“Think I’m in love, Stevie,” Bucky sighed.
Steve glanced over his sketchpad, fixing Bucky with a dubious look. The boy stared longingly into the distance, a giant, dopey smile on his face.
“I got the message, Buck,” Steve said wryly. Bucky didn’t even budge under his gaze. Steve shook his head and focused back on his drawing, carefully tracing out the arch of a pigeon wing. His subject bobbed its head and cooed, strutting along the stretch of pavement before them. “You said it a million times already.”
“Nah, Stevie, c’mon, I mean it! Did ya even see her—most beautiful thing I ever seen. Christ, I’d marry her if I could,” Bucky said loudly, wildly gesticulating and startling the poor bird away.
Huffing in frustration, Steve set his pad and pencil down between them, glancing mournfully at the direction the pigeon took off. He was almost done drawing it, too. “Ain’t so sure your parents’ll give you the blessing to marry their new car, Buck.”
Bucky turned to him and grinned wide. "It'll be my car one day," he said, throwing an arm over Steve’s thin shoulders. "She'll be my baby, then."
"Sure she will, Buck," Steve muttered, meeting his grin with a half-hearted smile as he shook Bucky’s arm off.
"Stevie," Bucky said quietly. "Steve, you awake?"
"No," Steve mumbled, cracking an eye open anyway. Bucky was curled up on his side, eyes wide and earnest, the Barnes' lumpy couch cushions askew where he lay on them. "Whaddya want, jerk?"
"I think I'm in love," Bucky answered, rolling onto his stomach and squirming.
"You think so? How do ya figure that, Buck?" Steve said, voice strained, narrowly dodging Bucky's gangly arm as he flailed it to the side.
"My heart don't ever beat right when I talk to Susie."
Steve frowned and turned into his side, shuffling further away from Bucky's wriggling, and curled into a ball. "My heart ain't never beat right, Bucky. Don't mean I'm in love."
Bucky scoffed quietly, and Steve could practically hear the small smirk in his voice. "Maybe you have been, 'nd you just didn't know it, Rogers," he murmured.
Steve craned his head towards Bucky and watched as his eyes fluttered closed. A tiny smile played at the other's lips and all Steve wanted to do was lean over and trace their outline. Instead, Steve turned away again, idly massaging his chest and pulling his blanket tighter over himself as his traitorous heart beat faster.
"Nah," he said, licking his dry lips and huffing quietly. Behind him, Bucky was already half-way to snoring. "I just got a shitty heart, s'all."
“Don’ say that, Stevie,” Bucky slurred, flailing an arm out and thwacking Steve soundly on his hip. “You’ll… find s’mbody…”
“Night, Bucky,” Steve scowled, shoving Bucky’s arm off of him and winding himself into a tighter ball. Heart fluttering uselessly, Steve closed his eyes and tamped the welling feeling of anxiety down as he listened to Bucky settle into a deep snore.
“Steve! C’mon, wait up!” Steve heard Bucky call out, the sound of feet slapping against the pavement echoing through the quiet street. Squinting, Steve looked back without stopping to wait, knowing Bucky could easily catch up. Sure enough, a moment later the other was next to him, a dopey smile on his face.
“Took ya long enough,” Steve drawled, eyeing Bucky’s dishevelled appearance critically. The boy’s collar was messy and his hair was mussed up and—was that a lipstick stain? Steve stopped abruptly and nearly tripped over himself, Bucky stumbling to a stop beside him to catch Steve before he fell. “Who’d you kiss?” he asked, clearing his throat.
Bucky blinked and gave him an easy smile and a contented sigh, wrapping an arm over Steve’s shoulders and pulling him forward into a leisurely stroll. “I don’t kiss ‘nd tell, Rogers,” he said cheekily, glancing down at Steve, eyes crinkled happily.
Steve let out a snort and a muttered ‘ain’t what you did last week’, earning a punch to the shoulder for his trouble, and stared straight ahead. They walked in silence for a block or two before Steve stopped again, shrugging Bucky’s arm off, and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “You in love with her?” he asked quietly, peering up at his friend through his bangs.
He watched as Bucky’s lips quirked. “Think so,” Bucky replied, and Steve almost deflated, heart thudding against his rattling rib cage. He cleared his throat and straightened up, smoothing his shirt down across his chest.
“That’s swell, Buck,” he said, hoping he sounded convincingly happy enough. From the way Bucky’s brows furrowed, he supposed he failed. He quickened his pace and glanced back at Bucky, plastering a tired grin on. “C’mon, we’re gonna be late for the picture!” he called back, beckoning him to follow.
The door was unlocked.
Steve carefully shuffled through with a frown, patting down his pockets for his keys. He could’ve sworn he’d locked the door before leaving earlier. Did someone find his spare? Granted, it wasn’t like he’d hid it well...
“Hiya, Rogers,” a familiar, if slightly slurred, voice came suddenly from his right just ahead of him, and Steve nearly dropped his drawing satchel on his foot. James Fucking Barnes sat at his tiny kitchen table, head leaned back against the wall with his hat crooked, and hastily wiped off lipstick stains down his jaw and neck. His uniform, collar undone and messy, looked like it spent a night on the floor, and judging from Bucky’s state, it probably did. “Miss me?”
Steve huffed and shook his head, face heating up. He’d been counting on Bucky’s absence to help him get over his little heart problem, but whoever said ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ was right and they could suck his dick, for all he cared.
“Well…” he started, clearing his throat, and wanting the floor to swallow him up. “It was kinda quiet without you ‘round—was starting to like it, honestly.”
“I bet,” Bucky said with a smirk, rubbing a hand over his jaw. He closed his eyes and slumped in his chair, stretching his arms behind his head. Steve swallowed, eyes raking over him, and set his bag down against the wall. He let out a quiet breath and could feel his heart practically rattle his ribcage. God help him.
“So, uh. You get back last night?” Steve asked, feeling awkward in his own home. He stuffed his hand in his pocket and pulled his keys out, dumping them onto counter before shrugging out of his jacket.
Bucky cracked an eye open and gave him a lazy smile. “Sure did, pal,” he said. “Had dinner with the family. Uh… I meant to visit last night, but Becca said you were workin’ late, so I just went out instead.” He yawned and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees before pushing himself up with a groan and tossing his hat onto the coat rack by the door.
“No kidding,” Steve said, hanging his jacket up carefully. He stood a few steps away and stared at Bucky, hesitance clear on his face, shoulders stiff, and back a little achy from hunching over his sketchbook for an hour or two at the park. They’d never been apart for more than a week, and here Bucky was, after more than a couple weeks away, and Steve was unsure where they stood.
The rumpled soldier gave him a once over and shook his head fondly, and Steve raised his chin indignantly. He could very well manage on his own, thank you very much, Bucky Barnes.
“C’mere,” Buck beckoned, eyebrows raised. “The hell you waitin’ for, Rogers? You actually not miss me or somethin’?” He opened his arms, and after a moment Steve stepped into them, tucking himself underneath his chin. They pulled apart after what seemed way too long, and Bucky took him by the shoulders, shaking him.
“You alright, Rogers?” he said, frowning. “Your heart’s racing.”
“M’fine, Barnes—you just startled me, that’s all,” Steve said dismissively, ducking his head and rubbing his chest. He glanced up at him through his lashes, nodding towards the lipstick stains, desperate to change the subject. “Those from your sweetheart?”
“S’pose so,” Bucky said, sheepishly letting go of Steve’s shoulders to rub the stains on his neck. His cheeks turned pink—Bucky Barnes’ cheeks turned pink—with embarrassment, and he cleared his throat. “She promised to write me while I’m gone. You know. Keep my morale up.”
“What, my letters ain’t good enough for you, James Buchanan?” Steve teased, stepping away to put some water on the stove. Coffee sounded good, right about now.
“Nah,” Bucky said with a conspiratory wink, lips quirking. He slipped past Steve and headed towards the door backwards, stumbling over himself with a happy laugh, and snapped a sloppy salute. “Gonna freshen up a bit—thought I got all the lipstick off earlier,” he explained with a grin as he quietly shut the door behind him.
Steve leaned against the counter, chewing his bottom lip as he watched him go, bereft. You in love? he wanted to ask—but what was the point? He knew the answer.
Bucky had a sizeable pile of forwarded mail waiting for him when they got back from Azzano.
“Those from your sweetheart, Barnes?” Dum Dum Dugan asked, leering over Bucky’s shoulder with a lascivious smile.
Steve looked up sharply at that, glancing at the pair from across the room where he’s got his own small pile of mail, mostly from Bucky’s family inquiring after his health.
“Sure are,” said Bucky, sifting through them. He opened them carefully, eyes wandering over the words and wrinkling with mirth every couple of lines. Dum Dum read over his shoulder, squinting in concentration.
“Jesus, this is one helluva backlog, Barnes. ‘42? Christ,” Dugan said.
What do they say? What did she write that makes Bucky so—
“Say, this one’s signed Steve Rogers! ” Dum Dum exclaimed, and Steve turned bright red, heart thudding painfully in his chest.
“‘Course it is. Who the fuck else is gonna ignore direct orders and come after a dead guy?” Bucky smiled, cracking up and blowing him a kiss. Steve swallowed, sighing heavily, and shot him the bird and a dirty look.
“Yeah, and what about your actual sweetheart, Buck?” Steve snarked, glaring at him. He rubbed at his chest out of habit, feeling small again. The serum couldn’t fix everything, apparently.
Bucky sobered up slightly, and his smile became wistful. “Stopped writing me a while ago, now, I think. Last one I got was last year,” he murmured, turning back to Steve’s letter. “Blonde ‘nd real sweet, real temper though. Found someone better, I guess.”
Brows furrowed, Steve tried to imagine the girl who left the bright red marks all across Bucky’s chin and neck as blonde and it just didn’t add up. Bucky liked girls with brown or red hair. The days after he came back from basic, Bucky’s girl was a sweet redhead with a real mean streak.
“Holy Christ, Rogers, how many fuckin’ letters you send him last year? Twenty? Thirty? Jesus, Mary, ‘nd Joseph, even his family didn’t send that many—”
“Cap. Got some time for your ol’ pal Buck?”
Steve looked up from his small desk and gave Bucky a small smile, gesturing to the seat in front of his work space. The man stumbled over, awkwardly shutting the door behind him, and plopped himself into the uncomfortable chair, sprawling out with a loud belch and snort.
“Christ, Buck, how much did you drink?”
“Don’ worry, it ain’t on your tab, Rogers. Carter opened one up for us after debriefing,” Bucky said, waving it off. He rubbed a hand over his face and crossed his arms, dropping his head to his shoulder. “Didn’t drink that much anyway. Just wanted it to be like before, you know. I miss it.”
“Like before?” Steve said, raising a brow. He set his pen down and leaned back in his chair, mimicking Bucky’s pose.
“Yeah, you know: you do your thing ‘nd I pester the hell out of you.”
Steve squinted at him, perplexed. “Ain’t that what we do, anyways?”
Bucky rolls his eyes, and Steve sticks his tongue out.
“You better learn to respect your elders, kid,” Bucky scolded, wagging his finger at Steve.
“You’re only two years older than me, and I outrank you,” said Steve, leaning forward over his desk and grinning. His cheeks felt warm, and his hair flopped into his eyes.
“By fuckin’ fluke, Rogers!” Bucky laughed, full out laughed, and that was something Steve really did miss from before. He reached out and cuffed Steve over the head, ruffling his hair fondly as they grew quiet again.
Steve ducked his gaze, glancing at Bucky through his bangs. The other man licked his lips and leaned back in his chair, wiping a hand under his nose.
“Think I’m in love, Stevie,” Bucky said quietly, face serious. “I really think I do.”
Heart thudding in his chest in an achingly familiar way, Steve bit his cheek. He kneaded his breast absently. “How d’you figure that, Buck?” he asked, just as quietly, just as seriously.
“I— you—” Bucky started, but shook his head. He stayed silent for a while after that, and Steve was happy—well, happy wasn’t the word for it (more like anxious), but it was Bucky, and he’d do anything for him—to sit by him until he was ready. Steve started to doodle on the edge of a letter he was writing to Bucky’s sisters, and it was almost an hour before Bucky spoke again.
“Nicest tits I ever seen,” was what he finally said, staring intently at Steve’s chest.
“Excuse me?!” was how Steve replied, mildly offended. He crossed his arms and tucked his chin to his chest, staring at Bucky accusingly.
“S’how I figure I’m in love,” Bucky said, shrugging. He smirked lazily and scooted his chair up, bumping his legs up against Steve’s. “The nicest fuckin’ tits I ever seen. Like, goddamn. So nice. I’d marry ‘em, if I could.”
Mouth agape, Steve kicked Bucky’s leg away. “You’re fulla shit, Barnes!”
Chuckling, Bucky caught Steve’s ankle and hauled it onto his lap, patting his shin firmly. “Carter’s got a nice pair, too,” he said lewdly, wagging his eyebrows.
“Jesus Christ, Barnes,” muttered Steve, shoving his other foot onto Bucky’s lap, too. He sunk into his chair and groaned, covering his face. “That ain’t all she is.”
Bucky hummed in agreement and stuck a hand up Steve’s trouser leg, lightly tickling him. “You sweet on her, Rogers?”
“S’com—complicated. Shut up! Fuck!” Steve shrieked, kicking Bucky right in the stomach, and Bucky busted his gut laughing.
Steve leaned against the door with a heavy sigh, tossing his keys onto the hall table. As far as morning jogs went, that one was a definite disaster—the sudden downpour of rain had seen to that. Soaking wet, he toed off his shoes and socks with a grimace, nudging them over the heater before padding over to the kitchen. He most definitely needed coffee right now. He passed by Bucky, who was watching him from the kitchen island with a frown.
“The hell was your jacket, Rogers?”
“Rain wasn’t in the forecast, Buck,” Steve said wearily. “And it’s nothing I can’t handle.” He turned the kettle on and went to his room, peeling his wet clothes off with a shiver. The cold that came with it, though… Steve shook himself and dried himself off, shrugging into a warm sweater and sweat pants. When he got back to the kitchen, the kettle was turned off and there was a mug of coffee waiting for him beside Bucky.
“Thanks, pal,” muttered Steve, and Bucky grunted in reply, not looking up from his crossword. Steve wrapped his hands around the mug and took a careful sip, Buck’s familiar, messy cursive standing out on the page in red pen as Steve watched him fill out 18-across with ‘dodgers’.
“Been doing some thinking,” Bucky said after a little bit, most of the crossword done. He pushed it away from him and leaned forward on the counter, crossing his arms.
“What about?” Steve asked.
“Love, I guess.” Bucky had a funny look on his face, somewhere between a grimace and a smile.
“You guess,” Steve deadpanned, not sure what to make of him.
“Uh huh,” Bucky nodded, regarding Steve somberly. “I think I’m in love.”
“What’s their name?” Steve prompted, and the usual ache in his chest plagued him. He looked down at his chest and wiped an invisible drop of coffee away, willing his heart to shut the fuck up for once in his damn life. Frowning, Bucky watched him with quiet, vested interest, and suddenly broke into a smile.
“Steve,” said Bucky.
“What.” Steve scrunched his face in bewilderment.
“Stevie,” Bucky laughed, reaching out and cradling the back of Steve’s head. “You got the worst fuckin’ tells, you know that?”
“What?” Steve huffed in frustration. “Buck, c’mon. How’d you figure you’re in love?” he said, trying to shake Bucky’s hand off. Instead, Bucky crowded into his space, and kissed him chastely on the mouth. Steve inhaled sharply, heart nearly bursting out of his chest.
“Like that, I guess,” Bucky murmured, moving in for another kiss. Nervous, Steve hummed and leaned closer, awkwardly trying to move into Bucky’s lap and failing miserably. IKEA stools were not built to hold two super soldiers, and the minute the chair started to creak, Steve’s attempt to get the hell out of dodge sent him sprawling to the floor with a loud yelp. That move would have worked better in 1941.
Bucky snorted. “Graceful as ever, Rogers.”
“Not everyone’s a suave asshole like you,” Steve snapped back, resigning himself to the floor. He slapped a hand over his eyes in mortification and kicked at the leg of Bucky’s chair. “You’re not—you’re not pulling my leg, right? This is all real? M’not dreaming?”
“Baby doll, I could wax poetic about your tits again, f’you want,” Bucky offered, shrugging. “Was a real charmer, if I remember correctly.”
“You’re fulla shit, Barnes,” he muttered, glaring up at him.
“Not since ‘36,” Bucky replied softly.
Steve peeked out between his fingers and frowned. “What was in '36?”
Bucky shrugged, pushing off the stool. He knelt at Steve’s side, grabbed his hand, and kissed his palm. “Was you. Always was.”
“I think I’m in love, Steve,” Bucky said quietly, gripping Steve’s limp, cold hand tightly with sweaty palms. Steve stirred with a slight groan, eyes half-lidded, but he didn’t move otherwise, and his face was fixed in what seemed a permanent, stubborn grimace. Maybe Bucky was seeing things, but there was a hint of a scowl, too, and if Steve were any better he’d probably say ‘you’re fulla shit, Barnes’ or ‘big surprise there’, but Steve wasn’t any better. He was still sick in bed, and Bucky was still sitting by him, vigilant as ever.
“You wanna hear about it?” Bucky prompted, shaking his hand gently. Steve made a sound of protest and disgust, weakly thumping their hands against the mattress before closing his eyes, a soft sigh leaving his lips. “C’mon, Rogers—I know you wanna hear it,” Bucky wheedled. “Bet you’re dying...” He frowned and stumbled over the word, clearing his throat. “Bet you’re itchin’ to know why, huh?”
Steve’s eyelids fluttered open to level Bucky with a stern glare, eyebrow raised in question, before closing again, grunting quietly.
“Well, I ain’t telling you. Not until you’re better,” Bucky huffed. “So fuckin’ get better, Rogers.”
The boy in bed let out an amused breath, a small smirk curling his lips. Bucky took it as a promise, feeling Steve squeeze his hand tightly before the grip went lax, and his ragged breathing evened out.
“Prettiest eyes,” he whispered after a beat, glancing at the open door before scooting closer to Steve’s side, still grasping his hands tightly. “Even when they’re mad. ‘Specially when they’re mad. So stubborn. Challenging.”
“Nicest hands,” he continued in a murmur. Steve let out a soft snore, snuffling in his sleep. “Talented as hell, smart as a whip, stupidest hair, angry with the world but still so hopeful. S’got hope for fuckin’ miles. Dunno where it comes from. Sure wish I had some of it right now, pal.” Bucky leaned over their intertwined hands and pressed them to his forehead, letting out a shaky laugh. “Please get better,” he said, voice cracking. “Your ma almost sent me for Father O’Connell again. I can’t do it—I ain’t doing that again, Stevie.” He brought Steve’s palm to his mouth and closes his eyes. “S’you,” he mouthed. “S’always been you.”
He sat like that for what seemed like hours before Steve’s ma silently came and sat on the other side of the bed, gently stroking Steve’s hair.
“Did you say somethin’ when I fell asleep?” Steve rasped out the next day, propped up in bed with at least a dozen pillows. Bucky gave him a half-hearted smile and ruffled his hair, setting a bowl of stew beside the bed.
“Nah, kid,” he said softly. “You’re just imaginin’ things.”