He likes it more than he wants to – the steady pound of his fists against her gloved hands, the tension in his stomach. Steve is no pacifist, not when he believes in necessary wars, in justifiable violence. But he didn’t relish waking to a world tangled in senseless wars.
Except he finds peace in this. He was raised in the war for food, of being another skinny, hungry kid from Brooklyn. He was raised into a war against his own body, the rattle of his lungs. He was raised into a war he could believe in, an enemy he could hate. So, maybe it’s not strange that he finds peace at 2 AM in the SHIELD facility gym with Clint and Natasha.
But that doesn’t mean Steve likes himself while he’s at it.
“Time,” Clint calls from where he’s lounging on the folded-up gym mats. He’s deceptively languid, but Steve can see the tension in his arms, how his bow remains close to his grasp. It’s the same as looking in the mirror.
Steve and Natasha break away, and he finds himself tired. A hint of exhaustion. “How’d I do?” Steve asks and aims a grin at her.
“Better than last time but not your best,” she replies, unlacing the gloves. They don’t usually full-out spar, haven’t now, but he wonders who would win if there was no time limit. They both are older than they look, both a little less and a little more than human. Only he’s made for war, and she’s made for damage control. He would win the battle.
But looking at her, short red hair and careful eyes, he can’t deny that she would win the war. She tosses him the gloves, and he catches them, instinctive. “Your go?” he asks, already starting to put them on. They’re one of Tony’s inventions, made to fit whoever held them.
“Can we have a shooting contest instead?” Clint asks, twisting an arrow between his fingers. “I’m bored.”
“You chose to come,” Natasha says flatly.
“I was kind of hoping to record Black Widow vs Captain America and post it on the internet for money. Got to make a living.”
“Up for that, Black Widow?” Steve teases.
“As long as there aren’t any superpower frisbees at play.” Natasha arches an eyebrow. “But I think you should get some rest.”
Steve resists the urge to pull a face. He’s ninety-six years old, and he isn’t going to be childish. “You two are still up.”
“Super spies don’t need rest,” Clint says. “As for me, I’m just cool like that.”
But from the way the two agents exchange glances, a flicker of an expression that says more than their words will, Steve comes to another conclusion.
“When do you get back?” Steve asks, stomach sinking.
“Super secret spy stuff,” Natasha replies, not bothering to deny it. “Maybe night time jogging will help.”
“You’re Captain America,” Clint agrees. “Not like you’ll get mugged.”
They don’t really talk about it, but there’s a reason Steve’s here instead of safe in bed. He can’t sleep. He likes to joke that he’s just making up for all the years he did spend asleep, but he doesn’t really know what it is. Moonlight jogging isn’t such a bad idea.
He finishes up lacing his gloves. “One more go?”
Natasha smiles and shifts into stance.
Darcy almost chokes on the coffee. “What is this shit?” They’re sitting in one of those hipster vegan coffee shops that he’s wanted to check out, with the sunlight filling the small, cozy interior. Bucky doesn’t think he’s very hipster, and he’s only vegetarian on Wednesdays and Fridays, but what’s the point of living in New York City if he never frequents over-expensive coffee shops?
If Bucky’s honest, it’s because he’s really into the latte art.
“It’s real coffee, Darcy,” he says, swiping back his coffee. “And you’re the one who decided to steal it.”
“Like the foolish youth I was,” she agrees. She takes a sip of her own coffee, grimacing at the taste, even though it’s more cream and sugar than anything else. He’s staring at her, waiting for her to have a heart attack and die on the spot. “I miss fraps.”
Bucky snorts. “That’s pretty much a milkshake.”
“Listen, I’m doing my fucking political communications fucking master’s at NYU, and I need fucking sugar.” She points a plastic spoon at his direction. “Caffeine doesn’t even work on me.”
“Guess I can see why you were a political science undergrad and not a hard science one.” He takes another sip of his coffee. He almost hates doing it, watching the art vanish into nothing. He’s no artist, but but it’s almost too beautiful to drink. Touch. Destroy. He stops thinking about it. “How’s your thesis going?”
“Brilliant. I’ve actually got an interview with Pepper Potts. Not an Avenger, sure, but she’s one of Forbes top 100 most influential women. Definitely one of my role models.”
They talk a little about her thesis, how much she loves her Greek professor (Bucky maintains there’s no reason to take Greek), before he circles back to the point.
“So, that’s your news?”
“The reason you texted me about five times this morning?” He loves Darcy, but she spends too much time with her thesis to remember much of anything else. She’s a fully capable adult, with a sharp tongue and taser to match, but she would genuinely forget her own head if it wasn’t attached to her body.
“Oh, yeah.” Her gaze brightens. “Man, you won’t believe this – actually, you will, because I’m awesome, but I got you a slot on the radio. 93.9 FM, 1 AM to 2 AM which isn’t great, I know, but this is the city that never sleeps. You’ll finally be free to bother people with old music and your NYC opinions.”
Bucky’s a big talker. It’s not a surprise to anyone who knows him. He’s easy-going, good with the ladies and gentlemen, and lends an ear. He’s been a little different, since he’s come back from fighting, a little quieter. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, how to not be fucking startled by a car horn in New York City.
When Darcy suggested it, he didn’t really think it was going to happen. He had a few good friends in the industry, but he’s had no experience himself. All that Bucky can really put on his resume is two summers working at the local ice cream shop in Brooklyn and a few tours of Afghanistan.
“Oh,” he finally manages to say. “Wow. I didn’t really think – wow.”
“You’re going to have to talk a little more to make this gig work, Barnes,” Darcy says, but she looks pleased at the wonder on his face. He kind of feels like a kid again, reading comics and believing anything could happen. It’s been a while since he felt like this. “Don’t mind the night time part too much?”
“It’s like you said.” He takes another sip of his coffee. “It’s the city that never sleeps.”
Steve isn’t great at the internet (it’s a lot, and don’t get him started on the memes Tony texts him), but he’s figured out Google. He buys a lavender candle, because Google says that might help him sleep. He lowers the temperature in his room. He already wears woolen socks to bed, so there’s nothing there to change. He practices breaths. He tries to go for a jog, but it takes a superhero to wear a superhero out. There is no exhaustion in the dimly lit streets of Brooklyn.
So, it’s another night of staring at the ceiling, hands at his sides. Sometimes, late at night, he thinks about praying, but he doesn’t know what to ask. He hasn’t prayed since he woke up from the sea and stared at that ceiling fan, and his first thought was God –
He isn’t about to finish that prayer now.
Steve runs out of that building, into a city he didn’t know. Into a street full of automobiles and buildings with flashing colors and screens. In the middle of a street, heart shuddering, until a voice steadies him, calling him by a name he knows.
At ease, soldier.
He doesn’t know how to find that ease now. Groaning, he rolls over on his stomach to reach for the alarm clock. One of the websites suggests that he turns it away from him, but he hates not knowing what time it is. It’s too easy to let minutes slip by. In his case, years. His hands fumble, and he somehow turns on the radio on it instead.
“No, listen, it’s shit. Avoid the station on 215th Street because – hold on, Darcy, can I say that? Oh, yeah, it’s nighttime, right. Kids, don’t listen in. Anyway, I’m freezing my ass off, and it’s sketchy. Re-route. Take the pavement.”
The voice is low and settling. Steve searches for the word for it, and it takes a few more seconds before he finds it. Ease. There’s a faint New York accent he could recognize anywhere, and right now, he wants to listen. Besides, didn’t one of the sites also suggest doing something that’s not sleeping for ten minutes? Yeah, this is going to be his ten minutes.
“Right, so, discussion on subway stations done. Once again, this is Bucky Barnes on 93.9. I haven’t really thought of a name yet for the show. Guess it’s kinda cheesy, but my producer thinks it’s really important. Call in if you want to talk about more shitty parts of NYC – God, I love it, but we know it’s true – or if you have any suggestions. Barnes Broadcasts? Bucky… Bakes? What am I saying? I can’t cook for shit.”
Steve finds himself reaching for his phone before he remembers himself. Captain America calling into a radio show is hardly a good idea.
“No call-ins? I guess I could always resort to puns. Or not. Playing now is It’s Only A Paper Moon by Paul Whiteman. If everyone’s asleep, no one can complain about my taste in music.”
He recognizes the song, and God, he’s never liked it. It used to play on the radio all the time when he was a teenager. But he’s content to listen to it. And the next one. Until he falls asleep to Bucky Barnes describing the snowfall that morning.
On reflex, Steve lifts the shield just in time for something bright to hit it hard, sending him back a step. He lowers it after a moment, finding Tony holding a small object in his hand with interest. “I thought I was here to get the shield tested,” he says dryly.
“And that was obviously a scientific test of the shield,” says Tony. Very convincingly.
The Stark labs are the kind of modern that he always imagined fifty years in the future would look like. Flat white surfaces, steel and glowing blue, strange objects flitting here and there in the corner of his eye. Steve would try to keep his eye on all of them, but it’s downright impossible. Not unlike Tony.
“What is all this stuff?” he asks, dodging a light blue disk.
“JARVIS, cancel procedure 32,” Tony waves a hand.
“Procedure 32 cancelled, sir,” JARVIS says, and all the floating things come to a rest. “Pepper has also left you a message stating: ‘Sweetheart, will you – ”
“That’s enough for now, thanks,” Tony speaks over him.
“You’re welcome, sir.”
“I’m not sure if my programming for it to understand human vocal patterns isn’t working, or if it’s just ignoring me.” Tony sits back on one of the stools, hands busy at pulling up some hologram.
“If he’s anything like me, I imagine the latter,” Steve says, and he can’t help teasing, “And there’s nothing wrong with some affection.” He doesn’t have much to say on it, but he remembers the quick kisses in his hair from his mother, the yearning warmth in his chest.
Tony snorts. “Dating advice from the senior citizen? When was the last time you were on the scene, Cap?”
Steve doesn’t want to answer that. “What are you doing?” he asks instead.
Tony flicks his hands, and another hologram rises. Although a deep blue and slightly translucent, it’s a perfect replica of Captain America. Captain America not Steve Rogers because he’s in uniform with the shield by his side, expression stern. But – there’s a nervous crossing of the fingers, the way he glances up right before doing anything reckless. Captain America and a little Steve Rogers.
“Do you have one of… everyone?”
“Only the ones I can develop for,” Tony replies. “I doubt Bruce needs any help. Or Wanda.”
Steve doesn’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, and he doesn’t really want to ask. He watches Tony as he zooms in and pans out of various parts of his body, muttering to himself. Steve has always been smart, but he spends most of his time nowadays being surrounded by the best minds of the generation. Steve has never been too proud to admit he has no idea what the hell Tony is doing.
“Here,” Tony says. “Sit, Prince Charming.”
Steve gives him a look (“try denying it, blondie”), but he concedes and takes a seat on the surface of the table. It’s a little like when he got examined for the serum, but Tony’s unhelpful comments off-set any major resemblance. Medical professionals tend to be a little more professional.
“Seriously, though, when was the last time you were on the scene?” Tony asks.
“What are we calling the scene?” Steve is forced to ask. He usually tries to avoid asking Tony these things, looking it up for himself when he gets a chance, but he can’t avoid the question the second time.
Tony lights up with glee. This here is why Steve avoids it. “Dating. Going out.” Tony wiggles his eyebrows. “Hook-ups.”
Steve doesn’t need a definition for the third word. Slang or not, the eyebrows said it all. “I could date. I’ve just been… busy.” He doesn’t bother trying to expand on that. He’s sometimes busy, when SHIELD calls him in, but it’s not often they resort to him. Operatives like Clint and Natasha are more likely to be out. Steve is supposed to go on with his civilian life. He’s supposed to walk his dog in the park and get the mail. He wants that, and he’s afraid of it.
“The Black Widow’s not sore on the eyes,” Tony says.
There’s something there, Steve can admit it, but it’s not something either of them is interested in right now. “If Natasha or Pepper heard that…” He rolls his eyes. “I’m fine, Tony, okay?”
Tony becomes uncharacteristically serious. “No, Steve, you’re not. You need to get a life. Do something besides this. Get a girlfriend. Get a hobby. Something.”
Steve glances down at the hologram. “Am I done here?”
Tony’s face is unreadable. “Yeah. Sure.”
Bucky’s mornings are routine. He wakes up and drinks the full glass of water sitting at his bedside (his Ma instilled the habit in him, and it’s as much habit as military). He makes his bed neatly and goes into the bathroom. Five-minute shower. Shave. Brush his teeth. Fifty push-ups. Then he might vary his breakfasts.
This morning is different.
He wakes up twenty minutes late, and his arm is dull with pain. It’s not burning, not like it had been in Afghanistan, when they thought they might have to cut it off. He rolls over on his stomach, opens a drawer, takes out his meds and pops two in mouth. Downs it with the cold water. It doesn’t help. Fuck. He knows it isn’t hurting. It can’t be. That pain is years old. It should be years old.
The war is fucking over.
His phone rings, and although Bucky considers ignoring it, he could use the distraction. He grabs for it, voice still groggy from the morning, quiet from the pain. “Hello?”
“It’s Rebecca,” his sister’s voice greets him. “I wouldn’t have to tell you this if you ever checked caller ID.”
“I like a bit of adventure,” he says.
“You like being a bit of an idiot.” Becca replies.
He hears a shuffling on the other end. “No, Sarah, what did I tell you? We don’t touch that.”
“Is that Sarah? Put her on.” He’s trying to ignore his arm, but it still hurts. He needs the meds to work faster. He wants this pain gone. There’s more movement, but in a few seconds, a small voice greets him.
“Hi, Uncle Bucky,” she chirps. “I made a plane today.”
“Woah, all by yourself? NASA’s going to be breaking down your mom’s front door.”
He can almost hear the pout. “Nick made a rocket though.”
Bucky doesn’t bother telling her that Nick is older. As the younger sibling, he knows he never needed reminding. “Bet your plane is prettier.”
“It is,” she tells him smugly. “It’s pink.” They talk a little longer while she describes the exact aesthetic of the plane in the detail only a six-year-old can. Meanwhile, Bucky skips the first part of his morning routine to try to get breakfast. It’s one of his Ma’s cures for pain, and if Rebecca and Bucky can agree on nothing else, they’re on the same page on their Ma’s word being gospel.
His sister takes the phone back once he gets the eggs started. “The kids love you,” she says sourly (even though he knows she’s pleased whenever she needs a last-minute babysitter). “When are you going to give me a few nephews and nieces, huh?”
Bucky laughs. “Rebecca, you know I’m gay as fuck.”
“Language,” she says. “And that’s no reason you can’t adopt. I want to spoil cute little kids. Since I’m stuck with demons.” She pauses to scold Sarah again. “How’s the radio show? I record bits for the kids after late shifts.”
“Pretty good,” he grins. “I feel like I’m actually doing something. Not that I don’t like volunteering, you know, but it feels good?”
By the time they finish their conversation, the pain has receded enough to be tolerable, and he finishes his eggs in peace. But he knows it’ll come back. It always does. His mind doesn’t know what his body does. His mind thinks he’s still at war. His mind thinks that he’s sitting in some dusty, hot tent across the sea with his arm on the chopping block.
It becomes a habit. Steve doesn’t intend it to be, but once he sees the clock ticking towards one, the radio is on. He doesn’t always fall asleep to it. Mostly, he doesn’t. But if he’s going to be awake, he would rather be listening to something than turning in his sheets.
And he loves listening.
Steve’s used to having the radio on, growing up. His ma couldn’t afford the papers, so they listened to the world changing through static in a small box. He listened to baseball games and evening comedy. He listened to cooking shows and car ads. He would sometimes have it playing while he was trying to draw. This is different.
Back then, when he was listening, he wasn’t really listening. It was only background noise. Now he’s lying in bed, listening to every word Bucky Barnes says. He thinks this is normal. It’s like getting to know a celebrity through the little things. That’s all it is.
He makes New York familiar again. Almost.
“Fuck Chicago, we have the best fucking pizza in the house.” Bucky says, and Steve can’t help but feel relief, like here, this didn’t change. “There’s a place in Brooklyn, on Jamaica Avenue. Best pizza of my life.”
He remembers a place like that when he was a kid. Maybe it’s the same. He’ll have to check.
And even though it’s about New York, Bucky will talk about anything. “Rebecca drives me up the wall,” he’s saying. “It’s all, Bucky, get kids. Get married. Get a mortgage. And then she calls at 2 AM to make me babysit. Which I can’t say no to – not because of her, Becca sucks, but the kids are awesome. I know she could be listening, but it’s fine, she can call in to yell at me if she really wants.”
People do call in though. Steve’s never heard a Rebecca do it, but it’s absolutely a thing. A Matt calls in to talk about how shit New York transportation is for anyone who’s disabled. A Trish chats with him about different radio topics and if he’s considered doing podcasts.
He hasn’t yet. Not until tonight, when Bucky brings up the Avengers. “So, my producer, Darcy, who I talk about all the time, is doing her thesis on the Avengers. Today, we got into a serious academic discussion about it. Very serious, guys. Keep your ears open for fancy terms. Ready? Okay, civil war, Iron Man vs Captain America? Who will win?”
Maybe it’s a little narcissism, but how is he supposed to resist this one? When he’s been holding back the whole time?
Steve dials in.
Bucky almost chokes on his coffee. He’s been living on the cheap, black stuff, and as much as he gets on Darcy about the sugar, he could use some. Except it’s a matter of pride, and he won’t. Caffeine is stronger than sugar, and he’s going to prove it when inevitably one of them fall asleep, and it’s Darcy.
“Caller on line one,” she tells him, sitting on the other side of the glass with coffee of her own. Aka a milkshake. “Name’s Steve.”
Bucky grins. “Hey, Steve. I’m guessing you’re calling in to defend your namesake?”
There’s a short pause. Then he speaks, and, fuck, it goes straight down his spine. Nope. Voices are not a thing Bucky is into. He just hasn’t had enough sleep.
“Actually, I’m calling in to defend Iron Man.”
Bucky’s eyebrows raise. “Dude, you have to know you’re wrong. If you hang up now, I’ll let it go in peace. Accept your failures.”
There’s a quick bark of laughter. Laughter should not be that hot. “I know I’m not. Iron Man has high tech armor. If he really wanted to win, he has missiles. Laser.”
“Fancy tech,” Bucky waves away. He knows no one can see his hands, but it’s too much habit. “End of day, Captain America would win. That shield can deflect a lot, and he’s actually superhuman. He can punch through walls.”
Bucky can almost hear the grin through the static. “You think?” Steve says. “ The shield was developed by Stark technologies. So, if anyone can do some lasting damage, it’s Iron Man.”
Bucky doesn’t really have a strong opinion on this, but hey, he’s always set for arguing something. Except he’s clearly not as well-informed as this guy. He looks at Darcy for help, but she only raises her milkshake and fucking smirks. Yeah, it’s final, he needs new friends.
“Yeaaaah,” he stretches out. “Okay, point there, but you break the tech, and what’s left? Some water, some electricity, bam. Captain America takes a hit, and he can keep going. Anyway, you’re taking the question all wrong.”
“I thought the question was pretty straight-forward.”
“Not at all,” Bucky leans forward a little, like a few inches could make up for the difference of miles. “See, I meant hotness.” In response, all he gets is a sputtering laugh. “Don’t die on me now, Steve. So, should I go first or you?”
“Be my guest.
Now he’s more in his element. He can practically feel the eye roll Darcy sends his way, but he’s not going to look over to check. “Muscles, check. Great body. The hip to shoulder ratio. Eyes, especially though. He has fucking great eyes. People write novels about those eyes.”
Steve laughs again, and Bucky’s allowed to be into the sound. He can be into whatever he wants.
“I don’t know if there’s much I can say about a robotic suit of armor. I’ll give you this one,” Steve says.
“Because I win,” Bucky prompts.
He checks the clock. Usually, this is around when the call ends, but there’s only a few more minutes till two anyway. It can’t hurt to keep the conversation going until he’s out of airtime. “What keeps you up at this time of night, Steve? Avenger opinions aside.”
“No, you pinned me down,” Steve replies. “I’ve been tossing and turning with my very academic opinions on the Avengers.”
“That a dig at me?”
“Never,” Steve says. It’s definitely a dig. “Uh, actually. Insomnia. Been having some trouble sleeping.”
“I feel that, man.” And he’s not just saying that. Sure, there are some nights he can drop into bed instantly. But other times, it’s his arm aching. And then there are nightmares. A peaceful night of sleep is no guarantee. Maybe this is why he doesn’t mind the time of the show at all. Now he’s awake doing something he loves instead of awake, staring at his own ghosts.
“You help,” Steve says.
He almost drops his coffee. “I do? How?”
There’s another pause, more loaded than the first time. “It’s nice to listen to something besides my own thoughts. You’re pretty charming, Bucky.”
Fuck, he goes red. “Oh, uh, thanks, man.” Yeah, that was really charming. Keep it up there, Bucky. “I’m glad I could help though. Seriously.” He glances at the clock. One minute of airtime. “Airtime’s just about up. Thanks for calling in.” He hesitates. “Don’t be a stranger.”
“Thanks for having me,” Steve says with so much sincerity that Bucky’s heart skips a beat. Can heartfelt sincerity be a turn-on?
Bucky finishes his usual ending and thanks under sixty seconds before taking off his headset. That was – that was something. It was nice, yeah. He wanted to help people, and now he has. Nevermind he originally intended to help people find their way around the city, not soothe their souls in the midnight hour – but help is help.
Bucky takes off his headphones and turns to the booth to see Darcy. Still fucking smirking.
New York City is always reluctant to break away from winter. She likes her people wrapped in coats in scarves, her streets blanketed in snow, and the sky an uneven gray. It still has to happen sometimes. Steve can see it right now, the green buds on the trees, the way everything smells a little less like the city. His feet thud against the pavement as he rounds another block, chest heaving, lungs breathing in spring.
Although, frankly, he’s not thinking much on spring.
Here’s the thing: Steve called back. Again. More than once. This is now a thing.
The second time, he doesn’t really mean to any more than that first night. He’s lying back, staring at the ceiling, and Bucky’s talking about good jogging routes. Bucky, that’s how Steve thinks of him now. Not Bucky Barnes, a radio host, but Bucky, a friend of his. Steve knows a lot of good jogging routes, so he has to call in again. Bucky tells him he prefers this one that goes straight to this coffee shop with the best pastries and makes Steve promise to try it someday. Steve just likes Central Park.
It's not so accidental the third time. He tries not to call every single night, even though he’s tempted, but it’s a lot of nights. Steve learns little things about him, and it’s hard not to give away too much about himself. What’s he supposed to say? He’s a man out of time, an Avenger, some skinny kid from Brooklyn. He finds himself wanting to say it all anyway.
It doesn’t feel one-sided either, this friendship.
“Steve, I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” Bucky says immediately when Steve called in last night.
“What did I do?”
“I bet ten bucks you’d call in last night. We were talking about puppies. What self-respecting man doesn’t call in to talk about puppies?”
Two nights ago, Steve had been in Richmond, Virginia, tracking down a lead with Wanda. He had admittedly been too preoccupied to check in.
“So you missed me?” Steve asks like it’s a joke, but it’s not until the words are out of his mouth that he wants it to be true.
“You’re damn right I did,” Bucky laughs. “Just for you, I’m going to bring it back. Puppies. Dogs. Opinions?”
“Man’s best friend,” says Steve immediately. He’s never had one, but he’s always had a feeling that he’s more of a dog person than a cat person. Even if he didn’t feel that way, Tony’s already confirmed it in one of his long-haul rants about pretty much nothing.
“Okay, moving onto my next point,” Bucky says. “You should get a puppy.”
“I don’t really have time for a puppy,” Steve replies. “They’re pretty needy, right? Needs time and care. You take up enough of my attention these days.”
Another barked out laugh. “I’m not gonna argue that. Dog then. Does your place let you have dogs?”
“Think about it. Dogs.”
Steve did think about it, and he had to stop himself from jogging over to the nearest shelter that very day. He’s still thinking about it though. His days can be lonely (his nights a little less so), and a dog could be nice.
Here’s another thing: Bucky loves pop culture.
It’s always been difficult, trying to adjust with all the decades that have passed. Sure, Tony can’t get through a sentence without dropping one, but the others use them too. He really misses Thor some days. Thor, a god and from another world, is sure to be as ignorant as he is. Bucky’s happy to educate him though.
“If you can afford it, you’ve got to see it,” Bucky tells him, maybe about a week ago. “Hamilton’s the shit. So, it’s about these founding fathers rapping Hamilton’s story, which, I hear you, sounds lame, but it’s so good. I had it stuck in my head for weeks. I jogged to Satisfied.”
Steve listens to it, and the next time, they spend almost twenty minutes talking about it. Bucky’s right; he loves it. It’s about war and a man eager to do his part. Steve can understand that. The all-consuming ambition, not so much. Steve has always been a soldier, a leader when he needs to be. That’s all.
Bucky has opinions. He loves the Schuyler sisters and wants more Peggy. He’s pretty sure John Laurens and Alexander Hamilton are in love. Burn is the best song in the cast album. Duels are stupid, Steve, never duel with someone. Unless they deserve it. Then it’s fine, only if you kick their ass.
Steve comes to a stop in front of a coffee shop, makes his way in, head bowed. As long as he doesn’t make prolonged eye contact, not too many people recognize him without the stars and stripes shield. He orders a cannoli, and it’s flaky and sweet and warm. It’s as good as Bucky said it would be.
He leaves quickly though. He’s not ready for a bump-in with the voice on the radio.
Bucky doesn’t know if he hates coming to these, or if he actually likes it. He’s never been one to sit in a room and talk about his problems, even if the other people in the room are just like him. So, he doesn’t talk much, but he listens.
It’s difficult sometimes to pick up his body and drag it over here. Bucky likes to tell himself he’s fine. If he’s here, he’s not that fine.
“ – and the dreams aren’t getting better,” the woman continues, gaze on her hands. “I just keep thinking of the cold sea. It was hot and sandy, obviously, but in my dreams, the water is black and cold and I keep drowning and it’s like I wake up tasting the salt in my mouth. The water in my lungs. Like I’m choking. Or drowning. I don’t understand why.”
Thank God nightmares are rare for him.
His arm burns a little, but it’s not much. It’s almost as if his body is saluting the woman, another veteran, when he can’t bring himself to do as much as fucking speak. Yeah, no, he’s made up his mind – he definitely hates these things. Bucky doesn’t know why he keeps coming back. Meeting’s over, and he’s on his way out, when he bumps into a man.
“Sorry,” Bucky says automatically.
“No problem, man.” He extends a hand. “Sam.”
Bucky shakes it. “Bucky.”
They fall into stride together as they exit the small, cramped building. “You don’t talk much at these, do you?” Sam asks.
Bucky searches his memory to see if this guy did, but he can’t remember. So, he only grunts. “I’m not much for talking.” That is a fucking lie, considering he hosts a fucking radio show, but he’s not going to spill all his problems to a guy he just met, veteran or not.
“Might help.” Sam gives him an easy-going grin. “I worked a stint at the VA.”
“Yeah?” Bucky asks. “Well, VA’s shit.”
“No kidding.” They exchange a grin, a kind of understanding that comes from serving in a pointless war across the sea and hating the goddamn bureaucracy. “I’ll see you around. Got a run with my friend, Steve.” Sam grins a little at this. “Though he likes running circles around me.”
Bucky thinks of his Steve. “Yeah, I’ll see you.”
Tokyo, Japan is having a cold spring. The flowers in the red-draped manor are all artificial, but Steve can’t help but reach to touch the cherry blossoms. They’re soft to touch, hued a faint blush, and he could almost believe they’re real. Except there is no fragrance, no sweetness. He breathes it in, and there’s nothing.
“Sakura,” Natasha says, and he almost jumps. She always walks so quietly. “That’s the Japanese name for it. I’ve always thought it was pretty.”
“It is pretty,” Steve acknowledges and gives the tree another long look. False, from the pale whitening bark and the slender limbs and the pink flowers. False but beautiful. “Is it time yet?”
Her lips curve up into a quick smile. “We move in two minutes.” Natasha stretches out her shoulders, and there’s an elegant arch to her back. She’s not unlike the sakura. False but beautiful. Except she can’t help but be. She tries to be true when she can, but it’s not how she was made.
It’s funny. They were both made to be soldiers, but Steve is forged for open war, for raising spirits. To be a blazing red, blue, and white against the sky. Natasha is made for quieter things. They’ve both done their best to be more than what they were made to be, but it isn’t easy. At their bones, they are soldiers.
So, when Natasha gives him a crisp nod, when he gets ready to move in, he feels at home. More at home than he’s felt in a long time. Except maybe in the middle of the night, listening to the radio. It’s been a week since he’s been in New York City. He’s almost beginning to miss it.
Bucky is noticing a pattern. Almost every night, his first caller is Steve. His most frequent caller is Steve. He doesn’t have a problem with it – likes it more than he wants to admit to himself – but he’s sure he has more caller than that. He’s seen his show ratings, seen the viewership (is that what they call radio shows too), and he has to have more callers than that.
He confronts Darcy about it, but he should have known it was useless. She only shrugs and smiles and talks about how it’s boosting the ratings and she’s going it for the people. He tells her what shit that is, but again, nothing gets through that thick skull. The next time she catches him smiling like an idiot talking to Steve, Darcy presses a piece of paper to the glass divider that says Marry Him.
Bucky stammers so hard that Steve had to ask if Bucky was okay.
He doesn’t really want to stop her anyway. He likes the voice on the radio, the anonymity of Steve.
What kind of name is Steve? Alright, yeah, his name is James, but he’s Bucky Barnes now. He can be Googled. If Bucky tries to Google Steve, he’ll never find a thing.
Bucky teases him about it tonight. “So, Steve. Steve. Common name. You must be a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”
There’s an honest laugh. Bucky likes that about him, how he doesn’t even need to see the guy’s face to tell how genuine he is. There’s sincerity in every syllable. “I always thought I’d be,” Steve says. “I wanted to be an artist, when I was younger. Things didn’t go that way though, and I’m a little more well-known than I’d like.”
This makes his imagination go wild. Artist turned what then? Maybe he’s an actor now, but if it was any famous Steve he knew, Bucky would recognize the voice. He’s good with voices. Maybe he’s a lawyer – that would explain the tired nights. Known more than he’d like to and some kind of pro bono do-gooder. “I used to want to be a pilot, but ah, my life went a different way too.”
He was in the army, but he never flew the skies. It was Bucky’s voice. If he’s going to kill a man, he won’t do it when he’s so far above them he can’t see. He will live with the consequences – hell, he’s living with them now.
“It’s not too late,” says Steve. That’s another thing he’s noticed: the man is fucking full of optimism. He sees the good in everything. He tried telling Bucky that the subway station on chamber street ‘wasn’t that bad’.
“No, it’s good,” Bucky laughs. “I love what I’m doing now.”
“Is that your main job?”
“I also volunteer at an animal shelter,” Bucky tells him. “You should get a puppy. My producer does too, but she’s been busy with college lately.”
“A puppy?” Bucky can hear the smile through the radio waves. “I feel like we’ve had this exact same conversation before.”
Bucky is unapologetic. “I’m still right.”
Steve only laughs.
“Have you thought about going back to it?” Bucky asks. “Art?”
“Sometimes,” Steve says. “Maybe I just need some inspiration.”
Coincidentally, Bucky’s next show is focused on the art and culture scene in the city.
“Focus,” Steve says gently. “Take a deep breath, Wanda.” He doesn’t know if he’s qualified to do this. He has super speed and strength, but he doesn’t have magic. No one really is though. They just have to make do and do their best. Besides, he feels a responsibility to her – he wouldn’t want anyone else teaching her.
“I can’t – ” Wanda’s hands tremble, and the energy barrier crumbles. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“You’re fine,” he reaches out to squeeze her shoulder. “Let’s take a break. Anything you’re craving for lunch?”
Wanda closes her eyes, and when she opens them, her composure is back. She’s strong. Sometimes, Steve just wants to hide her from the world. He’s afraid she’ll become a weapon, a tool. He might be a soldier, but he isn’t a gun. There’s a difference, and it might be the difference of power between them.
“I could do with some Thai.”
“I know the place.”
Twenty minutes finds them picking up some take-out. Sitting down for the meal leads to recognition, and somehow a delivery to Steve Roger’s address doesn’t sound all that safe either. Halfway back to his apartment, he sees a shelter. “Do you think I’m a cat or dog person?”
“Oh, dog, definitely,” Wanda grins. “Loyalty and man’s best friend.” She follows his gaze. “Thinking of adopting?”
Steve shrugs and offers her a smile. “It can’t hurt to look.”
A bell tinkles as they push their way inside. The reception is clean if a little cramped, and he can hear a dog barking farther inside. “Hello,” the woman behind the counter says. “Procter Rescue. How can I help you?”
Steve searches for words. “Ah, I was looking into… adopting?”
“I’m the supportive friend,” Wanda supplies.
The woman smiles at her and then addresses him. “You don’t sound so sure. It’s a responsibility.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks,” he tells her honestly. “But walking in right now was a little impulse.”
“I believe in impulse,” the woman gets up, stepping around the counter. “It’s a little like faith.” She reaches her hand out. “Rebecca Procter.”
He shakes it. “Steve.”
“Wanda,” she shakes Rebecca’s hand next. The two of them begin talking about skin care (apparently Wanda has great skin), and Steve is left to wander.
Steve takes a few steps past the two women, to where photos are hung on the wall. There are people hugging dogs, holding adoption certificates, kittens, and more. On the desk, there are a few personal photos. One of Rebecca hugging two children. Another of a handsome man with a crooked grin and an arm around her shoulder.
She notices his gaze and smiles. “My two beautiful children,” she taps the first photo. “And this one is my brother.”
“Your children are beautiful,” Steve tells her.
Rebecca grins. “And my brother is very attractive?”
Steve flushes a deep red, and Wanda bursts into laughter. “I… “ He wasn’t checking him out, was he? No, he’s sure that he wasn’t.
“I’m kidding, Steve,” Rebecca pats his arm. “You look like you’re about to faint. You can’t really blame me for wanting to set my brother up with a superhero.” She tilts her head toward the door. “Ready to take a look?”
Steve still feels a little faint. He’s not sure if it’s the joke or if it’s because he’s been recognized so quickly. The sunglasses and baseball cap were apparently not working. “Sure, let’s go ahead.”
Bucky hates calling his sister when he’s like this. Fuck, he hates talking to anyone when he’s like this. Only somehow his sister always knows, and half the time, he’s picking up the call without checking Caller ID.
Becca doesn’t ask. She can probably tell from his restrained breathing, the occasional sharp inhale. But she keeps talking, keeps distracting him.
“And so Captain America was in the shelter the other day. Adopted a real cutie.”
He gives a wry laugh. It comes off more pained than he would like. “I don’t believe you.”
“I’m serious, Bucky. He saw a photo of you and thought you were hot. Sort of. Bet you wished you worked Tuesdays now.”
Bucky still doesn’t believe her, but she promises photographic proof later. They talk a little longer, and slowly his pain eases. It takes another ten minutes to convince her that he is fine, but eventually she does hang up. The pain’s still there, but he decides to sleep it off. He’s so tired that he’s sure it’ll work. It does, too, his eyes heavy with sleep, and he’s off into dreamland the second his head touches the pillow.
He wakes up with a scream stuck in his throat. Heat sears up and down his arm, and he’s begging it, praying to any God. You’re there, he wants to scream at it. What are you hurting for? It’s an old injury. It’s healed, every fucking doctor says it’s fucking healed. And yet it’s aflame, yet his nails are digging into the mattress, sheets twisting beneath his hand. He can’t move, he can’t breathe. He needs his medication. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What was he thinking? He should have taken the pills then, not be goddamn stupid enough to think he could sleep it off.
Bucky fought a war.
He can get out of bed.
Bucky’s eyes are watering from the pain, and he can’t. Calm down. He needs to calm down. Bucky’s heart is banging right out of his chest, lungs thundering to keep up with his breath. Keep it together. The doctor likes telling him to focus on something when the war is in his blood, something calm and easy. Like sunsets or puppies.
Usually, he picks a childhood memory. Something short and sweet.
He means to this time too, but it’s Steve that comes up in his head. Steve. Caller one. There’s a part of Bucky that knows this is strange, but he’s half-mad with pain. It’s Steve that’s steady in his head, so he lets the thoughts come.
It’s their conversation last night that rises to memory.
“I’m drawing again,” Steve says. “Thanks to you.”
“I didn’t do a thing. What do you draw anyway? Comics? My face?” Bucky Then says.
There’s a laugh. Bucky Now focuses on that laugh, how it’s sort of low and warm, how it slides across his chest. He’s tried to imagine that laugh a thousand times before. “A little close with both,” says Steve. “I draw people. Sometimes it can stylistically be like a comic, I guess, but I’m going back to the basics right now. More realism. It’s been a while.”
“A good hundred years, yeah?”
Amused tone. Bucky Then and Bucky Now likes every tone of his voice. They both want to catalog them. Bucky Now’s current favorite is the Serious, To The People voice that Steve has only used two times. “Close enough.”
Bucky Then teases. “When do I get my portrait?”
There’s a silence, then a shuffling of paper. “Right now.” Steve’s voice is calm, which is another of Bucky’s favorite, but it’s not what Bucky Then was thinking of. Bucky remembers the rise of warmth in his chest, the tinge of red on his face. “What do you look like?”
“You’re going to draw me like one of your French girl?” Bucky attempts to recover. He can hear Darcy dying across the glass divider. Metaphorically.
“Aren’t you Irish?” Steve sounds confused.
There’s an interval where Bucky manages to properly recover so he can tell Steve to get his head out of his ass and watch the Titanic. Bucky Now regrets it because he’ll see the movie, see the scene with Jack and Rose, and think of Bucky. Actually, hold on, he doesn’t regret it at all.
They come back to topic though. “Uh, I’m white. Dark hair. I don’t know.”
“You’re the radio host,” Steve says. “Be creative. Talk it out.”
“You’re the artist,” Bucky retorts, but he tries again. “Brown hair, dark. Kind of getting long now. My sister says it’s getting near my shoulders, but she likes to exaggerate. Got a bit of stubble. Blue eyes. I’m an old man and the forehead’s getting wrinkly. I think my photo is on the site though.”
“This is more fun,” Steve tells him.
“How do I look?” Bucky asks a little later. “Handsome? Charming?”
Steve laughs. “Ruggedly so.”
Bucky memorizes that laugh. It’s that laugh that eases his heartbeat enough for him to reach across to open the pill bottle. His hands are shaking too much to do it, so he uses his teeth. He pops two in his mouth. One spills out. He swallows it down dry, and even though it’s not like there’s an immediate effect, he can breathe easy now.
His heart isn’t still, but it’s beating fast for a reason. Now that the pain is settling, that the heat is cooling, he knows one thing with crystal clear certainty.
Bucky Barnes is in love with the voice on the radio.
He’s in love with Steve.
Steve wakes up to a bark and the muggy, hot temperature. He groans, rolling over to turn the radio on. A voice crackles out something about record high temperatures, and Steve looks down. “Are you sure you want to go out?”
Kit barks again, wagging her tail.
Steve manages a tired laugh and pulls himself out of bed. He’s exhausted in the morning and sleepless at night. Some nights are better than others. Kit is a nosy sort of dog, and she loves following him around all day. He can’t do as much as brush his teeth alone. Steve loves it – the world is a little less lonely. Less new. Dogs don’t know much about iPads and Game of Thrones. They bark, chase squirrels, and love their humans.
When he’s out on missions, Mrs. Fitzgerald next doors is always happy to dog-sit. Steve has a feeling Kit likes her more than Steve. He’ll be out on a mission again for the next two weeks, and –
Kit also likes making a mess. He’s only put on the toast when he hears a crash from his bedroom, and when he’s back in, Steve sees his art pencils and papers sprawled all over his floor. “Eat any of this, and you’ll be sick,” he warns Kit, who likes trying to see if she can eat anything and everything.
The top sketch is still Bucky. He drew a rough layout months ago, and since then, he keeps coming back to it and adding details. Bucky laughs a certain way, and Steve adjusts the length of the jaw. Bucky talks tipping servers, and Steve adds more depth to the eyes. He knows it’d be so easy to look him up, but it feels like cheating.
Steve puts it away. The toast is burnt by the time he gets back, so he just grabs a banana. Kit barks again by the door, and Steve laughs. “Coming, coming.”
He glances back at his bedroom for an instant and gets an idea.
Bucky likes the talking part of his job, the part where he picks old music and helps people figure out which Subway routes are shit. Now he’s starting to get good, and he’s getting emails from the corporate office about picking a music director and social media promotion. He’s put his foot down on the music director, but Darcy says it’s about time he puts himself out there, so they do hire on a social media manager.
He’s at his easier job now: playing with kittens. “Come on, back with you,” he laughs, as one begins to try to climb up his arm. He glances up at his sister. “Did you name them yet?”
“Do you want to?” Becca asks him, amused.
“Yes,” he looks down. “You. You are Iron Man.” The calico doesn’t react. “You’re Hulk.” The small black kitten only tries to climb his limbs again. “You’re Cap.”
“Okay, so I’m naming them then,” Becca rolls her eyes. She kneels down next to him and looks over each kitten. “Scout. Isis. Twisty.”
“How are those better names?”
Before Becca could answer, Darcy bursts into the room. She’s holding a small parcel in her hands, and her eyes are bright. “Why don’t you answer your phone?” She demands. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I tell you a thousand times not to come back here, Darcy,” Becca begins, but Darcy leans over to whisper into his sister’s ears. Becca’s eyes widen, and she whirls back to look at him. “Open the package. It’s from Steve.”
“What?” Bucky takes the parcel from Darcy uncomprehendingly. There is a scrawled x followed by a Steve. “How do we know it’s the same Steve? It’s a common name.”
“We don’t know,” Darcy admits. “But open it anyway. Your Steve or otherwise must have noticed we recently got an actual mailing address.” Before now, they’ve just used Darcy’s apartment for bills and official letters.
He tears it open as Becca begins to gather up the new kittens. Inside, there’s a sketch – a sketch that’s vaguely of Bucky. The nose isn’t right at all, but there’s something of him in the eyes. The hair’s a little longer, too, since Bucky’s cut it recently. It’s him though, it’s the him Steve drew. He almost doesn’t care though because this something Steve touched. This is more of him that he’s ever had before.
Darcy realizes right away because she squeaks. “There’s writing on the back,” she urges.
I’m not sure you’ll get this, but I hope it’s not too off. I guess this is a little forward, but it’d be nice to talk to you sometimes without all of New York City listening. I’ll be gone for the next two weeks, and I guessed I realized I’ll miss your voice.
Give me a call.
The number is written beneath his name.
Darcy and Becca begin talking excitedly and analyzing the handwriting, but Bucky’s not listening. All Bucky can do is re-read the letter and hear the beatbeatbeat of his heart.
It’s deep into the night when Steve gets a call. He sleepily grabs his phone to his ear and murmurs a tired, “hello?”
“You’re already in bed?”
That wakes him up. Steve bolts upright onto his bed, staring at the number again. A Brooklyn area code. “You called me.”
“What was I supposed to do with your number?” Bucky, it’s Bucky, laughs. “It’s only eight, old man.”
“I’m not in the country,” Steve replies, still reeling. He sent off that letter, but he didn’t think it would ever get to Bucky. That he’d trust it enough to call the number. The night is still, and Steve realizes this is the first time they’ve talked alone. “It’s late where I am.” He doesn’t dispute the old man.
“I’ve been curious for a while,” Bucky says. “Are you a secret agent?”
Steve has always favored the truth. “Sort of.”
This is the first time he wonders if he should tell the truth. He’s never considered it before because he wasn’t lying. Except now he has Bucky’s number, now there’s no audience to excuse him. It isn’t fair to Bucky for Steve to blindside him like this. Maybe later, he tells himself. They have time.
Bucky laughs again. “Thought so.” There a distant bang, and Bucky murmurs a fuck. There’s some movement, and Steve’s hero instincts come alive.
“Are you okay?”
“One second.” More movement. “Sorry, fireworks. Give me a fucking heart attack.”
“Fireworks?” Steve checks the date. “It’s 4th of July.” Sometimes, on assignments like these, time just floods by. Sometimes from day to day as well. His assignments are long. His days without are longer. He’s a man living in the wrong time, and he can’t seem to forget that.
“You’re definitely out of country,” says Bucky. “Happy Independence Day.”
“You, too.” Steve pauses. On the radio, Bucky is an easy personality to like, with that Brooklyn accent and quick laugh. But Steve doesn’t know all that much about him. “Are you a vet?”
There’s a quick intake of breath. Then another laugh. “You catch on quick.”
“I’ve been wondering for a while,” Steve admits. “But I didn’t feel like it was right to ask on the line.” There’s been signs, all these little things that made him sure that Bucky was a little like him. That he knew was it was like. Pauses. Opinions. The way he spoke. It was too much like himself for Steve not to notice. “I was, too.”
“Where?” Bucky asks.
Steve hesitates. He can’t tell Bucky that it’s a different place, a different time. “I’m not allowed to say. I’m sorry.”
Bucky takes it well. “Afghanistan. I joined the army right out of high school.” There’s another distant bang. Another silence.
“Hey,” Steve says. “You’re here with me.” Fireworks remind him of the war, but it doesn’t bring him back. Not like it does some people. He doesn’t remember the uniform sticking to his skin or the bullets raining down like hail at the burst of fire. He remembers it, remembers a gun shot, but he doesn’t live through it again.
“Sorry,” Bucky whispers. “I should have called later.”
“No,” Steve says immediately. “We’re friends. Call me.” It’s a relief to say it. That’s what they are – friends.
Another bang. “Distract me.”
It’s been a long day. They didn’t save everyone, and the world was alit with flames. That’s what makes him live the war; when he fails, when he can’t save them all. He needs a distraction, too. So, he holds the phone close to his mouth, almost so that his lips brush it, and he tells Bucky about growing up in Brooklyn. He plays the radio host. He guides Bucky home.
STEVE: I cooked!!! [image attached]
BUCKY: hot damn when r u inviting me over for dinner
STEVE: Do you want the recipe? :D
Bucky shamelessly flirts with Steve over text because Steve doesn’t know how to text. He’s an old man who doesn’t understand emojis and can only do three text faces, :D, :), and :(. Somehow, that makes him more in love with him than ever.
He knows all the little things about Steve now. He knows Steve has a dog and likes bagels best for breakfast. Steve’s favorite color is a deep blue, when he’s bored, he likes to sketch hands (he claims it’s good anatomy practice, but Bucky thinks all those disjointed hands are creepy).
Best of all, Bucky gets to hear him talk. On the radio, he does all the talking, and he can’t keep Steve on the line for too long. On the phone, there’s no one to stop him. On the phone, Steve can go on for ages, and Bucky can think about how hot his voice is.
“Explain art to me,” Bucky says once.
“I’m not sure if I can explain all of art to you.”
“If I was going to learn, though. Which I’m not.” Bucky has appreciation for art, but he doesn’t have a single artistic bone in his body. “I’m more the modelling type.”
“I won’t deny that you’re a good model,” says Steve which makes heat run all the way down Bucky’s body. Then he talks. “I like drawing people most. Gesture’s important. That’s the life in it. If there’s no gesture, the body is stiff and lifeless. That might be good practice for anatomy, but it’s not good for drawing people. It’s also help to try to remember that what you’re drawing is a three-dimensional form. You don’t want that to get lost on paper. Shape language, too. Shapes …”
The entire call was two hours and twelve minutes.
Bucky loved it.
He knows he’s getting deeper and deeper with a face he doesn’t know. A name he doesn’t have. But he can’t bring himself to care. He knows Steve has his reason, and what’s more, he knows Steve. It doesn’t matter what secrets he keeps. Bucky’s heart is his, know it or not.
The explosion hums right into his bones.
Steve is frozen as he watches the building erupt into red-gold fire and smoke, obscuring the summer sky in its heat. His head is back at the first scream. “What happened?” he yells as he jumps down a ledge next to Tony. They just got back from a mission in Bronx, nothing big, and now a building is on fire.
“It could just be a gas leak,” Tony says, out of breath. “I can’t tell from here.”
“You investigate and try to limit the damage.” More screaming. “I’ll help anyone who needs it.” Steve would be no good with the science stuff. “Can you contact the others?”
There’s no time to get back in suit. All he has is his shield and Steve Rogers. He bounds down to the building, where pedestrians flock in front of the building. “Get back,” he calls at them. “It’s not safe so close.”
“There was no one in there,” a woman calls. “It was abandoned complex. They were going to knock it down.”
Steve has to check anyway. He holds a hand over his mouth as he runs in, but the fire is too hot, to overwhelming, for him to stand. He has to count on Tony. So, he returns to the front, trying to get everyone to move back. It’s too late – the building begins to fall. Screams rise. He pulls back as many as he can, but there’s a man still standing there, shell-shocked.
“You have to run,” Steve shouts, running back toward the building, the slow descend.
The man looks at him, terrified. “Sorry,” he chokes, and he’s gone just in time for the building to fall. Steve braces himself, hands held high and eyes shut. He can feel the heat, the descent of crumbling brick and fire.
He opens his eyes to find the building is frozen. “You took your time,” Steve shouts up.
“Late is fashionable,” Tony yells.
Steve can breathe easy now. No casualties.
Stupid. Bucky had been so goddamn stupid. He could have died; he knows that now. All he remembers is that apartment complex bursting into flames and standing there like an idiot. He couldn’t move. It wasn’t until Captain America had to yell at him to run that he had shaken out of his stupor. He feels sick to his stomach and keeps replaying it.
It’s been a bad day for him. It’s been a bad week.
He switches the news on, but of course, it’s all about the explosion. The anchors debate gas leaks and terrorism. There’s no clear answer yet, and he watches again and again as the building explodes on grainy video footage.
Steve Rogers comes on camera.
It’s a pre-recorded message, and this time he’s in red, white, and blue. When Bucky saw him earlier, he was in an athletic sort of t-shirt in gray and dark jeans. It isn’t the kind of thing Bucky usually remembers, but he can’t forget a detail of this night. As much as he’d like to burn it all from his memory.
“The Avengers will not be a part of any further investigation into this matter. If you have any inquiries or information, please contact the police. Stay safe.”
Bucky freezes. Steve’s Serious, To The People voice has been a favorite of his, and he’s always thought Steve had a good voice for public service announcements. For leading. For being a hero. It’s the same voice, it’s the same goddamn voice. Steve Rogers.
It all adds up in his flood of fear. The job. The funny references to his age. The lack of pop culture knowledge. The seriousness. The poor texting. The dog. He’s been in love with Steve Rogers for month. He gasps for breath, his hands clutching the arm of his battered couch. He sick with humiliation, with disbelief.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Bucky Barnes always falls for war.
Bucky doesn’t reply to his calls or texts – Steve assumes his phone must have died because there’s no other reason. He’s a little worried, but Tony’s always on about the failure of non-Stark technology, and Bucky has a iPhone.
So, when it comes night, he calls into the show.
“Hello, welcome to Brooklyn Beats,” the cheerful producer – Darcy, he remembers – says. “Can I ask who this is?”
“Steve,” he says, same as he has a thousand times before.
There’s a pause. “Sorry, line’s busy!” Then the dial tone.
He knows Bucky’s alright because he talks on the radio about the recent explosion calmly. Bucky says he was there, but he doesn’t want to expand on it. Yes, it was a gas leak. He listens to Bucky until he falls asleep, just like he did the very first night. At first, he’s not worried. Then, it continues.
Darcy never lets his calls through. After a while, he tries another number. When she picks up, he
“Is he mad?” Steve asks immediately before she can hang up.
“It’s complicated,” Darcy says. “I can’t tell you. Please stop calling in.”
Steve does. Sometimes next week, he learns that there’s a few patio chairs set up on the rooftop. He sits there during the summer nights when he’s trying not to listen to Bucky’s voice. He doesn’t understand what happened. He’s been trying to figure out what could have changed between that last text, that last phone call, the last time he called into the radio.
Natasha’s there tonight. On his chair.
“I usually sit there,” he tells her, but she only smiles lazily.
Part of him doesn’t even care what happened. He wants Bucky back. Steve doesn’t know how it happened, but he doesn’t know how to breathe without him. Bucky’s become a part of his routine, a part of his life.
“You’ve been calling the same number a lot recently,” Natasha says.
Steve wonders if he should be mad that his phone line is clearly tapped. “Yeah.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you how idiotic it was for a public figure to talk daily on the radio. I went through all the audio, and fortunately, you were never incriminating. But all it would take is one slip-up. I’ve already had to warp your voice on all existent data. I’m a genius, but that’s busywork.”
It was stupid; he knew it then, he knows it now, but he couldn’t stop himself. “I’m sorry,” is all he says. Steve doesn’t know how to explain to Natasha that he doesn’t regret it at all. He’s sorry for the problems he’s caused her, and he’s sorry if he has ever risked the protection of his country, of his world, of his people. But he’s not sorry for talking to Bucky. He doesn’t have it in him to regret it.
Natasha taps her watch. A soft-toned hologram appears on it, of the man he remembers vaguely from the building that exploded. It’s a slow-motion recording, of the stiff fear in the man’s eyes, the realization when Steve spoke to him. The regret. Then he’s running, and the footage ends.
“Is he… important?” Steve asks.
“Over-all, I wouldn’t say he’s very significant,” Natasha says. “To you? Extremely so. This is Bucky Barnes, Steve.”
The man has messy dark hair, almost long, and stubble. Warm eyes. The kind of mouth that ached to grin. Steve has tried to draw him from voice alone a thousand times over. Now he finally knows what he was missing, the shape of the jaws, the exact color of his eyes.
Realization hits him, a blow to his stomach. Understanding then anguish. “He knows.”
“Yes,” Natasha says. “Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes suffers from PTSD and chronic pain. It was in Afghanistan that he – ”
“Stop,” Steve shakes his head. “I don’t have the right to know.”
“You love him,” Natasha says gently. Her face is soft, red hair curling over to frame her eyes and extending to the slender length of her neck. “I don’t know a lot about love, Steve. I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t trust most people, and love is trust. I know that much, and I spent hours listening to you telling him you love him.”
Steve buries his face in his hands.
She adds, “He loves you, too.”
“No,” Steve’s voice is muffled by his hands. “If I love him, I’ll let him go.”
Hospitals don’t acknowledge seasons. Bucky knows the autumn air is spicy warm, that the leaves crunch a red-gold beneath his feet. New York City can be stubborn about seasons, but it always welcomes fall. “So what’s the diagnosis, doc?”
“I would say – ” Doctor Williams looks up from his glasses. “Improvement. I’m very proud of you, James.”
Bucky doesn’t bother correcting him. Williams never remembers. “Are you sure? These last couple months, I feel like I’ve been going mad.”
“Assuming you’ve given me the correct numbers, your rates for pain has rapidly decreased. I received a report from your psychologist telling me the same is true of your attacks.”
Bucky mutters, “They’re not really attacks. They’re just bad moments.” He’s never liked the word; it doesn’t fit.
Doctor Williams ignores him and continues. “Although it is difficult to test your levels of pain, as it is entirely subjective to you, I can reasonably assume that’s also been decreasing. You know these things never go away, but if you continue your current treatment plan, you’ll be well on your way to managing your symptoms.” He meets Bucky’s eyes and gives a wizened smile. “Well on your way to living your life.”
Bucky didn’t expect the good news. Hospitals don’t feel like the kind of place anyone gets good news, except maybe expectant mothers. He’s pretty sure the maternity wing is painted differently – this is a blank gray. So, he stands by the bad news thing. “I’m really getting better?”
It hasn’t always felt like it. It’s been a year of ups and downs for him, of trying to change his life, of being haunted by the ghosts of his past. He dreams of old things and new. Winter is present in his mouth, spring in his gaze, summer in his chest. Bucky’s waiting to see what autumn will bring.
“I’m surprised at your disbelief, young man,” says Doctor Williams. “Is anything else the matter? Was there a reason for you to expect failure? Another medical condition?”
Bucky takes a leaf out of Captain America’s book and tells the truth. “A broken heart.”
“C’mere, girl,” Steve claps his hands, and Kit bounds back to him, ball in her jaw. He still listens to Brooklyn Beats, and a couple of weeks ago, Bucky mentioned Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It’s quieter than Central Park – there’s a couple walking down the path and a family picnic, but that’s it. He falls in love instantly, but he’s not surprised at that.
Kit wiggles impatiently, and Steve laughs. “Alright, here we go.” He throws a little farther than he expects to and grimaces. Super strength is great when he’s trying to take down an international smuggler, but sometimes he forgets to treat the world like it’s delicate.
He sits back against the tree, bark digging into his back. The fall air is crisp and reminds him a little of the pumpkin spice drink he tried with Wanda at Starbucks last week. The water is still before him, a muddy reflection of the pretty scenery, and the green leaves above him are doused with gold. He opens his sketchbook again and tries not to draw Bucky.
It's a frequent exercise, especially now that he knows how Bucky looks like.
Steve sketches the couple instead. It’s a hasty sketch since they’re moving, a quick gesture of how the shorter woman leans into the taller one, the slant of their shoulders, how their heads tilt back in a laugh. He likes drawing this, the little moments.
He flips to the next page, but it’s Bucky again. This time, just a detailed depiction of his eyes. Steve decides this is improvement and flips again. He starts drawing a tree, but he realizes it’s been a while since Kit’s come running back. Steve pockets the sketchbook and jogs up the trail, worry twisting in his gut. He knew he threw farther than he meant to, but it couldn’t have been that far.
What if Steve threw it right into city traffic? No, that’s too far, and Kit’s smarter than that. Smarter than most people he knew, really.
And, as Steve realizes as his jog slows down, completely a traitor. He reaches a wooded clearing where Kit is content to ignore the ball that lies a few feet from her and enjoy petting from a stranger.
“Kit,” he calls, amused.
Kit perks up and comes running back to him with her best yip yip did I do good expression.
“Sorry, man,” the man says, turning around. “Your dog’s just too cute.” And of course, because life is crazy and New York City isn’t big enough for them, it’s Bucky.
Steve stares at him silently for a moment, but it’s okay, because Bucky’s doing the same thing. Steve doesn’t know why Bucky is staring, but he knows he’s doing it because he’s greedily trying to memorize every feature to memory. He’s only had those brief seconds from their meeting before, but now he has a long minute to realize his hair’s longer than before, that the dark circles are gone.
“Bucky,” he says hoarsely.
Bucky runs a hand through his hair. “Steve. Hi.”
He drawn up imaginary scenarios where they bump into each other at the same coffee shop or Chinese take-out place. Their jogging routes collide. They go to the same play. A thousand times over, and yet he has nothing to say. So, the truth blurts out, sheepish and raw. “I missed you.”
“It was unfair of me,” Bucky says suddenly. “To cut you out like that. I was a piece of shit for doing it, but I just… I don’t know.” He laughs. “You’ve been my hero since I was a kid. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I acted like a kid.”
“Captain America’s a symbol,” Steve shakes his head. “I’m just Steve Rogers.”
Bucky throws him a grin that makes him weak in the knees. “Steve Roger’s still a hero.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Steve adds. “I lied. I shouldn’t have.”
Bucky says, “Never outright. You did your best.”
Steve hadn’t been true to himself through. People like to say Captain America is about patriotism, justice, serving the country. They have plastered him onto every cause, made him a symbol for everything. That’s alright; that’s their Captain America. But he knows Steve Rogers is about honesty and kindness. And no matter how he needed that escape, the refuge of Bucky’s nighttime voice, he should have told the truth.
“I want to say it now.”
“What?” Bucky asks, confused.
“I never got to tell you,” says Steve. “I should have, and it’s too late, but I still want to.”
Bucky takes a deep breath and shoves his hands in his pockets. He kicks at a blade of grass before looking up at him again. “M’not gonna deny you that.”
Steve takes a couple of steps forward, but he leaves some distance between them. It’s an aching sort of distance, heavy and tangible. He wants to break through it, to kiss Bucky – and he’s tried not to think about it too much, but he’s drawn Bucky’s lips too much to be perfect. His gaze flickers down for a second, and he mentally corrects what he got wrong.
“Bucky,” be begins his confession. “I haven’t told you everything. Part of it was because of security, and part of it – ” Steve shrugs. “I’m not always as brave as I’d like to be. My name is Steve Rogers. And, just so you know, you saved me, too.”
His words sit there, as heavy as the distance between them.
“Hell of a confession, Rogers,” says Bucky slowly. “But I can do you one better.”
Steve raises his eyebrows. “You’ve got something to tell me?”
“Sure,” says Bucky. “You’ll have to wait till later.” He taps his watch. “I’ve got to run to make it in time to set-up for the show.” He aims a smirk Steve’s way. “Hope you tune in.”
Bucky leaves him in the dust, weak-kneed and starry-eyed, but Steve’s still smiling.
Kit is less amused.
When Steve Rogers was raised from the ice, Bucky was a goddamn mess. Becca likes to call the ups and downs of his life, hills and ponds.
“Hills are nice enough once you get on top, but they’re a pain to walk up and easy to get down from. As for ponds, they’re a little muddy and gross, but no one drowns in ponds. They fall in, and everyone gets a laugh.”
That year had been the fucking ocean. He was drowning in himself, consumed in himself. Steve Rogers flew into the ocean half a century before, and Bucky hears on the news that he’s back. He’s alive. His childhood hero was real and human. It was a wake-up call, but it was nothing else. Bucky had gotten back on his feet on his own.
Bucky’s never expected to be in love with his hero. He’s never expected to walk down the street and avoid the constant Avengers propaganda. Or to glance at a photo idly and feel his body thrum with desire. Eyes darken with want.
“I feel so screwed-up about it,” Bucky tells Darcy, one eye on the clock for airtime. He’s not going to talk about his boy problems with all of New York City. “It was a shitty thing for me to do. I only meant to do it for a week, but then it got so… easy. I got scared. Not sure how much longer it would have been if we didn’t run into each other.”
“Not much longer,” says Darcy with a confident toss of her head. “Trust me. That man couldn’t stay away from you if he tried.”
Bucky resists the urge to roll his eyes. In Darcy’s narration of the last year, it was a tragic requited love. Bucky knows better. “I’m pretty sure he’s straight.”
“Maybe in the forties,” she waves her hand dismissively. “Times change. People change. Steve Rogers is the kind of guy who’s in love with love.”
Bucky’s tempted to believe her because Steve is that kind of guy. But this is Captain America. If he lets himself believe it, his heart’s going to break all over again. “I’m still scared,” Bucky admits. “I did something stupid.”
“So did he,” Darcy retorts. “You’re both idiots. Case solved.”
Bucky does roll his eyes this time. “Go away. We’re on in sixty seconds.”
Steve sleeps easy that night.
They don’t talk over the phone or the radio next. They meet again, in another city park. “Gramercy Park,” Bucky tells him. “There’s a little less than 400 keys to go around, but I know another way in.” He doesn’t like the idea of a private park, one only the wealthy could afford to get into. But it’s beautiful.
Steve laughs. “You know I could probably just get us a key. Tony probably has one.”
“This is better,” Bucky assures him.
It’s crazy how easy they’ve become, like it’s meant to be. The romantic idiot part of Bucky does believe they were meant to be. They haven’t talked about it, haven’t resolved all their issues, but they have time.
They go through the servers’ entrance into a hotel, and Bucky offers a grin to a curly-haired waitress. He tells Steve he’ll be right back, and he is. In a few minutes, they’re in the park. It’s gorgeous and green, autumn barely beginning to soak gold into the leaves. Bucky drags Steve to the water fountain, and they both toss a penny in.
“What did you wish for?” Bucky asks, turning back to Steve.
He’s not used to talking to him in person. The radio, the phone, it’s easier because there isn’t a facial expression to match each syllable. No gestures. No steadiness of the eyes. “No more apologies from either of us,” says Steve, half-solemn, half-teasing.
“Wish granted,” Bucky sighs. He’s had half a dozen planned out, and now he’s going to have to wait it out.
“I want to say something,” Steve begins.
“What?” Bucky scrunches up his nose. “Is it a confession? Because if it is, it’s my turn first.”
“What if it’s part of my wish?”
Bucky’s given Steve his heart, so what’s one more wish? He nods and rolls his eyes. “Fine.”
“Bucky. Every time we talk, every time I hear your voice, and now that I’m seeing you – ”
Bucky catches the sides of Steve’s jaw with his hands, and Steve stammers into silence. In those last sounds, he catches them with his mouth, closes the distance with a kiss. Their lips skim over each other, nervous and searching. Soft. Steve’s hands find Bucky’s hair, fingers digging in, and fuck if Bucky hasn’t always liked that. Bucky parts his mouth, and they find the universe between them.
This must be how stars are born, Bucky thinks, dazed. Searing hot things that blaze in the sky, burning and burning until they come to life. They kiss until they need air (Bucky has to stop first; he’s not a superhuman), and then they kiss again. Sometimes languid and lazy, other times hot and hard.
There’s the taste of love in each kiss, of their confession.
“Why didn’t you let me finish talking?” Steve finally asks.
“I told you I had the better confession,” Bucky says. “Hell if I was going to let you win.”
Steve just laughs and kisses him again.
Lazily, he draws circles on Bucky’s shoulder. The bed is less empty now, the city less loud, more like home. Steve still can’t get to sleep, but he’s okay with that. He’s not lying awake, alone, full of restless thoughts. Of drowning in ice, Peggy’s red lipstick, gunpowder. His mind is only full of Bucky, of crooked grins and the radio voice.
“Mmm, you still up?” Bucky rolls over sleepily, his darkened gaze sweeping gratuitously over Steve. Steve reddens, but he can’t help doing the same.
“Yeah,” Steve whispers. “Go back to sleep.”
Bucky hooks a leg over his. “Need me to talk to you?” He teases Steve about it now, ever since Steve admitted it. Steve finds he doesn’t mind at all.
“Going to sing me lullaby?”
Bucky laughs lowly and presses a quiet kiss to Steve’s mouth. “You’re cute.”
“So are you,” says Steve honestly, even though cute doesn’t come close to describing it. Steve’s in love with Bucky, and Bucky loves him back. It’s been weeks. Weeks of falling closer, falling slowly, falling together. Steve isn’t afraid of falling from the sky anymore.
“No one ever said Captain America – ” Bucky yawns. “Was such a smooth talker.”
“Keep it a secret,” Steve says, but Bucky’s fallen asleep again. Smiling, he drapes the sheets over Bucky and sits up himself, staring out at the sky through the window. It’s a deep navy, broken up only by city lights and the ghosts of stars. It’s late autumn now, and it’s beginning to get chilly. He doesn’t leave the window anymore.
Glancing back down at Bucky isn’t unlike looking at that sky, that horizon. There’s the same feeling of awe and home. It’s not always easy to fall asleep. Easier than it was. But at least he isn’t lonely like he was. And it’s always easy to wake up next to Bucky.
Darcy takes a long, drawn-out sip of her mango smoothie and squints at her thesis. It yields nothing. The caller button is lit-up red, so she picks up, bored. “Brooklyn Beats. What’s your name?”
“One moment, Steve.” Darcy leans away from the caller system and screams into her hand. Then she returns. “I’ll be transferring you in now, Steve.”
Usually Darcy tells Bucky the name of the caller, but this time, she’ll let him figure it out. She leans back to enjoy the show. Oh, who’s she kidding? She leans up so close her nose is pressing flat against the glass.
“Hey, welcome to the show.”
Bucky looks at her and groans. “Steve. What’s up?”
“You’re not answering your phone. Did you want cornstarch or flour?”
“Cornstarch, please, babe.”
This time, Darcy doesn’t attempt to muffle her scream. She opens her phone and starts typing on Twitter. By morning, #stucky is sure as hell going to be trending.