The first bars of the song made Bucky laugh out loud in his truck. After weeks of working on the old beat up radio, cannibalising spare parts in between working on the actual body of the truck and trying to find enough gas to run it – he’d managed to get it souped up enough to pick up some longer wave stations. Three days of slowing cycling through the short wave and then the long wave signals he’d finally managed to get something other than static. Someone was out there, broadcasting. He wasn’t alone.
“You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light. Feeling. Pretty. Psyched!” Bucky sang along before the chorus hit, drumming his hands on the wheel. His truck trundled along – he could get it up to a pretty good speed even with the weight of the armour he’d welded on. In the privacy of his head he called it ‘The Truck’ but the actual carcass was… well, he’d taken substance over style – and a motorhome was the best option he had. It meant that he could sleep somewhere safe and had enough room for supplies. He could even kid himself that he was on a camping trip, rather than being alone in the world, with only a handful of crazy fuckers willing to kill for scrap.
The song carried on, and Bucky sang along, the highway pretty empty. When the infection first hit, the roads had been full of deserted cars – people had worked together to clear the roadways, knowing that they had to keep them clear for the emergency services. The verges were empty too – so this hadn’t been a popular escape route. He had to keep his eyes open for abandoned cars. They could be syphoned for gas, and the car batteries could be rigged easily enough to run the electronics in the truck. He had three larger batteries that he’d taken from the marina – those could run his meager electrics for years, but he knew that eventually they’d run out.
The song finished and another kicked in instantly, and Bucky felt his good mood evaporate. It was probably some station that had left its auto queue running. “I see earthquakes and lightning. I see bad times today.” He mumbled along as the truck slowly ate up the miles. There was a suburb close, according to the maps he’d tried to save to the laptop before the internet went down. One of those ‘towns of tomorrow’ and he was holding out hope that he’d find what he needed there. His goal was solar panels. There was enough space on the roof for a couple as well as the water collector he’d rigged up, that collected rainwater and slowly drew it through as many filters as he could find. He’d had the shits for a week when he’d started, and he’d added more filters just in case. He wasn’t sure what made him ill – the tinned food, the lack of fresh veg, the water, the fact he was alone. He was only half listening to the song, and when it ended he nearly crashed the truck.
“Well, those are from my ‘Fuckit We’re All Dead’ playlist.” A voice said as the tires of the truck screeched on the road, the back end swinging out dangerously before Bucky managed to correct it.
“Holy shit!” He yelled, grabbing the wheel tightly, leaning closer to the radio like that would bring more words to him.
“So, update on the situation here in sunny Brooklyn!” The voice carried on, oblivious to Bucky’s manic joy. “It’s still raining and I’ve managed to boost the output of the station so it carries a little further, I hope.” A pause. “You know, I know a lot of folks left here when the virus hit, but you’d think some people would have stayed. Someone must have survived, right? I’m not alone, am I?” The voice sounded resigned, and Bucky banged on the wheel in frustration. “If you’re out there, if someone is out there – I’m in Brooklyn, I’m at-”
Bucky half screamed over the address the guy gave out, a garbled shout to shut up, to stay quiet. Safe. Bucky knew there were survivors. The truck wasn’t covered in armour for no damn reason. Crazy fucking gun toting assholes who treated the end of the world like a party where they took what they wanted. He gripped the wheel tight as another song started to play. Becca had been so fucking ready to believe the best in people, she’d thought they had more of chance together. He’d buried his little sister beside the old oak tree they’d played around as kids, climbing and leaping. The guys that took her, he left those for the wolves and crows. His baby sister.
He looked at the map on the laptop and frowned. Brooklyn was too far out of his way – he had another 15 miles to go before he would reach the suburb, and his own survival was more important than some voice over 400 miles away. He’d be putting himself at risk. He needed to get away from the cities.
His name was Steve Rogers, and Bucky had the radio tuned into his station constantly. He had a couple of thousand songs that he’d play through, although Bucky could tell some of them he liked more – he’d heard the soundtrack to Chicago about four times already, and had caught himself singing along as he drove without even noticing. Becca had loved show tunes. She’d taken that love from their mom. Bucky liked his rock classic and (not that he’d ever admitted it to his buddies back home) the more modern pop songs that they used to play on the top 10. He might have known all the words to a couple of Ke$ha songs – he wasn’t admitting anything. Steve played songs through the night – Bucky was sure he just left his playlist open in alphabetical order – and through the day he’d talk. Sometimes he’d talk about what he’d done when he’d been ‘off air’ how he’d been scavenging for food or water, or his exploration of the blocks near where he lived. He’d tell stories about his mom or his buddy Sam, the trouble they’d get into. Other times he’d read books. Bucky loved the books. They were mostly short stories, or poetry. Steve normally read for an hour or so before his voice got scratchy – it was the best part of Bucky’s day.
“He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside.” Steve was saying, his voice easy and warm, lulling Bucky into an easy sense of security inside his truck, tucked down a back road away from the sightlines of the suburb he’d been aiming for. In the dark he could see lights – he wasn’t sure if that was a sign of life or just the solar panels he was hoping still working. “I like that,” Steve said, sighing. “The idea that a friend could be warmth and comfort. Not a lot of that around right now.” Another sigh before he carried on – and Bucky wondered if he managed to get himself a solar panel if he could try to get some kind of transmitter too – try to send a message to Steve. You are not alone.
The town had solar panels – Bucky tried not to whoop with glee at the sight of the glass on the rooftops of the large houses. He couldn’t see any survivors, but he didn’t trust his luck to hold out as he set up his rigging and scaled the building. The house was empty aside from the three bodies in the basement – he slammed the door shut quickly, thankful that he’d remembered to put his mask on before exploring. The infection was airborne, they’d said at first, and Bucky knew that as it infected more and more people that they’d changed theories more often than Bucky had hot meals – but he wasn’t taking the risk. He’d caught it once, and lived. He didn’t think he’d be so lucky next time.
Getting the panels off the roof and onto the truck took longer than he would have liked – he blamed that, later – and he was lucky that he’d secured three before he heard the crack of a gun.
“Shit!” He gasped, arm laced with white hot pain as he fell off the roof of the truck – landing hard on his hip and knocking all the breath out of his lungs. It was only luck that hand him landing on the far side of the truck and not sandwiched between it and the shooter. He’d always assumed, before the virus and the riots, that the fight or flight thing was bullshit – that the stories where a mother could rip the door off a car to save her child trapped inside were just that. Stories.
He knew different now though, as the fear laced adrenaline had him on his feet before the pain in his hip even registered, diving into the passenger door and hauling himself over into the driver’s side seat with a speed he’d never manage again. The truck tore out of the cul-de-sac, Bucky’s hand slipping on the blood covering the wheel as he cursed, passenger door banging open and close as he pushed his foot hard on the gas.
The truck could get a good speed going if it had a long enough stretch of road, and the wide streets were perfect as the engine roared. Another few shots peppered the back of the truck, but he’d reinforced enough that he wasn’t in any risk of getting a bullet through the back of the head – the radio warbling out a slightly static version of Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” making him laugh at his own expense.
His arm was fucked. He realised that a few hours later when he managed to pull out the bullet with a pair of tweezers from his sisters beauty kit and the reflection in the rear view mirror. His first aid kit was pretty extensive and he’d picked up a lot of books about wilderness survival and first aid – he washed out the wound as best he could manage and wrapped it up tightly before washing down the truck with wet-wipes and bleach spray. He couldn’t risk the blood attracting flies or worse, and he had to keep everything as sterile as he could if he had an open wound. He’d come back from the dead just to punch himself if – after everything – he died of gangrene. But it was clear that the bullet had hit something he needed – he could lift his arm only if he didn’t mind the excruciating pain, and his fingers could only just manage a wiggle that had his knees buckling from under him. He banged his head against the steering wheel while he listened to Steve read from a kids book he vaguely recognised, and let himself cry from pain and frustration. With one arm, he’d never be able to hook up the solar panels. He’d gotten shot for nothing.
Fifty miles from the town where he’d been shot, Bucky found a stretch of road where they’d towed the cars into the verges to clear a path. The cars looked untouched, but he was being careful – hyper vigilant – he couldn’t risk the chance of getting caught out again, especially since his hip was screaming in pain with every pothole the truck trundled over. He didn’t think running for cover was going to be an option until the giant black and purple bruising that had taken days to appear had faded.
“So the water to the building has officially run out.” Steve was saying, as Bucky watched the cars for movement. “For the last couple of days it’s been kinda brown, and this morning – nadda. I should have left with Sam and the rest of them.” A deep sigh. “Anyway, I’ve been trying to collect what I can in barrels on the roof but it tastes weird. The library nearest me got set on fire in the riots, so I’ll have to go further out today to try and find a book store.” The music kicked in with a pause of a few seconds. Steve wasn’t running a radio station as much as he was just trying to fill his days with sound. Bucky let the sound of Frank Sinatra wash over him as he sat and watched the cars. It looked safe.
The cars had been a treasure trove. It seemed that once they’d been towed off the highway they’d been totally left alone – the tanks were mostly full or half full, and the trunks were full of supplies. Families had tried to escape the virus, throwing everything they could into their cars and driving out of the cities. All that happened was the infection spread with them, moving faster. He had metal drums stacked into the truck, the smell of gas too strong for him to ignore. It took most of the day to fill them, limping back and forward, only one arm to carry the load. He was spitting fuel, the taste lingering even after he’d brushed his teeth twice, trying to ignore the smell that was making him lightheaded from the cans in the van, when Steve came back on the radio. Right away, Bucky knew something was wrong.
“So, update,” Steve gasped, causing Bucky to sit upright, his arm and hip shooting white lightning of pain through his body like he’d been hit by a Taser. “Turns out that I’m not alone here.”
“Shit,” Bucky ground out, trying not to move his body. “Shit, Stevie, what have you done?”
“There’s a group of guys, um, on the other side of the bridge.” Steve gasped. “Um, if you’re in the area, they’ve got knives and motorbikes.” A pause, the sound of moving, of clothes shifting. “Um, I’ve been stabbed a little.”
The music kicked in, and Bucky listened to Abba asking him to Take a chance.
He figured it was a sign.
The roads were mostly clear – mostly – and although he had to take a few side routes, he soon saw the New York shadow on the horizon. Too far away for Bucky to make out any skyline, but he knew it was there, at least. Parts were still smoking – the riots destroyed a lot of the city, and neglect caused the rest. Turned out that people didn’t go around turning off their electricals before they died, and neglected ovens, heating units and a thousand other odds and ends caused fires if they were left alone. With no fire service, and water scarce, New York burned.
Bucky had calculated just how much gas he was going to need to make it to New York, and had stashed the rest of the cans in an easily accessible place. Driving into a city with people who might want to kill him was one thing, driving into a city with people who might want to kill him while he was sitting on a few gallons of gas was something totally different. He’d broken into a doctors clinic and a vets – loaded up his first aid kit with painkillers and anti-biotics and even a few things he wasn’t sure he needed. His wilderness book might have something on them, and if not, he could always find a bookstore in a less populated place. He’d already injected himself with a small vile of morphine to counter the pain of his hip and arm, not helped by having to climb through windows and (in the case of the clinic) through a damn skylight.
Steve hadn’t said much since his run in with the gang by the bridge, no long nights of reading to sooth Bucky into a state where he was relaxed enough to actually sleep – no chat other than a couple of comments about his leg. Which, going on the way he described it – was infected, and badly.
“It’s hot and red.” Steve had tried to joke. “Like me in summer.” Before playing through more songs. He’d stopped talking about where he was holed up – Bucky was glad of that – in some belated attempt to stay safe.
“I’m on my way.” Bucky told the radio, as though Steve could hear him, as though Steve was listening.
He hid the truck. It was perfect for long journeys, its armour kept him safe and the space in the back gave him some comfort and reminded him of how things were – he still sat at the table to eat, he still slept in a bed. He had plates and cups and civilisation wasn’t really dead, he thought, if he closed his eyes. He was just camping. A road trip to end all road trips.
But it wasn’t safe in the city. His truck was good on long stretches of road – the narrower streets, still filled with cars and rubble would make it impossible. Not only that, but everything he owned was inside – it was the single most valuable thing he owned. It might not have been worth a lot before the virus, but it was priceless now. Especially with his modifications. So he carefully drove it into a multi levelled carpark on the outskirts of the city, and hotwired a smaller car with a half a tank of gas still left. He grinned at how his dad had been disappointed that Bucky wanted to be a mechanic. How he’d sat Bucky down and told him that he could be anything – he was smart and picked up things quickly, good at science and math. But Bucky went to a local college and become a mechanic, and it had paid off in the end.
He slid himself into the driver’s seat and hissed at the pain in his hip. It was getting better, but too slowly for his liking – the bruise was turning green at the edges while the centre was still an angry black and purple.
He drove slowly. It was nearly impossible to go faster – the roads were packed, and most of the time he was on the sidewalks – like a weird slowed down version of some high speed chase. Bucky missed movies. The idea that he’d never see a new one was hard to get his head around. He’d never see the second season of Daredevil – he’ll never know what happened to the Doctor. He drove on. The car radio couldn’t pick up Steve’s station – it had taken Bucky a long time to get a lock on it – and it was probably the only reason Steve was still alive. If anyone with a radio could tune in, the guy wouldn’t have lasted a week, especially since he kept advertising where he was.
Carefully navigating the streets, Bucky aimed for the block where Steve had said he was – finally getting there without seeing anyone. Probably only a matter of time – the city was silent, and sound travelled. It wouldn’t be long before someone came looking.
He didn’t bother trying to pull over, just stopped the car in the middle of the street, and hauled himself out of the driver’s seat with a wince. His arm, wrapped up in a sling so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it, was throbbing after he’d knocked it trying to get the wires in the car twisted tightly enough to keep the engine going.
The inside of the building was dark, which he’d expected. Steve had mentioned more than once that the power had long gone – he was running things on a portable generator in his apartment that rattled like death and smelt of gasoline – and Bucky closed his eyes to see if he could hear anything on each floor, climbing the stairs and pausing.
It took a few floors before he heard something, a low rumble, not loud, but certainly not obvious. “Please.” He said, walking towards the sound, unsure exactly who he was talking to but needing the word out anyway, something to fill the silence.
Steve’s door was easy to find – he’d stuck up a poster of a shield on the door, bright with the red, white and blue. There was a push bike leaning against the wall too – it reminded him of the times Steve had talked about exploring the city. Bucky had thought the bike was a good idea; it was mostly silent and still could get him away from most people faster than on foot. There was blood on the chain, dark brown and looking almost like rust if it wasn’t for the smell. He looked at the door and took a breath, trying the handle. It wasn’t even locked.
Bucky had been into a lot of houses in the year he’d been driving around. He’d seen things he wished he’d never seen – bodies decomposing, rotting away – and worse. He remembered walking into houses where everything seemed normal until you got to one room, with heavy locks, or the attic, or the basement. He’d stopped exploring those rooms after the first couple of times. He’d developed a distaste for those large garages at the back of houses.
But the smell was always the same. Sweat. Rotting food. The sound of flies. His heart stuttered to a halt. Steve had obviously tried to keep his place clean, but there was a plate of food – a tin of some kind of meat – sitting in the middle of the room, and Bucky could see it move. At least three days, then, for the maggots to start wriggling. He walked through the room, heading towards the sound of music and artificial light, pushing at the door.
Bucky was driving too fast for the road, bumping up onto the sidewalk harshly and jolting them both. With each bump, Steve would groan, or whimper, but Bucky couldn’t go slower – not when they were being chased. He’d found Steve, a small, slight man with sweat soaked blond hair and a grey complexion, slipping between consciousness with every breath – sitting in front of an array of laptop computers that he had MacGyvered together, and a large areal sticking out the back. When he’d realised that Bucky was in the room, he’d flinched – tried to talk.
Bucky grimaced as he took another corner too fast, slamming Steve into the side of the door and jolting his arm in the sling. “Shit!” He hissed, missing a hydrant by inches. He could hear the engines of the motorbikes revving behind and knew he didn’t have long before they’d catch up.
When he’d seen Steve, he knew that the kid needed help – his leg wound was clearly infected from what Bucky could see, jeans pulled up and a milky, pale green puss slowly making its way down his calf like a snail trail. Bucky unclipped his backpack and swung it around, folding up Steve’s laptop tech and pulling out wires before cramming them inside. Steve whimpered, thin shaking hands trying to stop Bucky from stealing his gear. “Come on, Steve.” Bucky said, pushing the last laptop inside. “Come on, okay? I’m gonna help. I’m here to help.”
Beside him, Steve shivered. He’d been doing that since Bucky had half carried, half dragged him into the car, stopping only to grab a large duffle and swing it over his shoulder. It was heavy and felt like clothes – Steve had made a ‘grab bag’ like they’d told people to put together. It had been hard to keep Steve from falling down the stairs, but Bucky had managed it with an overloaded backpack and a duffle over his shoulder. He’d shoved Steve into the passenger side and thrown the bags in the back just as the sound of engines hit his ears.
“Come on, come on!” He said, swinging wildly around the corner and seeing the garage where he’d stashed his truck. He might not be able to outrun bikes in the Truck, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to get hurt either – unless they had armour piercing rounds, which he very much doubted.
He hoped that going into the carpark would lose the biker gang for a few minutes; maybe they’d miss it completely and carry on down the street. He could only hope as he drove faster, aiming for the wide door and bumping over the speed ramps. Steve groaned, and Bucky bit out a colourful curse as he banged his arm again.
He’d managed to get Steve into the Truck with the bags thrown in the back before he heard the bikes in the echoing carpark. The gang were whooping and yelling, obviously high on the adrenaline of the chase, or maybe just high, Bucky didn’t care. He pulled himself into the driver’s side and slammed the door with a grin, engaging the locks. The truck rumbled to life smoothly, the definition of a well maintained vehicle. Bucky felt his breathing smooth out – he’d seen too many movies where the hero had to struggle with the engine not kicking in, the frantic hammering of the steering wheel as they tried to get their car to work. Not Bucky. He had a nice smooth rumble as he eased out of his parking space.
The bikers weren’t expecting the Truck. The grill on the front looked more like something out of Mad Max than anything – Bucky would go to his grave before admitting he may have drawn a little inspiration from the movies when he’d started thinking about how to protect himself. The gang scrambled their bikes trying to get out of his way, and Bucky left the city with their cursing fading behind. They weren’t stupid – the Truck wasn’t going to be easily taken.
Steve was delirious for a week – even with the anti-biotics and painkillers that Bucky had given him. Bucky had drained the wound on his leg as best he could and washed it out every day with sterile water while Steve was unconscious, only waking up to scream at the pain before passing out again. Between fixing up Steve as best he could with his stolen medical supplies and a book on first aid, Bucky drove. Every couple of days he re-dressed his arm, noting that the bullet wound was a nice healthy looking pink rather than the same hot red of Steve’s leg. He still couldn’t move it though. He picked up the gas he’d hidden, strapping them to the roof beside his useless solar panels so the smell wouldn’t bother Steve.
He was eating a tin of ravioli, heated on the little electric hob, when he heard Steve move from where he’d been sacked out on the bed. Bucky had tried to keep him clean, but the fever had kept him either freezing or boiling, and both resulted in a stink of sweat that hung in the air like a cloud.
“Help?” Steve whispered, the first word he’d spoken unless you counted the screamed “Stop!” and “No!” when Bucky had tried to fix up his leg. Instantly Bucky got up, food forgotten. “Help!” Steve whispered, more urgently, and for a second Bucky thought that he’d drifted back into a fever dream, until he saw the brightness in Steve’s eyes.
“Are you okay, man?” Bucky asked, keeping his voice pitched low so Steve wouldn’t have to deal with loud noises.
Steve blinked, and looked around, panic building up. “I need the bathroom.” He admitted, and Bucky smiled despite himself.
“Okay, do you think you could get up?” He asked. “I’ve got a bucket if you can’t.”
Steve managed to look mortified. “I can get up.” He insisted, and Bucky nodded. Although Steve looked like a little kid, Bucky had been the one to strip him down and clean him when he soiled himself and he knew if he’d been in the same situation he’d want to make it to the bathroom too.
“Okay, give me your hand, its right here. Works just like a regular toilet, okay?”
Ten minutes later, Bucky tried as gently as he could to carry Steve’s slumped body back to bed. He’d managed to get as far as washing his hands before he passed out, which Bucky would call a win. With his one good arm, he was able to settle him in and finish off his now cold meal.
Bucky woke up to the sound of someone moving around the Truck – and the smell of cooking. He snapped upright, wincing at the pain. Sleeping in the passenger side seat was messing with his back, no matter how far he pushed the seat back.
“Hi.” Someone – Steve! – said, “Um, morning. Hello.”
He was wearing a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt from the duffle Bucky had managed to grab from his apartment – and he was holding out a plate of food. He looked pale and a little shaky, not quite putting weight on his leg, but awake – alert. Alive.
“Hi.” Bucky said, rubbing at his eyes, trying to dislodge the sleep grit from his lashes. “Sorry. Hi.”
“I made this for you.” Steve said, limping over and holding out the plate like a peace offering. “I figure you might have just saved my life.”
“Don’t mention it.” Bucky said, taking the plate. It was just a half tin of beans in tomato sauce and hotdogs from a jar, heated up, but it was the first time in a year someone had made him food, and he couldn’t help the grin on his face at the gesture.
“I know.” Bucky said, pulling himself out of the seat and hobbling to the table. It might have been the end of the world, but he still had standards. “I listened to your radio station.” He added, so he didn’t sound too much like a stalker. “It’s how I knew you were hurt.I’m Bucky.”
Steve looked surprised and then thrilled. “It worked then?” He said, leaning forward. “It actually transmitted?”
“Yeah,” Bucky said, trying to eat slowly. He was sure it tasted better when someone else cooked. “Um, I picked it up just outside of Ohio. But I had to really trick out the radio to pick it up.” He added, apologetically.
“But you heard it?” Steve grinned.
Bucky nodded. “I took the laptops.” He said, nodding to the backpack that had slid under the bed. “I wasn’t sure if you’d want to keep em.”
Steve nodded, and looked around. “Um, I know I owe you one and all, but where are we?”
Bucky looked out of the window. “Farney state park.” He could see the look of panic cross Steve’s face and held up his hands. “I know what I’m doing, okay?”
Steve’s jaw tightened, the muscle working hard. When he’d been unconscious Bucky had thought the smaller man was delicate, fragile. However, as he stood and glared at Bucky, he was starting to see another side of the man.
“So, what?” Steve half growled. “You just decide to fucking kidnap me?” He said, delicate hands bunched into fists. Bucky had wondered where he’d gotten the scars over his knuckles, and was starting to think maybe he’d underestimated Steve. He was practically vibrating with anger, every muscle tense and tight.
“What?” Bucky blinked, looking over Steve in shock. He was pretty sure he could take Steve in a fight, but with his arm out of commission and his hip still hurting it might be a close thing. It was also starting to become scarily apparent that Steve might be a brawler. He looked like he might bite. “I saved your life!”
“Oh, so you think I owe you, huh?” Steve blustered, working himself up into a rage. Considering that less than 12 hours ago he’d passed out while washing his hands, the colour on his cheeks was starting to worry Bucky.
“No!” He said, holding up his hand. “I was trying get away from the fucking city!” He explained. “I had to stop here when you started hallucinating or I’d be half way back to Ohio by now.” He kept his hand in the air, aware that Steve was looking at the sling on his other arm. “Look we’re still in the state of New York, okay? I can turn this truck around and dump you back at the city limits in a few hours if you like.” Bucky told him. “I’m pretty sure the gangs I drove through to get us safe will throw you a party.”
Steve glared. Some of the tension had gone out of his shoulders – thin and narrow but still square. Like he’d been cut off just before a growth spurt and his body had stalled. Bucky got the feeling that he wanted to relax but didn’t want to be the one who backed down first – like a cornered alley cat. “Can I eat this?” He said, looking down at his plate, half-finished breakfast still steaming a little.
“If you want.” Steve shrugged, before waving his hand over the table like he was granting some kind of proclamation. When Bucky picked up his fork again, Steve’s shoulders slumped. “I aint a total asshole.” He advised, half collapsing into the booth opposite Bucky. “I just… I managed a whole year without seeing another person and then the first people I see try to kill me. It’ll put a fella on edge, you know?”
Bucky nodded, mouth full. “When this hit, it was jus’ me an my sister that survived in our town. We took a truck out to the safe zone, found some guys.” He swallowed. “They were those crazy survivalists, you know? Forty guns each an talking about rapture – figured that the folk that lived were abandoned by God.” He took another forkful of beans. “About 10 of them, from all over the state.”
Bucky shrugged. It hurt to think about, hurt to linger. He ripped it off like a band aid. “They wanted my sister to stay, and me to leave – figured it was their ‘right’ to start the next generation.” He chewed carefully. “When we tried to leave, they shot her.”
Steve nodded, like he knew how the story was going to go before Bucky even finished. Maybe it was obvious looking back, like it hadn’t been at the time. “Anyway, the state of Indiana don’t have 10 guys in the safe zone no more.” He shrugged.
Steve’s sudden burst of energy left his weak and shaking not long after Bucky had polished off his breakfast. “Okay, punk,” Bucky said, helping him back over to the bed. “Baby steps, okay?”
“Screw you, jerk.” Steve hissed, before passing out before his head hit the pillow. Bucky straightened up and nodded. With Steve on the mend – and it had been touch and go for a while – Bucky would be able to do the things he’d been putting off. He’d parked close enough to the picnic area that the lake was close enough, but not close enough for any ‘campers’ to find the truck. He’d been unable to do much with Steve delirious and near death, but as he slept, Bucky felt comfortable enough to take the burlap sack and head off. He took the keys to the truck and tinkered around the engine just in case Steve tried to steal the Truck while Bucky was away. He doubted it, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
He was still at the lake when he heard someone behind him. “Just me.” Steve mumbled as Bucky spun around. “You weren’t there.” It was obvious what Bucky was doing, the piles of wet clothes around him, hanging over the tables and benches in the picnic area. Laundry wasn’t normally such a big job – it was just him and he could wash his underwear in the shower. But with Steve sweating through everything he owned – and the bedding, bandages and almost every random scrap of fabric Bucky had in the Truck – it had piled up. “Was all this me?” Steve asked, sitting beside Bucky like a sack of bones. The can of water was murky with the soap Bucky had added, and it had taken him a lot longer to get the sheets washed with only one hand before he’d remembered how his mom used to tell stories about the ‘good ol days’ and rolled up his jeans to his knees and literally stomped the crap out of his bedding.
It had actually been fun, if a bit cold.
“Some of it.” Bucky said, shrugging. He’d found the large plastic trash can and washed it out before filling it with soap and water from the lake. Easier that trying to wash everything in the lake, that was for sure – and it saved his soap. “Some of it was mine too.”
The bandages still had the scent of bleach on them, while everything else had the stiffness of plain soap. He’d tried to work out how to use a softener at first, but it had soon become obvious that the liquid was a luxury he didn’t need. The space was used for bleach now, which could be diluted for his needs and was a better use of space. “How you feeling?”
“Tired.” Steve admitted, looking out over the lake. “It’s nice here.”
“I guess.” Bucky shrugged. It wasn’t the farm. The sun and the slight wind were drying off the laundry fairly quickly, and Bucky’s mom used to tell him that sunlight was the best disinfectant, and as he sat, leaning against a pillar of the wooden pier – he believed her.
“So.” Steve said, looking around. “You said you were called Bucky?” His questioning tone made Bucky blink – before he realised that Steve wasn’t his friend. Steve had no idea who he was. Bucky had long thought of Steve as a buddy, a guy who he knew – because of the amount of time Bucky had spent listening to his station and hearing about his day. It was all one sided, he was instantly aware, and he felt like a damn idiot.
“Uh, yeah. James Buchanan Banes. I’m 24, spent my whole life in Indiana.” He said, trying to think about the basics of his life. “Mom, dad, three sisters. We had a small farm – I’m a mechanic.”
“Country boy?” Steve said, looking at Bucky with a slight smile.
“Yup. You always been a city mouse?”
“Sure have.” Steve said, grinning. His smile was bright and transformed his face so he looked suddenly younger. “Never had any urge to be one with dirt and trees.”
Bucky snorted. “Look, I’m sorry if you… if you were worried or whatever.” He managed after a pause. “I just… you were on the radio and I kind of forgot that we don’t know one another, you know? Like I listened to you all the time, about your mom and your buddy Sam and school and reading your books. I just… I forgot you don’t know me.”
Steve seemed in a better mood after his sleep, and just shrugged. “I know you saved my life.” He said, looking over the water. “And I know you must have drove a long way to do it.”
“400 miles.” Bucky agreed.
“What was the plan?” Steve asked, sitting beside Bucky in the truck, buckled in safe to the passenger side and letting his laptop play in the background. He’d set up his equipment, running on one of the yacht batteries Bucky had hooked up and wrangled to get the laptops working. It wasn’t broadcasting, but Steve didn’t seem to mind.
“Plan?” Bucky said, glancing over. Steve looked better after another few days of staying at the campsite, his leg starting to take weight when he stood on it – although both of them agreed he’d always have a pretty bad scar. Steve had also helped Bucky change the dressings on his shoulder, and agreed that something had obviously been damaged.
“I assumed you weren’t going to drive around America forever.” Steve pointed out. “Considering the stuff you’re picking up when you go scavenging.”
Steve had come with him on a few trips, stopping at small towns and picking up supplies – the last place had an almost fully stocked hunting supply store, where they’d picked up rods and reels as well as a couple of hunting bows and enough arrows to last them a few years. Bucky had stashed them in the hollow under the bed, where Steve had found the rest of his supplies. The seeds, the books.
“Becca and I were going to try,” He said, swallowing. “Try to find a place. She had this idea we’d get a cabin.” He laughed at the memory. “Seven brides for seven brothers.” He snorted. “She had it all worked out.”
Steve smiled, leaning back into the seat. He slept a lot as he tried to fight the infection, and still got wiped out easily. “What changed?”
“She died.” Bucky said, eyes fixed on the road. “Seemed easier to just keep going after that.” He didn’t expect Steve to answer – he was already asleep.
It was different, with Steve. Having someone to talk to, to help, hell, even just to have someone sleeping in the passenger side while Bucky drove – it was good. Different. Steve spent most of his time looking at the maps Bucky had downloaded before the web finally kicked it, reading the books Bucky had picked up – telling Bucky when he found something he thought was interesting, or if he’d seen it before.
“Hey, this is your water filter!” He’d said on night, book open on his lap while Bucky read one of the paperbacks he’d picked up at a library they’d checked out. The small shelf of books was now overflowing, a pile stacked up in the corner of the booth they’d eat breakfast and dinner at. Bucky obsessively picked up any first aid manuals and ‘how to’ books, while Steve always seemed to be adding thin volumes of poetry and pulp fiction books. Bucky had read most of them twice – and was privately aware that there was a really good chance that Steve only picked them up because he knew Bucky loved them. He showed Bucky the page he was on, flipping it down, and Bucky nodded.
Sometimes Bucky would talk about the farm, and his mom and dad – Church on Sundays and football tailgates. Steve talked about his mom and his buddy Sam – art and baseball. Most of their nights passed that way.
“I think your sister was right.” Steve said, as they looked out over the lake as it lapped in lazy waves against the earth. They’d followed no particular route, Bucky just driving, Steve happy to ride along. “Winter’ll be shit in the truck. I think I found a place where we can stay.”
The cabin was old but well maintained – with heavy furniture and thick blankets that were obviously homemade. Bucky had a feeling that it was a holiday home for some wealthy banker, the type who talked about ‘roughing it’ when he went on vacation with his young, hot wife. The oversized bed and out of date condoms in the drawer kind of sold him on that idea. The generator didn’t work, but Bucky knew he could fix that if he managed to find oil to run it on – and the land around had been cleared once, of trees. It left enough space for a plot of land – big enough for a kitchen garden, but not much else. Steve liked the cabin – liked it a lot, enough to complain that Bucky was being pedantic about the lack of land to work.
“It’s not enough land.” Bucky told him, looking at the space. “We’ll starve.”
“There’s a river, a generator, a real stove.” Steve said, wandering through the house. “A bathroom.” He pointed at the main source of heat – a log burning fire. “Hot water.”
“Fine.” Bucky said, looking out of the window at the plot of land. “We’re going to starve to death in middle America.” He pointed out. “I want you to remember that I told you so, okay?”
Steve mostly stayed at the cabin trying to clean it up after a few years of neglect while Bucky went out, often for days at a time – he knew better than Steve that a winter snowed in was going to be a long, difficult few months, and wanted to stock up while they had the chance. He methodically picked apart every house, car and roadside stop he could, casting his net wider and wider.
It was worth it when he returned to the cabin, to see Steve waiting at the door for him to jump down and show the smaller man what he’d been able to find. Food was his priority, followed by gas, oil and clothes. That didn’t stop him from picking up other crap too – he found an electronic store after three days of driving, with an un-smashed TV DVD combo – the riots had mostly destroyed everything. It was large and difficult to get into the Truck with his busted arm, but he managed it – grabbing DVD’s from houses as he made his rambling way back to the cabin.
It ate electricity like it was going out of style, but the sheer joy on Steve’s face as they sat on the large leather couch and watched Lord of the Rings on the 30” screen was worth it. He kept sneaking glances at Bucky when he thought Bucky wasn’t paying attention, smiling softly, before adding in bits of trivia about what they were watching. Bucky didn’t bother to tell Steve that he’d read the books and had once owned the collector’s edition blue ray – just listened to what the smaller man told him, soaking it up like a sponge. Bucky found himself doing more and more to make Steve smile, bringing back the stupidest of things just to watch the smaller man’s eyes crinkle at the side, just to see those big blue eyes sparkle like Bucky was the best guy in the world. He knew it was wrong, how he felt about Steve – but that didn’t stop him from grabbing another DVD.
Steve got his radio broadcasting again, keeping Bucky company on the long days he was out on the road, cracking jokes and running his mouth mostly – reminding Bucky to pick up things.
“Hey Buck, you think you could pick up some tinned fruit? I feel like I’m getting scurvy.” He said, and Bucky rolled his eyes at the radio as he drove – laughing out loud when one of the tracks from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack started playing. He had no way of letting Steve know that his requests were being heard, but he assumed Steve knew Bucky would do his best. “Hey Bucky, today I had a look around the land.” Steve said, one day. “I think there’s more space out by the woodshed for planting.” He didn’t even need to see Steve to know the smaller man was smirking. “Looks like we won’t starve to death after all, huh? Imagine that.”
“Punk.” He grinned.
“Jerk,” The voice laughed, “Cause I know you just said it.”
Winter hit hard.
The first snow had Steve squirming with joy as he looked out of the window, watching as big fat flakes landed on the frosted ground. Bucky had woken up from his place on the couch (Steve wanted to work out a rota for the bed, Bucky refused) two days before and told Steve that he wasn’t going to risk the ice. Although the road down wasn’t steep, he remembered just how fast winter settled in to the farm. He couldn’t risk leaving Steve stranded.
Soon though, the first flurries settled into a solid cover – and it kept falling. “It’s going to stop, right?” Steve asked, looking over at where Bucky was reading, one of the quilts thrown over his legs. It wasn’t cold inside – the rich ass banker certainly didn’t skimp on the insulation – but when he looked out the window and saw several inches of white and more flakes floating past, he’d twitched the cover over his feet.
“Probably in a day or so.” He shrugged. He hoped he sounded like he knew what he was talking about, the clouds were low and full and he should have paid more attention to his dad when he would talk about the snowfall. Not that the snow in Indiana would be the same, but still.
“Shit.” Steve said, looking over at where the dried food was spilling over onto the floor. There were more in the basement and the kitchen. “We’re going to starve, aren’t we?” He asked, padding over to the couch and throwing himself on the opposite side to Bucky, tucking his legs under the quilt too, so that they were tangled together.
Bucky kept reading. He wasn’t sure if Steve was aware that Bucky’s heartrate kicked up when he did stuff like that. Steve invaded Bucky’s personal space like it was his job, and each time he did, Bucky felt like the worst type of person.
Steve was a small guy who might have had delicate bones – but that didn’t make him delicate. His small frame certainly didn’t make him into guys.
Bucky had been popular at high school, he’d worked hard, was on the football team and had good grades. He’d been polite and friendly and girls loved him. He remembered the first time he’d been in the locker room, remembered it like it was yesterday – how he’d looked over and saw Brock, one of the quarterbacks, standing there ass-naked. He hadn’t thought about it before, guys. But one look at the muscle and skin and… everything… and Bucky knew he was fucked. He remembered the hot flush of want, followed swiftly by a range of emotions, like someone had spun a roulette wheel, until finally landing on shame.
“You fucking looking at something?” Brock had sneered, and the boys around Bucky had backed off, like he was infected or something, and Bucky had panicked.
“Yeah,” He’d shrugged, going for cool, relaxed. The fun guy everyone liked. “That thing between your legs. It’s like a dick.” He said, looking pointedly. “Just smaller.” The resulting fight caused his first detention, but at least no one thought he’d been checking out Brock, and had pretty much defined his interaction with guys. If they caught him looking, he started knocking out jokes. When he’d been at college he’d met a couple of gay guys, guys who told him he had lips made for dick, guys who kissed him in the dark spots of nightclubs. It never went further, Bucky would flush with shame at the coil of heat he felt, pushing them away and avoiding them.
He didn’t want to push Steve away. He didn’t want to avoid him. He knew that the younger man probably got called a lot of things in school; small, delicate boys were always a target for bullies. He didn’t want Steve to leave if he was disgusted by what Bucky was, to feel like he had to leave because Bucky was attracted to him.
“We’re not going to starve.” Bucky said, trying not to move his legs – telling himself that he just didn’t want to jostle Steve, who still had an ugly looking scab covering the wound of his calf. “Well, I won’t, at least.” He added. “You might if you don’t get over your completely irrational fear of pickled veg.”
“Cabbage shouldn’t be in a jar!” Steve burst out – but he was grinning. It was one of their well-worn arguments.
Bucky rolled his eyes and went back to his book, letting the heat from Steve’s legs soak into his body, heating them both up. “You’re going to get scurvy.”
The days stretched out, Steve working on his radio, even getting Bucky to talk about how to fix up basic electrics to work from a car battery, or how to deal with infections. He wanted to be the voice of the new world, showing people how to live with what they’d been left with. The TV didn’t get used much, mostly because the longer the snow was on the ground, the more paranoid Bucky got about electricals. Luckily, the wood fire ran the hot water, and Bucky swore he’d get the solar panels up as soon as the snow melted.
The first bad storm hit three weeks in. The wind and snow howled around the cabin, screaming through the trees that swayed dangerously low to the ground. If one of them landed on the Truck they’d be totally fucked, and Bucky was twitchy with worry. Steve developed a fear that one of the trees were going to fall through the roof, and refused to sleep in the bedroom, sitting up with Bucky on the couch until they both fell asleep.
It was Bucky who woke up first, warm to the point of overheating, groggily opening his eyes to find that through the night Steve had strayed from his end of the couch (and okay, so they never talked about it, but it was one of those unspoken things they just knew) and had wriggled up into Bucky’s arms. Bucky didn’t doubt that wriggling was involved, because his shirt had been pushed up under his armpits, the hem caught on Steve’s shoulder, snagging there as he’d moved. Bucky didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t hard when he woke up, but the warm, clean smell of Steve in his arms was changing that pretty quickly. The quilt that had been covering them was now in a tangle of legs, and went Bucky angled his head he couldn’t help but notice that Steve’s sweatpants had been tugged lower too – he could see the swell of his ass, pale skin glowing almost white in the dark.
When Steve had been ill, Bucky had washed him down – and he tried to remember the clinical way he’d worked. He couldn’t keep the image in his head; Steve pale and sick was nothing at all like the warm, sleeping form that had worked into his arms through the night. It took him a few moments to realise that the warm, sleeping form was starting to wake up, maybe subconsciously aware of Bucky internally freaking out. Unable to work out how to fix the situation without causing either of them embarrassment – and also because he was a complete coward when Steve Rogers was involved – Bucky closed his eyes and focused on keeping his breathing steady.
It took Steve a long time to wake up. He snuffled and shifted, blinked and sighed for a few minutes before he actually seemed to truly come to himself. Bucky, who’d been trying not to let those little sleepy sounds and wriggles get to him, had failed, by the time Steve was awake for real, Bucky was hard enough to cut diamonds.
He wasn’t sure what he expected. Maybe for Steve to push away, or sneak out from between his arms. Maybe yell, or elbow him in the ribs. Bucky felt him twist, slowly, as though to see if Bucky was awake, and then slowly push up onto his elbow. Bucky moved, afterall, something like that would wake a person up, right? Let his arm that was pinning Steve to the couch fall between them, screwing up his nose. “Shhh,” Steve soothed, patting Bucky on the arm gently, before grabbing at the quilt and pulling it over them both. “Go back to sleep.”
When Bucky woke up, Steve was sitting on his side of the couch, hair damp and reading Harry Potter. “Morning.” He said, when Bucky sat up, confused and a little disorientated. “The storm seems to have passed us now.”
Steve watched as Bucky sat on the floor, his books around him and a grid on the table. It had become his favourite thing to do through the day, and although Steve didn’t really understand why he enjoyed it so much, it was clear he did enjoy it. It was a scaled map of what would be the kitchen garden, and Bucky was obsessed with getting the correct veg planted in the correct places. He checked his books, moved the potatoes over three spaces and swapped the carrots with the parsnips. Steve tried not to stare when he’d hunch over the low coffee table, t-shirt riding up to expose the sliver of skin between the waistband of his jeans and shirt. He tried not to look, but it seemed that his eyes were magnetised to that patch of skin. The only good thing was that it was his back – Bucky couldn’t see the way that Steve stared.
He’d been stupid the night before, indulging in the warmth of Buckys sleeping body, curled close and wrapped up – safe and sound. He’d woken up to find he’d practically crawled into Bucky’s arms – the quilt kicked off and the fire low in the hearth. He wasn’t sure what woke him, but he could remember the feel of Bucky pressed into his skin, the feel of his dick pressed into Steve’s hip. It was only when he’d started to move that Bucky seemed ready to wake up – the last thing Steve wanted. So he’d pulled the quilt over them both and urged Bucky deeper into sleep.
Stupid, he realised when he woke up, hot and hard and fully aware that Bucky wasn’t going to appreciate that, so he’d slipped out from under Bucky’s arm, carefully moving so that it didn’t hurt – Steve wasn’t sure what went wrong with the wound but it was starting to look like Bucky might never regain the use of the limb beyond the laboured movements he managed only through pain – and slipped away.
It had been stupid – if he alienated Bucky he’d be screwed, it was obvious the other man was far more qualified and prepared that Steve ever had been. Steve only managed to last out the previous winter because the electricity had still been running, and he’d been in a city with a lot of food. Sure, he’d been cold, but all in all, very lucky. It seemed Bucky had followed the weather south, like a migratory bird – his truck keeping him moving until it was warm enough to head back home.
Home where his sister was buried, and his parents.
Steve had already been alone when the virus hit. His relationship with Sam had been over for months, his mom had died years before, and his father even longer before that. It was only through sheer dumb luck that Steve hadn’t caught the virus – he had been holed up in his apartment with the flu when it hit New York, waiting for the government to advise them all where to evacuate. He remembered being wrapped on the couch when the TV went dead – static where the news had been broadcasted. The internet lasted a month or so longer, but eventually went dark too, and by then, Steve was alone in his building. Alone in his block. He’d thought he’d been alone in the world. He’d only started the radio because he had found a book showing him how to do it, and he didn’t want to think about being alone forever.
And then he’d found out that he wasn’t alone – and that he was going to die. The bike gang had been a surprise – he’d not really been paying attention, cycling through the streets with his backpack full of tinned food he’d found that was still in date, when he’d heard the noises. If he’d been less stupid, if he’d been more careful, he would have snuck up silently to take a look. But Steve had never been the sneaking type, and he’d started yelling, calling out.
The knife had been thrown, and the shock and fear had him wheeling around with a speed he wasn’t even sure he’d been capable of. Then he’d started to get paranoid. He’d been talking over the makeshift radio for months – telling the world where he was, asking for people to come to the city. As he cleaned the blood from his leg with water he’d collected from the roof, he realised that had been a seriously stupid thing to do. He might have put himself in serious danger.
And then his leg started to hurt.
If it hadn’t been for Bucky, Steve knew he’d have died. He remembered a few things, Bucky washing him down, the pain in his leg, how he’d tried to fight Bucky off. He must have been a lousy patient. When things started to get clearer, he remembered more – how Bucky had cleaned the sheets when Steve had pissed himself, or worse, and he refused to stay in bed any longer. Bucky had helped him to the bathroom – but Steve didn’t remember getting back to bed.
Of course, getting better just meant that he’d been aware of Bucky. The way he seemed to know Steve like the back of his hand, commenting on things in passing about Steve’s art school or how Steve was a decent cook if he just had the right ingredients. To wake up and suddenly have a person know who he was without knowing anything about Bucky had been jarring and weird.
And then the more Steve learned about Bucky, the more he fell in love. It wasn’t lust – not at the start. He just… looked at Bucky one day, driving along and listening as Steve chatted about the book he was reading, and felt a rush of blinding affection. He loved him for weeks before he even thought about kissing him, or sex. And then it was all he could think about.
He thought Bucky might have known. Once they’d settled into the cabin, Bucky had taken off on what he called ‘supply runs’ and would be gone for a few days. Steve hated it, the feeling that Bucky had needed to leave, to get away from Steve who was obviously spilling his emotions everywhere. But then Bucky would return, talking about things Steve had mentioned over the radio, grinning and handing over a couple of new books – or crowing over the TV and the DVD’s he’d found. Things that pointed out to Steve just what a good man Bucky was – how he thought of Steve’s comfort and happiness.
If he’d only found Bucky good looking he was sure that in time it would have faded. It was the fact that Bucky was a good person, nerdy and capable and funny – the kind of guy who would let Steve ramble on about Lord of the Rings for hours and then admit at the end he’d read it already, he just liked to hear Steve talk about it.
How the hell was Steve not supposed to fall in love with him?
“You think we could try to catch chickens?” Bucky asked, looking up from his grid. “I saw a farm about 60 miles out with a barn. Looked like the chickens survived the first winter. They might still be alive after this one too.”
“Eggs?” Steve said, sitting up. He’d not had eggs in… well… over a year. Powdered ones didn’t count. You couldn’t fry a powdered egg, and sunny side up was his favourite.
“If they’re alive, I’ll build a coop.” Bucky said, going back to his paper map. “I think the cows’ll be dead though.”
Steve nodded, eyes flickering over Bucky as the other man smiled softly. He wasn’t sure why Bucky liked the planning so much, but it made him smile so Steve didn’t tease him.
Winter dragged on. The calendar on his laptop told him that they’d entered into the New Year without so much as a blimp. Dates didn’t mean anything anymore, just numbers – what did it matter if it was November or December? There was nothing but snow and ice, Steve didn’t have a deadline, Bucky didn’t have a job. If they wanted to sleep till noon they could. The only thing Bucky insisted on was that they ate dinner at the table, with knives and forks. He set the table every night, even if they were just heating up some beans and tinned spam, with glasses and the nice plates that had been stored neatly away by the previous occupants of the cabin. It was one of the many little quirks that Steve loved about Bucky.
The rain fell for three weeks, and even though it was far enough away from the cabin that flooding wasn’t an issue, Steve lay in the oversized bed and had nightmares about getting washed away by the swell. Although they’d been so careful with the food, even Steve could see that the store cupboard was starting to look bare – the bags of rice and pasta that had made up the bulk of their meals were starting to look empty, and the tin stash that had made Steve snort of laughter was suddenly a lot less ridiculous than it had been when the snow had started to fall. Three months they’d been indoors, and three months’ worth of meals had taken its toll.
“I want sausages.” Steve said, after yet another meal of plain pasta with a side of pickled cabbage, he was starting to go insane. “You know the kind that had the little bacon strips wrapped around them?” He grinned. “Sam used to make them from scratch sometimes.” He added, before remembering that Bucky didn’t know about the true nature of his relationship with Sam. He doubted that the other man would be happy to know Steve was gay.
“Turkey with all the trimmings.” Bucky grinned, continuing to eat. “Mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie and moms cherry slice.”
Steve looked up. Bucky had a large family, before the virus. A mom and dad and three sisters and a whole gaggle of aunts and uncles. He didn’t talk about them a lot, and Steve understood. He didn’t want Bucky to hurt –
“Anyone getting this?” The noise over a burst of static from the laptop cracked out.
The voice caused both of them to jerk backwards, Bucky falling off the chair because he couldn’t correct his balance with his dead arm. “Hello? Steve? Radio Steve?”
His name was Tony, and he and his wife Pepper had been on their yacht when the virus hit, the middle of nowhere. “We’ve been hitting the coastal towns for a few months, and we picked up your signal in September.” Tony said. “I’ve been trying to get a boost on the laptop we’ve got here, but last week we found a hardware store. We’re up the Californian coast.”
There was a delay – a few minutes at least – where Steve had to wait before he could reply. They’d managed to work out a real open line of communication. Tony and Pepper broadcast a few clicks of the dial down from Steve, and they each listened to the others station. It had taken them an hour to work out the best way to talk, but it was working just fine.
“How’s the weather?”
“Raining.” Steve said, after waiting. “It’s either raining or snowing.”
It was just Tony and Pepper. They’d seen a few people as they’d sailed the coast, but Tony hadn’t stopped to say ‘Hi’ apparently. The warning shots fired over his head were enough to keep him and Pepper on the boat. Tony was an arms manufacturer, the type that made bombs for the army, and he tinkered in his spare time. His wife Pepper was the CEO – and it didn’t take long for Bucky to lean forward and whisper “Tony Stark,” into Steve’s ear. The shiver that went up Steve’s spine was nothing to do with the name and everything to do with the closeness of Bucky.
“Canada is dead to the world.” Tony said, “We went up there before the snow. We’re heading towards Malibu, we’ve got a place there, nice and isolated, got all my toys and Pep’s shoes.”
Steve could hear the laughter of a woman in the background before a thump Tony’s faux-outraged: “You won’t have any shoes if you keep throwing them at me!”
“They seem happy.” Bucky said, from where he was going through his exercises. He spent 30 minutes a day working out, although Steve personally thought the pain he could see on his face from how it jostled his arm wasn’t worth the way his abs flexed when he did another sit-up.
Those were nice abs.
Sam had been super fit too, a nice guy with a killer body who (for some unknown reason) had thought Steve was someone worth dating. Sometimes when he looked at Bucky, he wondered if the two men would get along. Probably, he figured. Sam got along well with everyone. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Bucky flexed again.
He made Steve do some too – worried about the mobility in his leg and harping on about muscle loss and health. Steve hated it, because he had always been unfit and Bucky made him look bad even with one bum arm.
Steve shrugged, forcing himself to turn back to the radio and Tony. “We’re staying here.” He explained. “We’ve got a heating system and hot water, and enough land to grow food on.”
The pause was interrupted by the sound of Bucky changing from sit-ups to lunges. Steve didn’t turn around – he already had enough fantasies about Bucky’s thighs.
“That sounds… horrible, actually.” Tony’s voice said.
Spring arrived with a burst of white flowers all over the ground outside the cabin, so many tiny white bells that Steve laughed and said it was like the snow had come back. He’d picked some too – the cabin now had a large vase of snowdrops sitting on the kitchen table and a slightly smaller one on the coffee table. Steve had been annoyed that they had to clear the land of flowers before Bucky could start planting, so the vases are the compromise.
Tony and Pepper, who had made it to their Malibu home, talked to them in the morning and later at night. Tony had a generator that ran on some kind of fancy arc reactor that he’d been developing, and had power to burn. He’d managed to hack a damn satellite.
Now their conversations took place via the laptops, through what remained of the internet. “It’s all there.” Tony had said, pushing himself off the desk and rolling on his wheeled chair across the large, bright room to another desk. “It’s just hard to get at, if you aren’t… say… me.”
Tony and Steve obviously enjoyed each other’s company, and Bucky felt annoyed at how irritated he became when Steve would tell him things “Tony said.”
The only reason Bucky didn’t smash the computers the first week Tony had gotten them visuals was that Steve was equally as annoyed with Bucky’s friendship with Pepper Potts, Tony’s vastly superior wife.
She grew up on a farm in Virginia, a childhood a lot like Bucky’s, and they bonded over their similarities and differences. She’d been far more ambitious than Bucky, of course, but they were close enough that when Tony wandered off to do whatever he was doing, Pepper and Bucky could keep talking for hours.
Her current worry was that Tony was so focused on getting his tech online that he’d neglected one important thing.
“We’re running out of food.” She said, looking over her shoulder at Tony, who was visible through the glass walls of his workshop. “We can’t live on fish – as much as I love sushi.”
“What do you have?” Bucky asked, aware the dirt under his nails looked ingrained. He remember his dad always had dirty hands, no matter what.
Pepper rolled her eyes. “A lifetime of energy drinks and poptarts, enough ice-cream to sink the titanic and not a lot else.” She sighed. “The house was designed for Tony to tinker in the basement. The only reason it’s still here is the security system had its own generator – it wasn’t made to last out the end of the world.”
“Lets be honest, Pepper,” Bucky said, leaning back. “Nowhere was.”
Spring didn’t just bring in the planting season. It also seemed that being outside in the sunshine did wonders for Steve’s mood – and he quite happily walked for miles through the forest as Bucky attempted to forage for wild edible plants. Because Steve still refused to do exercises, Bucky kept those walks long and rambling. It had nothing to do with how sometimes Steve would squeeze tight into Bucky’s space when Bucky would collect a few leaves or berries, or how he’d forget to pull away when Bucky would throw an arm over his shoulders.
The woods were stunning. The weather still ran wet and cold, but even when it rained, the forest was awesome. The earthy smell was thick and fresh, and the trees were full of life, and Steve was tucked under his arm like he belonged there. Bucky personally thought that it was the best thing about the cabin.
Driving 50 miles with 6 angry, pissed off chickens in the back of the Truck was not something Bucky ever, ever, wanted to do again. Ever.
“It’s not funny!” He snapped as Steve doubled over with laughter as Bucky started peeling off his shirt, covered with chicken shit and feathers. Getting the chickens into the coup wasn’t much easier, despite the fact it was larger than it needed to be. He’d seen more chickens running around the barn, but the five he’d caught were enough trouble – only the cock was docile – the female chickens had pecked the ever-loving shit out of him. “You get to clean the fucking truck, you little punk.”
Steve was still laughing, but his tone had become more strained as Bucky struggled not to let the front of his shirt touch his face. With one dead arm it was a helluva lot harder to manage, and he twisted and flexed to avoid a face full of crap. “I’m serious Steve!” He said, before giving up. “Ok, you need to help me, I’m stuck.”
He was pretty blind, his shirt pulled half way up and over his eyes, so he wasn’t sure where Steve was until cold fingers touched his side. Steve was always just a little cold, unless he was curled up on the couch, and Bucky yelped and flinched dramatically – just to piss him off. It worked. Rather than notice just how fast Bucky’s heart was beating in his chest at their closeness, Steve shoved him, palms of his hands cold against Bucky’s pecs. His huff of laughter tickled the little chest hair Bucky had, making his breath catch.
“Jerk.” Steve laughed, before his small, agile fingers pulled the shirt up and away, leaving Bucky standing shirtless in the garden.
“I brought you chickens!” Bucky said, pointing at the coop where the Cock was strutting around his own little enclosure and the chickens were glaring at them both with black, beady eyes. Maybe nearly two years of no human interaction had turned them feral. “Feral chickens.”
Steve laughed again, and Bucky didn’t want to think too much about how the sound made a tightness in his chest disappear. “It might take a few weeks for them to start laying.” Bucky pointed out, watching as they pecked at the ground where he’d thrown a handful of feed he’d found in sacks, stashed deep in the barn where they’d not managed to get to. The corn was old and dry, and he hoped it wouldn’t hurt them, but until he managed to start growing his own, it was all they had. He had no idea what they’d been eating at the farm.
“Did you see a cow?” Steve asked. He’d walked over to the coop and was watching the chickens peck at the corn while warily keeping an eye on him.
Bucky wanted to say no. There was absolutely no way he’d get a cow in the truck. “Maybe,” He hedged. “I was a little busy with the chickens.”
“Turns out one of our neighbors was a survivalist in his spare time.” Pepper was telling him as she sat in front of her computer. The signal got better every day – apparently Tony had managed to move the satellite remotely, which Bucky didn’t understand or particularly care about. “His basement was full of weapons and little bags of diamonds. Seriously, who cares about diamonds when you’re alone in the world?”
“People are weird.” Bucky supplied with a shrug. “We had eggs for breakfast.”
“Yup. Steve made them. Sunny side up for him and scrambled for me. Fucking eggs. We got up this morning and there were half a dozen sitting there in the coop.” He grinned. “I think Steve charmed the feral chickens. Three fucking weeks and we’ve got eggs at last.”
“Oh god, eggs.” Pepper sighed. “Real eggs.”
Tony, who had been working on something in the background, looked up. “Are you cheating on me with eggs?” He called over, looking amused. “I won’t stand for that! I’m building a drone! I made you a robot!”
Pepper rolled her eyes at the camera and Bucky grinned. “Eggs.” She mouthed.
“You know what would make this taste better?” Steve said, as they carefully worked through yet another plate of egg fried rice and… more fucking egg. Turned out that 5 chickens could actually make a lot of eggs. About one each a day. Bucky was starting to get sick of nothing but eggs. “A glass of milk.”
“It’s a drone!” Tony said, as Pepper held up the camera to show them. “Solar powered, remote activated, fully automated.” The man grinned. “And can carry up to 5 kilos.” Steve and Bucky clapped and made the appropriate sounds of awe. They’d found that through their long distance friendship Tony required a certain amount of praise whenever he completed a project, even if it was a little too complicated for either of them to understand. “And with my own improvements – can get to you in just under 8 hours.” He paused. “Maybe more – but it’s a test run.” He said, waving a hand like it wasn’t really important. It wasn’t, not really. “I’m going to load it up with some tech you guys desperately need – seriously, your laptops are killing me – and you send it back with… whatever. Something fragile, something heavy.”
They sent eggs. Fucking eggs. If Bucky never saw another egg it would be too soon.
The drone didn’t just fly from point A to point B – it also relayed video footage back to Tony at his lab. “There’s a place out by the US40 with people.” Tony said, looking over the footage. “They saw the drone and tried to wave it down. Looks like a guy and two women – and a dog.” He paused. “Or a really hairy kid. When I fly back over I’ll drop them tech. See if they’re like the crazies we’re trying to avoid.”
Although the winter had been hard, Bucky thought they’d got through the worst of it relatively well. Neither of them starved, although they’d certainly been hungry at some points, and once Steve had helped with the solar panels they’d had enough electricity to run all the things they needed. So when Steve didn’t make his way into the main part of the house for breakfast like he normally did, with his bedhead and sleep soft expression, Bucky didn’t think much of it. Steve wasn’t a morning person. The lack of coffee in their brave new world was a constant source of irritation for both him, Tony and Clint – who was currently trying to survive out on a ranch in New Mexico with his wife and cousin.
But when noon rolled around and Steve was still nowhere to be seen, Bucky started to worry.
“Hey, Steve?” He asked, knocking on the door. “You dead?”
When there was still no answer, he pushed the door open.
Steve was laying in the middle of the bed, starfished out, covers kicked off and bunched up at his feet. His grey t-shirt was almost black at the armpits and chest, soaked with sweat. “Fuck!” Bucky hissed, rushing forward.
Steve woke up to the sound of Bucky reading aloud. He could hear a distant rattle, and it took him far too long to realise that it was him, his breath, squeezing out of his lungs. If he had air to spare he’d have sighed. He’d thought that with winter over he’d magically escaped his yearly dose of the flu – or pneumonia – but it looked like from what he could see, he’d not been so lucky.
Bucky was lounging on one side of the bed, looking fairly comfortable and like he’d been there for some time. He’d stopped reading and was now watching Steve as he tried to get his bearings. “How long?” He managed, throat raw and aching. It looked like Bucky had been sleeping in the giant bed, and Steve wanted to curl up and cry. He’d been dreaming about getting Bucky into bed for months and when he finally did it, he was fucking unconscious.
“About three days.” Bucky said, putting the book down. “Tony raided a hospital when you got worse – the StarkDrone should be dropping off enough anti-biotics to cure a small army. He thought you’d caught the virus.” Bucky said, fingers brushing sweat slicked hair from Steve’s forehead, a soft expression on his face. “Kept going on about a second wave.”
“Don’t think so.”
“Me either.” Bucky shrugged. “I think you’d been feeling like shit for a few days and tried to hide it, is what I think.”
Steve knew he was blushing from the expression on Bucky’s face. “Uh-huh.” He said, although there was a slight smile on his lips. “You up for eating anything?”
“What is there?”
“Well,” Bucky grinned. “We’ve got scrambled eggs, omelet, boiled egg, fried egg or… poached egg.”
“Fucking eggs.” Steve sighed.
“Or a glass of milk, if you like.”
Clint’s ranch had cows. Lots of cows. Although they couldn’t quite keep control of the whole herd, the cows were used to showing up at a certain time every day to be milked. The result was Clint, Natasha and Kate had more milk than they knew what to do with. They froze it, packed it into the StarkDrone and traded it for eggs.
Steve wanted to cry. The milk tasted a little weird after freezing, but it still tasted like milk. Real milk. “I went and got more chickens while you were out of it.” Bucky was saying, as he carefully took the glass out of Steve’s shaking hands. “We’re trading with Clint and Tony for milk and whatever else we can share. We tried to send a chicken, didn’t work. Clint thinks the sedation wasn’t strong enough and it woke up.”
Steve nodded, and although all he’d actually done was sit up enough to take a drink, he was wiped out. Bucky seemed to know – of course he did, Steve was sure Bucky was one of those people who just knew stuff – and carefully helped Steve back into the pillows. “And when you feel up for it – we’ve got about 4 kilos of the leanest looking steak you’ve ever seen.” Bucky said, as Steve felt fingertips ghost against his cheek.
Bucky woke up to the sound of Steve’s breath hitching. For three days he’d been hyper aware of the smaller man’s breathing, and this new sound had him slamming awake like he’d been electrocuted.
Steve was tossing back and forth restlessly, legs twitching. When he’d been sick with his leg he’d had fever dreams, and Bucky was ready to shake him awake when a sound that certainly wasn’t distress past Steve’s lips. The moan seemed to bypass Bucky’s brain and go direct to his dick the same instant Bucky realised Steve was having a sex dream. He was having a sex dream and Bucky was awake and getting hard fast with every hitch in the smaller man’s breathing.
Bucky took a breath, and reached out. “Steve?” He managed, aware that his voice was a little strained. “Steve?”
Steve snapped awake quickly, his whole body jerking upright. “Wha?” He said, looking around, confused.
“You were having a nightmare.” Bucky said, before rolling over. Although it was half dark, he didn’t want Steve to notice the issue in his pants. Bucky already hated himself enough as it was, he couldn’t deal with it if Steve started to pull away too.
“I… I was?” Steve mumbled, sounding confused. Then, “I was.” Stronger, more assured. Bucky turned away when Steve walked to the bathroom, aware of the awkward shift to his step. Jesus Christ. Bucky was going to hell for the things that flashed through his mind.
Both Steve and Bucky ended up throwing up after their first steak. Both of them had eaten far too much, the meat perfectly cooked with the last pinch of dried herbs they had. Steve had to cut Bucky’s up into bite sized chunks because he couldn’t hold the knife and the fork with his bad arm, which was embarrassing but he figured it was something he was just going to have to live with.
About half way through the meal, Bucky saw Steve start to sweat, and not long after he felt the same. Their bodies just weren’t prepared for the new type of protein – and both of them ended up ill.
“I think next time,” Steve was saying, sprawled over the couch, rubbing his swollen stomach. “We don’t have a whole cow on the plate.”
Bucky just grunted and fell asleep with the warm comforting weight of Steve resting on his legs.
It was the StarkDrone’s obnoxiously loud rendition of ‘Bad To The Bone’ that woke them both up with a start. Once again Steve had twisted around so that he was tucked neatly into Bucky’s side, Bucky’s dead arm thrown over his hip.
“Shit!” Bucky said, as they scrambled to get to their feet.
The drone was great, but they’d learned that in the absence of the fancy landing pad Tony had built, it tended to hit the ground too hard. Three times a week, the drone picked up and dropped off its load from them. Bucky had crates of eggs waiting to go, the only thing they currently had to send, while Clint packed up frozen milk and meat. Tony rarely had anything to pack up that wasn’t some kind of tech that he swore would make things better and mostly did – the boost to the solar panels had meant they could have more DVD nights on the couch than before – but everyone was aware that food was scarce in Malibu. Pepper had found some fruit trees, but the oranges weren’t ripe yet, and the surrounding area had already been picked dry by the gangs that rolled the larger houses for everything they could carry. They had enough fresh fish to feed more people than Jesus, but it was starting to become clear that for all Tony was a technical genius, they were going to starve without help.
Bucky had tried to increase the size of the vegetable patch, and he was pleased to see that most of the plants were growing nicely. He’d tried to keep it from Steve, but he could tell that the smaller man had noticed – there certainly wouldn’t be enough to feed them and the Starks through the winter, no matter how well they planned it.
The drone was weighed down with its package of meat and milk – and both of them worked together to load up the eggs into the ‘hold’ Tony had made. Bucky tossed in a few books too because Kate was always complaining about being bored, and Steve added a small amount of the wild mushrooms they’d found. It was weird how things had changed, that the mushrooms were the luxury.
They were all working on what they could to keep them alive through the winter. Bucky was well aware that the only reason they’d made it through was the amount of food they’d been able to stockpile – and although they still had a few large sacks of rice and pasta left, it wouldn’t last the year. Kate was working on making cheese and butter – so far she’d not quite managed anything other than a cream so thick it could practically be cut into squares, but she wasn’t giving up. Bucky had made a beehive, but couldn’t find a queen to populate it – and he had to go looking alone because Steve was allergic to bee-stings.
Pepper was trying to smoke fish, and it seemed to be working – she promised that once they’d completed a batch that she’d send them out.
“You think there are other people out there like us?” Steve asked, as they watched the drone fly off again. “Trying to make it work?” They were sitting on the step of the cabin, almost thigh to thigh. Steve had been getting progressively more depressed since his illness, withdrawn and quiet, and no matter what, Bucky couldn’t work out why.
“Yeah.” Bucky said, after a long pause. “We didn’t know about Tony and Pepper this time last year.” He pointed out, knocking his knee against Steves. “And we didn’t know about the Bartons four months ago.”
“I guess.” Steve said. “I just… I wasn’t a very popular guy, before. I kept mostly to myself. But I miss people. I miss the city and the noise and the smell.” He let out a sigh. “I miss Sam.”
Bucky nodded. Steve had talked about Sam a lot – his best friend before the virus hit – but it had been a long time since he’d brought the other man up. “Can I tell you something? Without you beating me up?” Steve asked, looking at Bucky with those big sky blue eyes before turning them onto the disappearing dot of the drone in the distance.
“I pretty much saved your life at least twice since I met you,” Bucky pointed out, “I don’t think beating you up’ll be an issue.”
“Sam wasn’t my best friend.” Steve said, before shaking his head. “I mean, he was my best friend, he was great, you know? He was a total rock.” Steve said, before taking a breath. “But he wasn’t my best friend. He was, um, he was my boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Bucky said, brain stumbling over the new information. Steve had a boyfriend. Steve was gay.
“I just… I felt weird not telling you.” Steve said, not looking at Bucky at all. “I’ve never been in the closet, you know? But then I met you and I wasn’t sure how you’d be.”
Bucky’s mind was racing. Steve was gay. Steve liked guys. He was gay. He had a boyfriend. He liked to kiss men.
“Because you were from this little town out west and it’s not like New York, I know that, and you talked about girlfriends and church on Sundays and I know, I know it’s not right to judge people on that but I thought if you knew you might not want me around.”
Steve had a boyfriend. He liked guys. Maybe he liked Bucky.
“But your being really quiet and I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.” Steve carried on. “I spoke to Clint and Natasha. If you want me to leave I can go there, their okay with it.”
Bucky blinked. “No, it’s okay.” He managed. “It’s okay.”
Bucky found himself staring a lot. He always watched Steve, always had one eye on the smaller man no matter what – but since Steve had told him about being gay, it was like Bucky couldn’t stop looking. He had to keep reminding himself that just because Steve liked guys it didn’t mean that he’d like Bucky. But it was like someone had turned on a switch in his head. Steve liked guys, Steve wasn’t going to say anything if Bucky got caught looking – it wasn’t the locker room, it wasn’t Brock or coach Peirce or any of the guys on the football team. It wasn’t the preacher on Sundays who liked to denounce from the pulpit. It was Steve – and Bucky could look all he wanted.
He wasn’t stupid. He knew that if things were different, if there were people around – his friends, his father, his coach – Bucky wouldn’t admit what he was feeling. He knew that. He also knew that those people weren’t around, and Steve was.
Steve who had dated guys. Steve who probably knew what he was doing in the bedroom. Steve who didn’t pull away when Bucky threw an arm over his shoulder. Steve who tucked his feet under Bucky’s thigh when they’d watch Lord of the Rings. And Bucky could not stop staring.
It took Bucky a week to work up the courage. They were sitting at the table eating fried steak and egg, two large glasses of milk and (for Steve) a little pile of vitamins that Tony had included one day. They were a little out of date but it wouldn’t hurt.
“Me too.” He said, before going back to work on his steak. Steve always cooked it just right.
“You too, what?” Steve asked, looking up from his plate. He’d been mostly quiet since telling Bucky about being gay – and Bucky knew in the back of his mind that maybe the other man was waiting for Bucky to snap.
“About, you know.” He said, not looking up. He waved his knife in the general direction of where Steve was sitting.
“Not really.” Came the reply, Steve’s voice tight and hard. Bucky remembered the scars on his knuckles and the set of his jaw, the signs that Steve wasn’t idle in his anger. He’d fought hard, went down swinging.
“About guys.” Bucky mumbled, mouth full. He knew how red he must look, could feel the heat on his face as he chewed, tips of his ears hot and tingling, throat tight. “Me too.”
Steve stayed silent as Bucky ate. He didn’t feel that rush of relief that he’d finally got the words out – in fact, he felt worse. Steve wasn’t eating, Bucky knew without even looking up, the other man just sitting staring at him. “You could have told me sooner.” Steve said, after too long a silence had stretched out, brittle and awkward.
“I never told anyone before.” Bucky admitted, eyes still fixed on his plate.
Bucky couldn’t see what Steve was doing, his eyes firmly on his food, as though it held some kind of mystic sign. “Oh. Well…” Steve said, sounding confused. “Thank you for telling me.”
Bucky nodded, clearing his throat. “Do you think Tony’s going to realise that he needs to start planting next season?” He said, “It’s going to be a hellish winter this year.”
Steve didn’t say anything about the change of subject, and it took a good half an hour for Bucky to feel comfortable enough to look up at the smaller man.
“Well,” Bucky was arguing over the laptop with Tony, a yelling match that would have been a fist fight if there wasn’t a couple hundred miles between them, “It’s not our place to fucking feed you! I’ve got both of us here and we probably won’t have enough!”
“We agreed to share!” Tony snapped, as Pepper paced in the background, looking conflicted. “We said we’d share what he had!”
“We can still send out milk and meat.” Clint was saying, another window open on the screen. “We’ve got more than enough to spare.”
“Oh, so it’s just Bucky, huh?” Tony shot back, and Bucky resisted the urge to slam the screen shut. “Perfect Bucky who won’t share.”
“You know what, Stark? I’ve got a patch the size of a fucking postage stamp I’m trying to grow shit on here. I’ve already told you we’ll keep sending eggs over – I couldn’t feed 7 fucking people on a plot of land twice the size. Maybe if you realised you and your wife were fucking starving while you screwed around with your computers you could have prepared better rather than blaming all your fucking problems on me!”
“That’s not what he’s tr-” Pepper said, coming forward, but Tony waved her off.
“No, that’s fine!” Tony snapped, “My screwing around with computers means that you’ve been able to trade with the Barton’s, you’ve had the drone and all my fucking improvements to your tech. Without me you’d be screwed!”
“Go fuck yourself, Stark.” Bucky hissed. “You’re supposed to be a fucking genius, but you didn’t pay attention to Pepper when she told you, she fucking told you, that you guys were running out of food.”
They’d spent the last three weeks working out how to ration their food, Steve looking at the plot of land that was looking great, overgrown with green and looking lush – with a critical eye. Steve had been the one to suggest they started working out how to preserve what they could, work out how much they had.
It wasn’t going to be enough. The corn they’d grown would maybe feed the chickens through the winter – there wouldn’t be nearly enough for them to eat any of it. Bucky was trying to dry out the grain too – he’d been so proud of the long, golden ears that he’d thrown his arm around Steve and whooped at the sky. Grain was the building block for so many things, but once it had been harvested the amount looked so much smaller – minuscule – even with Steve and Bucky combing through the dirt and collecting the small ears that had fallen when they’d cut it down.
The ears of corn were better, they had grown well out by the woodshed, but by then both of them were starting to see a long winter coming up too fast for them to do much about. Bucky cut down a few trees, planning for the next year, and tried to pull up what roots he could buy looping chain through the stump and driving the truck down the road. It hadn’t really worked, the ground was still a mess of roots, but it was better than nothing.
Steve had sat on the ground, sweat covered and smelling of dirt and pine, and leaned against Bucky in sheer exhaustion. “It’s only summer.” He’d complained. “I don’t want to worry about winter in the summer.”
Bucky didn’t move – Steve rarely touched him anymore, like Bucky’s admission of liking guys made him not worthy of Steve’s hands – and so he hoarded every touch like it was gold, rare and wonderful. “We’ll be okay.” He managed, after swallowing. “I’m going to take the truck out and look for gas and dried food for a week or so. There’s a fairly large Walmart about 60 miles out, even if it’s been rolled they’ll still have something.”
“Tins’ll be out of date.”
“It’s just a guide anyway.” Bucky said, with a certainty he didn’t feel. “And no one thinks to take rice and pasta. It’s always the last thing people grab.”
Steve had snuggled closer, filling up Bucky’s senses with his warmth and smell. It had been so long since the smaller man had been close, and Bucky couldn’t help but twist a little, so he could rest his chin on Steve’s head. “We’ll be fine.”
They would be, but when Bucky had come back from the road trip, he’d found Steve and Tony on the laptop, talking with Barton about the food situation.
And the argument had started.
“I’ve been away for a week trying to stock up, and I come back to find that you’ve told Steve to send half of what we’ve got to you?”
“Then go out and find food!” Bucky yelled. “You’ve got milk, eggs, meat and fish. I know you’ve got a car, and gas. You get in the fucking car, and you go find food.” Bucky yelled. “Where the fuck do you think I’ve been, huh? Driving around getting shot at for my fucking health? Wasting gas for giggles?”
“You got shot at?” Steve asked, suddenly hovering over Bucky’s bad shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“You kno-” Tony said, before Steve turned to the screen.
“We’ll call you back.” Steve snapped, closing the screen on Tony’s squawk of protest. “You got shot?” He repeated, turning back to Bucky, “Why didn’t you tell me you got shot?”
“I got shot at, I didn’t get shot.” Bucky snapped. “And I didn’t tell you because when I walked in all our fucking food was gone!”
Bucky pulled away from where Steve was touching him, the first time he’d ever done so, and stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door shut with a bang that made the whole cabin rattle.
He took his time in the shower, letting the hot water roll over his shoulders and back, easing out the tightness in his muscles from a week of driving. The Walmart had been a good idea, the stink of rotten food gone with the year that it had been sitting out – or sealed behind freezer doors that hadn’t been opened in an age. The dried food section had obviously been hit by people before him, but there was enough to make the trip worth it – he pulled the cart through the abandoned aisles, filled it four times with everything he could – dried herbs, tomato paste that seemed to never go out of date, jars and jars of honey and syrup, tea bags and even (He remembered how thrilled Steve would be) a couple tins of coffee. The booze was almost all gone, but there were a couple dozen bottles of wines, which he grabbed, stashing them carefully in the Truck.
He’d been planning on turning back after that, but one of his maps showed a Costco a few miles south and… He let his head fall against the wall of the shower. He wanted to get enough food to send to Tony and Pepper, so he’d made his way to the oversized building.
He’d managed to pick up trollies of rice, massive sacks that weighed a tonne, soaps and washing powders, huge amounts of candy… it had been great. One his fourth trip back to the truck though, he’d heard someone yelling. Rather than doing the smart thing and getting the hell outta dodge, he’d tried to keep hauling the low cart behind him. The first crack of a gun made him abandon that though. He ran for the Truck – only to find someone already there, looking around, checking it out.
The fight had been short and violent. Bucky only had the use of one arm, but he’d been keeping in shape. The other guy had a few pounds on him, but Bucky could see that it was more fat than anything else. Still, with an obvious handicap, Bucky had gone down a few times. “Just stay down!” He’d begged, when the guy tried to get to his feet. “Stay down.”
“Fuck you, gimp!” The guy said, before giving a kick to Bucky’s gut that hand him on his ass in seconds. They’d grappled for a few seconds before Bucky landed a punch that had the bigger man stumbling back. Rather than try to take hold of the few seconds advantage to beat him, Bucky scrambled to the Truck, pulling himself up and pealing out of the massive parking lot
They had cars. Cars with enough gas to make it worth their time to follow him for miles. Bucky drove in a wide enough arc around the general area that they wouldn’t be able to work out where he’d come from until they abandoned the chase. With the truck weighed down with his haul, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could have made it on fumes if they hadn’t peeled off, shooting the Truck a few times. He’d had to stop and fill the tank with the last of the gas he’d brought once he was sure they’d backed off, and took the longest route back to the cabin he could.
He’d been hoping that Steve would be there to greet him like he used to – maybe even give Bucky a quick hug, the ones Bucky had learned to hoard like a miser and his money – and instead found him talking to Tony about their food store.
He ran a hand over his eyes, scrubbing the week of driving and dust out of his pores before killing the water and stepping out into the steam filled room.
Steve had never seen Bucky angry. He got frustrated, and he got annoyed, he sometimes got waspish when Steve was being stubborn, but never angry. He hadn’t got angry when Steve almost wiped out their grainstore by not securing the tarp on the woodshed and the water got in. He didn’t get angry when Steve pulled away from the one armed hugs Bucky used to give so freely. He didn’t get angry when Steve spent days in bed, only getting up to eat and piss – on the days where Steve just couldn’t bring himself to act like it was okay that Bucky was gay and just not into him.
But when the door to the bathroom slammed, Steve knew Bucky was angry. Rather than hang around and wait for Bucky to come out, Steve went outside.
It was warm, the sun shining on their patch of the world that Bucky had tried so hard to make sure could provide for them. Everything had a touch of one of them – the edible wild plants Steve had started growing in the treeline, the plot of land overflowing with greenery that Bucky tended, the coup of chickens, opened up so the chicks and the brooding hens could wander around freely, only returning to the roost at night. They foraged in the woods, saving the grain, and they had planned to send the chicks to the others when they were able to sex them. They’d thought if they blindfolded the animals they might be able to make the trip to Clint’s ranch in the Drone, rest for a few days and then resume on the trip to Tony.
The Truck was standing in the road, and Steve could see the new bullet holes in the back without much trouble – at least one of them was obviously a shotgun, fired a hell of a lot closer than Steve liked. Bucky could have died. He could have died and Steve would never have known.
It was that, the knowledge that Bucky could have been killed – that his body might have been left by the side of some road to rot – that spurred Steve into moving. He spun around, half running back into the house and throwing himself at Bucky who had just come out of the bathroom, steam billowing behind him.
“You could have died!” Steve shouted, before wrapping his arms around Bucky’s shoulders, having to stand on his toes to do so. “You could have died!” He repeated, before kissing the other man, hard.
One moment Bucky was being yelled at and the next he was being kissed, and he wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but Steve was kissing him. Steve.
Steve was kissing him.
Really kissing him.
Bucky was pretty sure he made a noise like a wounded animal before kissing back, a desperate whine of need and want – heat coiling fast and sudden, like a flame licking up the dried straw they used as kindling. Bucky’s good hand fisted in the back of the white tee-shirt Steve was wearing, a little too big for him but still good – soft despite how hard Bucky was squeezing the fabric, desperate to pull Steve closer. He wanted to wrap both arms around Steve, keep him close, but it hurt too much when he tried to move his bad arm. The wince when he tried made Steve pull back, as though he’d been the one to cause the hurt, and Bucky couldn’t help the desperate, “Please,” that passed his lips.
“I’m sorry.” Steve said, trying to pull back, like he didn’t belong right where he was. “I’m sorry, I know you don’t want this.” He dropped his arms to his sides, almost elbowing Bucky in the gut.
Bucky blinked in confusion. “Huh?” He managed, aware that Steve was still trying to pull away but wasn’t getting very far because of the death grip Bucky had on his tee-shirt.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… you could have died! You could have died and I’d have never known and I just…” Steve swallowed. “I just wanted… I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”
“So you do want...?” Bucky hedged, not sure if Steve was saying he’d acted without thinking or if kissing Bucky was something he had wanted for a while.
Steve looked up at him, lips wet, swollen, kissable. “I know you don’t want to.” He said, looking away awkwardly. “I’m sorry.” He tried to pull back again, before stopping and looking up at Bucky. “You’re going to have to let me go.” He pointed out, tips of his ears red.
“Don’t wanna.” Bucky managed, throat tight. Steve hadn’t said he didn’t want to – he’d only said he didn’t think Bucky didn’t want to. “I told you.” He said, having to fight to get the words past his throat. “About liking. Guys.” Another breath, “But you didn’t say anything… so…”
The second kiss wasn’t the hard, bruising kiss of the first time. Steve blinked, looking up at Bucky with an expression of wonder, before pushing up on his toes and carefully pressing their lips together. The sensations were heightened, slow enough for Bucky to easy catalogue the harder feel of Steve’s lips to the girls he’d kissed before, the slight scrape of his shaved chin against Bucky’s, the feel of his smile as the kiss lasted longer. He could feel Steve’s chest pushed into his own, flat and warm, how his arms were back around his shoulders, those long fingers holding Bucky’s head in place – the way he shifted on his toes to keep balance. When he pulled away the second time, he didn’t try to wriggle out of Bucky’s hold, just lowered himself from the balls of his feet and stood close, arms still wrapped around Bucky’s neck. “Do you want this?” He asked, as though the answer wasn’t as clear as the sun in the sky.
“Yes.” Bucky said, certain and solid for the first time in his life.
They ended up on the couch, kissing for long, lazy hours. Everything forgotten but the feel of each other. Steve had lain them both down, arranging Bucky to his personal pleasure, and laying almost on top of him, the ideal position for kissing with their height difference no longer hindering them. Bucky wasn’t sure of what to do once they’d passed kissing, but Steve seemed to know that – they kissed until their lips were numb and then Steve just wrapped them in the quilt. They snuggled together under the blanket, their well watched DVD of Lord of the Rings playing, both of them only half watching as Bucky ran his fingers through Steve’s summer blond hair, and Steve traced the lines on Bucky’s face with his artists fingers.
“Do you know what day it is?” Steve said, leaning up to kiss him again, a quick press of lips that ghosted over his jaw before landing in the hollow of Bucky’s throat.
“No.” Bucky admitted, using the gentle grip he had of Steve’s head to tip him back enough to kiss him properly.
Steve made a sound of approval before pulling back slightly. “It’s July 4th.”
They’d been together for over a year, and although they’d never taken much note of days, Bucky did know when Steve was born. “Happy Birthday.” He said, kissing Steve softly.
“Very happy.” Steve responded, snuggling back into Bucky with a smile on his lips.
Steve was dead to the world as Bucky made dinner. Although Steve was the better cook, Bucky still knew is way around the kitchen. It took him a little longer than it might have, but he’d come to terms with the fact that his left arm was out of commission. He’d set the table as Steve slept – pulling out as many stops as he could, the unused wineglasses from the back of the vanity – washed and polished to get rid of the layer of dust – sat beside a vase of flowers and a corked bottle of red wine Bucky had picked up, pulled from the stash in the Truck. A few sprinkles of rub on the steaks before they sizzled in the pan, and the rice boiling in the pot was about a good a meal as he could manage on his own.
He’d never dated a guy before. He wasn’t sure if Steve would like the flowers, or the wine, but Bucky wanted… he wanted to make sure that Steve knew how Bucky felt, even if he might not be able to get the words out. It was Steve’s birthday, and he wanted to show Steve that he was important – and he’d even wrapped a gift.
“Hey,” Steve said, later, when the food was almost done and the cabin smelt of good steaks done right. “What’s this?”
“Birthday meal.” Bucky shrugged, nodding at the table. “I found wine.”
Steve’s laughed bubbled up like a river, and Bucky blushed hard. He knew he’d mess it up. “You don’t have to drink it, I just-”
Warm lips touched his, fleeting and perfect. “I love it.” Steve said, grinning. “It’s nice. Wined and dined, just like a real date.”
“Yeah.” Bucky nodded, wanting another kiss but not sure how to go about it with the steaks ready and the rice done. The smile Steve gave him was bright and warm, and he found himself grinning back. “Grubs ready.”
Once again, Steve had to cut up Bucky’s steak, but when he was done, rather than go back to his own meal, he cut up his own and then carefully put Bucky’s left hand on top of the table, lacing their fingers together. “This is really nice, Buck.” Steve said, as they ate, hands entwined. “I don’t remember having a better birthday.”
“I got you a present,” Bucky said, when the wine was gone and the plates washed and put away. Steve was a little tipsy, but so was Bucky, and they were both swaying a little as they made their way back to the couch. A bottle of wine between both of them after nearly two years without a drink obviously hit them hard. “Look.”
There wasn’t wrapping paper, of course. Paper was hoarded, the best way to light the fire if they ran out of straw, so Bucky had wrapped up the gift in one of his tee-shirts. When Steve saw it, the expression on his face was beyond fond, and he leaned into Bucky to kiss him again. “You didn’t have to get my anything.” He said, kissing Bucky softly between words. Both of them tumbled onto the couch, grinning and pressing small gentle kisses against any skin they could reach.
“I know that.” Bucky said, grabbing the shoddily wrapped gift. “But still. Open it.”
Steve was smiling up at Bucky as he tried to pull the shirt off the package, before his whole body stalled, seeing what he had in his hands for the first time. “Bucky,” He gasped, eyes wide. “Oh, Buck.” The sealed jar of coffee cradled in his arms.
Steve with a hangover was funny as hell, Bucky thought, watching the other man stumble through to the bathroom for the third time that morning. Bucky had grabbed them both some of their hoarded painkillers and water as soon as he’d woken up, but Steve wasn’t a morning person at the best of times, and was taking it hard.
He refused to make himself a coffee until he’d stopped throwing up. “I’m not going to waste it,” He’d moaned, before pushing up and kissing Bucky on the jaw. “Let’s just stay here and be lazy for today, okay?”
“You can, if you like.” Bucky said, grinning, “But I gotta empty the Truck, and see what’s going on with the food. Steve, we still gotta talk about Tony.”
“Don’t wanna.” Steve said, trying to burrow under the quilt, nothing visible but the stop of his straw blond hair. It was ridiculous – the sun was bright and high, and the cabin was warm enough that they’d stopped lighting the fire unless they actively needed hot water. “I don’t wanna ruin everything with fighting.”
Privately Bucky agreed, but he knew that the laptops, currently still closed from the day before, were a problem waiting to happen. Although he personally thought that they’d get through the winter with the extra’s he’d picked up on his week-long trip, he knew that the bonus of milk and meat from the Bartons made it much easier to cope. “I know.” He agreed. “But we gotta. You can stay on the couch this morning, but I’m going to unload the Truck.”
“How many bags of rice did you pick up?” Steve asked, half an hour later, when Bucky had most of them piled up like sandbags on the grass. He’d started with the heavy stuff first, his thigh muscles protesting at the constant climbing in and out of the Truck loaded up with pounds of rice each time.
“Two pallets.” Bucky admitted. “Twice as much as we’ll need. At the time,” He said, throwing a meaningful look at Steve over his shoulder. “I thought we’d be able to send some in the Drone.”
Steve’s shoulders squared. “I thought I was doing the right thing.” He said, voice unwavering. “I’m not going to let people go hungry if I can help it.” He looked pointedly at the pyramid of food Bucky was bringing out. “We’re in a better position than them. It’s our job to help each other.”
Bucky agreed. “It is. But it’s not like Pep and Tony were starving. You can’t starve on a diet steak, eggs, milk and fish, Steve.” He pointed out. “It gets fucking boring, and it might suck, but they weren’t going to starve. We lasted on eggs and rice for weeks, and longer than that on fucking pasta, which has the nutritional value of cardboard.”
He knew he was talking to a brick wall though – Steve’s jaw was set hard. “Tony shouldn’t have said what he said.” Steve said after a while. “But you were wrong too. It is our place to help them.”
“Steve, you can’t just send half of our food away without talking to me about it first.” Bucky pointed out. “If something had happened to me out there, you’d be alone – and you didn’t leave enough food for you to make it through the winter.”
That morning, Bucky had checked out the bruises on his body – blooming over his stomach and ribs – and it had made him realise for the first time just how lucky he had been to make it back to Steve. “I might not be able to go back out this year.” He warned. “The guys that chased me’ll be keeping an eye out now. It’d be crazy to attempt it. We have to make this last.”
Steve nodded, and started helping Bucky with the rice. He laughed when he saw the amount of candy bars Bucky had picked up, unwrapping a snickers and making an obscene moaning noise as he chewed. “Refined sugar.” He swooned, holding out the bar for Bucky to take a bite. When Bucky leaned forward though, Steve pulled it back and kissed him instead, grinning.
“Classy.” Bucky said, rolling his eyes – but his lips tasted faintly of chocolate and caramel and he was pretty sure Steve could see the smirk playing on his lips.
“We can send 40 sacks of rice.” Bucky said, looking down at the list Steve had made. “And 30 of pasta. I’ve got 20 tubes of tomato paste and 80 packets of dried rub and herbs, about a kilo of candy and some honey, syrups and jellies. We’ve some tins but you’ll need to take the risk with the use-by dates.” Tony was silent on the other side of the monitor, as Pepper had taken over the negotiations. He was sulking in the background, rolling his eyes at every second word. “The fresh veg we’re growing here we’re keeping. I won’t be able to go out again this year, so this is it. There isn’t more coming later unless one of you guys finds a place without crazy fuckers with guns.”
Pepper was nodding, writing everything on her tablet with a speed Bucky envied. “We’re obviously grateful for the help, Bucky.” She said, as Tony snorted in the background. “We’ve been smoking the fish we catch every day, so we can send it in batches – it’ll keep frozen for about 6 months, so we’ll send it fresh and let you do what you want.” She looked over her shoulder. “Tony will continue to work on his improvements and send them out as he’d been doing – but will mostly be working on a hydroponics lab in the basement.” The look on her face clearly said that the only reason Tony was attempting to farm was because he got to call it ‘hydroponics’ and maybe that Pepper would kill him if he didn’t. “The fruit trees I found are finally ripe, so we’ll be halving the harvest and sending them to you as a thank you for the fresh food Steven sent.”
“We’ll be able to send the milk and meat through the winter.” Clint said, easy in the knowledge that they were in a much better situation than the others due to the sheer size of their herd. “We’ll lose a lot of cattle in the winter, but it won’t actually mean much in the long run. Next year we’re planting – following Bucky’s grid. We’ve got a shit-ton of land, it’s finding the time to work it – there’s a gang not too far out traveling south, picking off the stray cattle. We’re off their radar right now, but it’s the wild west out here. We’re screwed if they come at us.”
“We’ve got guns and bows.” Bucky said, “Can’t use them with my arm, and Steve’s a shit aim. We can load them in the Drone next visit.”
“Appreciated.” Clint said, nodding.
Although their relationship with Tony was still strained, things moved along pretty much the way they always had. The yellow chicks grew into chubby chickens on their woodland foraging, and they only lost two through the year to predators – a red fox that Steve threw stones at whenever he saw it. They sent one in the Drone, sedated and blindfolded, wrapped in an old rice sack to stop it from freaking out and smashing the cargo if it woke up.
Clint held it up to the screen, looking a little featherless but alive, with a big smile on his face. “Maybe a little more of the sedation next time?” He suggested. “But it worked, and we’ve let it out in the barn. Seems happy enough running around the cows.”
The biggest change was the gang that went by Clint’s ranch weren’t the crazy, gun toting psychos that were roaming around. Three of them decided to stay at the ranch – an older couple and their nephew – coming all the way from New York with a caravan of people heading south for the winter. They were well armed but friendly, using horses to pull their gear rather than relying on gas, and were thrilled to find people settling down – Tony sent them equipment so they could keep in touch, and now the laptops were a constant babble of conversations. The caravan had younger kids that Steve would read to, doing voices and making his way through the pile of books they had – but mostly it was an open line of communication to ask questions, and relay news. Slowly, they were building a network, slowly they were settling back into the land.
The summer seemed to last forever – or so it felt to Bucky. He woke every morning to the feel of Steve wrapped up in his arms, spent the day in good honest work that ended with a large meal of whatever Steve felt like cooking. They had potatoes – more than either of them were expecting – with almost every meal, mashed with egg and cream to up the calories and nutrients. They watched their DVD’s curled up on the couch, and it was a good thing Bucky had seen them all a hundred times because for some reason they never quite made it to the end without at least one of them half naked and panting.
Steve seemed okay with the fact Bucky wasn’t good at asking for things he wanted, the smaller man happy enough to take things slow as they learned about one another in more intimate ways. Even when the leaves started to change, Bucky didn’t feel the same panic over the upcoming winter when Steve reached up to kiss him. It had taken a long time, but both of them were excited for tomorrow – a new day in their own slice of the world, carved out with hard work and love.
Tony’s hydroponics lab took a year to get ready, and it was Bucky’s opinion that the only reason it was ever finished was because Pepper needed to eat for two. They named him after Tony’s father, and it wasn’t long before he was joined by a little brother. By the time they were 7 and 8 respectively, they had created a new type of generator, smaller and easier to maintain than the arc reactor that their father used. They built unmanned drones for fun and sent them out over the country, collecting data and contacting other survivors.
Pepper and Tony worked hard to keep the framework of the communication lines open, at one point even launching a small satellite into orbit (with a great deal of drama, which was of course, normal for Tony) when the one he’d been using smashed into space garbage, leaving them without contact for a month.
The Barton Ranch became a large community – the caravan returned a few summers after their first visit and settled down too bloated with people to keep moving, building homes and barns over the land. They worked the fallow fields with a mix of old and new – horse power relying on actual horses and laptop programmes to work out the best growing methods and home-made labs to test soil samples. The kids grew up learning their letters from well-read books and how to rebuild old tech better, the new generation who didn’t know any different than the way things were – living on the land and growing-up half wild, free in a way their parents had never known.
It ended up as a bustling community with over 200 people working together on the land, slowly spreading out as the years went on – the children growing up and building their own cabins, running their own cattle and fields. Any roaming gangs were either absorbed into the community or run out of town, old west style. They built a school, where they watched movies at night and voted on issues that were important to them all. They built a system out of the memories of their parents – law and politics – but edged with the wildness of their upbringing.
Steve and Bucky stayed in their cabin, living a life that was both hard and easy. The seasons were their only calendar – although every July 4th they turned off the laptops and broke out a dusty bottle of wine, had a steak and held hands while they smiled at each other, together till the end.