The night swirls around them and the air is full of energy, slow and syrupy and is filled with possibility. Bucky is delirious and drunk, blood more champagne and bubbles than flesh and bone and pure unadulterated blood. Beside him, Steve is delirious and drunk, too. Drunk off beer and vodka and anything with alcohol. Drunk off the infectious post-war joy. Drunk off the knowledge that he was back where he was supposed to be. The air was warm, even if the earth was cold. They had finished dancing half an hour ago when the band struck up a folksy tune that neither of them had the energy to dance to. It was then when Bucky elbowed Steve, donning that cocksure grin that Steve could never say no to.
“Hey,” Bucky says, nudging Steve with his elbow. “Let’s get out of here.” He has a smile on his face that spells mischief.
“Where are we gonna go? No man’s land?” Steve says wryly, an exhausted smile creeping on the edges of his mouth.
Bucky blinks at Steve, smile fading quicker than light in the winter. He tugs on Steve’s arm more insistently. “C’mon, Captain,” Bucky says teasingly, using the coaxing tone of voice that Steve could never say no to. He’s heard that voice used in a million and one phrases all throughout their shared history.
C’mon, Stevie. Lay off him. Let’s go, punk. That guy isn’t worth the pain. And worst of all, through a smile and a clipped tone of voice. It’s okay, Steve. I’ll be fine in the army. I’ll figure something out.
Steve shakes his head with a smile spreading across his face. Bucky grins from ear to ear, because both of them know that Steve can’t say no to him.
They stumble through the roads that smell of salt and sulfur, finally pulling up into a motel down the road. It was a popular one that many men led dames into after nights spent over beer and laughter down at the whip and fiddle. The cashier turns a blind eye to two men checking into a room with just one bed. Post-war benefit.
Bucky looks at Steve with shining eyes. From the corner of Steve’s vision, he can see Bucky smirking. “Shouldn’t you be checking in with a dame?”
Steve shakes his head wryly. “I should be the one asking you that.”
Bucky bites down on his lip, the pink flesh turning paperwhite. Steve can hear the gears turning from inside Bucky’s mind. Abruptly, Bucky lets out a strangled, almost wounded sigh. Like he’s a man at the end of his rope.
“You aren’t a dame. Stevie. Not built like a dame. Certainly don’t bleed like a dame.”
Steve flashes Bucky a tight-lipped smile and shakes his head, taking Bucky by the forearm and dragging him into the room. They crash on the same double bed like they’ve done a million times before, back in their shoe closet of an apartment back in Brooklyn.
It feels like they’re kids again, except one of them has an army uniform ridden with bullet holes and the other has come from the future.
“Feels like we’re back home,” Bucky says, shaking his head and staring at the colourless ceiling.
But it doesn’t feel like they’re back home, and they’re not home. Not yet.
Everything is different now. They’re different now, and perhaps they’ve been different for a while now. Like the ocean between them has been pushing them apart in slow but steady waves.
Steve’s got everything and nothing on his mind because he cannot fathom how one person can be so changed and yet still look the same. They both still have a one-track mind. They’re still strong and fierce. Steve is still madly in love with a dame. And yet, he feels different from the tips of his toes to the core of his bones. And deep down for some inexplicable reason, he knows Bucky feels the same.
“Yeah. If home was a warzone.” Steve replies at long last, body sinking into a full, real bed for the first time in too long. It feels like it’s been a century since he slept last. And at the very least, he had travelled through a century since he slept last.
Steve can feel the tendrils of sleep washing over him too quick for his liking. He wants to say in this moment, this realm of almost certainty for as long as he can. But he’s fading, fast. Because twenty hours ago he was face to face with not Bucky Barnes, but the Winter Soldier. Someone with a metal limb and long hair and puppy dog eyes that carry an ocean of despair.
Bucky laughs, and Steve can feel the laughter in his bones. He looks up at Bucky, and Steve can see his eyelids drooping, too.
“We’ll be home soon, though,” Steve whispers.
Steve can barely hear Bucky as he drifts off to sleep. The war is won, and both of them made it out alive. Their mission is over, and they can go home. Their whole lives have been marked by war and death and hunger, but if Steve had it his way they would never be hungry again.
“Not soon enough.” Bucky replies before Steve falls asleep, still drunk off victory and liquor.
Bucky is in the shower by the time Steve wakes up. He opens the door, smelling of soap and warmth. His hair is damp and curling slightly. Steve smiled. He always admired Bucky’s hair in this state, curling slightly and a shade of brown lighter than his hair later in the day. He was wearing clean clothes, and the dirt and grime of yesterday was wiped off his face. He could have been any other man. And maybe in this world free of HYDRA, Bucky could become any other man.
Bucky is staring at Steve, brilliant and golden and brand new in this morning light.
“Won’t Peggy be upset I stole her man?” Bucky asks as he wrings out his damp towel.
Steve blinked back at Bucky. “Not if you introduce us to the nurse you’ve been talking about,” He replied, rolling over on the sheets, which smelled like the battlefield. And like their detergent back in Brooklyn. “What’s her name again?”
Bucky has a wry smile on his face as he drapes the towel off his neck. Steve recognizes that smile. The smile of young love sprouting for the first time. “Nancy,” Bucky says, the room falling silent. “Stevie, she’s got the bluest eyes in all the seven seas.”
“Bluer than mine?” Steve asks from the bed.
Bucky gives Steve an almost pained smile, and tosses the damp towel, hurling it at Steve. It smells like a million memories Steve had forgotten about. It brings back times before the ice, before Infinity Stones and Time Heists. A time when the biggest problem he had was how to stay warm in the winter and how to convince their landlord to give them an extension on their rent deadline.
“Get up. ” Bucky says with a smile, as Steve hoists himself up on his feet. “Are you ready to go back home?”
Steve smiles, and it’s honest and true. He doesn’t have to lie about this, because he’s been ready to go back home since the moment he defrosted. He shook the dust and decay out of his hair and changed into clothes that smelled more sanitary than a hospital.
Bucky put on his shoes and opened the door with a smirk. “After you.” He says with a grin.
Steve laughs, shaking his head wryly. Like he’ll never get enough of the way he and Bucky were around each other.
Arrangements are being made to ship the soldiers back to America. The Howling Commandos have their own room on the passenger boat.
There’s a flurry of paperwork and autographs and photos for the history books. Before Steve can get his bearings or get his head up out of the frenzy, he’s standing on a pier with Peggy Carter across from him.
Peggy is wearing a bright orange dress. Her nails are the colours of pomegranate in the summer and her lip is redder than blood on the battlefield. It’s only been a night and a morning since he last saw her, but she looks reborn.
Steve kisses Peggy on the cheeks, looking at Peggy with a soft smile. She looks like a cover girl model, and all Steve can think is how damn grateful he is for this woman, the matchstick of burning fire and fury to his ice-cold heart.
“I’ll write to you every day,” Steve promises.
Peggy grins but rolls her eyes. “I'll be expecting them. I’ll visit very soon. In a few years, I promise. When things over here settle down.”
Steve nods “I’d like that.” He replies, and for a moment he’s caught between Peggy and her eyes. For the first time in his life, he knows what it means to be lost in someone’s eyes.
And then he hears footsteps, the same walking pace and rhythm of Bucky’s. Lo and behold, he’s met face to face with Bucky Barnes, who has an arm slung around a pretty British nurse in a crisply ironed uniform.
“Lady and gent,” Bucky says with a grin. “This is Nancy.” He says with a smirk. It’s the same smirk Steve saw yesterday, in a room only for two.
Steve took Nancy’s hand and kissed it. “So you’re the nurse that captured Bucky Barnes’ heart.” Steve teases.
She has blue eyes, truly bright and clear. It’s like looking into an ocean. Her blond hair is plaited into two milkmaid braids. She shakes her head. “Nice to meet you.” She says, at the same time the foghorn blows.
Bucky tips his cap at Peggy and gives his dame a kiss on the cheek. “I guess that’s our cue to go.” He says with a smile.
And as quick as Bucky interrupted his and Peggy’s moment, his arm is slung around Steve’s shoulder and they’re walking onto the deck of a boat that will lead them home.
The journey is filled with wartime stories and jokes, the kind of camaraderie that Steve had missed out on. The Howling Commandos are more than just good fighters and strategistsーthey’re good company, too.
Everyone gives Steve and Peggy six months to get hitched, Bucky and Nancy eight.
Steve almost spits out his beer at that, and the Commandos look his way. Steve smiles at them with a lopsided grin. “Many a dame has tried to capture Bucky, but none have won his heart.” He elaborates.
He expects them all to take him seriously, but the room erupts in laughter. Bucky looks at Steve with something soft in his eyes. He looks like the person living between Bucky and the Winter Soldier.
“That’s because you’ve damn near stomped my good heart on it every goddamn time, seeing you beat to hell.” Bucky retorts back.
Steve’s heart constricts. Bucky is sitting across from him, the same version he misses so much. The one that is funny and sweet and beautiful. Bucky is so, so beautiful.
Many stories and bottles of beer later, the American soldiers load off of the ship and are greeted at the port with bright lights and screaming crowds. Everyone is clamoring for a look at Captain America, and Steve feels self-conscious. Because they’re looking at him, really looking at him . They’re earnest and happy, unlike the citizens of the future. In the 21st century, they look at Steve like he’s a freak of nature, or a science experiment gone wrong. This crowd is different. They’re asking him questions a mile a minute. Everyone wants to get a good look at Steve Rogers, and Steve is answering every question in his head.
“How does it feel to be back home?” A reporter asks. She smells like an ashtray and expensive perfume. Well, it feels good to be back. I just wish someone would have told me it would take going up against an alien and figuring out time travel to get back here.
“Are you going to get married soon?” A woman asks. She’s got fire red hair and green eyes, like emeralds in his mother’s earrings.
There is nothing more in life I want than to marry Peggy Carter.
“Thank you for helping the war effort!”
“Will you run for president?” A man his age asks. He’s got a voice with a slight British accent, and floppy blonde tufts of hair. Steve smiles at that.
If I wanted to, I could. If a sexist, racist geriatric who wants to deport immigrants could get in office, then so can I.
“Are you single?” Two girls ask. They’re just teenagers, and for a moment Steve wonders if they live far into the future.
Well, I certainly hope not.
When he and Bucky finally pile into a car, Bucky grins at Steve from ear to ear. “Didn’t I tell you that the ladies would love you?” Bucky says, lights flashing at his face, a cacophony of sound and light.
Steve rolls his eyes. Please, they only have eyes for you.