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can we always be this close?

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September 19th, 1928

Robbie Joyce was not a fighter.

He knew that kids were supposed to defend themselves against bullies. His dad had told him the only way to stop the other kids gangin’ up on him was to stand up, take a few punches, and throw a few in return.

But he just couldn’t do that. It wasn’t just because he was small and scrawny, or because he was sick more often than not. He just didn’t have any fight in him. He didn’t want to hurt anyone and he wasn’t going to win so what was the point anyhow?

Whack!

Steve Rogers fell to the ground in a heap. He looked up and Robbie could see blood starting to trickle out of his nose. Robbie’s stomach clenched in fear. Steve turned over onto his hands and knees and slowly, with effort, started to rise.

“Why don’t you just stay down?” Frank Leblanc laughed from where he stood over Steve, “It’d make this a lot easier for you.”

Steve spit. “Why don’t you just shut up? It’d make you a lot less ugly.”

Steve Rogers was a fighter.

Frank’s face twisted into a snarl and he grabbed Steve by the collar, fist raised.

“Hey!” All three faces turned towards a booming voice, steadily coming closer. “Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size?”

It was another boy from Robbie’s school. One he had seen around but didn’t know very well. He was Robbie’s age but had grown faster and more muscular than other kids in his grade. He stood tall, dark brown hair brushed to the side, now falling in waves over his forehead. He wore a short sleeve button down and shorts–nicer than the holey t-shirts Robbie and Steve had but clearly still faded and worn.

Frank clearly took offense to this as he dropped Steve back into the dirt and rounded on the new kid. Frank was two years older than the rest of them and had the size to prove it. He was big and mean and didn’t take nothin’ from nobody.

But the other kid ducked to avoid his punch and socked Frank right in the jaw and Robbie thought to himself, looks like he’s takin’ somethin’ from somebody. The kid drove a hard kick into Frank’s backside for good measure and Frank walked away, spilling out curses and threats as he went.

“Hey,” the new kid said softly to Steve, who was clutching his bruised jaw in one hand. “You okay?”

“I had him on the ropes,” Steve responded indignantly.

The kid rolled his eyes and laughed. “Sure, pal. Just like the Dodgers had those Yankee bastards on the ropes last week when they lost ten to nothin’. I’m Bucky by the way,” He held out his hand and Steve pointedly ignored it, struggling to stand on his own.

“Steve Rogers. And it was a lot closer than it looked, you just walked up at the wrong time.”

Bucky laughed, “What are you doing fighting kids twice your size anyhow?”

“He was stealing that kid’s lunch money!” Steve yelled, pointing at Robbie, who was still sitting at the edge of the fence, attempting to hide under the maple tree. Robbie shrunk as the two boys looked at him.

“He didn’t steal your lunch money?”

Steve looked down. “No I don’t have any.”

“Well what are you, the lunch money police?” Bucky shook his head as he reached into his pockets. He pulled out a few coins and counted them in his palm. “It looks like I got enough. Come on let’s go get some lunch.” He turned and started walking across the school yard towards the lunch hall.

Robbie perked up but stayed where he was. He was desperately hungry but he wasn’t sure if Bucky’s offer was made to him.

Steve, on the other hand, bristled at the implication. “I don’t need your charity. And neither does Robbie.” Robbie shot him a look.

Bucky laughed. “I think we should let Robbie speak for himself. And it’s not charity, pal. I’m just trying to keep you from getting your face smashed in. You can do nice things without your fists, you know. Besides, you look like you could use a meal.”

“Why do you care?” Steve shot back.

“Because, I’m a nice guy. And I could use a friend. Come on.” Steve didn’t know what to say to that. Robbie didn’t think he could say a thing to either one of them.

He had never heard anyone talk to Steve Rogers that way. Most kids didn’t talk to him at all. He wasn’t exactly the first choice on any team for a pick-up ball game. He was poor and scrawny and was out sick even more than Robbie. He got himself into more fights than friendships and associating with Steve usually meant you also became a target when the bullies got bored. But this kid didn’t seem to care. He spoke to Steve like he would any other kid and was actually trying to hang out with him.

Bucky gave them both a look and waved his arm, encouraging them to follow. Robbie rose from the ground and slowly trailed behind Bucky. Steve stomped after them.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, I’m from Manhattan,” Bucky responded.

“Oh rich guy, huh? That where you get all this money you have to just give away?” Steve asked, a bit rudely if Robbie was being honest.

But Bucky just laughed. “Nah, my dad was building the new Gilbert skyscraper. We just go where the work is.” He shrugged.

“Huh. Well since you’re new I’ll do you a favor and let you know how things work here. Me and Robbie aren’t exactly the popular kids.” Steve said matter-of-factly. Robbie glared at him from behind Bucky’s back.

Bucky chuckled, “yeah I kind of picked up on that. That’s okay, Stevie, I’ve always thought the popular kids were a little overrated.”

“My name is Steve, not Stevie.” Steve said indignantly.

“You’re a punk, Stevie,” Bucky laughed.

“Yeah, well you’re a jerk.”

________

February 6th, 1940

“Yeah I’ll take a gin and tonic and a beer.”

Leo Thompson had worked at Webster Hall for almost two months and he was starting to get the hang of being behind the bar. The club catered to certain groups of people who needed to be a little more discreet on their nights out and people came from all five boroughs to party at Webster’s. It was even nicknamed The Devil’s Playhouse by some uptight magazine. They threw rowdy parties on the weekend with people of all types coming to see the shows they put on. But on Tuesday nights like this one, it functioned more like a typical fairy bar promising drinks, dancing, and privacy.

Leo got started on the gin and tonic and handed over the beer. He had never seen this guy here before but recognized the man he met at the hightop next to the bar. Steve was a sweet guy. He showed up several nights a week and usually kept to himself, smiling at guys but never accepting a dance. Leo looked out for guys like that. They were easy to take advantage of. He knew Steve could take care of himself–had seen him do it–but sometimes your own fists weren't enough.

“You didn’t have to get me some fancy drink, Bucky. I drink beer too.” Steve said with shyness in his voice. This must be a date, Leo thought. He was going to need to keep an eye on them.

“You tried beer once when you were 15 and almost puked,” the other guy, Bucky, said.

“That's ‘cus we had been at Coney Island all day and you made me ride the cyclone again. I was set up for failure.”

“You love the cyclone! We ride it all the time!”

“Yeah because you like to ride it!”

“Nah, you just like holding onto me tight,” Bucky says with a smirk.

Steve blushed but didn't let up. “Either way. I like beer.”

“Sure, pal. And how many times have you had it since then?”

“Lotsa’ times. You don't know everything about me ya know.”

Bucky’s face turned serious. “I wish I did.”

Steve looked down shyly.

Bucky’s eyes didn't leave Steve’s face. “Still, my best guy deserves better than beer,” Leo looked up just in time to see Steve blush further. Bucky stood next to him at the table, leaning in. They seemed close. Leo wondered how long this had been going on. They clearly knew each other but there was a hesitation, a shyness evident in both of them.

The stage was empty and the music was playing low over the speakers. The place wasn’t packed but had a decent crowd for a Tuesday night. Some guys slow danced in the center floor, the rest stood at the tables surrounding the edges of the club, talking quietly. Two girls kissed softly at the end of the bar.

“This is a nice place Stevie. Why haven’t you ever brought me here before?” Bucky asked.

Steve looked down. “Well before last week you probably wouldn’t have come.”

“Sure I would’ve. I’d go anywhere for you, Stevie, you gotta know that.” Bucky’s voice was suddenly very serious. Steve didn’t say anything.

Leo had never heard anyone talk to Steve this way. Guys tried to pick him up pretty often with cheesy one liners or crude suggestions. But no one had ever spoken to him with such care, such sincerity.

Bucky laughed, “I just wouldn’t have known what to do with myself. But, hell, maybe it would’ve made me kiss you sooner.” He looked Steve in the eyes when he said this, and Steve turned a deeper shade of red. “Is that something we can do here?”

“What?” Leo could barely hear Steve’s whispered response.

“Can I kiss you, Stevie?” He was leaning in close now.

Leo looked up as Steve nodded his head. Bucky leaned in slowly and placed a soft, delicate kiss on Steve’s lips. Steve’s hand came up to cradle the side of Bucky’s face and he deepened the kiss, turning to the side and opening his mouth to taste more. They kissed for a few moments before breaking apart. They stayed close, looking into each other’s eyes like they couldn't believe this was happening.

“Come dance with me,” Bucky said. He was grinning small and tender, in the way that only lovers do.

Steve laughed, breathy and short, “You know I can’t dance, Buck.”

“Aw, come on I’ll teach ya.”

“You’ve tried before and it’s never worked.”

Bucky grinned again, slyly this time, “Yeah but that was before I could put my hands right where I wanted ‘em.” Steve blushed. “Come on. I’ll put my hands on your waist, right here see?” His hands slid down to Steve’s waist, fingers tracing lightly as they went. “And I’ll move you just how you need to. Nice and slow, sweetheart.”

They were leaning close together now, Bucky cradling Steve’s small frame with his entire body. His face was tilted to speak directly into Steve’s ear and Steve shivered with every word he said. Their drinks were long forgotten.

Suddenly Steve looked up at Bucky, a challenging look on his face. “Everyone will see. And they’ll know what we are to each other.”

Bucky looked back unflinchingly. He saw the challenge in Steve’s eyes and met it like a man staring fearlessly into the sun. Bucky would go to hell and back for Steve and it was written all over his face. “Good. Let ‘em see. I want everybody to know I got the prettiest guy in Brooklyn on my arm.”

Steve was blushing again as his head fell forward to lay softly on Bucky’s chest. His cheek rubbed lightly against Bucky’s skin and two sets of eyes closed simultaneously; embraced by the profound intimacy of love.

Steve leaned back to look in Bucky’s eyes, another challenging look on his face–this kid was full of ‘em, apparently. He cupped the back of Bucky’s neck in his right hand, fingers dancing in the short hair. “Why don’t we go home and you can teach me there?” Steve’s fingers trailed down, drifting into his shirt where the top two buttons were undone. “Maybe I can teach you something too?”

Bucky didn’t say anything for a few moments. His jaw clenched several times and the fire in his eyes matched the burning expression on Steve’s face. Suddenly, the corner of his mouth turned up into a grin, “Sure, honey, we can do that. But on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“That you be my valentine next week.”

Steve head fell back and he groaned, but a small smile played on his lips. “God, you’re such a sap. I shoulda’ seen that one coming.”

“Yeah you should’ve” Bucky was grinning from ear to ear now. “So is that a yes?” He leaned in and placed a cheesy kiss on Steve’s cheek.

Steve hummed in fake contemplation, “I don’t know, Buck.”

“Come on I'll treat you real nice. Buy you chocolate and take you somewhere fancy.”

Steve just laughed and rolled his eyes. “You don't have to treat me like one of your broads Buck. You've already got me.”

“But I want to Stevie. I want to get this right. Help me get this right. Tell me all the ways to love you.”

Steve couldn't help himself. It was written all over his face. He reached up and kissed Bucky solidly and warmly. Bucky’s hands wrapped around Steve’s waist as Steve’s hand cupped his cheek. He stroked the stubble there slowly.

“Alright just let me make the pot roast next time because your’s tastes like roadkill.” Steve said with a smirk and a snort.

Bucky shot out a laugh, loud and full. “You're such a punk.”

Steve grinned, full of amusement and affection. “And you love it, jerk.”

“Yeah I do.”

______

November 11th, 1944

George Baker was used to complaining. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army for Christ’s sake. There was a lot to complain about and it never really stopped.

It was mostly the privates. They griped about their superiors, about other soldiers, about their family back home. The cold, the rain, the food, the asshole that served the food. These guys never stopped. George understood but there wasn’t a lot he could do besides sit and listen so that’s what he did.

The thing was, George was used to the privates’ constant complaining. He just didn’t expect it from Barnes too.

Sergeant Barnes was a specialist who had been taken from his squad, just like Baker, to assist in some high-level operatives that required the best snipers the army had to offer. George had gone to basic training with Barnes and they had gotten pretty close. They talked about their lives and their families back home. Their plans to move up ranks and their hopes for after the war. It was a surprising comfort to find a familiar face in the middle of all the chaos.

Barnes was quick witted and level headed. He was liked by everyone he met and could charm an officer into getting pretty much whatever he wanted. That’s why George was so surprised to hear him gripe.

It was never about the food or the weather or the ten other guys he was with 24/7. It was always about the missions, and George couldn’t understand why. Their squad was supporting the missions to destroy Hydra bases with Captain America and the Howling Commandos. Yes, those Howling Commandos and The Captain America. And somehow they weren’t good enough for Barnes.

This is the dumbest fucking plan.

This makes absolutely no sense. Does he even think about these plans before he makes them?

What’s he expect us to do? Sit up here and watch while he goes in there and gets himself killed?

George had tried to reason with him on that one.

Well, yeah. I think that’s the idea behind snipers. We stay here and cover his back.

Shut up George.

It always centered around Captain Rogers and his plans. Barnes was never satisfied with the strategy.

Look at him, running headfirst into gunfire. What an idiot. Thinks he can survive anything huh?

Willie Hayes had something to say about that.

Well yeah, he’s Captain fucking America. If anyone could survive that it’s him!

You got no idea what you’re talking about, Willie.

George generally tried to ignore it but the two squads were meeting for the first time to go over battle plans and he was a little worried that Barnes wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. As it turned out, he was right.

They were stationed on the front in Italy. They had been instructed to wait for Captain Rogers in a dimly lit tent, empty save for a long wooden table and some chairs. The flap to the tent lifted away and a colossal tower of a man dressed in army green stepped through. The entire squad snapped to attention, waiting at the center of the room in a salute.

“At ease,” Captain America said, and they all dropped their arms.

The Captain took a seat and the rest followed. George chanced a look at the head of the table. Captain Rogers was flipping through some files quietly. His shoulders were broad and muscular, obvious even through the thick layers of uniform. George figured The Captain could knock him out in one punch and that was probably right. His hair was sandy blonde and a short piece fell down into his forehead as he studied the papers intently.

The Captain cleared his throat and George snapped to attention, facing forward intently. He faced Sergeant Barnes, who sat directly across him. Somehow, impossibly, Barnes looked bored.

Captain Rogers got started with the meeting. He debriefed them on completed missions, evaluated their performance, and started to go through plans for new missions.

“So the snipers will be placed here at the top of the gorge, while the commandos and I move through the ridge towards the base.”

“Excuse me, Captain Rogers?”

The Captain paused, let out the faintest of sighs, and said, “Yes, Sergeant Barnes?”

“Have you considered the fact that this plan is completely idiotic?”

The entire room went silent. George could hear the sweat rolling down the side of his neck. No one moved. He glanced at the front of the table and could have sworn he saw a small smirk at the edge of the Captain’s mouth.

“No I haven't, Sergeant. Care to enlighten us?”

“Do you have any kind of exit strategy? The gorge closes off there at the end of the base and the terrain is impassable. By the time you're through, the German troops will have mobilized and trapped you inside.”

“Then we’ll turn around and fight them, too.” The Captain shot back.

“So you're going to fight the entire German Infantry by yourself?” Barnes asked flatly.

“If I have to, yes.”

Barnes actually rolled his eyes and said, “God you're an idiot.”

George was shocked to say the least. He had never heard of anyone talking to Captain America like this. Not only was it prohibited to be so blatantly rude to a superior officer, but he was one of the most widely respected and admired officers George knew of. Guys told war stories about him to their kids. And they were here fighting beside him. Who did this guy think he was?

“Do you have a better plan, Sergeant?” The Captain asked. George couldn't believe it but there was definitely a small smile on The Captain’s face.

“One that prioritizes keeping you alive? Yes, actually I do. Thanks for finally asking.”

George and his other squad members looked around the room confusedly. Was this really happening?

“That's not my priority, Sergeant Barnes.”

Barnes shot out a laugh, “Don't I know it.”

George tried to figure out what Barnes could possibly mean by that but the meeting went on quickly, leaving him no time to analyze the tense conversation. At the end, each member of the squad lined up to receive a personal thanks from Captain America himself before exiting the tent.

George was at the end of the row, next to Sergeant Barnes. His heart rate picked up as Captain Rogers made his way down the line, shaking hands and making eye contact. He thanked them sincerely for their service and told each one that he was looking forward to working with them in the future. When he stepped in front of Barnes, though, he paused. They looked at each other for a moment, neither one saying a thing. George started to sweat.

“That was some shit you pulled back there,” Captain Rogers said.

“Well somebody's gotta call you on it,” Barnes replied.

Before George could think of what that meant, they broke out into matching grins. Barnes reached up and threw his arms around Rogers in a hug. They laughed and held each other closely, like old friends do, slapping each other on the back firmly.

“I missed you, Buck.” Captain Rogers said softly.

“Then quit sending me away,” Barnes replied teasingly.

“You know that wasn't my call.” The Captain said seriously.

Before Barnes could respond, as if the night couldn't get any weirder, the tent entrance suddenly burst open and five men barreled inside. They made a beeline to Barnes, laughing and yelling hysterically as they slapped him on the back and rubbed the top of his head. He pushed them off, annoyed but laughing, and started yelling back.

“Barnes! Have you missed us? Come on tell us how much sweetheart!”

“Did you give Rogers shit for his stupid plan? We've been telling him for weeks.”

“Christ you've gotten old Barnes, look at that grey hair!”

George looked a little closer and noticed some of the name tapes. Morita. Dugan. Jones.

These were the Howling Commandos.

And they knew Barnes.

Barnes was a part of the Howling Commandos.

George’s breath caught in his throat. God, he was stupid, how could he have not figured this out? He had read up on the Commandos before joining this squad. He knew they had a sniper named Barnes. He stood impossibly straighter, hoping they wouldn't notice him. Of course that meant that they did, all somehow glancing at him at the same time.

“And who is this?” The man called Dernier asked.

Barnes grinned. “This is our new support Sergeant. Guys, meet George Baker.”

Jones walked up first, clapping George’s hand in a firm handshake. “Welcome aboard.”

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. Apparently the purpose of Barnes leading the support squad had been to find a new Sergeant to lead them as he was heading back to the Commandos. George was swept into a whirlwind of introductions and congratulations. Then, of course, came the drinks. After a night of songs and laughter and stories they had all heard a dozen times, most of the men had gone to their quarters to sleep. Only Jim Morita and Gabe Jones remained, waxing poetic about the Italian countryside. George laughed and started to gather his things to leave.

As he was walking back to his quarters, George realized he had left his debrief documents in the meeting room. After scouring the tent and finding nothing, he decided to stop by Captain Rogers’ tent to ask if he had held onto them.

He stomped through the mud that lead to the tent, shivering a little at the cool breeze. He could hear the faint sounds of drinking songs and laughter, fleeting spells of happiness weaseling their way into wartime despair. When he reached the tent, he leaned in to pull back the flap but stopped short when he heard voices inside.

“I just don't know why you have to be so reckless, Steve.”

He didn't recognize it but the voice was soft and deep and clearly concerned.

He heard Captain Rogers respond, “It's not like I do it on purpose, Buck.”

“It sure feels like it sometimes!”

As the voice rose, both in volume and irritation, George instantly knew to whom it belonged. Barnes. George was going to leave. Really, he was. But something held him in that spot.

“I can't just sit back and let other men go in front of me! That's the whole point of me being here. To lead. That's the whole point of me.” Rogers said.

“See that's what I hate about this. You are so much more than this, Stevie. You always have been.”

Stevie.

“That's not true and you know it. I never came close to being able to do what I can today.”

“But you don't have to kill yourself to prove it!”

“I have to use what I've been given.”

“Can't you do that and also take care of yourself?”

There was a beat of silence. Then:

“I just… I can't lose you Stevie. I can't.”

“Baby.”

A ragged breath.

“You're not gonna lose me. I promise.”

“I worry about you so much Stevie. Everyday.”

“You got nothin’ to worry about sweetheart. I'm with you. Always.”

Barnes took a ragged breath, tears evident in his voice. “Just quit being such a punk.”

Rogers laughed, soft and quick, “Only when you stop being such a jerk.”

“Never.”

George took a breath and turned to walk back towards his tent. There was something in him that wanted to be shocked, that wanted to tell someone what he had heard. But he couldn't. There was something so soft and tender in the way Rogers and Barnes spoke to each other. Something undeniably intimate. Something terrible to destroy.

He couldn't fault anyone searching for comfort in the midst of tragedy and he wouldn't be the one to ruin it for someone else.

______

June 29th, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, Natasha Romanoff was a lover, not a fighter.

She was known the world over for her hand-to-hand combat skills and her superhuman talent as an assassin. She had been raised for as long as she remembered to follow orders, complete missions through whatever means necessary, and destroy those who didn’t comply.

But she had discovered in recent years–and perhaps she always knew this–that these instincts were learned, not inherent. She didn’t want to be the person the world expected her to be. She didn’t want to follow orders and destroy those who didn’t comply. She wanted to make friends. Care for people. Learn who she was.

That’s why, when Cap had told her he was going away–that he wasn’t following anyone’s world order, that he was going to stick by his friends’ sides, care for people who needed them–it was an easy decision to make.

Of course she was going to go with them.

What started as one thing–helping their friends escape from prison, neutralizing threats as they came along, hiding from both enemies and friends–quickly evolved into something else. They realized that as long as they weren’t showing their faces to the public, the American government didn’t much care to exert the resources necessary to bring them in. They helped anyone they came across that needed them but other than that, for the first time in a very long time, they were free to do as they pleased.

Clint and Scott went back to their families as soon as possible. Wanda left to live in hiding with Vision. They had people they belonged to, people that needed them. What was left of the band of fugitives–Natasha, Sam, Steve, and Bucky–only had each other. They morphed into a family of their own.

They went where they wanted and did what they wanted to do. Sam had always wanted to go to the Moroccan souks in Marrakech so they spent some time wandering the endless stalls, overflowing with tourists and locals and colorful things to buy. They haggled with the shop owners and ate street food amongst hordes of people. Just faces in a crowd.

They went to the Galapagos Islands and spent an extra moment marvelling at the creatures there–wholly unique in the world, always a breath away from extinction. Turtles that lived over a hundred years, most of those spent alone. The comparisons were close enough for comfort so they hopped on a boat and went snorkeling with sea lions instead. Bucky watched timidly from the side until Steve pulled him in to meet the bizarre, friendly animals.

They did what they wanted but also what they needed. They followed Natasha through Russia and beyond as she traced her roots. Digging deep into the family soil, unearthing terrifying, liberating information. They restored her, reinforced her, held her. They were there. And that was enough.

They made time for Sam to see his mother and sisters at least once a month. Natasha secured travel plans and Steve and Bucky monitored surveillance. In and out and none the wiser. Every time like clockwork. Sam came back easy and refreshed. Not quite ready to give up this absurd, nomadic lifestyle just yet. Not sure where he would go otherwise. Sometimes the others joined him for family dinners and their hearts were surprised and their souls were sated from all the laughter and contentment.

Though, throughout all the change and all the healing, Natasha was most surprised by the change in Steve.

He was easier now. Less tortured. Less anxious. He was concerned by the state of things, but fell easily into the rhythm of friends and laughter and fun-just-for-the-sake-of-it. She realized she had never actually seen Steve with his guard down. Without the self-destructive guilt or the burden of duty he placed upon himself. She realized what had caused this change, of course.

It was Bucky.

She hadn’t expected it at first. When she first heard of Steve’s connection to the Winter Soldier and his intention of finding him, she thought it was yet another product of his endless guilt. There was no one in the world Steve Rogers wasn’t responsible for saving.

But it was the fire in his eyes. The absolute persistence with which he searched for Barnes. She saw it in the way his brows pinched together in a look of anguish every time his name was mentioned, in the way his jaw locked and his eyes watered every time they read more about what he had been through. She eventually had to ask him. To fight for the level of honesty she craved between them.

“Sam is right. You need to prepare for the possibility that you won’t like what you find, Cap.”

“It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, Natasha. I have to find him. He’s my friend.”

“He’s more than that to you, isn’t he?”

Steve looked down and didn’t say anything for awhile. He didn’t look scared or nervous. He just looked tired.

“I love him, Nat. I have to find him.”

She knew right then what he meant to Steve. And that she would do whatever it took to save Barnes.

Years later–thanks to the enduring persistence of a friend, the unbelievable intelligence of a Wakandan princess, and the generosity of a King–Bucky was recovering. And Steve had never been more alive.

Natasha had never heard anyone talk to Steve Rogers the way Bucky did.

For one thing, he always called him Steve–Stevie when he was being sweet–never Captain or even Cap like Sam and Natasha. To him, Captain America was an afterthought. The man under the fancy suit and armor was the same one he had met a hundred years ago. Steve was who he cared about; not some title or rank.

But it was the way he spoke to him that blew Sam and Natasha’s mind. They joked around with each other. They bickered constantly. He gave Steve shit like you wouldn’t believe.

“He still thinks he can drink beer,” Bucky laughed one afternoon, sitting on the veranda of their Colombian hotel as Steve grimaced after every sip of the beer he had ordered. “Give it up old man! That serum didn’t help your tastebuds or your weak stomach.”

Steve had just laughed, carefree and boisterous. “You're one to talk, sipping on something that's a whole lot more sugar than tequila.”

“Hey I can appreciate a good beer just like I can appreciate a damn fine margarita like this one right here. Maybe you should try one some time. It might loosen that stick up your ass.”

“Maybe I should try socking you in the jaw some time, see if it helps your loud mouth.”

They had cracked up laughing at that point and Sam and Natasha could only look back and forth between each other and the super soldiers collapsing into giggles at the other end of the table. It was an adjustment, for sure.

But it wasn’t just joking and bickering. They supported each other. They were there for each other. Took every step forward and both steps back. Together. Steve held Bucky through every nightmare and sleepless night and Bucky talked Steve down from every guilt fueled panic attack. They all took a trip to the countryside in Italy and France. Sam and Natasha hung back as Steve and Bucky walked slowly through forests and old base camps. Sometimes they laughed at old stories, sometimes they held each other while they cried, sometimes they said nothing at all.

And, god, Bucky was sweet with Steve. Natasha didn’t exactly know what to expect from an ex-Hydra, brainwashed super soldier assassin but it wasn’t this.

“Come on, Stevie, let’s watch something.”

They were trying to decide what to do for the night. They had just helped the local police track down an arms dealer and they were all feeling the uncomfortable combination of exhaustion and restlessness. Sam was heading out for his second dinner of the night. Natasha had taken an extra long bubble bath and was getting ready for bed. Steve had trouble sleeping after missions and Bucky always turned on a movie to help him relax without telling him to relax. You still couldn’t tell Steve Rogers to do anything, not even Bucky.

“You always want to watch something,” Steve said grinning.

“That’s ‘cus I get to cuddle up real close with you,” Bucky said unabashedly, leaning in close to kiss Steve softly.

Steve blushed. “Alright, fine you convinced me. But I get to pick.”

“Fine. Let's watch something fun like a musical and I’ll sing all the words in your ear,” Bucky smiled threateningly. “Or we can watch a scary movie and I’ll let you hold onto me during all the scary parts.”

Steve scoffed, “I don’t get scared watching movies, Bucky. I’m Captain America.”

Natasha giggled from her spot on the other side of the couch.

“Ok Captain America, then why did I have scratch marks from you grabbing me so tight during The Ring last week?”

“Oh please, baby, don’t act like you don’t love my scratches down your back,” Steve said with a smirk.

Bucky blushed redder than Natasha had ever seen. Steve was grinning from ear to ear. Bucky’s face changed and he turned to Steve with a determined look in his eye.

“You really wanna go there honey? Do you want to finally tell Sam that that hotel in Romania wasn’t actually haunted and explain to him what all those noises were?”

“You’re such a jerk,” Steve said chuckling.

Bucky grinned, “And you’re still a punk.”

Yeah, Natasha was sure she had never heard anyone talk to Steve like that.

And now, standing before her and Sam and the rest of the world, under a canopy of trees with that ever-redeeming sunlight shining through, he didn’t let up.

“I love you, Stevie. I have loved you every day of my life and I will love you long after my life ends.

As your husband, I promise to take care of you, to love you despite your lack of dancing skills, and to always try and stop you from getting in stupid fights every other day.

You never stopped believing in me. And no matter what happened to my head, my heart never forgot you.

You’re written on my soul, Steve Rogers.”

There were a million ways to tell Steve how much he loved him and Bucky Barnes was going to spend the rest of his life finding each and every one.