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Invisible Ink

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You’d think that literally saving half the universe might earn a guy a little down time, but here Bucky was, waking up alone in his new bedroom...their new bedroom...with some very intense morning wood and nobody to share it with.

It was bullshit.

Yes, Thor had been the one to save the day; chopping off Thanos’ entire arm with his kickass axe, but Steve had heroically grabbed the gauntlet (arm and all) and run with it through the burning trees, putting as much distance as possible between Thanos and those fucking stones. Yes, Thor had been the one to open the bifrost and send that genocidal dick to rot in Hela’s old digs in Niflheim, but Steve had zig zagged through the carnage of the battlefield, killing his fair share of leftover alien dog monsters on his way to Shuri. And, Steve had managed to do all that with a head wound, traumatic brain injury, dislocated shoulder, four broken ribs, and the shock from seeing Wanda blast Vision into a trillion pieces.

That kind of dedication should’ve earned Steve (and everyone else, for that matter) an all expense paid, ten day vacation to the crystal clear waters of Fuji, a relaxing cruise to the bahamas with steel drums and massages, or, for god’s sake, even a long weekend in fucking Florida! At this very moment, the two of them should be sprawled out on colorful beach towels getting tan on the sandy white beaches of Naples, drinking fruity drinks out of goddamn pineapples, smearing way too much coconut suntan lotion all over each other’s backs, abs, and asses, and reminiscing about the good ol’ days with the last remaining leather skinned survivors of their generation!

Bucky stared long and hard at Steve’s empty pillow, wishing that a flock of seagulls was flying in slow circles overhead as they dug coquinas out of the sand with their toes. But, no, post Thanos, the world had gone to shit. Turns out, surviving imminent doom makes people a special kind of crazy; seize the day, carpe diem, and all that jazz. There were big messes all over the planet, and Steve, well, Steve never could stop himself from picking up a goddamn broom.

The man formerly known as Captain America had lasted four whole weeks before charging out to save the day. And that included the four days it had taken Shuri to put him back together in Wakanda, the three days he’d been held against his will at the compound infirmary, and the three weeks the two of them had spent getting reacquainted in all sorts of new ways.

Bucky blew out a big, long, obnoxious sigh that turned into an even bigger, longer, and more obnoxious groan. He’d spent enough years waking up alone! First as a pining teenage idiot, then as a pining twenty-something idiot, followed by years of wonderful morning wake-ups with the Russians and their fucking dogs, the glory days of Hydra dragging his ass out of his climate controlled cryo-tube and zapping his brain before breakfast, and, finally, all of the insufferable mornings after the helicarrier. Those had been the worst of all. Waking up alone in the alleys of DC with a cardboard box over his head. Rolling over to the company of cockroaches in a cheap hotel in Pittsburg. Jolting awake to the sound of a nightstick hitting a metal pole in the last car of the A train in New York City. That noise had been Bucky’s signal that it was finally light enough to stalk Steve on his morning run through Central Park (brain damaged pining). But that wasn’t all. Let’s not forget waking up alone and sweaty, stuffed into a ratty sleeping bag in Bucharest (long distance pining), or alone and pining in Wakanda...Jesus. Enough!

Scrubbing at his eyes, Bucky tried to cut himself some slack. Feeling grumpy was a perfectly normal reaction to waking up alone! A human reaction! And now that Steve’s pillow was permanently parked right next to his, and Bucky knew exactly what it felt like to wake up with Steve’s naked back stuck to his equally naked stomach, it was his right to feel cranky, dammit! He made a valiant effort to push his dick down inside his loose grey sweatpants, but it popped right back up. Bucky’s big brain understood that Steve was only gonna be gone for six more days, but his little brain was having trouble with the concept.

“Sorry, buddy. I know it’s been three days, but we’ve got five more lonely wake-ups to go. You’re shit outta luck.”

His dick responded by getting even harder, and Bucky let out his most obnoxious groan yet.

“C’mon, be reasonable. In the larger scope of things, what’s six more days?”

His dick was not listening to reason, informing Bucky that it needed to be squeezed into the warm spot between Steve’s thighs, surrounded by Steve’s calloused fist, or rubbing up against Steve’s seventh and eighth abs right fucking now! Bucky rolled his eyes at his stubborn cock, then rolled them again at himself for being stupid enough to argue with primal instinct in the first place. Six more days...

Stark, after kindly being returned from outer space by Fed Ex Thor, had dragged Steve, kicking and screaming (meaning he’d volunteered), on a humanitarian mission to Scotland. Apparently, spaceships hovering in the sky, mind stones cutting buildings in half, and ugly aliens stomping through the streets featured heavily on the morning news had triggered some very serious government unrest. The First Minister was hoping that the public would be reassured by a few friendly superheroes helping to replace the hundreds of broken windows in the looted businesses. Wilson, with his blindingly white smile, had been an obvious choice to go along for the ride, and Natalia was always good at encouraging people to chill the fuck out. And Stark...well, Bucky thought that he was a shit choice, but whatever. Not his call. Bucky’s presence had been requested, but he’d already had plans of his own: fun plans, quality plans, therapeutic, teenage Princess plans! He was excited. Really and truly he was! But he was still grumpy and whiny, ‘cause Steve...

Lurching away from Steve’s pillow, Bucky curled up on his side with his back to the french paned windows. Five more minutes. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time to shake off the last of his whiny, pathetic, lost puppy vibes before hauling himself (and his painfully hard dick) out of bed...

Minute one: Take slow deep breaths. Pretend the morning sun isn’t peeking through the blinds and creating long stripes across the half empty bed. Picture the intoxicating curve of Steve’s shoulders when he's stretched out on his stomach, marveling at the perfect little hill his ass makes under the light grey sheets. Take thirty seconds to think about pinching the meatiest part...just a little...before giving it a playful slap.

Minute two: Try really hard to ignore dick. Like really, really, really hard. Fail completely. Snort at dick pun.

Minute three: Flop onto back and stare intensely at tented sheet. Decide against jerking off based on principle (two could play the stubborn game). Flex muscles to make it bounce.

Minute four: Drift back to the place where herds of giggling children had left footprints in the dirt while Bucky'd slept. Linger on the exact moment when Steve had added his size twelve boot prints to the pattern. Remember how, despite the looming apocalypse, that had been a great day...maybe the best day.

Minute five: Admit you’re not gonna stop thinking about Steve...

“FRIDAY,” Bucky blurted out. “Where’s Steve?”

“Good morning, Sergeant. Have you forgotten that Captain Rogers is in Edinburgh?”

“No, of course not! I mean, where is he right now. What’s he doing?”

“Currently, he and Mr. Stark are meeting with a group of at-risk teens. Would you like me to relay a message?”

Bucky flipped his hair into his face. He wanted to say, ‘Tell Steve that I miss the smell of his skin and I woke up with an uncontrollable desire to nuzzle my nose against the soft spot behind his ear’. But he didn’t. He could have. He was supposed to say those kind of things now. But, instead, he hid under his hair like an idiot and mumbled, “Just tell him I woke up thinking about him.”

Bowing out of the mission had been Bucky’s call. Stark had organized the trip last minute after the First Minister had dialed him up, but the dates had conflicted with the seven days Bucky’d already marked off on his non-existent calendar with his imaginary red Sharpie. Steve withdrawal be damned, there’d been no way in hell that Bucky was gonna reschedule a visit from Shuri! Absolutely not! She needed a break from putting the pieces back together in Wakanda, and Bucky needed...to hang out with her? God, that sounded weird. But something about Shuri’s energy had made him feel calm from the very beginning, even though everything about her personality was the opposite of calm; snappy, snazzy, sizzling...those were the kinds of words that described the way she carried herself. To put it in the most basic terms, she was awesome, and Bucky loved her.

The past month had been the longest he’d gone without seeing her in the year and a half since she’d worked her magic on his fucked up brain. He missed her like crazy, and, during one of their many online chats, she’d begrudgingly admitted to missing his ‘broken white ass’ too. Plans had been made, dates set, and yesterday she’d flown across the ocean in her invisible jet to ‘work’ on his new arm. Did she need an entire week to modify the color shifting system to make him even less shiny? Nope. Could she have worked with Banner to do it remotely? Probably. But you can’t go see ‘Hamilton’ remotely, you can’t learn how to properly haggle for knock-off Gucci sunglasses on Broadway through texts, and you certainly can’t overstuff your stomach with delicious hot dogs from sketchy street vendors via Skype! These very crucial educational experiences were something that Shuri needed in her life, and, after all she’d done for him...after all she was still doing for him...Bucky wanted to be the one to share them with her.

Was it strange that Bucky’s favorite member of the exclusive Hero Club he’d oddly been initiated into also happened to be a seventeen-year-old girl? The jury was still out on that one. Especially since a large percentage of their friendship revolved around the black market exchange of videos of T’Challa falling for her super obvious pranks, and clips of Steve ‘assembling’ furniture and throwing screwdrivers across the room when he couldn’t make the drawers fit right. Bucky chuckled, because Steve the Handyman still hadn’t patched the living room wall like he’d promised. Instead, the dork had casually leaned an umbrella up against the hole, like Bucky wasn’t gonna notice! It would forever be known as the worst cover-up in recent history; a conspiracy that Bucky'd dubbed ‘Umbrellagate’.

Flipping back over, he bounced his head against Steve’s pillow. Obviously, Steve was his number one...always had been, always would be...but Shuri, well, Shuri was something special, no matter how old she was. Plus, she’d been the one to bring him back.

“Hey, FRIDAY.”

“Yes, Sergeant Barnes?”

“FRIDAY, we’ve talked about this…”

“Sorry, sir. Yes, Sergeant Bucky?”

Bucky grabbed his pillow and plopped it over his eyes to hide his chuckle. Shuri was Bucky’s favorite non-Steve person, but FRIDAY was definitely his favorite non-person person. She was a smartass who, on occasion, surpassed her creator’s smartass humor in a less acidic way.

“Is Shuri awake yet?”

“Considering the six hour time change, I think that you should expect her to sleep for several more hours. It usually takes a day or two for a person’s internal clock to adjust. It’s only eight o’clock, Sergeant Bucky.”

He already knew that. The position of the sun allowed Bucky to calculate the time with almost perfect accuracy. Jet lag and time zones were second nature. And, since they’d stayed up well past midnight eating a delicious Hawaiian pizza and catching up, he knew that Shuri'd be exhausted. The truth was, he was just trying to make conversation to avoid the dark thoughts that always crept into his mind when things got too quiet. But it was too late. They’d already arrived...

Thanos had destroyed so much. The entire planet’s confidence was shaken...scratch that...the entire universe’s confidence was shaken, and so many people...good people...had lost their lives. Everything was still painfully raw, the skin red and puffy, and it would be for a very long time.

While Shuri had been putting Steve back together in Wakanda, and Natalia had been trying her best with Wanda, Bucky’d spent his days paying respects to the warriors that hadn’t made it out of the fight. He’d brought baskets of food, helped dig far too many graves, and had hugged countless mothers, fathers, children, wives, husbands...god, it hurt to think about it.

It was times like these when Bucky second guessed his choice to leave Africa. Honestly, they could’ve gotten Steve his own sarong, punched out part of the wall to put an addition on the hut, taken up raising chickens and goats, and Bucky could have pulled Steve into the simple life he’d built for himself. But Steve wasn’t simple. Never had been, never would be. And...Bucky was being stupid. His mind was being stupid. He liked being back in New York! Goddammit, he needed to stop!

Like that was gonna work.

The instant the jet had landed at the compound, Steve had been wheeled off to the medical wing, while Bucky’d been shuffled into a fancy conference room where Stark’s personal tailor had been waiting to fit him for his first black suit. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, James Buchanan Barnes had owned a single navy blue wool suit. And, not quite so long ago, during their time in The Red Room, Natalia had helped The Soldier slip into a dark grey, double breasted suit to infiltrate a charity ball and assassinate a Head of State. But never black. While the little Italian man had measured and pinned, Bucky’d fought the urge to find Steve, throw him over his shoulder (tubes and all), steal the quinjet, and hightail it back to Wakanda. But he hadn’t. Steve was his home, and New York was where Steve needed to be right now. Plus, there’d been memorials, tributes, and funerals to attend. Too many to count.

Bucky yanked the pillow down over his mouth because he knew exactly where his mind was heading next, and he didn’t wanna go there…not even a little bit.

There’d been no need for the tailor to coax Steve out of his hospital bed and fit him for a black suit, because he already had one from Peggy’s...dammit. Bucky bit the inside of his cheek, pushing the cotton and stuffing harder against his lips, and tried to hold back the tears and the inevitable string of swear words. It was one of Bucky’s greatest regrets that he hadn’t gone to Peggy’s funeral in London to say goodbye...to be there for Steve...to honor the memories of who she’d been to both of them. But he’d been to busy hiding like a scared child in Bucharest, burying everything in a ratty notebook and shoving the remnants of Peggy Carter beneath the rotting floorboards. Steve had tried his best to make Bucky feel better by talking about how hard it had been to visit Peggy, how much it had hurt to see her old and grey when it seemed like just yesterday that she'd been kicking ass and taking names. It didn’t work. No matter what Steve said, Bucky should've been there.

“Sergeant Bucky,” FRIDAY piped in. “I’d like to suggest removing the pillow from your face.”

What if he didn’t want to? What if he wanted to suffocate in his black suit fog for a few more minutes? But Shuri was here. He was getting hungry. Steve loved him. And he was alive. Those were all good things; things that Peggy Carter would have smiled about. Too bad it was only his imagination when Peggy ordered, ‘Get that pillow off your face right this minute, Sergeant Barnes!’

Yeah, that was Steve’s girl...

Throwing the pillow at his feet much harder than necessary, Bucky sucked in a huge breath of cloud free air. “That was some quality advice there, FRIDAY.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m glad that you found it helpful.”

“You know who else gives solid advice?” Bucky paused, punting the pillow the rest of the way off the end of the bed. “Shuri.”

It was true. Shuri had given him wisdom well beyond her years, and he’d tried to listen and learn as much as he could while he’d been in Wakanda. It was harder to stay on track without the humid weight of the jungle to keep him grounded, or the physicality of training with Okoye and Ayo to help him maintain his center, but Bucky genuinely tried his best to practice what Shuri’d taught him: forgive yourself, appreciate what’s right in front of you, get your lazy white ass out of bed, and, whenever he’d failed at the first three, ‘practice makes perfect, Bucky’. Right now, he needed to work on being less whiny, forgiving himself for...well, everything, but today it was Peggy specifically...and getting his lazy white ass out of bed.

Okay, start with the easiest step: get out of bed. He could do this. Bucky sort of rolled towards the windows, but all progress ended there. It was pathetic really, getting stuck in a really awkward half roll because he couldn’t get the meaning of those black suits out of his head. When he glanced at the closet, Bucky could feel their presence; the darkness of the Italian wool suspended on fancy wooden hangers and zipped into black garment bags...not unlike the bags that had housed the bodies of their friends. Fuck! Why the hell did this kind of shit always have to pop into his fucking head? But, now that his brain was on a roll (unlike his body), he had to let it run its course. It was the best way to make it stop.

Bucky’d worn his black suit and had stood in front of a still unsteady Steve three times that first god-awful week; tying Steve’s black tie in a perfect Windsor knot the very same way he had when Sarah Rogers had passed in 1936. The first knot had been tied to honor an empty coffin for Vision, the second to place a memorial for Thor’s fallen brother in Norway, and the third to stand on a stage next to the mayor in Central Park as thousands of New Yorkers held candles to mourn those killed by The Black Order and their ship.

As the tiny flames had flickered in the night air, Bucky’d taken a mindful breath for each lost soul: forty-nine people who’d been innocently going about their day in New York, two-hundred-sixty-five brave warriors in Wakanda, one for Vision, one for Loki, a moment of silence for the Asgardian lives lost, and another for the countless others destroyed by Thanos’ hand. Neither he or Steve had said it, but Bucky knew that they’d both been wondering the same damn thing: How the hell, after more than a century, were they the ones left standing? Especially when people so much more deserving were being lowered into the ground? But they’d stood side by side in their black suits, equally grateful and amazed that they could, without any real idea of what they were supposed to do next.

The ‘logical’ answer, according to Wilson, had been to set up a low-key apartment in The East Village. Brooklyn wasn’t home anymore, different was good, and the village still felt cozy. Stark had promptly outfitted the place with thousands of security gadgets that had thrown low-key right out the window: cameras, motion detectors, FRIDAY, a new vibranium door, bulletproof glass...you name it. It was absolute overkill, but, after getting fucking impaled on another planet, Stark had morphed into some kind of paranoid grandmother, chasing everyone around with a giant roll of bubble wrap.

A few days after they’d moved in, a crew of eight guys had shown up at six in the morning to replace their perfectly good windows. They’d only managed to remove all the windows by lunchtime, so Steve had thoughtfully made everyone huge turkey sandwiches with fresh tomato slices while trying his best to convince Bucky that, despite his previous plans to straight up murder The Soldier, Stark had always taken care of the Avengers.

Squinting at the cameras in all four corners of the bedroom, Bucky stuck his tongue out at the southeast voyeur, because, seriously, there was no way in hell that Stark’s protective streak had always been this extreme! Now, to be clear, Bucky appreciated security, but this apartment had been outfitted by an over-the-top, blue haired, cheek pinching Grandma version of Stark, who also happened to be buzzing on some high-quality crystal meth! At this rate, Bucky was expecting Stark to show up with two dozen homemade oatmeal raisin cookies tucked into a cute little basket, and all the equipment needed to install a lethal force field. Bucky chuckled, because maybe that’s why he was begrudgingly starting to like the guy? They shared the unstoppable desire to wrap Steven Grant Rogers in countless layers of bubble wrap. Oh, and the ‘no longer trying to kill him’ thing was pretty helpful too. Plus, Bucky loved cookies.

The thought of delicious Grandma cookies gave Bucky the extra push he needed to roll the rest of the way onto his stomach at the very edge of the bed. Progress. Letting one leg hang over the side, he adjusted his problematic dick. No, he wasn’t gonna hump the goddamn mattress (even though his brain was screaming that it was a great fucking idea at this point).

“FRIDAY,” he asked all casual. “How long till Steve gets home?”

“Twenty-one minutes less than the last time you asked.”

“Ugh,” Bucky groaned, giving in to the call of the cock and nailing the bed with a few good thrusts. “But I want pancakes.”

“I believe that pancakes are available to you, with or without companionship.”

“But I miss him…”

His five minutes were up (long ago), and he was still whining. It was mildly pathetic. He was also rubbing his dick on the bed, which was massively pathetic. But, c’mon, it was Steve. From the moment puberty’s flood of testosterone had informed Bucky’s brain that he wanted to make out with the little shit instead of just hangin’ out and reading comics together, he’d wanted Steve around all the damn time! His life trajectory had been pretty indicative of that hardwired desire! And, now that he’d finally gotten the balls to actually do something about it, it seemed pretty logical that Bucky’d be a tad possessive.

Before falling off the goddamn train, there’d only been a few times when Bucky’d been brave enough (or stupid enough) to touch Steve the way he’d really wanted to…

 

The Accidental Time:  Fourteen-year-old Bucky had been hauling around his new secret like a big ol’ sack of rocks. His back, shoulders, legs, heart...all of him...had been aching from it. Another school year was about to start, and he and Steve had wisely decided that one last summer hurrah had been in order. They’d hung out at the shore most of the day, snuck through a service entrance to crash the last three innings of a Dodgers game, then had jumped the turnstiles to catch the subway back to Bucky’s place. They’d done the couch cushion thing (like always), had analyzed the details of the game (like always), then had fallen asleep (like always). But, when they’d woken up the next morning, bones sore from the uneven cushions and the hardwood underneath, Bucky’d been wrapped around Steve’s back like a fucking octopus! Steve’s head had been jammed underneath his chin, Bucky’s knees had been bent like Steve was sitting on his goddamn lap, and, worst (or best) of all, Bucky’s arm had been looped around Steve’s tiny waist, his fingers tucked underneath the cotton of Steve’s shirt so he could feel his ribs expanding and contracting with every breath. Shockingly, Steve hadn’t made a move to untangle himself, letting Bucky breathe in the smell of his hair for what had felt like hours. But, the very second that Bucky’d heard Becca’s door creak open, he’d flung himself backwards so fast that he’d given himself an enormous goose egg on the back of his skull from crashing into the corner of the couch.

They’d never talked about it.

 

The Fear of Death Time: A few days before Bucky had left for Basic, he’d been scared half to death. He didn’t wanna go. He didn’t wanna leave Steve! He didn’t wanna abandon his mom and Becca! And, Jesus, he didn’t wanna die! Steve had been relaxing on the ratty couch in his living room, squinting at a newspaper, while Bucky'd been pacing in front of the window and trying not to stare at how pretty Steve’s shaggy blond hair looked in the afternoon light. Before he’d even realized what he was doing, Bucky had crawled past Steve to sit behind him on the back of the couch. When he'd looked over Steve’s scrawny shoulder, the headline had read ‘3rd Draft Assigns 9 Million Men’, and Bucky’s hands had started shaking at the very thought of firing a real gun. He'd slowly folded his fingers over Steve’s shoulders, the feeling of skin stopping the vibration as he’d rubbed a pattern of tiny circles. Bucky’d memorized the angle of Steve’s collar bones that day, the way his thumbs had felt sliding along the bottom edge of his scapulas, and the musical rhythm created by dragging his palms over the notches in Steve’s spine, because he’d known in his heart that he’d most likely never get the chance to feel them again. As the tears had quietly slipped down Bucky’s cheeks, Steve hadn't turned the page, reading (or pretending to read) the truth about Bucky’s situation, and never once turning around to question his wandering hands or his lies about getting drafted.

They’d never talked about it.

 

The Drunk Time: The instant Peggy Carter had waltzed into that London bar and into Bucky’s life with her gorgeous red dress, red lips, and pretty brown eyes aimed at Steve, and Steve alone, Bucky’s penchant for subtle pining had gone down the proverbial drain. He and Steve had fought that night, a flat out brawl, after Bucky’d downed more than his fair share of whiskey. In a tiny hotel room with flickering lights, Bucky’d spewed out a bunch of nonsense about loyalty before lunging at Steve and shoving his enormous new body up against the wall. He hadn’t hesitated; no pause, no shame, just years of pent up passion and desire driving him to kiss Steve right on his stupid, reckless lips. The crazy thing was, Steve hadn’t stopped him. In fact, he’d done quite the opposite; slowly breathing his air into Bucky’s lungs as he'd slid his tongue across Bucky’s lower lip. And that...well...that had been the best part and the saddest part mixed up into one messy chapter; the potential for something more making their whole story that much more tragic. The last thing Bucky remembered about that night was yelling, ‘And that was without any fancy red lipstick, asshole!’, before he’d passed out on the bed. The Howlies had launched the next day, and, even though Steve had thrown him lots of tiny smiles with pink cheeks as they’d trapsed around Europe...

...they’d never talked about it.

 

The Scrambled Eggs Time: Bucky, unfortunately, had been part of the captive audience who’d had to witness Steve awkwardly kissing Sharon Carter in Berlin. It was already bad enough that he’d been jammed into that ridiculously small backseat like a gorilla in a shoe box while the asshole who’d called shotgun had kept leaning his seat back further and further in some sort of spatial pissing contest. But then, adding insult to injury, Steve had decided to put on that little show. It didn’t matter that Bucky’s brain was still scrambled eggs with too many peppers, onions, and big chunks of sausage at that point; all of his pent up, bullshit pining had returned full force. On the drive to Leipzig, Bucky had ‘accidentally’ kicked Steve’s seat about fifty times as he’d regaled Sam with wonderfully detailed stories about Steve’s romance with Peggy, and, when Steve had turned around at a red light to give Bucky a sweet smile, he’d promptly flipped him off. The conversation that had followed had gone a little something like this…

 

Steve recklessly swerved across two lanes of traffic, cutting off not one, but two trucks before slamming the brakes as they hit the shoulder. It was only by the Grace of God that the Beetle didn’t slam into the guardrail!

“What the hell, Steve?” Sam yelled. “Did you see that truck? ‘Cause I sure as hell saw that truck! How about the other one? You know, the one with eighteen wheels!?”

Ignoring him completely, Steve turned his stupid face around and naively asked, “Buck, what’s wrong?”

Now, Bucky’d only known Sam for a few hours, but the way he was scrubbing his hands over his eyes and chuckling said that he’d already worked out the answer to that very stupid question. At least someone in this ‘car’ had a fucking clue!

Another truck laid on its horn as it flew past, the sound grating on Bucky’s nerves. “I dunno know, Steve,” he grumbled. “Even though I’m mentally unstable and I repeatedly tried to kill you yesterday, kissing Peggy’s niece in front of me like that was fucking bullshit!”

“Man, ain’t that the truth,” Sam mumbled.

“You just buried Peggy for Christ’s sake! It’s fucking gross, Steve!”

Bucky kicked the back of the seat two more times (hard) for good measure, as Sam whispered, “Preach.”

Maybe Bucky was gonna like this guy after all? He was tempted to go in for the high five.

Steve didn’t answer, but his cheeks flushed a nice shade of pink as he turned back around to grip the wheel. After a few tense beats, he aimed that stupid shy smile through the rearview mirror and muttered, “I’ve really missed you, Buck,” before pulling back into traffic.

 

Now, Bucky hadn't actually touched Steve in that little story (unless you counted the seat kicking), but it was the closest Bucky'd come to telling Steve how he felt with actual words, so he was gonna include it.

Oh, and they hadn’t talked about it again.

 

In classic Pining Bucky style, when the opportunity had presented itself, he'd frozen himself out of love...out of fear...whatever...he was thinking too much. The point was, Bucky felt justified being a little selfish now that he’d finally gotten his shit together enough to not only kiss Steve again, but to make out with the gorgeous, bearded Adonis on a regular basis.

“FRIDAY, can you order me pancakes? Two stacks, plus well done hashbrowns. And I want one of those breakfast smoothie things from that place around the corner. The kind with the bananas and peanut butter with that chalky protein powder stuff. And you’d better get double of everything in case our sleeping princess wakes up before dinner.”

“No.”

Bucky flopped off the edge of the bed and landed flat on his back. It hurt. His sweatpants were hanging off his ass and his hair was flopping in his face, blocking out the sunshine that was blasting through the window. He should probably get it cut…

He already knew what FRIDAY was gonna say, but he delivered his line anyway. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

“Doctor’s orders: to counter Sergeant Barnes tendency towards isolation, every effort shall be made to encourage positive interaction with the outside world. Mandates include: limiting access to carry-out, Amazon Prime, home delivery…”

“Blah, blah, blah,” he interrupted. “Got it. Thought maybe you’d ‘forget’ and do a guy a solid once in awhile.”

“I believe that I am ‘doing you a solid’, Sergeant Bucky, sir.”

The sigh was long and loud as Bucky dragged himself upright, gave his butt a good scratch, and yanked his sweats back up over his very persistent, very lonely, unyielding morning wood. Even though he and Steve had mastered the fine art of making out with lots of tongue, excelled at long hugs with cheeky ass grabs, and had recently ventured into the world of sloppy handjobs, so far Bucky’d only had the guts to tuck his dick into the space between Steve’s thighs while they spooned. Jumping right into actual sex had seemed...too fast? God, how the fuck was that logical? After decades of pining, how could anything be too fast? But it was. And he was totally okay with that. Great actually. Bucky’s cock really liked hanging out in the cozy cave between Steve’s thighs! The pressure created by the weight of Steve’s ridiculous leg muscles was heavenly, the feeling of Steve’s soft leg hairs rubbing up against the sensitive skin was perfect, and the heaviness of Steve’s balls smushed up against Bucky’s cock when he shifted his hips just right was, quite possibly, the best sensation in the world. Even though his love for Steve’s ball sack was a recent development, his dick felt lonely without that wonderfully warm space to subtly dry hump.

Wrapping his hand tightly around himself, he squeezed, letting his brain drift around in the magic of his new reality for a minute or two. Instead of spending hours staring longingly at the points of Steve’s shoulder blades moving underneath the cotton of his t-shirt or the heavy fabric of his uniform, Bucky got to press his lips against the bones while he slept. Instead of feeling guilty for wrapping his arms around Steve’s narrow waist, Bucky got to run his fingers up and down the trail of hair that led from Steve’s belly button down to his beautiful, hard…

Bucky’s cock jumped in his hand as a shot of energy pulsed through his belly. Yeah, that kind of thinking was making the lack of Steve worse, so Bucky let go and wandered towards the windows, letting his dick imitate a giant tent pole if it fucking felt like it.

Even though they’d only been in the apartment for a couple weeks, Steve had already tacked up a bunch of his sketches in random spots all over their bedroom walls: hearts filled with intricate Art Nouveau patterns, detailed drawings of the old stone bridges in Central Park, and studies of pigeons that Steve had inexplicably given a wide variety of hats (as if drawing pigeon portraits wasn’t already weird enough). Bucky’s favorite featured a very confused looking pigeon wearing a spiffy top hat and a monocle. It was titled ‘Should I invest in the B. & O. Railroad?’. God, Steve was such a weirdo! Chuckling, Bucky’s gaze drifted over the watercolor studies of his new arm, across the precise copies of colorful graffiti that Steve had drawn while sitting in the weirdest places, and past the caricature of Natalia sitting on Bucky’s shoulders with a big grin on her pretty cartoon face. But every bit of laughter got stuck in Bucky’s throat as soon as his eyes landed on the realistic portrait of Wanda.

Steve had gotten antsy on the flight back to New York, insisting that somebody bring him a pencil and paper immediately, despite the fact that he’d been strapped to a bed with a shit load of tubes sticking out of his body. Bucky’d flat out refused, quickly realizing that some things about Steve were never gonna change, but Sam, without the benefit of years to build up an immunity to Steve’s stupidity, had eventually given in. He’d propped Steve up as much as he could, stuck a metal case of grenades on his lap as a very dangerous makeshift table, then had handed over a black pen and a crinkled piece of paper. Bucky had sat in silence, watching Steve’s hands moving for over an hour, and tracking his gaze as it shifted back and forth from the paper to the dark corner behind the weapon’s rack. That's where Wanda had been slumped with her knees pulled up against her chest.

It physically hurt to look at the crinkled drawing, with the blobs of black ink smeared along the edges. Steve had included every strand of Wanda’s unbrushed hair, heavily shading her profile with overlapping lines, and had perfectly captured the tension in her jaw and the bitterness in her eyes. It broke Bucky’s heart to know that the lightness and humor he’d picked up on in Leipzig would most likely never return to Wanda Maximoff’s face.

Flicking the bottom of the drawing, Bucky sighed. Friends, old and new, recreated on paper, pigeons in newsboy hats and sombreros, the carefully drawn lines of the streetlamp outside their window...it didn’t matter...every sketch provided a glimpse of an extraordinary life, tacked up with push pins like a timeline out of order.

“Hey, FRIDAY,” he questioned. “Did Steve draw anything today?”

“It is not my role to spy on Captain Rogers for you, Bucky.”

“Oh, now you’re gonna call me ‘Bucky’? When you’re scolding me like a rebellious school boy? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? ‘Please turn in your homework, Bucky.’ versus ‘Why’d you cheat on the spelling test, Mr. Barnes!?’ I mean, that’s how I remember it working when I was in school.”

“The educational system has changed quite a bit since the 1930s, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Yeah, back then kids only had to dodge bullets in the war.”

Bucky meandered over to the window, staring out at a world full of new problems that he had no idea how to solve. God, that was too much to think about right now. He really needed to eat some pancakes and focus on the shit he could control.

The sun was shining in his eyes as he tapped the tips of his vibranium fingers against the glass, the gold seams shifting with each tiny impact. It was strange not being able to feel the vibration in his teeth like he could with the old arm. Shuri, genius that she was, had redesigned the internal structure to be lighter so it would roll and bend with his muscles and bones instead of grinding against them. Raising his other hand, he rapped all ten fingers in a symmetrical pattern; back and forth like music. Shuri had, as she’d put it, ‘blinged him out’. The flexible gold inlay allowed him greater range of motion and housed a kinetic energy system that rivaled T’Challa’s suit. And the color shifting vibranium allowed him to be less reflective and shiny if the mood struck. Bucky loved it. Spreading out his fingers and comparing his hands, his non-cybernetic one looked...boring? Plain? Decidedly ‘not blinged out’?

He squished up his face, feeling the beginnings of an idea forming, but not quite hitting on it yet. For all of Shuri’s fixes in that department, his brain still didn’t always cooperate. Blowing out a breath, Bucky gave his annoying dick a shove in the downward direction before looking around for a pair of tight underwear to contain the beast so he could march down the street and get himself some fucking pancakes! But, before he managed to get that far, a tiny drawing that he’d never seen caught his attention. The paper was only about three inches square, obviously ripped off of something bigger, and had been tacked up in the very corner of the room at raging boner level. Bucky never would have seen it if it wasn’t for his dick, so, thanks for that, Morning Wood. Pushing aside the leaves of their obnoxiously big fern, he bent over to get a good look at it.

Most of Steve’s drawings were so detailed that, if it wasn’t for the serum, Steve’s eyes would’ve raised the white flag, shriveled up from the strain, and fallen out of their sockets long ago. If a fat, New York pigeon was covered with two-hundred-thousand grey feathers, Steve would draw two-hundred-thousand-and-one. Every deep frown line around Wanda’s lips told the horrific story of what she’d been through. And Steve’s drawing of good ol’ Grand Central Station included every single brick and all fifty taxis parked out front (bored drivers staring at their phones included). But not this little sketch. Not at all. It was a roughly drawn heart with ‘S + B’ scrawled in the center, stained red with what looked like...lipstick...or maybe strawberry jelly rubbed into the paper with his finger? Bucky squinted at it, completely baffled by its simplicity as the fern took some serious abuse from his hard-on. Then, like a spotlight had literally switched on inside his head, the idea finally clicked.

Everything about their lives, together and apart, was complicated. No matter how badly they both wanted to spend ten days on a nude beach in the south of France, chasing sand crabs and smearing suntan lotion onto each other’s asses, it just wasn’t gonna happen. There would always be people who needed help, friends who were hurt...or worse...and problems that only people like Bucky and Steve were strong enough to solve. But this little heart? Bucky used his plain hand to carefully pull the silver tack out of the wall and lift the paper towards his face. This little heart was the opposite. It reminded Bucky of the way seventeen-year-old Steve had always insisted on helping his mother wash the dishes, stacking each mismatched piece in the cupboard like a work of art. It had always made Sarah smile, even at the very end when she’d been sick and frail. The simple lines reminded Bucky of how Steve still drank black coffee, even though, in this life, he could afford all the cream and sugar in the world. And the ‘S + B’? Yeah, that reminded Bucky of how simple their love was at the root.

That was it. They loved each other.

Carefully setting the drawing on the dresser, Bucky temporarily abandoned his pancake idea for one that was so much better. One that required a shower…

“FRIDAY, wake Shuri up. Jet lag or no jet lag, we’ve got places to go, people to see, and boring hands to fix!”

*****

 

Shuri hadn’t gone for Bucky’s plan. Well, at least not until after he’d apologized twenty times for waking her up, had lured her out of bed with Redbull, and had promised her a delicious lunch at the mom and pop diner a few blocks over. Even then, she’d dragged her feet until well past noon.

It had taken some serious sweet talkin’ on Bucky’s part to get Amy, his favorite waitress with the messy blonde hair, to ask the perpetually hungover cook to make his coveted pancakes. But, lucky for his stomach, Hydra hadn’t destroyed Bucky’s preternatural sweet talking powers, and Amy had a serious sweet spot for guys with long hair. How’d he know? Well, she’d flat out told him, on many occasions, that she had a reoccurring dream about running her fingers through his ‘delicious, chocolate strands’. Bucky liked her. She gave him free refills on coffee and always slid into the booth next to Steve when the diner was slow to Google cool ways for Bucky to style his hair.

The pancakes had been utterly delicious, Shuri’d loved her pastrami on rye, and Amy had shown them a picture of a top knot, braid kind of thing from a show called ‘Vikings’. And that was supposed to have been it: food then Bucky’s plan. Simple. But Shuri'd done a little sweet talking of her own, adding in a few stops before Bucky’s brilliant idea could be put into motion.

Stop one: The Empire State Building.

Iconic, sure, but it was too crowded, too claustrophobic, and...did he mention too crowded? Well, it was worth mentioning again! Too fucking crowded! Despite the hordes of overexcited tourists with selfie sticks, Bucky begrudgingly had to admit that getting a bird’s eye view of the ways the city had grown since he'd last stood at the top (with his ma and Becca, somewhere around 1939) had been breathtaking. Words couldn’t really describe how the gleaming buildings rising far above his vantage point had made him feel, but it was fair to say that Bucky’d felt like he’d stepped out of a time machine (even more than usual). A mental note had been made: take Steve early one morning, when the doors were first unlocked and the tourists hadn’t converged, just to watch his face light up.

Stop two: Rock & Soul Records.

Shuri loved hip-hop; new school, old school, rare, preferably on vinyl, and Bucky’d been more than happy to spend an hour watching her smile get wider and wider as she’d found gems by artists that Bucky had never heard of.

Stop Three: Shit you not, they were getting their nails done.

 

“Are you sure that color is the best choice for you, Bucky?” Shuri teased. “It is very...I think you would say, ‘gothic’.”

“For your information, it’s called ‘Road House Blue.” Bucky held up his boring hand (slightly less boring with three freshly painted nails) and flashed it back and forth, squishing up his nose at the disgusting smell. Obviously, this was a new thing for Bucky, but, he had to admit, getting your hand massaged while listening to soothing Vietnamese music wasn’t half bad.

“It looks black.”

Shuri’s accent made every word that came out of her mouth seem so damn important, like she’d just declared ‘Road House Blue’ an unacceptable hue for the entire Wakandan population. Bucky smiled, because she was a lot like T’Challa in that respect: royal, confident, and poised.

Much to the chagrin of the young Vietnamese woman trying to paint Shuri’s nails, she held up her own hand for Bucky to inspect and decreed, “This, my friend, is a special day! A celebration of our reunion! Don’t you think you should have picked something sassy and fun? Something a little more like me?”

“I’m not painting my fingernails pink!” Bucky chuckled, carefully lifting the bright pink bottle off the table with his metal hand to read the label. “Oh, and definitely not with a color called ‘Girl Without Limits’!”

“Why not? Are you a girl with limits?” She held his gaze, all serious, as Bucky pondered the deeper meaning of that question. Was Shuri calling him a girl? Was it a dare? Would he look good in pink? What the hell? He was beyond confused...

Their intense stare down lasted a full minute before Shuri cut him some slack. Throwing her head back and laughing, she managed to stammer, “Oh, Broken White Boy, you should have seen your face. Priceless. Did you get that? Please, tell me you got that!”

“Did who get what?” Bucky flipped his head around just in time to see Tien, the little old lady who owned the shop, sheepishly creeping out from the back hallway. She shakily handed Shuri back her phone, glittery case and all, and side eyed Bucky like she’d just committed the crime of the century.

“Oh, my brother is going to love this one!” Stretching out her arms like she was reading a marquee, Shuri dramatically announced, “Now showing. The magnificent White Wolf ponders masculinity and the undeniable beauty of the color pink!”

“Really? You’re gonna play me like that?”

Shuri’s finger hovered above the send button as she teased, “Maybe I should use one of my lovely pink nails to whisk this treasure off to your boyfriend too, hmm?”

Every women in the shop giggled: the four Vietnamese girls using tiny brushes to paint nails and toes, the receptionist pretending to talk on the phone, the two middle age ladies getting their own fancy manicures, and the saucy woman with the dreadlocks sitting by the door. Bucky’d declared her ‘saucy’ for several reasons. One: she’d been winking at Bucky every five minutes since they’d arrived. Two: her nails were long dry (so there was no good reason for her to be here). Three: she’d been hiding behind the latest issue of People Magazine (the one with Stark on the cover) between her unsubtle wink attacks. Now, she was cackling and not even trying to hide it, making two-dimensional Stark shimmy and shake.

Bucky took his sweet time giving each lovely lady a very dirty look, calling Tien a traitor in Vietnamese before throwing her a crooked little smile (he’d learned the language in the sixties. He didn’t like remembering how). But, he must be losing his touch, because all nine of them kept giggling, Stark kept right on shaking, and Shuri outright snorted.

“Wow.” Bucky tried not to laugh. “I open my home, share my pancakes, stand in that horrible line at The Empire State Building, get dragged into a dusty record store…”

“You loved the record store,” Shuri interrupted, perfectly arching one eyebrow. “The Curtis Mayfield record leaning against your chair proves that.”

Groaning, Bucky ignored her very true statement...Steve was gonna love the record...but that wasn’t the point! “And," Bucky scoffed, “I let you talk me into this...whatever this is...and…”

“This, my friend, is pampering yourself,” Shuri interrupted again (she was good at that), “and making yourself look beautiful in the process.”

“Who said I want to look beautiful?”

“Nobody.” She smiled, big and bright, and Bucky couldn’t help but follow suit when she said, “Now, will you at least let these wonderful ladies paint your toes pink? If you do, I’ll have mine painted black.”

“Road House Blue.”

“Bucky, your appointment isn’t for over an hour! Live a little! This is the perfect opportunity for you to fill me in on all the juicy gossip about Steve.”

“Oh my god, Shuri, I’m not a teenager!”

“Yes, but I am, and I flew halfway around the world to watch your face turn red in person when you tell me how it feels to finally call the love of your life your boyfriend! I know you’ve been holding out on me, Bucky Barnes!” Pointing at her phone, she quirked up the corner of her mouth. “So spill, or, I swear, I’ll hit send.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, but I would.”

Yeah. She would.

"Fine,” he grumbled. “But only if I get a foot massage too. The same way Lieu here rubbed my fingers.” Bucky smiled at the girl, loving her chin length bob and the white lily in her hair. “Because, darlin’, that felt amazing.” The poor thing blushed so hard that Bucky was genuinely concerned she was gonna pass out.

“Yes!” Shuri did some kind of celebratory arm motion that Bucky didn’t really understand, and guilty Tien immediately shooed Lieu out of the way to lift Bucky’s shoes onto some sort of special footstool/rubbing apparatus. Guess the penance for aiding in video blackmail was rubbing the big dude’s feet, which, sadly for Tien, was gonna be cruel and unusual punishment since Bucky’d thrown on his gym shoes. The smelly ones.

“I know you kissed Steve in Wakanda,” Shuri blurted out, plain as day, to an immediate chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’.

Yanking off his shoes and socks, Bucky snapped, “I did not!”

Three seconds of stinky gym shoe exposure was all it took for poor Tien to turn a sickly green, so Bucky tossed the offending items into the back hallway before finishing his bullshit denial. “The world was ending, a space raccoon was crawling on my arm, those goddamn alien things were fucking everywhere…”

Suddenly, Tien slapped the bottom of his foot hard enough to sting and spewed a torrent of rapid Vietnamese in his direction. The gist was, ‘Watch your language in the presence of such an impressionable young girl!’ and Bucky got a sudden flash of his mother saying the exact same thing (not in Vietnamese) after he’d dropped a bag of flour on his toes and had screamed ‘fuck!’ in front of Becca.

Holy shit! Swiveling his head towards Shuri, Bucky couldn’t believe he hadn’t put it together earlier! Sassy attitude, book smarts and street smarts, always knowing the right thing to say…

He had to take several really deep breaths to slow his heartbeat, because, Jesus, Shuri reminded him of his sister…

“You were talking about kissing Steve…”

“What?”

A kissing sound came from behind People Magazine as Shuri stretched out her arm to gently touch his metal wrist. She was always so kind when Bucky drifted off, understanding that some pieces of his mind would always get lost in the memories, despite the healing power of vibranium.

Her touch grounded him enough to say, “I was talking about not kissing Steve, but thanks for reminding me.”

“You kiss Captain America?” Tien piped in as she ran her thumbs across his arches. Her English was broken, her accent thick, but her tone demanded an answer.

“He’s not called that anymore. And no, I don’t.”

Tien rubbed his left foot a little harder, making it feel so good as she raised her eyebrows. In fact, all of them were staring at him with raised eyebrows as the old woman skillfully used foot rubbing magic to sap his will.

It felt sooo good...

Finally, Bucky accepted defeat. It was no use to resist. They’d won. “Fine. I kissed Steve in Wakanda.”

It was like Bucky’d announced that he’d rescued a tiny kitten from a burning house and had personally given it mouth to mouth resuscitation before cleaning the soot of its fur like a mama cat with his sandpaper tongue. There was cheering and grinning, and Shuri looked like she’d eaten the mother fucking canary. The whole scene was weirder than that grunting teenage tree.

“He had the beard then, right?”

The squeaky voice had come from his left, on the other side of Shuri. It was the lady with frizzy bleach blond hair and bright green glasses who was getting little...jewels?...stuck on her frighteningly long nails. Bucky was pretty sure she was drooling.

“Um, yeah, he showed up with the beard. Waltzed into my hut while I was taking a nap and…”

“Your hut?” People Magazine finally lowered Stark enough to reveal more than just her winky eyes. Her lips were shockingly fuschia.

“Yes, I was in Africa and…”

“I wanna hear about the beard!” the redhead next to Green Glasses rudely interrupted. She was getting her toes painted turquoise; the color of the Mediterranean water that Bucky desperately wanted to be swimming in with Steve…

“I bet he brushes it. Does he brush it? Or, even better, does he let you brush it?” Green Glasses leaned forward as far as she could without falling out of her chair, and you could’ve heard a pin drop; the peanut gallery dying to find out if Bucky groomed the man formerly known as Captain America.

Bucky laughed. What else was he supposed to do? He distinctly remembered scrawny Steve Rogers turning eighteen and bitchin' for hours about the three solitary hairs sprouting out of his chin. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, three.

“Shuri, payback for this is gonna be a bitch…”

“Oh, Bucky. You know I can handle anything you throw my way.”

Yeah, he had no doubt about that.

Ten pairs of eyes stared at him with rapt attention as Tien put weird foamy things between his toes and unscrewed the bottle of ‘Girl Without Limits’. It was weird. Was this how women always acted in large groups? Was this a normal thing? Whatever, Bucky settled back in his chair to watch as Tien started painting his big toenail bright pink. If these gossipy ladies wanted to know about a kiss in a hut, then Bucky was gonna tell them about a kiss in a hut…

 

 

Bucky knew that Steve was on his way to Wakanda. That was where the fight was gonna be, so that’s where Steve was gonna be. Simple. Bucky also knew that he finally felt ready to see him. He’d worked hard, training his body and his mind, learning to smile again from a princess, learning to trust again by truly befriending a King, and learning to trust himself through the faith of those around him. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t freaking the fuck out!

After Shuri had certified Bucky ‘Non-Toxic and Soldier Free’, he could’ve moved to the city at any point. T’Challa had invited him over and over, generously offering him a house of his own or a fancy room in the palace...Shuri’d even joked about throwing an air mattress in the corner of her lab...but Bucky liked his hut. It made him feel safe and calm. So, while everyone else was waiting anxiously for Steve’s team to arrive and preparing for the coming threat, Bucky’d wandered back to his tiny house with the dirt, the lingering scent of fire, and the peaceful view of the lake so he could freak the fuck out in peace and try to take a goddamn nap before the shit really hit the fan!

Steve already knew what Bucky’d been up to. There’d been a few phone calls, a couple letters, they'd Skyped...nothing about his recovery had been a secret...but Steve hadn’t come to Wakanda after Shuri had pulled him out of cryo. And he hadn’t come when she’d done the surgery to attach his new arm. Bucky’d told him not to. Not yet. Not until he was sure. Not until he was ready. Honestly, he’d probably been ready a few months back...no, scratch that...he’d definitely been ready a few months back...but the whole thing was plums, and Bucharest, and a god-awful hangover in a London hotel room all over again. At least it was, until T’Challa had broken the news this morning that the world was ending and Steve was already on his way.

Wriggling around on the mat, he tried to find a comfortable position to stare at the tiny footprints in the dirt. The kids liked to spy on him when he was sleeping. It was creepy, yes, but he’d grown to love their sweet faces and the overlapping footprints they left behind. Bucky desperately tried to let his eyes glaze over...focus on the tiny circles from tiny toes...remember the way Steve had smiled in that tiny car...tiny dimples...tiny chest hairs peeking out the top of a light grey t-shirt…

 

 

“Buck?”

“Mmm?”

“Bucky, wake up…”

There was a soft chuckle coming from far overhead, and, when Bucky’s eyes snapped open, he found himself face to face with a pair of very beat up brown boots. Big feet juxtaposed in the center of tiny footprints. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah, good to see you too.” Steve was hunched over, the top of his head hitting the thatched roof as he gave Bucky that smile.

God, he was so beautiful. Why the hell hadn’t Bucky told him to come sooner?

He must have been in shock, because he blurted out, “You have a beard.”

Reaching up, Steve brushed the hairs with his fingers. “Yeah, I definitely do. And, since we’re pointing out the obvious, you look like Jesus.”  

Bucky blinked a few times, taking in Steve’s long legs, the way his sleeves were rolled up, how his hair was long enough to curl over his collar, and made a split second decision that he should’ve made a lifetime ago. Rolling over to reach the buckles and laces on Steve’s boots, he started undoing all of them immediately. “Steve?”

“Yeah, Buck?”

“Will you lie down with me? Before all of this starts...or ends? I just wanna hold you...without these boots, without that uniform, without all of it actually.”  

And there it was. All of Bucky’s cards thrown on the table along with the last of his cash, seventy-six cents in change, his watch, his secrets, and his wildly beating heart. It felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the hut as Bucky undid the last of Steve’s buckles and waited...and waited...and waited…

Finally, Steve stepped out of his boots without a word, dropping his harness before letting the heavy fabric of his uniform fall from his body piece by piece. Bucky glanced up just in time to watch the stiff line of Steve’s shoulders relax, his face visibly softening as he wiggled his toes in the center of the footprints wearing nothing but a pair of white boxers. The whole thing felt like a wonderful dream.

Before Steve could change his mind, Bucky threw back his woven blanket and scooched over to make room. Of course, he’d flat out forgotten that he was buck-ass naked except for the sarong tied around his waist and a healthy African tan. Oops. But, seeing as Steve immediately dropped to his knees, taking his sweet time checking him out from head to toe, Bucky figured he was cool with it.

Chuckling a little, Steve quipped, “This feels even more taboo because you look like Jesus…”

“Oh, yeah?” Bucky patted the empty space next to him...wanting...needing Steve to fill it...and threw the joke right back at him. “Well, you’ve always been a rule breaker.”

“Yeah, but not a sacrilegious one!”

It was amazing how quickly and naturally their banter came back, how easily the jokes rolled off Bucky’s tongue. As Steve carefully crawled under the blanket, curling up in front of him so their knees touched, it felt like the easiest thing in the world. Without breaking eye contact, Steve wiggled closer and closer until their noses were only a few inches apart. Bucky could feel Steve’s breath...actual warm air from his lungs blowing across his cheek...and it was like sharing a frosty bottle of root beer on a blazing hot summer day. Perfect.

“Have you always known?” Bucky asked, because there wasn’t a hint of surprise in Steve’s features; no shock, no ‘what the hell are we doing?’, just an overwhelming sense of summertime calm.

“Yeah.” Steve carefully brushed a piece of hair out of Bucky’s face. “I’ve known since that day at the ballfield when Ferris Dolan socked me in the jaw ‘cause I’d ratting him out for stealing that kid’s mitt. After you ran him off, you marched me over to the bench and carefully brushed my hair out of my face...just like this.” The tips of Steve’s fingers glanced Bucky’s cheekbone as he pushed another long strand behind his ear, lingering for a moment on the ticklish spot on the back of his neck. There was nothing platonic about the feelings that were zinging through Bucky’s stomach, or the way that Steve was staring deep into his eyes with something like devotion.

“We were…” Bucky searched for the memory. “...we were... twelve! Are you serious!? I didn’t even know when we were twelve!”

Smiling, Steve rubbed his thumb over Bucky’s jawline, sensually, lovingly… “I know that too. You didn’t really figure it out till we were a little older. Around fourteen, I think. You started staring at me like I was an ice cream cone or something.”

“Ice cream?” Bucky laughed, not caring that he was blushing like an idiot.

“Yeah. Ice cream! You’d get this look in your eyes, like I was three heaping scoops of vanilla melting down the sides of a sugar cone and you wanted to lick up all the drips.” Steve quickly kissed the tip of Bucky’s nose, which was even more surprising than his shockingly accurate ice cream analogy.

“But…” A thousand questions raced through Bucky’s mind: Why? All this time? What the hell?...but Steve was here now, right now, and he was close enough to see every pore, every fleck of blue in his intricate eyes, and the eight million beard hairs sprouting from a face that used to grow only three. It took about half a second for Bucky to realize that the answers didn’t matter. Why waste time answering questions from the past when your future is literally half an inch from your face, staring at you with a shy little grin?

Carefully sliding his flesh and bone hand around the back of Steve’s neck, Bucky could feel the muscles going pliant beneath his fingers as he pulled their bodies closer together. When Bucky finally kissed him, he paused the instant their lips first touched, appreciating the moment their whiskered smiles rubbed against each other for the first time. There was so much happiness in that ticklish touch, so much history balled up into one point of contact, and it wasn’t without meaning when Bucky chose to slowly run his tongue across Steve’s bottom lip; a tribute to the past before he lead them to places they’d never been.

“I love you,” Bucky whispered before kissing Steve like he’d always dreamed about. Soft and hard, slow and fast, careful and sloppy, all of it...all at once…

He couldn’t get enough.

When Steve finally pulled away, he buried his face in Bucky’s hair and murmured, “It’s always been you, Bucky. I was just stupidly waiting for you to ask me.”

God, Steve was an idiot. A big, stupid idiot who Bucky loved with every fiber of his equally stupid being. Suddenly, after all these years, asking seemed like the easiest thing in the world too.

Bucky kissed Steve’s forehead, then kissed it three more times for good measure, before whispering, “Steven Grant Rogers, you’re my everything, and I’ll love you till the end of the line. Will you marry me?”

 

 

“What!?” Shuri jumped right up out of her chair, weird pink foamy toe things and all, and screamed, “You’re engaged! Are you kidding me!?”

There were squeals all around, Green Glasses started crying, Redhead’s mouth was catching flies, and People Magazine shouted, “That’s right, son! Get your man! You get him!” over and over as Bucky glanced down at his perfectly painted pink toes. ‘Girl without limits’ indeed.

Lieu literally ran up behind Tien, bumping into the old woman as she gasped, “Did he say yes!?”

“Well, if Shuri'd let me finish my story, you’d already have your answer.” Bucky waited a beat before smiling. “But, seeing how I was so rudely interrupted...”

“Bucky!” Shuri was bouncing up and down on her wet toes, excited like a kid at Christmas. “Tell us!”

There was no question that Shuri would forgive him for leaving out big chunks of the story when they’d talked. He knew that she’d understand Bucky’s reasons for underplaying the past few weeks; that his insistence that he and Steve were simply ‘trying out the boyfriend thing’ was a form of self-preservation in case the whole thing had gone to hell, and that the guilt of finding happiness when Shuri was going through so much suffering made it hard to tell the truth. He still felt bad for not telling her sooner. They were friends...real friends...which was something Bucky hadn’t had for a very long time. But, the reality was, sometimes you have to keep things close to your heart, nourishing them and keeping them safe in their own little space to grow and flourish before opening the doors for all to see. Watching Shuri dancing in a little circle as the women clapped out a beat, Bucky knew that the time had come to let the giant cat out of the bag.

“Okay, okay,” Bucky hollered over the commotion, waiting a few seconds for everyone to calm the hell down. “Turns out, when Steve said he was ‘waiting for me to ask him’, he meant asking if I could kiss him…” Chuckling, he remembered Steve’s sugar glider eyes. “But, lucky for me, after a few minutes of complete and utter shock, he rolled with my impulsive proposal and said yes. Well, first he yelled, ‘Holy shit, are you serious?’, but, after I kissed him again, he totally said yes.”

“Tell me you’re keeping the beards for the wedding!” Green Glasses was getting kinda scary with all the tears. She was probably gonna explode. “You have to keep them!”

“Bucky Barnes! I cannot believe that you kept this to yourself!” Shuri put her hands on her hips, pink fingers sticking out at funny angles, and blue toes pointing at the ceiling.

“Honestly, we both thought we were gonna die in the space apocalypse, so…”

Real crocodile tears were running down Green Glasses face as she yelped, “So, you’re not getting married?”

“No, no, we’re getting married...I mean...actually...we already are.”

People Magazine ditched the magazine, stood up, and transformed into Bucky’s biggest fan. “That a’boy!” she yelled. “Put a ring on it! That’s how you get your man!”

“I am speechless.” Waddling over, Shuri kissed Bucky’s cheek. “And I am never speechless.”

“I know, I’m sorry. But it just seemed…” Bucky drifted off. He hated to say it out loud and bring down the mood, but she deserved to know. “We were planning on having a party when people felt like celebrating again, but, with everything that happened, with all the people we lost…” Pausing, he looked Shuri in the eyes. “With all the people you lost, it didn’t seem right to make a big deal out of it. Two weeks back, it was a beautiful sunny day and we'd decided to walk through Midtown and grab some pizza for lunch, but, somehow, we ended up at the courthouse filing for our license instead. We got married in jeans and t-shirts a few days later by a really old judge named Clyde, then grabbed a couple beers at a dive bar afterwards. It was kinda perfect...just the two of us, I dunno…”

He shyly met the gaze of every woman in the room, amazed by the smiles, the happiness, the acceptance. Even scary Green Glasses, with her creepy tears, was making him feel like the king of the world. God, getting a chance to live in this time? How the hell had he gotten so goddamn lucky?

Shuri’s smile was the biggest of all when she said, “I can’t imagine anything more perfect for you, Bucky, but…” She paused, bending over to give him her ‘serious face’. “...when the two of you do decide to plan that celebration, which you should, I'd better be the first one you call, Mr. Married Man. Party planning is one of my many specialties.”

“Smartest person on the planet and a top notch party planner? Wow, Shuri, way to make the rest of us feel inferior.”

Bucky laughed, light and easy, as Tien carefully put the finishing touches on his toes. If Becca could only see him now...

It hurt a little when Shuri poked him in the neck, then his ear, then his cheek. “Say I get to plan your party!” She laughed, adding a poke to his chest, his armpit, on the dimple in his chin. “Say it!”

“Okay, okay! Deal!”

As she took a satisfied step backwards and grinned, Bucky saw a hint of his sister’s smile.

“Good!” Shuri declared. “Now, as soon as your pretty pink toes are dry, I think it’s time to get a tattoo!”