Steve had been up on the roof of the Avengers mansion for hours, having snuck away after dinner and in the aftermath of Pepper accidentally setting fire to the kitchen while trying to make dessert. She was trying to make pudding, so Steve didn't understand where fire had come in, but he wasn't complaining.
Being alone up here was a welcome respite from the way that the other Avengers and friends looked at him these days, sympathetic and almost pitying, and the way that Bucky had been since the mission he went on for SHIELD. He supposed he should blame himself, and maybe he did a little, because he had been the one that suggested Bucky try and work for SHIELD in the first place, and he knew that without his insistence, Fury wouldn't have acquiesced to Bucky's being hired.
He knew that Bucky wouldn't want him to blame himself, and so Steve tried as hard as possible to let it go, but keeping up the charade that everything was fine was absolutely exhausting.
Bucky didn't remember anything that had happened since he and Steve became a couple last October. Didn't remember the dates or the whispered declarations of love, not the vacation that Steve surprised him with for Christmas or the way their bodies moved together in perfect rhythm when they were in bed together. Bucky didn't remember any of it, and as far as he was concerned, they were just friends, just Steve and Bucky, old pals since they were children.
It was a quiet sort of devastation, and Steve wouldn't have Bucky knowing anything about it. So, he had hidden away any and all evidence of their being romantically involved, and he stayed strong for Bucky - he told himself that it was for Bucky - and pretended that everything was okay, when the truth was...
Well, the truth was that he was falling apart inside, and it got a little worse every day.
He sniffed, trying to hold back the tears that were welling in his eyes, but it didn't work. Soon enough he was crying, hands braced on the brick of the wall surrounding the roof, head bowed in grief, shoulders trembling a little as he gave a small sob.
Steve Rogers wasn't one to dwell much in self-pity, but he couldn't hold this back. He didn't even know how he'd held on for this long without breaking.
He was so involved in his own thoughts that he didn't hear the door to the roof open or the voice inquiring if he was up here, and instead was startled out of his reverie by a hand closing over his shoulder urgently. He pulled back and his watery gaze met Bucky's deeply concerned one.
"Hell, Bucky, announce yourself," he said, and instantly regretting how harsh his tone sounded.
Bucky nodded. "I did," he said softly, and Steve didn't miss the way his hand reached out as if to comfort him, and then pulled back hastily, clenching into a loose fist instead. "Steve, pal, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he replied, shifting away from his friend, taking a few paces to increase the distance. He didn't mean anything bad by it, he just hadn't wanted anyone to see him like this, least of all Bucky. He scrubbed the heels of his palms over his eyes, rubbing away the tears, and kept looking away until he could feel them drying on his face and he was certain no others were on the way.
He turned back to look at Bucky, who was watching him keenly, obviously itching to come close to him but not really daring to.
"Really, I'm fine."
Bucky snorted derisively, rolling his eyes sceptically. "You're pretty obviously not, Steve. I'm your best friend," he continued softly. "You can tell me anything, you know that, right?"
"You'll think it's stupid," he shot back, leaning against the brick once more and slowly sliding to the ground sullenly.
"No, I won't. I'll never think that anything you feel is stupid. You're my best friend," Bucky repeated, nodding in reassurance, taking a few tentative steps closer to Steve.
"Well, the truth is," Steve said cautiously, "I'm in love."
Bucky blinked, shocked into stillness, and then he gave a sudden laugh.
Usually Steve loved Bucky's laugh, loved the way that it was bright and vibrant, the way that it seemed to ricochet off the walls or fill up empty spaces, but now - given the circumstances - it sounded harsh and foreign to his ears.
"So that's all? You're in love? Coulda just said something pal, instead of comin' up here to cry about it."
Bucky's tone was meant to be light, but Steve knew him well enough to detect the undercurrent of unhappiness in it, and he knew that it was because of what he felt for Steve but couldn't find the will to say. There was a faint tinge of jealousy, too, but of course there would be.
Steve cleared his throat as he leaned against the wall that ran around the roof, pulling his knees up to his chest distractedly. He reached up with both hands, scrubbing at the tears that had begun to fall shortly before Bucky came out onto the roof. He still wanted to cry, perhaps even more so now than before, considering what he knew Bucky must be feeling, but he didn't want to, not with Bucky still there.
The last thing he needed was for Bucky to feel bad for him, to try and comfort him, when it wasn't in the way that he wanted. This was his Bucky, he reminded himself, that much hadn't changed, but sometimes it felt as if this Bucky, the post-amnesia Bucky, was entirely different from the one he knew and had grown so familiar and comfortable with over the past months.
"Yeah," he replied shortly, moving to rest his hands on his kneecaps, slightly annoyed at Bucky for judging him for what he was doing to cope with things when he - well, he just didn't know. "I'm in love."
"'s not so bad as all that, then," Bucky returned, walking over to him and then sitting down by his side, far enough to appear just casual but close enough that Steve could still feel his warmth beside him.
Steve shook his head miserably, unable for the moment to suppress his negative emotions. "It is as bad as that, though. I mean, it's not really simple, or anything-"
"You're Captain America," Bucky said reasonably, picking up a dry twig from the gravel on the roof and fiddling with it absently. "I'm sure whatever dame's caught your eye will fall over herself saying yes, if only you'd just ask her out."
"I don't want h -this person, that is - to want to be with me just because I'm Captain America," Steve said, frowning. "You know as well as I do that we're not the same person, Cap and I. He's something that I do. And as for me...I'm Steve. Just plain old Steve Rogers. And, to be honest, I'd rather have this person want him, than Captain America."
Bucky nodded agreeably, opened his mouth to say something but then seemed to think better of it, so Steve continued.
"I mean, I know not a whole lot of people are interested in him - me, that is - but I think the type of person to see me as who I really am would be the only type I'd want to be with, really."
He could hear Bucky swallow, could practically hear the words he was desperate to say out loud whirring in his head, but the self-doubt and loathing Bucky carried were fighting and suppressing whatever urge he had to tell Steve that he saw Steve as he really was, that he'd always seen him. That broke Steve's heart.
"I'm sure more people than you know think of and see you that way," Bucky said carefully, snapping the twig into pieces with his fingers.
He shrugged, picking up palmfuls of gravel, closing his fist and then letting it all fall back down to the ground in a steady trickle. "Maybe."
Bucky sighed. "Steve..."
He looked over to his friend, brow furrowed slightly, trying to suppress the feeling of anxiety that was growing in his chest. Surely it wouldn't happen so quickly, would it, Bucky being able to overcome himself to say how he felt? That was too much to hope for...
Instead, as Steve quashed his anxiety, Bucky shook his head, muttering "Never mind" underneath his breath.
Steve looked back to the ground and picked up more gravel in his palm. A few moments passed in relative silence, the only sounds being the steady whirring of the ventilation system about fifteen feet to their left and the sound of the city itself, car horns and a steady grumble of people.
"So, this dame... Really, Steve, tell me about her. I could..." Bucky trailed off, and finally he said, "I could give you some pointers."
His voice sounded thick, as if it took every ounce of his not inconsiderable good nature to manage even that, and it moved Steve beyond words to know that Bucky would do whatever he could to make him happy, even at the expense of his own happiness. It was a willing sacrifice that Steve would not be quick to forget.
And now, he supposed, it was time for him to level the playing field, and perhaps ease the way for Bucky to feel comfortable with him, maybe even tell him how he felt, which was of course not the way that Steve ever planned for this evening to go. He wanted Bucky to come to him on his own, like he had before, but as always, he wasn't sure what it would take to make Bucky do so.
He'd just have to play it by ear.
"In the, um, interest of full disclosure, Buck," he began, uncharacteristically and unnecessarily nervous, because it's not like Bucky would shun him, of course not, he would never do something like that to Steve, he loved him too fucking much. "The person I've fallen for...isn't exactly a, um. A dame."
He felt more than saw Bucky freeze completely, and if he hadn't known him so well, he would have completely misinterpreted his reaction.
"Not exactly a dame?" Bucky echoed. "Not exactly a dame..."
Steve looked away, then, biting his lip rather hard, feeling that Bucky wasn't exactly pleased, even though he knew that in reality, that was probably the complete opposite of what he was feeling. It still felt like Bucky was going to say that he was wrong, or disgusting, and the fact that he thought that made Steve hate himself a little more. Bucky would never-
"Wait," Bucky said suddenly, shifting a bit closer to him, turning so that he could look directly at Steve. "Wait. Not exactly a dame... So that means, the person you're eyeing, the one you've fallen in love with, is...is a man?"
He flushed, feeling the heat spread over his cheeks and down his neck, even up to the tips of his ears.
He nodded mutely.
"Well shit, Steve, I didn't even guess that you... That you swung that way."
Steve finally looked over to his friend, and Bucky's face paled when he saw the uncertainty in his expression.
"No, Steve, no, it's not... It's not a bad thing. It's fine, really, I didn't mean anything by what I said, or the way I said it, or - or anything, really. You're my best friend, and society be damned, there ain't nothin' wrong with you for falling in love with a guy, ain't nothin', okay? I'll fight anyone who says different."
Bucky's urgency to soothe him made Steve give a watery smile; he was moved, beyond words, really, to know that Bucky wanted nothing more than for Steve to see himself in only the most positive of lights, even if he resented the same things in himself. What he didn't know - not yet, at least - was that Steve never thought it was something wrong, wanting and loving a man, because how could he see something wrong in himself when Bucky was the same way?
"Thanks, Buck," he said finally, sniffing faintly, and Bucky looked away pointedly, allowing Steve to rub at his eyes again, pushing the tears welling in his eyes away. After a moment, Bucky turned back, and Steve grinned at him, all traces of tears gone.
"Think of all the dames that go crazy for you," Bucky said, almost laughing. "They all try so hard to get Captain America to look twice at 'em, and for what? You'd rather look at the lads than the ladies, and instead of waiting for a girl with-" and here he mimed holding large breasts in his palms, and Steve reached over to shove at his shoulder good-naturedly, "all this time you've been waiting for a guy with a huge-"
"Bucky!" Steve interjected, turning his head to look incredulously at his friend, trying and not succeeding to fight the smile that threatened to break over his face. They were joking, and this was Bucky teasing him, just horsing around, and it made things seem almost normal.
Bucky just laughed, and Steve could see the lines of tension still running across his shoulders through it all.
"So," the other man continued, moving a bit closer to Steve, nudging at his bicep with his own. "It's a guy. Would still like to hear about him, make sure he's good enough for my best friend."
Steve found the corner of his mouth lift in answer to Bucky's friendly concern. He wasn't sure what he was able to say. Part of what had been so exhausting about taking care of an amnesiac Bucky was the fact that he was never sure what he should say, and how much was okay for him to say. He didn't want to say the wrong thing, push Bucky in a direction that he wasn't ready to go. What's more, he didn't want to say something that would make Bucky do something out of obligation rather than genuine affection or want.
He supposed there wouldn't be much harm in talking to Bucky about the person that he'd fallen in love with, given that he didn't straight out-and-out say that it was Bucky. Describing Bucky to Bucky was going to be tricky, but if he was vague enough then he could probably get away with it.
"Well," he began, fingers worrying at the fabric of his trousers. "This man...he's the best I've ever known. He's honest - well, at least for the most part - and he's brave. So brave. Braver than me, I'm certain. And he's smart, he's really smart, but he doesn't think he is. He's just. Well. He's kind, and loyal, and he has such a big heart. And, Buck, he's so funny. Oh, he can make me laugh."
Steve smiled wistfully at remembrance, thinking back to the time when the two of them had gone on their first fancy date, and he and Bucky had been so coy, gently ribbing at each other while still flirting outrageously. A faint blush dusted his cheekbones as he remembered Bucky becoming overwhelmed, tugging him into an alleyway and pushing him up against wall, then kissing him, hot and slow and dirty. The blush deepened as he remembered the blowjob, Bucky kneeling on the dirty ground of the alleyway, taking him in his mouth...
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts of that wonderful night. It simply wouldn't do to have Bucky asking too many questions; after all, he was a bad enough liar as it was, but Bucky knew him better than anyone else in the entire world, and whatever deception he could push on others, it would certainly fall flat on his friend. His brow furrowed as he remembered that Bucky was also able to know that something was amiss with him even before he did - at least some of the time.
"Yeah. Yeah. Well, anyway..." he trailed off, relaxing his legs so that they lay flat against the gravel, turning his head to look at Bucky. On his face was an expression that Steve couldn't quite place, and at that moment, he wasn't sure that he wanted to.
"Jesus, Steve," Bucky breathed out. "You really are in love, aren't you?"
He gave a small shrug. "I didn't really plan on it. I guess it kind of snuck up on me. One minute everything was completely normal, and this guy was just my friend, and then another minute I was in love with him, and he's the only person I could ever want to be with."
"He's incredibly lucky, Steve," Bucky said, looking away, worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth. "I mean, you're the best sort of person, and so...if you love him, he must be..." He inhaled sharply, and Steve could see his brow knit, and knew that he was trying to make sure he didn't show too much emotion. He ached to reach out and comfort Bucky, but wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, wasn't sure if it would be too unseemly or even if Bucky would want his comfort. "He must be amazing," Bucky finished, sounding somewhat forlorn.
"He really is," Steve agreed tentatively. He needed to change gears here, make Bucky sounded at least somewhat happier. This forlorn Bucky, the one that felt he needed to hide who he was, was not Steve's favorite Bucky. In fact, Steve kind of hated it.
"There has to be someone that you fancy, though," he continued, "and I'm not talking about the-the dame you slept with the other night."
(The thought of her, of Bucky fucking her in the bed that they used to share still sent a wave of bitterness and sorrow through Steve, not that he felt he could really blame him; Bucky didn't know that he was involved with him, and to be fair, they weren't really involved right now.)
Bucky made a dismissive sound. "Her? She didn't mean anything." He added a certain emphasis to the last word, almost sounding vehement, and Steve told himself that the wave of relief that soared through him was completely natural, and maybe it was.
"There is...someone, though," Bucky said slowly. "Or at least, the hope of someone. Wouldn't put any money on it, though."
Steve nudged Bucky's foot with his own. "So, tell me about her, then. Have to make sure she's good enough for my best friend," he said, echoing Bucky's earlier words.
They were both silent for a few moments, with Steve waiting and hoping for Bucky to speak, and Bucky struggling to find the will to do so. Finally, he stood, leaning against the brick, and looked out over the city. Steve followed suit immediately, standing close enough so that his sleeve brushed Bucky's but not wanting to go any farther. It was selfish of him, but of all the things he missed most about being with Bucky, it was definitely the being close part that made him ache the worst.
"Since you were so honest with me, figure it's only fair I do the same to you," Bucky said finally, careful not to look at Steve. "The person I have an eye on...not exactly a dame, either."
Since Steve had gone through this before, he knew how much those words cost Bucky, how much that admission was a leap of faith for him, and he reached out tentatively, resting his hand on his friend's forearm.
"Well, 's fine, really. You're still my best friend, aren't you? Doesn't change a thing. Besides, I could never think less of you."
Bucky let out a relieved, half-strangled laugh. "You always know just what to say, Steve," he said quietly. "Even though I don't give any sign that I need to hear it."
He shrugged. "You're my best friend," he repeated. "I know you."
(The words that went unsaid in Bucky's mind were, of course, 'not nearly as well as you think you do,' and Steve guessed as much. The problem was, of course, and always had been that Steve didn't know what to do with the information.)
"So this guy..." he prompted.
Bucky sighed, and chewed on his bottom lip, still looking out at the city. Steve was only looking at Bucky, watching for every flicker of emotion, every expression - both minute and overt - that he might see. Another thing he missed the most was how open and honest Bucky had been with him since they became a couple; he shared things, let how he felt really show, with words and his expressions, but this Bucky... He had his guard up, always, a mask that covered who he really was and what he really felt.
He just wanted Bucky to trust him.
"It's pretty simple, really," Bucky said at length, his voice calm but still fraught with emotion. "I've fallen for the best person I've ever met. There's no other way to put it, really. Any words I used to talk about him could only be just a...just a fragment of who he really is."
"I'm sure," Steve began carefully, "that he'd be honored to have you think so highly of him."
The other man gave a derisive laugh. "He doesn't look at me like that. And even if he could somehow see me that way...I'm definitely not his type."
Steve had to look away at that point; the furrowed brow, the harsh twist of his mouth as he gave that short laugh, the way his face tightened in not a little bit of self-loathing was just too much. He looked out over the city that surrounded the Avengers mansion. He almost envied the people in the city below; although he was certain they were all dealing with their own personal tragedies, certainly nothing could feel as awful as this.
"You won't know until you try," he said. "If he's as good as you say he is, then certainly he'd at least hear you out, and I'm sure that he returns your feelings."
Bucky shook his head absently, and Steve realized that his hand was still on Bucky's forearm, gripping gently. How he could have forgotten was beyond him, although he was certain that Bucky had been hyperaware every moment.
"No. He doesn't notice me, not like that, and besides," he continued, talking over Steve's soft noise of protest, "I'm not good enough for him. He's just...he's perfect, okay, Steve? There's no one like him. And he could have anyone he wanted, anyone in the whole word, because that's how amazing he is."
"Maybe," Steve said gently, "it doesn't matter that he could have anyone else in the whole world, because, just maybe..." His thumb rubbed absently over Bucky's forearm, a soft, insistent and soothing pressure, meant not only to be comforting to his friend but also to himself. "Maybe the only one he wants...is you."
Bucky turned his head to look at Steve sharply, his brow furrowed, gaze intent and measuring. Steve met Bucky's eyes with his own evenly, and it seemed that they were both challenging each other to look away. He knew, though, that if he looked away, the moment might pass, and that was the absolute last thing that he wanted. Here, on the roof with Bucky, the air seemed charged, and he was so close to coaxing out of his friend the feelings he knew were there.
It did not escape Steve, of course, the similarities this night held to the night months ago where Bucky had first told him how he felt.
"What if he doesn't?" Bucky said, watching Steve carefully. "What if he doesn't want me - what then?"
"I'm sure he does," Steve returned, pink tongue darting out to lick at his bottom lip, "but in case he doesn't... Well, then I'll take care of you."
He couldn't help his gaze from flicking down to Bucky's mouth, and he knew that Bucky saw it, and he really couldn't be bothered to care. It had been so long since they had stood this close to each other, since he could see the faint freckles that dusted across Bucky's nose and the way that his pupils pulsed out, the soft flecks of gold in his brown eyes, his eyelashes-
"Steve," Bucky breathed, obviously noting Steve's focus on him, and fighting his reciprocal interest.
His hand slid up from Bucky's forearm to rest on his elbow, gripping gently. His breath seemed caught in his chest, and he wouldn't be surprised if he was trembling. It was too much, and he was so close to having the thing that meant most to him back in his grasp.
"Bucky," he said again, tone soft, almost begging. "Bucky."
He leaned down slightly in invitation, tongue darting out once more to wet his lips. He saw Bucky's eyes widen almost imperceptibly, saw his eyes flicker down to his mouth, and he imagined that whatever anxiety, trepidation, hope, joy, and lust he was feeling, it was about one thousand times worse for Bucky.
Bucky's hand reached up, tips of his fingers brushing against the sensitive skin of Steve's throat, tracing his jawline briefly before coming to rest, curling against his neck, fingers pressed firmly against the skin just below his ear. He leaned in tentatively, his lips ghosting across Steve's.
Steve's eyes fluttered shut as he savoured the sensation of Bucky kissing him for a moment, but when he felt Bucky tense and begin to pull away, his grip tightened on his friend's elbow and jerked him closer, his other arm sliding around Bucky's waist, tightening slightly, and Steve figured that they were well past subtle, anyway.
His heart was hammering away behind his ribcage as he fully returned Bucky's kiss, and he hummed contentedly against his friend's mouth, almost smiling, as Bucky pulled his arm out of Steve's grasp so that he could reach up and cup his face in both hands, thumbs brushing tenderly across his flushed cheeks.
Their mouths were sliding together slowly, and they both leaned further into the kiss as their bodies pressed closer. Bucky pulled back almost minutely, and then leaned back in, still unsure, to kiss at Steve's bottom lip. Steve's breath hitched, and he thought that this was the happiest he'd been since Bucky lost part of his memory; he couldn't believe it, but he had almost forgotten what Bucky's mouth tasted like, how his tongue felt as it stroked his own, the soft pleased sounds that Bucky would make when they kissed.
He wrapped his arms fully around the other man, pulling him as close as possible, and returned the kiss fervently, touching the tip of his tongue to Bucky's lip, inquiring softly. He was elated, impossibly so, and dizzy with the feelings the moment inspired, but he didn't want to do more than Bucky was ready for.
Bucky, however, parted his lips with a gentle sigh, tongue slipping out to meet Steve's, gently licking into his mouth, fingers threading into the hair at the nape of his neck as the kiss deepened. The kiss was pleasantly slow, and Bucky's tongue delved into Steve's mouth, and he reveled in the warmth of it, drinking in the quiet whimper Steve gave in response.
They parted again after a moment, both of them breathing raggedly, and they rested their foreheads together, Steve's hands rubbing soothingly at the small of Bucky's back.
"Steve," Bucky gasped. "This guy, that you're crazy for - do I know him?"
The answer to the question was so stupidly obvious at this point that Steve let out a small laugh, looking down at Bucky fondly. "Of course," he replied simply, instantly quelling Bucky's insecurity. "He's you."
"I swear to god, Steve, if you're fucking with me, if this is some kind of sick joke-"
"Never," he assured earnestly. "I honestly and truly love you, James, and-"
At the use of his given name, Bucky let out a soft gasp and pressed his lips urgently to Steve's. He smiled against his mouth, and when Bucky's lips moved, peppering kisses over his warm cheeks, across his jaw, over his closed eyes and, leaning up even further, across his forehead, Steve sighed, more content than he had been for a long time.
Christ, but he had missed this.
The two of them could deal with the fallout of their words and actions tomorrow; right now, with the two of them pressed close together, kissing slowly and lazily and whispering reassurances, everything was fine. Even the air seemed pleased, the feel of it vibrant and electrically charged around the two of them.
The night was warm and quiet, and as far as evenings go, and considering the way his nights has been lately, Steve couldn't have asked for a better one.