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Alleviate

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2016

 

The trip to the Flughafen Leipzig-Halle airport was absurdly long. Steve, Sam, and Bucky were crammed in the little bug, exhausted and fueled only by their survival instincts. The radio hummed in the background, Bucky snored in the backseat, and Sam grumbled to himself about how he should have never opened that door and invited Steve and Natasha in.

 

Steve simply listened, stuck in a weird place of peace and anxiety. On the one hand, he was a wanted criminal and running from the law and his friends. On the other, he had Sam beside him and Bucky in the backseat. Bucky, the man he’s been in love with since 1936, was in the backseat. He could barely contain the happiness that bubbled in his chest. Bucky was safe and in his company.

 

And then Sharon met up with them to get their stuff.

 

It took Steve a couple of months to get over Sharon’s “betrayal” before he could be friends with her. They even went on a few dates, but as Sam pointed out recently, Steve didn’t treat her as a romantic interest. He gets the feeling that she thinks otherwise.

 

It was awkward, knowing Sam and Bucky were watching him interact with Sharon. She didn’t suspect a thing, but here Steve was, awkward and nervous as he collected their things. And then when she kissed him? Cringe.

 

Steve walked back to the car, only to see Sam and Bucky watching him with smug grins. “Shut up,” he mumbles.

 

“Oh no,” Sam snappe, “I need details.”

 

“Looks like Little Stevie finally has a girlfriend,” Bucky laughed.

 

Steve rolled his eyes, even though his face was on fire with blush. “She is not my girlfriend.”

 

“Oh really? Since when do you go around kissing on random women?” Bucky quipped.

 

The captain pulled the car out onto the road, speeding away. “I don’t. She’s not some random girl, Buck. She was my neighbor, who I thought was a regular ER nurse, but turned out to be an agent tasked with babysitting me-”

 

“She wasn’t babysitting you,” Sam corrected.

 

“Close enough.”

 

“So why were you kissing her?” Bucky asked, leaning up to push his head between the two.

Sam was quick to push him back, “You sit in the back, you stay in the back.”

 

Steve laughed. “We connected over a couple of missions and I guess she got the wrong idea. Should have seen her at the funeral, wouldn’t stop staring at me.”

 

“Funeral?”

 

Steve and Sam glanced at each other before Steve looked in the rearview mirror. He gave Bucky a sympathetic smile, “Peggy passed away last week.”

 

Bucky’s face scrunched in confusion before his eyes widened in realization. “Pegs is gone?”

 

“Passed away in her sleep, but she lived a good life. Had a family, built a career for herself, saved our legacies,” Steve trailed on.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“She immortalized you as the first fallen Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

 

“Even after…” Bucky didn’t continue, which made Steve perk up.

 

“After what?”

 

“Even after she knew about me?”

 

Steve slammed on brakes. “What?”

 

Bucky’s brow was furrowed, head tilted like a confused puppy. Steve’s heart skipped a beat. “I remember… I remember hearing her name when Pierce was talking with his subordinates. He was talking about her retirement and how that would stop her from looking for the Asset. Either she knew about me or she wanted me dead.” Bucky was looking down “Wait, why was Sharon at the funeral?”

 

Sam snickered behind his hand, wiggling his eyebrows at Steve. “Tell him, Rogers.”

 

Steve’s face burst into flames again. He cringed, mumbling, “She’s Peggy’s niece.”

 

Bucky’s jaw dropped. “You’re dating your ex’s niece?”

 

“We’re not dating! We’re just friends.”

 

“Really? Would you kiss me like that?” Bucky quipped, leaning back with his arms crossed.

 

Sam slung his head back, laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes. Steve spluttered to reply, his face an ugly shade of red, by far the reddest it’s been in a long time.”  

“I, uh-”

 

Bucky seemed to pick up on Steve’s hesitation, but he didn’t comment on it. Instead, he asked, “Are we there yet?”


“Oh my god!” Sam groaned.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Steve asked, pacing before the bed Bucky sat on. “I mean, I’m all for you doing what you want, but I don’t want you to make yourself do this because of the media’s pressure.”

 

Bucky watched him carefully. “Steve, I want this. If this is what it takes to get Hydra out of my head, then so be it.”

 

Steve sighed and tugged on his hair. “I know it is, but I just…” He turned to face Bucky, distraught. “I just got you back and I can’t lose you again.”

 

“You aren’t losing me, Steve. You can’t get rid of me,” Bucky reassured. “Not easily at least.”

 

“You know I support you, with whatever you want. I just worry.”

 

“Don’t. You’ve met Shuri, she’s a brilliant dame with a good head on her shoulders.”

 

Steve nodded. “You’re right. I know she’ll take good care of you, I do.”

 

“Good. Now sit down, you’re making me nervous.” Steve chuckled and plopped down next to him, matching his posture. They sat there, leaning on their knees with their hands together, casually sharing looks of something unknown to the both of them. “Like we always said, I’m with you till the end of the line.”

 

With a shuddered breath and tears threatening to spill, Steve grinned. “It’s been too long since I’ve heard you say that,” he whispered.

 

Bucky’s eyebrows stitched together, a funny little smile on his face. “Want me to say it again?” he joked.

 

“Yes,” Steve breathed.

 

“I’m with you till the end of the line.”

 

Steve beamed, with a watery laugh. “Till the end of the line.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Sam was guided down the halls of T’Challa’s extensive science wing until he reached Shuri’s lab. Inside the pristine lab, there sat Steve.

 

The captain looked a little rough, with stubble lining his jaw and his bags under his eyes. He was sitting in front of the cryo-chamber, watching the chamber with tired eyes. Sam couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, knowing he was hurting and lonely.

 

He knocked on the door and stepped inside. Steve looked over, bored and tired until he realized who it was. He visibly brightened, back straight and eyes bright. “Sam!” He cheered, jumping up to greet his friend. Steve hugged him tightly, squeezing him as he said, “It’s great to see you.”

 

Sam tapped his shoulder with a breathy laugh. “It’s good to see you too.”

 

Steve pulled away, beaming. “What brings you here?”

 

“The UN set your hearing date. You’ve got a month before you need to head back and go before them,” Sam answered truthfully.

 

The super soldier sighed, face falling back into its previous melancholy state. He wandered back to his seat, staring at Bucky with hollowed eyes. “They’ll have me imprisoned.”

 

“I don’t know about that,” Sam said as he joined him. “We don’t really know what to expect with this sort of thing, but I don’t think everyone hates you. You just need to make a good argument, tell them about Bucky’s innocence and Zemo. You could talk about how without you working whenever Hydra could be preparing for another attack. They still could, but you slaughtered their resources by going after their bases. You’re Captain America, Steve. People are going to trust you whether they believe it or not. We just need to make your case, tell them that you aren’t opposed to the Accords, but rather want to discuss it out in detail. Things just got out of hand and events happened that made it difficult to do so.”

 

Steve ran a hand over his face. “I know you’re right and I know this can be done. But it’s not just me I’m worried about.” He looked up at Bucky’s sleeping face, all heart eyes, and misery.

 

“Steve, he’s not a defenseless child. We’re talking about the Winter Soldier here. I know you see him as your best friend, but the rest of the world sees him for who he was. Steve, there’s evidence that he’s committed dozens of assassins and countless murders. He’s the Winter Soldier and everyone knows that. They aren’t going to be worried about Bucky Barnes, the kid who fell in the Alps. People are just going to want him to crash and burn, to pay for his ‘crimes.’ The truth is available for everyone to read, but they won’t. They want someone to blame, just like Tony. We just need to flip the script.”

 

Steve nodded. “He doesn’t deserve this.”

 

Sam paused, deep in his own controversial thoughts. Finally, he placed a hand on Steve’s shoulder and squeezed. “No, he doesn’t.”

 

They sat in silence, watching the chamber as if the man inside would wake up. Steve chuckled softly, head falling so his bangs fell against his forehead like a child. “The night before he went under, you’ll never believe what he told me.” Sam hummed in response, eyebrow raised. Steve grinned with watery eyes. “He told me he loved me.”

 

Sam’s eyes widened. “What? I thought he didn’t know?”

 

“He doesn’t as far as I know. Do you remember when I told you about the fight on the Pontiac before I fell in? What I said to snap him back to reality?” Steve asked softly.

 

“Yeah, you said something cheesy and lame.”

 

“It wasn’t lame! I told him I was with him till the end of the line. Back in the day,” Steve started, “when we first started to date, we came up with a secret little saying. It was something we could say in public that wouldn’t give us away, but it would be ours. ‘I’m with you till the end of the line’ was our code for ‘I love you.’”

 

Sam fake gagged. “Like I said, cheesy.” Steve rolled his eyes but laughed along with his friend. “So Barnes told you he was with you and you think he meant to say he loves you?”

 

Steve shook his head. “I think he did it unintentionally. Almost like he doesn’t realize he still has feelings for me. It’s so ingrained in his being that it’s just there…”

 

“Listen, Steve, I’m going to be your voice of reason throughout this, because I’m pretty sure your’s ditched you back on that plane. While there is a chance that you’re right, you gotta back off. You can’t give off that impression and make Bucky be with you out of obligation, even if you don’t realize it. You want Bucky to realize his feelings for you naturally, or else it’ll be one-sided. I want you two to have the happy ever after you deserve, Rogers, but we need to be practical. You made the right choice by ripping out those pages earlier. Just let him be for now. Be his best friend and as platonic as you can be.”

 

“That’s a good idea,” he sighed.

 

Sam squeezed his shoulder again. “If it’s meant to be, then he’ll come back to you. Then you can have your perfect little romance.”

 

Steve gave Sam a half-hearted smile. “Thanks for everything, Sam. I really appreciate all you’ve done thus far. More than I could repay you for.”

 

“Just make me the best man at your wedding. S’all I ask.”

 

With a hearty laugh, Steve stuck out his hand for Sam to shake. “It’s a done deal.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Steve entered the Avengers compound, dressed in a nice suit and ready to have this meeting. It’d been months since he and Tony spoke, in fact, he’d only spoken to Natasha and Sam, who accompanied him.

 

“Ready?” Natasha asked.

 

“As ever.” Steve straightened his tie and cleared his throat.

 

The three of them entered the familiar conference room where Tony, Pepper, Rhodey, and Vision awaited. Steve walked over to Tony, looked him in the eye, and stuck out his hands. “Tony, it’s great to see you again.”

 

Tony looked down at the hand and promptly took his seat.

 

Steve nodded. He couldn’t blame Tony for being mad.

 

Sam cleared his throat, “Listen, you two, we’re here to clear things up. Society needs you to get along. They need the Avengers, they need Captain America and Iron-Man on the same side. You both made good points on your own, but now you both need to open up and listen to one another.”

 

“There are two sides to every story,” Pepper started. She crossed her legs and rested her hands on the table. “You can pretend to not need each other, but we all see it. You two used to be great friends, but you were both in the wrong.” She looked at Steve, hellfire in her eyes. “You were reckless. You dropped everything and everyone for Bucky. Innocent citizens, our friends, our families ; they’re all in danger because you were irrational.”

 

“Now hand on-” Sam tried.

 

Pepper held up a hand. “No, don’t defend him. Those were his actions and he has to face the consequences. Tony,” she turned to her beloved, “you aren’t innocent in all of this either. You acted too quickly with the Accords. You tried to force Steve and the others to sign something they weren’t clear on. If you had just let them think it through and read it, you all might have been able to get through this civilly.”

 

Natasha stated, “None of this would have happened had we just talked it through.”

 

Tony snapped to attention. “I’m not the one who abandoned chip during the conference!”

 

“You also weren’t giving anyone room to disagree with you,” Sam quipped.

 

“But at least I was there!”

 

Steve sighed. “Tony, I left because Peggy’s nurse had sent the news of her passing. Tensions were running high and I just… couldn’t. It was too much all at once-”

 

“Sensory overload,” Sam offered.

 

Steve gave him a small smile and continued, “Right, sensory overload.I had every intention to try and work things out. Things just escalated and-”

 

“And your good ol’ pal Bucky showed up,” Tony snapped.

 

“And you never gave me a chance to explain!” Steve barked. He took a deep breath and mumbled an apology. “I get that you were doing what you thought was best, but I don’t think the Accords were best for me and my ideals.”

 

“Your ideals? Can you be any denser?” Tony laughed bitterly.

 

“I’m not an idiot, Stark,” Steve snapped. “I’m ninety-eight, not eighteen. Show me a little respect.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “You lost my respect when you chose that murderer over us.”

 

Steve’s face turned dark. “That wasn’t him and you know it,” he seethed, fists clenched in his lap. Sam grabbed his forearm, giving him a stern look.

 

“Bullshit Rogers! You’re blinded by your guilt and you know it. You couldn’t save him and he died and now that you see he isn’t, all you can do is give yourself to him and hope he forgives you. You blame yourself for him being the murderer he is and now you’re trying to make up for it. He’s a murderer and you’re his bitch-”

 

Steve snatched Tony up by the collar, growling in his face, “Don’t you fucking dare talk about him like that.” Sam, Natasha, and Vision jumped up to separate the two. Steve dropped the billionaire and took a step back. Pepper helped Tony up, staring at Steve with fear in her eyes.

 

“Bucky didn’t deserve what happened to him. No one deserves that. Not Bucky, not Natasha, no one! Don’t you get that?” Steve pleaded. “Tony, you treated me like a brother prior to the Accords. We were friends . We trusted one another. I trusted- no, I trust you. If you think the Accords are the right thing for us, then okay! I’ll listen to your arguments, but I’ll need you to listen to mine as well. We can have a genuine discussion. I want to be on your side, Tony, but you never even gave me the chance to defend myself or explain what was happening. Instead, you insisted that I was doing this out of spit as if I asked for any of this to happen.”

 

“Oh, right. So you’re expecting me to believe that you didn’t get involved when everyone told you to stay out of this,” Tony questioned.

 

Rhodey cleared his throat. “Steve, he’s right. None of you would have been arrested or detained had you stayed out of the hunt for Barnes.”

 

“And if he didn’t, Barnes would be in a maximum security prison, Zemo would still be roaming the planet scot-free, and who knows how many soldiers there’d be on his side. Who would fight them? The CIA? S.H.I.E.L.D? Cause they sure as hell wouldn’t have called in the Avengers when the Accords were barely passed,” Sam explained. He looked at everyone in the room, daring them to argue. Then he continued, “And you know what? Being arrested sucked, we can all agree that the Raft is the last place we’d want to be. But for the record, I’d do it over and over again if it meant helping Steve. If it meant that Steve could have Bucky back and fight for the injustice that has been done and is still being done.” Steve gave him a small, proud smile and patted Sam’s shoulder as a silent ‘thank you.’

 

Tony leaned forward, staring Steve down. “Let me ask you this, if you had to choose between me, the person you claim to be like your brother, or Bucky, your blast-from-the-past best friend, who would you pick?”

 

“You-” Steve shook his head, frustrated. “That’s not fair-”

 

“But it is!” Tony laughed. “You need to make a decision for the sake of the team.” A concoction of annoyed groans filtered through the room, all disapproving of Tony’s blatant manipulation.

 

Steve looked him dead in the eye. “Fine. You want me to make a decision, I will. But don’t get mad when you don’t get an answer you like. Because I’m going to be very clear and very honest, Tony. Our friendship will never reach the limits that my friendship with Bucky has. As close as we are, we will never experience that level of intense friendship that I share with Buck, even when he’s brainwashed and trained to forget me. We could never have a connection as strong as that, because that’s once in a lifetime, Tony. I’d be an idiot to give that up. The issue I have with this decision you’re forcing upon me is that you assume that you or Bucky are easily replaced by the other. It’s not that simple. It’s just not.” Steve took a deep breath. “No relationship is the same. The relationship between you and Pepper and the one I shared with Peggy have similarities, but they aren’t the same. That’s the whole point about a relationship, the simple fact that no two are alike in its entirety. I love the fact that you and I can be friends, Tony, and that no one else could understand how we feel.” Steve sighed and shook his head again. “But if you really want me to choose, then… I have to choose Bucky. I’ll always choose him, Tony. I need you to accept that Bucky and I are a package deal, he’s stuck with me until the end of the line. Always.”

 

Silence fell over the group. Steve smirked, his glinting mischievously. Sam braced himself, sipping at a bottle of water in preparation for whatever Steve was about to say secretly. “Hell, you couldn’t even handle half the shit Buck and I get into, especially in the good ol’ days. You’re just not built for that kind of… activity.” Sam choked on his water, spluttering as he tried not to laugh. Steve quietly patted him on the back, all emotion off his face.

 

Natasha flicked an eyebrow raise in their direction but said nothing.

 

“Enough of this bull, we’re not here to discuss my relationship with Bucky. We’re here to figure out where we stand and discuss the future for the Avengers.”

 

Tony crossed his arms. “You basically tell me that I’ll never be as important as Bucky to you and now you want us to… Whatever-”

 

“Look, I never intended to hurt you. I never wanted to pick between you and Bucky, but you insisted . Tony, you cause more pain to yourself than you realize. Instead of trying to blame me and Bucky, why don’t you take ownership for someth-”

 

“Hang on, what exactly do you want me to take ownership for? I’m not the one who abandoned his only friends for some criminal. I’m not the one who went up against the government and expected to be treated as a hero. I’m not the one who befriended the murderer of his coworkers parents, one of which you were friends with. Do you really expect me to just forgive you? I don’t even think Howard would expect me to forgive you and you’re all ever talked about!”

Steve’s face scrunched up. “Actually,” he started, “the Howard I knew understood how much Bucky meant to me. In fact, he and Peggy both helped immortalize his memory within S.H.I.E.L.D-”

 

“What point are you trying to make, Rogers?” Tony snapped.

 

Natasha sat up, annoyed and frustrated. “I’m sorry, are we here for couples therapy or for the Avengers? Because if you two need a moment, the rest of us will be happy to step out of the room.”

 

Tony and Steve both slunk back into their seats, slowly letting go of the tension. Steve ran a hand through his hair and quietly spoke, “I didn’t handle things like I should have. I’m still not,” he admitted. “Tony, like I said before, I’m here for you. I didn’t come to rehash things. I came because you, or rather Pepper, invited us here to try and smooth things over. I’m sorry, I truly am, for all the pain that I have caused you and the rest of the Avengers. I hope that maybe one day we could return to the friends we once were. In the meantime, I think we need to keep some distance between us.” He stood and buttoned his suit jacket, using his right hand to shake the four people sitting across from him. “It’s been great to see you all again, hopefully, it won’t be so long before we see each other again.” With that, Steve left the room, leaving Sam and Natasha behind.

Chapter Text

2016

 

Steve was guided into the special courtroom in London by two burly security guards. The United Nations representatives watched him with disdain as he walked across the platform to his assigned seat. Most of the Avengers were in attendance, Tony and his side were seated in the back in plush chairs (except for T’Challa, who had his own seat among the representatives). Steve’s side stood in the back of the room, arms in handcuffs and their legs attached to one another in thick, heavy chains. They were treated like criminals because of him.

 

He took his seat, face expressionless and cold. Someone started speaking, welcoming and thanking the representatives and the addressing the reporters. They were being broadcasted internationally: the trial of Captain America.

 

The announcer turned to Steve and in their stale, booming voice, asked, “Captain Steven Grant Rogers, are you aware of the charges against you?”

 

“Yes sir,” he stated clearly.

 

“Very well. However, to remind everyone in attendance, the charges against Captain America and his team are as followed: several accounts of international terrorism, two charges of crime against humanity, and a tremendous amount of charges for destruction of government property. Each is explained in detail within the packets you all have received on your desks….”

 

Steve stared forward, not really listening to the words the announcer spoke. He didn’t really hear them, only the rumble of his voice as he explained how things would go. An empty hollowness ached in his chest, one he was familiar with but had not paid attention to in the past few weeks. But here he was, stuck in makeshift courtroom where countries themselves were about to throw polite insults his way.

 

There wasn’t much he could do, just yet. He knew he couldn’t run forever, knew he needed something to ease the mind of the public. They needed to know the whole story and Steve was going to give them that, just like he tried with Tony. It wasn’t his fault if no one listened, at least they had the opportunity to hear his side.

 

The first hour went by with each country pressings charges against him announcing their reasonings, specifications, and what they believe should be done with him. Nearly everyone had something to say about him, some even were asked to sit down due to the vulgar tone they started to adopt in their words.

 

They go around and around, accusing him of various things and leading a so-called “gang” in criminal activity. It went on until T’Challa stood up, all regal and challenging. “Enough!” He glided down the stairs towards Steve. “This man,” he motioned to Steve, “does not deserve this level of criminalization. You are not even letting him defend himself! How is that a fair trial, if you do not know both sides?”

 

Steve watched the room as hush murmurs fell over the crowd. No one would meet his eyes except for Sam and T’Challa.

 

“Captain,” T’Challa continued.

 

“Yes, your majesty?” Steve answered softly, in a way that showed his respect for the man standing before him rather than a weakness.

 

“Please tell us why you committed such crimes. Explain to us why you believe what you did was right.”

 

Steve nodded and stood up, adjusting his formal Cap suit. “When the Sokovian Accords were first introduced to my colleagues and I, we were caught off guard. Here’s the thick slab of paper we’re expected to sign willingly, because it was for the greater good. I do not deny that the Accords were created with such intentions, but the way they were introduced had me on the defensive, I’ll admit.

 

“We weren’t given the opportunity to negotiate the terms-”

 

Someone jumped up, demanding, “There was nothing to negotiate, Captain. Therefore your argument is invalided.”

 

“According to you.” Steve’s chest puffed out, now standing at his full height and potential. This was no Steve Rogers, this was Captain America. “But let me ask you this, were your rights being taken away? Did you feel as if you were being cornered by thousands?” He let that linger in the air with a questioning raise of his eyebrow. “Didn’t think so.”

 

“Had we been given more time to fully understand the Accords and express our grievances with it, we might have been able to come to a reasonable conclusion. Something that would have given all one-hundred-thirty-seven countries solace that we, the Avengers, would be no threat. The only reason, I believe, that that didn’t happen was due to the time crunch we were on. We’re given this book that will dictate how our lives will go on for the foreseeable future. We were given two choices: sign or retire. Neither were good options.”

 

An older woman cleared her throat and stood. “Do explain yourself, Captain. Why couldn’t you retire? You’re an old man, you’ve worked long enough. You deserve to retire if you wish, so why did you fight instead of taking the opportunity to stop?”

 

Steve looked her in the eye and said, “With all due respect, ma’am, I don’t think it’s possible for any of us to retire-”

 

“That’s not true-”

 

“Ma’am, we are not regular people. As much as we’d like to return to civilian life, to live without the world weighing on our shoulders, it isn’t likely. Wanda will always be feared, as much as I hate it. There will always be people afraid of what she could do. Natasha will never be fully trusted, not by those in power or the ignorant at least. Vision will always be stared at, in wonder and in fear. Tony and Colonel Rhodes have a good chance at returning to what their lives once were, but there will always be those people who hate them for what they’ve done or failed to do. There’s nothing we can do to change our reputations we have created over these years. Children will always stop us, people will always want pictures, and someone will always want our help.”

He moved around the desk, pacing in front of the delegates. “We, as the Avengers, have created a brand that represents what society should do for one another. We help . We save . We protect .”

 

Steve looked to T’Challa, who was watching with a proud gleam in his eyes. “I know we don’t exactly have a high approval rating, especially since the events that happened in Sokovia and Lagos. We had good intentions, we didn’t mean to cause so much pain and destruction. It doesn’t take away from the facts that our plan didn’t work the way we thought it would. And in that respect, I do believe that as an organization we need to work on planning things to the full extent. As in we need to prepare for every scenario we can.

 

“Now about the Accords. I don’t agree with them. Not as they are written at the moment, at least. First of all, like I mentioned before, the introduction and handling of the Accords was sketchy as hell.” Half of the delegation gasped at Steve’s language, finally realizing that this wasn’t just Captain America standing before them. “If any of you were handed something to sign that could be life changing, you sure as hell wouldn’t just trust the man handing you the papers and a pen. You’d read it left to write, cover to cover, up and down. You would have it annotated and a full negotiation deal drafted within the day, had you been handed the papers. We were not given that opportunity. Half of my team jumped to conclusions, following Secretary Ross’ very brief and vague explanations. I’d like to remind you all that I read the Accords cover to cover and I didn’t like what I saw. That is why I didn’t jump at the chance to sign, not when everyone was too eager for me to give name over.

 

“Second, these Accords are unconstitutional. No one should be expected to be treated this way. Not only are you asking that we put ourselves in a self-imposed exile, but you’re violating the thirteenth amendment. If I recall, the amendment states that ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.’-”

 

“That does not apply in this situation,” someone claimed.

 

“But it does,” Steve said through a frustrated laugh. “Because part of the Accords states that if we sign, we can no longer act when we feel necessary. We have to wait to be deployed by the United Nations’ panel that dictates whether or not we’re needed.”

 

Steve rolled his shoulders and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know if your history books mentioned this, but I fought like hell to get into the military. I wanted to fight in the war, mostly because everyone said I couldn't. I’m stubborn like that. That being said, I had every enlisting and draft law memorized just so I could find any loophole that applied to my situation. I like to stay updated nowadays, so I kept up with those laws.

 

“The US government only forces men to register for the draft, but only until they’re twenty-six. Those of us on the Avengers who are male, US citizens, and human are older than twenty-six. So there goes that,” Steve said with as much sass as he possibly could. “Then you have the simple fact that I, and Colonel Rhodes, served in the military for a considerable time. Therefore, we cannot be drafted either. Furthermore, none of us could be deployed by the UN panel.”

 

Steve let that sit, watching as people shifted under his gaze. The Avengers watched in a mix of awe and pride, eager to see their Captain sweep the floor with these delegates in their own game.

 

“I don’t even want to begin with my friends being held on the Raft without being taken to a magistrate, offered counsel, or given a trial. That’s enough violations in and of itself. I’m too pissed about that bullshit to even begin to discuss it in a polite tone,” Steve seethed.

 

The courtroom was stunned into silence.

 

Steve moved back to stand in front of his seat, anger evident on his features. “You all want to oversee the Avengers? Fine. Go ahead, but answer me this first.” He pointed out to Tony. “Where was the oversight when it was revealed that Stark Industries sold weapons to terrorists?” His arm slung towards Secretary Ross, his arm rigid and accusing. “Where was the oversight when then General Ross ordered the experiments to create the Abomination. Where was the oversight when he violated the fourth amendment and searched Dr. Bruce Banner’s personal files and data without a warrant?” He lowered his arm, but his face remained shadowed with righteous anger. “Where was the oversight when the US’ own Vice President Rodriquez participated in a conspiracy to overthrow the government ? Where was the oversight when S.H.I.E.L.D performed experiments that brought Loki to Earth? Where was the oversight when Hydra was revealed to be within S.H.I.E.L.D? Where was the oversight when Tony and Dr. Banner created Ultron?

 

“Did it only just occur to you that you could stop these events from taking place? If having oversight can prevent the Avengers from causing more harm than necessary, then why haven’t you tried it before things got out of hand? Before innocent lives were lost? Before one of your own lost their lives?” He bellowed.

 

Steve leaned against the desk, breathing hard. Everything was still around him, watching him with wary eyes. “I didn’t sign, not because I didn’t want to be told what to do, but because it’s not right ,” he started sincerely with his voice down low. “I made a name for myself by going against orders and breaking rules. The only reason I ever do what I do is because I believe in it. I believe that signing the Accords isn’t the right means to cooperation. And now that I’ve explained why I was opposed, let me explain why I wouldn’t submit.

 

“Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes is alive and innocent. I can already see you shutting me down, but I need you to listen to me,” his voice grew desperate, “because he doesn’t deserve this. He was a prisoner of war and wrongly accused by Zemo.  His actions as the Winter Soldier shouldn’t even be held against him, let alone damning him to a life of solitary confinement like you all want. I needed to show you that it wasn’t him, that you couldn’t blame Zemo’s actions on him just because you think he’s a criminal.

 

“I fought like hell against these Accords, to the point that I lost some of my family - the only family I’ve had since 1945. Try me all you want, but just know that my actions had a reason behind them. I wasn’t just reacting, not completely at least.” With that, he sat back down with the same bland expression he walked in with.

 

They let him go without any charges against him.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Tony was waiting at the same table they sat at when Steve met his interior designer when he walked in. He had his back to the door, hunkered over the menu as if he didn’t already know what he wanted.

 

Steve cleared his throat as he took his seat, making sure his presence was known. He grabbed his menu, looking over it just as Tony was.

 

Eventually a waiter came to ask Steve about his drink (he ordered a water) and Tony finally acknowledged him. “Thanks for meeting me here.”

 

“Not a problem.” Steve leaned back in his seat. They stared at each other intensely, ignoring the bustling of the restaurant around them. Steve could hardly take it, the tension rising between them. “Why did you invite me?”

 

Tony raised an eyebrow in a somewhat mocking tone before he shook his head with a rare sincerity. “I don’t like how things played out. I’ll admit I acted like a dick and I’m sorry for not giving you any room to talk things through and pressuring you into signing those atrocious papers.”

 

Steve was shocked, but glad. “Tony, that means a lot to hear that from you. I,” he took a deep breath, “didn’t act like a good friend either. I’ve told you this before, but I genuinely thought I was doing something good for you by not telling you about your, um, parents. There is nothing that I could say to show just how truly sorry I am for that. I hated fighting with you, especially since all you’ve done for me since I woke up was help me adjust to my new surroundings.”

 

A hand stretched across the table, Tony giving him a small smile. “Call it even?”

 

“Absolutely.” Steve took Tony’s hand with pride, grinning as big as he could. “So what have I missed?”

 

Tony let out a sigh of relief, leaning back in his seat. “I almost proposed to Pepper.”

 

“What? That’s great! Why didn’t you?”

 

“Wrong time.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“We were trying to get Spider-kid to join the Avengers after-”

 

“After his thing with the Vulture, yeah, I read about that.”

 

“He didn’t want it, thought it was a test or something,” Tony waved it off. “We had a press conference ready and everything, so I had to improvise.”

 

“Are you planning on proposing soon, though?” Steve was invested, face alight with a childish glee.

 

Tony shrugged, smirking. “Maybe when things start to settle a bit.”

 

Steve scoffed. “When have things ever settled for us?”

 

“You make a good point there, Cap.”

 

They talked a bit more, Steve asking about Spider-Man and how Stark Industries was doing. Tony was rambling about new projects when they ordered their food and didn’t stop until their food arrived. After a few quiet bites, he bravely asked, “What’s the situation with Barnes?”

 

Steve tensed, fork raised halfway to his face. He looked up at an innocent looking Tony, skeptical about what his intentions were. “He, um, went back under. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, is trying to get the Winter Soldier programming out of his head, but until then he thought it best to go back in the cryo chamber.”

 

Tony was taken aback. “Really?”

With a grave nod, Steve continued to shovel food into his mouth. “Before he went in, though, he was… Bucky. Somewhere in between who I knew and grew up with and who Hydra made him.”

 

“Think she can do it?”

 

Steve smirked. “She could give you a run for her money, Stark. Kid’s a genius.”

 

“I’ll be the judge of that when I meet her. When do you go back?” he challenged.

 

“Two months, then she’s going to operate and see what she can do.”

 

“Mind if I join?”

 

“You’re not just playing me so you can secretly kill Bucky, are you?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “I promise I won’t try to bodily harm Barnes. I just want to offer my wallet and… be there for you.”

 

Steve was touched. How could he say no to that? “I’ll email Pepper the details.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Steve and Sam move into an apartment in Brooklyn, where Bucky will join them eventually

 

Sam danced his way into the hotel room, waving a thick stack of papers in the air. “We did it! We did it! We got ourselves a place to live, Steven! A place where the walls aren’t too thin to hear strangers having sex! Steve, we’re not homeless!” He half-sang.

 

Steve laughed, barely lifting himself to look at his friend from his spot on the bed. He was lounging on his bed, Property Brothers on the TV. “That was fast? I thought she said we couldn’t finalize everything for another week?”

 

“She changed her mind since we paid the next six months’ rent up front.”

 

Steve shrugged. “When can we move in?”

“Tomorrow!”

 

“You really want to get out of this place, don’t you?”

 

“Dude, I’m tired of smelling your B.O. from across the room.” Steve slung a pillow at him, hitting him in the torso. Sam chuckled and continued, “If Banner ever shows up, we’ve gotta get him to get you a special super-soldier approved deodorant.”

 

“Fuck off!” Steve laughed. He rolled off the bed and onto his feet. “Guess we should go shopping for furniture and shit? Unless we’re hauling up our stuff from DC?”

 

Sam shook his head. “I still have to commute, unlike some people.”

 

“I still don’t get why you try to commute to all of these places. DC for the VA, upstate for the Avengers, and to Harlem to work with the kids from your old neighborhood.” Steve shook his head. “Don’t see how you do it.”

 

“Honestly? Neither do I.”

 

The two spent the day shopping for furniture and discussing the layout of their new apartment. With three bedrooms and a living room that needed furnishing, they had a lot on their plates. Steve suggested grabbing lunch and sketching out the designs for their home before they finalized any decisions on home decor. That’s how they ended up huddling over Steve’s sketchbook in Central Park, mouths filled with their respective sandwiches.

 

Sam pointed to the couch Steve had just drawn in the living room. “I’m not crazy about the super modern, edgy, sleek look, ya know?”

 

“Agreed, but I don’t want something too old fashioned or hipster.” Steve started to erase the sleek couch, wiping away the shavings.

 

“We just need something in between.”

 

“Comfort over style, right?”

 

“Exactly,” Sam sighed. “God, why is this so difficult?”

 

Steve shrugged, sketching an outline of a large, comfy sofa into the living room. “That looks a little better,” he mumbled. “If we did warm tones, it might be too much. But a light, cool tone would make the room more relaxing-”

 

“You watch too much HGTV.”

 

“Shut up.” He flipped to the next page, the third bedroom. “How do you want to handle the third bedroom?”

 

“Well,” Sam started, “I was thinking that we keep it simple and just get the basics for now. Then, whenever Bucky gets out of the chamber he can decorate it as he wishes.”

 

Steve looked up, in awe of his best friend. “Really?”

 

Sam clasped a hand on his shoulder. “Steve, I’m not just going to let him live on the streets. He needs support to heal and relearn how to make his own choices. So yeah, if Bucky wants to live with us then so be it.”

 

“Sam, I don’t know what to say,” Steve whispered.

 

“Don’t say anything, just keep sketching out the rooms.”

 

Steve rolled his eyes, but sketched out Bucky’s bedroom nonetheless. “I think you should have the master, then.”

 

Sam shook his head. “Nope. You can have the master because if you and Bucky ever get back together, you’ll need more room than me. Besides, you’re the one who is paying all of the bills. It’s only fair that you get the master.”

 

With a blush, Steve didn’t respond. “Plus, I don’t need to hear any of the Good Captain’s extracurriculars.” Steve slowly closed his book, carefully putting away his pencils and erasers. He picked up the book and whacked it against Sam’s bicep. “Ow!” Sam laughed.

 

“My bad.”

Chapter Text

2017

 

Despite knowing Bucky was alive and well, the grief and guilt Steve felt still festered inside him. Most days he could go for a run and the darkness would flee from his mind for another day. Then there were days that nothing he did could help push it away. Today was one of those days.

 

He’d barely slept, the night filled with barely contained angst and nightmares. His appetite had diminished over the course of the past few months. His friends were all… gone. And yes, Steve knew that they’d return one day once all of this settled down, but for now it all seemed irrelevant. He was at his worst and had no one, like it’s always been since he woke up from the ice.

 

Steve laid on his couch, staring up at the ceiling aimlessly. He felt hollow inside, which only grew worse when he thought about how Bucky’s still out there and a fugitive. Any contact between them and they’ll have him arrested, which may or may not lead to Bucky’s death depending on how the court feels about his predicament.  

 

And it was like he couldn’t breathe.

 

His own trial was hell, but he was still Captain America and with that had a loyal fan base that helped convince people to listen. Bucky’s never been in the public eye and his story hasn’t been told, other than the statements Steve’s made defending him. He’ll be torn apart by the reactions of the public, especially the alt-right groups who will only see the Winter Soldier.

 

Then again, what if the alt-right uses him as their hero? What if they project their ideals and beliefs onto him? That’s what they try to do with Steve, even though he keeps denying it over and over and over again.

 

Oh god. Bucky won’t ever find peace within society. People won’t forget. He’ll be haunted by this forever, even if he somehow finds peace.

 

Steve’s chest constricted and his breathing picked up.

 

Bucky’s murdered people. Steve can only imagine what he remembers, watching the life slip from their eyes and the blood pour out of their bodies. He’s watched men and women of all ages die by his own hand.

 

He was an assassin . The idea that Bucky has murdered common people is truly appalling, but the fact that the Winter Soldier is linked to such high class assassinations is difficult to comprehend.

 

He was a soldier . That alone was hard to handle and Steve had first hand experience. Causing so much destruction, seeing the damage you’ve had a hand in creating… It does a number on your mental health.

 

Steve’s eyes welled with tears as his stomach flipped and sank.

 

It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault!

 

He couldn’t breathe. His throat was closing up. He felt like he was having an asthma attack.

 

And suddenly, he was six years old and having the first asthma attack in front of Bucky.

 

Steve chased after Bucky, laughing as his feet stomped along the street. Bucky would look back every now and then, his grin wide and spotted with missing teeth.

 

“C’mon Stevie!” Bucky called.


Steve moved faster, his lungs wheezing. He wasn’t supposed to exercise too much, not with his conditions, but Bucky wanted to go get milkshakes at the drugstore and Steve thought it’d be a great idea. So they ran along. Now Steve really needed a break, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to go to the drugstore and he wanted to play with Bucky. More importantly, Bucky wanted him to play. He couldn’t just let him down.

 

Bucky slowed for a moment, trying to act like he was teasing Steve when he was really concerned about his breathing. Steve caught up, but only for a second before Bucky bolted forward more. Steve let out a laugh as Bucky giggled up ahead and followed him with furious determination.

 

“We’re almost there! C’mon the store’s at the end of the block.” Bucky tried his best to encourage Steve to keep going, just to push his limits. It was surprising enough that he’d gotten him to play outside everyday for three weeks. Getting Steve to run the four blocks is a miracle in Bucky’s eyes, but here they were, chasing each other down the street and dodging cars as they passed.

 

Steve started to slow, his breathing harder and his chest a little tighter. He was wheezing in and out, but he didn’t stop. ‘Gotta keep going, almost there,’ he thought to himself.

 

Bucky noticed just as he reached the drugstore that Steve had started to slow down. He watched with a big grin and bright blue eyes as Steve trudged over to his friend, his face flushed and covered in a fine layer of sweat. Bucky was about to gush how proud he was of Steve when the smaller boy asked, “Think if we told the man I was sick he’d let us sit at the bar?” Steve asked between weak breaths.

 

Bucky was obviously worried, Steve looked like he could pass out any moment. But he caught the look of determination in Steve’s blue eyes and decided not to voice his concerns just yet. His heart swelled with pride for the younger kid as he said, “I’m sure we can get a booth at least.” He slung an arm around the smaller boy and they walked into the cool store, both sighing in relief to be out of the Brooklyn summer heat.

 

Steve was fighting an asthma attack, he was sure of it. He knew it was inevitable, seeing as he just ran farther than he’s ran in, well, forever. He just couldn’t let this ruin his day, or Bucky’s. Steve wasn’t clueless, he saw how Bucky was proud of him and happy he came along instead of Bucky bringing it back to him like they had before.

 

Bucky kept his word and tried to get the man to let them sit at the bar. They ended up sitting in a comfy, plush booth instead, with two milkshakes sitting in front of them.

 

Steve leaned forward, bouncing a little on the seat, and sipped at his vanilla milkshake. He gave up after a couple of sips and went into a full blown attack, coughing loud and hard in the middle of the drug store. He couldn’t breathe, his chest hurt and his hands were shaking just a little with the force of his coughs. His muscles felt tight around his neck and shoulders, his face reddening.

 

“What should I do?” Bucky was panicking as he watched with wide, horrified eyes. “Are you okay?”

 

Steve tried to talk, but he couldn’t. It hurt too much to do anything; breath, talk, drink. . . He reached for the collar of his shirt and tugged half-heartedly as he kept coughing. Steve wanted to cry really bad, but Bucky had been so proud of him. Would he still be proud if he cried? Steve didn’t know and he wasn’t about to find out.

 

Bucky got the message and slid into Steve’s side of the booth. His own shaky, pale hands reached up to gently move Steve’s away from his collar and tie. Bucky took off the tie and undid the first few buttons of Steve’s shirt, biting his lip the entire time so he himself wouldn’t cry. “Don’t worry Stevie, I’ve got you. We can figure this out, just try. . .” Bucky started to ramble as he rubbed Steve’s back gently. “Take it easy,” he whispered. He was terrified, completely unsure of how to help his friend.

 

He kept rubbing circles on the blonde’s back, whispering whatever came to mind to the younger boy. “You’re gonna be okay,” he mumbled, “and we’re gonna have a blast when we get home.”

 

Steve tried so hard not to cry, but the tears started to slip out unintentionally. He wanted so badly to stop the attack. Not because of the pain it caused him or the fact he felt like he was out of control of his own body, but because Steve noticed the physical pain Bucky had when watching Steve go through this. He wanted to stop it for Bucky’s sake.

 

Other patrons and waiters started to question whether or not Steve was okay. Bucky tried his best to answer them, to explain that he’d be okay and this happened a lot. But he couldn’t, because he didn’t know if Steve was okay and sure it happens a lot, but not when they’re by themselves. He honestly couldn’t tell if Steve needed medical attention yet or not.

 

In some sort of miracle, Steve was okay again. He was crying, with tears all down his face and a runny nose, and shaking just a little, but he was okay. Bucky hugged him tightly, but backed off the second Steve sobbed. “Did I hurt you?” Steve shook his head and hid in Bucky’s shirt, his tears and snot soaking the material.

 

Steve was extremely embarrassed. He hated crying, much less in public. He just couldn’t help it. . . His body felt terrible and tight and Bucky had been so worried about him. But part of him was really thankful to have Bucky here with him. Steve wouldn’t admit it, but he always got scared in these situations.

 

Bucky held him tight, making sure he was okay. He thanked the adults that had surrounded them, saying he’ll be okay. “Why don’t you two come sit up here? I wanna keep an eye on him,” the waiter said with a small smile.

 

“Look at that, Steve, you still figured out a way for us to sit up at the bar. You’ve been holding back from me, Rogers. You’re a devious one, I tell ya.” Bucky helped Steve into the bar stool and grabbed both of their milkshakes.

 

“Thanks Buck,” Steve mumbled as he sipped at his milkshake.


“Don’t mention it, kid.”

 

Steve closed his eyes and tried to imagine Bucky’s hand rubbing his back. Tried to hear Bucky’s voice telling him that it’ll be okay, that they’ll be okay.

 

It starts to work, just a little. “C’mon Rogers, we can do this. Help me out here, ready?” Steve took in a deep breath and let it out, trying to match his Bucky.

 

His Bucky, because the real Bucky was a brainwashed assassin stuck in Wakanda while he tries to figure out his shit.

 

Steve jumps up from his seat and gathers his gym bag. That’s enough alone time for the day.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Steve lounged on the couch, head resting on the edge and his feet dangling in the air. Sam was working on his computer, typing away furiously as he ignored Steve’s antics. “There’s nothing on,” the blond groaned.

 

“It’s noon on a Friday, all you’re going to find is talk shows and reruns of sitcoms. Just put on Friends and shut up,” Sam laughed.

 

Grumbling, Steve followed his instructions. He was fidgeting, bored out of his mind. One minute he was watching Ross and Rachel argue (again), the next he was tracing his tattoo with his eyes.

 

It had taken a while for Steve to trust Sam enough to reveal the tattoo.

 

They were gearing up for a morning run when Steve decided against wearing his “grandpa” socks. He walked out of his bedroom in a pair of basketball shorts and his Nikes.

 

Sam was sitting on the sofa, tying his shoes. “How far are we gonna run today, Cap?”

 

“Probably until you drop,” Steve quipped.

 

The other man glared up at him, a smile peeking behind his fanned annoyance. “I’m going to die because of you. Wait and see.”

 

Steve rolled his eyes, kneeling down to tuck in his laces. That’s when Sam noticed the ink. “What do you have on your ankle? Is that… dirt?”

 

“Um, no,” Steve mumbled with a blush. “It’s a... tattoo.”

 

Sam’s eyes bulged out of his head. “Um, I’m sorry did you just say ‘tattoo?’”

 

Steve nodded.

 

“A tattoo, made with hundreds of needles injecting ink into your skin permanently ?”

 

Steve nodded again.

 

“When the hell did you get a tattoo?”

 

“Couple years ago? Before you knew about Bucky and I that’s for sure.”

 

Sam was startled. “The hell?”

 

Steve shrugged. “Sorry?”

 

Sam waited somewhat patiently for Steve to show off the ink. Except the blond doofus didn’t move, just awkwardly stood there with his hands shoved in his pockets. “Oh my god,” he groaned, “show me!”

 

“Oh,” he chuckled, “right.” He propped his foot on the coffee table and untied his shoe. He took off his sock and displayed his ankle to Sam.

 

The falcon knelt down and examined the fresh-looking ink. Whoever did this knew what they were doing, that’s for sure. The chains wrapped around the ankle and the shiny dog tag looked real, to the point Sam was sure he heard the clanking of the tags when he moved Steve’s ankle slightly. He squinted, trying to make out the subtle engravings. “These are Bucky’s?” he whispered.

 

“I had his tags tucked in my boot when I crashed. I’ve had them on me ever since,” Steve admitted quietly. He took his foot back and started to put his shoes back on. “I got it after we met the Winter Soldier. I guess part of me hoped I’d be giving them back to him.”

 

Sam gave him a sympathetic smile. “Hopefully that’ll happen one day. It’s beautiful, really. Do you have anymore?”

 

“Not at the moment, but I may be convinced to get more.”

 

“Next time, I’m in.”

 

Steve lifted himself up off the couch, rolling onto the carpet into a kneeling position. “I can’t take this anymore, Sam.”

 

Sam rolled his eyes and shut his laptop. “Look, Steve. You have to move on, okay? It’s not healthy to be obsessing over Bucky right now. He’s safe and getting help and you need to respect that. He’ll contact you when he’s ready and until then you need to do something with your life. Volunteer somewhere, travel, just do something.”

 

“But what if he calls, huh? What if Shuri had a breakthrough and Bucky is ready to return to society?” Steve argued. “Hell, he could call right now for all you know.” And then he paused, staring at Sam expectantly.

 

The falcon paused, too. A smile started to form on his face as he slowly realized what Steve was doing. “Seriously?” he asked quietly. “Did you literally stop and wait for the phone to ring like a sitcom?”

 

Steve shrugged. “Hey, crazier things have happened.”

 

Sam’s head slung back as he let laughed, loud and unashamed. Steve grinned, a slow laugh building in his own chest at the sound of Sam’s laughter. “Why?”

 

“It felt right,” Steve laughed.

“But did you really expect it to work? Like you could just say it and it’d happen?”

 

Steve shrugged again, but as he went to say something, the phone rang. He and Sam both froze, unsure of if this was reality or some joke.

 

“For Christ’s sake, Steve, answer it!”

 

Steve dove for the phone and answered it as soon as he could. “Captain Rogers speaking.”

 

“Captain Rogers, how have you been?” T’Challa said.

 

“Managing and yourself, Your Majesty?” Steve smirked at Sam, who rolled his eyes.

 

“Doing just fine. Shall we get down to the matter at hand?”

 

“Please.”

 

“Sergeant Barnes is recovering nicely. Shuri has been helping him relearn the world, little by little, and now he just needs help with his memories.”

 

Steve beamed. “That’s… wow.”

 

“Thank you. Shuri has told me that Barnes has mentioned returning home.”

 

The captain sat there, stunned. Hope was rising in his chest, his heart racing and his eyes watering with relief.

 

Sam straightened up, concerned and apprehensive.

 

Steve clears his throat. “That’s incredible. Do you have an idea when he’ll be ready?”

 

Sam perks up.

 

“In two weeks. I’ll have a jet sent to you. I’ll speak with you then, Captain.” T’Challa hung up, leaving Steve to break down in the privacy of his best friend.

 

Steve sobbed, crushing the phone in his palm. Sam scrambled to his side, trying to console Steve in whatever pain he may be feeling. The captain crumbled in on himself, crying and laughing. “He’s coming home, Sam. He’s coming home,” he cried.

 

Sam grinned, squeezing Steve tight.


“He’s coming home. Oh god, he’s coming home.

Chapter Text

2017

 

Plans had changed when Steve got called on a mission the day he was supposed to get Bucky. Instead, Steve was going to pick Bucky up at the airport.

 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Sam asks as they pull into the parking lot.

 

“He’s landing in a private lot and I’m meeting him there. Bucky was ready to leave Wakanda and I couldn’t go and get him, so he decided to come here. Couldn’t convince him otherwise,” Steve explains.

 

Sam sighs. “Just… remember he’s still recovering. He’s going to go from being in a pretty closed off safe space to New York. Go at his pace, not yours.”

 

Steve smiles. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

“And don’t do anything too romantic,” he says as he pulls up to the drop-off/pick-up.

 

The captain blushes and scrambles out of the car. Steve adjusts his ball cap and heads into the airport, head tucked down and shoulders hunched. In a matter of minutes, everything Steve and Bucky faced would be worth it because they’d be together again.

 

No more war .

 

No more Hydra .

 

No more illnesses .

 

No more hiding .  

 

Just.... them.

 

Steve picks up the pace, hurrying through security and going down the employee only entrances towards the gate. A variety of employees guide him, each one struggling to keep up with him. He just needs to get there, to get to Bucky.

 

The gate was closed off from the other flyers and filled with security guards and officials. Steve’s fists clench. Bucky doesn’t want to hurt people, why do they still insist on using excessive forces?

 

A Wakanda jet lands outside, the wing peeking through the window. Steve fidgets in the middle of the room, not sure what to do. Does he wait here or does he greet him at the entrance? Does he hug him or just leave it to a handshake?

 

And then the door opens and two members of the Dora Milaje walked in. They observe the room, tracking the perimeter before they settle on Steve who stood smack dab in the middle. They march in sequence, their feet padding against the tile and the fabric of their skirts swishing with their movements. “Captain,” one of them starts, “are you sure you are ready to take this task on?”

 

Steve clenches his jaw. “By task I hope you mean taking my friend home. If that’s the case, then yes I am.”

 

The women analyze him for a moment before they quietly confer. They argue in their native tongue, glancing back to Steve every few seconds.

 

Just let me see him! Steve wants to cry out, but he knows he can’t. One outburst and they’ll send him back to Wakanda.

 

Why are they treating them like children?

 

The Dora Milaje nod once to one another before they march back to the entrance.

 

And then they were guiding Bucky out, surrounded by even more Dora Milaje.

 

Steve can feel his smile growing. He’s like a puppy, wiggling in his place and fighting off every urge to run to his friend.

 

Bucky looks great. He’s standing up straight with his chin up high, his hair’s pulled back and he looks like he’s eaten well. Steve just wanted to kiss him, to pull him close and kiss him with everything he had.

 

“Bucky, you look… great,” he offers weakly when Bucky’s a little closer. “How have you been?”

 

He smiles and Steve’s heart just melts. That smile has always made Steve’s knees weak, but this was such a refreshing sight that his eyes pricked with tears. It hasn’t changed a bit. Yeah, he’s grown a beard and he’s aged up a bit, but this is Bucky, his Bucky, and that smile…. With his slightly crooked teeth and his tongue peeking between the small gaps, it was the smile he fell in love with and the smile that he cherished every day.

 

“I’m okay,” Bucky says in his gravelly voice.

 

Steve really needs to stop before something embarrassing happens or he gets them both killed.

“I heard Shuri did a wonder of a job,” Steve comments. He’s just standing there, hands limp at his side.

 

“She did.”

 

The woman in charge stepped forward. “If you two are done, we’ll be taking our leave.”

 

Steve blushes and nods. “Thank you for your help,” he tells them but they were already heading back to the jet.

 

Bucky looks around to the security guards and police, wary and a little uncertain.

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve barely says, knowing Bucky could hear. “I wasn’t aware this would happen.”

 

“Better safe than sorry.”

 

Steve wanted to punch someone.

 

Bucky smirks. “Don’t be an idiot, Rogers. You can’t go around punching your way out of things.”

 

“Is that so?”

 

“Yeah. Now are you going to take me home or will I have to knock some sense into you?” Bucky raises an eyebrow, that smirk still playing at his lips.  

 

Steve’s grin couldn’t get bigger. “Right, c’mon.”

 

The two of them went back the way Steve came, slipping through the employee tunnels and security passages. They both did their best to ignore the guards trailing Bucky, both with their guns and their eyes.

 

They meet Sam in the parking lot and climb into the car, Bucky sitting in the back.

 

With the airport and hostile welcome behind them, Steve turns in his seat to face his friend. “I’m not sure how much you remember of New York, but it’s all changed. Everything. All of the technology is different and the people are… interesting. It took me a year and a half to feel somewhat comfortable here, so don’t feel like you have to hurry and adjust.”

 

Bucky leans back in his seat, arms crossed. “You do realize I’ve watched New York change in front of my eyes, right?”

 

He blushes. “Look, I’ll be frank with you, Buck. I don’t want to assume that you remember everything. The last time you and I were in the same place, you barely remembered your name. Forgive me, but I just want to be sure.”

The brunet’s amused expression twitches into one of something a little familiar, almost like he loves him. “Thanks,” Bucky mumbles.

Steve grins. “Course. Sam and I are here to help you relearn anything you need.”

 

“No, I am,” Sam corrected. “Steve, you can barely work a landline phone. How the hell do you expect to teach him how to live in the 21st century?”

 

“You act like I’m incompetent with technology,” he challenges.

 

“I act that way because you are.”

 

“I am not!”

 

“If there’s one thing about Steve Rogers you should know,” Bucky starts, “is that he can’t see when he’s not good at something.”

 

Steve spins back around, shocked. “What the hell, you asshole? Give me three examples.”

 

Bucky sits up and holds up his metal hand. “Let’s see. There’s breathing, running, and living. How’s that for examples?”

 

Sam laughs in the background, his focus on the road ahead.

 

“First of all, all of that is now invalid and couldn’t be helped. Second, I never said I was good at those, but I also never let them weigh me down.”

 

“Enough of this,” Sam chuckles, “Bucky, do you have any questions?”  

 

The amused expression Bucky had slowly dissolved into intense concentration. Steve tried not to stare; he was used to having to hide how he felt about the man. He tried not to think about how Bucky would listen to Steve’s battle plans or rants with that same look, eyebrows furrowed and lips pressed into a thin line. Steve just doesn’t remember him ever looking as menacing (except when he was really pissed, but Steve wouldn’t call that menacing. If anything, that dark, aggressive look used to be a turn-on and any time he saw that before what started as a lecture would turn into hate sex).

 

Bucky asks, “Where am I staying?”

 

“With us,” Steve says softly.

 

“With you?”

 

“You really think I’d let you stay anywhere else?”

 

Bucky smiles. “S’pose not.” There was a pause before he asks another question, “Where do you live?”

 

“Brooklyn, but not Brooklyn Heights. Now we live in Dumbo.”

 

“Is it safe?”

 

“Is what safe?”

“Is it safe for me to live there?”

 

Steve and Sam didn’t know how to answer that. They look to one another in a short glance that said one thing: tread carefully.

 

The captain turns in his seat again. “The apartment is completely secure. No one can get in or out if need be. The walls are reinforced and there’s a tremendous amount of locks that even I couldn’t break.”

 

Bucky nods. “Good. I don’t want to hurt anyone else.”

 

“And you won’t,” Sam adds. “We’ll make sure of it.”

 

“Okay, good.”

 

They didn’t speak again until they were safely inside the apartment. Steve shows him around, making sure to point out where all of the security precautions were. “And this is your room,” Steve says as he opens the door.

 

It’s nothing impressive, not compared to the rest of the well decorated apartment Steve and Sam have created. There was a wooden bed frame with a small piece of wood as the headboard and a clean, new mattress (something in and of itself was a luxury Bucky had never known - captive or not) that’s not too soft, but not too firm (Veteran tested - Sam, Steve, and even Colonel Rhodes tested it just to be sure). The bed was against one wall, with window facing the street on the right. The closet wasn’t huge, but it was big enough for one person and had plenty of space for all of Bucky’s belongings with a set of drawers and the racks ready for storage. Facing the bed was a slim table that held a small television and drawers for Bucky to use for whatever he wanted.

 

Everything was empty, with nothing but bare essentials except for the tall wooden bookshelf in the corner of the room. It was rather large, going from floor to ceiling, and wedged between the window and the wall, but it was lovely. Not because it looked new and fancy, but because on all the shelves were five or six books of varying sizes and ages.

 

Bucky walks forward and runs his hand over the spines.

 

Steve’s leaning against the door post, arms crossed and watching with a piqued interest and appreciation for the man before him. “Sam and I both agreed that this room would be up to you. We can go shopping for clothes and home decor later or online. Sam taught me how to online shop so we wouldn’t have to go in public if you didn’t want to,” Steve explains, “but I hate an empty bookshelf. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of finding some of the books you used to read. Some are the ones your family kept for us that I got back, but others are newer editions.”

 

Bucky looks a little lost when he turns back around to Steve. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything, Buck.” Steve pushes himself off the wall and walks toward him, making sure to keep a respectful distance.

 

Before Steve could think, Bucky’s taking a step forward and hugging him. Steve gasps and gently pulls Bucky close, eyes closing as he held him for a moment. “God I’ve missed you,” he whispers, blinking away the tears.

 

Bucky pulls away, avoiding eye contact.

 

Steve clears his throat and leaves the room, lingering in the doorway. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles. “I’ll, just, um…” and he left, leaving Bucky in his new room.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Two weeks later and things were running smoothly. Sam and Steve incorporated Bucky into their routine and apart from the nightly nightmares and quiet days. It was an adjustment, but Bucky was recognizable in Steve’s eyes and that’s more than he could ask for.

 

The two of them were lounging in the living room, after their morning run with Sam. Bucky was reading one of the new dystopian novels this century had to offer while Steve sketched him. Steve’s phone was crooning with the old jazz they used to listen to. They sat there for hours until their stomachs started to rumble.

 

Steve closes his sketchbook and stands, stretching his limbs with a series of grunts. “I’ll go see what we’ve got in the fridge for lunch-”

 

Bucky sits up, looking a little bashful. “Can we… do something different for lunch?”

 

“Like?” Steve asks, head stuck in a cupboard.

 

Bucky shook his head, unsure now.

 

Steve turns and levels him with a reassuring look. “Bucky, you can ask for anything, ya know?”

 

He nods, a faint blush on his cheekbones. “Can we… maybe grab something to eat instead?”

 

“Like at a restaurant?”

 

Bucky nods but didn’t meet Steve’s gaze.

 

“Sure! There’s this nice little diner at the end of the block. It’s a more modern version, though. Sam says it’s decorated like it’s from the 50’s, but I’m not sure.” Steve grabs his wallet and turns the music off on his phone. “It’s one in the afternoon now, so we’ll need to take extra precautions,” he adds on, grabbing a couple of baseball caps. He tosses one to Bucky.

 

The metal arm’s reflexes are catching it in the air in an instant. “Why the hats?”

 

Steve tugs his on, the brim sitting low. “You know how my picture was on a lot of posters back in the day?”

 

“With your fancy pantyhose and tin shield?”

 

“That’s the one.”

 

“Yeah, I remember it. Why?”

 

The captain slides on a pair of sunglasses and hands a pair to Bucky. “Now it’s not just posters, but all over the Internet and in much better quality. It makes me more recognizable, as with most of the Avengers.”

Bucky pulls the hat on and puts on his glasses. “I’m guessing my face was all over the, um, Internet, too?”

 

Steve nods, handing Bucky a jacket as he grabs his own. “Mostly during the UN event, but now it’s because of our link and the trial.”

 

“Trial?” Bucky’s face is ghostly white and far too terrified for Steve to stomach.

 

“Relax,” he says softly, “it was for me and my crimes, but I mentioned you in my speech. Since then, people have been posting and talking about our friendship on their shows and shit. If there’s one thing I can teach you about this new world, Buck, it’s that everyone has an opinion and they feel it’s their God-given right to share it.” Steve shakes his head and adjusts the jacket on his shoulders.

 

Bucky’s still too pale, but he doesn’t look as scared. “They’ll recognize my arm, then, won’t they?”

 

Steve glances down to the metal hand, shimmering from the lights and gleaming with a fresh scrub. “They may. Hang on,” he pats Bucky’s shoulder and dashes to his room, returning a moment later with a pair of leather gloves. “These are my bike gloves, but I hardly ride the thing now that I’m not working as much. These should work until we can get you a pair of your own.”

 

“Thanks, Stevie.”

 

The captain pauses, his small smile growing right in front of Bucky. “Of course, Buck.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

After that day, Steve couldn’t stop thinking about what ifs. What if they decide to charge Bucky with the Winter Soldier’s crimes? What if they find him guilty? What if they don’t? What if they don’t charge him with anything, but they still consider him too dangerous for civilian life? What if they charge him and make sure his punishment is… death?

 

Steve and Sam sit at their small dining room table every night, usually talking about work and how they plan to start the Avengers Initiative backup now that they have a little more leeway from the UN and a budget set aside just for them (which is specifically for damage control. Stark set up a fund to help with healthcare for those affected by their missions and another that supports those still affected by Ultron or the Battle of New York. Every country that wished to be protected by the Avengers pitched in annually to help with the damage control, Stark funds everything else). However, tonight, Steve has other plans.

 

“I know we were planning on talking diets, but I- I need to get this off my chest,” he blurts out as they start opening their binders and laptops.

 

Sam is shocked to say the least. It takes a hell of a lot for Steve to just come out and say something he feels is bothering him. He straightens up, puts on his listening face, and nods for Steve to start.

 

The blond’s eyebrows are furrowed as he starts to speak. “The government knows Bucky is back in our custody. They know that we have him and that he’s under my watch, but they haven’t done anything yet. What happens if all of a sudden they show up with a warrant and arrest him? And then if a trial happens, what do we do?”

 

Sam sighs with a grave nod. “I’ve thought about that, too,” he admits. “Barnes and I may not be close or even good friends, but he doesn’t deserve to go through all of that. He needs a stable and secure place to recuperate and relearn how society works.”

 

“But that’s just it, Sam. Any day now they could show up and deem him unfit for a life out of prison. They could say he’s too unstable and throw him in a mental institute-”

 

“Steve,” Sam chastises, “you need to breathe. You’re getting yourself worked up about this when all we need to do is prepare. That’s what we did with your trial and that’s what we’ll do with his. Even if there isn’t one set yet.”

 

“Yet.”

 

And they did. They stayed up all night coming up with scenarios and plans of attacks to make sure Bucky would get the best outcome in each. Bucky found out the next morning about their little strategy session.

 

He walks in at about five in the morning, about an hour before they’d all wake up for their morning run, and stumbles toward the coffee. “Did you two ever sleep?” he grumbles, his voice dripping with sleep.

 

“No,” Steve answers, distracted. He’s typing pretty furiously at something on his laptop. “We’ve been working all night.”

 

Sam grunts, his head propped on fists as he pours over a legal textbook he just happened to have.

 

Bucky pours himself a mug of the freshly percolated coffee and joins them at the table. “Are diet plans really that interesting?”

 

Steve stops and runs a hand over his face. “We’re not working on that,” he says quietly. The dim lighting really shows how tired and strained he is, but Bucky doesn’t comment. “A couple of days ago, when we went to the diner for the first time we talked about my trial a little and… That got me thinking about what the government will do if they try to press charges on you.”

 

“We’ve been thinking about scenarios all night,” Sam adds and slams his book shut for emphasis. “Steve’s great at coming up with worst case scenarios and I’m good at the rational stuff.

 

Bucky’s concerned. “So you’ve been working non-stop… for me?”

 

The two men exchanged a few glances before they nod. “Pretty much,” Steve mumbles, turning back to the computer. “We’ve got a lot of plans-”

 

“And backup plans-”

“And backup plans for our backup plans.”

 

Bucky nods and sips at his coffee. “You should probably go to sleep, then.”

 

Steve stops and glances at his watch, turning from determination to concern. “He’s right, Sam. You probably should.”

 

“I wasn’t just talking about Sam, Rogers,” Bucky states. “Go to bed, both of you.”

 

And how could anyone argue with that?

 

~*~*~*~

 

Bucky and Steve were walking around Central Park, enjoying the mild fall weather. “When do you go back to work?” Bucky asks.

 

“I’ve been back for a while now, just haven’t been going to the compound. Natasha and Tony have everything under control right now. I’ll start working with the new recruits whenever Natasha and Sam think they are,” Steve explains, head ducked down to hide his face and muffle his voice.

 

“Wait, how come Natasha trains them first?” Bucky’s mimicking Steve’s posture.

 

Steve chuckles. “She makes them go through the early training stuff and gives them tough love before I get to them.”

 

“And how do you train them?” Bucky’s amused, bumping shoulders with the captain every now and then.

 

“I give them hell, show ‘em how we trained back in the day and worse. They want to be Avengers, then they need to train like Avengers.” Steve winks at him.

 

Steve’s phone rings before either of them could say anything else. He answers it with a strong, “Rogers speaking.”

 

Bucky focuses on the buildings surrounding the park, trying to imagine how they changed over the years using the snippets he remembers. Or he tries. He can’t help but hear Steve’s conversation, since he didn’t step away, and the voice on the other end is striking a nerve. It’s a woman with a Brooklyn accent, but it’s soft like she doesn’t like having it. The way she says Steve’s name, though, is what bothers him.

 

She says “Steve” the same way his mother did; soft and with an emphasis on the e’s.

 

Bucky’s not really listening to what they’re saying, more so how they speak now. Steve’s talking like he used to, in his less formal drawl rather than his professional, detached tone he uses nowadays. If Bucky closes his eyes, he could picture them walking through Central Park with a little Steve walking beside him, chatting about work and school and girls while they stroll.

 

Steve hangs up and slides his phone back. “Buck, how much did you hear?”

 

“Not much. I wasn’t really trying to listen,” he admitted.

 

The blond nods and starts to drift towards the edge of the path. Bucky follows him to a bench, where Steve turns to face him head on. “We need to talk a little about what you remember,” he says quietly (he’s back to his professional tone - Bucky misses the accent…).

 

Bucky’s a little worried at this point. They don’t talk about the memories, not really at least. Steve’s asked a few times about memories here and there when they’re talking to Sam, but it’s mostly instinctive reassurance rather than actual inquiries. “Okay,” he confirms.

 

“What do you remember about your family? Like really remember, not just something that I told you that you kinda remember. I’m talking about memories that feel right, like it’s your memory,” he tries to explain as softly as he can.

 

“I know the stories you told me,” he starts with a little hesitation, “and there’s a few that I think you reminded me of by telling me those stories. I-I can feel my mother’s arms around me if I really think and my dad’s hand on my shoulder and a ball in my hand that Eugene had thrown to me and Becky’s head on my shoulder as she cried and Daisy in my arms as I spin her-” Bucky’s crying a little now, his grief bubbling to the surface.

 

Steve makes a strangled sound in his throat, like a puppy who really just wants to play with that dog crossing the street but can’t. He reaches out to touch Bucky, taking his hand in his. “I know, Buck, I know.”

 

Bucky pulls him closer, needing contact with Steve. He lets himself fall into Steve’s arms, his quiet tears picking up their pace. The past couple of months his focus has been on recovering from Hydra and adapting to this new world. He wasn’t thinking about what he lost, not really. All he was trying to do is figure out who he is and was, recovering memories through writing what he thinks is right down… He hadn't thought about his parents and his siblings, hadn't’ thought about what had become of them because surely they’re gone. He’s not lucky enough to get Steve and his family, he doesn’t deserve it.

Steve holds him close,rocking him slightly and rubbing circles on his back. Bucky’s trying to calm down a little, trying to focus on Steve rather than his bubbling emotions. It’s been a few weeks since he and Steve reunited, but they don’t act like Bucky remembers. He remembers them constantly touching, be it hooked ankles at dinner or a comforting hand on his shoulder throughout a conversation, but they don’t do that now. Bucky knows it’s because of him, because he’s jumpy and doesn’t feel like it’s safe for him to be around Steve the majority of his time (or alive, but that’s only on the really bad days). Sometimes he can see Steve struggling not to touch him, worried that it may be a bad day without him realizing and he doesn’t want to see Bucky panic.

 

Bucky’s chest aches and he realizes just how much he’s missed Steve’s touch. It was such a given back then and now it’s gone - like his family. Oh god, he’s already lost his family and he can’t lose Steve just because he’s fragile…

 

When Bucky pulls away with a little reluctance, but he knows he won’t go that long without Steve’s touch again. “Why do you ask?” he grumbles, voice hoarse with unshed tears.

 

Steve takes Bucky’s hands in his and squeezes. “Most of your family’s gone, but their children and grandchildren are still thriving, Buck. I’ve met these people and you wouldn’t believe how similar they are to your parents or siblings.” Steve looks Bucky in the eye with a sincerity Bucky’s only ever seen on his face (that he remembers so vividly… but that might be because it’s Steve).

 

“Most?”

 

Steve’s concerned smile turns into a small smile. “Daisy’s still around.”

 

Bucky feels like the wind’s been knocked out of him. “Daisy?”

 

Steve nods.

 

“Is she who you were talking to?”

 

Steve nods again, his smile getting bigger.

 

“Is she doing okay?”

 

“Bucky, she’s doing fantastic! She’s got a beautiful family, two sons and a daughter with seven grandkids and a great-granddaughter who will steal your heart away as soon as you see her.” Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand again.

 

Bucky nods, trying to process this information. Daisy, his youngest sibling, is the only relative he has. Yes, technically his nieces and nephews are his relatives, but nothing like someone you grow up with. And what he and Daisy shared, that was special. “When can I see her?”

 

Steve grins. “Tonight. She’s invited us to dinner and it’ll be just us three.”

 

Bucky can feel himself grimacing, but he’s not really sure why? Okay, that’s a lie, he knows why but Steve can’t find out.

 

The Bucky they remember is gone, but he’s not the Winter Soldier either. He’s something in between and that something isn’t exactly friendly. He’s murdered people, felt their blood cooling on his skin and their bones crushing beneath his fingers. He remembers competing in boxing matches, Daisy and Steve cheering on the sidelines, and going home for Sunday dinner with his folks.

 

He’s this weird hybrid of a dead soldier who had the future to look forward to and an ex-assassin who’s killed more people than he can remember. He’s dangerous, like… a wolf. Bucky looks to his hands still encased in Steve’s. Shuri called him a wolf, the White Wolf to be exact. She said it was because he was the whitest boy she’s ever seen and because of how menacing he could look.

 

“Quit with that look. You look like a scared wolf,” Shuri said as she fiddled with his arm.

 

“A scared wolf? Why not just a wolf?” he asked, voice gruff and still foreign to him.

 

“Because when a wolf is scared and feels that he is backed into a corner, he becomes aggressive. He glares and bares his teeth at his opponent to cover up the fact that he’s terrified,” Shuri looks up from the arm to flash him a small, sincere smile. “I’ve worked with you for a few weeks now, Sergeant. I know you pretty well and I know that you’re always scared, or at least wary, more so in the lab than anywhere else.”

 

“I’ve told you, I don’t like doctors.”

 

Shuri smirks. “More like you don’t like vets. Ah, don’t worry my furry friend. I love all of the doggos, you included.” She squeezed his shoulder, above where the metal collided with his skin.

 

Bucky glares at her. “You think you’re hilarious, don’t you?”

 

“You’re too old to appreciate my humor, white boy.”

 

“I’m not old!”

Shuri levels him with a look that screams “yeah right.”

 

“Just because I’m one hundred doesn’t mean I look or act like it.”

 

“I don’t know about looks, but you do act like a grumpy old man,” Shuri corrected.

 

“Are you almost done yet?”

 

“Patience, White Wolf. You can go on your walk soon. And if you do a really good job staying still, I’ll even rub your tummy and call you a ‘good boy’.”

 

“I hate you.”

 

“No, you don’t.”

 

Bucky nods. “Okay. Let’s go see Daisy.”

 

Later that night, Steve and Bucky worked their way through Brooklyn. They took their time, taking Steve’s bike and driving around so Bucky could see all of the changes. It was a little surreal, given that he remembers seeing New York from his childhood but also from random flashes of memories from his Hydra days - when he would come to New York on a mission. Bucky found it hard to separate the various New York’s he’s seen, but mostly what they meant to him.

 

Brooklyn is his home, but it’s also the place where he’s stuck feeling like an outsider. He loves New York, but as much as he can remember the good memories, the bad pop up too.

 

Bucky shook his head and rested his forehead against Steve’s shoulder, wishing he wasn’t wearing a helmet just so he could feel Steve’s warmth against his head. Still, his arms were wrapped around Steve’s middle and his thighs bracketed Steve’s legs, his torso pressed to Steve’s back.

 

Meanwhile, Steve was struggling to focus on driving the motorcycle down the busy streets of Brooklyn while being distracted by a rare cuddly Bucky. (Cuddly isn’t the right word, probably, since Bucky kind of has to hold onto him in order for Steve to drive and keep Bucky on the bike. Then again, that may have been a reason why they both wanted to take the bike instead of a car - Bucky couldn’t handle the subway yet, too many people.) The way Bucky’s warmth radiated through their leather jackets was enticing to say the least, not to mention giving Steve the warm and fuzzies all over.

 

Steve may or may not have taken the scenic route to show Bucky “New Brooklyn” as an excuse to have his touch a little longer… Hey, what could he say? He loves helping out his friends.

 

Sadly, Daisy was waiting for them and Steve didn’t want to keep Daisy and Bucky apart for his own selfish benefits.So he turned onto her street, found a parking spot, and shut off his bike before he could take another loop. “We’re about a block away, so that should give you some time to collect yourself. Is that okay?” Steve asked, taking off his helmet and looking to the brunet.

 

Bucky nods, his own helmet in his hands. “C’mon, I’m starving.”

 

“Starving, huh? Is your appetite starting to come back?” Steve tried (and failed) to keep the hope out of his voice.

 

“Steve, I’m a super soldier who spent years being starved. Yes, my appetite is coming back.” Bucky pushed Steve’s back, “Now get up, punk.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes and bites his tongue to keep from making some embarrassing sound at how happy he was. It’s almost like Bucky’s back fully.

 

They climbed off the bike and Steve tucked away their helmets. Then he guided Bucky at a slow pace to Daisy’s apartment building. “Think I’ll recognize her?”

 

“I hope so,” Steve says, “I did as soon as I saw her. She has your eyes, just like your mom and Becca. And she’s got your facial expressions.”

 

Bucky looks to Steve, brow furrowed and head tilted like a little puppy (Shuri was definitely right, Bucky does look like a dog sometimes). “My facial expressions?”

 

“Yeah, your facial expressions. Back in the day, you had these really expressive faces you’d make. Like when you smelled something disgusting, you’d go like this,” Steve scrunched up and his face pulled his lip up, trying his best to emulate the expression. “Or when you were unimpressed with my excuse for fighting, you’d go like,” Steve crosses his arms, raises an eyebrow and scowls with a hint of a smile. “Nowadays, you still do some of that when you’re comfortable, but usually it’s just some form of a mean mug.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes and chuckles. “It’s my resting bitch face, according to Sam.”

 

“It suits you,” Steve laughs. “You always were sort of a bitch.”

 

“Least I didn’t look like one,” Bucky quips and that sends Steve howling.

 

“Goddamn you’re a jerk,” Steve says between laughs, “I was kinda hoping that would have faded but apparently not!”

 

“You wish,” Bucky chuckles. It’s only then that Steve notices how close they’ve gotten, their shoulders brushing and their hands only an inch away. So close… Steve takes a step to the side, giving them some space. He knew better than to try and act like that in public, like they were still together. Much less now when Bucky doesn’t even remember that they were married.

 

Steve shakes his head, sobering up now. “Here we are,” he sighs. “You ready for this?”

 

“I think so.” And without having to be prompted, Bucky found Daisy’s name and pressed the buzzer.

 

They were buzzed in and Steve directed Bucky to the elevator, which they took to Daisy’s floor. When they finally reached her apartment, Bucky started to get fidgety. Steve rested a hand on his shoulder to steady him, a comforting smile on his face. “It’s just Daisy, Buck. She loves you no matter what and she’ll understand if you want to go home.”

 

Bucky shook his head. “No. I’ve put her through enough. She doesn’t deserve that.”

 

Steve nods and motions to the door. “Knock when you’re ready.”

 

And so Bucky took a deep breath, counted to three and knocked on the door.

 

Daisy must have been waiting by the door because it swung open as soon as Bucky’s hand returned to his side. (Bucky suspects if she was younger, he would still be mid-knock by the time the door opened.)

 

Steve was right, her eyes were just as bright as he remembered. She was taller than he last saw her and round, but she wasn’t standing up as straight. Her face was bright, but wrinkled, with lines carving the years into her face. She was still just as pretty as he knew her to be.

 

“Bucky,” she gasps, “Oh, Bucky!”

 

Bucky laughs, voice watery as he blinks away tears. “How’s my girl?”

 

Daisy wraps her arms around him, crying into his chest. “Oh, I’ve missed you so much,” she cries. “It’s been so long.”

 

“I know,” he whispers. “I know.” 

Chapter Text

2017

 

“Why the hell did you two wait so long to visit?” Daisy asks as they sat around the table.

 

Steve blushes. “Wanted to let Bucky get adjusted before we brought too many people around.”

 

Bucky’s beaming, even if Steve just admitted to being overly protective of Bucky during his transition back to society.

 

Daisy pats her brother’s metal hand without batting an eye. “Well, it’s good to have you two back together. And at least you didn’t wait as long as Steve did.”

 

“I didn’t know you were alive!”

 

“You tried to bail on me. I found you outside having an asthma attack, remember?”

 

Bucky’s face shifts to concern. “Your asthma’s back?”

 

Steve’s cheeks were on fire. “No, it was an, um, anxiety attack.”

 

“Do you get those often?”

 

“Not nearly as often as I used to.”

 

Daisy reaches over to take Steve’s hand. “All is well now. Let’s say grace and eat, I need to take my meds before 6:30.”

 

Steve laughs and nods. He takes Bucky’s hand in his, squeezing gently. “I’ll start,” he says quietly as their heads bow. “Dear heavenly father,” Steve guides them in prayer, something he only ever does with Daisy, with a sincerity and emotion he hasn’t shown in quite some time.

 

“Amen,” they announce in unison before Steve starts to dish out the food for Daisy.

 

Daisy looks to Bucky, eyes wide with wonder. “I never thought I’d get to see you again,” she admits.

 

“Neither did I,” Bucky says softly, eyes bleary with tears.

 

“I always knew you’d come back to Steve and I,” she starts, “it’s in your DNA. You always come back to family, even if you don’t know.”

 

“Daise,” Bucky tries.

 

“No, James. Steve told me some of the stuff he found out about your past. After everything you’ve been through, the universe has you bound to us. You two broke off your rel-” she clears her throat, “friendship before you went off to war. And yet you came back together. Then you had to go falling off that damn train and you,” she points to Steve, “just had to crash that plane, only for you both to survive and come together again.” She sniffles, using her napkin to wipe beneath her eyes. “I always rooted for you two. Always wished we’d get to do this.”

 

Bucky stands from his seat and kneels beside her, both thumbs wiping at her cheeks. “You’re still that sweet, beautiful young girl I loved to see growing up.” He kisses her head. Daisy breaks down again, clinging to her brother like a small child. “I’m not going anywhere, not anymore.”

 

He looks to Steve over Daisy’s shoulder, his watery eyes a sharp blue. “I promise,” he tells them both, “I’m here for good.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

The first night it happened, Steve was shocked. He’d just settled into bed, a little drunk from his stash of Asgardian liquor, when the door creeps open. Steve sits up a little, hair already a mess and his face drooping with exhaustion.

 

Bucky’s standing in the doorway, hunched and heavy looking.

 

“Buck?” Steve asks, voice hoarse. “You alright?”

 

He walks in and closes the door without a sound. “C-Can I sleep in here?” he asks softly, making his way towards Steve’s bed. He’s still trying to make himself look smaller. Oh, he’s embarrassed...

 

“Yeah, sure.” Steve slides over, making room for the ex-assassin. “You know you can talk to me, right?”

 

Bucky nods and climbs into bed, but stays over the covers. “You’ve made that clear.”

 

Steve gives him a small smile and lays back down. “Good. Night, Bucky.”

 

There’s silence for a long moment, before Bucky whispers, “Night Steve.”

 

The next night, Steve’s reading some best seller that Sam recommended when the door creaks open again. He glances up and smiles. “You’re just the person I need right now,” he says quietly.

 

Bucky pauses. “I am?”

 

Steve nods and shifts to give Bucky room in the bed. “I’m reading this book Sam wanted me to read and it’s brutal.”

 

The brunet shuffles over and climbs into bed, looking more like a lost child than a man who just turned one-hundred not too long ago. “What’s it about?”

 

“These two kids with cancer. Apparently it was pretty popular when I got out of the ice, but I was so busy catching up on history that I didn’t get to delve that deep in pop culture. Anyways, it’s a good book but I’m almost through with it…” Steve shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s going to end well.”

 

Bucky raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. “Did you really expect a book about kids with cancer would end well?”

 

Steve shakes his head. “Yes, because unlike you Mr. Grump, I have hope.”

 

He rolls his eyes before his face takes a more somber shape. “Can I sleep in here again?”

 

“Please? I don’t think I’ll be able to be alone once I finish,” Steve chuckles.

 

Bucky gives him a thankful smile, like he knows Steve’s just making up something to take the pressure off of Bucky. Like he knows what Bucky’s really going through.

 

It starts to be a routine, where Bucky crawls into Steve’s bed with a quiet “Please?” in the middle of the night. Sometimes he says it was just a nightmare, other times he says nothing at all. A few nights he’ll just stay up and talk about the good ol’ days, but he mostly just asks Steve questions about his day and work, anything that’ll keep him distracted.

 

After a few weeks of Bucky sleeping with Steve, the captain’s starting to get concerned. He’s not worried about Bucky’s stability (okay he is, but that’s not his focus right now), but rather what Steve will do in his sleep. There’s been plenty a night where Steve finds himself waking up with Bucky’s name on his lips, sometimes in a horrible scream and others in a sensual moan. He doesn’t want to freak Bucky out with either option, but he also has no control over his subconscious.

 

He’s also enjoying sharing a bed far too much for platonic friends. How anyone thought they were straight boggles Steve, because there’s no way he can spend every night sleeping beside Bucky without falling for him all over again. Everything in him hums when he wakes up in the middle of the night, body restless and bursting with energy, only to find the comforting heat of Bucky’s body seeping through the comforter.

 

Eventually, Bucky stops sleeping on the covers and starts sleeping under them. Their legs end up tangled together and more often than not, they wake up curled around one another. Steve’s always embarrassed, mumbling apology after apology to his best friend while he tries desperately to politely leave. Bucky’s just confused.

 

One night, after they finish watching a movie Sam left them before he went to visit his mom, Steve announces he’s going to bed. Bucky doesn’t hesitate but to follow the captain to his room. The blond pauses in front of his dresser. “Buck?”

 

Bucky shrugs and starts to undress. “Figured I’d end up here anyways. Why bother messing up two beds when we could just mess up one?”

 

It took everything in Steve not to kiss the hell out of him.

 

“That… makes sense. I’ll just be a minute, okay?” Bucky nodded and climbed into bed, leaving Steve to undress and get ready for bed. The captain did what he had to do and climbed in bed, clicking the lamp off.

 

They laid there in the dark, listening to the sounds of their breathing and the city outside. “Bucky?” Steve barely whispers.

 

Bucky’s hoarse whisper replies, “Yeah Steve?”

 

“How come you always sleep with me? I-I don’t mind, in fact I like that you sleep in here. I’m just… curious.”

 

There’s a long silence, like always when you talk to Bucky (Steve loves how contemplative he is now, even though it was probably developed after years of torture and amnesia). “It just feels right,” he whispers finally. “I feel safer with you.”

 

Steve grins and closes his eyes. “If it makes you feel a little better, I feel safer with you, too.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Thanksgiving comes around, Steve can’t be more excited. Finally, all of the Avengers and their families will be in one place since their civil war. Tony and Pepper are hosting at the compound and everyone’s bringing something.

 

“Buck, we gotta get going if we’re going to get there in time,” Steve calls through the apartment as he puts the finishing touches on the casseroles he made.

 

“I’m ready, Jesus,” Bucky curses as he appears in the kitchen. “What’d you end up making?”

 

“My Ma’s sweet potato casserole and your Ma’s green bean casserole. Figured if we were celebrating the holidays together again, we should have something that represents them, too.” Steve covers up the dishes and looks to Bucky with a warm smile.

 

Bucky’s got a soft, sad smile. “I wish we had more time with them.”

 

Steve nods. “You and me both. Good news is, Sam’s mom Darlene will basically adopt you. She’s always looking for sad orphans to feed.”

 

“You’re terrible, Rogers.”

 

“I try to be.”

 

“C’mon, I want to eat.”

 

The compound looked great, not that Steve expected it took any different. It was sleek and dramatic and completely Tony Stark, but Steve loved it. “You’re sure they wanted me here?” Bucky asks, crowding behind Steve subtly.

 

“Yes,” Steve reassures, “Tony knows I wouldn’t show up otherwise.”

 

“Yeah, but-”

 

Steve turns on him, “Bucky, I want you here. It’s Thanksgiving and we always spend it together if we can. Got it?”

 

Bucky nods slowly with a small smile. “Lead the way, Cap.”

 

The dining hall is packed. There’s Tony and Pepper talking with Colonel Rhodes, and Sam. Happy’s trying to corral Peter and Shuri from creating another robot (like Shuri could be so careless) while Thor and T’Challa made bets on whether or not Happy would excede. Bruce, Natasha, Clint, and Laura are catching up, the kids trying to get Natasha’s attention. Hope is trying to keep Scott from bothering Dr. Strange, while Scarlet Witch and Vision look on. Even Daisy, Aunt May, and Darlene are there, talking quietly amongst themselves.

 

It’s amazing.

 

Steve and Bucky set down their stuff and head over to the small group of ladies. Daisy’s the first one to notice and the ninety-year-old rose to say hello. They both rushed to help her sit back down. “Sit while you can, Daise,” Steve laughs as he presses a kiss to her cheek.

 

“I’ve been sitting for an hour, you knuckleheads!”

 

Bucky plants a kiss on her other cheek. “Then you can sit until it’s time to eat,” he tells her.

 

Daisy glares at them playfully. “Just because I’m old doesn’t mean you two get to baby me.”

 

“No, we get to baby you because you are the baby.” Bucky smirks.

 

Daisy hits his arm and rolls her eyes, turning to the other ladies. “I hate having older super-soldier brothers.”

 

Darlene laughs. “You’re one lucky girl, though. I would have loved to have these two around all the time.”

 

Steve grins as he hugs her. “Just say the word, Darlene, and you can move in.”

 

“Don’t tempt me, boy.”

 

Steve flashes her a wink before he introduces himself and Bucky to Aunt May. Before they could really talk, however, Thor announces it’s time to eat. Bucky and Steve help Daisy and Darlene to the table.

 

The Avengers and their families, for the first time in years, gathered around the extremely long table. Conversations bubbled among unlikely friends and poured out of old ones. Steve was filled with an abundance of joy, being surrounded by his best friends and his family.

 

“This isn’t so bad,” Bucky whispers to Steve under his breath.

 

“Told you,” Steve counters, just as quiet. Thank you super hearing!

 

Tony clears his throat and from his end of the table, stands up with his glass held high. “I’d like to take a moment and thank you all for spending today with us. It… It’s been a rough couple of years for all of us-”

 

“Well, you didn’t have to fight each other. You kind of put that on yourself,” Thor comments.

 

Tony glares at him. “I’d rather deal with an ego-clash than lose my eye to my sister.”

 

“That was one time!”

 

“I’d hope so!” Sam laughs.

 

“Can I finish my speech or is it a lost cause?” Tony sighs. “I’ll make this short, then. Steve, Bucky, the rest of your team, I’m glad we were able to fix most of our problems. It’s great to have you back, Cap.”

 

Steve blushes and raises his own glass. “It’s great to be back.” Tony sits back down, grumbling under his breath about how his beautiful, emotional speech was interrupted to Pepper.

 

Natasha smiles at Steve and turns to Bucky. “So, Barnes, how’s the memory coming along?”

 

“It’s been good,” Bucky starts cautiously, “I remember a lot, but not everything.”

 

Steve pats his shoulder. “That’s better than nothing.”

 

Bucky smiles softly at him. “It’s all thanks to you. That book you gave me really helped spark some other memories.”

 

“Do you remember growing up with Cap?” Peter asks, blatantly interested.

 

“Oh, I’ve got some stories.” Bucky smirks. “Most of which, you might be too young for.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Shut up, Barnes. Don’t make it sound worse than it was.”

 

“Oh, like the time we snuck into the dressing room at Madison Square Garden?”

 

“I’m sorry, what?” Tony gasps.

 

Steve groans and hides his face. “I hate you, Barnes.”

 

Meanwhile, Bucky’s grinning and sits up, ready to dive into his story. “It was the winter after we graduated high school and we couldn’t afford to go see this boxing match at the Garden. So being the masterminds we are, we figured with all of the boxing events going on that week the ladies' dressing rooms wouldn’t have anyone in them. We sneak around the back where one of the windows to the rooms popped open. We sit there for,” he looks to Steve for confirmation, “what, ten minutes?”

 

“If that,” Steve sighs.

 

Bucky moves on. “Ten minutes just waiting to see if someone shows up. No one does, so I send Steve’s skinny ass into the room to do a more thorough check. He gets through the window alright, but,” Bucky’s starting to laugh now and Daisy’s giggling. Everyone’s watching as Steve’s blush grows red. “This punk doesn’t get his footing right and face plants into the concrete, breaking his nose for the eighth time! To his credit, he tried to be quiet, but between his groans and the loud splat he made, three ladies screamed from behind a dressing curtain.” Bucky pats Steve shoulder. “I ain’t ever seen Steve run outta some place so face, nearly gave us both an asthma attack. I was laughing so hard.”

 

“You weren’t laughing when they banned us from the Garden for eternity,” Steve countered.

 

A metal finger appears before Steve’s face. “Touche.”

 

“Are you still banned?” Peter asks, wide eyed.

 

Steve shrugs. “Maybe? Probably not. I haven’t been back since they moved the Garden though.”

 

“What was World War II like?” Clint’s eldest son asks, with a few harsh whispers from his parents about rude questions.

 

Steve and Bucky shrug. “It wasn’t anything we’re used to now,” Steve starts.

 

“Hell, I’d fight Nazis over being their puppet anyday,” Bucky mumbles.

 

Daisy perks up, leaning closer to Bucky. “I wanna hear one of your war stories, Buck.”

 

When Bucky turns to look at her, Steve swears he’s back in his twenties. The way he smiles makes his heart skip a beat and those eyes… Bucky says, “There’s not many I can tell you, doll.”

 

“Oh please, your friends didn’t have any trouble telling me about what you and Stevie would get up to,” Daisy says without really thinking.

 

Steve’s frozen, all of those happy feelings drained.

 

Bucky glances between Daisy and Steve, confused. “What did Steve and I get up to? I don’t… That’s not something I remember.”

 

Daisy answers before Steve can think of an explanation. “DumDum always said you two would sneak off at night when you camped alone? He said that you two would wake up the whole camp with your shenanigans, especially with Steve’s laugh. So what were you two doing out there?” She turns to Steve, an innocent curiosity that would have fit her perfectly back in the 40s.

 

“We played a lot of pranks,” Steve answers quickly, blush growing. “A lot of stuff that the army wouldn’t have liked. I’m honestly surprised you heard about it, because it would have gotten us both kicked out of the army posthumously if word got out.”

 

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “It would?”

 

Steve nods, praying he didn’t look as panicked as he felt. “Yeah, it would. Phillips was breathing down our necks most of the time. Any slip-ups and we were dead.”

 

Sam clears his throat, a mischievous smirk taking over his face. “What sort of pranks did you two play, Steve?”

 

I’m gonna kill him.

 

“Harmless stuff.”

 

“Like?”

 

“Taking the Commando’s boots and piling them on the other side of a stream, putting their uniforms in trees, um…” Steve looks to Bucky, although he knows he won’t get much there. “Remember going on the Cyclone for the first time?”

Bucky laughs, “And that man in front of us scared you so bad you puked?”

 

“And then again after we rode it?”

 

“And yet you still wanted to ride it again.”

 

“Only because you were so excited.”

 

They share a few more stories, mostly about how Steve could never be controlled no matter how many times Bucky tries and the countless injuries he acquired. It was pleasant and Steve couldn’t help but feel at peace once more. His friends were finally seeing the Bucky he was in love with, not the Winter Soldier or Hydra’s little puppet.

 

“I didn’t know Steve was so insufferable as a kid,” Tony comments, a sad tone in his voice.

 

Bucky cocks his head to the side, giving Stark his Lost Puppy™ look. “What do you mean?”

 

Tony shifts in his seat and looks to the other Avengers, somber. “When we first met Steve, we all assumed he was this old school, naive, gentleman, rather than the soldier and man he is. Dad never said anything about how you two played pranks on him-”

 

“Oh that’s because Howard hated it,” Bucky quips. “He never would have told his son, whose supposed to think of his father as this hero, that two average-”

 

“Average?” Steve interjects.

 

“Slightly above average,” Bucky corrects, “Brooklyn boys who barely graduated high school bested him several times in his own lab.”  

 

Steve rubs his neck. “Buck’s gotta point. We weren’t exactly kind to Stark back in the day.”

 

Bucky laughs. “Remember when we stole that flying car and drove it around London?”

 

“And then crashed it?” Steve chuckles.

 

“And that time we faked the results for some of those test he gave you?”

 

“Like the one where he genuinely thought I was psychic? Or the one where he believed I could shoot lasers from my eyes?”

 

They laughter bubbling from their chests are starting to rumble through the table. It only fuels them, sharing more details about the pranks and gags they pulled. It was like they couldn’t stop.

 

Steve moves to get up, only to notice there’s something catching his ankle. He wiggles his foot and the thing moves, wrapping tighter around his ankle. Steve glances down and nearly gasps.

 

It’s Bucky. It’s always Bucky.

 

Steve settles back in and tangles his ankle with Bucky tighter.

 

It’s always Bucky.

 

~*~*~*~

 

With the Avengers finally working together again, Steve was gone a lot. He spent most of his time at the compound, sometimes with Bucky but mostly alone.

 

It wasn’t so terrible spending the days by himself. Bucky watched a lot of movies and TV shows. Steve let him have at his book collection and Bucky was slowly working his way through it. It was pleasant and just what Bucky needed.

 

His only problem persisted of daytime television.

Bucky loves to read, it was always his favorite pastime. However, Bucky’s brain wasn’t the same. He found it harder to focus, harder to read, for long periods of time. So he’d read for a few hours before he’d find something on the television to read.

 

Which is what he’s doing now.

 

He shifts his left arm onto the armrest, trying to relieve some of the pressure on his shoulder. His old copy of The Great Gatsby sits on the cushion beside him, dog-eared and bent from the years of use. Bucky runs a hand down his face, trying to focus on the cheesy movie on the TV.

 

All that’s been on lately are holiday movies. At first, Bucky didn’t mind. It was actually nice watching all of these feel good movies, especially on his darker days, but at this point… Bucky was bored.

 

The movie’s protagonist was rushing through a New Year’s Eve party as the group started the countdown. Just as the countdown reached five, he grabs his love interest, says a passionate “I love you,” and waits.

 

“I love you too,” she cries. The countdown’s at two.

 

Just as the clock reaches one, he pulls her into a passionate kiss and the credits roll.

 

Bucky groans and turns off the TV. He leans back, curling into the couch and closes his eyes….

 

“Stevie, let’s go!” Bucky calls through the apartment. He’s waiting by the door, arms filled with blankets and a picnic basket. “C’mon! The fireworks are about to start!”

 

“Jeez, Buck, I’m right here,” Steve groans, fidgeting in his jacket. “What’s got you in such a hurry?”

 

Bucky shifts on his feet. “I just want tonight to be perfect.”

 

Steve grins and opens the door. “Then by all means, lead the way.”

 

They took the stairs to the roof where Bucky laid out the picnic blankets and Steve set out the cheap champagne they found. “This was a great idea, babe,” Steve whispers as they settle into the blankets.

 

Bucky winks at him. “I know.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes and shoves him. “You’re such a jerk, ya know that?”

 

“S’what happens when you deal with a punk like you.”

 

In the distance, parties could be heard and the sounds of children up way past their bedtimes echoed from the park. “Still can’t believe you were able to talk your Ma out of forcing us to go to the church banquet.”

 

“Steve, we’re in our twenties now. She can’t control us like we’re kids. Besides, with this war coming, who knows what’ll happen.”

 

Steve laid his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “It’s hard to think that this may very well be our last New Year’s together before the war gets you.”

 

Bucky pulls him in closer, squeezing Steve’s boney shoulders. “You know, if I do get drafted-”

 

“Buck-”

 

“No, if I get drafted, I won’t be coming back the way I left. It’s not how war works, you know that. Remember Martin’s cousin Wallace? He still lives with his parents because he can’t live alone after he came home from the Great War. I… I could very well be like Wallace,” Bucky says quietly.

 

Steve sits up and looks down to Bucky. “Then I’ll take care of you. I can’t leave my best guy living with his parents for the rest of his life. Hell, maybe then we won’t get so much shit about living together.”

 

Bucky snickers and bites his lip. “Not funny, Rogers.”

 

“Quit saving face, you know that was funny,” Steve laughs.

 

The cheering has turned to chanting and the countdown's begun. Bucky perks up, his amusement turned flirtaious. Ten. “It’s almost time. Gonna kiss the thirties away?”

 

Nine.

 

Steve smirks and slowly starts to lean in. “Is that a promise or a dare?”

 

Eight.

 

“Both?”

 

Seven.

 

“Then absolutely.”

 

Six.

 

“Bring it then, punk.”

 

Five.

 

Steve leans in, brushing their lips together.

 

Four.

 

Bucky tilts his chin up, adding more pressure.

 

Three.

 

Steve grabs Bucky’s face and tilts his head.

 

Two.

 

Bucky pulls Steve in closer, massaging the back of his head with his hand. The other’s on his hip, slowly pulling the smaller man on top of him.

 

One.

 

“Happy New Year!”

 

Steve pulls aside enough to stare into Bucky’s eyes. “Happy New Year, Buck.”

 

“Happy New Year, Stevie. Now kiss me.”

 

“Don’t have to ask me twice,” Steve breathes, already leaning in for another kiss.

 

Bucky jumps up, confused. Did he just dream about kissing Steve? Why did it feel so realistic?

 

The real question was… Why did it have to stop?

 

The assassin was deep in thought, replaying the “dream” in his head over and over again. All he could think about was Steve’s lips on his, his hands on that tiny waist, and those delicate hands framing his face.

 

“Au revoir!” Bucky jumps at the sound of Steve’s voice in the hallway. “Buck, you won’t believe who I met in the hall!” Steve announces as he burst through the door.

 

Bucky shifts to face him. “Who?”

 

“This French gal who just moved in down the hall. Can you believe it? Finally someone to speak French to that actually understands!”

 

The brunet smiles. “That’s great, Stevie. Real great.”

 

Steve was beaming, filled with excitement and possibilities. It was so endearing that Bucky wouldn’t have minded to kiss Steve. It felt like the right thing to do.

 

Instead, Steve snatches his sketchbook off the counter and plops down beside Bucky. “Whatcha reading?” Bucky picks up the book and shows him the cover. Steve’s smile only grows. “I remember making that book for you. It took me a week to make sure all of the comments and doodles were just right.”

 

“It’s my favorite,” Bucky whispers.

 

“Mine too.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Steve and Sam go on a run and Bucky searches the apartment for something to help explain the memories - finds the ripped out pages of the journal Steve gave them

 

After that “dream,” Bucky found himself over analyzing everything. Did he sit beside Steve because it was instinct or because he was attracted to him? Did Steve let him sleep with him because he’s a good friend or because of something else? Bucky’s used to be confused nearly all the time, but he couldn’t very well ask Steve.

 

“You sure you don’t want to join us, Buck?” Steve asks as he ties his shoes. It’s pretty late in the afternoon, but Sam and Steve are bored so they decided to go for a run.

 

Bucky, on the other hand, is too busy suffering from confusion to try and be normal. “I’m sure,” he tells the two, grabbing his book and heading for the couch. “Kick Sam’s ass, yeah?”

 

Steve laughs and glances to an oblivious Sam, who’s already fiddling with his headphones. “You bet.” Steve pats Bucky’s shoulder on his way to the door, his hand lingering for a second too long (right? That couldn’t have been a normal length).

 

The boys left, talking back and forth about how this was “Sam’s day” and that Steve was getting “too old to play with real men.” Bucky listened to them as they walked to the stairs (thanks super-hearing).

 

As soon as the door to the stairwell slammed shut, Bucky jumps up and rushes to his room. He can’t live like this, with this uncertainty. He just needs a sign, something that would tell him whether or not his feelings for Steve were new or old.

 

Bucky opened up his bag of journals and read through each and every one. Most of the ones he had written didn’t seem to have anything explicit, but he wasn’t totally sure.

 

And then he grabbed Steve’s journal. He’d read through it a couple of times, especially when he was still trying to process who he was. It was worn and a little torn at the edges, but Bucky still opened it.

 

He flipped through and found a passage that he didn’t quite remember reading.

 

Later that night, we were just walking around. There wasn’t much either of us felt like doing, so we walked. You were kicking a rock down the street, occasionally kicking it in my direction. No words were said, nothing needed to be spoken. We just needed to exist with one another, surrounded by the bustling Brooklyn streets and comfortable silence between us. It was what we needed after everything had happened with the girls.

 

Around the corner, on their street, a fight seemed to break out in one of the alleyways. You took a step in front of me, your body tense and your hands forming fists. You looked back at me, nervous, and I’m sure I was just as scared, but we trusted one another. We had each other’s backs, no matter what. So we walked.

 

The fight moved to the street, three men against two. You pushed me behind a mailbox and ducked, peeking your head out every now and then. You knew how dangerous things could get, what with the depression still raging and gangs popping up all over from the prohibition. You didn’t want us to get caught up into something they had no business being in. Hell, neither did I.

 

“Yeah, that’s what you get you queer!” one man slurred as he pounded into one of the men.

 

“You show ‘im who’s boss, Frankie!” another encouraged, kicking at the other men. The two on the ground cowered in fear, trying their best to cover their faces and heads.

 

“You see what happens when you go around spreading this,” the third man stumbled on his words, “disease?” One of the men started to sob, calling out to the other through his cries. “Oh, trying to get your little boyfriend to save ya?”

 

“Pathetic homos,” the second man spat.

 

We watched on in horror as the realization sunk in. These three brutes were beating two men just because they saw them kissing. . . Just because they liked boys? I wanted to vomit, it was so awful, Buck. I remember looking up at you, scared as hell, only to see you close to crying.

 

“We should call the cops. Have you two arrested for indecency,” the first man said. The second man on the ground was coughing up a thick liquid that shined a dark scarlet under the street lights.

 

I couldn’t help but seeing you lying there, that night. We didn’t exactly live in the safest neighborhood nor did we live in the best of times, anything could have happened. But it was something about that night that really had me worried for our future, especially about you.

 

“C’mon, we need to get out of here,” you said in a hushed whisper. You ushered me into the alley and got me to climb the fence so we could make our escape.

 

The next morning, we found out the men had beaten them to death. You saved the article in one one of your drawers and now it’s in my sketchbooks, hidden away from the world and reminding me what could have been us.

 

That was also the day that I started to pray for change every day. That was the night I knew that if the world was different, we’d be different, too.

 

Bucky stares up at the wall, the images of the men being beaten coming to life in his head. His heart aches and his chest constricts with his breathing. It was as if the memory was bringing back all of the pain he experienced on that night…

 

He swallows the lump in his throat and keeps flipping. His thumb’s rifling through the pages, quick and calculated, until he spots the little frays of a torn page near the back. Bucky opens to the page and gasps.

 

It’s not just one page, it’s several. As it gets closer to the end of the journal, the pages are thinner from the torn edges of lost pages.

 

Steve ripped out some of the story.

 

He’s keeping something from him.

 

Bucky sets the journal down and scrambles to Steve’s room. Sam and Steve should be on their way back, so he doesn’t have long. The brunet nearly destroys the room looking for these pages, those lost memories that may just fill this void Bucky’s developed.

 

Someone outside screams for Captain America.

 

They’re so close, so close.

 

He moves as fast as possible. Digging through paperwork, rifling through books, checking under the mattress…

 

The commotion gets louder outside and Bucky can hear Sam’s laugh.

 

Bucky’s trying his best to keep Steve’s room as neat as possible but he needs to find these pages. He knows Steve has them. There here somewhere, somewhere .

 

And then he finds them, folded up neatly beneath Steve’s pillow with a pistol.

 

Bucky snatches the papers and does his best to get Steve’s room back in order, before he disappears completely. (It never fails to surprise him how easy it is to escape out of a window and scale a building.)

 

The ex-assassin sits on the edge of the roof and unfolds the papers. It’s a pretty thick stack and they’re crumbled, but Bucky can still read Steve’s neat handwriting.

 

And he reads.

 

When I was settled in the hospital room with an oxygen tank hooked up to me, you came bursting through the room. “Stevie?” You slurred and grabbed a hold of the doorframe.

“Buck?” I wheezed as I sat up. You stumbled forward and fell into the chair beside the bed. “What are you doing here?”

“Went home an’ Ma said you were here,” you mumbled. “Got scared.”

“Are you drunk?” You nodded. “You need to go home, Bucky. Go sleep it off.” You shook your head and laid your head on the bed beside me, just barely missing my thigh. “Bucky,” I tried.

“No, no Steve. I’m not goin’. Can’t leave you.” You looked up at me, with those beautiful blue eyes watery and your perfect lips pouty. “So worried ‘bout you, Stevie. Always am, but usually, I’m ‘round you. You always scare me, never really stop worryin’ ‘bout you. Never stop thinkin’ ‘bout you, neither.” You started to ramble as you moved the chair closer.

My heart rate picked up a little. (Just thinking about it is making my heart race.) “Bucky, what are you talking about?”

“Tried to get my head out of you, really did.” I bit my lip. You were too cute and way to drunk to try and correct. “Girls just don’t look as pretty as you do. Not as cute. Always scare me, Stevie. I hate this, I do. I hate that I can’t stop thinking ‘bout you. I hate that I can’t stop feelin’ like this. I hate that I can’t be with you. I hate that I hurt you. I hate that you consume me. I hate this helplessness.” You started to cry, sobbing into the mattress. I ran a hand through your hair absentmindedly, like we always did when one of us was sick. “I don’t like seeing you like this. I don’t like keeping secrets, not from you. Never from you.”

“Bucky, it’s okay,” I whispered.

“No,” You shouted before it turned to a whimper. “No. I gotta say it, Stevie. Gotta tells you. Gotta makes sure you know, just in case. No regrets-”

“Buck, it’s just an asthma attack.”

“Don’t just an attack me,” You grumbled. I nodded, urging you to go on with a motion of my hand. “I hate feeling like this. I hate bein’ scared, ‘specially knowing what people like me get when they show it. I hate everything about this… ‘Cept you. No matter what, I can’t hate you. God, I love you. I really do. I love you.”

I was crying at this point. I grabbed you, pulling you as close as I could get you in that hospital bed. “I love you, too,” I whispered into your neck. We were both crying and my oxygen seemed to be working in overdrive.

You ended up sleeping beside me, holding me just like always.

 

Bucky turned to the next page, body running on instinct rather than actual thoughts.

 

Things didn’t change all that much between us. We seemed to be closer, to touch each other longer, to smile a little wider. So when school started and we realized we had all the same classes (including Mrs. Patrickson’s math class much to your dismay), we were overjoyed. You didn’t care about your friends, you didn’t care about the other kids around you, you only ever cared about me. And I had a few other friends that weren’t also yours, so I just became more enraptured by you. I just wanted to be around you, to be with you whenever I could.

 

It was as close as we could be.

 

“I think we should do somethin’ tonight. Go to a party or find a place we can go to, be ourselves,” You said as we walked to our first class.

 

“Whatcha mean?” I asked.

 

“I mean,” You lowered your voice, “finding somewhere I can take you dancin’ and maybe have a drink or two.”

 

I could feel myself blushing. “Buck, I’ve told you. I can’t dance.”

 

“All the more reason to teach you.” You winked at me. I wanted to kiss you till your lips turned blue in that hallway. But we hadn't talked about that stuff yet and we weren’t in a good place anyhow. You leaned in and whispered, “I love you,” in my ear nonetheless.

 

All I could do was smile. You nearly fainted last time I said it, and not in a romantic kind of way. Apparently, since my voice got deeper, I forgot how to whisper. Or maybe my voice was just too low so I couldn’t? Either way, I talk too loud for quiet, little confessions like that. Especially in public. You had been so mad when I almost told our entire English class that I loved Bucky, to the point you wouldn’t even look at me until they were home.

 

“I wish I could say the same,” I mumbled. You gasped in mock horror and grabbed your chest. “You know what I meant!” I laughed, bumping my shoulder against yours.

 

“Yeah, I know,” you slung an arm around my shoulders. “Do you remember when we were little and played soldier?”

 

“Yeah, after my Ma finally told me what really happened to my father? You tried to cheer me up by saying I was as brave as him, that if I were a soldier I’d be the best out there.” I leaned into your touch slightly.

 

You nodded and opened the door to our class, letting me in first. I ducked under your arm and walked to our seats in the middle of the room. “Remember that radio story we used to listen to? The one about the soldiers?”

 

“‘Course I do. We used to play soldier until that came on, then we’d act like the story was about us. It’s one of my favorites.” I pulled out my books and flipped to the page the teacher instructed. “Where you goin’ with this?”

 

You laughed a little and told me, “Just hang on. I’m getting somewhere. What was our favorite line? We said it constantly for like two weeks after we first heard it. You remember it?”

 

I laughed, a stupid-in-love grin splattered across my face. Happened a lot when we were together. “‘Til the end of the line,” I whispered (kind of).

 

We leaned in a little, our bodies draped across the aisle. “What if,” you said quietly, “we said that in public? We can’t get caught and only we’d know what it meant. So if you accidentally shout it out for the world to know, we ain’t gonna be in any trouble.” I blushed and nodded, but I didn’t get a chance to say anything else before Mrs. Ester started class.

 

“‘Til the end of the line,” I mouthed.

 

“‘Til the end of the line,” you whispered back.

 

Bucky was crying, remembering Steve’s words on the helicarrier when he nearly killed him. Steve was trying to tell him that he still loved him…

 

He flips to the next page.

 

I woke up to soft kisses peppering my face and the scratch of your scruff rubbing against my own scruffed cheek. “Morning,” I breathed, eyes still closed with a lazy smile.

“Mornin’, sunshine,” you mumbled against my jaw.

I was about to ask why you were kissing me awake until I remembered what day it was.

June 24, 1941

Today marked our sixth anniversary. Six years of calling you mine and vice versa. Six years of lazy kissing and lingering touches. Six years of blatant “I love you”s to subtle “till the end of the line”s.

And I couldn’t be happier.

“Happy anniversary,” I whispered as I peeled my eyes open. You was leaning over me, our hips almost aligned and our legs intertwined. Thanks to the sweltering heat wave, we were both in nothing but our boxers, so your chest was pressed against mine as close as we could get. Your arms were planted on either side of my head, trapping me beneath you and I loved it.

You grinned and swooped down to kiss me properly. “Happy anniversary,” you said between gasps of breath and frenzied kisses. I whined as you pulled away, my swollen lips pursed in a pout. You chuckled and kissed my nose a couple of times. “Love you so much, Stevie. So much it hurts,” you whispered.

I wrapped my arms around your neck and pulled you into a deeper kiss.

It was moments like this where I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. I couldn’t imagine loving another person. Couldn’t imagine losing you...

And I was certain that I wouldn’t.

“C’mon punk,” you panted. You lifted one of your hands to lightly brush my bangs out the way, lingering as you spoke, “Let’s get ready. I took the day off. ‘M takin’ you out for breakfast then we’re gonna hang out at the pictures. Then we’re gonna snag us a pizza before we head to Goldie’s for my match where you’ll cheer me on and I’ll win us some cash. Then, when the match is over, we’ll come back here and climb up onto the roof. Maybe if the night’s clear enough we’ll see a star or two.” You pecked my lips once more and stood, taking the sheet with you.

“Really?” I asked, completely awake already with a bright smile and big, excited eyes.

You chuckled as you slid into your pants. “Yeah, Stevie. Now get your ass up before I change my mind and leave you.” You tossed a shirt at me, still sprawled out on the bed. I laughed, the shirt falling onto you face. I plucked the shirt off, crawled out of bed, and started to get ready. All with a big grin plastered on my face.

We did everything you promised and it was spectacular. Later that night, we were laying up on the roof, curled into one another on an old blanket. I had my head resting on your chest, rising with each breath you took, my arm draped across your middle and a dopey smile on my face. “Today was great,” I whispered.

You hummed and ran a hand through my hair. “It was. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“Thank you. You made this day perfect.” I kissed your chest and breathed you in, simply enjoying the moment.

“Just tried to give you the day you deserved.”

“You’re so cheesy,” I laughed. You chuckled and kissed my head. We just laid there until I lifted my head and turned in your arms to get a proper look at you. “Where do you see yourself in twenty years?” I asked softly as I played with a button on your shirt.

You raised an eyebrow, your fingers still in my hair. “Where’s this coming from?”

I shrugged. “Just curious.”

“Okay,” You nodded and thought for a moment. “You want me to be honest or what I want to happen?”

“Reality first, then the fantasy,” I mumbled. I knew where you were going with this, but it didn’t help steel myself for the harsh truth.

You nodded again and laid your head down, blue-gray eyes searching the sky for stars. “I’d probably be married with a couple of kids. We’d live in a nice, safe house in Brooklyn and you’d live close by with your family. We’d spend every weekend together and our kids would be best friends. You’d be my best man at my wedding and I’d be yours, even though it’d kill me inside to see you marry someone else. But it’ll be worth it because we’ll be safe and we’ll still have each other around, which is better than losing you forever.” Your voice was thick and soft, your eyes watering a little. You cleared his throat and sat up to look at me and your face fell when you got a good look at how sad I must’ve looked. “Hey, now,” you took my chin in your hand and ran your thumb over my bottom lip. “Don’t you start gettin’ upset with me. That’s at least another few years from now, alright?” I nodded.

“What if we could be together? How do you picture it?” I whispered hoarsely, my voice thick with unshed tears.

You still looked upset, but you took a deep, shaky breath and continued. “We’d get married on a roof because we always seem to end up on one.” I smiled softly at that and rested my chin on your chest again. “We wouldn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen since we’re both men, we’d just have my siblings stand up there with us or maybe it’ll just be us. My mom would be in tears and crying over the both of us and little Rose would be old enough to walk down the aisle with us. Then, we’d get away from New York for a small honeymoon. We’d go somewhere sunny and warm, where it didn’t matter when we got hitched it’d still feel like summer. After that, we’d find us a nice house and get a dog or two, maybe even adopt a couple of kids. Either way,” you took my hand in yours and kissed the back of it, “we’d grow old together until we were both well into the hundreds.”

I was crying; big, fat, silent tears that spilled over my cheeks and splattered on your shirt. “I’d love that,” I breathed out.

“Me too.” You pulled me into a kiss, soft and sweet. Then we were both looking back up at the clear, night sky as the stars twinkled overhead. “Me too.”

They were so in love… Bucky wiped his tears with the back of his flesh hand.

 

The door slammed open and I burst through, a giddy smile on my face. “Buck? You home yet?” I called, the door carelessly shutting behind me. When I didn’t hear anything, I called your name again as I headed towards out room.

 

I walked inside, shaking with excitement. “Hey, how was your night?” I asked, so eager to share the news with you, that I was going to be in a science experiment, that I was actually in the military. But you looked wrecked, still dressed in your uniform with your packed back sitting beside you.

 

You shrugged, eyes glued to the floor. I knew then that whatever happened next wouldn’t be good. “What happened?” I sat beside you, a comforting hand resting on your shoulder. You shrugged it off and stood. “Buck?”

 

“Don’t, Steve,” you grumbled.

 

“Don’t what?’

 

“Don’t try and comfort me!” You snapped with your hands in your hair.

 

I sat there, stunned. I watched as you paced the room, reeling from your reaction and trying to piece together the pieces. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong… The day was fine, even the double date was nice (as nice as they could be) and up until Steve went to enlist again, they had a great day. “What happened? Did I say something wrong?” All the giddiness I had vanished. You were mad or upset or something and I didn’t know why.

 

You ran a hand over your face. “I can’t do this, Steve. I just can’t do this anymore.”

 

“Do what? Buck, what are you talking about?”

 

“Us, Steve! I’m talking about us,” You hollered. You turned away, a hand over your mouth. When you turned back around, your eyes were red. “I just can’t.”

 

I couldn’t breathe and for once it felt like a normal reaction… My brain was in overdrive, just trying to catch up.

 

You continued, “Tonight was my breaking point, Stevie.” You sighed and gestured off to the side with one of your arms, the other on your hip. “You ran off to be a goddamn hero, knowing you could get arrested all for your own self-righteous benefit. I can’t take it anymore! I don’t want to have to babysit you.”

 

That’s when I found my voice. “You don’t have to, Buck! I’m a grown ass man, not some skinny little kid that you gotta look out for. I don’t need you to take care of me.”

 

“Then why do I waste nights taking care of you when you’re sick? Why do I gotta watch where you go in case you get your punk ass in trouble? I couldn’t even leave you alone for an afternoon without you picking a fight! I couldn’t even leave for training without you landing yourself in the hospital! Hell, you can barely walk up the stairs without dying!”

 

I jumped up from the bed, my anger bubbling as I squared up to you. ‘This is stupid. This could be the last time you see him- No, don’t think like that,’ I remember thinking as I glared up at you. My incredible, thoughtful, beautiful Bucky… “I have never asked you to take care of me. Never. You’re the one who insists. You’re the one who won’t let me leave the room because I have a cough. - And yes, I love when you take care of me. I do,” I nodded along with my words. “Because it shows you care about me, that you love me as much as I love you.” I pushed at your chest lightly, enough to emphasize my words.

 

We were both crying silent tears, both breathing heavy, but neither of us could stop ourselves. We stood a foot apart, blue eyes searing into gray.

 

“Steve,” you started, “we’re done. I can’t- I won’t put up with this anymore. I don’t want to. I want to be in a relationship I can enjoy. Y’know, one that I don’t have to sneak around for or tell blatant lies to protect both our hides. I’m tired of it, Steve. All of it. At first, it was nice - thrilling, even - but now? It’s just aggravating. And the sad truth is, we would never last. We would have to go find dames to marry and-”

 

“Don’t even start with that bullshit,” I barked. “Be a fucking man and tell me the real reason you want out.” You glared at me, and as if in slow motion, your features fell in defeat. I harrumphed, “See? You don’t even have a rea-”

 

“I don’t love you,” You blurted out. You cleared your throat and continued, “I don’t love you anymore. Haven’t for a while. Haven’t been happy with you for even longer.”

 

The world around us turned to ice. Everything around me looked as if the color had been drained, melting into a puddle dull nothing. There was a bitter bite to the air now and my bottom lip began to tremble.

 

I shook my head. “No,” I denied, “that’s bullshit. You’re lying to me. You- I- No!” I cried as I backed away like a wounded animal, my breath coming out in wheezy gasps.

 

And then the first sob wrenched out of me. I fell to the floor, mumbling a string of “No, you’re lying, no, no, this is all some twisted nightmare…”

 

You just stood there, watching. I could feel you watching me as I broke down and crumbled in on myself. I always wondered how you felt…

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you-”

 

“Bullshit,” I sobbed. “That’s fucking bullshit. You can’t be sorry. You don’t get to be sorry. I-” a handful of sobs racked through my body. “I just don’t understand.”

 

You bent down to pick up the discarded duffle you had packed and moved towards the door. “What’s to question? I don’t love you. I’m leaving, getting shipped to England first thing tomorrow. We’re done. This is the end of the line, pal. Okay? Goodbye, Steven.”

 

I scrambled up and raced after you. “You can’t just leave! Not after you ripped my fucking heart out! You’re such a fucking coward, Barnes,” I spat.

 

You sighed and your head fell. You didn’t even look back at me. “I can, Steve. I walk out this door and we go our separate ways. I’ll go off and fight this godforsaken war and you can go off to find a nice girl who will love you like I couldn’t. Start a family, live a life that we couldn’t have. Just…be happy.”

 

“But I was happy with you!” I cried, tempted to reach out and touch my soldier. I just wanted to hold you, make you stay and comfort me through this awful nightmare…

 

You chuckled, wet and humorless. “But I wasn’t happy with you. We’re done. Bye, Steve.” With that, you left.

 

Bucky had to give himself a moment to compose himself, his version coming back to him at full speed. He remembers thinking this is what’s best for Steve, that he could find himself a gal and settle down without having to wait for him. He remembers thinking that he’d never come home, always knew if he went overseas he’d never return.

 

A few minutes passed and all he could do was sniffle as he tried to focus on the words again.

 

He turned to the next one.

 

“If you men will excuse us,” I told the Commandos before I started off towards a more secluded part of the base. You followed, just a step or two behind with your head down and your hands in your pockets. I settled against the back of an ammunition building, my own hands fiddling with my shield. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder in silence until I finally cleared his throat, “Is, uh, something wrong?”

 

You shook his head. “No, I- I just feel like we need to catch up. It’s… It’s been too long since we just… talked.”

 

I nodded. “I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries,” I admitted. “You seemed pretty pissed…”

 

“I know. I’m sorry,” you mumbled.

 

“What, uh, what exactly happened on your end?” When you paused, I quickly shook my head. “You know what, don’t answer that. You don’t have to tell me.”

 

You didn’t say anything for a long time. You stared off past the base’s border, at the thick line of woods that seemed unusually dark at this time of day. I sighed, my shoulders falling openly.  And then you asked me, “Steve, do you love her?”.

 

I felt like a deer in headlights when I lifted my head. “Agent Carter?” I blurted, face bright red and my eyes blinking hard.

 

“Yeah, do you love her?” You kept your face scarily neutral, your tone even and calm. I didn’t know how I felt about how you was asking this, how easy you was going about it. It almost seemed like you didn’t care…

 

“No,” I said softly. I looked down to his boots, focusing on the scuff mark on my right toe.

 

You nodded. “Could you see yourself loving her?”

 

I couldn’t figure out how to answer. If I was honest, I could lose you. If I wasn’t, I could still lose you. There was so much going on in my head that I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer. So I just went with the honest route.  “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.” I shook my head and moved so my right shoulder was against the building and my body was facing you. “I can see myself marrying her. I can see her having my kids and living in a little house in Brooklyn. But…”

 

“You’re not over me,” you sighed. My head fell as I nodded, eyes squeezed shut and my face bright red. I heard you face me. “Steve,” you lifted my chin up.

 

I was almost startled by how close you were to me, our noses only an inch away. I could feel your breath mixing with mine, could see how the war had dulled your eyes far too much for my liking.

 

And I suddenly couldn’t breathe.

 

“It’s okay,” you whispered, your voice soft in our own little world. I straightened up and you followed suit. “I… I have to confess something.”

 

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine,” you replied with a breathy retort. “I- Steve, I was an idiot.”

 

“Bucky, you’re not an idiot-”

 

You held up a hand and shook your head. “Shut up for a second, Stevie. Lemme talk. I need to say this without you stopping me.” I reluctantly nodded and pressed my lips together. “I was an idiot when I left. I… Steve, you did nothing wrong. Nothing. I was the reason we broke up. I figured,” your voice grew tighter, “that if I left the country and we weren’t together, it’d be easier for you to move on and find a nice gal to marry. Hell, I thought you were staying in Brooklyn, not going off to become Captain America. Figured with all the lonely dames back home, you’d find someone who was good enough for you. Or at least someone desperate and lonely enough to look at you.” I laughed softly at that, now looking up from beneath my eyelashes at you. “I thought it’d be easier for us both. And then, when you showed up at that Hydra base in Azzano-” you had to stop for a moment. I cautiously took your hand, squeezing it gently. You gave me a small, tight smile.

 

“When you showed up, I honestly didn’t think you were real. They fucked with my head, Stevie. They really fucked it up.” You were openly crying now, your voice cracking and your bottom lip trembling whenever you paused. “I can’t sleep. I wake up some days and all I can remember is my goddamn name and serial number. I have to sit there for a moment before I get out of bed and try and remember who I am, what we’re doing, where I am…”

 

“Buck-”

 

You pressed a hand to my mouth with a playful, half-hearted glare. “I said no interrupting.” You let your hand drop and I gave another reluctant nod. You nodded and cleared your throat. “I barely remembered you. I couldn’t think of your name, could barely see your face in my head. But I knew you. I knew you were someone good, someone I could trust, someone who wouldn’t hurt me… I think, part of me fought so hard through that week because I knew you were out there. I knew you were waiting for me, that you would have wanted me to fight as hard as I could to get out. I knew subconsciously that you needed me to be strong and brave.

 

“By the time I was really over it and everything had come back to me, I was too stubborn and proud to say I was wrong. It doesn’t help that Peggy was giving you bedroom eyes whenever she saw you. Part of me was bitter that my plan actually worked, but then another half was hopeful that you were still hung up on me. I’m awful, I know.” You shook your head and wiped at your tears with the back of your hand.

 

You took a deep breath. “I’m a dick. You got no idea how bad it hurt me when I said all those mean things to you. Like I said, I was too proud to apologize and get over it. I figured you didn’t need me now that you were this big, handsome soldier. You didn’t need me to be the person to believe in you, not when everyone else was falling at your feet with praise and worship. You didn’t need me to have your back, not when you single-handedly infiltrated a Hydra base and rescued us. You didn’t need me to love, not when every dame we pass has eyes on you. So I kept pushing you away because I was too goddamn weak to admit that I was wrong and I…”

 

The sob that ripped through your throat broke my heart. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch you, to comfort you as you poured out your soul for me to see… But I knew I couldn’t. You needed to get through this on your own, without my comfort and coaxing. I knew all too well about how pity feels at a vulnerable moment, couldn’t be the one to treat you like that.

 

My own eyes were watering, my bottom lip starting to tremble just slightly. You shook your head and looked up at me with everything you had. Love. Pain. Desperation. Loneliness. Exhaustion. Everything. “Stevie, I need you,” you cried softly. “I fucking need you. I can’t- I can’t do this,” you motioned to the space around us, “without you. I can’t deal with this,” you pointed to your head, “without you. I can’t live without out, Steve. And I don’t give a fuck if I’m too desperate or weak for admitting that I can’t, don’t, and won’t live without you in my life.

 

“Fuck,” you shook your head, “I don’t care if you don’t want me back after finding out how cruel I was to you. I don’t care if you hate me. I just need you back in my life and I’m not taking no for an answer.” I was silently crying with you, my body subconsciously moving closer to your. “I need you,” you finished pathetically.

 

And then we were kissing.

 

Our lips met hesitantly, our noses bumping just slightly. We were out of practice, the easiness that used to come with kissing one another. It wasn’t rushed. It wasn’t passionate. It was simple and sweet and far too short. And I was finding it hard to breathe with how fast my heart was beating, I just knew you could hear it. Hesitantly, I let my hands fall to hover over your waist before carefully letting my hands caress your hips. You sighed into the kiss, pressing just a little closer with a silent need. I took what I could get, my knees weakening just a little. (Typical Bucky, making a super-soldier like me weak in the knees with a simple kiss.)

 

You placed a hand on my chest and pulled away gently. With our foreheads pressed together and our eyes still shut (I didn’t dare open them, in case this happened to be a dream), the two of us stood there in complete bliss. “I love you,” you mouthed against my lips and I could have died right then and there.

 

Bucky turned to the next.

 

I buried my face in your coat, nuzzling your chest as you slept. It was freezing, even for me, and the blankets we were wrapped in weren’t big enough for me to cover my face. Instead, I kept my face tucked close to your chest, my nose beneath the lapel of your peacoat.

 

The sun was starting to rise, the light peeking into the tent. You were making the cutest sounds in your sleep, little huffs and grumblings that I could listen to for hours. And truth be told, that’s what I’d been doing.

 

I didn’t know that this would be my last morning with you. I had no idea that I would spend the next three days screaming for you to come home, searching for your body. Didn’t know that part of me would die that day, on that stupid train.

 

Instead, I was more than willing to enjoy a few moments alone with you. I shuffled closer, a small smile pulling at the corner of my lips. “What you smiling at?” you slurred as you opened your eyes. “You’re awfully cuddly this mornin’ for someone who ain’t asleep,” you said in a deep, gravelly voice.

 

I peeled open my eyes again. “Shut up and leave me alone.”

 

“No,” you pulled me closer, nuzzling your nose in my messy dark blond hair. “If we don’t start talking, I’ll fall back asleep. So if you want cuddles, you talk.”

 

“Is that so?” I turned so I was laying partially on your chest, my chin resting on your right pectoral.

 

“Very much.” You moved your left arm to hold my head up. You looked up at me like I was your treasure.  “I ever told you how pretty you are?”

 

I ducked my head, my forehead resting against your chest. I lifted it again, biting my lip. “Occasionally.”

 

You smiled. “Good. You need to hear it. And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout your new looks, either, doll. I mean the parts of you that haven’t changed, you get that right?” You stared at me for a long moment before you continued with a breathy laugh. “Before, when you were my skinny little Stevie,” you raised your right arm to run your fingers through my hair and your thumb over my cheek, “you always gave me this goofy smile. And your teeth were a little crooked and you never could figure out how to smile without it looking awkward.” You thumb grazed my bottom lip, a fond smile growing on both of our faces. “And those lips, goddamnit. You sure know how to kiss a fella stupid, Stevie.”

 

“I had a good teacher,” I admitted softly. You winked at me as you slid your fingers back into my hair. “Keep going?”

 

“Absolutely,” you breathed. “Your eyes are probably my biggest weakness. I live to see that sparkle you’ve got, the one that I see every time you get excited about new paintbrushes or a piece you’ve been workin’ on forever. You always know just how to look at me to make my heart skip a beat or calm me down from a nightmare. It’s like,” you let yourself trail off, your eyebrows furrowing as you tried to desperately find the word you was searching for.

 

My left hand reached forward, right in front of your head so you could see what I was doing. (Since we got back together, you hated your head being touched without warning). My fingertips brushed your forehead, smoothing out the creases that had formed on your forehead and in between your eyebrows. “It’s okay. I get it,” I whispered.

 

You gave an embarrassed smile but continued nonetheless. “I don’t even know how to describe this to you. But like I was saying before, you’ve always been pretty in my eyes. Whether you’re ninety pounds and as tall as my chest or a super soldier built like a truck. You’ll always be my pretty little Stevie.”

 

“Thank you, Bucky,” I whispered as I leaned in a little. You blushed and met me halfway for a soft kiss.

 

It would have deepened into something more if it hadn’t been for Dugan bellowing, “Hey, Mr. and Mrs. America, let’s get a move on! We’ve got mountains to climb!”

 

I pulled away with a breathy chuckle. You, however, pursed your lips and cocked your head. “Why do they assume I bottom?”

 

“Hey, we split it fifty/fifty,” I reminded with a wink. “C’mon. I’ve got a troop to command and a mission to complete.”

 

Bucky read on, reading about the mission and his fall. He read about how Steve handled his death, the grief he was dealing with. He read about how hard everything was for Steve to get through. He read about his funeral and about Steve telling Peggy. He read about the Valkyrie and Steve drowning. He read about Daisy and Peggy and Howard coming together to spare their secret from the world, to help keep them hidden.

 

He sat up there for a long time, memories flooding his head with such an intensity he couldn’t help but cry.

 

Bucky eventually fell asleep up there and when he did finally return to the apartment, Steve’s room was back in pristine, Army regulation. The brunet slid the papers back under the pillow and returned to his room.

 

He stayed there for a few days, just laying in bed and thinking. Steve and Sam tried to help him out, but all they could do was make sure he was fed and hydrated. They’d all been there, suffering through recoveries and adapting to society. Bad days were a given and all they could do was help make sure Bucky lived to see another good day.

 

Bucky knew he’d see a good day eventually, he just needed to figure out if Steve still felt the same way.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Christmas came and went and Bucky found himself stuck in a crowded ballroom with two hundred of Tony Stark’s closet friends. It wasn’t ideal, especially since people tended to stay away from him, but it’s where Steve wanted to be.

 

“We won’t stay too long, if you don’t want to,” Steve told him as they grabbed another glass of champagne each.

 

Bucky shrugs. “I’m here for you, so…”

 

Steve smiles, blushing just slightly under the dim lights. “Thanks Buck, means a lot.” Steve went to say something else when a friend of his (some government guy) popped up and he had to turn into Captain America.

 

Bucky kind of hated Captain America, with his fake USO smile and his boring personality. Why people only see Steve as Cap baffles him, but at the same time, at least Bucky gets to see the real Steve… to an extent.

 

He realized after he read the letters, that Steve still very much loves him. Even if he doesn’t say it blatantly, Bucky can tell by the way he looks at him and how he treats him that Steve doesn’t have platonic feelings for him. But at the same time, he could tell that Steve was holding back and acting careful around him. Not like how most people act, where they aren’t sure if Bucky’s Bucky or the Winter Soldier (not that he’s been the Winter Soldier since Shuri fixed him up). No, Steve’s careful in a way that clearly says he’s trying to hide his feelings. The thing is, the good captain is a terrible actor and can’t hide anything from Bucky.

 

The night drones on, with the loud, upbeat music drilling into Bucky’s head and the people shoving and pushing their way around him. Bucky’s watching Steve interact with people, watching how his face twitches and grimaces into this act.

 

And after a few hours, Bucky couldn’t handle it anymore.

 

It’s about twenty minutes until the countdown and Bucky’s suddenly reminded of that stupid Hallmark movie he watched a few weeks ago… And then he sees Steve, with that gorgeous, polite look on his face that screams that he wants to get out of here and just do anything but socialize and his perfect body (that waist!!!) and he can’t take it anymore.

 

He needs to tell him.

 

So just like that protagonist, Bucky makes his way to Steve with everything he has. He pushes his way into Steve’s circle and squares up to Steve, breathless and a little frazzled. “Can we get some air, please?”

 

Steve’s worried, brows furrowed and his mouth agape. “Absolutely. C’mon, I know where we can go.”

 

Bucky follows Steve out onto the roof, overlooking the New York skyline. “I never liked these parties,” Steve says, leaning against the railing. He looks beautiful, with the moonlight highlighting his profile and adding an extra shine to his blond hair. Steve looks so peaceful relaxing against the wall dressed in his snazzy new suit, nothing like he normally looks like.

 

“We never went to parties this fancy,” Bucky reminds him as he settles in beside him, their shoulders grazing.

 

Steve laughs, head falling and his shoulders tensing. “That’s for sure.” He looks over at Bucky, all doe eyed and sappy. “You doin’ okay?” his Brooklyn draw is back and Bucky’s knees are weak.

 

Bucky gives him a soft smile. “I’m okay, Stevie. You’re the one who looked liked he needed rescuing.”

 

Another laugh, hearty and angelic. “Touche.”

 

And there was something about the way the moonlight graced Steve that night or the magic in the air, but Bucky knew what he had to do.

 

“Why do we always end up on a roof?” he asks quietly.

 

Steve’s brow furrows before he’s straightening up, scared. “What did you just say?” he asks slowly.

 

Bucky clears his throat, nervous now. “Why do we always end up on a roof?”

 

“What do you mean?” Steve takes a step back.

 

“I mean, everything important to us seems to happen on a roof. And this was before we became super soldiers.” Bucky took a step closer, his hands in his pockets.

 

Steve’s flustered, not really sure what to do with himself. “It was a great hang out place, especially since-”

 

“Steve, I remember,  you can stop pretending like we were just friends,” Bucky says softly.

 

The blond turns around, shoulders shaking as the words sink in. Bucky watches, quiet and patient. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve says dejectedly.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Really? So I imagined our first kiss, right? Okay, cool.” He faces the building and leans his back against the wall, arms resting on the ledge. “Do you need proof or are we just going to pretend none of that happened?”

 

Steve turns around, his eyes watery and his jaw squared. He’s doing everything he can not to break, Bucky can tell by the twitch at the base of his jaw. “Prove it.”

 

He cocks an eyebrow. “With pleasure.” Bucky stares Steve down and starts to recount their first kiss, “It was after you got out of the hospital from that asthma attack and we spent the night stargazing up on the roof. You were creating constellations and telling these elaborate stories about them, pointing to each star to make sure I could see it. We were laying there, your head on my chest and our arms wrapped around each other. You had just finished telling me this beautiful story about two lovers, who weren’t one thing or another but had gone through heaven and hell to be together. They were dancing in the sky above us and you told me that you wanted us to be immortalized like that, to have our story be shared with thousands. You looked up at me and smiled, not caring that if we told people we’d be arrested or killed or that our families would disown us. It wasn’t about that.” Bucky smiles and blinks the tears out of his eyes. Steve’s openly crying, his bottom lip jutting out and quivering. “It was about us and our newfound romance.”

 

Bucky looks up and squints, trying to spot the stars the sky despite the light pollution. But with his super soldier eyes and his determination to prove to Steve that he remembers, Bucky finds what he thinks may very well be Steve’s lovers constellation. “There,” he says softly and points to the stars. “It was that one, right?”

 

Steve’s so shocked he can’t even speak, he simply nods.

 

Bucky grins. “I don’t remember what I said, but I know it made you melt. And then we were kissing, soft and sweet and to the point. And we didn’t stop kissing until I went off to war. And even that couldn’t stop us.”

 

A sob breaks through Steve’s composure. “I didn’t think you’d ever remember,” he cries, voice barely a whisper.

 

“Oh, Stevie, I can’t believe I forgot,” Bucky sniffles as he takes ahold of Steve’s face. “Trust me when I say I won’t forget again. Can’t lose you again.”

 

Steve presses Bucky’s hands to his cheeks, crying still but so happy. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why’d you hide it?”

 

“I didn’t want to force it on you. God, I didn’t want you to think I was pressuring you or that because I still... feel that way, that you have to, too.”

 

Bucky smiles. “You’re too good for me, Steven Rogers.”

 

Steve wraps his arms around Bucky’s waist and pulls him in close, their foreheads touching. “I’m half the man you are, Buck.”

 

“Bullshit.” Bucky could feel Steve’s breath mixing with his. The countdown was starting, they could hardly hear it over the thumping of their hearts. “I love you, Steve. I always have and always will.”

 

“I love you, too,” Steve cries. “Love you so goddamn much.”

 

“Kiss me into the new year?” Bucky breathes.

 

“You didn’t have to ask.”

 

Their lips met in a soft, simple kiss. It was so foreign, yet completely natural for the two. It didn’t take long for the two to find their rhythm, falling back into their old habits. Everything they’ve missed, everything they’ve been through, everything since that fatal day back in January of 1945 had been leading up to this.

 

They were both crying. They were both giving everything they had to the other. They were both so deeply in love that nothing could have ruined their moment.

 

And thankfully, nothing did.

 

Steve pulls away first, lips swollen and chest heaving. “Happy New Year, Bucky.”

 

“Happy New Year, doll.”