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Strands Of Time

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1927, Brooklyn.

Bucky's hair is getting long.

Shaggy, his ma has called it several times now. She did this morning when Bucky showed up at the front door like so many other Saturday mornings, hair a mess atop his head and a toothy grin sitting crookedly on his lips. She'd ruffled his hair, called him shaggy boy, and let him inside.

Steve doesn't know anything about hair but he agrees with her. Bucky's hair has grown down below his ears and if not for how curly it is and always has been, the bangs would probably fall into his bright blue eyes. It's long and shaggy but it doesn't look bad, Steve thinks.

Bucky keeps touching it. Running his fingers through it, pushing the hair out of his face, blowing at it when it falls back down in front of his eyes, annoyed and irritated. Currently, he has his chin dipped while his fingers card through his curly bangs, pulling at them and straightening them out. They reach to the tip of his nose when he does.

“Ma says I need a cut,” he says. “'m starting to look like my sister.”

Steve lets out a huff and pulls his knees up to his chest. He wraps his arms around his legs and leans back against the bed, the wood of the frame digging into his bony back. He doesn't look away from Bucky who's sitting in the windowsill in his room, legs crisscross and shoulders hunched.

The window's open and the quiet summer wind blows in hotly.

“Your sister's three,” Steve says.

“And that makes it worse.”

Bucky sighs heavily and drops his hand. His curls bounce against his forehead.

Steve curls his hands into fists and holds his legs tighter.

“Guess you do need a cut,” he says and pretends it isn't a lie.

Steve's own hair is flat. It falls down over his forehead in straight locks and sweeps slightly to the left and while it's cut as nicely as his ma can with their old scissors because they can't afford to get it cut professionally, it looks nice and neat and like every other boy in the neighborhood.

It's boring, unlike Bucky's.

Steve is nine and thinks this is jealousy.

 

1935, Brooklyn.

He realizes it's not jealousy when he's sixteen.

It happens in class on a cold Thursday in January. Steve is seated at a desk toward the back of the classroom close to the windows while Bucky is seated a couple desks ahead of him in a row or two to the right. There's a couple students between them but Steve still has a good view of him.

Steve has lost many minutes to staring at Bucky and today is no different. He has his head propped up, chin in hand as he sits slightly slumped over the desk with his eyes glued onto Bucky who is completely swallowed up by whatever is happening in class. A fellow classmates is reading up a passage from the book they're reading but Steve has long since lost track of which.

Bucky has started filling out his shirts after hitting puberty. His shoulders are a little wider and his face is a little thinner now that the baby fat has started to fade away. It's still there, of course, but less so now. He's been getting taller too. Steve used to be almost an inch taller than him when they were kids but Bucky shot over his head years ago and Steve has been standing still since he was twelve.

Bucky's hair is different now too. He's been getting regular and frequent cuts now, gets them once a month because his hair grows so fast and his family can afford it. It's kept short and above his ears with a side split, curly bangs swept to the side. He uses products now though so the curls are flatter than they used to be.

But he still looks good.

Really good.

Around him, his fellow classmates turn the page in their books so Steve does the same but without looking away from Bucky. He watches as Bucky tugs a short lock of hair behind his ear and smooths down the hair in the back and he doesn't look away when Bucky turns his head and glances his way.

Bucky does a double take when he sees Steve already looking back. Steve's heart starts racing in his chest at being caught staring and he feels his face start to heat up bit by bit but he can't get himself to look away. It would be useless anyway, Bucky has already caught him.

The time it takes for Bucky to do something feels like an eternity. He sticks his tongue out at him and smiles that crooked little smile that Steve knows so well and when he winks right before turning back to the front of the class, time suddenly stops moving altogether and Steve's heart does a funny flip.

Oh.

This isn't jealousy.

♢ ♢ ♢

After class, he pretends like nothing happened.

He lets Bucky throw his arm around his shoulders and pull him into his side like normal and while it makes Steve's heart race in his chest and his knees go a little wobbly, he doesn't act any differently. He shoves at Bucky with a groan and calls him a jerk and doesn't get annoyed when Bucky follows him all the way home even though Bucky lives in the other direction.

It's only when the front door closes and shuts Bucky out that Steve lets the facade fall.

He lets his raggedy backpack slide off his shoulders and turns around to press his back against the wood of the door. He slides down and slumps on the ground, knees up to his chest and arms wrapped around them, forehead pressed against his legs and eyes shut tight.

It's hard to breathe and not because of his asthma.

“Steve?”

Steve doesn't look up when he hears his mother's voice. He curls further in on himself and clenches his fists around his own sleeves. He doesn't look up when she walks over to him either nor when she sits down next to him on the floor. When she wraps an arm around him, he doesn't fight it and lets himself be pulled into her side.

They sit there silently for a minute or two.

Steve doesn't cry because he's not sad. He's scared out of his damn mind.

He knows what happens to people like him out in the world. He's heard the horror stories, the ones told by the men his ma has brought home to patch up particularly terrifying. He's not afraid of a fight or having to defend his right to love and he knows that it's not wrong even if the world around him tells him differently.

He knows this but he's still scared.

“What happened?” his ma asks quietly into his hair.

“Something's wrong with me,” Steve whispers, voice trembling a little.

“Oh honey,” she says and hugs him closer. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are perfect just the way you are, my sunshine boy. Don't you ever let anyone make you believe otherwise.”

Steve doesn't tell her. He could and knows that she would accept him because that's just the kind of person she is. Accepting and loving, no matter who you are. In hindsight, maybe he didn't even have to tell her. Maybe she already knew even if he never got a chance to tell her.

But he doesn't tell her now because he can't get the words out. He's not ready.

So in this moment, he's just happy to sit here and be held by his mom.

 

1936, Brooklyn.

The funeral wake is small. Many people have come by to pass on their condolences in the past week or so but not many show up to the wake itself, not that Steve expects them to either. A few friends of the family show up with trays of food for the guests, a couple people from the neighborhood help get things arranged, and the Barnes family show up the morning of and stay within arms reach.

It's nice, Steve supposes, that his ma was loved by this many.

But it doesn't feel right. She's supposed to be here to receive the love.

Steve leaves after only three hours. He's honestly surprised he managed to stay for that long because he's been wanting to leave before it even started. He slips out quietly when no one is paying him any attention. He doesn't think anyone notices which he's grateful for because he doesn't want anyone to. He wants to be alone for a minute.

Or an hour or forever.

He just needs to be alone.

He walks toward the station in a daze with his clenched fists hidden away in the pockets of his slacks that sit too loosely on his skinny legs and are held up by a belt that's tightened as much as it can. He keeps his eyes firmly locked to the ground below his feet the whole way and somehow, he manages to make it home to their— well, now his apartment building in DUMBO.

When the concrete under his feet is familiar, he lifts his gaze and then he stops.

Bucky is in front of him. Standing with his hands in his pockets and a small, sad smile on his lips. He looks so out of place here, dressed to the nines in a dark colored suit that fits him like it was tailored to him.

His hair, kept short over the years, is brushed away from his shaven face. It's slicked back with a decent amount of product that makes it shine under the afternoon sun and lays flat against his head. It makes him look so grown up, his face much squarer now that he's nearing his twenties.

He doesn't fit in here, sticks out like a sore thumb.

An annoyingly beautiful thumb.

Steve has come to accept that part of himself over the last year. He likes men. A lot. He likes women too, of course, and he doesn't know what that makes him but he's accepted it. No one knows and he doesn't plan for anyone to ever know, least of all Bucky. Bucky can never know.

Bucky doesn't say anything when he approaches. He doesn't throw his arm around Steve's shoulders either, he just turns and follows when Steve starts walking again. Steve doesn't say anything either despite wanting to be left alone and without pity. He doesn't tell him to piss off.

It's Bucky. It's different when it's him.

Neither of them say a word until they reach the stairs leading up.

“We looked for you after,” Bucky says. “My folks wanted to give you a ride to the cemetery.”

“I know,” Steve says quietly. “I'm sorry. I just... kinda wanted to be alone.”

Bucky pauses for a beat behind him. “How was it?” he asks, as if he doesn't know.

“It's okay,” Steve tells him anyway. “She's next to dad.”

They both fall silent as they approach his front door. Steve sweeps his uneven and flat bangs out of his eyes even though he knows they'll just fall right back and reaches his hand into his jacket to fish out the keys.

His fingers are met with nothing but fabric.

“I was gonna ask—”

“I know what you're gonna say, Buck,” Steve says, cutting him off. “I just...”

“We can put the couch cushions on the floor,” Bucky says. “Like when we were kids. It'll be fun.”

Steve answers with a noncommittal hum as he sticks his hand into another pocket in his jacket. There's no key there either which makes him frown. He's sure he still had a key when he left the wake.

“All you gotta do,” Bucky continues and steps back, “is shine my shoes, maybe take out the trash.”

Steve only listens with half an ear, too busy frantically searching his pockets for the damn keys. He stops, however, when he sees Bucky kick aside the brick by the railing and bending down to pick up the spare key left underneath. Steve forgot all about it and is amazed Bucky hasn't too.

Bucky walks back over to him with a smile on his lips and holds the key out to him.

“Come on,” he says, almost beckons.

Steve takes the key and looks down at it, jaw clenching. He knows what Bucky is asking. Or not asking, he's offering. He's offering him an easy solution that doesn't involve him struggling to get by. He's offering him safety and security because he can.

Logically, Steve knows it's not out of pity and he knows it's not charity.

But he never was good at accepting help.

“Thank you, Buck,” he says and looks up. “But I can get by on my own.”

“The thing is,” Bucky says and looks right back. “You don't have to.”

Steve doesn't move and when Bucky's hand grasps his shoulder, his heart momentarily stops and skips a beat.

“I'm with you 'til the end of the line, pal,” Bucky says with a meaningful look.

Steve is eighteen and knows this is love.

 

1939, Brooklyn.

Steve has been close to death before but it has never felt quite this suffocating.

His vision has tunneled and focused on one thing; the plane of bare skin laid out in front of him, kissed by the summer sun which has left it tan with a thin layer of sweat beading on the chest. The stomach is covered with dark hair that grows fuzzily from the navel and down until it disappears into the slacks sitting low on his hips.

Bucky has started putting on some muscle in the last couple months, more than his natural lean torso provides him. His stomach is flat and when he's stretched out on his back like he is now, it almost hollows in. He has his left arm thrown out onto the mattress while his right is lifted and his fingers are in his hair, playing with it.

It's gotten a little longer now that he doesn't get it cut once a month anymore which gives his natural curls a chance to grow. He doesn't use quite as much pomade or product either and instead lets them show, even on days like this where the sun is hot and his hair is still damp from when they ran through the popped fire hydrant down the street a little while ago.

Bucky blows out a breath and flicks his hair up. It bounces and hangs over his head in a swoop.

It's a beautiful sight and Steve can't breathe.

“Maybe I should cut it,” Bucky says and drops his hand onto his stomach.

Steve swallows thickly and says, “It ain't that bad, Buck.”

Bucky turns his head and quirks a brow at him. “You don't think so?”

“Nah, it...” Steve shrugs and averts his eyes. “It looks good.”

He keeps his eyes downward even as he feels Bucky looking at him and pretends to go back to drawing. He traces the tip of his sharpened down pencil along the lines he's already drawn on the paper in his lap, his cheeks burning from something other than the heat.

Bucky hums quietly from the bed but doesn't say anything. Not at first, at least.

“You're not as subtle as you think, you know.”

Steve pauses. His hand stops moving and he stares blankly down at the paper. Slowly, he lifts his gaze and looks back over at Bucky. Bucky is still laid out on the bed but he's lifted himself up on his elbows now, looking at him.

He's smiling, that crooked little smile that Steve has wanted to kiss for years.

Steve blinks at him, swallows around his dry throat, and ignores the heat in his cheeks.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” he says even though it's a lie.

Of course he knows. He always knows what Bucky means.

“The way you look at me,” Bucky says. “I've noticed.”

Steve can't breathe. He's been close to death before but it has never felt quite this suffocating.

He tightens his grip on his pencil and looks down at his lap, jaw clenched.

“I'll stop,” he says quietly.

“Who said I wanted you to stop?”

Steve unclenches a little, then he lifts his gaze and looks up to meet Bucky's.

From the bed, Bucky looks back. His cheeks are a little flushed and he's fiddling with his own fingers, a nervous tick that he traded in for biting his nails, but he keeps his eyes almost stubbornly locked to Steve's.

“What?” Steve asks in an exhale.

“Maybe I don't want you to stop. Maybe...” Bucky shrugs. “Maybe I like it.”

“I—”

“Although,” Bucky says and clears his throat, shifting a little. “Would be nice if you stopped looking for a minute and started acting instead.”

“Are you pulling my leg?” Steve asks after a beat.

“Come on, Steve,” Bucky says. “Do you really think I'd do that?”

“I don't know, you pushed me into a lake last spring.”

“This ain't the same and you know it.”

Steve stares at him for a long, long minute.

Then he takes in a deep breath, sets his sketchbook aside, and stands up. He walks over to the bed without breaking eye contact with Bucky and when he gets there, he hesitates for a mere second before he climbs onto the bed and sits down in Bucky's lap, his legs on either side of Bucky's hips.

The flush on Bucky's cheeks gets even darker but he doesn't move or push him off so Steve decides to be brave. He puts his hand on the middle of Bucky's chest and pushes him down flat on his back. Bucky goes willingly, letting out a shuttering breath the second his back hits the mattress, and Steve leans over him.

They look at each other for a breathless moment.

Then Steve leans down and kisses him.

It's nothing more than a gentle press of lips, a peck at most, but it still sends a shivering spark through his whole body. He has wanted to know what Bucky's lips would feel like against his own for years now; they're soft, a little dry but perfect nonetheless.

The kiss lasts maybe five seconds before he pulls back an inch and looks down.

Beneath him, Bucky opens his eyes and looks up. His mouth drops open and he lets out a shuttering breath, then he licks his lips and swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing.

“You can do better than that,” Bucky says, voice a little croaky.

Steve smiles and takes him up on that challenge.

The next kiss is much firmer. Steve tilts his head and parts his lips a little when he leans down and this time, Bucky kisses back because he's given the time to. It's a good kiss, Steve decides, and when Bucky sighs contently into it, Steve moves his hands and puts his fingers in Bucky's hair.

It's as soft as he's always imagined and the touch draws another content noise out of Bucky. He runs his fingers through the curly locks, pushing them out of Bucky's face as their heads tilt opposite ways and their lips continue to slide against each other in kiss after kiss after kiss.

They kiss for a while. For how long, Steve doesn't know. But eventually, they come to a stop.

Steve doesn't leave the bed though. He stays, sitting with his back against the wall and Bucky's head in his lap. His fingers stay in Bucky's hair, playing with the locks he's been staring at for so many years. Bucky seems to like it; his eyes are closed and he keeps making content noises like a house cat getting pet.

Steve smiles down at him and keeps doing it.

“You're coming out with me tonight, right?” Bucky asks after a while.

“Do you want me to?”

“'course. I always do.”

Steve sighs and says, “Fine. But I'm only staying for one song.”

Bucky opens his eyes and smiles up at him. “You always say that,” he says.

“And I always mean it.”

“And yet you always stay for longer. Now, why is that?”

Steve's hand stills in Bucky's hair. He hesitates for a beat, then he says, “Because I like watching you.”

Bucky stares up at him, smile slipped off his lips.

“You got no idea, Buck,” Steve says. “No idea at all how beautiful you are.”

Bucky blinks and then he sits up and kisses him, his hands cupping Steve's face.

Steve kisses him back without hesitation.

“Tell me,” Bucky whispers against his lips.

“Tell you what?” Steve whispers back.

“You know what.”

Steve looks at him for a quiet moment, then he swallows and puts his hand on Bucky's.

“Bucky,” he says. “I love you.”

Bucky smiles and says, “I love you too.”

When they kiss, they both hold onto each other as if letting go would mean death.

In the end, they don't go out and instead spend the night kissing and making up for lost time.

Steve is twenty-one and knows this is right.

 

1943, [REDACTED].

Steve has never felt more like a stranger in his own body than he does after the serum is injected. It takes him months to get used to being so tall and big, not to mention the strength this body has. He could lift a vehicle if he wanted to and he has; he lifted a tank when he went to free Bucky and the 107th.

He has changed a lot, not just appearance-wise.

As has Bucky, though not so much appearance-wise.

He carries more muscle now but he's slimmer and has lost weight since Steve last saw him. He looks a little paler too, has lost that tanned shine he used to carry with him most of the year, and there are dark circles under his tired eyes. He feels distant too, like whatever happened in Azzano still haunts him.

He doesn't talk about it. Steve doesn't ask.

It's quiet around them now. The sun set hours ago and the Commandos went to sleep along with it. Steve volunteered to take the first watch and Bucky decided to join him because he can't sleep much anyway, he says. They're sitting on a fallen tree stump a few feet from where they're camped, sharing a cigarette and listening to the quiet forest around them.

Steve is supposed to be on watch but he can't take his eyes off Bucky. He doesn't want to either, he wants to memorize every little detail about him that his poor vision couldn't catch before the serum. He wants to look at him with these new perfect eyes and never lose this picture.

He stares while Bucky brings the lit cigarette to his bright pink lips and takes a drag. He stares as Bucky blows the smoke out into the open air and he doesn't look away when Bucky glances his way and meets his eyes nor when Bucky lets out a little laugh and turns more toward him.

“You're supposed to be on watch, Captain,” he says and shoves at Steve's knee.

“I know,” Steve says. “You're distracting though, Sergeant.”

“I'm just sitting here, doing nothin'.”

“And yet here I am. Distracted.”

Bucky looks at him in silence for a moment, then he drops the cigarette to the ground and stubs it out with the toe of his boot. He blows out the last bit of smoke before he turns to Steve and looks at him proper.

“What's on your mind?” he asks.

“You,” Steve says. “Did you know your lips are really pink?”

Bucky huffs. “I thought you knew that,” he says.

“I did. Sort of. Didn't realize they were this pink.”

Bucky licks his lips, maybe deliberately, maybe not, and scoots a little closer.

“What else?”

“Your hair,” Steve says and lifts his eyes to it.

Bucky hums. “What about it?”

“It's... different.”

“How?”

“I don't know,” Steve says and brushes a curly lock off Bucky's forehead. “Less shiny.”

Bucky leans into his hand and says, “That happens when you can't get a proper shower or decent products.”

“You seem less shiny too,” Steve says.

He instantly regrets it because Bucky stops smiling. He doesn't lean away from his hand though. He looks at him for a long moment, a thousand yard look in his eyes, but then he blinks and shifts his head until Steve's palm rests on his cheek.

Steve keeps it there, brushes his thumb against his cheekbone.

“I don't wanna talk about it,” Bucky says quietly.

“I know,” Steve says and scoots closer. “I'm not asking you to either. Just... whenever you're ready.”

Bucky hums quietly and nods, then he takes in a deep breath and closes his eyes while he leans more insistently into Steve's hand. Getting the hint, Steve lets his hand slide around until his fingers go into Bucky's hair. It's less soft, more dirty, but it doesn't matter.

Steve still loves it and him all the same.

With a sigh, Bucky falls to the side and rests his head on Steve's shoulder. Steve lets him and wraps his arm around his shoulder, his fingers staying in his hair and playing with it almost absently.

“I've missed you,” Bucky says in a whisper.

“I've missed you too,” Steve says just as quiet.

They sit there until the sun starts coming up, neither of them moving. Bucky stays leaning against Steve and Steve keeps his hand in Bucky's hair and holds him close.

Steve is twenty-four and never wants to let go.

 

♢ ♢ ♢

 

But he does, though he doesn't mean to.

And when Bucky falls off the train, it's not his hair that Steve remembers. It's the hand stretched out toward him that's just out of his reach. The hand that he just had to hold onto but couldn't.

It haunts him far into the future.

 

2012, Manhattan.

Natasha's hair is different. It holds a natural softness even though she barely uses any products and buys the cheapest shampoo she can find on the shelf. Steve knows because she has dragged him on a shopping run a couple times by now. It's longer than Bucky's ever was too, reaches down to just above her shoulders, and while it curls when wet, it's different, wavy instead of the little curls in Bucky's.

She doesn't have bangs either and her split is down the middle, leaving her hair to frame her face. It suits her nicely though she could probably pull off just about any hairstyle if she wanted to. Steve doesn't tell her that. They're... coworkers, he supposes, turned newly-made friends but they're not close.

Not yet. They're getting there.

It's a Saturday and SHIELD has, surprisingly, given them a day off. Natasha is at his undecorated and still unpacked apartment. The apartment isn't big—only two rooms where one is both the kitchen and the living room, though the bathroom is in a small room next to his tiny bedroom—but that's okay. Steve doesn't plan on staying here for long.

Steve is sitting on the two-person couch in the living room/kitchen with Natasha between his legs, her back to him and her legs in a crisscross position. She's watching something on her phone, some internet video that Steve has long since lost interest in.

He's much more focused on the hair in his hands.

“You know,” Natasha says as she hands him a hair tie. “I never pegged you for a guy who knew how to do this.”

“I used to do it for my ma,” Steve says and ties off the braid in her hair.

“Your ma,” Natasha says, almost coos. “That's adorable.”

“She was a single working mom,” Steve says, ignoring her. “She never had time in the mornings so while she did her makeup, I put her hair up. She was a nurse and liked having her hair out of her face, always wanted the tightest braids. When she got sick and her hair started thinning, I gave her some looser braids and tied a scarf around her head to keep any hair out of her face.”

He doesn't look at her as he speaks. Instead he focuses on his own fingers and the hair between them as he untangles another section. Natasha has a tendency to not brush properly and Steve has had to pull out a couple knots already.

“You're a good guy, Steve,” Natasha says after a minute.

Steve smiles a little but doesn't say anything.

“But you didn't have to braid my hair.”

“I know,” Steve says. “I... wanted to.”

“Why's that?”

Steve shrugs and says, “Guess I miss it. Uh, her.”

Natasha hums in a way that makes him think she knows there's more to it but she doesn't push so Steve doesn't tell her that what he misses isn't necessarily his mom. He does miss her, of course he does. Not a day goes by where he doesn't wish he could have his mom with him. It's been like that since she passed.

But what he misses is the feeling of hair between his fingers and while Natasha's is nice, it doesn't replace Bucky and his.

 

2014, New York.

Steve sees Bucky everywhere, even now. Every time a man with dark curly hair passes him on the street, it makes him stop and look after him even though it's never quite right. The curls, they're never right. The shade and the shape aren't either but it still sends him for a loop because what if.

He doesn't only see him out in the world, he sees him when he closes his eyes too.

Bucky shows up in his dreams all the time, like an echo of their time together. Steve hasn't mentioned this to Natasha because he knows what she would say. She would tell him to get therapy because that's not healthy. He knows it isn't but he doesn't want to let go.

He already let go once and he doesn't want to ever again.

Steve sees Bucky everywhere.

But he never expects to see him under the Winter Soldier's mask.

It knocks him off guard because Bucky— well, Bucky doesn't look anything like Bucky. He has the same face, the same cleft in his chin, and the same bright blue eye color but those eyes are empty and hollow and that face holds a mask even without the one muzzling him, a mask of anger and maybe even hatred.

His hair is different now too. It's long, grown down to an inch above his shoulders which has turned his natural curls into waves. It's different but still reminds Steve of their time in the war where his hair wasn't as shiny as back in Brooklyn because they very rarely had access to a proper shower. His hair isn't shiny now either and Steve's heart clenches.

Steve drops his fighting stance only seconds after the mask falls to the ground. He stares, eyes wide with shock and mouth slightly agape, for a moment and feels the world start to crumble under his feet.

“Bucky?” he breathes because he has to make sure his brain isn't playing tricks.

And heartbreakingly, the reply he gets is, “Who the hell is Bucky?”

But it's Bucky's voice and that's enough.

Later—after Hill has saved them from Hydra's grasp—after Fury has revealed himself to be alive—after they've regrouped and rethought their strategy—Steve stands on the bridge outside Fury's hiding spot and stares out over the view, not really looking because his mind is elsewhere.

Bucky is alive. Maybe he doesn't remember but he's alive.

It makes Steve... hopeful. Angry. Furious.

It gives him a reason to fight.

“He's gonna be there, you know.”

Steve doesn't look when Sam approaches and comes to stand next to him. He keeps looking out over the horizon, jaw clenched and fists curled tight in his pockets.

“I know,” he says in a quiet voice.

Sam doesn't say anything for a moment, then he leans forward and rests his elbows on the railing. He follows Steve's eyes out onto the view ahead of them and they stand there in silence for a couple minutes. Sam says nothing, giving Steve time to start.

“I loved him,” Steve says eventually. “Still do.”

“I'm guessing not like a brother,” Sam says and glances his way.

Steve huffs and says, “As far from a brother as you can get.”

“Yeah, I figured as much. The way you talk about him...”

Sam trails off but he doesn't have to finish that thought. Steve knows how he talks about Bucky.

“He's everything to me,” Steve says after a beat. “Nothing in this world matters without him.”

“Look,” Sam says. “Whoever he used to be and the guy he is now... I don't think he's the kind you save. He's the kind you stop.”

Steve breathes in stubbornly. “I don't know if I can do that.”

“Well, he might not give you a choice. He doesn't know you.”

Steve turns and looks at Sam.

“He will.”

 

♢ ♢ ♢

It takes a lot of fighting and a lot of years but eventually, he does.

Eventually, Steve gets him back and things are right again.

 

2018, Wakanda.

It's hot here in Wakanda, hotter than he remembers Brooklyn summers ever being. Not quite as humid and stuffy though and his lungs are fixed so Steve doesn't feel like he's dying with every breath he takes. Besides, the beautiful sunsets and sunrises are worth a little sweat during the day.

That and the fact that he gets to lay in the shade with the love of his life.

Against him, Bucky hums and deflates a little more as Steve cards his fingers through his hair. It's still long, longer now even, but he takes care of it now so it has some of the old shine back finally. The time he spends in the sun herding and taking care of the goats has given him a slight tint of brown in his darker locks, giving him natural highlights.

It looks and feels good between Steve's fingers.

Any other time too, of course.

They're out on the field outside Bucky's hut on the outskirts of Wakanda, laying in the shade cast by one of the big trees. Steve has his back to the trunk and Bucky is settled between his spread legs, his own crisscross. His head is tilted back and his eyes are closed, completely relaxed.

Steve smiles quietly to himself, kisses his shoulder, and brings his fingers back to the top.

“This 's nice,” Bucky says in a mumble.

Steve hums in agreement. “You ever thought we'd be here?” he asks.

“What, in Africa?”

“No. Well, yes. But I mean, here. A place where we can be like this in the open.”

Bucky chuckles against him and says, “Steve, there aren't anyone for miles.”

“You know what I mean,” Steve says and deliberately lets his fingers get a little stuck.

“I know,” Bucky says, unbothered. “And no. But I'm glad we did.”

“Yeah. So am I.”

Steve's hand pauses in Bucky's hair for a moment while he wraps his other arm around his middle and pulls him a little closer, hand resting on his stomach. He smiles when Bucky puts his own hand on top of his, curling his fingers around it. He plants a light kiss to the side of his head before he goes back to petting Bucky like a house cat, carding his fingers through the soft locks.

He could sit here for hours, exactly like this.

“Can I ask,” Bucky says after a while. “What is it with you and my hair?”

Steve hums questioningly.

“Ever since we were kids,” Bucky says. “You've always been obsessed with my hair.”

Steve shrugs and says, “You've got good hair. Always have.”

“And you're into good hair?”

“I don't know. I'm into your hair.”

Bucky hums, then he asks, “Which one's your favorite?”

“Of your hairstyles?”

“Yeah.”

Steve thinks for a brief moment before he says, “This one.”

“Yeah?” Bucky smiles, a little grin sitting crookedly on his lips. “You like a man with long hair?”

“I do,” Steve says as he slides his fingers up through the locks until he reaches the top, then he grabs and tugs. “More to grab.”

Bucky arches back against him, mouth dropped open in a silent gasp.

Steve has picked up on things that Bucky likes over the years. Bucky likes having his hair played with and he likes when Steve spends hours just absently carding his fingers through it. It calms him, he says.

But what he really likes is hair grabbing— pulling, specifically.

Fingers tangled in his hair, Steve leans in and kisses along Bucky's exposed neck. It draws a soft moan out of Bucky so he keeps doing it and slowly, very slowly, he lets his other hand travel downward, down along Bucky's stomach.

Bucky clutches at his hand but doesn't stop it, only lets his own follow along.

“Steve,” Bucky says quietly. “We're outside.”

“You said it yourself, Buck,” Steve says into his ear. “There's no one for miles.”

Bucky huffs out a laugh but he doesn't protest further. He spreads his legs and lets Steve's hand slide down between them.

Steve is a hundred years old and he's home.