Bucky takes the stairs two at a time, reaching into his pocket for his set of keys. The door's unlocked though, which--thank god--meant that Steve was in.
He slips out of his shoes and drops his cufflinks into a shotglass that he'd left here. He loosens his tie and stretches out on the couch, putting his feet up on the coffee table. Steve's left a couple mockups on the couch, five variations of the same typography scattered about on the couch. He's also left his moleskine face down on a ring of dried coffee and Bucky picks it up.
"Hey," Steve says, stepping into the living room as he runs a towel over his wet hair. "I thought you'd be stuck at the gala all night."
"Lord save me from minor nobility telling me all about their eligible daughters," Bucky says, shifting his feet so that Steve can sit on the couch, "Like I don't have enough on my plate." He deposits his ankles in Steve's lap and gets a towel thrown at his face for the trouble.
"Steve," Bucky wheedles, "Come out with me tonight."
The smile on Steve's face fades slightly and he plucks his sketchbook from Bucky's fingers. "Come on Buck, you know that's not my scene."
"I'm shipping out in two days," Bucky argues, "Come on Steve."
"I just took a shower," Steve says, looking over at Bucky. Bucky pulls his best frown.
Steve sighs. "Did you lose your tail then?"
"Halley doesn't care," Bucky says, grinning. "Wear the blue shirt."
True to form, Halley tags them at a half a block's distance (not that Bucky could ever shake them, what with the GPS in his phone and his watch and probably all the ones they don't tell him about). Bucky skips the line with Steve in tow and the bouncer smiles at him as he opens the door. He's got a shot of Patron in his hand before he moves more than five steps and a pretty waitress telling him right this way, your highness.
The people he clubs with are all cut from the same gilded cloth: rich, spoiled, and incredibly bored. Cherie slides over onto Jackson's lap as Bucky approaches and Bucky feels Steve hesitate. He tugs Steve's wrist and pulls him into the booth so that they're sitting next to each other, legs touching in the limited space.
"Have a drink," Bucky says, waving over a waitress, "Loosen up a little. You deserve it."
Steve bends his head close. "You ever have a hard time believing this?"
Bucky slides his eyes from the waitress back towards Steve. He smirks a little. "Every damn day."
Here's the thing: Bucky spent the first eight years of his life as a nobody in some Brooklyn orphanage with nothing to his name except this scrawny little kid who kept stumbling into fights he had no chance of winning. That was Before.
Bucky sometimes imagined what it would have been like if they'd never tracked him down, if the queen hadn't come down with ovarian cancer and still had time to conceive. Still stuck in Brooklyn, no doubt, living a life so different that he couldn't even start to fathom. Maybe he'd have dropped out of high school, maybe he'd follow Steve to whatever city of whatever prestigious school the nerd got himself into and studied auto mechanics at the local trade school. He'd given up the dream of being adopted the moment he realized that no one wanted to adopt an older boy, much less two of them.
It's hard to imagine what life would have been like if his mother never gave him up. In that lifetime, he would have never met Steve.
Cherie jerks her head over at the bar. "Someone's got their eye on your boy."
Bucky lifts his head. The beautiful blonde who's been whispering dirty things in his ear for the last five minutes takes the opportunity to kiss his neck, tongue striping down the tendon. Bucky's only half paying attention, even as she slides the palm of her hand down his thigh.
Steve's smiling at some boy who's gesturing with his hands. There's a hand untucking Bucky's shirt from his dress pants, fingers sliding underneath. Bucky doesn't stop examining the stranger talking to Steve. He's a little on the short side and keeps pushing his glasses up his face like a nervous tic. The hand slides into his pants, smoothing over the silk of his boxers.
"You want me to distract the guy?"
The hair tickling the side of his neck disappears and Bucky's glad for the secluded VIP booth because he's being pulled out out of his boxers. Bucky looks at Steve, and wets his lips.
"No," Bucky says, head tilting back as his hips shift. Steve laughs at something that guy says--Bucky doesn't have to hear it to recognize the shift from smile to grin even at this distance. The guy leans forward, his hand on Steve's arm as he speaks. Bucky licks the back of his own teeth, swallowing hard.
Steve shakes his head. The guy steps away. Steve looks back at Bucky, and Bucky stares right back.
He comes very quietly because he's had a lot of practice at it. The blonde sits up and washes her mouth with a shot of whatever's left on the table. Bucky tucks himself back in and zips up before turning his head to accept the acrid-tasting kiss.
Beside him, he hears the click of a lighter. And Cherie's voice. "You two have a real fucked up relationship, you know."
No, just me, Bucky thinks but what he says aloud is, "Put that cigarette out."
He crashes at Steve's because it's easier to intrude on Steve's space than it is to let Halley drive him back to the palace. Bucky's offered to pay rent more than once based on how many times he crashes here a month. But Steve just smiles patiently and puts clean sheets on the futon and hands over one of the pillows from his own bed.
Bucky likes this moment the best: when he's curled up under sheets that smell like Steve's detergent, nose pressed into the pillow that smells like Steve's hair. For the few minutes that he dozes, before he wakes up fully, he can trick himself into thinking that he's actually in Steve's bed. He'd trade a month's worth of waking up next to strangers, just for a minute of this.
The hangover isn't too bad today but he has to pee like a bitch. Steve's a real pro at making him drink water before he sleeps and he sees a glass of it on the coffee table, next to his cell phone.
It's barely eight in the morning, which means that Steve isn't up yet. Bucky pisses and takes a quick shower, hoping that he doesn't wake Steve. Steve barely got enough sleep as it was, between the advertising and the freelance work.
The fridge is nearly empty but there's enough eggs and milk to make french toast. Bucky gets the coffee going and heats up some butter on the stove. By the time Steve shuffles into the kitchen, Bucky has a neat stack of them on a plate.
Steve takes a cooled slice from the bottom and bites off a piece. Bucky pushes his favorite mug at him and Steve takes it gratefully in the other hand.
"You know your phone's been ringing," Steve says after a moment.
Bucky wipes his hands on the dish towel and heads back into the living room. The phone is lit with a call but doesn't make a sound--he must have accidentally switched it to silent. As soon as he picks it up, the screen darkens. He unlocks it to find five missed calls.
"Did you forget you had something?" Steve's watching him, half piece of toast still in hand.
"Nah," Bucky says, "If it was important, they'd have sent someone to collect me."
He slips the phone in his pocket and picks up his tie from the back of the armchair. He steals the toast from Steve's fingers and takes a bite.
"Jerk," Steve says even as he reaches for another piece. Bucky smiles with his mouth full and relieves Steve of his coffee too.
"You heading out though?" Steve asks, eyeing the way that he's slipping his cufflinks into place with buttery fingers. Bucky's tailor would cry if he knew half the things Bucky put his clothes through.
"Probably should," Bucky says, "You know, apologize for ditching out."
Steve straightens and looks up at him. "You gonna drop by later or should I try coming to you?"
"I'll swing by," Bucky says, and pulls Steve in for a one-armed hug. "Don't stay up though. Charlie's lectures tend to run long."
Steve leans into him and doesn't let go for a moment. But then he pulls back, smiles in a way that doesn't reach his eyes, and says, "See you later then."
He hates coming back to the real world. He hands Halley a thermos of coffee and doesn't speak the entire way back to the palace.
He changes into his officer's uniform, pins on his lieutenant bars and lets one of the PR people fuss with his collar until it's to her liking. Someone touches his face with a dusting of foundation before he's led down the hall to meet the queen for a luncheon with the military brass who are going to become his superiors come tomorrow.
He shakes hands and keeps a polite smile on his face. There are reporters in the room with cameras in hand, so Bucky makes sure that he looks interested in everyone who's speaking.
"You'll bring my boy home safe, won't you?" his mother asks at one point, smiling. Some of the reporters laugh uncomfortably while the officers look at each other.
"We'll try our best, your majesty," one of them says.
"I'm happy to lay down my life," Bucky says, thinking that maybe it's what Steve would have said.
Bucky's not stupid. He knows he's had everything working against him from the start: the bastard prince, plucked from the wrong side of the tracks and thrust into a world he clearly didn't belong in. No amount of military school was able to beat the smartass mouth out of him and he's not winning much at the popularity game with how many nights a month he gets dragged out of a club, wasted. It's surprising that the tabloids never tire of splashing his predilection for alcohol and girls across the front pages--like at this point it's going to shock anybody any more.
Steve's been at him, quietly. Telling him that maybe he should consider taking life a little more seriously so that people will start taking him more seriously as their crown prince. That maybe he should start thinking about settling down.
Hard to tell Steve that he had no interest in settling down with anyone other than him--not that Bucky ever would. He didn't need the full force of the American media pointed at his asthmatic best friend, tearing him down the same way they dug their claws into Bucky.
But maybe Steve was right. Maybe it was time he learned a touch of maturity.
He sits through an excruciatingly boring dinner with several ambassadors from Germany. He knows enough about the financial crisis in Greece to hold a brief discussion with the woman to his left about whether or not Germany had a right to withdraw from the euro before being forced into small talk with the duchess on his right about some television program he didn't even follow.
The queen keeps looking at him like she knows what he's thinking, like she knows he's already halfway out the door. She probably knows him better than he thinks--but after all these years, they've never cultivated the sort of relationship that Bucky once dreamed of. No such things as fairy tales. More often than not, Bucky thinks that she wishes she'd never dragged him up from out of her past.
He doesn't blame her. He kind of wishes the same.
He loops around east DC a couple of times to lose the paparazzi that he'd picked up before heading to Steve's. He's careful to do this every time--didn't need reporters knocking down Steve's front door like they had at Steve's last apartment. Sometimes if security is feeling nice or just bored, they send out a decoy car.
It's nearly midnight by the time that Bucky turns his key and lets himself in. The light in the living room is still on--there's an architectural video playing on Steve's laptop at low volume. Steve's curled up on the futon, under the sheets from this morning. He's asleep and Bucky almost doesn't want to wake him.
"Hey," he murmurs, sitting down. Steve stirs and opens his eyes.
"Wasn't sure if you'd make it," Steve murmurs sleepily, scooting closer and drawing the sheets closer to his face. Bucky shrugs off his jacket. "You look nice."
"You've seen me in military dress a million times," Bucky says, laughing.
"You always look nice then," Steve says, and Bucky's chest tightens. Jesus.
"You gonna be alright?" Bucky says, "Paying for everything I mean."
"Come on Buck," Steve says, opening his eyes. "When was I ever strapped for cash?"
"Your medical coverage still good?" Bucky insists.
"I thought I'd be the one worrying," Steve says, smiling, "I'll be okay."
Bucky doesn't relax though. "I'll have email and I can probably take calls."
"I'll email all the cat videos you're missing."
Bucky shoves at his leg. Steve just grins.
"How was your dinner?" Steve asks.
"Boring," Bucky says and looks at Steve's laptop, "What are you watching?"
"Documentary," Steve says, "Also boring, because apparently I fell asleep."
"You should sleep more," Bucky says.
"Okay, mom," Steve says, rolling his eyes. Bucky shoves him for real this time, and Steve laughs. Bucky flops down onto his back, and half considers taking his pants off so he doesn't crease them. He has to have an old pair of sweatpants lying around here somewhere. And hell--even if he didn't, half of Steve's stuff was way oversized anyway.
"You want to hear something really stupid?" Steve asks.
"Is it different from anything else you say?"
Steve smiles. But then it fades and he says, "You know I tried enlisting when I turned eighteen."
Bucky turns his head so that he's looking at the profile of Steve's face.
"I mean, they didn't want me obviously," Steve says, still staring at the ceiling. "But I kind of figured, that's where you'd be going and I wanted to follow, you know?"
"You're right," Bucky says, "That's pretty stupid."
Steve looks at him.
"I'd rather you stay safe," Bucky says, because there's no way he can articulate the depth of how much he doesn't want Steve in the military. No bullets, no heat seeking missiles, no psychological trauma.
"I'd rather you stay safe too," Steve says, quietly, deliberately.
Bucky closes his eyes and turns his entire body towards Steve. Steve reaches out and runs a hand through Bucky's hair twice before letting it settle in the space between them.
"Can't get rid of me," Bucky says, moving his hand so that it's almost touching Steve's, "Sorry."
He walks out of Steve's apartment for the last time at five in the morning. Addison pulls up to the curb with newly laundered fatigues and a duffel. She hands him his one way ticket to Kuwait.
Bucky tucks the pilfered moleskine into his pocket and climbs into the car.