushes the letter further down the bed in an attempt to protect it.
“I think I need to talk to someone,” I admit aloud for the first time.
“I think that’s a good idea. I’ll talk to Stephen and see if he can recommend someone.”
Stephen is a former elite surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme who discovered the mystic arts when he was seeking alternative methods to fix his hands after his car accident.
Our friends are weird, but so are we. It works out pretty well. The perks of being part of a superhero collective.
“Maybe I should be the one to ask him though.” Stephen isn’t my boyfriend’s biggest fan for reasons not entirely known. He likes me though. “First step is acknowledging there’s a problem. Second step is to ask for help. Or something like that, right?”
Steve presses a kiss onto my head. “Right. So did Peggy’s letter help?”
“It did. I wish I could thank her.”
“Must be a pretty good letter.”
“It’s like she knew what the hell was going on with me when she wrote it. I’m a little freaked out.”
He chuckles, which makes me smile.
“That’s Peggy. Would you mind if I take a peek at it? I’m kinda curious to see when she wrote it.”
“It’s at the bottom of the bed. You can read it if you want. I don’t mind.” I roll off him as he sits up.
Looking down at me in what I can only describe as adoration, he grins. “No. That’s between the two of you. Thank you for the offer though.”
I gaze at him with the biggest smile on my face. Suddenly, I remember what he wants to know. “June sixth, twenty-sixteen.”
His brow furrows. “The date she wrote the letter? You’re sure?”
“Yeah.” I sit up, fearing the worst. “Don’t tell me she wrote it on her deathbed. I don’t want her wasting her final moments sorting us out.”
“She didn’t,” he assures with a shake of his head. “She died two days later.”
“Right before you found me again in Bucharest with my memory intact.” This was two years after I saved his life during the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in Washington, D.C., after trying to kill him. Damn idiot managed to get through to me even when I was in Winter Soldier mode. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.
“I swore to myself that was the last time I ever lost track of you.” Steve straddles me and presses his forehead to mine. “This time, I mean it.”
“I’m never going anywhere ever again without you, Stevie. I love you too damn much.”
“Language,” he scolds before kissing nice and deep. When we come up for air, he confesses, “You are my world, James Buchanan Barnes. Without you, I don’t exist.”
“Remind me to tell you of the crazy dream that started this whole existential nightmare.” I lean in to pick up where we left off, but he pulls back.
“The dream that had you waking up in a pool of sweat and shaking uncontrollably for twenty minutes afterward? Baby, that was six weeks ago! You can’t keep that kind of thing to yourself. Promise me, you’ll tell me when something like that happens again.”
Taking his hands in mine, I look him straight in those gorgeous baby blues. “I, Bucky, promise to keep you, Steve, in the loop with everything that’s going on with me no matter what.”
He lets out a long, relieved exhale. “Thank you.”
I squeeze his hands when he tries to kiss me again. It takes him a second, but he figures out what I want.
“I, Steve, promise to keep you, Bucky, in the loop with everything that’s going on with me, no matter what.”
“Thank you.” A bashful little grin spreads across my lips. “So, have you and Tony made up yet?”
Tony was one of Steve’s best friends even though they drove each other nuts. My return made things tense between them until it came out that I killed his parents when he was a teenager. I was the Winter Soldier at the time, but does it really matter? It was still my finger on the trigger. Just because I was manipulated into becoming a weapon doesn't make me less culpable. When Tony learned Steve knew the truth and essentially picked me over everything, it destroyed their friendship.
Steve lets out a low, aggravated groan as he drops his chin to his chest. He meets my eyes before telling me, “I don’t know if our relationship is salvageable. Best case scenario, we can be teammates. Enough about the outside world. This weekend, it’s all about us.”
This time when he leans in, I don’t stop him. I accept his soft lips and part my own to grant his tongue access. A soft squeal escapes me when Steve pulls me down by the ankles so I’m again laying on the bed. Once his six-foot frame covers my equally long body, I let out the most contented sigh.
While I may not be magically fixed, I do feel better about myself and Steve and our relationship. We want this to work. I’ll text Stephen later tonight to see if he can help in the shrink department. That’s enough big steps for this weekend.
“I’M SCARED. Is it darker in here?”
My eyes are closed as Steve leads me from the bedroom and back out into what I can only guess is the living room judging from our direction. When he told me he had a surprise for me, my heartbeat quickened and adrenaline spiked my blood. The experience is exhilarating despite my statement. I mean, who knows what Steve has done. I didn’t think I had been in our room long enough for him to do anything crazy, but maybe I was. Although, it’s snowing so that limits things considerably.
We stayed on the bed making out with his body on mine until we had depleted most of the oxygen in our lungs and our lips were swollen. Even then, we weren’t ready to leave our love nest, so we cuddled for quite awhile with his head on my chest. Steve breathed in my scent as he pressed his face into my neck and I nearly blissed out. I could have floated up out of myself if not for it meaning I would be leaving him.
Instead, I held him tighter and he let out the most contented sigh; my name blowing out of his mouth was downright erotic. I buried my nose in his hair to inhale his distinct smell, my good hand on his nape as my metallic hand slid under his shirt and down his back.
I called him mine.
“My Stevie.” The words flowed from me in a low rumble that had him whimpering.
There was no sex. I can’t speak for Steve, but that wasn’t what I needed in the moment. (Although from what I can tell, he was completely satisfied from our interaction.)
This was about connection. I had been so busy pushing him away while keeping him close enough to feed my addiction that I hadn’t bothered to bring him into the conflict between my head and heart. As we held each other, we fed on each other emotionally as well as physically. Our bond needed the recharge. We lost so much while I was consumed by my internal battle.
He chuckles. “You have nothing to be scared about. I, however, am terrified you are going to hate your surprise.”
“How much longer before I can feign joy over your misbegotten pledge of love?” The smirk on my lips is barely staying in place. I’m holding back a megawatt smile in favor of playing it cool. It’s fucking killing me.
“You’re not funny,” Steve says in my ear from behind me. He has since let go of my good hand and now has both of his on my hips.
“I chose you and everyone thinks that’s hilarious. Nat still tells me I can do better.”
“Nat can mind her own business.”
At this I laugh. He and Nat are actually quite close. She and Sam (the one who appeared in my dream who wasn’t big and huge and wearing glasses) are Steve’s best friends. Yes, we share her. It’s not as weird as it sounds. There’s a group of us who hang out. Me, Steve, Sam, Nat, Scott, and Maria. It’s funny. Sam and Scott, and Nat and Maria started dating right after Steve and I got together. That big battle we all fought had a profound effect on our entire team. So many new couples formed as a result.
Steve kisses my temple. “You can open them.”
The visual makes me gasp. I can’t believe it. My mouth hangs open while I survey the living room. No, not just the living room, I realize, but the hallway and front door area, too. Tears prick my lashes. My heart beats faster in my chest.
“You bought the fairy lights I suggested when we were out shopping last week.” I’m staring at him in complete bewilderment. “The ones you turned your pretty nose up at and said they weren’t meant to be used indoors.”
He gives me a sheepish look. His features lit beautifully in the pale luminescence of the lights within the darkness of the apartment. “Those ones were for outdoor use. I went back the other night when you and Nat were at dinner and bought these.” His gaze leaves mine briefly to take in the light show before meeting my eyes once more. “Indoor use only.”
“How long can we keep them up?”
“For as long as you want, baby.”
I lift my eyes so they follow the trail of lights along the top of the walls where they meet the ceiling. “I can’t believe you did this. I thought for sure you hated the idea.”
“Not in the least.” Steve’s hand cups my nape, forcing me to focus my attention on him. Not exactly a hardship given the circumstances. “I hoped at the time I wasn’t making a big mistake buying them and then surprising you with this display. I did good?”
“You did amazing, Steve. Thank you. I love it so much. Almost as much as I love you.”
I take a step forward and bring my mouth to his. He kisses me back with such passion that it reverberates within me for some time afterward.
“Seeing you so happy is all the thanks I need, Buck. You are everything to me. I’ll do whatever I can to keep that smile on your face.”
Peggy’s postscript comes back to me. What better time than now to cash in my gift?
“Dance with me.”
His eyes are doing that incandescent thing she mentioned. He loves the idea, too. I silently thank her for her generosity — not just in regards to the letter. She set me free and I will be forever grateful.
“You got plans?”
He shakes his head, the blond hair picking up the light quite nicely. “Only with you. Do we need music?”
My arms slide around his shoulders as his wrap my waist. We sway side to side for a bit until someone in the apartment below turns up the volume on a song we both recognize so that it filters up through the floorboards.
Ben E. King warbles “Stand By Me” as Steve takes my metallic hand in his flesh and bone one, waltzing us around the living room. A quick peek out one of the windows shows the snow is still falling.
The world, for once, is quiet.
Our love is anything but.