"It's not safe here," Steve said finally.
It was the first coherent thought he'd had since Bucky'd come back, four days ago; since he'd come home and found Bucky just sitting on the stairs waiting for him, wearing a jean jacket and boots and a cap and looking like he'd come to read the gas meter. Bucky'd looked up uncertainly when he came in, like he was unsure of his welcome, and while there were dark shadows on his face and his clothes seemed filthy, some terrible off-kilter thing in the world immediately righted itself with a click. Steve breathed in, reminded of that first moment stumbling out of the VitaRay machine and really filling his lungs for the first time. He took a few stumbling steps forward and then went down on his knees between Bucky's legs and slid his hands round Bucky's waist, pressed his face into Bucky's clothes. Metal fingers stronger than flesh dug into Steve's leather jacket, and then Bucky's hands were tight on his shoulders, gripping, then patting him, stroking him, running fingers through his hair. Steve tilted his face up and Bucky's mouth came down to his, soft in the prickle of beard growth. They kissed.
After a while, Steve took Bucky's hand and dragged him up the two flights to his apartment, and they were kissing again before the door was even shut, kissing even as they haphazardly shoved furniture in front of the locked door, barricading themselves in, making the place as secure as they could make it before sliding down the wall, arms tight around each other. And then there was a long time when they couldn't break apart long enough to do anything else: just sat there holding on, and every time Steve thought he could maybe bear to loosen his grip, Bucky tightened his, and the same the other way; he found himself grabbing on instinctively every time Bucky took a breath and pulled back.
In the end they ended up making love on the kitchen floor, shirts pushed up and zippers pulled down, and eventually they made their way to the bed, and two days later they realized they were starving and sat there, filthy and laughing in their shorts, ravenously eating bowls of cold cereal and hunks of cheese on bread and canned pineapple. By then, Steve felt clear enough to set up the percolator.
"It's not safe here," Steve said again, pressing the hot mug to his face.
"If you say so," Bucky said, and then: "I'll go wherever you want."
"New York, I think," Steve said. "We should go back to—" and he stopped because Bucky's face had changed at the mention of New York: he looked happy and hopeful and a little bit lost. "We'll go to Stark Tower," Steve said slowly. "From there we can explore…other options. Okay?" but Bucky didn't answer right away; he just sat there frowning down at the empty cereal bowl, and then said:
"I want that,"
sounding a little bit surprised and then, laughing:
"God, I want that so bad I can taste it."
They rode up to New York on Steve's motorcycle. Having Bucky behind him, thighs snugging his hips, chest pressed to his back, made Steve want to drive forever: just keep going; he didn't even care where.
It was late by time they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into the city, and Steve had hoped that they'd be able to pull unobtrusively into Stark Tower by the private VIP entrance – he hadn't called to say he was coming; he had no idea who might be monitoring communications – but the VIP entrance was jammed with limousines and bright yellow convertibles and red sports cars and glossy black trucks that looked like tanks.
Steve drove past, then twisted back over his shoulder. "What do you think? Should we abort? Try--"
Bucky's mouth moved to his ear. "Take a left," he said, "then pull over." Steve nodded and did so, and was surprised when Bucky slid off the bike. "It's a party," Bucky said. "That's great cover to get in. You go in first; you're Captain America, they'll let you in. I'll slip in behind you, meet you inside."
"I don't know," Steve said doubtfully. "Stark's security is pretty good."
Bucky smiled, shook his head. "It's just a party. I can crash a party, don't you worry," and that's exactly what happened. Steve drove back around the block, then pulled up on his motorcycle and took off his helmet--and everyone stepped away, and without even saying anything Stark's security people stood back and cleared a path for him to the glossy steel elevator door. A lot of people got in before the doors finally closed, and when Steve glanced up at the tiny mirror in the corner, he saw that Bucky was one of them: he was bent, smiling, listening to a girl who'd tugged him down and was whispering in his ear. She was wearing a minidress made entirely of mirrors.
The elevator went directly to the 61st floor, which was one Steve'd never been to before, and the doors opened onto a madhouse of darkness and a stroboscope and loud, pounding music and writhing bodies: what this generation thought of as a dance floor. He got out reluctantly and saw that the girl Bucky'd picked up—the girl who'd picked up Bucky? – was dragging him over to the gigantic chrome bar along one wall. Bucky caught his eye and made a little turning gesture with his hand – keys—and okay, the keys in Stark Tower were metaphorical, but Bucky had the right idea. Steve looked around for someone in authority – he needed to get on Jarvis's radar, take the private elevator up to the Avengers area of the tower – but even as he craned around to look he saw Pepper Potts heading toward him, all smiles.
"Steve," Pepper said, stretching up to speak right into his ear, "I'm sorry, they just told me you were here. If I'd known you were coming I would have had you go in at 44th Street and skip all this." She pulled back to make eye contact with him, and they traded looks: "I'm sorry." "No problem." She stretched up again and said, "I assume you're not here for the party. Do you need Tony right now?"
She pulled back again and he shook his head, then he bent to her ear; she smelled of flowers. "Everything's fine," Steve said, speaking as quietly as he dared. "But I've brought a guest."
Pepper nodded her understanding. "I'll tell Jarvis," she said, and then she smiled, almost as an afterthought, and put her hand on his shoulder and stretched up again. "For what it's worth, we made everyone check their cell phones and cameras. Just in case you want to stay and enjoy the party."
Steve laughed and shook his head - thanks but no thanks - but then he couldn't find Bucky when he went to look for him. The girl in the mirrored dress was talking to someone else now, and Steve couldn't see Bucky anywhere nearby, though it was hard to be sure: Bucky had an amazing ability to blend into crowds. Steve thought it was possible that he'd somehow already made his way up to the guest suites, and he'd gone so far as to press the button for Stark's private elevator before remembering that there was a dance floor. Steve stopped, turned around, and went back.
He slid between bodies, scanning faces, and if he didn't know Bucky better than he knew himself, he wouldn't have recognized him, because with his dark jeans and black t-shirt he was totally indistinct – but there he was, alone on the dance floor. Steve had always thought that Tony Stark looked stupid gyrating to this noise, but Bucky didn't look stupid: he was dancing by himself with his eyes closed, his body moving to the music, almost vibrating, every small gesture perfectly timed. Steve stared--and even as he did, a girl who was wearing what looked to Steve like a strategically placed handkerchief around her chest danced over to him and damn if Bucky couldn't pull women even with his eyes closed. Steve was frozen for a moment and then went to him, wading in across the crowded floor and it wasn't like there were steps, right? There was nothing going on here anywhere near as complicated as the Lindy Hop or the Big Apple, and besides, he couldn't look any stupider than anyone else.
The girl in the handkerchief was trying and failing to get Bucky's attention, and Steve pushed past her and got in close. Bucky opened his eyes then, and the look on his face—surprise, hurt, joy, desire—made Steve's heart ache. Why hadn't they ever been able to do this together? This thing that Bucky'd loved so much -- and all at once Steve forgave every failing of this world, this time, because it was a world in which Bucky could smile at him like this, and slide his hands around his waist, and pull him close and steer him around and grind against him, laughing. A world where they could go dancing.
They ended up staying for a long time, and by time they made it upstairs they were so turned on from sweating and gyrating and rubbing against each other that they barely made it to bed, collapsing on top of the bedspread and kissing and shoving their hands into each other's pants. "I love you," Bucky said breathlessly, after, in his ear. "A million times I love you. I never told you enough when we were kids," and Steve closed his eyes and said, "I always knew. I never doubted it," and it turned out that among the amenities Stark provided was a bedside drawer full of things that would have gotten you arrested in 1941 – lubricants and birth control devices and obscene objects of various descriptions and colors, and things labeled "cherry" and "grape," and Steve started laughing as Bucky looked at them and said, "I swear, I've never seen any of that before in my life." He hadn't even known there was a drawer there.
They were both sort of wrecked the next morning, and so completely unprepared for when Tony Stark showed up, looking fresh as a daisy. "I didn't see you last night, Cap," Tony said, eyeing Bucky warily as he poured himself a cup of coffee. "But Pepper said you were here. What can I do for you and your, uh, guest?" and before Steve could answer, Tony went on: "I suppose I should tell you that my security cameras caught you guys dancing and making out in my elevator, so let me just say that if you're looking for a love nest, a place to bring your boy-toy, keep him away from the media and off Page 6--hey, that's fine. Happy to oblige."
Steve opened his mouth to tell Stark that this was Bucky Barnes, his friend, the Winter Soldier, and they needed protection from the CIA and probably some additional manpower to continue the fight against Hydra, but then he changed his mind and said, "Thanks, that's exactly what I need. Also, we're all out of the strawberry-flavored stuff," and beside him, Bucky dissolved into laughter.