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beautiful tyrants

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Before Steve knows it, there’s only one more Infinity Stone to return.

Steve’s gone across all the corners of the known universe. He’s been to Asgard and Morag. He even saw Natasha Romanoff’s corpse on Vormir. And there were times when he believed he would fail, or give in, or let himself fall to his death. Because this was the very last mission, and his friends aren’t there beside him.

 

But he’s a soldier, and surviving against all odds is what he does.

 

Steve finds himself back in 2012 in New York. He always thought that seeing Natasha’s dead body would be the hardest thing to face, but he was wrong. He returned the Tesseract and the Mind Stone in Loki’s sceptre, and all that was left was for him to return the Time Stone, which was how he found himself standing on top of the New York Sanctum during the battle of New York. 

 

He looks down at the other version of the Avengers as they valiantly defend the city. The Ancient One looks at him curiously. 

“You are not from this timeline, are you?” She asks. 

Steve shakes his head. That wasn’t who he was anymore. He’s a different person, changed by the war and the war changed by him. It was at that moment when he knew it was time to go. He knew his story had come to a close. It was time to open another chapter of his life. There was one more opportunity to remake the world in his favour and remake the world he shall.

 

“No. I’m not,” Steve replies. The Ancient One takes a step towards him and retrieves the Time Stone from the Infinity Gauntlet. 

“Are you returning to your own time, then?” She asks.

Steve looks at the Pym Particle and in an instant, he knows where he should be. He should be with Peggy. He should be dancing with Peggy. He swallows hard.

 

He holds the Pym Particle up to the light so the Ancient One can see it. Wordlessly, Steve places it inside of his suit. He looks up to the sky and lets out a breath of air. The sky is bright blue, like the ocean, like his dreams, like the taste in his mouth after the war. The sounds of the city faded to a hum, and suddenly it was silent.

 

Steve takes another breath when the ground beneath him materializes. He knows where he is just by the smell of scorched earth. He’s in the battle strategy tent, in 1945. He looks to his left and there’s a cot, the same bed he slept on in his army days. There’s hollering and yelling outside, and the distant sound of gunfire. Deep in his soul, he knows he’s back where he’s supposed to be.

Steve looks down to his hands and sees himself kitted out in the classic, original, Captain America outfit. In every other instance, he had been another version of himself. But right now, he was the version of himself all young and innocent and almost brand-new. For a petrifying, fleeting moment, Steve wonders what happened to the other Captain America. And he wonders if he messes up.

 

But his worries subside in an instant because Bucky calls for him. “Hey, Steve!” Bucky says from just outside the tent. “We’re ready to go!” 

Steve’s eyes flash to the calendar, and he knows what day it is. It’s the first of February, the day when he and the Howling Commandos storm the Schnellzug EB912, the train that Bucky fell off of. He had another opportunity to remake the world. To save the day right then and there. Bucky was standing there in the brand-newness of the situation and life was possible once more.

“Coming!” He exclaims, and before he knows it, he’s back on the train that had haunted his nightmares. Even when Bucky’s existence in the 21st century was made known, it didn’t stop Steve from screaming in the night. This was the moment that would haunt him for the rest of his life. 

 

Steve goes through the motions. He goes through his day like it’s a scene from the play. He’s feeling intense deja vu, but he knows that isn’t correct. Because it isn’t deja vu, it’s a second chance. 

It happens quicker than a kiss goodnight or a stab goodbye, and it still takes Steve by surprise even if he knows that it’s bound to happen一Bucky slips. He should fall, and fulfil his destiny as the new fist of HYDRA, as the Winter Soldier. But Steve won’t let that happen, because this time he knows what to do. His movements are like clockwork, snapping into focus as he had done time and time again. Steve hangs his whole body off of the train and pulls Bucky up with all his arm strength. 

 

In this world, Steve saves Bucky’s life. Bucky hoists himself up on the top of the train, standing across Steve and looks at him like he’s God incarnate. While he was in a parallel universe’s timeline, his actions made him completely switch dimensions now. For the first time in forever, Steve finally feels in control of his own destiny. He breathes a sigh of relief, and smiles. 

 

History pushes further as expected. Armin Zola is captured, and they take HYDRA on five days later. As did before, HYDRA fell that day. With the storming of the facility and the Howling Commandos fighting at full speed they managed to defeat the Red Skull, and if Steve plays his cards right, he can prevent HYDRA from spreading into S.H.I.E.L.D in all its entirety. There was still fighting to be done, but the war quickly sped to a close by May, with the signing of Germany’s surrender. The work of the Howling Commandos was done, and they were ready to go home.

 

They’re killing time in the UK, packing up and helping out on the battlefront until May sneaks up on them, and letters come in the post telling the soldiers that they can return home. On his last night before leaving, Peggy Carter is there with a smile on her face and determined to ask him for a drink and a dance. And Steve is determined not to say no. Not to leave before fulfilling his destiny.

 

“May I have this dance, Agent Carter?” Steve whispers. 

Peggy turns a sultry shade of red. She nods with a smirk and holds out her hand. Steve takes it, and leads Peggy to the dance floor. 

A hush fell over the room as everyone stared at them, the poster children of the war. Steve leads, even if he knows damn well he’s a shit dancer. Peggy doesn’t seem to mind, because the tempo of the song is so slow that all they have to do is sway. 

 

And Steve doesn’t complain. Because the flesh of Peggy’s waist is soft and warm and real, not just a motion sick daydream that Steve beat to death in the midst of boredom. Because Peggy Carter is a gorgeous, determined, and fierce. Because she’s everything Steve dreamt of, and they’re dancing. This moment here and now was what kept him through the winters. Everyone is looking at him, the photographers for the history books, the onlookers with drinks stalled to their lips. Steve smiles. He wants them all to look. He wants them all to see the fruits of his labour. A beautiful dame on a beautiful night. 

 

This is where the story of Captain America is supposed to end. He saved the day, he found love. And it took a long and hard fought fight over a series of wars and a tumultuous amount of time, but he did it. This is his happy ending, and the story is over. It’s where the curtain should close. It should be where the audience says goodbye and goodnight to Captain America for the very last time. 

This should be where the credits roll. With him dancing with Peggy Carter to a song that Nick Fury played to him long ago. This is where the lights go dark, with him pulling Peggy in for a kiss. 

 

There is no more story. No more post credits scene, and no more Steve Rogers.

But life doesn’t work like it does in the movies. So perhaps, just one more scene left to witness.

 

There’s just one little piece of unfinished business. A minuscule detail that Steve can’t help but want to fix. There’s one more problem, and one more solution. And a whole world to rediscover. 

 

The song ends with a brilliant swell and closes with a thunderous sound of laughter, Peggy is blushing, as Steve pulls her in closer.

Peggy gives Steve a quick kiss on the cheek. “I need to use the restroom!” She exclaims over the sound of loud music. Steve nods, and watches Peggy walk away.

 

Steve looks around the room, surveying the crowd. Everything looks in order, except for one detail out of place. Bucky Barnes.

 

Steve squints further, and sees Bucky in an unfamiliar position.

He’s standing near the bar without a dame on his shoulder, not talking up the waitress or trying to slip a nurse the tongue. He’s never seen anything like it. Bucky standing on the sidelines when everyone else is dancing.

 

Steve chuckled, sauntering over to Bucky with a witty retort already hanging off the tip of his tongue.

 

“Don’t have anyone to dance with?” Steve teased.

Bucky raised his cold glass of beer at Steve and smiled. “Pretty nurse I’ve found my way with has to patch up a soldier.” Bucky says jokingly. Steve rolled his eyes. He had a lifetime worth of sarcastic Bucky Barnes jokes to catch up on, and Steve’s heart catches.

 

This was the unfinished business. The person that makes it impossible to walk away from the story of Steve Rogers.

 

“Then dance with me.” Steve says, all the confidence of a man reborn flowing in his lungs.

 

Bucky inhales sharply, taking in a breath of air. He takes a look around the room slowly. There are fellas dancing with fellas, dames dancing with dames. In this world, just for a moment everything seems possible. It’s the victory ecstasy that allows people to turn a blind eye. Because when the sun comes up, they’ll never be able to do this again.

Bucky smirks at Steve, and it’s the same smirk he uses to get the soup kitchen server’s home address, or the window-washer’s time of day. But for the first time, it’s directed at Steve. It’s loaded with chemistry and intangible history and an incomprehensible amount of meaning. Steve feels he might go faint. Or weak in the knees, at the very least.

 

Steve holds out his hand wordlessly, and Bucky takes it. It’s rough, not soft like a dame’s, not veiny and fragile like Peggy’s. It’s full of scratches and scars一that’s all Steve’s doing. It’s years and years of Steve’s being so damn tiny and loving to pick fights. It’s memories of times that Bucky has to step in and take care of business himself. And every one of the scars on his knuckles is another memory between them. Steve could dump their history into the ocean and it would overflow onto the streets of Manhattan. 

Bucky guided Steve to the dance floor. Neither of them had room in their hearts to be embarrassed, because they’re still drunk off winning a world war. Bucky kept his eyes trained on Steve, eyes unreadable. Between them, nothing felt forced, it felt like they’ve been doing this their whole lives. But their lives were just beginning, and they’ve never done this before.

 

“Everyone will look at us.” Steve whispered, eyes downcast to the floor.

Bucky rolled his eyes. Steve’s insides did a somersault. “Everyone is always looking at us. We literally just defeated the Nazis, you punk.”

 

He wants to argue. Because it wasn’t all his doing. Because it wasn’t him that won the war, but another version of him that should have been in ice by now. But he can’t open his mouth because the music is killing everything he’s trying to think.

Instead, Steve laughed. He placed his hand on the small of Bucky’s back, like he had done with Bucky moments before for the first time. The dance floor was crowded with every human in the war effort, and Steve still felt like all eyes were on him. And perhaps they were

 

They danced to the beat of the piano. It was just the piano, filling the sounds of the dance hall with its airy, jubilant tones. They danced slowly to the piano, to the beat of their hearts. It was less romantic of a song than the one he had danced with Peggy, but this one felt more intimate. 

It felt like Steve’s heart had been cut open for the world to see, and he didn’t know why. 

Bucky was still wearing his uniform from the battle, cold and stiff and ill fitting, but it never looked better on him. He had a dashing smile, grown out hair and beard, and a sadness around the eyes. It was the sadness Steve could never account for. It was like chasing a runaway ghost, getting to the bottom of Bucky’s bottomless soul.

 

The heat swelled around them, filling the air with humidity and moisture. They had only been dancing for less than a minute, but Steve could see the sweat beads on the top of Bucky’s lip. Steve tried to hide the way he drew ragged, abrupt heaves of air, because it was something that Bucky would definitely tease.

He can hear Bucky’s teasing voice now. Jeez, Stevie. You can save me off a train but can’t do a waltz?

 

Steve can feel Bucky’s hot breath on his cheek, the way that they moved together without saying any words. It was the culmination of knowing each other’s movements like knowing your own.

Steve can feel his mind working into overtime, but he let out a breath of air and closed his eyes.  He had to let go. The future was a task for tomorrow’s Steve Rogers.

 

In any other moment in this time they would have gotten excommunicated. They would have gotten arrested. They would have gotten killed. But everyone is reveling in the post-war bliss. Everything is possible again.

 

They dance. And this should be where the curtain closes and the story ends. But it’s two men dancing in the 1940’s, so the story is far from over.

Chapter Text

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.

 

Chapter Text

After a long boat ride and an arduous taxi ride, Steve and Bucky make their way to the apartment. Steve tries not to openly stare at how different New York looks. It wasn’t just the old fashioned ways of the city, but the attire of a passer-by. How none of them has a cellphone in their hand. He’s filled with want and longing and an incredible amount of need, staring at Bucky wordlessly, because Bucky feels it too.

Both of them feel like a man reborn like someone died so they could live. Because Bucky didn’t go through what Steve did, but he did go through a war. And no matter which way you look at it, a war was a war.

 

When they get to their apartment, stumbling up the stairs giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls, Bucky pulls the key from off a chain hanging off his neck. Steve eyes it carefully. Did Bucky walk into battle like that? With the key to his home hanging off of his chest? He wants to ask Bucky that, but there’s no time. Because there’s the click of a lock and a welcome home feeling settling in his veins.

 

When the door swings open, the sight takes Steve’s breath away. Dust is gathering on the papers, and it smells stale and like decay, but it’s home. It’s unmade beds, sloppily done paintings, newspaper on the ground, and a soft blanket on their couch. It’s like stepping into a moment of time, in a way that museums couldn’t replicate. He thinks that this is an Amazon facility in the 21st century, but he doesn’t care. The memories slowly start rushing back, and Steve remembers it all. The memories and everything that has happened before the war. Doing dishes late at night, drinking until dawn. Coughing his lungs out as Bucky offered him his first cigarette, watching Bucky wish a dame goodnight on the road from their windowsill. It’s memories that war can never take away from him. It was memories from before the first war they joined and the second one the world had ever seen, the one that kicked it all off. It’s like time standing still.

 

It makes him tear up. Bucky tries teasing Steve but he feels teary-eyed too. No matter the situation, the mindset was clear. Steve never thought he’d come home, and neither did Bucky. They never thought that they’d make it out alive. Steve never thought he’d open the door and take a step into the history, the future, and the present.

 

“Takes you back, doesn’t it?” Bucky whispers, a fond grin playing out on his face

 

There are so many things that Steve wants to say to Bucky, but he doesn’t know where to begin. He settles with an exhale and a step into the room. “It has been a long few years.” Steve settles on, running his fingers through his hair and trying to make sense of the tangle of thoughts swimming in his brain,

 

Wordlessly, Steve and Bucky unpack their belongings. There isn’t much, but what little memories and belongings they kept from the depression years held an unspoken ocean’s worth of memories. There were sticky notes on the fridge magnets from the New York gift shop, faded polaroids and letters written in indelible ink. There’s still unfinished math homework somewhere in their storage unit, Steve thinks.

And yet, some things are different as well. The Captain America shield hangs up on the hook where his High School diploma once hung. Steve sets down the High School diploma on the ground, the frame making a clunk on the floor. Bucky stares at Steve without saying a word. Bucky looks like he wants to say something, but he keeps his mouth closed. From the corner of Steve’s eye, he can see Bucky’s Adam’s apple bob up and down. 

 

Steve doesn’t know what he makes of this Bucky. Bucky was here, and he was now. He wasn’t lost in the past or stared at new objects like a puzzle he was trying to figure out. This Bucky was the one he saved, the one that he couldn’t live without. That was all he knew. He knew that something came over him every time Bucky looked at him. It was the same type of warmth that Steve felt when he downed a flute of champagne. He feels the warmth spreading through his navel and lower as he watches Bucky walk into the kitchen, running his calloused fingers through his thick brown hair. He watches the careful way that Bucky’s white T-shirt strained against his muscles一muscles, Steve believes, have sprouted overnight. He watches the way that Bucky walks across their linoleum floor in silent sock feet, careful not to wake the ghosts of the past.

 

Steve sees these ghosts now. Bucky, caring for Steve in his sickness. Watching each other get ready in the mornings through the reflection of the mirrors and in the silhouette of the window panes. Eating anything they can come across. Boiled potatoes, warm mint leaves soaked through to form tea.

There’s dog tags, and a faded polaroid photo of him and Steve grinning at the camera. It’s a photo Steve once believed was lost to history.

 

“When did we take this?”  Steve asks. Bucky pokes his head from out of the bedroom.

“Remember when you went into the stock room, and I cornered you? The first day you landed in my regiment.” Bucky says wistfully, the Brooklyn twang of his accent sharp and sour up against Steve’s ears.

 

The memory slowly comes back to Steve, like something buried deep in him, like scenes in a movie. “I was looking for Spam canisters. I was starving”

Bucky’s nose crinkle. “God. Don’t remind me about the Spam.” Steve laughs.

“You were so mad at me that day. For showing up unannounced, all muscular and grinning.” Steve whispers, staring down at the floor. There’s oil paint in the gaps of the floorboards.

 

“Still am.” Bucky whispered back. He walks up to Steve and takes the polaroid from Steve’s hand. “Who do you think you are,” Bucky says with a soft smile, shaking his head morosely. “Signing up to be a human guinea pig without letting me know?”

Steve shrugged. “I really wanted to get to you, you know? I would’ve done anything.”

Steve looks up from the floor and into Bucky’s eyes. And for some reason, Bucky’s eyes were filled with tears. Bucky blinks at Steve, taken by surprise.

 

“Anyways,” Bucky says, face dropping and reddening with embarrassment. “Howard Stark popped up out of nowhere. Said he was testing out his new camera.”

“You were so starstruck, seeing Howard Stark in the flesh,” Steve replied, the memory coming back to him, familiar as the sun. “And then you slung your arm around me and smiled for the camera.”

Bucky nodded, the two of them breathing in sync. And after an infinity of silence, Bucky clears his throat. “Are you gonna help me unpack or what?”

 

They walk into their one bedroom, and Bucky laughs. “Some things never change, do they?” 

Steve is too tired to banter back to him. But yes. Some things never change. He goes to take a shower and stands under the water for as long as his skin goes wrinkly and tomato red.

He tried looking for a shirt that would fit him, but they were all half his size. He settles for a well-worn football jersey that Bucky wore all throughout high school. He walks into the bedroom, and Bucky is already half asleep.

 

“Are you wearing my jersey?” Bucky asks

Steve shrugs. “Nothing fits me any more.” He says, lying down on the bed.

Bucky frowns. “This bed doesn’t fit you anymore.”

“Get a bigger bed?” Steve offers.

Bucky huffs. “Get a bigger apartment.”

 

They laugh. And for a moment, things are good. Things are more than good, they’re perfect. He imagined life in the 1940s all dance halls and drinking and dancing with a beautiful girl, but it never occurred to him that Bucky would be in his life again. And Steve is aware that eventually, Bucky will walk out of his life and marry a beautiful girl, make beautiful children and live a beautiful life, but for now, they are here. In a quiet apartment with no gunshots and no threats looming over their head.

Steve sinks into the bed. He was home. And he was happy. And he feels content just lying here, watching the quiet world through the window. 

 

He’s staring up at the ceiling, long after Bucky has gone to bed. Life feels a little less real right now, and a gentle rain begins to fall.

 

In the morning, the sun comes quicker than it had left. It’s cold and rainy but yet their apartment is still warm and the sun is still out. Steve loves these days, the rain showers so close to summer it can barely be considered spring. Steve and Bucky wake up at close to the same time, but they decide to lay in bed simply because they can.

 

“Do you hear that?” Steve says Bucky.

“Hear what?” Bucky says, opening his eyes and staring at Steve.

“Complete and unrivalled silence.”

“No bullets. No grenades.” Bucky smiles, closing his eyes again.

 

Steve smiles. The war feels really truly over, and both of them can feel it. They stay quiet because they can, soaking in the sound of nothing. Eventually, the silence is broken by the rumbling of Bucky’s belly.

 

Steve laughs, staring down at Bucky’s waist. “Do we have anything for breakfast?”

Bucky shrugs. “Aren’t you rich now? Let’s go get breakfast!”

 

They go get breakfast at the breakfast place they always used to think was too expensive for their liking. They eat pancakes and waffles and orange juice and coffee because they’ve got the appetite of two super-soldiers and just came from living off of Spam and instant coffee rations. People come up for autographs and thankful words of praise and the two of them just can’t get enough of it. Because they’re some sort of celebrity now, and Steve allows himself to exhale and just enjoy it.

 

He wants to enjoy this moment of morning diner runs with Bucky, who is wearing a periwinkle button-down shirt and faded black jeans, who needs a haircut, who needs an intervention for all the alcohol he drinks. Bucky, who had coffee and is now sucking up the remnants of his vanilla milkshake. Bucky, who is perfect, who saved him, who he saved.

 

Bucky catches Steve looking at his arm. The one that got ripped off and replaced with metal. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks, lowering his fork.

“Just can’t believe we made it back all in one piece.” Steve says with a shrug, because the truth is too complicated.

Because the truth was he couldn’t believe that all it took was saving Bucky. All it took for his life to go in a completely different direction was to grab Bucky’s hand. And if Steve did it right, the first time around, would life had worked out like this once more?

 

Bucky raises his eyebrow when he catches Steve staring again. Steve shakes his head, wads up the paper from the straw wrapper, and flicks it at him. Bucky's nose crinkles, and he laughs.

 

And so was their life for the next four years. It was living off army money, writing love letters to their dames, and waiting for the next war to happen, even though it never does. It was living in their apartment. It was happiness, it was ease. And they almost forgot that there were two women across the pond waiting for a proposal.

 

Almost.

Chapter Text

Steve is cutting fresh strawberries from the farm and Bucky is sitting at their counter, reading the newspaper. The sunlight streams through their windows, and Bucky smells like the ocean. Steve is half listening to a story that Bucky tells him, an anecdote from last weekend when he and his family went down to Atlantic City. Through the other ear, he listens to Bach on vinyl. Sometimes, Bucky looks like a shipwreck survivor. Today is one of those days. It’s warm outside but he’s wearing a white wool sweater and his hair is curly from a week spent by the saltwater. Steve doesn’t know what he’s thinking, but he likes the idea of it.

 

Bucky sets down his newspaper, jolting Steve out of his thoughts. “Peggy is coming soon.” He says.

Steve nods. “Next month.” He replies.

Bucky takes a drink from his coffee cup and swallows hard. “Are you really going to marry her?” He asks.

 

Steve pauses. They don’t talk about things like this. About love and women and the future. They’ve just been carrying on, like there’s no future to think about. 

 

“Yeah, I think I will.” He replies, picking up an apple they bought from the farmers market out of the mesh bag. “Are you going to marry that nurse?”

Bucky takes another sip from his mug. “My parents have been calling for me to visit home. I think they’re gonna ask if I’m hitched yet.” He replies.

Steve turns around and stares at Bucky, eyes unblinking. “You didn’t answer the question.”

 

Bucky laughs and picks out some plums from the fruit bowl. Steve’s lips quirk upwards. Bucky closes his eyes and swallows. Concedes. “Yeah. I’ll write her and see if she responds. And if she responds, I’ll marry her.”

“Didn’t you just meet her?” Steve frowns, feeling anger rise up in him. There was a reason why they didn’t talk about things like this. Because it always ends in argument.

Bucky’s face falls. “Didn’t you just meet Peggy?” He retorted, staring at Steve with hard set eyes and a frown playing out on his face.

 

Steve’s smile fades and his shoulders sag. Bucky blinks at Steve, waiting for an answer. And when Steve doesn’t reply, Bucky shakes his head.  “Your love story is different, you know. But it ain't any better than mine and hers.”

Steve tilts his head over in Bucky’s direction. “Well. I wouldn’t consider our story a love story.” Steve says simply.

 

Bucky sets down the plum he was examining and stares at Steve in the eye. The intensity of Bucky’s gaze makes Steve look away. “What would you consider your story, then?”

Steve thought this through as he picked up a cheesecloth and dried the freshly washed dishes. “A war story?”

 

“Do you love Peggy?” Bucky asks. Steve blinks. Bucky had never asked that question before. Hell, no one has ever asked Steve that question before.

“Yeah. I do.” Steve says after a long silence.

“So it’s a love story. And you’re gonna marry her, and you’re going to move to the UK, and you’re gonna have a bunch of scrawny little babies with their mothers eyes who love to get into trouble and pick fights whenever they can.”

 

“I love you.” Steve says with a shrug. Bucky’s eyes narrow and stares at Steve insistently. “Does that mean we’ve got a love story?”

 

Bucky shakes his head, eyebrows furrowed with an upset look on his face. “You know what I mean. And you don’t love me that way. Don’t be stupid, Stevie.”

Steve shakes his head and stares Bucky down. After an existence being the little guy, he had perfected an intimidating glare. It scared off most people, but Bucky wasn’t most people. Bucky glared back just as intensely.

“Why are you saying these things like its actually going to happen?” Steve says, changing the topic.

“Because it will. Eventually.” Bucky answers. “Are you going to move to the UK?”

“I’m staying in America. And you’ll stay in America too, because I’ll be damned before you leave my sight again.” Steve says wryly.

“We’ll live across the road from each other and our kids will be best friends?” Bucky asks.

“Of course!” Steve says, and sits up on the counter. Steve realizes that he likes this. Living long enough to imagine getting old.

 

One week later, Steve and Bucky’s monthly paycheck comes in the mail, and it’s more money than they ever expected.

Bucky uses his money to buy cakes and pastries for his family from the bakery. He drags Steve with him, insisting that the Barneses love Steve, and Steve doesn’t mind. They’re the closest thing that he’s ever had to family.

 

The Barneses were a family of many. Bucky was the eldest of four, with two brothers and a younger sister. Two of them died in the war, and one younger sister who survives to see the battle of New York. Rebecca Barnes was always closest to Bucky. Brilliant and cunning and Bucky’s sister in every way.

They were a family of jokes and stories. Their house was small, but what it lacked in size it compensated for in love. Their house was the embodiment of love. And anyone who entered their house couldn’t help but leave with a renewed sense of faith in society and a love of life. It was why Steve loved the Barneses. While his own family was plagued with death, the Barneses were blessed with life.

They lived in the outskirts of Brooklyn, in a house one block away from Steve’s old apartment.

Bucky knocks on the door and is showered with a load of affection and joy. Steve is surprised to see that he’s greeted warmly as well.

 

He never considered the Barnes house as a home, but as he walks in he’s reminded of all the memories that he didn’t even know he had. They even have framed photos of Steve. As if he was the honorary fourth son that was wordlessly integrated into their atmosphere.

They walk up to Bucky’s childhood bedroom, and Steve laughs. Everything is neat and tidy, like it never was when Bucky actually lived in this room.

 

“Do you remember,” Bucky asks, and for a moment Steve can predict the question.

Do you remember when we were young and foolish (even though we still are) when life was easy and we were happy, (but it never was, and we never were.) Do you remember?

 

Steve opens the window in Bucky’s room, looking out at the bricks popping out that made a makeshift staircase to the roof. They climb to the top and the air smells like history. It smells like overdue homework and football games. It smells like two kids before they knew their place in the world. Not like Steve knows his place in the world now, though.

 

Bucky bombards him with questions, and it almost feels like an interrogation. 

“Do you remember our first glasses of beer after the Prohibition? Do you remember watching the fireworks on the fourth of July? Do you remember when I told you, hey Stevie, those fireworks are for you .”

Steve doesn’t answer the questions. Instead, he looks out at the infinite sky in the setting sun. “Can’t believe we’re still here. Made it back, after all this time.”

 

“We’re still here.” Bucky whispers. Steve nods. They’re sitting on the roof like they’ve done a million times

The air is hot and Bucky is breathing right next to Steve. The air feels charged with possibility. Bucky turns to look at Steve, and they’re breathing in sync. Steve spies the curve of Bucky’s arm, the definition of muscle. He looks at the way Bucky’s easy smile returns, in ways that the Bucky he was reacquainted with would never had smiled. They’re staring at each other, sizing each other up. Because one of them has to break the silence. Because there’s something to say, but one of them has to be man enough to bring it up. They’re breathing heavily, as if they’ve run a marathon. Bucky runs his tongue down his bottom lip, and Steve tries hard not to stare. Bucky laughs, but it’s hesitant and charged with anxiety.

 

One of them has to break this unbearable silence between them. But time is standing still. And Steve is worried that if he moves, time will have to continue on as it always does.

Bucky’s sister does.

“Bucky, it’s time for dinner!”


 

Dinner is chicken and potatoes and gravy. Real, good food for the first time in forever. Laughter is everywhere, and life feels light. Steve can close his eyes and pretend like he belongs here, but it will always just be pretend.

Mrs. Barnes asks Steve if he goes to mass. He says yes, he does. It’s a half truth. Because he only really went to mass when the world wasn’t in danger. So he really only went when he felt obligated to out of some sort of mangled Catholic guilt. Bucky’s father jokes that he should bring Bucky to Sunday service this weekend. He will.

 

Steve feels a growing sense of imposter syndrome. He feels like a bounder, he feels like this isn’t where he’s meant to be. Because this isn’t his family, because he’s never really had a true sense of family.

And so, after dinner he steps out. He steps out in the middle of dessert and hopes no one notices, but life never works out the way he wants it to. Bucky walks out to him not long after, and Steve hates how damn perceptive he is.

 

“Why’d you leave?” Bucky asks, sitting on the stone steps of the porch beside Steve.

“I don’t feel like I belong. It feels like i’m just playing a role, you know?” Steve replies, trying to keep his answers blunt over the thunderous drum of his heart.

Bucky shakes his head. “You always belong here. You know that.”

“It feels like I was never meant to survive through this.” Steve says, and it feels like a weight off his shoulders. Like he had finally gone to confession after all these years. It’s a half-truth, because Bucky could never know what Steve had gone through.

Bucky looks at Steve, and there it is. The kind of look that 21st-century Bucky could never give, and the kind of look that teenage Bucky could never have given. 

 

And time stands still once again.

Chapter Text

Before leaving the Barnes residence, Mr. Barnes had given them two victory glasses of wine. And now, Steve and Bucky ride the New York subway with bellies warm and full of wine.

Steve loves these summer nights, hot and heavy breathing down on him. It was like the whole world was spinning on its heel, and life embraced him with joy.

 

Steve and Bucky take the L train down to their apartment. The train was empty and it was just the two of them. There was no talking, but it was beautiful and silent and Steve felt like he was finally home. Bucky was too tired to talk, and both of them were fine with being accompanied by nothing but the rattle of the subway and Bucky’s laboured breaths.

Steve loved the subway. They rode the subway when they were younger, when they were bored and broke and were fed up with losing nickels to the carnies down at Coney Island. Bucky loved to make up stories about the people on the train. They would sit side by side and ride the subway. Bucky would come up with stories about the passers-by, and Steve would draw their portraits. It was the origin story of the storyteller and the artist, not of the Winter Soldier and Captain America.

But right here and right now, there are no people to draw and stories to tell. Well, if you don’t count the man who came from the future to make things right, and the war veteran who’s fighting a battle with his emotions.

 

In due time, Steve and Bucky make it to their apartment and crash on their bed. Bucky jokes they’re gonna need a bigger bed again. And Steve has got to stop using his clothes.  And Steve laughs, brilliant and earnest and true, laughing like it’s the first time. Like he’ll never get enough of this feeling.

 

Steve shrugs and wraps his arms tightly around Bucky’s well-worn hoodie. It smells like him and that’s why he likes it, but he could never say so. 

It smells like Bucky. It smells like home.

 

In the morning Bucky wakes up and Steve is writing with tight-fisted handwriting on the counter island. 

 

Bucky runs his hands through his hair and shakes his head at Steve with a knowing smirk. “Writing to Peggy, are you?” He teased.

Steve smiles shyly. He nods once, as Bucky looks over to what he’s writing to Peggy.

 

My dearest Agent Carter,

Life is well back in America. How is life on the home front? Still drab and miserable? Tell me, have you had high tea with the queen? I’m anticipating your visit to America only a few weeks from now. Last time you were here you were on official business, but maybe this time I can show you the finer sides of Brooklyn.

Me and Bucky rode the train yesterday after visiting his folks’ house. We used to make up stories about the people on the train when we were younger. Did you ever do that, when you were younger? The sky is brilliant and blue and the sunset reminds me of you. I cannot wait for the day we reunite,

Sending love from across the seas, 

Steven

 

Bucky teases him. “And you said you weren’t good with words.” He said, walking into the kitchen. Steve shakes his head.

“Now that you’re a big strong man with dames throwing themselves at you left and right you’ve got no time for me, have you?” Bucky teases.

Steve shakes his head and nods over to the stove, without looking up from his paper. “Made you eggs, didn’t I?”

 

When Bucky’s done eating he writes his own letter to the pretty little nurse. Steve doesn’t say anything or look over Bucky’s shoulder, but he sees the way that Bucky’s face reddens and a slow smile crept across his face as his fountain pen glides across the parchment paper. Later in the afternoon, Steve and Bucky seal their letters with saltwater and drop it off to the postal office. They take a walk and many people stop them, but neither of them mind. Steve used to hate getting approached by strangers, but in this time period, he relishes in it. They aren’t as invasive and prying as people in the 21st century. He didn’t feel like he was put under a microscope anymore.

 

Later, the crowd dies down and him and Bucky were walking down an alley, footsteps echoing around them. They’re walking quietly and it allows Steve to daydream about the future. He imagines him and Bucky with houses across from each other. Bucky’s wife and Peggy would have a job and they’d have kids and they’d be happy. They’d raise children and send them to college and have grand kids and retire early. And he’ll be happy, but most of all he’ll be safe.

It’s almost unbelievable to consider such a future as the one he lays ahead of him, after a time of Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D agents.

 

And finally after a long period of time, Steve speaks up. “When Peggy makes her way to America I’m gonna propose to her.” He’s making up his mind as he’s speaking out the sentences. He’s not trying to look back, he’s not trying to second guess. He had to keep moving forward no matter the costs.

Bucky stays quiet. He stays quiet for a long time and doesn’t say anything. Steve feels like he says the wrong thing, but then Bucky speaks up. “Maybe I’ll marry Nancy, then”

Steve smirks and shrugs. “And make a life for ourselves, won’t we? Wife and kids and the whole package deal.”

 

Bucky’s face hardens and his face falls. Steve recognizes this now. It’s a trait of post-war Bucky. The way he hardens his heart automatically, how he never wanted to let anyone in. But Steve was the exception, after Bucky’s face freezes, it thaws, but just for Steve.

 

Bucky swallows and squeezes his eyes shut. “I’m hungry.” Bucky says instead. “Can we eat? It feels like I haven’t had anything to eat in ages .”

“I literally just made you breakfast.” Steve said as he turned the corner and began their walk to the diner. 

“You burned the toast,” Bucky said with a teasing grin.

Steve pulls his face into a scandalized smile. “No, I did not!”

Bucky chuckles. “Steve. It was a little crispy.”

 

Bucky and Steve eat an incredible amount, and they talk about everything and nothing. There’s a jukebox playing a song Steve doesn’t recognize. But Steve loves it. There’s fluorescent, neon lights. There’s a strawberry milkshake split between them two and a moschino cherry on top. The glass cup was frosted, and Bucky had a cheeseburger in his hand.

They discuss many things, things that Steve may never have the opportunity to talk about again. He begins to learn things about this brand-new Bucky.

 

After fighting in the war, Bucky no longer has a taste for politics. He understands the war he fought, and if he was given the opportunity, he would have enlisted. But he doesn’t know how he feels, knowing that the government put his body up for sacrifice and he was given no say in the matter. He doesn’t really believe in the government, and in war. He feels like he was used, and Steve understands his position. Bucky thinks war was just a rich man’s game, which Steve understands as well.

He loves milkshakes, and cheeseburgers at a diner. But he only likes hot dogs during a baseball game, watching the Yankees from the rafters. He loves London, but not Paris. London was always grey and rainy and everyone was always too posh and too drab. Paris was beautiful, from what Bucky saw in the pictures. It was gorgeous and flamboyant and every night felt like an adventure. Bucky wanted to go to Paris, a city that breathed in time with the beating of his heart

 

And most importantly, Steve learns that Bucky will never, ever, like the winter. Some things just never change.

 

Steve laughs and laughs until he feels lightweight. He wants to know everything about Bucky. He wants to crack open his brain and listen to the beautiful mind behind the skull. Bucky asks about him, and he asks about all these questions that Steve had never gotten the chance to ask to even himself.

Bucky rests his chin on his forehead and grins. He asks Steve where in the world he likes the most.

 

Steve grins. He likes America, but he loves Los Angeles more than Brooklyn. 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “When did you go?” He asks.

Steve gulps. He tries not to give away the way he tore up the east coast on his dirt bike, three months after his defrosting. Instead, he shakes his head and smiles. “I went when I toured across the country. When I was nothing but a show pony.”

 

And then, a peculiar thought creeps into Steve’s mind. “Hey, Buck?”

Bucky looks up from his cheeseburger. 

“What if we went to LA? Couple years from now, when this whole thing dies down. With our wives.” Steve says, marvelling at the idea. Thinking of how golden Bucky would look in the sun, how his face would be all pink and tan, kissed by the summer and the saltwater waves down in Malibu.

Bucky shakes his head, with a mischievous glint in his eye. “We could move to LA, couldn’t we? You’d be an artist type boy and I’m way more handsome than even James Dean.”

Steve laughs. Because the plans they discuss are impossible. They’ll have wives soon, and they need to stop thinking like kids. They have to get real, and start saving for a life in the suburbs. A life of kids and wives, not youthful fantasies and impossibilities. In another life, perhaps. Another century, this might have been possible.

 

But Bucky is right in front of him, and he’s right. Bucky is more good looking than even James Dean.

And James Dean was handsome as hell.


 

Two weeks later they’re in bed and Steve is sketching Bucky in the light, and there are two women on a boat waiting to get to shore. Bucky is reading the apartment advertisements in the newspaper, encircling the ones he finds sufficient in a bright red felt tip marker.

Bucky shifts, and Steve pouts. “Didn’t I tell you to stay still, Buck?” Steve murmurs, eyes not leaving the paper, graphite moving smoothly across the paper.

Bucky shakes his head and shoves the newspaper in Steve’s face. “There’s a gorgeous one on the upper east side, it has two bedrooms and it’s brand new. Look at all that light, Stevie! Dont’cha think it’ll be a brilliant place to paint? All those beautiful light fixtures and high ceilings!” Bucky says, excited as a newborn puppy.

“Do you want to move there?” Bucky asks, staring up at Steve.

 

And Steve says he wants to, he really wants to. He wants to go to LA and live in an apartment and paint and breathe and keep living like they do right now. He wants to have houseplants and never worry about shovelling the roadways. He thinks back to their diner conversation, and he wants to say yes. He wants to get a taste of adventure in his mouth, with Bucky at his side. But Peggy says she’ll be here within the month. And he had to start saving for their engagement rings and a brand new house. He wants to go on vacation and live in a brand new apartment, but he has to be a realist, and a life with the boy beside him can never be possible. They’re about sixty years too early.

Steve shakes his head, and he swallows hard. His body feels tense and heavy and like every nerve has been severed and rewound as tight as possible. He looks Bucky in the eye and smiles politely, trying not to reveal what was behind the mask. “Have you looked in the suburbs, instead?”

 

Bucky gives Steve a forlorn look for a moment, and then he smiles and flips the newspaper page over.

Chapter Text

In the same year on the second of July, Agent Margaret Carter steps off a plane with wide eyes after a long-haul direct flight from London, England to New York, New York.

Steve sees Peggy at the airport with her brilliant scarlet red lip and brilliant curls. She looks gorgeous, and it takes Steve’s breath away. He’ll never get sick of the way all the breath in his lungs gets taken away every time he sees Peggy. He knows he’s in love with Peggy, because no other dame has made him feel this way.

Nancy came earlier in the week, and she was small and short and had golden-blonde hair. Her eyes were blue. Not cornflower or bluebell. Just regular blue. Her skin was the colour of the sunset, and Bucky might as well look at her like she was the sun. Like he was staring right into the sun, knowing very well his fate, and still not minding all that much. 

 

She checked into a hotel, and in these days Steve didn’t see Bucky all that much. He saw him in odd hours of the night, poking through the apartment picking up laundry and dropping off groceries he picked up from the farmers market on his way home. 

 

One time, Steve was poring over his drawings in the night on the counter island in the kitchen when he hears the lock click open. 

“Living in sin, are you?” Steve jokes without looking up from his paper. Bucky flashes Steve a knowing grin. A grin that possibly meant nothing, or everything.

Bucky never responded. It nags at Steve, keeps him guessing at odd hours of the night. He revisits the memory and tugs and tugs at it, like the fraying end of Peggy’s hair ribbons.

 

Later in the airport, Steve gives Peggy a hug and Peggy gives him a passionate kiss on his cheek. He turns beet-red, and it’s not just from the lipstick stain on his cheek. Peggy looks dead gorgeous, and she looked like a covergirl model come to life. It’s not the first time he thinks this, and he’s certain it isn’t the last.

 

“How was the flight?”  Steve asks, taking Peggy’s suitcase and placing it in the trunk of his car. 

Peggy smiles wryly. “Oh, you know. Nothing like the ones over the arctic.”

Steve smiles. He remembers the other reality, the endless cold, and feeling like the coldness was going to be in his veins forever. No matter how warm he was, he can still close his eyes and feel the frigidity as if him and it were one and the same.

Steve blinks. He exhales. He goes through the motions. And he resets the wild thing that is his heart.“I’ll show you around Brooklyn!” Steve replied, changing the topic into something more lighthearted.

“And introduce me to all your American friends? You’re family?”

 

Steve’s face falls. Sometimes, he forgets that Peggy wasn’t Bucky. Peggy didn’t know his history like Bucky did. Hell, Peggy wasn’t in Steve’s history like Bucky was. 

Instead of answering, he blinks. He exhales. He goes through the motions, and resets.

“What about we go for dinner instead?”

 

The first night,  they went to dinner at a glitzy hotel that serves champagne with pearls in the glass as a sort of alka-seltzer, and a lounge singer that’s wearing a sleek black dress and a brilliant red lip. 

Steve finally knows how it feels, to walk into a room with a brilliant dame on his arm with pearly-white smiles. He knows how it feels to walk into a room and feel everyone’s eyes beating down on him. 

It feels hollow.

Steve jokes that this is their first proper date. Peggy says its about due time.

They talk. Steve learns more about Peggy than he could ever could have read in history books.

She wanted to be a detective when she was younger. Her favourite fictional character is Sherlock Holmes. 

 

Briefly, he remembers Tony Stark telling him to watch the BBC version of Sherlock. He added it to the list, and eventually he got around to watching it. He kept staring at the screen, squinting at the way Sherlock looked. The way he looked frighteningly similar to Doctor Stephen Strange, a man he barely knew.

 

She likes America more than Britain. She loves forensic analysis. She loves the winters. She loves music and opera and tea at noontime. She loves adventure and danger and the thrill of being alive. She’s a morning person, always in bed by ten in the evening.

And as it turns out, him and Peggy have nothing in common.

It makes Steve’s spirits sink. But that didn’t matter, did it? Many people got married without having much in common. (What is it that they say, opposites attract?)

Steve clinks glasses with Peggy and downs his glass of wine.


 

The next day, Bucky is lounging on their couch in the hazy summer heat. His shirt is hitched all the way up and Steve can see his midriff. The flesh is pink and scarred, but also lean and muscular. He’s fit, and tan, and beautiful. Steve looked away quickly, looking back at his book.

 

He was reading the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as per Peggy’s request. And he hates to admit it, but he loved the television adaptation more than the book.

 

Bucky coughs into his elbow and shifts. “When are you going to introduce me to your dame?” Bucky asked, voice raspy and just a little bit husky, breath smelling like alcohol and last night’s debauchery.

Steve grins, trying to ignore the way his heart was heaving like he just ran a marathon. It happens more and more often, his heart picking up speed for no particular reason and then sent plummeting right after. He thinks he certainly must go see a doctor because he’s breathless every night by the time Bucky climbs into bed with him. “You’ve met her.” Steve replies.

 

Bucky huffs, and pulls down the book from Steve’s face. Bucky frowns and stares at Steve, begging him for a proper answer.

Steve relents. He rolls his eyes. “When are you going to introduce me to your dame?”

 

Bucky laughs, but it comes out hollow. Steve’s eyes widen, an unspoken question between them. “Do you want to bring them to dinner tomorrow night? Birthday celebration?” Bucky asks quietly. If they were on the battlefield right now, Steve wouldn’t be able to hear Bucky over the sound of gunfire, grenades, and the heaving of his heart.

“At the diner we always go to?” Steve asks, staring at Bucky with unblinking eyes. Sometimes, they got into rows like this. Staring each other down without breaking a sweat. Steve would be damned if he lost a staring contest to Bucky again.

Bucky’s face breaks into a grin, the one that Steve loves more than any other. The grin that is honest and true. “It sounds like a plan.”

 

The next night at the diner, Steve at last meets the dame of Bucky’s dreams. It seems her reputation precedes her.

Steve looks at her, surveying her up and down like he was trying to memorize data or words on paper. Nancy was short and had blonde hair and blue eyes. Steve tried not to think about how he has blonde hair and blue eyes too. And how Bucky had dark hair and darker eyes, and so did Peggy. He gulped. He couldn’t think about it. He shouldn’t think about it.

 

Nancy and Peggy got along fine. They were both British, but Nancy was from Manchester. Peggy was from Oxford. They talked about politics and the war, using a plethora of British slang that goes over both Steve and Bucky’s heads.

While the two women were neck deep in some debate that both men didn’t have the mind for, Bucky looked at Steve and shot him a look. They knew each other so well, and they could communicate with each other without words. Steve chuckles. Bucky looks down at his chocolate milkshake and stirs it with his straw.

Steve feels warm inside, and he’s trying to get to the bottom of why. He’s running in circles to find an explanation, but it’s clear as day. It’s because the love of his life, Agent Peggy Carter, was across from him.


 

After Bucky and Steve drop off the two girls, they’re driving down the roads in staunch silence.

 

“Not like the other birthdays you’ve had.”  Bucky says with a smile, breaking the silence between them with a double edged knife.

“Getting drunk off smuggled Canadian beers and watching the fireworks on the rooftops? I’ll pass.” Steve replies.

 Bucky chuckles. Steve is silent, keeping his eyes on the road. “There’s still beer in the fridge, if you want.”

Steve chuckled. “If we make it in time, we might even get to catch the fireworks.”

Bucky shakes his head. “Step on the gas pedal, then.”

 

They get home in ten minutes, and they’re sitting on the fire escape watching the fireworks with cold beers in their hands in fifteen.

Bucky climbs onto the fire escape after Steve with something in his hands, wrapped in twine. “Hey.” Bucky says, sitting opposite Steve and watching the colours and the lights dance in his eyes.

 

Steve smiles. “Hey.” 

“I’ve got a gift for you.” Bucky says.

Steve shakes his head. He tries not to think of how Peggy didn’t give him anything. He shakes his head bashfully. “Jesus, Buck. I told you not to get me anything.”

Bucky held his hands up in surrender, the piece of paper between them. “Didn’t cost me a penny, I swear. I’ve held on to it for a while, but it’s yours, so I figured you should have it.”

Steve grins and takes the paper. He reads the first line, distinctly in Bucky’s handwriting.

January 11, 1943

To the one tha-

 

Bucky swats the paper away from Steve. He’s smiling, but his eyes look sad. “Don’t read it in front of me.” He says, and he looks pained. “Wait ‘til tonight, okay?”

 

Steve nods and they fall silent, watching the fireworks. “Do you remember when we were kids? And you told me that the fireworks were for me every single night?”

Bucky laughs and takes a swig of his beer. The sky lights up in red and blue lights. Bucky tilts his head to the sky. “Aren’t those your colours? Red and blue? Those fireworks are for you, you punk.”

Steve shakes his head and laughs, his whole body rocking with alcohol and adrenaline. “I’m nobody, Bucky. I’m a nobody.”

Bucky blinks at Steve quietly. “Quit saying stuff like that. You’re everything, Steve.” He says quietly. He says it naturally, as if he had been saying it his whole life.

They stay quiet, staring out at the sky like they’ve done a thousand times before.

 

“I think I’m going to propose to Nancy next week.” Bucky says earnestly after a long silence, taking Steve by surprise. 

“She’s leaving that week, and I’ll throw a going away party for her.”

 

"How will you propose?" Steve asks, and he can feel his heart beating in his chest.

“I’ll throw a house party at my parents place. I’ll catch her by surprise.” Bucky says, a wistful smile dancing on his face.

 

“Is there room for me?” Steve asked half-humorously, half-dryly.

“There is always room for you.” Bucky whispered.


 

January 11, 1943

To the one that keeps getting into trouble,

 

I hope this makes it in the mail okay. 

There’s no battles today, which is strange. All the men in my regiment are writing letters to their wives. In a fit of stupidity, I’ve convinced them I’ve got a woman in Brooklyn waiting across the seas. I didn’t want to be left out of the letter writing party.

Also. I’m sorry for not writing sooner. The war is as good as a war can be. Winter is awful, as you can imagine. We’re eating less than we did when I used to live with you in Brooklyn. (I still can’t believe someone as skinny as you can eat as much as you did.) 

There’s a lot of waiting involved. And a lot of thinking. I think back to life back home, even if it was shit, at least it was safe. Tell me, have you gotten a job yet? Drawing pictures for the funnies section in the papers? Illustrating Uncle Sam for an advertising firm? You can’t keep living off my army pay, you punk.

I hope it’s okay that I say I miss you. I do. All these fellas have a dame waiting for them, but I’ve just got you. You’re my best friend in the whole world, and I hope it stays like that after the war. Because I promise I’ll come back home. Imagine that, your veteran best friend coming to beat up the bullies.

 

Say hi to ma and pa for me. Tease ‘Becca a bit, will you? And of course, have some boiled potatoes in my honour.

 

Yrs,

Buck

Chapter Text

One week later, Steve wakes up with his heart beating heavily. He throws himself into daily errands and routine, trying to ignore the internal countdown that had led up to this day. This day. The fated day, the engagement party. Steve knows it in his bones, that after today things would never be the same.

Bucky is still sleeping beside him, and his eyes fluttered shut and he’s breathing softly. Steve wonder's how many days they had left like this, sleeping in and living day-to-day. Steve doesn’t know why he thinks like this. They could never really stay like this, he just never expected it to happen so soon.

 

Girlfriends were one thing, but fiancees were another. This was marriage. This was until death do us part. And in this time, in this world, a galaxy and a half away from the one he had just left, there is no divorce. There’s just two little words, three letters long, that seals the deal. From womb to tomb, baby.

 

Steve was a realist. He knew that two single men living in a crappy apartment wasn’t proper decorum in the world they lived in, even if they never did anything more than occasionally waking up with sweat-soaked limbs, shirtless due to the lack of cool air conditioning. Everyone knew from the press that Barnes and Rogers were nothing more than friends, but they could see from the way that the neighbours looked at them that they still talked.

And yet, Steve loved these mornings. There was no one that Steve knew better than Bucky, and that wouldn’t change even if they wedded other women.  Or so he wanted to convince himself. He knows the truth. That life would never really be the same. He loved spending all the quiet moments together. He felt he would never understand anyone as well as he knew Bucky. And perhaps this would be the last time they would be able to do something like this. Because what would the neighbours think, a betrothed man staying in the same bed as another?

Bucky rolled over on his side and stretched, beginning to wake up. His face donned a quiet, serene grin. Steve sprung out of bed and splashed cold water on his face, heart beating heavily.

 

All he does is lose. Steve thinks. He tries not to think, for the most part. He tries not to think about how Steve feels more drunk than sober these days, how Bucky’s birthday gift to him made him feel emotions he’d rather keep locked up in Pandora’s box.

He tries not to think.

He also tried not to watch Bucky excessively. But he was never good at either of the two

 

Bucky was dressed like Steve had never seen Bucky before, wearing a brown corduroy jacket with a white button down blouse. He wondered how the Bucky of the future would look in this specific outfit. He was certain that Winter Soldier Bucky would be grimacing, and would roll around in a vat of tar in order to make it black. Winter Soldier Bucky always looked good in black, but this Bucky had only closet space for pastel tones and neutral hues. And in this new life of possibility, full of beautiful pastel hues, he fits right in. With his loose tufts of wavy hair, and light brown eyes. Bucky carries so much light in him. Steve wonders what that’s like.

 

Bucky tugged at his cuffs and tried to pin down his cufflinks to no avail. He tries and tugs again, and let out an exasperated groan of relief. Steve steps in smoothly and buttons down the cuff links. Bucky smiles in thanks. The corners of his eyes are tinged with red. 

“Nervous?” Steve asks with a gentle smile. His hands were still on Bucky’s wrists. 

Bucky grinned anxiously. “Just a bit.”

Steve looked around the Barnes residence, and saw a bouquet of wildflowers and daisies. He wondered if Nancy loved baby’s breath as much as he does. As much as his mother does. 

 

When he finished pinning down the cufflinks, his eyes fell on a black velvet box that was on the dresser.

“You can open it, if you want.” Bucky whispers. 

Steve nodded and picked up the box gently, opening it gingerly. He’s holding his breath, but he isn’t sure why.

 

The wedding ring was understated, and had a gilded iron floral pattern circling around the ring. And in the centre was a very small but very bright gold-white diamond jewel.

 

“Do you like it?” Bucky asks, and Steve wonders why the question drives a wedge in his heart. Like the question was addressed to him, even though it never could have.

“It’s perfect.” He breathes, and it’s a little too earnest. A little too astounded. A little too intimate. Bucky stays quiet for a very long time, and Steve blinks in perplexion, embarrassment.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to find a ring nicer than this one for Peggy.” Steve admits hastily. It makes up for his stunned silence and even more stunned proclamation.

 

Bucky picks up the velvet box and takes it from Steve, hands brushing slowly and gently. Steve is breathing heavily, slowly. Like he’s in a scene in a movie and it just wouldn’t cease.

“You ready?” Steve asks, looking down at the hardwood floor.

 

Bucky laughs. There it is again, that same laugh that Steve could never say no to. “Fuck no.”

 

Rebecca Barnes must have had a hand in the decoration and complete transformation of their house, because stepping inside was like stepping into a different stratosphere. She’s off to the side with a beer to her lips, wearing something similar to a ballerina’s tutu, but with a leather jacket on top and razor sharp stilettos. Steve quirks a brief smile, and thinks that Natasha would have loved what Rebecca was wearing. If his two worlds collided, Steve knew that Rebecca and Natasha would have been the unlikilest, but best of friends.

The rooms were filled with incandescent bulbs and leafy green plants. Steve chuckled. Rebecca Barnes must have had a hand into Bucky’s bank account, too.

 

The future Mrs. Barnes was wearing a pink satin and tulle dress, and she looked like an angel. She looked like she carried the secrets of the universe inside of her. Steve wonders what that’s like, to carry something in you other than turmoil. All that Steve ever had in him was inky black tendrils of sorrow, poking through his organs like violent rose thorns.

Steve saw what Bucky sees in Nancy, just for a split second. Every time she opened her mouth to talk, she was filled with a fiery rage and passion. She always looked headstrong and frightfully independent. Steve smiles. She was a girl good in a fight, much like he was. She had so much bravery in her, and the sharp edged smile she always carried with her. She walked delicately and gently, as if she was arabesquing across the battlefield.

Steve can imagine her now; prancing across battle lines, healing injured men. It’s a frighteningly noble job, to patch up wounded soldiers whilst risking your life. Privately, Steve believes that the nurses who served in the war were more important than the men fighting it. He admired Nancy for that. 

 

Peggy was wearing a dress skirt and a maroon blazer. She looked like a special agent, and Steve wouldn’t be surprised if she was armed. She looks demure and gorgeous, and she’s looking around at the crowd like a predator stalks her prey. 

 

Bucky was standing by Steve, wringing his hands anxiously. He could feel Bucky’s tension radiating off of him in waves. Steve can feel Bucky’s heart beating as if it was his own.

Steve didn’t know what to do, and for a very brief, fleeting moment, he wanted to reach out and hold Bucky’s hand, even though they never did such a thing in public or in private. Instead, he squeezed Bucky’s arm and smiled.

You’ve got this, Steve said without words, narrowing his eyes and softening his smile.

Bucky smiles and nods, putting his hand over Steve’s.

 

And then the party begins. And someone is playing piano, a gentle tune that Steve hears at the back of his mind. They dance and sing and drink their body weight in alcohol and smoke cigarettes that would never kill them. He’s spinning counterclockwise, trying to stay out of Bucky’s gravitational pull. He doesn’t want to ruin Bucky’s moment, but all he can think of is how Nancy is laughing with Bucky’s parents and how well she fits into this life. He doesn’t know why he does the things he does, and he sure as hell doesn’t know why he feels the things he feels.

Steve is trying. He’s trying to survive. He’s trying to find breathing room in a world where all he knows how to do is drown. He’s trying not to count down the hours left of this endless night. He’s trying not to take his pulse rate every single minute, because he swears that if it gets any higher, he’ll have a heart attack. 

 

But above all, Steve is trying to forget, to wait until the night comes to an end. He’s trying to stop thinking so damn much. He has to stop thinking because he feels like a condemned man walking to the guillotine. 

Steve is dancing with Peggy at the end of the night and the only thing he can think of is that he’s so happy. This is what he has worked his whole life towards. It always felt like he was chasing someone or something, but now he realizes that this is what he was chasing. Bucky was getting his happy ending, and he just had to be patient.

It makes sense now, why Steve was so jealous of Nancy. He was jealous of Bucky and Nancy because he lost sight of his own happy ending. But now he realizes, it’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance at marriage and a wife and kids. For a moment, in his inebriated daze, everything makes sense. He wants to feel this way for the rest of his life. 

 

He’s so happy. His heart is so full. But it still feels poisoned. He could keep drinking and dancing and twirling and pretend like he doesn’t know what happens next. And for a moment, he gets really good at pretending. And forgetting like life doesn’t end after tonight.

And then, Bucky clinks the glass. This is it. This is the poison. He knows what’s about to happen, but he doesn’t do anything.

He wants to scream, because something about this picture isn’t right. There is something fundamentally off about this night. But instead he wraps an arm around Peggy’s waist. Peggy beams with joy. She’s got beautiful curled hair and a bright red lips. She’s the poster child for the post-war peacetime era. But he still wants to scream. But he doesn’t know why.

 

Bucky !

Chapter Text

Bucky is standing at the centre of the crowd, a halo of light framing his face. Steve thinks that he looks as brilliant and cocksure as the first day they met, childish and still growing into their limbs. He looks as brave as the day he was shipped off to the army. He looks as scared as the day he was saved. He looks so confident, he looks like he was born for this role. Like a goddamn Prince of England, or the First Son of the United States, and Steve envies it so damn much. He envies how well Bucky fits into this life. He looks beautiful. Like when they were children. Or the day he pulled Bucky off of the train. Bucky always looks so fucking brilliant, damn it.

 

Bucky clears his throat and his eyes are glittering. He raps a fork on a champagne glass, making a clear, bright sound. “Thank you everyone for coming to our party.” Bucky says, and a hush falls across the room.

“Thank you for bringing my dame into your hearts,” Everyone smiles. Someone, a friend from high school, gives a whoop and a holler. The crowd ascends into a cheer and a chant, but Steve keeps his lips sealed and his eyes trained on Bucky. He keeps staring at Bucky, because for a fleeting moment he thinks that if he looks away, Bucky will disappear.

 

Steve tears his gaze away and looks over at the lady that Bucky was addressing. She’s smiling and looking down at the ground. She’s shy and earnest and humble and bashful. Steve loves that. He knows that this is the perfect woman for his best friend, for someone he knows better than he knows even himself.

 

Bucky takes her hand and gets down on one knee. Steve tries not to avert his eyes. He has to keep looking, because he can’t look away. Because he hates who he is when he looks away. 

When he looks away, he pretends like the Avengers didn’t make him feel less than. When he looked away, he forgets that he never told Winter Soldier Bucky goodbye. A proper goodbye. Steve has to keep looking, because he’s messed up too much for too long.

 

Steve is looking at Bucky, who is looking at his dame like she’s the sun. And with her golden-blonde hair, she might as well be. Steve is breathing heavily, and he can feel his fingers pressing softly into Peggy’s supple flesh around his waist. He feels like he might cry. Might scream. Might die. 

 

Bucky smiles like a movie star. “Nancy, will you marry me?”

And of course, she says yes. Why would she have reason not to? Bucky is beautiful. And kind. And brave, oh, so brave. He’s brilliant. He’s stunning. And he’s the most generous person Steve had ever met in his entire life. Steve feels his heart swell for the happy couple, because he knows that their life will be full of happiness for years to come.

 

Everyone cheers as Bucky slips the ring on Nancy’s finger. The crowd is all happy and wide eyed and grinning. They laugh and there’s dances and drinks. Steve downs another glass of champagne and makes his way to the dancefloor, dancing with his girlfriend, moving faster and faster, running away from the truth, from the bitter future, from the life he ran away from. Because he always runs away. He always runs, in some form or another.


 

It’s late at night and all the couples have come out to the dancefloor. Steve and Peggy and Bucky and Dorothy were dancing. He thinks of how his brain always drifts to Bucky whether he’s aware of it or not, and then he tries not to think again. The night wore on and the music has slowed to a waltz like tempo. He’s staring at Peggy and feels like he’s about to do something stupid.

 

“Can I steal your dame?” Bucky asks, coming out of nowhere and sauntering up to Steve, whispering in his ear and sending shivers down his spine.

Steve smiled, trying to quell the fire in his heart. “Only if I can steal yours.” He teased back. Bucky smiled, slapping Steve on the shoulder good naturedly.

Steve takes the gentle hand of Nancy and smiles at her. She had a ribbon in her hair and a gemstone on her ring finger. It looks even more gorgeous on her hand than it did in the velvet box. The ring on her hand looks like it was meant to be worn for the rest of her life. And now, she will.

 

They’re swaying to the beat of the music and Steve chuckles. “If Bucky breaks your heart I’ll punch his lights out until next Wednesday.” He jokes.

She laughs. Steve expected her laugh to be gentle and polite, but it’s loud and brilliant and laughs like everything matters. She tears her gaze away from Steve and looks at her fiance. “Honestly, I feel like I might break his heart instead.”

“Miss Nancy, I’m not afraid to punch a dame.” Steve jokes with a toothy grin.

The girl smiles with all her pearly white teeth, laughing with all the features of her face. “Bucky looks tougher than he is, but on the inside he’s just one softy.”

Steve grins. “You couldn’t be more right. I mean, how many men would do this for a woman?”

 

Nancy smiles as a lull of silence drifts by them. The two of them stay silent, as they bask in the music and dancing. “Are you gonna propose to Agent Carter?” She asks.

Steve nods and smiles and feels as giddy as a puppy. “You bet I am.” He replies.

Nancy nods in understanding. “She’s a lucky lady.”

Steve looks at Bucky across the dancefloor. He’s dancing with Peggy at a respectful distance, and all of a sudden he’s talking before he knows what to say. 

 

He smiles. “I’m willing to bet that you’re luckier.”


 

It’s a bright blue day in July, four days later.

Steve takes a deep breath and tries not to fiddle with the hem of his cotton shirt. The park was the only place he could really envision proposing to Peggy.

He had no reason to be so anxious, but he was. He checks the velvet box in his left back pocket once more. He thinks of Bucky, practically pushing him out of the apartment this morning with a smile on his lips. And as he walked down the street, Bucky opened the window and wolf whistled at Steve.

“Go get em, Stevie!”

 

Three days ago, one night after Bucky’s engagement party, Steve strolled into town and tried to pick out a ring for Peggy. It was evident that the salesperson could recognize him from all the propaganda posters, but didn’t say anything much.

He picked out the first ring he sees, not minding the price tag. He never had much of an eye for these things. He just hopes it fits. It was a brilliant white diamond with small sapphires circling the gemstone. It was a brilliant ring, but even he could appreciate how gorgeous it was. It reminded him of his mother’s ring, which was a ruby instead of a diamond with a bright gold band. They married before the Great War broke out, and her ring was taken down with her to the grave.

 

Right now, Steve and Peggy are in a garden. Steve invited Peggy to the park today, because her favourite flower is a daffodil and they’re in season this time of year. 

They’re picnicking with a wicker basket and a red gingham blanket. It’s the old Steve’s favourite time of year. The one before the war and before the serum. He thinks that now, in this brand-new life of his, his favourite time of the year were the first days of spring. The old Steve’s favourite time of the year were these days, the hottest days of summer. The days where the world threatens to melt and yet still stays standing.

He’s sketching Peggy, because she’s beautiful. She’s pretty. She looks like the kind of girl on the runways and in the boardrooms. Unlike Steve, who belongs nowhere, Peggy belongs everywhere. He’s sketching her side profile, pressed up against the yellow of the daffodil petals.

 

Peggy stood up to pick some flowers not long after she returns. Peggy is coming back, standing in front of Steve, with her head blocking the sun and forming a halo of light around her. She has a haphazard amount of daffodils in her hands.

“Did you finish the portrait?” She asks. Steve nods and springs up to his feet.

Steve shows Peggy the drawing, beautiful in all it’s glory. It’s in black and white, smudged charcoal and ashes. 

 

“It’s perfect.” Peggy says. Steve scratches at the nape of his neck as silence falls between them. Steve can feel Peggy’s expensive British perfume run down the back of his spine.

“I’m no good at stuff like this, Peg.” He says, heart beating in his chest.

“No good at what? Drawing? Steven, you know how talented you are-” Peggy says, starting to ramble. A fond smile crept across Steve’s face. In a moment of confidence, Steve knows that he has no reason to worry.

 

He takes Peggy’s hand with his right and pulls out a velvet box with his left. He gets down on one knee with a tremble and a confident smile.

 

“I’m no good at words.” He says with a shrug and a grin.

Peggy blinks back tears and smiles, dropping the daffodils from her arms.

 

“I think you’re supposed to say, will you marry me?” She says with a cocky, know it all kind of grin.

“Will you?” Steve asks. “Marry me, I mean.”

Peggy nods enthusiastically, tears pooling in her eyes.

Steve gets up off his knee and kisses Peggy.

 

There’s a brief, fleeting moment of fear and poison that runs in his veins, but he swallows it down. He tries not to think, because this is his happily ever after.

Chapter Text

Bucky is reading a newspaper and sitting on the fire escape when Steve gets home from the park. He can smell cigarette smoke from the entrance. It makes the tips of Steve’s lips curl up.

His heart had still been beating in his chest, he can’t believe Peggy said yes. The sun is setting and the sky is purple with streaks of pink and gold. He loves the sunset, even if he could never mix the proper colours on a canvas. “Did you do it? Did you get the girl?” Bucky hollers out.

 

Steve climbs out the window and sits across from Bucky. They used to fit out here, a million and one years ago. They used to fit out here when they were younger and skinnier and starving

Bucky smiles fondly and puts the newspaper down. He brings his knees to his chest so they fit on the fire escape. Steve does the same thing too.

 

Steve looks out at the New York City skyline, trying to ignore the heat of Bucky’s stare. “She said yes.” He says quietly, almost whispering to himself. It still feels like a dream that he hasn’t woken up from.

Bucky smirks and leans back. “Little Stevie is all grown up now.” He says sarcastically, staring Steve up and down.

“Been grown for a while now.” Steve says with a shrug.

 

“What happened to that kid?” Bucky asks. Steve realizes something else about his friend. This Bucky is different. He’s vulnerable and sensitive in a way that Winter Soldier Bucky would have never been, but strong and certain like the teenage version of him could never have the maturity to possess. This is the version of Bucky without the HYDRA brainwashing corrupting his very being down to his veins, and with the war swimming in his soul.

 

“The one that spent more time in an ICU than in a classroom, or the one that loved punching Nazis?” Steve jokes.

“Either one.” Bucky shrugs.

Steve laughs, but it comes out pained and hollow. He feels his face redden. “I dunno. What happened to us?” He asks, and it feels like a cop-out. It’s the question he had been running away from for a long, long time.

“Getting married now, aren’t we? Kids aren’t far along now.”

 

“Peggy wants an Autumn wedding.” Steve nods decisively.

“Three months?” Bucky asks dubiously. “Christ. Didn’t realize we only had that much time left.”

Steve raises his eyebrows. He tries not to think about what Bucky meant. “What about you?”

Bucky averts his eyes and looks out at the sky. “Nancy wants a spring wedding.” He says with a shrug.

 

“What do you want?” Steve asks.

Bucky swallows. He’s staring at Steve with a small smile. “If I had to pick? A summer wedding.” 

Steve thinks that maybe he’d like a summer wedding, too. One on the hottest day of the year, face as red as a cherry tomato, sweating through his tuxedo. Because he’s so, so sick of the winter. He’s sick of the cold and the frost and the endless freezing rain.

 

The sun was setting quickly and the temperature dropped almost immediately from a warm summer afternoon to a bitter cold twilight. Bucky looked into the window of their apartment and began to climb through.

 

“Getting cold. Do we have any dinner?” Bucky asked, eschewing niceties, a quirk they’ve picked up on after years of knowing each other.

Steve shrugged, looking out onto the roadways. “Don’t you have leftovers from the party?”

Bucky’s eyes lit up and he smiled, opening the refrigerator. “What would I do without you?” He asks with a smile.

Steve smiles, but it feels shallow. “Gonna have to find out pretty soon.” He said as the two of them climbed off the fire escape.

Bucky took out paper plates and served him a plate of food. They take a seat opposite each other on the floor. They loved eating on the floor because it reminded them of when they were kids. When Sarah Rogers forgot to leave food out for her son when she had to work overtime, when Steve made his way to the Barnes household.

 

It’s reminiscent of nights when the abundance of Barneses could hardly fit at their dining table. Bucky was the eldest, and so his life was one of sacrifice. Bucky sat down on the carpet, as did Steve. And they sat on the ground eating good food and playing checkers.

And later, when the depression and Prohibition sweep its way over New York State, they could barely scrape by enough pennies to buy a dining table. And maybe there was work elsewhere, but Steve would be damned before he left the city to ride the rails. And so now, when they’re rich and have money and the economy is good, they still eat on the floor, because it’s just a thing they did. It’s just one thing that made Bucky and Steve who they were.

 

It was a habit they couldn’t explain to their spouses, another piece of the secret code they concocted carefully over decades of knowing one another.

 

Steve sees Bucky sitting beside him as they leaned up against the counters. He watches as Bucky eats hungrily, with his mouth open and eyes gleaming, not in like the polite way that he ate when he was at the diners, chewing slowly and listening carefully to his fiancee with a closed mouth. They don’t have the lights on, because they’re still the penny-pinching kids that grew up in a time when no one could afford electricity. The moonlight was their friend, and it felt like it was forever on their side. The moonlight bounced off of Bucky, like he was part stardust when he came down to earth.

And Steve felt inadequate. He knew that if he was Nancy or any other dame, Steve could rest his head on Bucky’s shoulder. He doesn’t know why he thinks this, but his head feels heavy and his heart, heavier.



“Gonna be honest with you, Buck. I’m gonna miss this.” Steve admits quietly. For a moment, he hopes that Bucky doesn’t hear him.

 

“End of an era, isn’t it?” Bucky says sadly. He turns around and pulls out a newspaper from his back pocket, and opens it to an ad encircled with a red marker. Have you seen this?

Steve chews on his lip and scans it over. He’s ready to pick a fight with Bucky, ready to tell him they can’t have an apartment together. But he scans over the advertisement, and it makes Steve’s heart beat quicker and quicker.

A three bedroom, two floor house. Picket fences. A linden tree. Two houses almost identical to each other.

 

“House in the suburbs, wife and kids.” He murmurs.

Bucky points his finger at the advertisement. “Don’t you see that? Selling lots right across from each other,” he says with a grin. “looks like a good place to raise a family, dontcha think?’

Steve nods. It looks like the future. It looks like destiny.

 

Right here and right now, in the silence of the night and the scraping of cutlery on paper plates, Steve realizes that he loves Bucky. It’s a truth. There was another truth, too. He must marry Peggy. And he loves Peggy, too.



They’re in bed together much later in the night, sleeping side by side in the too-small double bed.

Steve tries to capture this moment and save it in his mind. This time next year he’ll be in a different bed beside a different person, and he can’t tell if it’s for better or for worse. He doesn’t sleep that much these days, trying to memorize the outlines of the room and trying to mimic Bucky’s breathing patterns. He tries to map out the stars from the bedroom window, tries to keep their houseplants hydrated. Steve is trying. He’s trying to do anything but sleep.

 

He’s lying down on the bed and looking up at the plain ceiling. It must be close to six in the morning because the sun is starting to peek out of the horizon.

 

And then, Steve hears it.

Bucky lets out a violet, guttural scream. He’s breathing heavily, and a sweat begins to break out on his upper lip.

 

Steve springs into action, shaking Bucky awake.

“Buck.” Steve moves on top of Bucky, straddling his hips and holding his face in his palms. “Can you hear me?”

Bucky breathes in and out heavily and then opens his eyes wildly. Steve looks into Bucky’s eyes, which were glassy and filled with tears.

Bucky’s eyes widen frantically. He breathes heavily and sighs. It’s like watching the tide coming out of a man.

 

“Sorry about that,” Bucky says quietly. Steve moves back to his position on the bed beside Bucky.

“Nightmare?” Steve offers.

Bucky nods his head slowly. “Apparently so.”

Steve nods back and expects Bucky to shuffle into back into his position, but instead, he sits up with his back leaning up against the headboard.

Tears are streaming down Bucky's face, and in the almost-morning dawn, he looks like a fallen angel. Steve feels like crying, too. Because he feels like time is running out. Like his life is about to end. He feels like crying because he might never again see Bucky again in this light.

 

“If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay.” Steve offers.

Bucky wipes the tears from his eyes, crying for reasons Steve doesn’t know. “Sounds like a plan to me.” He says with a wry, pained smile.

Steve can feel the cries welling up in him, too. And neither of them know why, but neither of them can bring themselves to care.

Because time is running out. And they’re just two men living off of borrowed time. And life is about to upend itself and this is the happy ending and the bad beginning.

And Steve loves Bucky. And he loves this.

 

But he loves Peggy, too. And he has a life he needs to get back to.

Chapter Text

Almost three months later there’s a wedding in the autumn and a destiny to get back to. There’s something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. 

 

Steve took a deep breath and looked at his reflection in the mirror, trying to calm down the tangle of nerves slowly taking root in his soul. He looks at the compass in his pocket. Something old . It’s good luck, but more than that. It’s a reminder of where he came from and what lengths he would go to. It’s a reminder of his love for Peggy. Something new . Steve’s suit is perfectly tailored and he has a brand new pair of shiny leather shoes. It’s slightly short at the sleeves and more snug at the waist compared to the last suit he wore. 

He thinks back to the time he last wore a suit. It was at Tony’s funeral, saying goodbye. He tries not to think about that. About how Tony Stark wouldn’t be sitting in the front row smugly. How Tony Stark wouldn’t be sitting anywhere, ever.

 

He takes another deep breath, trying to steady himself. He looks down at his wrists. Something borrowed . Bucky’s cufflinks on loan that were shiny and golden. If you looked closely, there were two engraved letter B’s on the cufflinks. They’re gorgeous, and Steve knows he just might have to keep the cufflinks for himself permanently. Steve takes another breath. Something blue . A Captain America pin affixed directly on his heart, silver red and blue. He bought it at the Smithsonian the first time he visited, at the gift shop in the front and centre. It was gorgeous and inlaid with silver and had a diamond where the star was set, glittering in the morning light.  And of course, a penny in his shoe.

 

The leaves have fully bloomed in the September morning with bright red and orange colours bursting at the seams. Steve could feel his heart beating in his chest. There were times he was sure that he was as good as dead, but at this moment he felt alive. 

This was the life he had always envisioned. The air was perfect, crisp and cold. It smelled like apple pie and baking bread. His suit was warm and a shade of royal blue. He styles his hair with gel and pomade and practices his award-winning smile until the muscles on his cheeks are worn out. Steve grins. He looks like the man he had always fought to be.

 

He looks so different from the man who was half-frozen, beaten and bloody with a lungful of river water after fighting Bucky on the helicarrier. He looks so different from the man who was half dead and wounded and out of breath, shield half-cracked with an army of aliens still to face. He looks like the man he could have been had the serum never happened, yet he knows deep down that he would have never been this man had the serum never happened, either. He never really pictured a wedding. Sure, he dreamt of it. But it was the kind of idea that he beat to death on the most bitter of stakeout missions. 

 

Steve takes a seat and looks out the window. He remembers Natasha and him on one of their endless missions trying to find a HYDRA facility. They had been holed up in a bunker for the last two days, and it was driving both of them crazy. Natasha had started conjugating verbs in Russian just three hours past.

 

“Who are you thinking about?” Natasha asked, not looking up from the article she was reading on her phone. The blue light from her phone made her look ghastly.

“Why do you care?” Steve countered. He’s bouncing a squash ball up against the metal wall.

Natasha shrugged, typing on her phone. “You look… thoughtful. It’s a good look on you. Never thought I’d see it.” She says flatly.

Steve shoots a look at Natasha. “How do I usually look?”

Natasha took a long hard look at Steve. She squinted at him. “Like you’re about to punch a bunch of Nazis. Or whatever it is that you did in that war.”

Steve shrugs. “Hmm. Punching Nazis sounds about right. Ate a lot of Spam, too.” He concedes. 

 

The two of them fall silent for a while longer, and then Natasha pipes up. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“What was the question?” Steve asks.

 

Natasha rolls her eyes. Her phone lights up with a bright pink neon light and a high pitched tinkling sound. 

“Are you playing Candy Crush ?”

Natasha set down her phone and stared at Steve. Steve gulped as she narrowed her eyebrows. “How the fuck do you know what Candy Crush is? You know what. Don’t answer that. Answer my first question.”

 

Steve catches the squash ball in one hand. “What question?”

Natasha rolled her eyes again and exhaled. Her breath puffs up cold air in the room. “Don’t play dumb with me, Rogers. Who are you thinking about?”

Steve frowned. “How do you know I’m thinking of someone?”

“Are you not thinking of someone?” Natasha retorted quickly, narrowing her eyes into thin slits. She looked like a snake in the dim light.

 

Steve sighed and pulled out his compass. Steve slid it over to Natasha wordlessly.

“This your girlfriend?” She asked, eyes scanning the photo like a computer processing data. Natasha knew damn well who Peggy Carter was, and both of them knew she was just asking to be polite. She didn’t smile or smirk or grimace or grin, and her face was unreadable.

 

Steve nodded. “I was just thinking about what it would be like if I stayed long enough to make her my wife.”

Natasha slid over the compass back with a sad smile. “That's not our path, Rogers.” She says, with a succinctly American drawl she had perfected after all these years.

 

Steve smiles sadly. “I know. Just good to think sometimes.”

Natasha chuckled, something low and breathy and just a little pitiful. “Just good to think.”

 

And all of a sudden, Steve had stayed long enough. And now he had made Peggy his fiancee, and in due time Peggy would be his wife.

Peggy’s wedding dress was gorgeous. She was wearing a tea-length organza lace dress with sleeves the length of three quarters. She went into the shops with Nancy and Mrs. Barnes one Sunday, taking polaroid photos and sending them across the seas for her mother to look at.

There were an incredible amount of people, reporters and writers, and anyone who was anyone. Hell, the President and Prime Minister of London and the US was there too, it was the royal wedding of the 1950s. This would be the date that would be written in the history books for some bored students to memorize many moments down the line. 

 

This wedding was Steve’s moment, so why couldn’t he focus ?

 

He breathed in and out, trying to focus on the way the music made his heart swell. He tried to think of how beautiful Peggy would look. How in a few hours, she would be Mrs. Margaret Rogers.

 

But damn it, he missed Natasha. And his mind kept drifting to Bucky. And Sam should have been his best man. Bucky should have been someone else in the wedding party, but Steve doesn’t know who.

Sam should have been on his second drink, cracking jokes and lightening the mood. He should have been fixing Steve’s tie and grinning in selfies. And Steve misses Sam. So damn much.

Natasha should have been by his side, heckling him, giving him a whoop and a holler, whispering pretty compliments to the bride and crude jokes to the groom. She would’ve worn a dress, something big and ballgown like, only because it meant more space to hide weapons underneath.

The problem was that Steve didn’t leave Natasha. He didn’t leave Natasha like how he left the twenty-first century Bucky and Sam and the rest of the living Avengers. Natasha died . She’s dead and gone and no act of man or God could bring her back to life.

And Bucky should have been beside him, not a room away. He should have been here with his silent smile and wordless stares that speak a million words. But Bucky is the best man, and it’s a fitting role. Because Bucky Barnes is the best man Steve has ever met.

 

He was given the cue to walk down the aisle, and then Steve was off, the mental image of a smirking Natasha still lurking in the tendrils of his mind.

It feels like he’s walking in a trance, and the whole thing was a blur. It feels like the point in the movies where all the sounds fade away and you’re left with a swell of music and a symphony so beautiful and vibrant it brings you to tears. But life doesn’t work like that. Steve is walking down the aisle and he can hear the sound of his heart over the sounds of the pastor. He can hear someone cough into their sleeve and his shoes crunching on the leaves. He can hear the sticks and the twigs and the buzzing birds and bees. 

 

He’s only brought to life when Steve hears his betrothed say I do, and he speaks the words, but he doesn’t feel himself saying it.

And when he brings himself to kiss his newly wedded wife, it feels like he’s on autopilot. He should be thinking about how he just married Peggy fucking Carter, but all Steve can think of is that somewhere in the arctic, there’s frozen body. There’s a frozen body with Steve Rogers’ exact same DNA. The truth was, Steve is taking over that man's life. That man may have the same body and blood and bone, but it should have been him in this situation, not him.

There were speeches held, songs, and then there were vows and rings exchanged. Steve tried not to look over at Bucky too often. Bucky was always his anchor, always the driver to his success. But not anymore. This was something he had to do on his own. He was lost at sea, but he could find the courage to breathe.


 

Bucky Barnes clinked his champagne glass with a knife and smiles, getting up from his seat and straightening out his lapels.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to Steve Rogers’ wedding extravaganza. We’ve now come to the portion of the night where I, Steve’s best man , gives a speech to the audience.” Bucky says. Laughter erupts. Steve raises his own champagne glass with a smile, never taking his eyes off of Bucky.

“I never thought that our paths would end up like this. If I were to be completely honest, I imagined being ninety years old and still cleaning up his messes and serving him cough syrup.” Bucky says. The audience laughs as Steve’s face turns red. Internally, he couldn’t see what was so wrong about that. Growing old with Bucky Barnes by his side.

“I have known this man my whole life, and I never expected him to marry any old dame.” Bucky jokes. Steve rolls his eyes and tears his gaze away from Bucky. Bucky is so radiant. It’s like looking into the sun.

 

The crowd lets out another wave of laughter and just a small inkling of confusion.

 

“Agent Peggy Carter Rogers, you are the perfect dame for Steve. You are headstrong and kind. You are his better half in every way.” Bucky says earnestly. “I’ve known him my whole life, and you truly do make him a better man. You are the perfect person for him, who loves him for more than what was in the test tube as much as I love him too.”

Steve smiles “I’ll drink to that,” he says, downing a glass of champagne.

 

Bucky smiles. “Members of the audience, Mr and Mrs Rogers.” He says, and the dinner crowd erupts in applause.

 

Steve stands up from his seat and gives Bucky a hug. He smells like brand-new cologne, laundry detergent, and home.

And as Steve wraps Bucky in a hug, Nancy doesn’t take her eyes off the two.

Chapter Text

Steve finds himself walking down a cobblestone path along the Thames almost one month into his honeymoon, trying to memorize the London skyline. He knows that taking a picture would last longer, but he can’t adjust to to the black and white low resolution cameras that they used. He never thought it would happen, but he desperately misses his smartphone that S.H.I.E.L.D procured for him.

Peggy and Steve always knew that they had to go to London for their honeymoon. It was the natural place to go, but Steve always wanted Paris. They’re to stay in London all throughout the holidays, returning just weeks before Bucky’s wedding.  London is grey and old. If it had a song, it would be a waltz. New York was jazz and folk and pop all the time and all at once. London is sadder, too. The weight of two wars in near consecutive order weighed on the British more than it did to anyone else. Steve could see it in the way they carried themselves. They dressed in beige tones and their skin always look pallid and devoid of colour.

The city is old and posh and not like America at all. Steve had a hard time falling in love with London. He felt like New York was where he was built for. New York was all brand-new and young and full of energy that Steve thrived off of. He felt like he could never fit in here, in this city where it felt like everyone knew everyone, where the sky was perpetually grey and white and never had a drop of baby blue.

 

The sky was white. It was flooded with clouds in such a way that you couldn’t even see the cerulean of the sky. It looked like a page on his sketchbook, or like this world was still coming to life. It was foggy, too. As if the world was still coming into existence. He fantasized that by stepping into the fog he would be jumping off the face of the earth.

 

Make no mistake, Steve Rogers doesn’t have a death wish. But in fairness, having a death wish would simplify things, to put it bluntly. If he had a death wish, he could have ended things when Tony did. He gulped.

He exhaled.

The war was over. He had his moment of service for a lifetime of peace. He knows that he should care about history remembering him, but at this moment it doesn’t seem too bad to fly under the radar.

There was a history of unspoken history behind every great man. Steve was no idiot. He knew that there were women and queers and everyone a shade darker than the white man would like. He knew they served in the army, and they wanted to be remembered.

But Steve was just old Steve. Just a man, just a man no more no less. And he’s had his spot in the limelight, and now it was time to let someone else take his place. He was done being the poster child for everyone who was anyone.

 

London was different, as was Peggy. It felt like Peggy was coming back to life. She was gentler with Steve, softer where she would usually be rough around the edges. She doesn’t talk about work as much, and her shoulders don’t sag where they normally would. Perhaps it’s the post-marital bliss, but Peggy Carter is as vivacious as his dreams.

The Howling Commandos joked once that they should expect a Baby Rogers no less than three years from now, but Peggy flattened her lips into a line and shook her head. Peggy Carter knew what she wanted, and what she wanted was to kick-start her career before having any children. That suited Steve just fine. He was in no rush to have children.

Steve meets all of the relatives that couldn’t make it to the wedding, they all sound bored and posh and ultimately like they’re better than him. But they make good company, and it’s such a startling difference from anything he had ever experienced in his life. They go out for tea with tea cakes and mini clubhouse sandwiches and crumpets, and Steve learns that he hates all of it. He’s not cut out for high tea at noon and discussions about the Royal family, and trying to unmuddle the British jumble of words hurled at him.

 

Steve puts his elbows on the table and gives Peggy a toothy grin. “God, Peg. What I’d do for an old fashioned cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.” He says, over fish and chips.

Peggy crossed her legs and doused her chips (fries) in malt vinegar. Steve frowned. Peggy shook her head. She gives him a tight lipped smile that says, don’t be unkind, Steve.

 

Her parents, Harrison and Amanda Carter, were very kind, though. They came with them to lunch on one of their first nights of their honeymoon. They were both still alive and made it through both wars with all fingers and toes.

They accepted Steve as if they were his own son. Harrison Carter called Steve son and he was the only man who had ever done that aside from Bucky’s father. And Steve accepted it. He reveled in it. And if he closed his eyes, he could pretend like it was real. If he ignored the British foreign accent, he could pretend like all of this made sense

 

They drive up to the suburbs just outside of London and stay in Peggy’s childhood home and in her room, and there’s an infinite sense of forlorn and missing-ness in his life. It feels equally like he had been looking for this place his whole life, and like he was running from this place from the day he had come out of the womb.

 

They go down to Westminster and walk hand in hand down to the Thames, sun shining in Peggy’s hair. They walk in the full sunlight, with Peggy’s heels clicking down the cobblestone. For one reason or another, people always stopped to stare. Steve didn’t know whether it was because they recognized who they were from all the propaganda or if it was because they looked so damn good, but people always stopped to stare at them in half-envious awe.

Steve is waiting for Peggy to come back from the bakery. It’s midday, but there’s no one around. The streets are so quiet this time of day, unlike in New York, where it was busy any and every time of day. He watched her go into the bakery, strike up a conversation with the lady at the counter, and pick out some fresh bread loaves. It feels like he’s half asleep and lucid dreaming, because everything about this situation feels surreal to him.

 

Steve tore his gaze away and went back to watching the waters of the Thames. They were down by the pier and saw a rowboat pull into the dock. Steve is about to look away when he sees a boy with black curly hair and milk white skin tumble out of the boat with bright red cheeks and laughter blessing his every body part. He looks so alive, like the world hadn’t killed his spirit yet. He looks so young and so energetic and has so much soul in him it feels like he’s looking into the sun. He has a blue book tucked under his arm, tattered and pages kissed by the freshwater.

Steve looks at his face, bright green eyes and brilliant freckles, memorizing his every feature and promising that he’ll paint his portrait the second he touches down in Brooklyn. He begins to look back into the bakery and look at his wife, when another man walks up to him from across the dock and grabs him by the collar, kissing him passionately and quickly. Steve averts his eyes out of respect, face reddening and something stirring deep within his solar plexus.

 

“You absolute wanker.” One boy murmurs. The boy across from him grins.

“Yes, darling. But you love me.” He replies, snatching the blue book from his paramour’s clutches. They’re both smiling and trying hard not to.

It feels like he’s watching something he’s not supposed to see. Both men turn beet red, and look around to make sure the coast is clear. The boy with green eyes slaps the other man playfully, and sticks his tongue out at him. Steve recognizes their energy. It’s happiness and comfort and love.They’re younger than he was, and a have a little bit more fear in their eyes, and when they walk away, one walks two paces slower than the other.

 

Steve wants to keep watching, but he hears the bells of the bakery doorbell ringing, signalling that Peggy comes out of the bakery with fresh loaves of bread, pressing the warm paper bags into Steve’s arms. 

“I got pumpernickel, and sourdough, and baguettes. They all looked so good!” She exclaims, and then plucks a muffin out of the bag. “Try this pumpkin muffin, it’s so good.” She enthuses, and Steve laughs.

Steve smiles and they walk off. She looks brilliant. Steve gives her a kiss on the cheek, promising himself not to look back. Because if he looks back, he might never be able to go forward.

 

They talk about the future. They don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but Steve already knew that.

Peggy wants two kids, but not right away.  If Steve were to be honest, he doesn’t know if he even wants kids.

Steve loves New York, Peggy thinks it might be good to live in Britain when she gets older. He wants to live in Reading when they retire.

Steve loves sci-fi movies. Peggy loves romance novels and mysteries. She loves seaside towns. She loves small towns and folk music and the thrill of beating the bad guys. Steve used to love those things, but he doesn’t know if he likes them any more. Ever since the war, he’s gotten a bitter taste in his mouth that he can’t spit out.

 

He doesn’t know why, but his mind drifts to Bucky.

 

Bucky doesn’t want kids. Steve doesn’t either. They both love New York. They love sci-fi pictures. They loved jazz and dancing and sneaking out and red wine. Steve loved painting and Bucky loved writing, but Steve could write and if Bucky tried, he could paint a brilliant sunset.

Peggy loves the art of espionage. And the farmlands. Steve loves the sea. And the dry, hungry, city. And being honest. And doing the right thing. He loves nighttime and the summer as much as Peggy loves the spring. Peggy hates the pictures, and Steve hates rural villages. 

 

But he loves so much. He loves humans and people and dogs and life. 

And one other thing, but he doesn’t know what else he loves.

 

Peggy, he loves Peggy, of course.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s wedding was in the spring, five days from the last rain and three days after Steve and Peggy returned from London.They hired a violinist and a cellist, mates from the army with a heavy Southern accent, from a time before Steve’s transition into Captain America. 

 

Bucky’s something borrowed was the Captain America pin, of course. He nicked the pin off of Steve’s own wedding suit one night not far off from the wedding, on a night where Steve was still delirious with jet lag from his London escapade. Bucky barged into their room late at night from out in the fire escape, crawling into the window of Steve’s room like they were kids. He was supposed to be at his fiancee’s homestay, but instead he was here.

 

It scared the shit out of Steve. He thought it was a raccoon rummaging in the trash again until he locked eyes with Bucky Barnes, in the flesh. “Jesus, Buck. Why are you still awake?” Steve asked blearily, rubbing at his eyes. “And why didn’t you just go through the door, like a normal person?”

 

Bucky sat cross legged across from Steve at the foot of his bed. He looked tired, like the last time he slept was nineteen forty three. ”The light was on.” Bucky shrugged, looking around the room as if he had forgotten it already.

Steve frowned. “Couldn’t sleep. Jet lag.” He said, allaying Bucky’s questions.

“Drawing again?” Bucky teased, eyes cast downward at the sketchbook on Steve’s lap. Steve had slammed the cover shut just as Bucky crawled in. He didn’t want Bucky to know that Steve was sketching him again. 

Steve sat up with a shrug, and Bucky stared at Steve owlishly. “What do you want, Buck?” Steve asked.

 

“You’re my best man, right?” Bucky asked frenetically. Steve wonders if Bucky just had a cup of coffee.

Steve blinked. “Am I the best man you’ve ever met, you bet your britches.” He says with a lopsided, exhausted grin. He’s tired, but the banter after all this time is so effortless. He could do it with his eyes closed. He could do it his dreams. Hell, he did it half the time when he was supposed to be doing something else.

 

When he tried to find Bucky in Bucharest after the attack on the king of Wakanda, half his silences were spent having conversations with Bucky in his mind. Bucky is always in his mind, in one way or another.

 

Bucky fought to keep the smile off his face, but it cracked open along his face like a firework exploding into the night sky. “Yes, you are.” Bucky said earnestly, nodding his head. “But that’s not what I meant.”

Steve’s lips flattened into a thin line and he feels his heart stinging in his chest. “That’s a cruel way to phrase a question, Buck.”

Bucky pulls back and his face is ridden with guilt. “Sorry.” He whispers with a meek smile. “Will you be my best man?”

Steve smiles, and the ice thaws quicker than it freezes. “Of course, Buck. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“You’ll write a speech for me? Stand by me as I get hitched?” Bucky asks, leaning closer into Steve. Steve can feel Bucky’s breath on his skin.

 

Steve’s eyes are lined with sleep and they’re wrapped in the warm duvets, too cold for any other season and too warm for the spring they were stepping foot into. He’s sat in front of Bucky, and the warm lamplight stirs something warm and curious in his chest. He’s too tired to confront the ghosts of the past, and this kind of conversation. His brain can’t process the millions of questions swimming in his mind.

He puts his hand on top of Bucky’s hand in a moment of weakness. Bucky tenses for a moment, and then softens under his grip. Bucky’s eyes are glassy. He looks unfamiliar. His face is portraying an emotion Steve had never seen on his friend before. Bucky looks scared

 

“That’s what friends are for, isn’t it?” Steve replies slowly. Bucky nods, but he still looks hesitant. Steve’s face falls.”What’s wrong, Bucky?” Steve whispers.

Bucky shrugged. “Nothing.” He says unconvincingly.

Steve stays silent, until Bucky relents, exhaling through his nose and squeezing his eyes shut. “My folks don’t like Nancy.” 

Steve swallows as Bucky continues. “They think I proposed too soon. That she’s just here to give birth to an American baby.”

 

“But you love her, right?”

Bucky stares at Steve, and his eyes are swimming with tears. “Our love story isn’t like yours and Peg’s, Stevie.” Bucky says. “We haven’t put ourselves in the line of fire for each other. I haven’t made time stop like you’ve done for your dame.”

Steve tried not to chuckle. Oh, if he knew how far he’d gone for Peggy. 

“Buck, if you love her, you’ll figure it out.” Steve reassured Bucky, a smile crawling across his face. Steve suddenly becomes acutely aware of Bucky’s hand on top of his. It’s warm and rough and feels so real. When he was with Peggy, it always feels surreal. But these moments spent with Bucky felt so real and true.

 

Bucky nodded. “She’s kind and caring and so damn funny. She’s brilliant, Steve.”

“She’s beautiful, too.” Steve offered.

 

Bucky nodded with a small smile. “She’s so beautiful.” Bucky whispered. “How could I not love her, Steve?”

Steve knows Bucky intended the last sentence he spoke as a statement, but it sounds like a question. It sounds like he’s questioning the way he loves, like a kid asking why the sun sets.


 

That was how Steve ended up giving a speech at his best friend’s wedding.

Steve clears his throat and adjusts his cuffs.

 

“Good evening,” Steve says, and a hush falls over the room. “You all know me, I think.”

A bellow rises out from the crowd, rippling across the room like the ocean waves. “I’m the guy that’s been stealing Bucky’s thunder for the last five years.” Another laugh. Steve likes this. Laughter from the crowd is good. It’s how he keeps going. It’s how he ignores the thundering in his heart. It’s how the cries for help from inside his soul are silenced, if only for a moment.

 

Steve takes a breath. “I’ve known Bucky since we were kids. We literally met while I was getting beat to hell, which is usually how we find each other.” He jokes.

He scans the room, trying to find an anchor. He locks eyes with Peggy, but tears his gaze away to look into Bucky’s dark hazel eyes. It was a truth; Bucky Barnes would always be Steve’s anchor. 

“Bucky is more than my best friend. He’s my brother. He’s my better half. Sorry, Nance.” Steve quips, flashing Mrs. Barnes his classic smile.

 

The newly wedded bride chuckles good naturedly. “We used to share an apartment together, and he always insisted on cooking the meals. I think it was because he didn’t want to be the one to open all the windows when the smoke rose up.” He goes on, looking at the crowd. They’re all staring at him in awe.

 

“And of course, there was that time he spent all his coins to impress a girl down at Coney Island, and we had to hitch a ride at the back of a hotdog truck in the middle of summer.” 

 

It’s peculiar. Steve doesn’t think back to that blistering hot summer down at Coney Island, but instead another memory. Him and the Winter Soldier, sitting at the end of the plane, watching the blizzards blow at their faces. He thinks back to the way familiarity dances around Bucky’s face for a short moment. He remembers leaning up against Bucky’s metal arm, solid and cold and sturdy.

More laughter, rising as quick as it falls. Steve gives a warm smile, trying to forget. Trying to stop thinking.

 

“Honestly, though. That was just the kind of person Bucky was. He’s caring and kind and has no self preservation at all. When I rescued him from the Germans, the first thing he asked was if I was okay. And he was the one who was held prisoner!” Steve exclaims, staring down at his index cards. He tries to ignore the way his hands are shaking.

 

“Bucky, I wish you the most love in the world and all the happiness in your marriage. You’re so kind and brave and you deserve nothing but good things for the rest of your life, because you deserve it.” Steve starts to feel choked up.

“Cheers.” He says, eyes glassy.


 

Nancy’s dress was an a-lined, cream coloured gorgeous thing with long sleeves and tulle down to her ankles. She looked so different from Peggy but still so gorgeous.

The after party is them four getting drunk and living in their own stratosphere. It’s seeing Bucky across the room and singled out among the throngs of people at his first dance. It’s feeling Steve’s  heart hammer in his chest, wild and certain it’s glowing and fluorescent.

It’s a lot of alcohol, very quickly. Because it’s the one downside of becoming a super soldier.

Some time near the tailwind of the night, Bucky whispers to Steve and sneaks up behind him. Peggy was across the floor, talking to someone he doesn’t recognize. 

 

“Dance with me.” Bucky says, eyes full of mischief and alcohol. 

“Don’t you think your wife will be mad?” Steve says quietly, but he knows he must be talking loudly over the hammering music in the dance hall. He wasn’t sure about all this. They danced together once, when everyone was drunk and more willing to turn a blind eye.

Bucky rolls his eyes. It takes an incredible amount of effort on Steve’s behalf not to stare. “She has every day for the rest of eternity to dance with me, you only have tonight.” Bucky tells Steve quietly. His eyes were sparkling with desperation. Please, give us this. Steve thinks Bucky says without any words.

Steve rolled his eyes but grinned. He held out his hand, like Bucky had done a million times before when he held dance lessons with drawn-up windows in the secret of the night.

They made their way to the dancefloor. The crowd whooped and hollered. 

 

The music starts abruptly, loud and insistent. Bucky took Steve’s hand firmly and began to waltz. It was an awkward position, Bucky leading the way even though Steve was taller. Bucky’s eyes were warm and liquid, like the colour of cocoa or their wooden desks in high school.

Bucky pulled Steve’s body closer to his, feet moving to the rhythm of the song. They danced together, bodies close and gravitating towards each other naturally. Steve’s chest was burning. It felt like he was being smoked out from the inside. It felt like the song lasted an eon, and then as quick as it started the music ended.

 

And when the music ends, Steve and Bucky are breathless and smiling.

 

Steve cranes his neck across the room, and his eyes land on Peggy and Nancy, their drinks stalled to their lips.

Chapter Text

Bucky and his wife returns back to Brooklyn at the beginning of May, spending their honeymoon road tripping across the east coast and living off the remainder of money in their bank accounts.

When they return, sunburnt and golden and life breathing into them, the couple moves into a house in the suburbs just twenty minutes outside of Brooklyn. Steve is moving in at the same time as Bucky does, right across the road.

 

Steve and Bucky packing up their apartment. There’s broken glass on the floor. The blinds have come down and it’s the first time he sees their apartment in the brilliant bright morning light. Most of their stuff is packed away, except for a vinyl record player. Steve loved vinyl records more than anything. Even in the 21st century, it was the first thing he bought. He had to track down a vintage store that sold all of his favourite records and his old reliable vinyl player, but the effort was worthwhile once the satisfaction of tossing the bluetooth player had followed through. He loved vinyl records. The scratchy, staticky way that the sounds filled the air. With a vinyl record player, even the most awkward of silences can be made comfortable.

 

Steve is folding up the clothes that just came from their final laundry load. It smells like detergent and the war years. It smells a little bit like Bucky, too.

Bucky looks over at Steve’s suitcase and frowns.

 

“That sweatshirt is mine.” Bucky says. Steve smiles petulantly. 

“Not anymore. It was the first thing I wore once we got back. It’s mine forever.” He insists.

Bucky’s frown deepens and he moves over to Steve’s side. His eyes scan Steve’s suitcase up and down. “I’m pretty sure most of those are mine, too.”

Steve shrugs. “What are you going to do about it?” He said, taking a step forward, into Bucky’s personal space. He’s so close, he can feel the warm breath leaving Bucky’s lungs. It clings to his face and stirs something warm in his stomach.

“What are you going to do?” Bucky retorts, eyes looking up to Steve.

 

Steve is breathing heavily, and the air feels like it’s filled with static electricity. The record has run out, and the room has gone silent.

 

“Well…” Steve trails off. “What I’m gonna do is never give it back.” He whispered slowly, as if he’s testing the waters.

“In that case,” Bucky starts, leaning over and reaching into Steve’s suitcase. His eyes never break contact with Steve’s.

“I’m gonna take all of these drawings and letters, and never give them back.” Bucky whispered harsh and firm and soft and coaxing all at the same time.

 

The drawings of course, are another piece of history that never made it to the books. It’s all and every sort of chaos, a sketch of the lady sitting on the curb, one of Peggy smiling on D-Day, and a thousand of Bucky. A thousand and a million more. 

To the regular eye one would not even identify the lines and smudges as Bucky. But when they were all assembled and put together, there was no other man than Bucky in these photos. Bucky with his hair wet and dripping. Bucky smiling at a high school soccer game. Bucky studying in the library. Bucky in the war. Bucky .

And of course, there are the letters. Letters that they exchanged briefly while Steve was still in America and Bucky was across the ocean. Letters signed only with their initials. Letters novel-worthy lengths long.

Steve feels a sharp pang of sadness, looking at the drawings and letters all in a pile instead of hanging on the wall where they should be. He picks up a drawing written on a diner napkin, and hands it to Bucky. The sketch is of Bucky, with the light in his eyes and his lips dangling on the maraschino cherry. 

 

Bucky lets out a low, breathy laugh and snatches the napkin from Steve’s hand.

Bucky jokes that it’s the end of an era, but that is all it is. It’s a joke, because Bucky already gave the down payment on his house across from Steve’s. It looks identical, but with grey brick instead of red. It has a fucking picket fence, for Christ’s sake.


 

Many hours later, when the afternoon had slowly bled into the evening, Bucky is packing up the last things on the ground and is getting ready to leave. Steve sits on the floor with his knees pulled to his chest. His heart is beating and he almost feels half dead. He hears Bucky’s keys jingle and turn in the lock.

 

“Well, I’ll be off then.” Bucky says, Steve never breaking eye contact with the floor.

 

He hears their door creak open, and Steve thinks一this is it. And for one reason or another, he knows he has to act fast, because he might never be able to act again. 

Steve turns his head and springs up on his feet abruptly, disrupting the thin layer of dust that had settled between them. He’s breathing heavily from exerting effort earlier in the day.

 

“Bucky.” Steve breathes out, hot and heavy against the springtime air. Bucky pauses, but he doesn’t move.

“Bucky.” Steve says again, insistently. 

 

Bucky sets down the box he was holding and turns around, his eyes sparkling with something more than curiosity, something that Steve can’t put his finger on.

 

“Stay.” Steve breathes out, more desperate than he expects to sound. “Please.” He reiterates, and he doesn’t know whether he’s saying please for Bucky’s sake or his.

Bucky blinks slowly, and there’s a question dancing on his face that neither of them dares to bring up. There’s an ocean of the unspoken that lay between them.

 

Steve is looking at Bucky expectantly, and he was pleading to Bucky wordlessly.

Stay, because nothing will ever be the same. 

Stay, because you might never get to stay again.

Stay, because this will no longer exist after tonight.

Stay. One last time.

 

Steve expects Bucky to pull a pained look and frown. He expects Bucky to look at Steve with a frown and turn around. Steve expects Bucky to walk out of the door, and out of their shared life for once and for all.

Instead, Bucky shuts the door behind him and pulled the key out of the lock. 

 

“If you want,” Bucky huffs out quietly. “There’s beer and smokes in the fridge.”

A laugh escapes Steve hesitantly, almost as if he was going against the unspoken rules they came up with for this half-life they’re living. He lets out another laugh, full and certain and true. 

 

“Why’d you put the smokes in the fridge?” Steve asked with a peculiar smile.

Bucky shrugs, opening the fridge and pulling out a 6-pack of beer and a pack of ten cigarettes. 

“Nancy don’t like me smokin’ anymore. She checks all the cupboards but never the fridge.” Bucky says mischievously.

Steve laughs and they sit on the floor like they did when they moved in, before they had any furniture. Bucky seems to be thinking the same thing, from the way he stares at the dusted-up floors and the windows without curtains.

 

“Takes you back, doesn’t it?” Steve whispers.

Bucky lights the cigarette and passes it to Steve. Steve takes a drag. It tastes like SHIELD briefings on the very harshest of days. It tastes like the war years. 

Bucky whistled. “Yeah. If back means to when we had no money or food.”

Steve laughs, and it fades to silence. He lets the smoke fill his lungs. The sun is setting in the window behind them, the two of them with their backs pressed up to the kitchen counter, alcohol and smokes at their toes in front of them.

“It’s like you said,” Steve whispered. “It’s the end of an era.”

 

Bucky shakes his head, but his eyes are tinged with red and he looks sad. Worse than that, he looks tired. Tired in a way that the Bucky Steve was used to never looked. The Winter Soldier was tired from having the weight of the world on him. This Bucky was tired from the wealth of opportunity he had yet to discover.

 

“I was just joking when I said that, Stevie.” Bucky says flatly. “I’ll always be across the road.”

Steve shrugged. “But it’ll be different, won’t it?” He replies morosely. “You won’t be across from me in the bed? Or across the battlefield, will you?”

Bucky’s gaze dropped and he leaned forward. Steve can feel his heart beating in his chest. Bucky is so close that Steve can feel his breath on his.

Steve tilts his head up, and his eyes trace the outline of Bucky’s jaw. His brain is trying to make a facial reconstruction of Bucky. Steve is staring at the curve of his jaw, the outline of his nose. The chisel of his dimples, the slant of his eyes. They’re so close, and Bucky’s hand is on Steve’s shoulder. Bucky has a soft smile on his face, the kind of smile he’d show Steve when Steve was being stitched up by the school nurse. 

Steve lets out a breath of air, a breathy chuckle and a nervous laugh. They’re staring at each other for a while, and the situation feels almost delicate. It feels like they’re sizing each other up. Like they’re two predators circling each other, waiting for an in.

Steve leans closer and closes his eyes, because whatever he does next, he doesn’t have the courage to face with eyes wide open.

 

And then, he hears the door flung wide open and a cacophony of clicking heels clicking across their linoleum floor. And minutes of motion and mile-long stares are reduced to the two of them springing up to their feet in mere seconds. 

 

Steve doesn’t know what happened, but he does know what is about to happen. Peggy’s wearing a white loose blouse and a navy pencil skirt. Nancy was beside her, with a full red lip and a cream coloured trench coat. She had her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. She looks like a silent film star.

 

“Oh sweetie, are you smoking again?” Nancy cried out.

“Oh sweetie?” Steve teased under his breath.

Bucky looked at Steve, fighting a smile on his face. His eyes still looked sad. “Don’t even start.” He mumbled.


 

They move in three days later, and Steve keeps feeling like a man out of time. Bucky moves in across the street, but Steve hadn’t seen him in ages. All the appliances in their house are brand-new. Him and Peggy went down to the department store and the attendants all recognized him from the radio and the movie previews and propaganda posters. They gave him any appliances that he wanted at a discount. The house is squeaky clean. Steve jokes to Peggy that it looks like a television set. Peggy frowns.

 

There’s daffodils in their front yard, planted over a day of hard day’s work. The daffodils Peggy was holding on the day he proposed were pressed and hung into a glass frame.

And at last, Steve sinks into his new bed with silence and his wife sleeping beside him.

Chapter Text

Bucky gets a job in an advertising firm doing clerical work. It pays well, and money is good. Life, for the most part, is good too. He’s also writing a book, of course he is. Of course he is. He was always the one with the words. It seemed like Bucky always had an inexhaustible amount of words. 

 

It was another brutally warm day in June, but Steve loved them. Brooklyn wasn’t as hot and greasy as it was in the 21st century. (Thanks, climate change.) It carried winds with it and the air always smelled sweet and inviting.

 

Steve hasn’t got a job yet, still living on army back pay and reading the classifieds for job openings. He still has nightmares. About the war. About the war that hadn’t happened yet. It never wakes Peggy up, but Steve wonders what happens if it does. He thinks back to when Bucky had his nightmare, how he cradled Bucky’s face in his hands, what would have happened if he leaned a little closer.

Peggy’s official title was British ambassador, but she began her work at the SSR under the guise of working for a phone company. She tells Steve some things about her work, but most of it is so secret she can’t even share it with her husband. Steve feels like he’s at a loss of what to say, like he just wants to shake Peggy awake and get her to speak to him.

Steve hates how he never did his research on Peggy before he left the 21st century. They feel like two different people. She told him once that the SSR was trying to stop Howard Stark’s weapons sales, since he was fraternizing with the enemy, on a random Thursday evening. But that was all. 

 

Steve is surprised to hear this. This wasn’t the history he knew. Do you think Howard is innocent?

“I believe him,” Peggy says. “Me and Edwin Jarvis are trying to clear his name.”

Steve smiles, thinking about the Artificial Intelligence version of Jarvis, and the version that had the Mind Stone in him. “So you’re a secret agent, acting as a secret agent?” 

Peggy smiles and nods. Steve had to admit, Peggy was beautiful when she was determined.

Fuck.

 

But no matter how much they stare at each other and talk about the mundane, Steve and Peggy feel like they’re going in circles with each other. They eat breakfast together, they watch television and read the newspaper and eat dinner and go to Sunday mass. 

But it never feels like they’re actually together. They never go to the movies because Peggy hates them. They can’t take walks in the park because people keep recognizing them. It feels like they’re two souls passing each other by. Steve feels like he’s just treading water, like he’s lost at sea and there’s going to be no one to come and get him.

 

Many months down the line, Steve looks out the window after collecting the morning paper, and sees Bucky watering the plants. Bucky was always an early bird, and when his wife wakes up, she gives Bucky a kiss on the cheek, hair curlers and bathrobes still on her. Peggy never looked like that. It was like she spent every moment Steve had his back turned trying to keep up the illusion of her Barbie doll appearances. He wonders what that life is like, one where there isn’t an acting role. Where everything comes naturally to him.

Maybe life was just like that for him. Nothing ever came naturally for him, so he shouldn’t have expected married life to come naturally for him, either.

 

He’s reading the newspaper, six months after the house had been lived in. Steve was in the sitting room when the mailman drives by, dropping off mail in their mailbox. It’s a real, metal mailbox with a red flag that swings up and down. It’s not like the mail hatch in their apartment, and certainly not like e-mail. Peggy is out doing laundry in the backyard, and Bucky has long since finished watering the plants. 

Steve gets up and stretches, wincing at the crick in his neck that he’s had since he was a kid. He opens the door and is rewarded with crisp autumn air. Steve opens the mailbox and it’s one nondescript letter in an office supply store grade envelope. His name was printed out on a typewriter, not handwritten. 

He can feel his heart pounding in his chest as he walks back into his house and sits down on his chair. He tears open the envelope, neatly addressed to one Steven Grant Rogers.

 

Dear Mister Rogers, the letter reads. 

You have been pre-approved for position of Cabinet Adviser for the Bureau of Investigation. If interested, interview will be held on the following Friday at the disclosed location.

 

Steve chuckled, reading the letter once again. He had a job opportunity! A real, honest job opportunity! One that they decided would be a good fit for him based on his merits and not his reputation. 

Peggy pokes her head through the back door and stares straight at Steve with a candid smile. “Did the mail come in?” She asks.

Steve nods.

Peggy walks into the house, and for some absurd reason, Steve tucks the letter in between the leaves of the newspaper.

 

Was there any mail? She asks.

Steve shakes his head. “Just a flyer and a catalog.” He said, giving Peggy the wad of advertisements.

Peggy smiled up at Steve wordlessly, taking the catalogs and walking back to her laundry without another word. She was always preoccupied with things, working and cleaning and cooking. He wishes that Peggy would slow down, stop moving so fast.

 

He knows what this world does to women like Peggy. Peggy was placid, placating her husband with smiles and polite words. Steve feels like he’s going to scream sometimes. He wants to tell Peggy to talk back, to argue, to fight. He wants to debate the ethics of loving like he did with Bucky back home. But he knows what this world is like. If a wife talks back to her husband, they’d get a sharp welt blooming on their chins.

He doesn’t know how to set Peggy free from the confines that this world built up for her. He doesn’t know how to do it, so he doesn’t try at all.

 

Steve exhales.

 

His interview is on Friday, four days from then. He had no idea what to expect, but after breakfast of eggs and toast. He stood up and got ready. He picked out his best attire, and feels slightly somber knowing he left all of the fancy suits that Stark gifted to him in the future. But instead he had to settle for something slightly tight on the shoulders. It’s the suit he wore on his wedding day

When he walks down the stairs again, Peggy is looking at her husband with a question on her lips. 

 

“Where are you going?” Peggy asks, narrowing his eyebrows.

Steve stares straight at Peggy, and suddenly he has the awful, horrible thought to lie. “Going to visit my mother’s grave.” Steve says quietly. 

He rationalizes that he lies because if he doesn’t get the job, Peggy will be more upset than he would ever be.

Peggy’s lips flatten into a thin line, and she nods.

 

Walking down Wall Street alone and untethered was an unfamiliar feeling. Wherever Steve went, he always had someone with him. A parent, a friend, a lover. It felt good to do something alone, to do something for himself. To do something with no one else’s input. It gives him the same adrenaline rush as the time he signed up for the Captain America serum. Hell, it felt liberating.

He walks into an unmarked building, through a metal detector, and the interview commenced.

It was a rigorous interview, with battle strategies, analysis, and other things that Steve wasn’t quite sure encompassed his pay grade. But five hours later, he found himself outside the unmarked building once more, given the job of incumbent Chief Cabinet Adviser to the State. It was a job of secrecy and high-profile cases that they had to ensure he spoke only to the right people.

 

He felt reborn. He didn’t know getting an office job could provide him with this kind of thrill ride. He feels electrostatic. He feels lightweight. Like he has the power of the gods on his side. He wonders if he calls out for Mjolnir, if it’ll come running,

Instead, he hops on the L train back to the suburbs. 

 

He feels giddy, skipping through the streets like he was a kid, he couldn’t wait to tell Peggy the news. 

He rounded a corner and made his way to their house, and as he unlocked the door, he saw the light on in Bucky’s house. It’s the spur of the moment type of thing. Instead of going back home, he sprints to Bucky’s house and knocked. 

 

Bucky opened the door, and he was wearing jeans, white T-shirt, and a dress robe. His hair was messy, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a while. 

“Steve?” Bucky asks. 

 

Steve’s face erupts in joy. And maybe it’s the happiness rushing in him, or maybe it’s Bucky’s face. Maybe it’s the fact that Steve hadn’t seen Bucky in months. “I got the job!” Steve exclaimed.

Bucky’s face doesn’t register any emotion for a while, and then he drags Steve into his house, slamming the door behind him and wrapping his friend in a hug. It takes Steve by surprise, but it’s a surprise he welcomes.

“That’s great!” Bucky whispered, and as they pulled away, both men had faces bright red.

“Too much?” Bucky asked hesitantly. Steve shakes his head.

 

Steve smiled and hugged Bucky again. He smells different. Like coffee and old books. “I’ve missed you, buddy.”

“I’m just across the road.” Bucky replies.

“It’s different.” Steve whispers.

“I know.”

 

They end up sitting in Bucky’s study, across from each other in two leather chairs with whiskey in their hands, talking for hours.

Bucky winces. “I never liked whiskey.” Bucky says.

Steve smiles. “Yeah, me either.”

 

They laugh, and Bucky puts out his cigarette. “When was the last time we’ve seen each other?” 

Bucky asks. “Like, three weeks? A month? I think I saw you at mass forever ago.”

Steve laughs, and looks at the sun setting. “God. That’s the longest I’ve gone without seeing your ugly mug since that time you went to Florida in grade five.” And then he finds himself in a lie. Because he went years in the 21st century thinking Bucky was dead. And damn it all, it almost killed him.

 

Bucky doesn’t know this lie, though. Instead he smiles. “I’ve missed you.” Bucky whispers. 

Steve smiles. “How’s married life going?” He asks, looking around the room. He acutely noticed that Nancy Barnes wasn't in the house.

 

“It’s okay. Parents won’t have dinner with me when Nancy is around though.” Bucky said quietly.

Steve smiles. “Don’t worry. My parents don’t have dinner with me either.” 

Neither of them quite know where the joke is.

 

Late at night when the sky is almost bright out, he crosses the road and climbs into bed, the woman beside him a ghost of who he was. He smells like coffee and liquor and cigarettes, but he’s never been happier, even if there’s nothing left to say to his wife. 

 

He’ll tell her in the morning, then.

Chapter Text

One year down the road, a letter comes in the mail on one of his days off. The mailman brings it the same time as the newspaper round, and he opens the door the same time Bucky is shovelling snow from their driveway across the road. Bucky sees him and gives Steve a wave. If they were younger, Bucky would’ve run over to Steve and blown a raspberry in his face. If they were wiser, Bucky would have walked over and asked Steve what he was up to. If they were any other two people in the universe, maybe they would have said something to each other. But on this day, in this timeline, Steve and Bucky stay on opposite sides of the road. Steve pulls out the letter. It’s printed neatly in very fine calligraphy ink. Some shadowy board of trustees from TIME magazine was awarding him with the title Person Of the Year for the year 1951, but he can’t quite think of what he had done in order to achieve such an award. 

 

He’s allowed to bring one guest with him, twelve hours away in Chicago to his interview. It should have been his wife he thought about, but it was Bucky that comes to mind.

Steve folds the parchment paper and places it back in the envelope. He places it in his back pocket and crosses the street.

A car comes rushing by quickly, and Steve can feel his heart beating in his chest, a reminder that he’s alive. For a fleeting moment. Steve wonders if that was the lamest way to go; he goes to the 21st century and back but dies crossing the road.

 

Steve knocks on the door. Bucky opens the door, as does his wife. She’s holding onto Bucky’s hand like a liferaft. Like her life depends on being tethered to Bucky’s side.

 

“Morning,” Steve says. So lame. So eternally lame.

“Morning.” Bucky parrots with less conviction.

“Can I talk to you?” Steve asks. He subtly side-eyes Mrs. Barnes.

 

Bucky glances at his wife, and she lets go of her grasp and runs back into the kitchen. Steve swallows down the little bit of guilt that’s always swimming in his heart.

 

“What’s up?” Bucky asks.

“I’m the person of the year, apparently,” Steve says flatly.

Bucky leans into Steve, and then quickly jerks himself back. “Steve!” He exclaims. “That’s great!” His smile is so infectious.

“Will you come with me?” Steve asks.

“Where?”

“To Chicago. To the awarding ceremony, my interview, I dunno.” Steve says nonchalantly. His first few years after defrosting were nights after nights of award shows and ceremonies they would have rather awarded him posthumously. He's had his taste of glitz and glamour, and he wants nothing more but to spit it out.

 

Bucky furrows his brow, but he has a grin on his face. “Isn’t that more of a wife thing?”

Steve exhales, racking his mind for an excuse. “Yeah. But Peggy is working that day. And they’re awarding me for my contributions to the war effort.” He’s staring over Bucky’s shoulder, looking at Nancy. She’s wiping down the countertops in the kitchen.

 

Steve shrugs, donning a smile on his face.  “Besides, who else would I accept the award with but my right-hand man?”

 

Bucky grins. He keeps grinning like the boy inside of him has always been struggling to get out. 

“Okay. I’ll go.” Bucky replies. “When is it?”

“This weekend.”

Bucky nods and sticks out his hand. Steve rolls his eyes and takes Bucky’s hand. He pulls Bucky’s hand towards him and gives Bucky a hug. “See you then,” Steve whispers.

 

After he went to invite Bucky, he went about his day. Sweeping the house, washing the dishes, lighting the fire, doing all of the household tasks Peggy usually did when she was at home. But it was a cruel and awful thing to do, staying at home while your wife is away and not do any household work. 

It’s five in the evening and Peggy isn’t home yet. The sky is already inky black. Steve is reading the newspaper and someone rings the doorbell. Steve presumes it’s his wife, who just forgot her key. Instead, he opens the door to see the frowning face of the one and only Nancy Barnes.

Mrs Barnes takes a step into their foyer without being invited in. Suddenly, Steve’s hair is standing on edges. Every bone in his body is telling me there’s something wrong with this scenario.

 

“Hey, Nance,” Steve says cautiously.

“Hi, Steve.”  She says, walking into the living room as if it’s her home. Her voice puffs warm steam into the cool winter air. Of course, she knew where the living room was. Their houses were exact replicas of each other.  “Can I ask you a question?”

Steve stays silent, swallowing hard and nodding his head.

 

“Why are you taking my husband on a road trip in the dead of winter? Shouldn’t it be you and Peggy?” She asks.

Steve gulps. “Me and Buck are best friends. We’re like brothers. We are brothers.”  

“Answer the question, Rogers.” She snaps. Perhaps she meant to come off as intimidating, but instead, she sounded tired. Like a woman burning the candle at both ends.

“He’s been with me since the start. He deserves to see me receive this award more than Peggy, quite honestly.”

 

“Won’t your wife be upset?” She asks. And Steve doesn’t like the way that she says the word wife.

“I think she’ll understand.” Steve lies.

Nancy stares into Steve’s eyes. It frightens Steve how similar they look. If Steve never took the serum, they would have looked like fraternal twins. 

“I don’t get it.” She says quietly. Steve has to strain to hear it, even with his inhuman hearing skills. “Why do you want to bring Bucky?”

“He’s my friend,” Steve replies, icier than he expected.

 

Nancy stays quiet. “He’s more than that.” She replies.

Steve nods earnestly, heart beating quicker by the second. “You got me there. He is more than that. He’s family.” Steve replies.

Bucky’s wife stares at Steve like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. After a long silence, she stands up. She smooths out her skirt and begins to leave.

“Hey, Nancy?” Steve asks.

She spins around, turning on her heel.

 

“Talk to your husband.”

Nancy Barnes swallows hard and nods.


 

Steve and Bucky fall into their old routines as quickly as they slipped out of them. They had enough money to be comfortable but not enough to be rolling in wealth, driving a battered car along the freeways. They sing crappy campfire songs and eat junk food that their wives would have detested. Their car is warm, and their hearts are warmer.

 

Steve never told Bucky, but they gave him the opportunity to fly directly to Chicago, but Steve turned down the opportunity.

He turned it down because he loves Bucky like this. In the morning sun, smiling and golden and without a care in the world. He loves Bucky in this light. In the warmth of the daylight, everything seems possible again.

 

Bucky doesn’t say much of anything during the car ride. He doesn’t sing along to songs on the radio, he doesn’t look at Steve with the light in his eyes. He’s acting like a completely different person to the one who was excited and giddy when Steve appeared on his doorstep only days ago.

Bucky feels distant. He feels cold like the ice he was under, cold like the Winter Soldier’s metal arm. Cold like Steve’s heart towards anyone but Bucky.

 

TIME magazine had provided him with one bed and one room, a glamorous hotel room that the movie stars use. They call him Mister Rogers and open doors for him. 

It’s dusk by the time they arrive at the hotel, and there are cameramen and flashing lights clicking with the sounds of the shutter. They go up an elevator fifty floors high, watching the light refract off of the crystal chandelier.

 

They swing open the french bay doors, and their hotel room is wonderful. There are two glasses of champagne on the glass table. The room is glittering and golden and smells like an expensive perfume. It smells like a life Steve doesn’t know how to live. Bucky is silent beside him. There's an unspoken fury roiling underneath Bucky's cool demeanour.

 

There’s glass everywhere. It makes Steve chuckle. He finds it almost ironic, how something that looks so sturdy can shatter so easily.

 

Steve puts his bags down in the hallway and walks near the bed. He bites his lip. “There’s only one bed,” Steve tells Bucky, turning around to face him.

Bucky frowns for a moment, and then flops down on the bed. “Nervous, Stevie?” Bucky says with a morose grin, shaking his head wryly. “Don’t act like we haven’t been doing so for years.“

 

Steve smiles and shakes his head. “I’m hungry.” He says, avoiding the elephant in the room.

 

Bucky shrugs. “Didn’t they invite you to a five-course meal?” 

Steve reaches out and takes Bucky’s hand. It’s warm and solid against his skin. “I don’t wanna go to that.” He says quietly.

Bucky closes his eyes and allows himself to get dragged up by Steve. He doesn't smile. He hasn't smiled since they got out of the car. He swallows hard. Steve watches Bucky’s Adam’s apple bob up and down.“Where do we go, then?”


 

They end up going to a Seven-Eleven down the road, bundled up with sweaters and turtlenecks, walking back to their hotel with plastic bags full of instant noodles, diet coke, cigarettes, and beer. It was the diet of the youth, not two men still trying to figure out their place in this world.

 

The night is dark and quiet, not like New York. New York nighttimes are loud and vibrant and full of light. There was warmth, even in the wintertime.

They’re swaying on their feet, knocking into each other with lopsided smiles. It feels like a time before, when it was just Steve and Bucky against the whole world.

 

Later, in the hotel room, the two of them are lounging on the bed eating food prepared in a commissary and smoking cigarettes with the windows closed. There’s a warmth spreading throughout Steve’s body, starting from the centre and coiling around each of his vital organs. They’re watching television. Audrey Hepburn is on.

It feels like old times, but there’s something different. There’s an ocean of the unspoken and it’s drifting the two of them apart.

Bucky feels different. Stiff and polite and acting as if they haven’t known each other since day one. He acts like the men at Steve’s workplace, all decorum and proper and distant. Steve wants to reach out and break the silence between the two of them. It’s killing Steve. He thinks that this might be the longest they’ve ever been without talking.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” Steve asks, looking further up on the bed and staring at Bucky. Bucky looks upset.

“Nothing.” Bucky mumbles, standing up and walking away. He shuts himself in the ornate bathroom.

 

Steve can feel his heart hammering in his chest as he runs his fingers through his hair. He springs up to his feet and knocks on the frosted glass door of the bathroom. “Bucky, open up.” Steve says, feeling his heart soar and plummet like he was on a roller coaster.

Bucky opens the door, and his tears are streaming down his face. “What do you want Steve?”

Steve stares back at Bucky, blinking at him silently. “What do you mean?” Steve whispers.

 

“Why am I here?” Bucky asks, and he sounds desperate. 

“You’re my friend.” Steve insists. He doesn’t know why he feels like he has to convince Bucky of a truth.

“Your wife should be here. I should be back home. I should be buying her a Christmas present.” Bucky retorts. He looks so angry, and Steve feels anger rising up in him as well.

 

“I want you to be here, Buck,” Steve says, blinking back tears.

Bucky looks pained as he shakes his head. “Don’t say stuff like that.” He says, pushing past Steve and walking into the hall.

The first feeling that registers in Steve’s body is desperation. It claws at him, a familiar hunger. It’s the same kind of desperation that helped him move through Europe and track down the Winter Soldier. It’s the desperation all along. It’s the hunger to be near Bucky, to save him.

Steve doesn’t know what he’s up against, but he knows that Bucky needs to be saved. And he needs Bucky to save him.

 

By the time he opens the door and looked down the rows in the hallways, Bucky is gone. Steve presses on the elevator button and hopes he isn’t too late. He can feel his nerves weaving themselves into neat little tangles as he descends down the elevator and sprints out of the hotel, into the shivering snow and the sludgy, icy roads.

Steve opens the hotel door and sees Bucky across the road. Bucky sees Steve and shakes his head, walking away. Steve crosses the road and the cars almost hit him, but Steve doesn’t care. He just has to get to Bucky. He needs to snap Bucky out of his trance, he needs to save Bucky.

 

Steve catches up to Bucky and pins him up against the wall. Bucky’s skin is warm, but his face was pink and blue from the cold. “Buck,” Steve breathes out, panting hard. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Bucky chuckles, something low and raspy. “How stupid are you, Stevie. Everything!”

“What?” Steve breathes out, blinking hard.

 

“Is this what you imagined your life to be?” Bucky spits out.

Steve furrows his brow. “What?” He asks again.

“Living in the fucking suburbs with a fucking wife that hates living under the same roof as you?” Bucky insists, face so close to Steve they’re breathing in time. Steve has Bucky’s wrist in his hand, and he can feel Bucky’s pulse racing.

 

“Nancy doesn’t hate you,” Steve says with a disbelieving smile and a shake of his head. His breath puffs up warm heat against Bucky's skin.

Bucky laughs. “What evidence do you have? You and your perfect marriage with Agent Carter?” Bucky says antagonistically.

 

“Nancy loves you, Buck,” Steve affirms, something stony and frigid in his gaze. The tip of his nose feels cold, his body feels cold even though there is a fire lit inside of him.

Bucky shakes his head. “She may love me, but she hates what being a wife does to her.” He admits. His face falls. He’s breathing heavily.

 

“Do you want to go?”  Steve asks, swallowing hard. “Do you want to go back to your house and your wife?” Steve asks, and he’s challenging Bucky and all that he stands for.

 

Bucky blinks back tears but doesn’t answer the question.

 

“What the fuck happened to us, Buck?” Steve whispers, staring into Bucky’s eyes.

Bucky scoffs. “What happened to us?” He asks. “We stopped being hungry. We stopped fighting.”

 

Steve shakes his head, suddenly feeling quickly resigned. “I miss how we were before.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Don’t tell me you miss the war.”

Steve feels the anger rising up in him, the same brand of rage that got him through the nights. It was what got him through punching Iron and bone, punching aliens. Punching his way through any problem he couldn’t solve. But this problem he could no longer punch through. This was not fire that he was used to, this was frost.

 

“My marriage isn’t perfect,” Steve replies. “I miss feeling alive, God damn it!”

 

Bucky shakes his head. He has a smirk on his face. It’s the same one he flashes Nancy. It’s the same one he dons when he slings an arm over a dame and brings her in for a kiss. 

Steve freezes. He knows what’s about to happen, from somewhere deep within his soul.

 

Bucky pushes his head forward, kissing Steve so hard that everything makes sense for a moment.

 

Steve breathes. His insides feel the same way that they do after running a marathon. The adrenaline in his bones feels like raw electricity. 

And for a moment, Steve is happy. He’s happy and there’s no more poison. 

It all makes sense for a moment, long enough to see the future.

Steve smiles, and there’s one small thought echoing in the caverns of his mind.


Ah, he thinks. There you’ve been all my life.

Chapter Text

Steve remembers being five years old, he remembers lying in bed on Christmas day, waiting until the sun comes up. He remembers waiting for his mother to open her bedroom door, wearing her slippers and padding down the hallway. He remembers jumping out of bed, looking at the presents under the tree in their small living wrapped in parchment paper. 

He doesn’t remember believing in Santa but believing in the magic of Sarah Rogers. He remembers having not many presents. He remembers the years melting together, and suddenly he was all grown. He remembers the feeling of waking up on Christmas day and seeing not one, but two gifts under the tree. He remembers going out into the cold to feel like a kid when he was still growing into himself. 

 

That feeling of joy, that feeling of freedom, it’s the same freedom that he felt when he kissed Bucky for the very first time. He remembers telling Peggy he wanted a new car for Christmas, but he doesn’t want that anymore. He just wants Bucky. He just wants this. He doesn’t want Christmas if he can’t have Bucky.

 

Steve and Bucky are sitting on the edge of the bed side by side. Bucky is breathing heavily, and Steve is trying hard not to stare. It’s an impossible task, not to capture the colour of pink in Bucky’s lips. 

Steve doesn’t know what they’re doing now. They’ve long since stopped kissing, instead resigning to sitting on the edge of the bed silently. The weight of their actions was sinking in, and Steve hates how it feels.

 

“What the fuck do we do?” Bucky whispers, shaking his head. His hands are shaking, and Steve wants to reach out and hold Bucky’s hand, but he feels lost at sea. Because out of the two of them, Bucky was always the strong one. 

 

“Go to bed? I’m receiving one of the most prestigious awards in existence in a couple of hours.” Steve jokes. Bucky doesn’t laugh. He stares at Steve with unblinking eyes. 

Steve shuts his eyes and rolls his shoulders back. “Hope Nance or Peg ain’t pregnant?” Steve offers with a smile. Bucky doesn’t laugh. His mouth is curled into a tight line and his expression is unreadable.

 

“It’s illegal,” Bucky says quietly, the gravity of the situation coming back to them slowly. “We could get arrested. In the papers, they wrote about a guy who got sentenced to twenty years.”

 

“All for kissing a fella?” Steve asks, and he feels stupid. Because they did more than a kiss, and him and Bucky are doing more than kissing now. Because it’s more than kissing, it’s the rest of their lives staring back at them with bleak opportunities and hiding behind bathroom stalls. They have to rearrange their entire lives around this very simple truth.

 

Bucky stands up and looks down at Steve, who was still sitting. He walks over to the chair where is corduroy jacket was. He pulls it on and buttons it slowly. He doesn’t take eye contact off of Steve. He gulps.  

“Do you want me to go?” Bucky asks quietly. His voice is raspy and sounds like a teenager’s voice after a rock concert. It’s a rhetorical question, one where both of them know the answer.

 

Steve looks up at Bucky, unblinking. He tries to steady himself. He tries not to cry. He can feel the weight of every decision building up into this impermeable wall of tension that rests between them.

Steve hates it.

 

He hates how he can’t reach out to Bucky. He hates how he can’t kiss Bucky on the lips and hold him in his arms and promise that it would all be alright. He can’t spin Bucky on his heels like how he would with Peggy. He can’t stroke his hair or soothe his nerves like how he would with Peggy after a long day of work.

 

All because Bucky is a fucking guy. Because he was born with a different set of chromosomes. Because he likes sports cars and American football instead of being a housewife and the colour pink. Because he wears pants and goes to work because he’s a man . Steve is fucking sick of it. He’s fucking sick of how he would never be able to hold hands with Bucky in public. He hates how people fought tooth and nail to love people of the same gender.

 

He’s not angry. He’s not sad. He’s fucking sick and tired of having to run around the truth. Because it’s 1951, on the brink of 1952. Because the world refuses to let people like them exst.

Bucky shakes his head and swears under his breath. “I can walk out right now and we can pretend like this never happened.”

 

Steve never wants him to go. He wants Bucky to lie back down and forget the rest of the world. He wants to pretend like the outside world doesn’t happen. He wants to pretend like they don’t have to wait until 2015 to marry. He wants to pretend they might not die of AIDS or get his face bashed in as a hate crime or get beat with a baseball bat at the Stonewall Inn. He wants to pretend he won’t get dumped in the Hudson River with a head full of bullet holes and a heart made of stone.

 

He wants to pretend like the world will accept them. 

 

“Stay,” Steve says, but it feels hopeless. It’s like fighting a battle he knows he’ll lose. He wants to keep pretending because false promises and Bucky Barnes is better than the bitter taste of truth and tired housewives. “If you want to,” he added at the last moment.

Bucky gave Steve a wry smile and lay back in bed, breathing heavily.

 

“What are we gonna do, Stevie?” Bucky asks again. His voice is softer than it was before, and it takes Steve’s breath away. Is this what Mrs Barnes goes to bed with every evening?

Steve lay down beside Bucky, staring into his eyes. “I don’t want to break up with Peg,” He admits.

 

Bucky stares at Steve wordlessly, eyes shining in the darkness.

“But I have to.”  he continues.

“Why?” Bucky asks breathlessly. 

Steve rolls onto his back, staring at the ceiling. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” He starts. He can feel the weight of the world crashing down on him.

“It’s not fair to Peggy. I might not love her in that way, but I have to tell her. Because she deserves better than me.” Steve whispers.

 

Steve can see Bucky shake his head from his peripheral vision. “That’s not true. We could run away. Start a new life.” Bucky says and then catches himself. He knows such a thing is impossible.

“We could stay like this.” Bucky tries again. “Business trips. Overtime. Couldn’t we carry on like we are right now?”

 

But both of them know they can’t. Because they’re cursed with being honest men. Because being a fairy isn’t a free pass to being an adulterer.

 

Steve rolls onto his side and kisses Bucky. “I’m tired of talking,” he says, eyes downcast and mournful. 

 

Steve grabs Bucky by the collar, a slow grin spreading across his face. It wasn’t his camera-worthy smile, but the smile he flashes when the doors are closed. The one that bares all his teeth and all his dimples.

Bucky pulls Steve in closer by his waist, the two of them gravitating towards each other like two celestial bodies. He kisses Bucky, honest and true. And Bucky kisses him back exactly how Steve expected Bucky to kiss.

Bucky kisses like he does everythingーwith full commitment and passion and care. He gives Steve another bruising kiss and shifts in the bed. The next time Steve opens his eyes, Bucky is on top of him, moving his mouth from a spot under Steve’s ear to the base of Steve’s neck. Bucky is kissing Steve with so much insistence and urgency, he knows it will leave a mark.

 

Steve can’t bring himself to care. With Bucky Barnes on top of him with pupils dilated and lips slick with saliva, he can’t bring himself to care about anything but Bucky.

Steve registers Bucky finding the hem of his jeans, fingertips running along his waistline and igniting sparks everywhere his fingers land. 

 

“Fucking hell,” Steve manages to muster, and Bucky looks at Steve with something devious in his eyes. “You’re so fucking awful and horrible and-”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Do you want me to go?” He teases.

 

Steve grins lopsidedly as his zipper unzips and the elastic of his underwear comes down from under him. He shakes his head, bringing Bucky up to him, shucking off Bucky’s t-shirt and kicks off his jeans. Bucky’s smiling, and in the moonlight, he looks perfect. There’s no rough edge where sharp metal meets bone. It’s a hundred percent Bucky Barnes. Steve’s hands ran over the smooth ridges of Bucky’s smooth abdomen, a blush spreading across his body. 

 

Bucky’s hands move to unbutton Steve’s cotton shirt. “So many fuckin’ buttons,” Bucky mutters. 

Steve laughs. “And we thought the hardest thing we had to learn was how to get those back zippers undone.”

Bucky smiles and slides his hand down Steve’s thigh, lifting it up so they meet at the centre. Steve breathes hard and moans, winding his fingers through Bucky’s hair. 

 

“Last chance to back out,” Bucky says, a teasing tone taking root in his voice.

“And miss out on an opportunity to see you looking up at me? Never.” Steve teases.

Bucky’s eyes are bright and full of life. He kisses all across Steve’s abdomen, hands spreading across his waist like unexplored territory.

 

When he finally gets to the stretch of skin below the belly button, Bucky looks up at Steve. “I’ve never done this before.” He admits.

Steve smirks. “I’d be surprised if you did.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, taking Steve in, maintaining eye contact and rhythm at the same time. All in all, not bad for a first go. Steve switches positions with Bucky, staring up at him and bobbing his head up and down, trying not to scrape his teeth down on Bucky’s flesh and use his tongue in ways that he had never used before. Bucky’s breathing hard, gripping at Steve’s hair hard and their bodies moving in sync with one another.

 

Somewhere between Steve’s rapture and euphoria, he hears Bucky’s voice come back to him. 

“You punk.”


 

When they finish, Bucky looks at Steve with a smile. They’re breathing heavily and too lost in each other’s eyes to feel any guilt. Steve loves this version of Bucky. Face flushed and pupils dilated and lounging on the bed with his head in his chest. 

 

How can anyone deny them this love? 

 

If this is the version of Bucky that Nancy wakes up to every morning, and if he even has a sliver of an opportunity of that life too, Steve would be damned before he gave up without a fight. 

 

“When can I see you next?” Bucky asks.

Steve stares up at the ceiling. “Peggy has a business trip at the start of the new year.” He can feel Bucky breathing heavily against him.  “I could rent a hotel room. We could…” Steve trails off.

“Could?” Bucky asks expectantly, eyes lighting up, biting his lip.

 

“We could hang out. Like old times.” Steve says with a slow smile stretched across his face.

Bucky takes Steve’s hand, interlacing their fingers together. They fit so well together, like pieces of a puzzle too long unsolved. “Not exactly like old times,” Bucky replied with a grin.

Steve closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Not exactly.” He parrots.

 

“I’ll tell Nancy I’m working late,” Bucky said quietly.

 

Steve gulped and nodded his head. “How do you feel? ” asks Bucky, a long while later into the night. Their hands were still intertwined.

Steve shrugged. “Like a serial adulterer.” He jokes, but it falls flat. It’s too honest and biting of a truth to hear so late into the night.

 

Bucky looked guilty. “I never asked for things to happen like this.” He whispers. And Steve knows that he really, truly means it.

 

Steve smiled sadly. “Me either.”

Chapter Text

In the morning, Bucky is still lying down on their bed when Steve is tying his tie. It makes Steve smile. Something sinister takes root in his heart. His soul clings to the facts. He sticks to the truth of the matter and makes a list in his mind.

  1. Bucky Barnes kissed him. Bucky, with his smiles and glittering eyes and his beautiful, beautiful voice. 
  2. He can reach out and hold Bucky’s hand. Not forever, just for now.
  3. Last night, with hot and heavy air and the smell of cologne dancing in the air, Steve made Bucky come undone, as did Bucky did to Steve.
  4. Steve was the one that made Bucky weak in the knees. Not forever, just for now.
  5. Bucky tasted warm and sweet, the salty aftertaste tasting like springtime nectar and autumn leaves.
  6. Bucky wants this. He wants Steve.

 

Steve has to remind himself that it’s not forever. Just for now. He takes a deep breath and tries to tear his gaze away.

 

“You’re doing it wrong,” Bucky replies groggily from the bed. 

Steve turns around and Bucky is looking at Steve in a different light. Because everything is different now.

“You gonna tell me how to do it?” Steve asks, a playful tone in his voice.

 

Bucky rubs at his eyes with a lopsided smile. “I’ve gotta get dressed too, you know.” He replies.

Steve is staring at Bucky. They’ve got enough pain between them. From the war years and the years to come. The battle is over, but Steve sees the world and it’s a real dark place. There’s the war in Bucky, too. The same scars that Steve tries to wash off every night.

 

“Well get on it, then.” Steve says quietly.

 

After Bucky is dressed to the nines and has his hair styled elegantly, he steps out of the washroom. Steve tries not to look Bucky up and down, but he’s gorgeous. He looks debonair and suave, all confident and sly. He looks like a mobster, with his hair slicked back with pomade and hairspray.

Bucky is wearing an all-black suit and black leather driving gloves. He looks more like the Winter Soldier now than ever before. It gave Steve a rush of excitement and the thrill of fear. It felt like Steve was walking a tightrope between what he knew and what he was afraid to know. For a fleeting moment, Steve thinks that this Bucky belongs to him.

 

He exhales. Steadies himself. Because this isn’t forever. Just for now.

 

“You look like James Bond," Bucky whispers. He takes a step onto the balcony, where Steve was sketching the clouds. But like, ten times more gorgeous.

Steve pulls Bucky in by the lapels and smiles. “You’re the one named James,” Steve says, giving Bucky a kiss. It’s so good. It’s been so good every time.

 

The thrill of kissing the person Steve was almost certain he loved was almost enough to overpower the feeling of treachery that bleeds into his heart. Almost.


 

There were an award ceremony and dinner and dancing. Steve is called to the stage and he whispers out an award speech, holding a plaque. His voice reverberates around the stadium. Steve tried really hard to focus. But it paled in comparison to the events of the night before.

 

The drive back to Brooklyn was quiet. There was nothing more to say. He could barely look Steve in the eye. It feels like sacrilege. They feel like two condemned men making their way down to the guillotine.

He pulls up to Bucky’s driveway first and stalled the car to a halt. Bucky got out and picked up his suitcase. He looks at Steve with shining, almost tearful eyes. He smiled with his mouth closed, lips touching each other and something sad dancing on his face.

 

Steve looked at Bucky with an emotionless face. 

And for a moment, the Bucky of his childhood erupted for a split second. Bucky cocked Steve a smirk and winked. “See you in the new year,” he said slyly.

 

Steve rolled his eyes, fighting the smile spreading across his face. “I see you every morning watering the lawn when I pick up my paper round.”

Bucky shrugs. “Not all of me,” he says, slamming the door shut and leaving Steve a blushing, smitten mess.

Steve parks into the driveway and puts his head in his hands. 

 

Damn it, Buck.


 

The next day, it was like clockwork as the world kept on spinning. Peggy arrived back home from work in the whisper of the night, crawling into bed when Steve was still dancing between the moments between waking and sleeping. She was all soft. Bucky was all firm edges and battle scars. She was gentle. She was kindness. Peggy Carter was a kiss goodnight. Bucky Barnes was a stab goodbye.

 

“How was the trip?” Peggy asks, and Steve feels like the worst person in the world. He rolls around to his side and stares at Peggy with shining eyes. Peggy blinks at her husband expectantly.

Peggy smiled. It makes Steve feel awful. He looks Peggy in the eye and thinks , I have to break this girl’s heart. He doesn’t want to do it, but he has to. Because he doesn’t pick who he gets to love. Peggy’s still smiling like Steve hasn’t been lying to her.

“Can we talk about it in the morning?” Steve asks.

 

Peggy’s face falls. And in the silence of the night, Steve can hear her sniffling softly. He wants to pretend like Peggy just has a cold and that she isn’t crying. He tries to lull himself asleep, pressing himself up against his wife’s body, trying to conjure up the memory of a man he was never supposed to lay with in the first place.

Steve wakes up at eight in the morning and his night with Bucky feels like a dream. It feels so far away, lost in the fog and impossible to recapture. The other side of his bed was cold and neatly made.

 

His wife was already up, cooking breakfast on Sunday morning. The curtains were pulled open and sunlight was streaming through the kitchen, a vase of wildflowers from their garden on the table. The kitchen smells like baking bread and frying meat. There’s a crystal glass of orange juice on the table, along with a steaming pot of coffee. The radio was on as well, playing a light jazz melody that reached every lofty crevice of their house. It was snowing, and the world looked soft and brand new.

Steve grimaces. He must be really fucked in the head if he thinks a night of sweaty makeouts and curses into bedroom pillows was the dream, instead of what he woke up to every morning.

 

He walks down their creaky staircase and sees Peggy, hair already perfectly curled and makeup already done. He doesn’t know how she does it. Steve gives Peggy a kiss on the cheek as she smiles. She smells like perfume, something delicate and breakable. She smells like cinnamon sugar and vanilla.

 

And he thinks;  I have to break this girl’s heart.

He doesn’t have it in him to break Peggy’s heart. He can’t sit down and unearth every dirty thing he whispered to his best man under the covers and under vanilla twilight. He can’t break Peggy’s heart, when all Peggy ever did was put his heart together.

 

“Paper round already arrived,” she said curtly, not raising her head from her focus on the bacon in the pan. She was wearing a pleated gingham apron and something awful and sharp twists in Steve’s soul. He desperately doesn’t want to break Peggy’s heart, but he has to break her heart in order to save his own.

Steve smiled. He nodded his head, took a breath, and opened the door.

And as he opened the door and picked up his newspaper, he can see Bucky across the street shovelling snow in a knit white sweater with a high collar. His face was slightly flushed, and his eyes looked like clear blue water. He looked like he was kissed by the breath of God. He looks beautiful and candid without ever even trying.

 

Steve got to stare, he got to appreciate what had been right in front of him all this time. He thinks of how foolish he was, how he could have prevented two broken hearts if he acted faster.

He wonders if this was how it could have happened all along. He thinks about the life they could have led if Steve kissed Bucky the night of the motel and dancing. He thinks about what world he would have lived in if Steve kissed Bucky the night they got home. He thinks and thinks and thinks. Because he’s so tired of not thinking. 

 

Bucky looked up and smiled at Steve. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer!” He exclaimed with an easygoing smile.

Steve turned beet red and shook his head. He opened his mouth to retort something witty but snapped it shut when he heard the front door swing open.

“What’s taking you so long?” Peggy asked. Her eyes lit up when she saw Bucky across the road.

 

“Oh, hello Bucky!” She said, wiping her hands on her apron and dragging Steve by the wrist. “C’mon, let’s go say hi.” She said with a smile on her face, but her tone was clipped and frigid.

They met at the border of Bucky’s fence, and Mrs Barnes peeked out from behind the doors. She opened the door and walked out onto the lawn. She still had curlers in her hair, and she wasn’t wearing any lipstick.

 

“When was the last time we saw you two?” She asked with a grin, shaking her head wistfully.

Peggy shrugged, a smile hugging every feature of her face. “It’s been too long! Please, come over to our place for Christmas dinner. After mass, of course.” She invited. Peggy wrapped her hands around Steve’s arm.

 

Steve watched Bucky as his eyes trail from Steve’s face to Peggy’s arm on his shoulder. He watches Bucky’s face turn from stunned to grimacing. His face was cherry tomato red. That was the difference between the two, Steve turned red as a beet, but Bucky’s face got redder than a cherry tomato in the summer. Steve loves it. He never has the heart to say that he loves it.

 

Nancy swooned. “Oh, that’d be lovely, wouldn’t it Bucky? I’ll make a pie!” She said, dangling off of Bucky’s torso. Bucky sucked in a sharp breath.

Bucky smiled, eyes tight and jaw clenched. “See you on the twenty-fifth, then.” He said, and Peggy and Steve walked back to their house.

 

“Did you make breakfast already?” Steve asked Peggy with a smile.

Peggy nodded and they sat down at the breakfast table.

 

Steve sat down and opened his newspaper, as Peggy set in front of Steve a plate of toast and butter and bacon and orange juice and coffee. Steve pursed his lips together. He wanted to tell Peggy that it was fine, he can serve himself. He’s taken back to the times when his mother would thwack him on the hand and say, “Serve yourself, why won’t you? We aren’t those rich folk you hang around.” Steve would snort. He would only ever hung around Bucky, and he was nowhere near rich. 

 

There used to be a time when Steve asked Peggy for coffee, and she smirked at him and said, do I look like your housekeeper? And he would laugh. And he would be the one to cook the meals and make the coffee’s because Peggy was busy with work and adjusting to the American way of life. But somewhere along the line, Peggy had assimilated into a role she might not have even anticipated doing.

Somewhere along the way, the fire had gone out in his wife. She went from smart and snarky and as intelligent as any man in the room to silent and submissive and living on the sidelines. Steve hates it.

 

They ate breakfast wordlessly. Steve, reading the newspaper. Peggy, doing paperwork and chewing on the tip of her pen. There used to be a time when they would talk for hours, and breakfast would stretch until brunch, brunch stretching into lunch.

There used to be a time when they would talk, full stop. 

There used to be a time when they were in love, but that time was not now.

 

“Can we talk?” Peggy asks abruptly, placing her folder down on the table. 

Steve puts his newspaper down and looks at Peggy wordlessly.

“Why didn’t you take me ,” Peggy asks. Her voice is rattling with emotion and desperation bleeds into her voice. Steve can see it plain on her face; this is the price of everything he had ever wanted. 

Steve looked out the window. He tried to go into his soul and lock up all the doors. He can’t afford to let emotions get the best of him. “Bucky’s my best friend. And you had work.” He says curtly.

 

Peggy’s crying again. Steve had never seen Peggy cry before. “You know I would have taken the day off for you.” She replies. Steve winces. It sounds like Peggy is chastising him.

“You’re always working overtime!” Steve exclaims, slamming down his palms on the breakfast table. Peggy flinches. “So no, I don’t know. Because you never talk to me, Peggy.” 

“You lied to me. You didn’t even tell me.”Peggy said, anger rising up in her. She sounded sharp and foreboding and Steve hates what he had done. He hates how he doesn’t regret it.

“You’re so hellbent on proving that Stark is innocent or whatever it is that you do at work. It’s all you do. It’s all you think about. You’re at work more than you’re at home!” Steve exclaims, voice rising up.

 

“I’m more than your wife, Steven!” Peggy exclaims.

“You barely even are!” Steve yells back, and Peggy looks taken aback. Steve knows what he says is wrong.

Peggy stands up, the mask she carefully creates coming back to life.

 

“Don’t forget we have mass on Christmas,” Peggy replies instead of screaming. Steve’s lip quivers. Truth was, he craves things like this. Action and adventure and something other than routine. He wants Peggy to fight back. He wants to debate with her. (And eventually, concede to her. Because Peggy Carter was a brilliant argumentalist.)

 

Peggy stands up, shakes her head, smooths her dress down, and walks away.

Chapter Text

Steve grew up on the memory of hot and sweaty summers, pressed up against his mother in a Catholic cathedral. But he never really liked churches. He never liked the way that it went all silent and the organs made his heart swell. He didn’t like the frigid morning masses either. He didn’t like how airy and cold churches were, how the tops of the ceilings always had dagger sharp icicles dripping down on him. He shivered.

Steve knows the truth一churches are for the believers. And after he’s spent more of his life on a battlefield rather than off a battlefield, Steve doesn’t know what he believed in. He used to be an altar boy. He used to be able to recite psalms and interpret the gospels. But he doesn’t know what he believes in. 

 

Because he doesn’t believe in a higher being that would put him through all of this, who believes that righteous men should die. That there’s a life after this. Because perhaps, he doesn’t want to blaspheme, but he doesn’t necessarily want eternal life. He wants death to be the end of the sentence. Because at least it gives him peace. He hates to think of the afterlife, because where would his friends fit in? Would Natasha go to heaven or hell? She was an assassin, but she was also a hero. Would her good deeds outweigh the bad? What necessarily counted as a good deed or a bad deed?

 

The Steve Rogers guide to religion was very simple. He believed if your actions were true and you were an honest person, regardless of colour, creed or sexuality, there should be a higher power to show you the sun.

And of course, there was everything else. The Bible condones slavery. It doesn’t believe in equality for women. And it was used as justification to allow the Nazis to lock up the Jews and homosexuals. And to keep the queers hidden in the shadows.

 

That’s his biggest qualm with Catholicism. How could a book advocate love, but only a very specific kind of love? Only the kind of love between two different genders? And if you love any other way, it doesn’t count as love? How could one love be a blessing, but another a sin? Who decides all this? Who decides that he’s going to hell for loving Bucky, even if he saved half the human race? He wants death to be the end of the sentence, because he doesn’t know where he belongs anywhere else.

For him, churches were a social scene. It was a place where all the people in his community convened after taxing weeks and lighthearted ones too. Nancy and Bucky sat beside Steve and Peggy, with the older Mr. and Mrs. Barnes sitting in the pew two to the front and one to the left across from them.

 

Bucky was sitting beside him, skin all bright and dewy even in the wintertime. If Steve went all quiet, he could hear the heaving of Bucky’s heart.

 

Steve tried not to stare. Bucky’s eyes flick to his left, to Steve’s. Steve smiles softly, and looks back to the altar. 

The first reading is from the book of Leviticus. The reader clears his throat and taps on the microphone. His voice is raspy.

 

“The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God.

‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.

Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother. 

Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife.

Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you.

Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her.

Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. That is wickedness.

Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.”

 

Steve remembers his Sunday School learning. He takes a deep breath.

 

“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

 

Steve looks to Bucky. He frowns.

Steve shakes his head. Bucky beside him has a clenched fist and a hard-set jaw. He takes his hand off of his wife’s knee. Bucky is staring at him as sweat beads down the side of his forehead, even in the winter.


 

Later, there’s a record player playing jazz hits on vinyl, and Steve swears it's better than Spotify. There’s soup and salad and bread and champagne. They’re talking about their lives and their jobs, and it all feels surreal.

 

Steve has a job at the Bureau of Investigation, doing something so discreet he can barely keep a conversation. Peggy was still at the SSR, the name S.H.I.E.L.D a distant thing of the future. Nancy works for the Salvation Army as a receptionist. 

 

Peggy beamed. “Oh, I loved the Salvation Army as a child!” She exclaimed.

 

Steve frowned. He had a vague recollection of the Salvation Army denying food and shelter to queer people needing help. He had an even vaguer recollection of protests, of the name Salvation Army being a byline for homophobia disguised as religion.

 

Nancy’s smile is sour. “I wanted to be a doctor, you know.”

Peggy smiles patronizingly. “Oh but Nance, a receptionist is more our speed, don’t you think?” That shuts Nancy up.

 

Bucky does the books as an accountant, and is writing a book based off of his life. He can’t think of a title, though.

 

After dinner, Peggy and Nancy coo at their husbands and say that they will prepare coffee and cake while the men can go into the sitting room. Steve clenches his jaw. Bucky offers to help out. Both of them shoo the two men out of the room and find themselves sitting alone on the couch opposite each other.

 

Bucky let out a low whistle. His eyes are trained on a framed wedding photo of Steve and Peggy. “Is this room bugged?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve shakes his head with a strained smile. “The first thing I did when I checked the house was to search for them.”

 

Bucky nods, keeping eye contact off of Steve. “Quite a reading today, wasn’t it?” Bucky asked.

 

Steve flashed Bucky a tight lipped smile. “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” He quotes.

 

Bucky chuckled darkly, placing his hand on Steve’s own hand. Bucky’s hand was cold. “Don’t worry, Stevie. Haven’t had sex yet, have we?”

Steve grins, keeping up an easygoing tone. “Yeah. Just sucked my dick, didn’t you?”

Bucky looks pained. He puts his head in his hands and looks guilty. An uncomfortable amount of  silence passes between them, as Bucky shifts between the two.

 

Bucky takes Steve's hand and presses something cold and firm between Steve's palms. "Merry Christmas." Bucky whispers.

Steve looks at Bucky, clenching his fist and looking in Bucky's eyes earnestly. "I don't have anything for you." Steve says quietly. 

 

Bucky shrugs. "Are you going to open your fist or not?"

Steve looks down at his fist and he gasps. The air is taken out of his lungs.

There, in Steve's calloused hands, was Bucky Barnes' dog tags from the war. It's a part of Bucky's soul, a part of his heart that he left on the battlefield. "I can't take this." Steve says, pressing the dog tags back into Bucky's hands.

Bucky shook his head. "I don't want them any more. They're for you." He whispers.

 

Steve nods. Laughter blooms from the kitchen as the two men crane their heads and see their wives laughing over white wine.

 

“We have to tell them.” Bucky says, not taking his eyes off of the kitchen.

Steve blinks and swallows slowly. “Why?”

Bucky runs his hands through his hair. “We just do.”

 

Steve feels his heart pounding. “We can’t.” He replies. “Let me talk to Peggy alone.”

Bucky nods in understanding, and squeezes hand gently on top of Steve’s. And as the two women, the two wives walked out, they scooted onto the far end of the couch.

 

Peggy feels brand-new after this. She acts like the woman she was when they first met. She’s kind and caring and funny without ever being mean. When Bucky and Dottie talk to them over coffee and tea, Peggy is brilliant and a matchstick. They’re almost like the couple they were when it was as soon as they were married. But there are some things missing. Some things have fallen in-between the gaps and Steve doesn’t know if he can pick them up, or if he wants to pick them up. But as long as him and Peggy keep up this energy they present to the public, they could do anything together.

 

But by the time that Peggy leaves for her business trip, there’s just mile-long silences and a mountain worth of paperwork. Steve is almost glad Peggy is gone for a month.


 

The night that Peggy leaves for her business trip, Bucky pulls open the window in Steve’s study and sneaks his way in.

 

“Jesus Christ, Buck.” Steve says, jumping out of his seat. “You gave me a heart attack. Why didn’t you just go through the door like a regular person.”

Bucky’s confident smile falters. “I saw Peggy’s car pull out of the driveway. You know why.” He replies.

 

Steve nods sadly. He takes a step forward. He just came back from work, and he’s still wearing his suspenders. He pulls Bucky in by the waist. “I thought I’d have to wait until the end of the month to see you.”

Bucky grinned, and pulled Steve towards him by the suspenders. He gave Steve a slow kiss. It tasted like the last time. Warm and curious and just a little bit exhilarating.

 

“I just couldn’t wait.” Bucky whispered, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder. “Now, are you going to give me a house tour?”

 

Steve laughs.

 

Later in the evening, Steve and Bucky were lying in Peggy and Steve’s bed, bare and euphoric. Bucky’s head is resting on Steve’s chest. Steve is breathing in time with Bucky’s heart. Steve wants to feel like this for the rest of his life.

 

“Hey.” Steve says, poking Bucky in the elbow. Bucky shifts so he can look eye to eye with Steve.

 

Bucky smiles. “Hey.” He whispers. The both of them are smiling so hard their muscles feel strained.

“Let’s go out tomorrow.” Steve says with a chuckle.

 

Bucky laughs hesitantly. “Like a date?”

Steve nods. “Yeah! I’ll take the day off.” He replied, growing increasingly more excited at the possibility as time wore on.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Where are you gonna take me?”

Steve is scanning the ceilings with an unreadable expression playing on his face. “I dunno.”

Bucky closed his eyes and they breathed together. 

 

“I know where to take you.’ Steve says.

“Oh yeah?” Bucky raised his eyebrows, a smirk dancing on the corners of his lips. It makes Steve feels warm and soft.

 

Steve breathed. “Do you trust me?”

Bucky plants a kiss on Steve’s neck. It sends shockwaves down his spine and further down. 

“Of course I trust you, darlin.”

 

Shivers run down Steve’s spine.


 

Steve loves driving. Of course he does. He loved driving his motorbike in the 21st century, but he loves driving one of those Ford automobiles. He loved the feeling of movement that flooded his senses. But now, he realizes another reason that he loves driving. Bucky looks beautiful in the morning sun, wind whipping in his face. His smile bright and clear. And with the windows rolled up and the warmth flooding their senses, Bucky’s smile is so honest and true it feels like the warmest day of the summer.

 

They drive down to Jersey. The training grounds that Steve first learned on. It’s a time before S.H.I.E.L.D, before HYDRA infected every ounce of the institution. It’s a time before his training grounds were bombed until there was nothing left.

Steve pulled out a pair of wire cutters as they parked their car and running to the gate. The snow is slowly melting. Spring is coming again. Spring, and then the restless, hot and fruitful summer. Life feels like it’s starting over again.

 

“Come on.” Steve whispers, holding Bucky’s hand in the morning sun.

 

They make their way on the training ground. It’s quiet. They’re sitting on the bleachers. Steve’s head resting on Bucky’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

Three weeks later, there’s only four more nights before Mrs. Rogers returns home from her business trip.

 

Steve was sitting on the balcony of a booked hotel room at the Edison hotel. The top three buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned and he’s watching the sunset. He hears the door clock open behind him. Steve smiles. Bucky must have received the keycard in the mail, then.

He turns around, and sees Bucky looking both hesitant and bashful. He looks like a fallen angel. He looks younger than he’s ever been and older than he’ll ever be. This is the Bucky he had fallen in unabashed love with.

 

When Steve was bored and living in a century out of his time, he read a book about a boy who kept getting abducted by aliens. He read it after the Battle of New York, out of morbid curiosity.

There was a line that stuck with him. They said that love was like gravity, and the only requirement of both was that you fall.

 

Steve breathed.

 

“I brought food.” Steve says, nodding to the take out containers on the ground, wrapped in parchment paper and plastic bags.

“Is it from the diner on sixth street?” Bucky asks quietly, voice steady. Steve nods, and the sun is painting their room in a warm, golden light.

 

Bucky nods and takes a seat on the ground. There’s perfectly good tables and chairs in the room, but that isn’t how they were. They were individualistic, they were brave, even if they didn’t believe so. They were the bravest men in the world, to do something as radical as to live their truths.

Steve sits down and pulls out a hot dog. Bucky laughs, grinning from ear to ear, honest and true. 

 

There’s a picture of Bucky and Nancy on his wedding day, and he’s smiling without his teeth. Steve always took a look at it every time he paid a visit to the Barnes residence, and he always found something off about it.  He knows what’s wrong with it now. Bucky isn’t smiling with his dimples or with his shit eating grin. He isn’t laughing. His eyes don’t have sparkle. It’s the same militaristic smile they commanded him to use in his portrait photo.

Inside Steve’s pocket of the Captain America suit is a folded polaroid of Bucky on one of their nights out, before the war, before hurting. And he’s drunk off red wine, staining his lips and painting his cheeks. And Steve tried to rationalise why he kept it. To remind him of who he was chasing. To keep him humble. He never pulled it out as a display of affection like he did with the compass and Peggy, instead running his fingers over the protruding pocket, a reminder of the man he would always save.

 

But he knows the truth now, and it’s staring in right in front of him, with a mouth full of ketchup and mustard. He keeps a photo of Bucky in his inner suit pocket because it’s a reminder. A reminder that despite all the awful in the world, there was still James Buchanan Barnes. 


 

Steve is coming out of the washroom when he sees Bucky sitting on the railing, twenty four floors up in the same position he was in earlier. He’s long past scolding Bucky for things like that, because they’ve been sitting on balcony railings for longer than they could walk. Because if Bucky fell, Steve would rescue him. He always would.

Bucky turns around and sees Steve. He leaps off the railing and stares at him wordlessly. His eyes are glittering. He’s been crying, but Steve doesn’t want to bring it up. He doesn’t want to ruin this night of honey and twilight that they’ve created for themselves.

 

Bucky takes a wary step forward, as does Steve. Steve takes a step forward, and they get closer and closer. Steve looks at Bucky warily and pulls off his wedding ring, placing it on a glass table. He doesn’t look down at it once he takes it off. His hand feels lighter, but his heart feels heavier. Bucky does the same, taking a step forward and placing his own silver ring beside Steve’s without saying a word. Their fingers have tan lines where the ring had stayed.

Those tan lines are different. The ones from the army days and from being Captain America are subdued, are faded. There might always be a line between where his helmet starts and ends, and Bucky might always have a line separating his hand from his wrist, but it’s so faint you could only notice it if you really had been paying attention.

 

Bucky takes another step closer. They’re acting as if they have all the time in the world, but really they just have tonight. Steve takes a step towards Bucky with a soft smile, both certain and afraid. And then they moved closer until they kissed. And it’s a sin. It’s a sin. It’s a sin. They’re going to hell, they’re breaking their wives hearts. They’re going to jail. It’s illegal. It’s illegal. It’s illegal. But it feels so good.

 

But he’s thrown punches before. He’s beat up bad guys and questioned whether it was morally right. And this is the next fight in the war-torn battlefield of his life. 

And damn it all, he’ll go down fighting.

 

They crash into the wall, and Steve only slightly registers the feeling of his head hitting the edge of a picture frame. Bucky is laughing into Steve’s golden hair, breathing heavily and undoing zippers and buttons. It’s an ungraceful and ill coordinated way to get two people undressed, both boys manic and fingers moving quicker than the brain can register. One of Steve’s shirt sleeves is dangling on his wrist, and Bucky takes care of it by firmly yanking the hem of the sleeve off and dropping it unceremoniously on the floor. Steve fumbles with the elastic of Bucky’s underwear for a moment, and they stumble into the bed after an extensive amount of undressing.

 

Bucky smells like cigarette smoke and home. He smells like six thousand years of lost time. He smells like dry cleaning in wool coats, pungent and perfuming every inch of the closet door. Steve switches out from under Bucky, placing his warm hands on Bucky’s hips. 

 

“You’re gorgeous.” Steve whispers quietly in between the crook of Bucky’s neck, breath tickling his flesh. Bucky smiles, and their hands travel to places that they could have only dreamt of, once upon a time. Steve takes his time, kissing the dip in Bucky’s collarbone, the curve of his throat, the angle of his jawline. He wants Bucky to feel as good as he made Steve feel all those months ago in Chicago. 

Bucky runs his hands through Steve’s hair, closing his eyes indulgently. Steve smiles. Being in bed with Bucky was nothing like being in bed with Peggy. Bucky’s thighs were solid and warm, knees pressing into his own. 

 

An idea dawns on Bucky, as a smirk crawls across his face. He hoists Steve up by pulling him from the elbows, sliding his hands up and cradling Steve’s face. “Let’s try something new.”

Steve swallows. “Are you sure? I’ve never done it before, and neither have you,”

Bucky shrugs. He looks brave, even as vulnerable as he is now. “First time for everything, isn’t there?”

Steve smiles hard, trying not to, trying to steady himself. “Only if you want to.”

Bucky shakes his head, the same way he did after coming back to their apartment after a long day of searching for work. “Only with you.” He whispers. 

 

Steve nods and kisses Bucky again, insistently. He grinds up against Bucky, the two of them making unattractive noises hastily. Bucky kisses Steve and points to the ground. “In my back pocket.” He whispers.

Steve groans as he pulls off from Bucky involuntarily, groping at the cold ground to find Bucky’s jeans. He pulls out the rubber and holds it up with his thumb and index finger and a bottle filled with something slick, something Steve didn’t have to use with a doll. He smirks. “Came prepared, didn’t you?”

Bucky grins in the moonlight. He looks gorgeous. He always looks gorgeous. He looks like he could be a movie star, something action packed and full of adrenaline, playing the sidekick, or the spy, or the one who steals the show.

 

They’re drunk off something stronger than alcohol. It’s all the serotonin and dopamine kicking in, and it makes the experience less disconcerting as it usually would have been. Steve takes his time, worried about hurting Bucky. But they’re just fine as long as Steve’s fingers find their way. 

“You alright?” Steve whispered. He wondered where the time had gone. Forever ago, it had been Bucky worrying over Steve, not the other way around.

Bucky nodded, voice strained. “Just about done with five thousand years of foreplay.” He teased. Steve rolled his eyes.

 

Steve can feel his heart beating, and he doesn’t run from it. He breathes, and he breathes out. Bucky’s fingers caress Steve’s cheek, a whisper of touch that sends lightning down every nerve of his body. He kisses down Bucky’s body, quick and passionate and a reminder of everything they have ever done. Because in this life and the next, Steve would not have had it any other way.

 

Steve feels hesitant, but every time he feels lost at sea, he always did what he did best. He looked to Bucky to be his anchor, and right now nothing steadied him more than when Bucky threw his head back and lay on the pillow with a blissed out smile and his eyes fluttered shut.

When they finish, Bucky is tracing the stars on Steve’s bare back. He’s breathing heavily. Their bed is warm and sticky, Bucky’s breath twisted up in Steve’s hair. Their bodies melting into one another, more each other than themselves. Steve’s hands were curled over the mattress sheets, smelling not like Bucky, of cigarettes and sacrifice, not like Steve, of insomnia and lavender, but of something different. Something that Steve and Bucky made together, something that smells like love. 

 

“What if we ran away? What if we left it all?” Bucky dreamt, a whisper across the seas.

“They’d recognizing me off the ends of the earth.” Steve replied quietly.

“Then let’s leave the earth. Let’s fly to Mars.” Bucky shrugged.

 

Steve looked at Bucky with a soft smile, and the same feeling comes back to him when their eyes connect. It’s one of warmth and an ache from the very depths of his being. It’s unlike anything he had ever felt before. It scared him, but it also comforted him. “We can’t go away, Bucky. You know that.”

“Okay, let’s go dancing instead.” Bucky teases. “Let me buy you a drink and let’s flirt and pretend like the world doesn’t hate everything about us.”

“I doubt they hate everything about us. We did win the war. “ 

 

Steve rolls his eyes. But Bucky. “You know how it is. It’s not the thirties, and we’re married.”

There was a time, just before the war and just after the stock market crash, when boys could kiss one another. There were nightclubs. There was an inch of freedom, not like the ounce they had now. Growing up, life was a little different. There were queers and homosexuals, and they were open. Not as open as they might have liked to be, but they weren’t pushed into hiding. They weren’t confined to the fringes of society like they do now. 

 

“I know a place.” Bucky says with a shrug. “Where we can dance and pretend we’re not married and we wouldn’t get a fist smashed into our faces for it.”

“You know a place?” Steve says, raising an eyebrow.

“Come with me, I know where to go.” Bucky said with a smile warmer than the summer.

 

Steve rolls in the bed, wrapping his naked body in the warm duvet and pulls a face. Bucky laughs, eyes sparkling. “Do you trust me?”

Steve shrugs. “I trust you as much as you trusted me that day we stormed HYDRA.” He said, standing up at long last and pulling a shirt up and over his head.

 

Steve watched as Bucky washed up his face. He would follow this man to the ends of the earth.

Chapter Text

Much later in the evening, when the misogynists and conservatives have gone to bed and kissed their wives goodnight, Steve and Bucky find themselves walking down the New York sidewalks, lamplights flooding the street with warmth and bright, gauzy yellow streetlight. 

 

Steve turns to look at Bucky. He has a turtleneck and a sweater on, his gloved hands warm against Steve’s own. Steve is wearing a hat and a scarf. If he closed his eyes, they could have been any two other people.

There’s no one on the street in the late hours of the night, and Bucky smirked and took Steve’s hand in stride. Steve wants to pull his hand away, but he can’t. He’s too enamored with Bucky’s brilliant show of affection. And for a moment he still thinks he’s in the 21st century, where it didn’t matter. Or, it didn’t matter as much as it did now.

 

Steve never paid attention to those things, but it makes sense now. He had seen women kiss in public without losing their jobs for it. He had seen two males push a stroller while holding hands. And Steve knew that was where this world was going, but he was completely oblivious to the underbelly of activism that has always propelled equality into the limelight. He’s not in the twenty first century anymore. He’s a heretic, a deviant, a gender traitor. And because he isn’t part of the world that gave him rights, he has to be part of the resistance that ensures it.

 

Still holding Steve’s hand, Bucky pulls him down a walkway, and Steve’s eyes flash with fear. 

“Do you trust me?” Bucky asks Steve again, this time more insistent than the last.

“Of course I do.” Steve whispers. 

Bucky nods his head. “Then follow me.”

 

Steve doesn’t know what he expects when he walks in, but it wasn’t a tattoo parlor.

“What’s this?” Steve asks, still holding Bucky’s hand.

 

Bucky shrugged. “Remember when we were kids and we talked about getting tattoos together?”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Is that what this is?”

Bucky’s face fell for one short moment. “Do you not like it?”

 

Steve shook his head. A smile was making its way across his face. He thinks of it. Two drawings, forever etched in ink. Two halves of one soul. One belonging to Bucky and the other to Steve, but eternally connected between the two. It sounds better than a marriage proposal, than a disposable wedding ring. 

Steve smiles, honest and true. “I love it.” He whispers. He loves it almost as much as he loves the person standing next to him.

 

“I have an idea.” Bucky says, smiling with his eyes cast to the floor. “Do you trust me?” He asks, for the nth time that night.

Steve feels tears pooling in the corners of his eyes as he laughs. “I can’t believe you still have to ask me that.”


 

An hour later, Steve and Bucky walk hand in hand out of the tattoo parlor.

On each of their pinkies was a very slender diagonal line, running down the side of the finger. And when the tips of their fingers touched one another’s, it formed an infinite line.

Steve loved the tattoo. It was every inch of teenage rebellion satisfied in one night, something long overdue since his teenage years were spent being hungry and heartsick.

Bucky held Steve’s opposite hand as he got his tattoo done. Steve remembers looking at Bucky with a smile on his face.

 

“Until the end of the line.” Bucky whispered. Steve nodded, Bucky blissfully unaware of how important that line was to him.

 

Now, they’re walking down the street. “The night is still young.” Bucky whistled.

“Any other brilliant ideas?” Steve says half-sarcastically. 

“One more.” Bucky said quietly. They knew the truth. Neither of them want this night to end. “Let’s go. It’s right down the road.”

 

They hold hands as they walk into this establishment, and to Steve’s surprise, no one bats an eye. He scans the building, and he sees a bunch of people he doesn’t recognize but people just like him. Guys flirting with guys, girls flirting with girls. It’s like wartime, but it’s quieter. It’s a little bit rougher. The people at the bar have seen better days. Or maybe they haven’t, and they might never see a better day again.

 

“Where are we, Buck? Steve whispered, standing in the shadow of his paramour.

Bucky grinned. “The only place we can be. Sit down, I’m taking you on a date.”

“You’re taking me on a date?” Steve asks, sitting down as Bucky hails over a bartender. The bartender had a square jaw and broad shoulders and an Adam’s apple, but she was wearing a tulle dress and had a head of bright blue hair. And if Steve was anyone else, he should feel afraid. He should be afraid. He should have listened to the papers, the ones calling fairies sexual deviants, or sexual psychopaths. But he felt safe instead. He could feel himself exhale a breath of air he didn’t even know he had been holding in.

 

A part of him knows that he belongs here. This was the group of people they labelled deviants. This was the community that will survive despite everyone wanting them to die. This group of people have fought for their rights. And Steve knows that there is a war in his heart, and the war originates here. It originates with this family. These people. Women of colour who were born men. Girls who don’t want to be housewives, who wanna kiss other girls and set shit on fire. Boys who like nail polish and a red lip. This was the battlefield. And make no mistake, people are dying every day. 

Just because they aren’t armed and they have no president or general or any fucking advantage doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting a war. This one wasn’t fragile masculinity on a global scale, but the fight to prevent their extinction. It was the fight of their lives, one not chosen by conscription nor indoctrination, but chosen because of the lives they wanted to live. It wasn’t a war they chose, but a war they inherited.

 

These are Steve’s people, surrounding him and welcoming him into their lives. The ones who go up in arms to defend their very right of existence. The ones who would throw a punch just so they can give a kiss. Was that not what Steve did when he saved Bucky? How was throwing a shot glass any different than punching Iron Man? Steve chuckled despite himself.

 

“Darlin,” Steve said, taking a drink of his beer. I’m taking you on a date.”

Steve is sipping his beer, and it feels like he’s only staying afloat by a life raft. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He feels lost at sea. He always feels lost at sea.

 

He thought kissing Bucky would solve all his problems, but instead it just created new problems for him.

Bucky was staring at Steve. Bucky bumped his knees against Steve’s.

 

“What are you thinking?” Bucky whispers.

Steve looks at Bucky. He almost looks sad. "We can’t do this, Buck."

Bucky’s jaw was working. He knew exactly what Steve meant. “But we can.” Bucky said. A stupid little platitude. “We’re doing it right now.”

 

“I love Peggy.” Steve said. Bucky frowned.

“I said a vow, Buck. You did too. We promised to love each other as long as we both shall live.”

Bucky squeezed his eyes shut. “I know. And I love Nancy, I do. But not in the way that she wants me to love her. I can’t even get her undressed without feeling like I’m going to go supernova. And half the time she doesn’t even want to. She says she ain’t in the mood.”

 

Bucky took a look around the bar, straightening his posture. “The vow said that you’ll love Peggy the rest of your life. Not that you had to stay married to her.”

Steve smiled despite himself. “But I can’t divorce Peggy. It’s not her fault.”

 

Bucky set the beer down on the table and placed his hand on Steve’s thigh. “You have to decide, Steve.”

 

Steve swallowed and took a look around the room. Bucky was right. 

He had to choose between a wife and possibly kids or a life of danger and fulfilling love. He had to choose between a house in the suburbs and milkman deliveries and an apartment in the city, with smoky fire escapes and endless sunsets. He had to choose between holding his wife’s hand in public, being looked at like the centre of attention, and between kissing Bucky behind closed doors. He had to choose between a life of security and a life of excitement. He had to choose between a guaranteed life and a guaranteed life sentence.

 

It’s tempting, because he’s had enough excitement for a lifetime. He’s ready for security. And he wants to choose security.

Because this was exactly the same as going against the world to save Bucky. It was the same as fighting Iron Man. It was the same as dismantling S.H.I.E.L.D for Bucky’s sake. He had a choice to make then, and he has a choice to make now.

And last time, he picked Bucky. And somewhere deep in his heart, he knows that he would pick Bucky over and over again. Bucky was the inexhaustible option, the one that screams in his soul in the quiet of the night.

 

But Steve can’t just pick Bucky for the sake of it. He has to choose Bucky, and in extension he has to give up a life of security, mundanity, safety, predictability, and elation for a life of late-night escapades, kisses that taste like cigarettes, speeding through red lights, and the eternal threat of being found out. 

 

He has to step out of retirement and walk back into the battlefield. Except this was not a battle fought with weapons, but against everyone and anything, hiding in bars and living with the curtains drawn-up.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Steve sighed as they ate room service food on the floor. Bucky was eating toast and writing in a notebook, and Steve was reading the paper.

 

“Are you reading this?” Steve asks. He holds up the newspaper so he can read the headline.

Bucky’s jaw squares, but he doesn’t quite understand what Steve means. “What’s it about, Stevie?” He says softly.

 

Steve shakes his head, tears blurred his vision as he read the article. “They’re firing homosexuals left and right in Washington, Buck. They’re calling us communist spies.”

Bucky frowns, and his whole body tenses up. “Are you a commie spy?” Bucky asks without a sense of playfulness. He crawls over to sit beside Steve, his eye contact boring into Steve’s soul.

“No.” Steve says. “I’m not a commie spy. Are you?”

 

Bucky held Steve by the chin and gave Steve a kiss on the lips. His mouth tasted like orange juice. “No darlin’, I ain't no commie spy.” He said coyly.

 

They drive back home in silence. Because even if they joked about not being communist spies, they knew the gravity of the situation. No matter what they did, they still loved each other. And everyone in the world is telling them that what they did in the privacy of closed doors was unnatural and wrong.

Sometimes they talk to each other, and when they get weary and the sun goes down, Bucky places his hand on the small of Steve’s thigh. With Steve’s free hand, he places it on top of Bucky’s. He keeps his eyes on the road. He doesn’t say anything, because there was nothing else to say.

 

The lamplights paint their skin in warm yellow light. They’re pulling into New York City, and Steve looks to his left. Bucky’s quiet and sleeping, but there’s a smile on his face.

One block before they pull into their driveway, Steve rolls the car to a halt. Bucky wakes up, blinking slowly.

 

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks, rubbing at his eyes and temples.

 

Steve lets go of Bucky’s hands and cups Bucky’s face in his hands. Bucky blinks at Steve. He doesn’t smile but he doesn’t pull away. And Steve knows this much─this is as far as they’re ever going to get if they don’t tell their wives.

 

This was the truth of the matter. They had to tell their wives because if not they would be reduced to this. Hand holding in the dark, a sloppy blowjob when they had a free moment. And a few times a year, nights of sin when their wives were out. It was a shameful way to live, even by their standards.

If they broke their wives’ hearts, if they risked it all, they didn’t come out with much. But they had a chance. And a chance was enough. It was more than enough. It was breathing room. It was a possibility. They could have an apartment. They could have a life together. It isn’t the life Steve dreamt of, but it was undoubtedly the life he needed. It was a life he could bear with. He doesn’t think he could live with himself if he lives any other way.

 

Bucky blinks at Steve, and he can hear the heaving in his chest. Steve looks at Bucky and pulls away, even though all he ever wanted was to kiss him in this moment.

Bucky is sniffling all throughout the rest of the car ride, with Steve wiping tears off of his face.


 

When Steve was six, he graduated from Sunday School with a little paper certificate. From then on, he was allowed to sit with his mother at mass.

 

He just made a new friend in first grade, Bucky Barnes. He saved him from the bullies and sat beside him in the pews. Bucky had brown hair and kind eyes. Bucky was sitting beside him right now. Bucky leaned up against Steve, whispering jokes and snickering throughout the mass service. Both their mothers try to shush them, but they’re kids, and they don’t care. They watch the priest hoist the body of Christ into the air and make some petulant jokes. They’re kids, and they’re happy.

 

Steve laughed and grinned, trying hard not to grin. And Steve thinks; I’m in love with your jokes.

 

When Steve was fifteen, the kids in his gym class pushed him up against the lockers and shook him by the shoulders. 

 

He felt dizzy, and like he was going to keel over at any moment. They loved pestering him because he was small like a girl but he had a mean streak that shone in his voice. They loved poking and prodding at him because little Steve would always fight back, and it was always fun to watch the munchkin squirm. It happens like clockwork every time they have gym.

On this day, this random Tuesday in May, Bucky Barnes comes storming out of nowhere, all muscular and tall from his growth spurts. He’s smirking in an unkind way, yelling out threats and swears that he’ll have to say five Hail Mary’s to make up for. The nuns of the school would drag him by the ear for all the nasty things he says. 

And finally, when the bad guys are defeated, Bucky pulls Steve by the suspenders and ruffles his hair. Bucky smiles at his friend. “Why are you always getting into trouble?” He asks. Steve shrugs, a toothy grin sporting his face. 

 

And Steve thinks ; I’m in love with the way you rescue me.

 

When Steve was eighteen, he moved in with his best friend. They had no furniture and no jobs, and they had a very distant threat of war.

 

They’re pushing boiled potatoes back and forth on their plates, trying hard not to pretend their starving. Bucky just came home from a day of trying to find work, and he smells like the sun. He smells like hard labour and work camps and poverty. Steve won’t try and romanticise it, because there was nothing pretty about the dry ache in his bones and the need to want a better life than the one they had.

Steve sighs exasperatedly and dumps his potatoes on Bucky’s plate. “I know you want em.” Steve shrugs.

Bucky frowns. “Just 'cause you’re little doesn’t mean you should eat little.” He says, already scooping up the potatoes on his plate and eating potatoes hungrily.

Steve shakes his head. “Yes, it does.”

 

Bucky smiles, and Steve thinks; I’m in love with the way you look at me.

 

When Steve was twenty-one, a letter came in the mail addressed to James Buchanan Barnes. 

 

It was sitting on the dining table when Bucky came home from trying to find work. Steve was staring at it all through the day, but in the end decided not to open it.

Bucky opened the letter when he got back wordlessly, with the dull end of a butter knife. He didn’t speak for a long while after.

Steve sat up on the table, leaning forward. “What does it mean?” He asks, watching Bucky’s pupils dart across the page. He felt his pulse escalate, and a feeling similar to a knife being dragged across his skin.

“I’m being drafted,” Bucky whispers, shaking his head.

Steve scoffs. “Bullshit.”

Bucky shakes his head again. “There’s a war. In Europe. The Germans.” He says quietly. “I leave tomorrow.”

 

He swallows. And Steve thinks; don’t go.

He also thinks; I’m in love with you. But it’s too late.

 

When Steve woke up, he was cold.

 

His bones were cold and they ached. There was a name that was hanging on the tip of his tongue as he breathed in new air. And the name didn’t start with a P. He goes to the Smithsonian. He reads the history books and the exhibits and stares and stares at all the pictures. He catches up on history and lost time, but he’s more interested in what history has to say about him and Bucky Barnes.

 

And Steve thinks; I was in love with you, wasn’t I? As he stares at a black and white photo. But it’s too late.

 

When Steve’s fist collides with the sharp taste of blood and metal instead of Brooklyn summers and flesh, he can feel himself breathe.

 

Bucky’s eyes were the same. Colder, harsher, but still the same. Still a sludge of green and blue and grey and every colour of their past. He goes by a different name. He has different limbs. But deep down, Bucky is inside of the Winter Soldier.

Sam Wilson says it’s too late to save a man like that. But Steve thinks; I’m in love with you. Even after all this time. And he knows it’s not too late.

When Steve hears that someone not human nor man has a mission to wipe out half the universe, his mind goes to Bucky. His mind goes to Bucky, more human than the rest of them.

He goes to Wakanda, of warmth and unfamiliarity and hope. He goes to Wakanda and Bucky fights beside him. 

 

And Steve thinks; I’m in love with you. I’m in love with you. I’m in love with you.

And he thinks; I’ll tell Bucky I love him once the battle is over.

But it’s too late.

He was always a man out of time, anyways.

 

When Steve goes to Tony Stark and wants to figure out time travel, he wants to do it for Bucky.

 

Tony doesn’t want to do it. Because he’s in love. Because he has a child and a wife and all the things Steve can barely think about.

 

Steve understands. He’s tired of thinking. Love ruins. 

 

When Steve wins the war, Bucky looks at him.

 

He doesn’t look like anything, really. He looks like his past. He looks at his destiny and it doesn’t look like Bucky.

 

And he thinks; I was never in love with you. Because I don’t know what love is. And I have to figure it out on my own.

And he goes to Peggy Carter.

 

When Steve goes back in time, he goes with the intention to marry Agent Peggy Carter.

Instead, he dances with Bucky on VE-Day and crashes on a motel bed.

 

And he thinks; I’m not in love with you. But I like this.

 

When Steve goes back to New York City after winning World War Two, he settles back into life with Bucky Barnes. And he is not in love.

 

But he thinks; I like this version of you.

I like spending time with you.

I like listening to the sound of your voice.

I like my home with you in it.

I like this future.

I like our odds.

 

When Steve proposes to Peggy Carter, he thinks he knows what love is. 

 

And so he thinks;

I love Peggy’s nails.

I love Peggy’s lips.

I love Peggy’s clothing.

I love Peggy’s voice.

I love Peggy’s mind.

 

But somewhere underneath it all, there is Bucky Barnes. And Steve thinks; I like Bucky. But I love Peggy.

 

When Steve watches his best friend get married, something twists in his heart. But he thinks nothing of it. Because he knows what love is. And it looks like a brown haired girl with a gun in her purse and a Cockney accent.

 

He looks at his friend and his friend’s wife and he thinks;

I like our destiny. I like living across from each other.

I like predictability. I like the safety. I like the security. I like this. I like us.

 

When Steve is named the person of the year, his mind drifts to Bucky.

 

It seems like the entire world is mad at him. He shouldn’t have picked Bucky.

But he liked prizes, not loved them. So he should go with someone he liked, not loved.

And liking someone is tolerance. It’s accepting them even if they don’t like you back.

Steve thinks; I like Bucky. But sometimes, the way he looks at me makes me think that he hates me.

 

When Steve is on the sidewalk and Bucky is crying, Steve knows he doesn’t like this.

 

But Bucky is here. And he likes Bucky. And he likes spending time with Bucky. So the math doesn’t add up. Because he should like this moment.

But he doesn’t like Bucky angry and sad.

So he tries something he had never tried. He kisses Bucky.

And he understands. And he thinks; 

I like our destiny. I like living across from each other.

I like predictability. I like the safety. I like the security.

 

But. I love your smile. I love your voice. I love your mind and your jokes and the sound of your heartbeat. I like predictability, but I most of all, I fucking love adventure.

And Steve thinks; I’m in love you.

But it’s too late. Because they have wives and jobs and a life ahead of them. So he can never say what he wants to say. He can never choose what he wants to choose. Bucky wants Steve to choose him, but he doesn't know how. He has to break Bucky's heart because it's too late.

 

He was always a man out of time, anyway.

 


 

The night is dark and they’re sitting in the car outside Bucky’s home quietly. Steve is ready to give up, to walk away. He has to break Bucky's heart. He has to do it because the world expects him to do so. He’s ready to answer Bucky’s question, and choose safety and a life he likes instead of danger and a life he loves. But there have been so many times it was too late, and he knows it isn’t too late right now. Perhaps it was never too late, but it was just that the timing was never right.

 

Fuck it,  Steve decides.

 

And Steve thinks一

 

And Steve says,

 

“I’m in love with you.”

 

Bucky smiles. He looks on both streets of the road. The light in Steve’s house is turned off and there was every indication that Peggy had gone to bed. On the other side of the road, the lights were off and the air was still and quiet. He looked at Steve and made sure once more that the coast was clear. He took Steve’s face in his hands and kissed him on the lips, slow and sweet and a promise undercutting everything he had ever done.

 

Bucky’s smile is so brilliant, his voice so soft. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

When Bucky gets home, there’s a light on in the dining room down the hall. The house is quiet and still.

 

“Bucky, are you home?” Mrs. Barnes calls out. 

Bucky sets his suitcase down and prays he doesn’t smell like alcohol and laughter, taste like spirits and saliva. He takes his shoes off and puts his gloves on the hooks. “I'm in here,” He says levelly.

Bucky couldn’t see his wife’s face but heard her voice. “Can you come in here?” She asks. 

 

Bucky walks into the dining room and sees Nancy Barnes sitting there with a cup of tea and a lace handkerchief. Her eyes are tinged with red and she looks like she had been crying. Bucky tucks his hands into his pockets to hide the tremors that rattled his veins.

“Are you alright, darlin’?” Bucky asked, leaning up against the doorframe. 

She nodded towards the chair across from him. “Sit down, please.” Her tone anything but kind.

Bucky gulped, and pulled up a chair across from his wife.

 

“Are you a homosexual, Bucky? Nancy asked straightforward.

 

Bucky feels all the air leave his lungs. It’s like he got ejected into space and there’s nowhere for him to breathe. He’s spinning in circles trying to weave an excuse, but nothing comes to mind. And damn it all, he’s tired of running. He conjures up the image of Steve, steady and solid and ever so brave.

 

“Why do you think so?” Bucky asks, straightening his posture and raising his chin.

‘Is it you and Steve?’ Nancy rebutts. Her voice had gone all squeaky. 

“Nance, why do you think so?” Bucky asks quietly, dodging questions better than he dodged bullets.

 

She looked so sad. Bucky knows that this is the cost of his actions. The cost was one breaking heart for one bleeding, loving one. She tilts her head. “Answer the question, sweetie.” 

 

Bucky smiles sadly. “Are you mad at me?” He retorts.

Mrs. Barnes slams the mug of earl grey tea down on the dining table. “Answer the damn question, Bucky!”

Bucky let out a breath of air. He blinks slowly. He takes a breath, and holds it. “Yes, it’s true.”

 

Nancy doesn’t say anything for a while.

 

“Do you hate me?” Bucky offers.

All of the anger and sadness swimming in the woman seemed to leave her body. She looked like a hollow version of herself.

 

She smiled sadly. “I had known for a while, you know.”

Bucky blinks. “How did you know?”

“You look at him the way he looked at Peggy. I was surprised that Steve was a fairy, more than you.” She nods. “I’m not stupid, Bucky.”

Bucky let out a snort of air.

 

She took a sip of her tea and nods towards the front door. “And you know, the curtains weren’t drawn.”

Bucky lets out a hesitant laugh. “Saw that, didn’t you.”

Nancy raised her eyebrows and nodded, swallowing down her tea. “Mm. Never kissed me like that, now did you?”

 

Bucky exhales. “If you knew all this time that… I couldn’t love you the same way that you love me, why did you marry me?”

Nancy sighed, and stared out the window. She looked a lot older, a lot wiser than she had previously been perceived.

“I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. My parents said it wasn’t proper for a woman like me.” Nancy looked down at the table. “And then the war came, and I enlisted as a medic. My parents didn’t want me to be a nurse, but they allowed it. Probably because if they didn’t allow me I could have accused them of treason.” Nancy said with a half-hearted chuckle. “They thought it was just a career before getting married. And I thought that too.”

 

Bucky raised an eyebrow, urging her to go on.

 

“But, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with nursing. I sent my parents a letter saying I’d train to be a doctor once the war was over. They told me to come back with a husband or not come back at all.”

Bucky stayed silent as tears flooded his wife’s eyes. “I want to be a doctor, Bucky. But I can’t be a doctor and a housewife.”

 

“You don’t have to be a housewife, Nance. I don’t mind picking up the slack if you go to med school. You don’t have to do something you don’t want to do.” Bucky offered.

Nancy chuckled, something light and dark all at once. “Let me rephrase that.” She breathes in and out. “I don’t want to be a wife at all.”

 

She looks at the kitchen, at the home she made. “I used to think there was something wrong with me, with the way I looked at the world. I used to think that I was broken for not being excited about weddings and children like the other girls are. But maybe that’s just not my calling.”

 

“You never loved me?” Bucky asked bluntly.

She shrugged. “I think I convinced myself I loved you. I think I believed that if given enough time, I would have fallen in love with you. I would have been able to persuade myself into believing it was normal to feel sick to my stomach every time we got undressed.”

Bucky nodded. “I think I did that too.”


 

Two months later, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes has become a thing of the past. They were going their separate ways, and Bucky is stunned that it all happens so quickly. Divorce courts and paperwork would take months to finalize, but by the time he pays the deposit on a brand new apartment on the upper east side, Bucky feels like he can let out a breath of fresh air.

But on the other side of the railroad tracks, Steve still feels like he’s breaking his wife’s heart for the next two months.  It’s two more months of running, two months of meeting at nondescript bars and feeling like Steve is doing everything wrong. 

 

Steve helped Bucky move into his new apartment, and it’s beautiful and brilliant and Steve falls in love with it almost instantaneously. Bucky tells Steve that this is the place that they can live in once Steve gets his affairs in order.

Once he gets his affairs in order. That’s how Bucky phrases it. It was whispered to him while walking to the pews in Church. It happens so quick that Steve isn’t even entirely sure that it happens.

It’s one of the last Sunday masses Bucky and Nancy goes to with their wedding rings on. Bucky presses up to Steve, warm and sweet and smelling like honeysuckle.

 

“I’ve got a place for us,” Bucky whispers. Steve keeps his eyes on the crucifix.. He watches the sun glint off of the golden candlesticks. “Once you get your affairs in order.”

He spends all of the mass thinking about it. About the way that Bucky’s hot and heavy breath pushed up against his skin. How it made his skin stand on edges and goosebump and sent shivers down his spine. Steve hates how cold Bucky views it, but he has no reason to blame Bucky. He sees the way the sadness clings to his friend these days. Maybe Bucky never loved Nancy as deeply as Steve loved Peggy, but he was human. And Bucky despised the way Nancy’s heart had broken so many months ago and he had not even noticed. 

Perhaps the breaking of Nancy Barnes’ heart didn’t begin when she walked down the aisle and whispered I do . Perhaps the breaking of Nancy Barnes’ heart began when she came out of the womb, a rosy-faced baby girl who was destined to become a wife and nothing more. Perhaps the breaking of Nancy Barnes’ heart began when society decided to make women nothing more than trophies. And perhaps, it was never Bucky’s actions that caused the heart to break. 

 

 

It’s one random day two months down the line. Steve almost doesn’t expect it. It isn’t that he forgets how he tied his soul to Bucky’s instead of Peggy’s, but he forgets how easily he assimilates into a life of neutrality. He moves into routine. He’s doing it for survival. To preserve the way their marriage had whittled down into two people living under the same roof, and nothing more. 

 

Peggy has papers on the table. She’s sitting on a bar stool on their counter island. They’re eating breakfast and talking. Or at least, pretending like they’re talking. Steve is reading the newspaper. More layoffs for homosexual men in Washington.

 

“I can’t do this anymore, Steven.” Peggy says tiredly. Abruptly.

 

Steve’s heart is heaving. He sets down the newspaper and looks eye to eye at his wife. She has bags under her eyes. There’s grease stains from her pistol on her fingers. And something tells Steve that she was out doing SSR work late at night when she was supposed to be home. And she looks exhausted. But not the kind of exhaustion from pulling an all nighter. The kind of exhaustion that had been slowly creeping up on you. The exhaustion that you spend years running from, and then all of a sudden it’s standing right in front of you.

 

“Do what?” He asks, even if he knows the answer. This is the ending and the beginning and the start of all things. But it isn’t meant to be like this. Peggy shouldn’t be the one feeling like she has to break her husband’s heart. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

 

“I can’t pretend like I’m the person you want me to be.” She says. Steve stays silent.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks quietly.

“I can’t get anything done. They’ll always see me as Mrs. Captain America.” Peggy says painfully.

There are tears in her eyes. “I was investigating a secret terror organization called Leviathan, did you know that?”

 

Steve shakes his head. 

 

“I was investigating a spy, too. Her name was Dottie Underwood. And when I met the chief of the SSR, he looked at me and said  “You’re Steve Rogers’ wife, aren’t you?”

Steve sympathetically grabbed Peggy’s hand. Peggy smiled, but pulled back. She had a harshness in her eyes that Steve recognizes. Not from knowing Peggy, but years of interviews and old data archives. Peggy used to be soft around the edges, but she needs to sharpen her soul and harden her heart if she wants to make it in this world as a woman.

 

She’s kneading her fingers until they turn red and raw. “I’ve been relocated to Los Angeles. They want me to leave by tomorrow. That’s all I can say to you now. They want me to investigate an organization there.”

“I’ll wait for you,” Steve says quietly, even if he doesn’t want to go with her. “I’ll go with you. We can go to Los Angeles.” He says, but it feels like floating. He very well might as well follow Peggy to LA, because it’s the right thing to do. Because if he was a good, upstanding, righteous and loyal husband, he would follow his wife to the ends of the earth. But as he promises one thing, his heart is breaking. 

 

Peggy shakes her head. “Your home is here. In New York. I don’t want you to wait up for me.”

“What does that mean?” Steve says, and he knows the truth. He knows that this is the start of all things and the end of everything.

Peggy swallows. She’s been doing her own swimming through her tears, too. “I think it means that we need to separate, Steve.”

 

“Let’s not be hasty一” Steve starts, but Peggy won’t hear anything of it. “Let’s not rush to any abrupt decisions.” Steve says again, trying to find an excuse, but he can’t find one.

 

The problem wasn’t just that Steve had fallen in love with Bucky. He had loved Bucky his whole life. It was cynical, but Steve had a feeling it would always end this way. But if he had a wife that loved him with all her heart, and their marriage was blissful and perpetually in the honeymoon phase, he would have never left Peggy.

The problem was that Peggy and Steve weren’t right for each other. Steve had done everything, and then went back and did it differently. He was ready to settle down. He was ready for the rest of his life to begin. The problem was that Peggy’s life was just getting started. He knew that Peggy had a life ahead of her, hell, she hadn’t even founded S.H.I.E.L.D yet. She was always working, and Steve didn’t want to stop Peggy. Part of him was jealous of Peggy. He was jealous of the way she still saw good in the world, how her spirit hadn’t been broken yet. How it would never be broken. 

 

And Steve wants to let go, but the world betrays him. Because it’s 1950, and divorce just doesn’t happen. It isn’t what they do. It isn’t how people act. Because he never asked for this, but always saw it coming.

Peggy sighs. She looks exhausted. “This isn’t a spur of the moment thing, Steven. I’ve been trying to find a way to bring up this subject for the last year.”

She’s tapping the tip of her heel against their wooden floors. “I can’t do my job if I’m sleeping with one eye open worrying about you. And I can’t be here waiting for you with the fire made and dinner waiting.”

 

“I don’t expect you to do that. I can make dinner and stoke the fire and take care of kids一if you want them.” Steve says, and it doesn’t feel like he’s arguing with Peggy, but like he’s arguing with himself. Like he’s begging himself to give him another reason to stay. “I can stay home Peg. You don’t have to be just a housewife. I never expected that to happen anyway.”

“But everyone else does!” Peggy exclaims. “And I love you Steven, I really do. But I need freedom. And I need to be more than Mrs. Captain America.”

 

“Peggy, I love you.” Steve says, and his voice is cracking. He doesn’t know if his heart is breaking, but something deep within him definitely won’t ever be the same.

“I love you Steve. So much. But I can’t love you in the way you want me to.” Peggy says timidly.

 

Neither can I, Steve thinks grimly. He grimaces.

 

Steve can’t look at Peggy. This wasn’t right. He was supposed to be the one to tell Peggy. He was supposed to be the one to break Peggy’s heart. Not the other way around.  His mouth goes stale as he realizes that he has to tell Peggy about him and Bucky right here, right now.

He had to do it. But he’s a weak man, and he is only a man. And he doesn’t want to break Peggy’s heart further. And he doesn’t want Peggy to hate him for the rest of her life.

 

Peggy shakes her head. “I can’t have your reputation hang over my head for the rest of my life. I want this Steve. So let me.”

Steve nods, and he’s blinking back tears. He feels so fucking guilty.

“I hope you get everything you want, Steven.” Peggy says, as she collects her things.

 

And Peggy walks out. And life never works out the way you want it to.

Chapter Text

Peggy leaves the next morning, the sun is still rising. Steve loads Peggy’s suitcases into his car and they drive to the airport in silence. Peggy keeps staring at Steve. She has tears in her eyes.

Steve keeps his eyes on the road.

When they get to the airport, they’re standing at the terminal and both of them are sad.

 

“This is just for a couple of months,” Peggy says. “You can come to meet me in Los Angeles. We aren’t getting a divorce.” She says with a nervous chuckle.

Steve gulps. He knows what Peggy is doing. She’s giving Steve an out. She’s letting Steve decide to choose between his future or Peggy’s. She’s not getting a divorce with him because she’s kind, because she doesn’t break hearts as Steve does.

Both of them know that this is the last time they might see each other for years. They both know Steve coming to Los Angeles in a few months to settle down so far from home is as likely as the sky turning green and gays getting rights. This is it.

 

Steve doesn’t say anything. Peggy rolls her shoulders back, straightens her posture, and picks up her suitcase. “I’ll love you for the rest of my life, Steven.” She promises.

Steve squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. He has to let go. He has to let go because it isn’t fair to hold on to two people if he is only one person himself.

“Don’t do that, Peg,” Steve begs. “You’re going to do great things with your life.”

 

Peggy nods. She gives Steve a quick, chaste kiss on the cheek and goes into the airport. 

Steve doesn’t have to hope that Peggy will do great things with her life. He has the future on his side.


 

He can’t go back to his house, Steve quickly realizes as he’s pulling out of the airport. There are too many ghosts. Too much to unpack in his soul. Life is moving too quickly and his brain has to catch up with what was going on. Instead,  he veers left and drives towards the city. Towards the only person, he is certain he loves.

Bucky opens the door on the first doorbell ring and there’s a question forming on his lips as soon as he registers the sight of Steve. Steve is somewhere in the middle of crying and smiling. 

 

“Peggy broke up with me,” Steve whispers, the words tumbling out of his words hastily and spilling like an overflowing cup. 

Bucky blinks. Because they last saw each other at Sunday mass five days ago and Peggy looked more in love than a teenager. 

 

“Why?” Bucky asks. He’s leaning up against the doorframe. He has light-washed jeans and a tight white t-shirt. It’s a terrible dichotomy of feelings, the despair in his heart of leaving Peggy and Bucky Barnes looking as beautiful as the day they met.

“She wants to be free?” Steve replies, sounding more like a question than a statement, and collapses into tears.

Bucky hugs Steve tightly and leads him into the living room. He allows Steve to cry, like the first time a bully stole his lunch money. He holds him tight and runs his fingers through his hair and kisses his tears in the hopes they go away.

 

And when Steve calms down, he looks down at Bucky.

 

“I really loved her, you know?” Steve says with a shrug.  “Even if I could never love her that way.

“Where’d she go?” Bucky asked.

Steve shrugged. “She has an assignment from the SSR. Los Angeles.” Steve rolls his eyes. “She says it’s just a temporary separation, but we both know it’s not.”

Bucky nodded, thinking decisively. “We can go to L.A whenever you want. I heard that the fellas are prettier there than in New York.”

 

Steve rolled his eyes. “I thought you already had a fella.”

Bucky stared into Steve’s eyes. “Do I?” It’s a question that makes time standstill.

 

It’s a question that hangs in the air. Steve has to choose Bucky, because Bucky will choose him time after time. 

Steve leaned over and kissed Bucky. “You do.” He whispers, heart still breaking.

 

And they stay like that. For an eternity. An impossible amount of time. Because they’re still breaking. Because they love each other so fucking much, but they never meant to break hearts in the process.

And they cry for the world, too. Because if it were any other time, maybe they wouldn’t have had to marry in order to figure out who they are. Because they wish that they were two boys in a world where it was okay for two boys to love each other.

 

Steve loves Bucky. So fucking much.

When they pull away, Steve rests his head on Bucky’s shoulder. 

 

“What do we do now?” Bucky asks. He sounds just as lost as Steve feels.

 

Steve breathes. He can feel the weight of all wars weighing on his body. He can feel the forces of every battle he has fought coursing through his veins. This was a different type of battle, a battle for his heart. A battle for the future of his community, not the world.

 

“I think… we live, now. I think we move on.” Bucky nods. He understands what Steve means.

 

They have to live on in the only way they know how. 

 

They have to give themselves opportunities to live. They have to fuck up. They have to make mistakes and fall in love underneath millions of stars.They have to smile and be happy and cry and scream. They have to live through the human experience, just as a boy falling in love with a girl would live through. They need to live through life and make it out alive, because their very existence in a world that doesn’t want them is proving points already.

 

In the morning, Steve sleeps in longer than normal. There’s no food in the apartment, and Bucky takes the train down south, closing his eyes and letting his heart guide his way.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing. His legs are moving quicker than he can process what exactly he is doing. He’s thinking about Steve. He’s thinking about everything. How they ended up together after all this time. There’s a spiral starting in the centre of his heart. Spirals kept infinitely circling in, but they also kept infinitely circling out. 

 

Bucky breathes. And then, he finds himself outside his parents' home.

Bucky hesitates for a moment and then knocks on the door. His mother opens the door, and she’s surprised to see her son at the door. 

 

His mother tilts her head. “Bucky?”

Bucky feels guilty. “Can I come in?” He asks. She nods wordlessly, as they made their way to the kitchen.

 

His father is still at the table eating breakfast. They sit down together. His father puts down the newspaper.

 

His father rubs at his beard and stares narrowly at Bucky. “What’s wrong, son?” He asks, without Bucky initiating anything.

His mother passes him a cup of coffee. He feels too grown up for a conversation like this. He takes a sip of the coffee in order to stall time. It has a bitter aftertaste. It’s too warm for his liking. 

“Me and Nancy are gonna get a separation,” Bucky says quietly, never lifting his eyes from the table. His parents don’t respond and silence hangs in the air. 

 

Bucky’s mother nods her head in understanding, but she doesn’t say anything.

Bucky blinks. He looks up at his mother and then at his father. “Are you not surprised?” Bucky asked.

 

“Did she cheat on you?” His father gruffed out, arms crossed and leaning back in his seat.

Bucky shakes his head. He hopes his parents understand. He hopes Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the angels and saints forgive him. He hopes that heaven has a place for him.

 

“I did,” Bucky whispered.

Bucky’s father nodded. He doesn’t grin nor glower at his son. “Can I ask who she was?” He asks quietly. His mother says nothing.

 

Bucky looked down at the ground, looking at his leather shoes. Looking at the sleeves of his sweater. The sweater Steve wanted to steal so many months ago. There’s light streaming in the kitchen, but Bucky can barely make anything out looking out from the depths of his soul. “It’s not a girl.” He croaks out.

 

Bucky’s mother paled. Bucky had to find his voice. It feels like he’s blindfolded trying to look for a shard of glass in the Sahara desert. It feels like someone has robbed his house, taken his belongings and everything he has ever loved and ever known. He coughs. His throat scrapes up on him. His brain is begging him to feel alive.

 

“It’s Steve.” Bucky chokes out. He coughs twice and blinks back anxious tears.

His father stays silent. As does his mother. But eventually, his mother speaks up and looks directly at her son. “Steve… is married.” His mother replies slowly.

Bucky shrugs. He looks at his father and smiles sadly. “Not as of two days ago.”

 

His parents nod in understanding. Bucky is getting really sick and tired of them not saying anything to him.

 

“Steve is... a good man.” His father says quietly. “Does he treat you with respect?”

Bucky scoffs and rolls his eyes. A chuckle escaped him, thinking about Steve. Steve’s smile. Steve’s laugh. Steve’s eternal and everlasting goodness. “You know Steve, pa. Of course he does.”

 

“Do you love him?”

Bucky can’t see his father through the tears in his eyes but can feel himself nodding. “Yes, I do.” He replies in an instant, without any hesitation.

“Does he love you?”

Bucky nods vehemently. “So much.” He whispers.

 

Bucky’s father coughs. “This is the kind of thing that will stay with you until the day you die. You must be sure that you are ready to live with this. This is the kind of thing that can ruin you.”

Bucky blinks. He doesn’t know where his father is going with this.

Bucky’s father closes his eyes and exhales. “What I’m trying to say is this.” He says, clasping his palms and putting them on the counter. “Will you love him forever?”

 

Bucky breathes. Will he love Steve, even if the world hates him for it? Will he love Steve, even if it’s illegal? Will he love Steve, despite his flaws and his quirks and his gender? Will he love Steve as proudly as he does in the dark, even in the limelight? Will he love Steve, even if it kills him?

 

The infinite, inexhaustible answer is yes.

 

And it was here when Bucky breaks down in tears. His mother rushes to his side.

 

“Oh, Buck. Don’t cry.” She says, holding her son’s hand.

“I feel so embarrassed, ma,” Bucky says earnestly. Because he loves Steve, but he also feels ashamed. He feels so damn ashamed.

 

His mother shakes her head rapidly. “Embarrassed? Embarrassed to find such a rare thing as equally returned love?”

 

Bucky can feel his tears dripping down his face. “I love him so much, ma. It ain’t right.”

She wipes the tears off of his face. She looks at her son, fierce and demanding but also tender and loving. “In a world that had been so wrecked with hate, you deserve something as beautiful as love.” His mother repeats. She says it over and over as if it’s a prayer. Or a curse.


 

Steve is lying on the couch with a blanket wrapped around him watching television when Bucky returns from his parents' house. Bucky sat down with Steve and snuggled up beside him. Bucky is staring at Steve like he’s the light. 

 

“Where’d you go?” Steve whispered.

Bucky nodded to the groceries. “Went to the markets, didn’t you see?”

Steve nods. Bucky looks up at Steve. “How do you feel?”

Steve looks around the apartment. “I dunno.”

Bucky rested his head on Steve’s lap. “You know how I feel?”

 

Steve stays silent as he waits for Bucky to speak. “I feel like we’ve been given a second chance,” Bucky whispered.

Steve nods. If only Bucky knew the type of second chance the world had given him. “Oh yeah?”

Bucky nods with a grin. “Well. If you were given a proper do-over, what would you do?” Steve asks.

Bucky shakes his head. “Nothing. Everything we’ve ever done had led to us right here and right now. I wouldn’t have risked it for the world. What about you?”

 

Steve sighs, looking down at Bucky’s smiling face. The room was so warm. Their whole world felt so warm. “What if I told you this was my second chance?”

“How do you mean?” Bucky asked. 

 

“What if that day I saved your life, instead you fell off the train. You were picked up by HYDRA agents and kept frozen until needed. And you stayed that way for ninety years.” Steve says steadily.

Bucky snorted. “Been seeing those sci-fi pictures, have you?” He says, holding Steve’s hand tightly.

Steve rolled his eyes. “And I presumed you were dead. So in my grief, I flew my plane into the arctic. And ninety years later, they defrost me. And I was alive.”

Bucky’s sarcastic smile is wiped off his face, captivated by Steve’s storytelling. “What happens next?” He utters.

 

“Your memory is wiped,” Steve whispers. “And you tried to kill me. But the moment I realized it was you, I felt more in control of my life for the first time since I landed in the 21st century. And the world is against you. So I have to choose. Become a criminal to protect you, or continue being the symbol of peace.”

 

“What do you choose?” Bucky whispers.

Steve scoffs. “You, of course. And after a long and treacherous fight, I take you somewhere safe so you can get help.”

“Does it end there?”

Steve shakes his head and grins. “No, it doesn’t.”

  “There’s a war against something no one ever faced. And an enemy out of the pictures.” steve says, thinking back to a life he had lived before.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “What, robots?”

Steve grins. “Not exactly. A seven-foot-tall purple alien with all the powers of the universe.”

Bucky laughs. Brilliant and vibrant and fucking whole . Steve continues. “He believes that life would be better if half of all life had died. I survive. You don’t. “

 

“And so, me and a group of people spend the next five years trying to find a way to fix it. And after a war, we do. And I get you back. But it’s too late. You’re no longer Bucky, but whoever you want to be. And you don’t belong to me or my history and in no way my future. You belong to the world.” Steve whispers, feeling choked up. He can’t help but feel a little twinge of pain, thinking back to the Bucky Barnes he had left in the future.

Steve looks back at Bucky. He smiles. “So I go back. Back to a time when it could have all been prevented.”

 

“You know what I think?” Bucky whispered.

“What?”

 

He pulls himself up, giving Steve a kiss. His thighs are wrapped around Steve’s waist, perfect and pristine, made for each other like every other part of themselves. “I like the version of the story where we end up together.”

“That is the version where we end up together!” Steve exclaims.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I think they ought to make a movie about the story you told.”

Steve grins and pulls Bucky in close. “Oh yeah?”

Bucky shrugs. “Well. I don’t need a movie about us. I just need you.”

Steve smiles and gives Bucky a kiss on the cheek. 

 

“Damn right. A superhero, kissing his fella on screen? Unheard of.”

Chapter Text

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Bucky says one morning, holding up a white envelope. Steve is still half asleep, wearing a shirt that smells like Bucky. 

“What is it?” Steve asks groggily. 

 

“Peggy sent me a letter.“

 

Steve furrowed his brow, sitting straight up in the bed. He tried to snatch it out of Bucky’s hands, but Bucky waved it in the air and sat down beside him. “Why’d she send you a letter. I’m her ex!”

“Apparently you haven’t been writing back to her,” Bucky says in a sing-song voice. 

Steve squirms closer to Bucky as Bucky opened up the letter. Steve looks at Bucky. “I don’t think I told her about us. And that I moved. She might still be sending letters to the old house.”

 

Bucky nods. “What does the letter say?” Steve says.

Bucky hands the letter over to Steve. “She’s inviting us to her place in L.A.”

“Why?”

“She says she wants to see us,” Bucky replies.

“Why?”

 

Bucky groans, holding Steve’s face in his hands. “Why are you so worried? Can’t you take a break for once?”

Steve pouts. “I have work. And you do too!"

 

Bucky smiles, giving Steve a kiss. “Don’t you always whine about never being able to get a vacation?”

Steve exhales and closes his eyes. “Okay.” He cedes. “Does that mean we’re going to LA?”

Bucky smiles and nods. “Pack your things, darlin’. We’re going to the City of Stars!”


 

Steve loves precisely two things about Los Angeles.

  1. The sunlight.
  2. The sunlight shining on Bucky Barnes.

The sun was beautiful on Bucky, that was a fact of life. But New York sun was drab and dreary at the edges, bleeding around the skies like a watercolour painting. Los Angeles sun, on the other hand, was vibrant and fluorescent and looked like it would never set. Bucky thrives in this kind of sunlight. God must have made Bucky with the sun in mind.

 

Bucky rented out a hotel, and it’s beautiful and glitzy and glamorous. The bed is so big it could fit five of them.

One thing Steve learns about Bucky一this Bucky, in particular.

Bucky loves being seen. He loves being recognized. He loves signing the paw of the Bucky Bear that the child across the aisle clings to like it’s a life or death scenario.

 

Steve knew Bucky as the man who was scared of his own shadow, who clung to the fringes of society for fear of hurting others. He knew Bucky as a man living in the memories he held tight to. This Bucky was different. Was vibrant. He was full of life. He was exhilarating. The other Bucky was the New York sun. This Bucky was the sun in all its phases. This Bucky was the type of person that made Steve want to be a better person.

On their third day in Los Angeles Steve goes down to a cafe alone. He invited Bucky to come with him, but Bucky declined. Steve understood some things you had to do on your own. 

 

Peggy is sitting down by the time that Steve approaches the coffee shop. Her hair is longer. She looks older. Hell, she looks happier. 

Steve pulls up the seat across from Peggy. She’s wearing a white blouse and a maroon pencil skirt. “Peggy Carter,” Steve whispers. 

Peggy smiles and gives Steve a warm hug. She smells different these days. She smells like expensive perfume and adrenaline. She looks sure of herself. Surer than she was the day they met. She keeps smiling without saying anything.

 

“How are you?” Steve asks.

“I’m so glad you could make it!” Peggy exclaimed. 

 

They talk for hours, about everything and nothing. They don’t talk about important things, like life and work and politics. Instead, they talk about James Dean’s new film, they talk about the best place to get a milkshake in Los Angeles. She tells Steve all the things she loves about her new home, and all of the things that she hates.

Steve feels a part of his heart wilt for the better. Perhaps he never truly loved Peggy in the romantic sense, but he would love Peggy until the end of his life, truly. If Steve imagined having a sister or a female best friend, the only name that comes to mind was Peggy Carter.

 

By the end of their afternoon together, Peggy is biting her lip. Steve notices it immediately because it’s a tell that she has something risky to ask.

And just as Steve predicted, she folds her hands on the table and stares at Steve dead in the eye. “Steve,” She begins, staring at the man that she once married. “I have a favour to ask you.”

 

Steve blinks, nodding quickly. “Sure. Anything.” He nods.

Peggy pulls out her briefcase and drops a thick wad of papers on the desk. She chews on her lip nervously.

 

“Can you sign these?” Peggy asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

Steve flicks through the papers. They’re divorce papers, and Steve didn’t realize it at once. It dawns on Steve that they were never really divorced, just indefinitely separated. He looks down at his hand. The tan line where a ring once lay had faded away many months ago. 

 

“Couldn’t you have sent it in the mail?” Steve asks with a hollow chuckle. 

Peggy shrugs, crossing her legs. “I wanted to see you again. And it sounded like Bucky really wanted a vacation.” She jokes. There’s a sparkle in her eyes, and a question Steve refuses to answer.

 

“Getting married so soon?” Steve jokes back.

Peggy smiles and shakes her head. Her face goes beet red and blushes. “I met someone.” She admits. Steve doesn’t say anything.

 

“His name is Daniel Sousa. You saved his life in the first mission you did.”

“Really?” Steve asked, and he can’t help but grin. He genuinely felt so happy for Peggy. It was exactly what Peggy deserved in her life. Someone with the same fire and fury in her. Not someone with the ashes blown out and the fire long gone in him, like how he was with her. 

 

“Are you gonna marry him?” Steve asks, but it’s futile. Because he’s lived history, and he knows that is who Peggy marries. That’s who she has two daughters and one son with. Daniel Sousa is the man that Peggy Carter was built for. Steve used to think Peggy and him were two halves of one heart, but he knows different now. Peggy was one whole heart and a spirit of her own and then some. What she needs is someone with the same amount of wholeness in him. And that person isn’t Steve.

 

Peggy looks off into the distance and smiles. “No. I think we’re going to take it slow.”

“Smart girl.” Steve teases. Peggy grins. They feel like strangers with memories, or two friends standing on opposite ends of the train tracks.

 

Peggy takes a sip of her iced coffee. “What about you?”

Steve sucks in a breath. “Yeah, well I guess you could say that I fell in love with someone.” He replies.

 

Peggy leaned forward, smiling like a schoolgirl. “Who is it? Are you gonna marry her?” Peggy has the same glimmer in her eyes, and Steve smiles knowingly.

Steve’s face falls. “If it were legal, I would.” He tries saying it and making it come off as a joke, but he’s too choked up for it to come out as casual.

 

Peggy’s face falls, and then the dots connect. Steve can see the exact moment in her eyes when she figures it out.

 

“It’s Bucky,” Steve whispers. 

Peggy nods. “Nancy?” She asks. 

“It’s been over between them for a while now,” Steve says with a shrug, trying to keep it nonchalant.

 

“How long?” Peggy says, voice dropping to a murmur.

Steve swallows. It's now or never, he thinks. And it’s so easy to lie. To pretend they only got together in the last year. But he’s tired of lying. And he’s ready to be a righteous man. And to do right by Bucky. 

Steve exhales. “Three years, now.”

 

Peggy blinks, seemingly unfazed. “So when we were married…” she trailed off. Steve nodded.

 

“I knew it.” She whispers. Steve blinks, taken aback.

Steve narrowed her eyebrows. “How?”

Peggy chuckled. “I was a secret agent, Steven. I know a thing or two about people keeping secrets.” 

 

Steve laughs.

 

Peggy stares out the window. “Nancy knew too, you know. When both of you were out for the night she would come over to our place and tell me about all of the suspicions that she had.”

 

Steve nods.

"She's in Washington now. Can't go back to Britain because of her parents." Peggy says quietly after a long lapse of time. "She's gonna be a doctor."

Steve quirked an eyebrow as Peggy continued. "She sent me a letter. Gonna be a heart surgeon."

 

Steve chuckles. "Ironic, isn't it?"

 

Peggy's laughter dies out. “She told me that she saw Bucky kiss you.” She whispers, the tone of the conversation changing abruptly.

The air falls silent around them. “You didn’t say anything to me about it?” Steve asks.

 

Peggy exhales, soft and slow. “We don’t decide who or when we fall in love. We can only hope it happens at the right time.” She replies carefully.

“So you understand?” Steve asks.

 

Peggy shakes her head. “Not really. But I will understand. In time. I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me right away, but I respect it. Because if you told me when I confronted you, I might have never forgiven you.”

“That's what I thought,” Steve replies with a soft chuckle.

 

Steve nods. He pulls out a fountain pen and signs on the dotted line in one fluid motion. Their marriage was finally annulled. He lets out a breath of fresh air.

He stands up and hands the papers to Peggy. “It was nice seeing you again, Peg.”

“Take care,” Peggy says, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek. 

 

Somewhere deep within Steve’s soul, he knew that this would be the last time he would see Peggy Carter for many, many years. He was right.


 

Later, when the sun descends into twilight, there are two men and wine and all the time in the world. Bucky and Steve are eating at a restaurant with candles and violins and they’re dressed to the nines, well, because they can. Because New York is fine and dandy but Los Angeles is so Los Angeles.

Steve is stirring his pasta around the plate, pushing it aside and not really eating at it. He can’t look up at Bucky, because he’s so beautiful and radiant and he shines like the sun. If Steve keeps looking at the sun, he’ll go blind one day.

 

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks, leaning forward in his seat.

Steve chuckles, looking up at Bucky. “How do you know something is wrong? You don’t know that at all!” He exclaims.

 

Bucky laughs, a fond look washing over him. “You look thoughtful. It’s different from the anger usually on your ugly mug.” He teases.

Steve rolls his eyes. He’s suddenly reminded of the familiarity. How Natasha said the exact same thing.

“What are you thinking of?” Bucky asks, softer. 

 

Steve shrugs. He looks around. Los Angeles is full of flamboyant personalities, every road a movie set. Their demographics are all effeminate men and masculine women. It didn’t matter what way they swung, they just were. New York was different. It was colder.

He looks at Bucky warmly. “How we couldn’t do this. Back home.”

Bucky nods in understanding. “Well, we could. But you might get a nasty uppercut for it.”

 

Steve laughs. Bucky goes on, eyes twinkling. “Imagine someone having the audacity to punch Captain America,” Bucky says, donning a scandalized tone. 

Steve rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s homophobia for you.”

 

Bucky nods. Even now, in this brilliant, progressive city, there were still looks thrown at him. He couldn’t tell if people were staring at him because he was Captain America and his fella was Bucky Barnes, or because they’ve put two and two together and the realization that Captain America was a sodomite was just so great that they just had to call the Times right this second!

 

“Hey,” Bucky asks quietly. “Are you alright?”

Steve nods. He knows that life is progressing slowly. It’s been two years since they’ve decided to carry on together, and it’s easier than Steve expected. He didn’t expect a life like this, but it’s a far cry from ideal. With every passing day, it’s easier for Steve to breathe. As long as he has Bucky, life feels possible.

 

Steve will be alright. They will be alright.

Chapter Text

“More people laid off in Washington.” Bucky says as Steve walks into the kitchen. Steve looks up at Bucky. His eyes looked watery and his beard was growing out. A slow smile stretches across Steve’s face. He threw the newspaper down on the counter in front of Steve. Steve winced.

 

“Lavender lads, is that what they’re calling us?” Steve asks, as he takes a seat on the breakfast bar. He skimmed over the article quickly, blood boiling with every slur slandering the labels they chose to use. 

Bucky sets a plate of toast and eggs in front of Steve and gives him a quick kiss on the cheek. Sparks shoot across Steve’s skin. Every kiss from Bucky was a gift from the heavens. It has been so good every single time. “Suppose so.” He shrugs. “They’re arresting people like there’s no tomorrow down there.”

 

Steve shakes his head, staring down at his plate of breakfast. They called homosexuals communists, criminals, pedophiles. They called homosexuals every vile name. But Steve wasn’t any of those things. If given the same luxuries he had when he was married to Peggy, he would buy a nice house, have a nice wedding, and continue on with life, just married to a man instead of a woman.

 

“Are we doing something tonight?” Steve asks, craning his head so he can look at Bucky. He rubs at his temples, thinking about his long day of work ahead. It was Friday night, their traditional date night of choosing. Steve plants another kiss on Bucky’s lips.

A warm smile spread through Bucky’s face. “Wanna go down to Julius’ tonight?” He asks, quirking an eyebrow.

Steve frowned. “You know I hate that place.”

 

Steve really did hate that place. He hated how it always smelled like alcohol, how he always drank more than usual, how everyone cast him glances. Because they were all wondering the same thing; what the hell was Captain America doing in a gay bar?  

He hated how the atmosphere made him feel like a criminal, but the only rule he broke was falling in love with the bravest, kindest, most sincere, intelligent, and incredible person he had ever met. It was just poor timing that Bucky happened to be a man on top of all of that.

Bucky sat down beside Steve and placed his hand on top of Steve’s. He rubbed circles with his thumb on Steve’s palm. Steve exhaled and closed his eyes, listening to the smooth cadence of Bucky’s voice. “I know, darlin’. But there’s only so many places we can go.”

“We could go to the pictures?” Bucky offered.

 

Steve’s face fell again. The last time that they went to the pictures, they sat all the way at the top in the darkest corner of the cinema. Steve could hardly see the screen, and the two of them both preferred sitting in the front and centre more than the outskirts of the cinema. But they could only stay on the fringes of the theatre, where it was dark and dingy and had the quickest path to the emergency exit.

They were the last ones to leave the theatre. And as they were leaving, two boys younger than they Steve and Bucky were cornered into an alley.

Both of them could see it plain on their faces. The two boys were like Steve and Bucky一criminals, whose only crime was falling in love. 

They were getting beat to hell by a gang of neighbourhood kids, the type of kid that usually wouldn’t do much harm at all, but when in a group could cause serious damage. Steve stepped in, fists flying and spitting at the kids. Steve’s hands were covered in blood. And he was trembling. As was Bucky. They loaded the two boys into their car and Bucky hit the gas pedal, trying to get to the hospital as quick as he could.

But by the time they got into the emergency room, all brain activity had ceased. The other boy had flatlined not long after.

 

It’s an unspoken truth that the two of them did not go to the movies anymore. It wasn’t particularly because Steve and Bucky were worried about bullies with fists. Steve was never afraid of bullies with fists, not even when he was five foot nothing. 

What they were more worried about was being caught holding hands at the wrong time. What they were more worried about was a homophobe who was armed with a pistol that he used in the army days. What they were more worried about was the news reporter with a camera flashing. 

What Steve and Bucky were worried about more than anything was being caught was losing their cushy jobs. Being made the butt of every joke. Having their credibility stripped down and having their names be nothing more than a connotation for a sex act.

They were not cowards. They were not ashamed. They were not embarrassed. What they were, was afraid. For their lives, and their future, and everything after that.

 

Steve exhales. “Okay I guess we could go to Julius again.” He relents.

Bucky smiles, but he doesn’t look particularly happy about it. He didn’t like being kept to the confines of the dark and the secrets of the night any more than Steve did.

Steve knew loving Bucky would be hard, but he never knew that it would be this hard. He didn’t realize that the entire would would be pushing him in one direction, when all he never wanted to do was go in the other.


 

They arrive at Julius early, just half an hour since the sun had dipped into the horizon. When all the young and energetic queers got to crawl out of the shadows. When for just a few hours, they got to be who they wanted to be. Who they were born to be.

 

Steve didn’t like staying late, and neither did Bucky. It was such a stark difference from the Bucky who would only come home when the sun came up, when he spent every evening dancing with a dame. 

They used to stay late, dancing to the music and laughing until the sun rose. But the months were blurring together into years, the laws melting into one another. A raid was harder to avoid as time wore on. They couldn’t stay late. Because when the night turns into morning was when the raids happened.

 

The bars they went to had been speakeasies during Prohibition. They were run by the mafia, because they were the only ones that could tolerate homosexuals. Raids became more and more common as the night wore on, because the New York police wanted to arrest notable mafia members. All they ever got were a bunch of queens and gay men looking for safe haven, but in their mind it was, those people were the same as the rapists and murderers and organized criminals that prowled the streets under the name of the Italian mafia.

They were sitting in their usual spot, near the emergency exit on two worn down leather chairs. They’re nursing one beer between the two of them, because it wasn’t the beer they came for. They came to pretend and to be given some sort of semblance to being out on a date. But it was never the same. 

If they were just any two fellas enamored with each other, perhaps they could stand under the dim spotlight of the bar. But their titles followed with them, and it was a hard line to walk. Every single morning Bucky held his breath as he checked the newspaper articles. Because he knew that the headline: Captain America and Bucky Barnes sex scandal would be front and centre the moment the news broke.

 

So every night they went out, holding hands at bars and drinking lukewarm beers, it felt like a farewell. It felt like the calm before the storm. Because Steve and Bucky never talked about it, but they both knew that it wasn’t a matter of if , but a matter of when.

And when the media finds out about their relationship, the illusion of privacy they had fought so hard to uphold would all come crashing.

The air was quiet and still, which was peculiar. There was a lull in the air that hung for a moment, and clung for a while longer. Steve looked around,  and Bucky looked straight back at Steve. The hairs on Steve’s neck stood up straight.

Both of them knew what happened. Perhaps they didn’t know what was about to happen, but they knew trouble was approaching. 

 

Fear flashed in Steve’s eyes. “Buck,” Steve whispers out. 

Bucky nods wordlessly. They have to go. 

Steve sprung up and they carefully strode their way to the exit, when a cop lurking in the shadows and took a step forward, shackling the bartender to the counter.

Steve exhaled. The people around him looked tired and angry, like they were gearing up for a f ight. And yet, if you took a step into this lifestyle, and willingly walked into this life every single day, fighting was inevitable. And fight they shall.

 

Bucky craned his head and saw a man beside him holding a shot glass in his hand. A woman in a taffeta dress snapped the heel off of her stiletto. “We should fight, Stevie.” Bucky whispers.

Steve blinks. Bucky stares intently at Steve. Right now, Bucky needs the Steve who never backed down from a fight. But Steve doesn’t know if he’s that kind of man anymore.

 

“We can’t, Buck.” Steve whispers.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, we can’t.”

And then they’re sprinting down the roads, trying to ignore the sounds of screaming. 

Both of them know they should have stayed. They should have fought. But they ran. Not because they were cowards. Not because they were afraid. But because there were kids who believed the story of Captain America. There are Bucky Bears in every household. Because they had to lose the battle in order to win the war.

 

Because in this world, for these men who know nothing except for how to pick a fight, running away was the bravest thing that they could have done.

Chapter Text

Life for Bucky and Steve is different from that point on. Because you don’t live through a raid and a beating without having a couple scars on your spine. Ignoring the battles they lived through, of course.

 

Steve doesn’t like going out that often. Bucky understands that. He didn’t realize how hard it would be to walk in this life. Loving Bucky was so easy for him, he didn’t know that the entire would convince him that it was difficult.

Sometimes Bucky apologizes. Little whispers mumbled when they were curled up in bed and more asleep than awake. He feels guilty, Steve thinks. Steve doesn’t absolve Bucky of sin. Because Bucky was never doing anything wrong. Everything they did together was done with consent. It was done out of love.

 

Life has settled down at last, more than a decade after the war. The final war. The one with aliens and Tony Stark’s death. And yet, for the very first time life is only sinking in now. It’s sinking in with the smell of candles and flowers and unwashed coffee mugs. Life is sinking in, from the well-worn cashmere sweaters and the record player that was rusting. 

Steve and Bucky are lounging on the bed on a particularly sunny Sunday morning. Steve has his head was resting in the crook of Bucky’s neck, and he can feel Bucky’s heart beating. Their chests were pressed flush together, and Steve smiled. He loved mornings like this. The quiet mornings where the rest of the world didn’t quite exist yet. If Steve let himself go, he could pretend like he was living in a century where this could have all been possible. A century that he might not even live to see.

 

“Do you wish I was a dame?” Bucky whispers suddenly.

Steve is drawing the stars on Bucky’s chest when he freezes. “No.” Steve says instantaneously, without missing a beat. He begins to learn that when Bucky asks him impossible questions, the only way to confront them was to answer them without hesitation.

“Are you sure?” Bucky says, staring down at Steve and looking guilty. There was always guilt between the two of them, the kind of guilt that late night kisses and curses under duvet covers could never solve. Perhaps it wasn’t just guilt, but grief, too. 

Steve chuckles and rolls his eyes, still feeling his heart beating in his chest. He takes a breath and holds it. “Buck. If you were a dame I’m pretty sure life wouldn’t have turned out this way.” 

“I’m not your type?” Bucky jokes, pressing a hand to his heart.

Steve rolls his eyes. “If you were a dame, you’d have too much in some places and too little in others.” He replies, staring Bucky up and down. 

 

Bucky chuckled. Steve kissed him on the cheek. Bucky closed his eyes. For now, the grief that settled between them had lifted. The air cleared for just a moment, but it was enough time for them to feel whole again.  “What do you have to do tomorrow?” Bucky whispers.

Steve turned around so his back was pressed up against the bed. He looked up at the ceilings. “Mmm, just work. Advising and stuff like that. Why?”

 

Bucky smiles. “I dunno. I like hearing about your work.”

“What about your work? That book you’re writing?”

Bucky shrugs.” I’ve given up on it.” He says quietly.

Steve understands. Some things are too difficult to write about, and other things so difficult that you have to write about it.


 

It’s six thirty on a Monday night and it smells like fresh herbs and dried flowers when Steve unlocks the door. The entire room is lit with candles.

 

“Did you forget to pay the electricity bill?” Steve jokes, calling out to the empty room.

“In here!” Bucky calls out. Steve walks into their living room, and Bucky is wearing an apron that smells like baking bread. It smells like Peggy Carter after a Sunday morning after cooking.

 

The table is set with a cloth and silverware is set out. Steve shrugs off his jacket. “What’s all this?” Steve asks, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s waist and kissed him slowly on the lips.

Steve can feel Bucky’s smile spreading across his face.

 

“We can’t go out anymore. So I brought the out to us.” Bucky says with a shrug.

Steve takes a seat and Bucky brings a plate over to him. Steve smiles. “Since when did you know how to cook?”

Bucky smirks, shaking his head knowingly. “Nancy may have taught me a thing or two about cookin’.” He says with a grin.

 

It’s roast beef. It doesn’t taste great, but it’s honest and true. It’s burned around the edges and raw on the inside, but it still makes Steve smile, the mental image of Bucky in the kitchen. They eat and drink wine and talk. They’ve been together for seven years, and they never run out of things to say to each other. There are always so many things to discuss with each other, and an infinite amount of time to spend. And it’s better than Steve could have ever imagined. Steve could never get enough of Bucky’s company.

 

“Got anything other surprises up your sleeve?” Steve asks, taking the plates and bringing them to the sink so he could wash them. 

Steve turned on the tap as Bucky folded the cloth away. The water was warm, steam billowing up from the taps. “What’s next after dinner? Gonna watch a picture, of course.”

Steve rolled his eyes. You know we can’t go to the pictures. Steve says with a wry shake of his head. He almost looked like he was in pain. 

 

Bucky simpered at Steve, eyes warm. “They’re playing a movie marathon all night on channel six. Sci-fi. You coming?”

Steve smiles and walks over to Bucky. He snuggles himself closer to Bucky and under the wool blanket. It’s not like the pictures at all. Because their popcorn isn’t as salty and their apartment is warmer than the theatre. And yet, Steve wouldn’t be anywhere else. He would choose death of leaving the warmth of their home一a home they made together一and the embrace of the man he loved.

 

After they watched the movie, Steve smiled at Bucky. They stood up and began folding away the blankets. 

Steve gave Bucky a kiss on the cheek. Not for any reason in particular, but just because he can. Because they’ve fought so hard in order to be able to.

 

“Bucky Barnes,” Steve says with a smile, holding Bucky tight. “I’m in love with you.”

Bucky blinked. Bucky smiles coyly. “Well, that’s too bad.” Bucky replies. Steve furrows his eyebrows, perplexed.

I fell in love with someone. Bucky says. Steve’s heart plummets. He feels his heart shatter, just a little.

“Is it someone I know?” Steve asks. Bucky nods, eyes looking guilty. 

 

“He’s beautiful. Gorgeous eyes. More beautiful than my wife’s. He’s so smart. Became a captain in the military. But he forgets to take the trash out and how to use the washing machine.”

 

Steve chuckles, shaking his head. Bucky Barnes was a brilliant actor. He can feel a blush spreading across him. “Tell me more.” Steve replies.

Bucky sighs like a lovestruck teenager. “He’s intelligent. And funny. And brave. He loves drawing. And art. He loves drawing me, and sometimes I think his paintings are so accurate that I’m staring at a picture. He even left his wife for me.”

Steve shakes his head. “Sounds like a helluva man.” He whispers. 

 

Bucky grins, nodding up and down. “And he’s got the biggest dic-”

 

Steve raised his hand up and covered Bucky’s mouth. They share a laugh. “I’m aware, darlin’.” He said with a beet red blush spreading on his face and in other places in his body.

 

Bucky stares at Steve. He keeps staring, like he’s a work of art Bucky can never get enough of. “He’s caring. And dead handsome. And I’ve been in love with him since he was five foot nothing and decided to fuck off and take a bunch of steroids. “

Steve shakes his head. He loves his crazy, stupid, boyfriend.

 

And then quicker than a riot happens, or a queer gets killed, or a law gets enacted, or a family gets deported, Bucky gets down on one knee.

 

“Bucky…” Steve trailed off. “What the fuck are you doing?” He asks, with a grin on his face. 

 

Bucky looks up at Steve, smiling like a cheshire cat. “Steven Grant Rogers,” He begins, holding Steve’s hand with his left and had a velvet box in his right. "You're stupid and impulsive and mean when you feel like it."

 

Steve laughs. "Are you breaking up with me?" He jokes.

 

Bucky shakes his head. "But you're also the best man I've ever met. You make me a better person and I wish I had as much goodness in my pinkie as you had in your whole body." He says, and Steve blinks back tears. “Will you marry me?” Bucky asks, holding out his ring .

Steve breathes, growing more and more confused as time wore on. He couldn’t say anything, because what was there to say? Sodomy was illegal, even more so gay marriage.

 

Bucky exhales and rolls his eyes. He chuckles. “Not now, you dumbass. But you know… eventually. When it’s legal. When we can.”

Steve smiles, nodding his head and grinning so hard he feels like he might pull a muscle. He knows when it’ll be legal. Fifty years from now. A lifetime from now. He takes the ring from Bucky’s hand and smiles.

 

“Of course I will, you idiot.” Steve says, and Bucky stands up and smiles, kissing him so hard time stops ticking. Kissing him so hard and full of love, that he knows with absolute certainty that he wants to spend the rest of his life with Bucky.

 

“Is this your father’s ring?” Steve asks, holding out his hand, with a silver band on his left hand.

Bucky nods. “He gave it to me when I was to marry Nancy. And the day we went to buy our rings I put his ring on and stared and stared and stared at it. And I couldn’t stop staring at it. Because it looked wrong. And it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right for me to wear my father’s ring. So I kept it. Just in case.”

 

Steve blinks at Bucky, smiling softly.

 

Bucky gets off of his knee and holds Steve’s two hands in his own. “And now I know why I kept it. And why it didn’t feel right. The ring was never meant to be worn by me. It was meant to be worn by you.”

 

Steve smiles, and kisses Bucky. And it feels like the first time. It’s always like the first time. Good and nice and warm and curious and sweet.

Chapter Text

It’s June 27th, 1969. It’s morning, bright and beautiful and warm. Bucky is lounging on the sofa with Steve and he’s looking into a hand mirror, poking and prodding at his skin. The morning is warm and there’s sunlight and houseplants. 

And life is okay. It’s alright. Life is still shit and difficult, but Steve and Bucky work through it. Because no matter how shit and difficult life is, it would never be as shit and difficult as life before. Because even if life is shit and difficult, at least it was a life where they were together. So they’re grateful. And happy. And young, even if they shouldn’t be young at all.

 

“Have you seen the photo of Peggy and her family that she sent in the mail?” Steve asks, drinking from his cup of coffee. He was just making conversation with Bucky, because even small talk felt as exhilarating as their first date.

Bucky nods, still looking into the mirror. “It’s on the fridge, isn’t it?” He asks.

 

Steve nods back. He looks at their fridge. It was a hodgepodge of memories from over the years, polaroid photos of them kissing in the dark. Nancy smiling at her medical school graduation. Peggy with her third child. Nancy with her diploma. With a cancer patient she saved. Peggy poring over paperwork to found S.H.I.E.L.D. It was their family. They may not be in any way connected to those two women, but they were a strange, well knit group of people that would forever have a hold in each other's lives.

 

Bucky pushes the mirror closer to his face, frowning at the smoothness of his skin. “Darlin’.” Bucky says, poking at his fiance.

Steve is looking at the newspaper. “Yeah?” He asks, not taking his eyes off the paper. 

Bucky narrows his eyebrows. “Are we aging?” He asks bluntly.

Steve blinks. “Why do you ask?”

 

Bucky stands up and walks to the fridge. He picks out a photo of Peggy with her kids. He takes the magnet off of it and holds it in between his thumb and forefinger. He shows it to Steve. “Peggy looks… old.”

Steve frowns. Bucky sighs. “She looks older. She looks her age.” He insists.

“Well, you’ve always had a young face.” Steve jokes, caressing Bucky’s face. Bucky turns to look into Steve’s eyes. Bucky doesn’t laugh. He takes a seat across from Steve.

“We’ve been looking like we’re in our mid thirties for twenty years!” He exclaimed. Steve swallows. “And I feel like I’m in my mid-thirties. Not someone almost fifty years old.” Bucky insists.

 

Steve nods. He had a feeling this phenomenon might have occurred. They were never meant to live this long. They were always doomed to be forever young.

 

Steve takes a deep breath and tries to keep it nonchalant.  “Maybe the serum slows it down.” He suggests, trying not to sound like a man who knew exactly what was happening. 

“Zola’s serum he injected on you had almost an exact copy of the one used on me. And I’m not aging, either.”

Bucky frowns. “How do you know that?” He asks, trapping Steve in a lie.

 

Steve thinks back to when Bucky went to Wakanda and took a sample of blood. And Shuri compared it to Steve’s blood sample. Steve’s serum was the perfect specimen in every way, But Bucky’s was close to perfect. The discrepancies were so small that they were almost inadmissible. It was why Bucky was so good in a fight. Why Bucky was Steve’s equal in every way.

 

Steve wracks his head to come up with an excuse. “It was in your Army dossier. I read it before we left.” He said.

Bucky nods, accepting Steve’s answer, because the truth was outlandish. It was unforgivable. “You know what that means…” Bucky trails off, smile dancing on his lips.

Steve raises his eyebrows as Bucky smiles and gives him a kiss. “It means we could live ‘til two hundred, darlin’.” Bucky says with a grin.

 

Steve pulls Bucky in close and wraps his hands around his waist. He stares into Bucky’s coffee coloured eyes, watching his pupils dilate and expand. He kisses Bucky on the cheek. “I couldn’t have chosen a better person to live ‘til two hundred with.” He replies, twirling the engagement ring around. There’s a new tan line, thicker and clearer than the one before.

Bucky shakes his head, shifting his body so he’s lying in Steve’s lap. “Since we’re still in our mid-thirties…” He trailed off, a mischievous grin on his face. “Let’s go out tonight.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes. Life slowly gets more progressive, but it’s slow going. And they can go outside these days, but it’s still dangerous. They still have to wear shades and baseball caps. But then, a thought crosses his mind. But he loves Bucky. And he knows eventually they’ll get to a place where they can go out safely.

So fuck it. Steve would never turn down an opportunity to go out with the man he loves. “Okay. Steve says, nodding his head. “Let’s go to Stonewall.” Bucky blinks back at him, narrowing his eyebrows.

 

“In Greenwich?” He asks, looking out the window. On a good day, they could get into Manhattan within the hour.

They were cracking down on places that were safe to visit. The police kept records of men that subscribed to homosexual magazines. They had to be careful. They had to leave for work five minutes apart, have only one name on the lease instead of two. Greenwich village was a safe haven from them, across the east river in balmy Manhattan.

 

Steve shakes his head, smiling at Bucky and feeling warm inside. “Why not?”


 

They’re out drinking at the bar across the dance floor, staring at each other as if it’s the very first time. The clock had just turned twelve. Steve is staring at Bucky and sees everything they have fought for. He sees a man walk into the bar, someone he remembers from the museums and forgotten black and white photos. And something very quickly, clicked in his mind. 

 

“Hey,” Steve said, sitting straight up and staring at Bucky. “What’s the date today?” He whispered.

Bucky stays silent and thinks. “June twenty eighth?” He answers, the reply coming out sounding more like a question than anything else.

Steve doesn’t know why, but the date sticks with him. It’s a memory from nights spent poring over Wikipedia, reading all the things that made history from after he went on ice. The name Stonewall is more than just a bar they frequent, and he remembers. It’s a part of history. History that starts tonight. It makes sense.

 

The date flickers past Steve’s memory, like a match being struck in the night. Steve almost forgets the date. Almost. But he’s sitting inside the Stonewall Inn on the night of all nights. And it makes sense. He doesn’t forgetーhe remembers.

“Police! We’re taking the place!” An authoritative voice commands.

 

The police worked quicker now that raids became commonplace. In the fifties, when they were foolish enough to be caught in the middle of a raid, the police were disorganized. There was no methodology to their processes. But now, they worked quickly, barring the doors before anyone could make a run for it. Steve swears under his breath.

 

“Do you wanna get out of here?” Bucky whispers to Steve, waiting for his say. Steve looks at Bucky’s face and Bucky doesn’t look afraid. Bucky never looks afraid. He looks like he wants to stay and fight only if Steve wants to do so. 

Steve sighs. He shrugs. He wants to wait until the newspapers report it. He wants to wait until this revolution becomes bigger than himself. But an even bigger part of himself wants to be a part of this. He wants to remember this for more than just a footnote in a history book. He wants to be more than just a man remembered for living in the closet. He’s ready to come out.

 

He rolls his shoulders back and begins to take out any identification. He knew how the raids worked. The men and women would be lined up by the police officers, have their identification checked, and be taken to the restrooms to have their gender verified. As two white men who were born as two white men, Steve and Bucky would ordinarily have nothing to worry about, but they were America’s patriots, even after all this time. What they were worried about was being taken away in handcuffs to slander their name. But Steve is so sick and fucking tired of being called Captain America. He’s tired of being the mascot for a nation built on racism, misogyny, homophobia, and lies. He doesn’t want to represent a nation that was never fucking great to begin with.

Steve shakes his head. He holds Bucky’s hand. There’s glitter on the floor and tears in his eyes. “No.” He said definitively. “Let’s do this.” 

 

The drag queens and so-called cross dressers lined up among them, giving Steve and Bucky an indecipherable look. They were to get checked for their gender and then get cleared for exit. Steve and Bucky lined up, got cleared, and were standing outside the Stonewall inn. On any other day they got caught in a raid, the crowd dispersed as quick as it came. But Steve felt his palms sweat as he watched them resist arrest, a crowd slowly gathering.

A woman got shoved out of the inn in handcuffs as everyone held their breaths in the humid air. She turns her head back and blinks up at the police officer. “Excuse me, sir.” She asked politely, a hush falling over the air.

The police shoved her closer to the police vehicle. “My handcuffs are too tight.” She replied, as the police officer hit her over the head with a club and dumped her into the back of the police car. 

 

And then, as quick as any revolution starts, a brick is thrown at the windshield and the crowd erupts in something stronger than hate. This was rage. This was an anger that Steve could never know for himself.

 

“Let’s get out of here.” Bucky whispers as he pressed up against his fiance, pulling Steve away. And this time, Steve moves along with Bucky but doesn’t keep his eyes off of the crowd. Because this was a part of history, and he was writing it.

 

The gay liberation movement doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in the shadows, over decades of their friends dying from AIDS, from senators and legislators slowly overturning laws. It happens with each court ruling in favour of them. It happens right underneath Steve and Bucky’s noses. They don’t feel the brunt of it, because they didn’t fall in love with the AIDS generation. They didn’t carry the illness inside of them like a death sentence. They didn’t go to the pride parades and the riots because they had everything to lose. 

 

But above all, Steve and Bucky were there. They watched and they fought and when they got caught in the middle of a raid, they fought back until they felt free enough to leave. And when Steve had to face a decision at work to order arrests on men that were guilty of only loving someone of the same gender, he fought to have the conviction overturned. Their work was not on the streets and on screens and in front of screaming crowds, but one of living in shadows and being a footnote to the revolution. But they were there above all else, and that was all that matters.

Chapter Text

Bucky is rummaging through the attic, many years into the future, down the line when they live in a quaint house far from the busy city. When they were older and wiser. When they were considered living icons and their items were part of history.  

There’s an attack by the Chitauri, but it happens in LA because that's where Tony Stark was stationed. It’s the exact team, just the original five instead of six. Steve feels a sense of relief and catharsis fill his veins when he sees the mission end in success, just as it did before.

 

“Where’s the letter you want to give to the Natural Museum of History?” He calls out, swearing under his breath. Bucky swears that Steve is faking having a bad hip so he doesn’t have to go up to the attic.

Steve yells from out below. “It’s in a box labelledー50s!”

Bucky nods his head. And he finds the box buried in the back.

 

He sees the letter Steve means, a short one from before the Captain America days, when Bucky was enlisted in the army. From when they had to sign their letters with their initials to avoid fear of being found out. 

But there’s other letters too. There’s hundreds, and most of them are addressed to Peggy.

Suddenly, years of commitment flash through Bucky’s mind.

Bucky opens it, thinking that Steve still has feelings for Peggy. 




1954

Steve,

Thank you so much once more for signing those divorce papers. I wish you all the best. Please tell your superiors that the SSR facilities have their full loyalty.

How are you? I hope everything is well with you and Bucky. Life is good and simple, though I will not lie when I say I miss our New York days. Not exactly being married to you, but the life there. Perhaps one day I will revisit New York. Give Bucky my love.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Me and Bucky are doing wonderfully. We have an apartment on the upper east side and life is very lovely. Bucky is currently writing his book, and once it gets published I’ll send you a copy. If you ever come to New York, bring Daniel! I’d love to show the two of you around the town.

Bucky still keeps correspondence with Nancy, to my knowledge. She has moved back to England and is resuming her medical school studies. With time, she’ll become a doctor, which is always what she had wanted. 

Steven


1955

Steve,

I took a walk down by the beach the other day and I saw daffodils growing and thought of you. I felt inclined to share the good news with you. Me and Daniel are expecting our first child! Pregnancy has been a difficult task to bear, but it has not slowed down my work. We are expecting a child in the springtime. I never expected wanting to be a mother, but feeling the joy of life within me is such a change to the war years before us. It feels different to create life instead of death.

Work has given me access to many statistics and information. Do you still have employment? What about Bucky? Hopefully jobs have been easy to come across for you. Lay-offs in Washington for men like you are getting more and more frequent. Stay safe and if anything ever happens you know where to find me.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Congratulations on expecting your first child! I know you and Daniel will be great parents no matter the gender. Your child is so lucky to have a mother as accepting and grateful as you. I never thought of children as something in my future, so I am glad you have settled down with someone you truly love. If you decide to have a baby shower, send me and Bucky an invitation and we will try our best to attend.

We had a close call the other day in one of the bars. You are probably aware already, but raids are getting more and more frequent. Luckily, the press hasn’t caught on and we’re getting by with life staying in the shadows. It isn’t the ideal way to live, but it’s better than having our names and reputation smeared. Other than that, me and Bucky are doing very well. I don’t want to bother you with the details, but he’s the greatest person I’ve ever met. You may have been my soulmate, but he’s the love of my life. 

It doesn’t hurt that he’s so handsome, too.

Steve.


1956

Peggy,

If my calculations serve me right, you should have delivered a healthy baby. Me and Bucky are both putting our money on an adorable baby boy. (I hear that James is a beautiful baby boy name.) Hopefully you and Daniel aren’t losing too much sleep and your child gives you joy for many years to come.

I felt like sharing this news with you - me and Bucky are engaged! Yes we know that marriage between two fellas isn’t legal, but when and if it happens, we will be the first ones in the courthouse. It’s just a matter of time. Hopefully it happens soon, and when it does, you’re by all means invited to our wedding. Right now Bucky is sleeping beside me in our apartment. Life is good for me and I hope it’s good for you.

Steven

 

Steven,

You owe me, Rogers. I’m happy to tell you that I have delivered a healthy baby girl not long ago. She’s gorgeous. Gala apple-red cheeks. Bright brown eyes. She’s the most beautiful girl in the world. The spitting image of Daniel. I’ve enclosed a photo of me and her in the hospital room not long after her delivery. 

Congratulations on your engagement! It’s truly unfortunate we don’t live in an ideal world where you and Bucky can wed right here and right now, but we’re getting there, I promise. And when we do get there, I call being your maid of honour? (or would you have a best man? Either way, I call best woman! So glad you’ve settled down with someone right for you.

Margaret


1957

Steve,

I hear you’re on some undercover work for the BOI soon. Hopefully you stay safe and the mission turns out to be a success. Wanted to tell you something fairly important - I’m engaged! About six years later, me and Daniel think we’ve finally reached a point where taking it slow just meant avoiding it. The ring is gorgeous. Hopefully you can make it to our wedding. I’ve attached a copy of our invitation to this letter. I’d ask you to be the best man, but that isn’t really my place to say so, is it? :)

As always, send my love to Bucky. Hope you and him are doing well. You’re happy and healthy, etc.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Congratulations on your engagement! Unfortunately I doubt I’ll be able to make it, you know I wish I could. Espionage isn’t my specialty, but the bureau is especially overworked this time around. Communist threats, you know.I know that Daniel is the right man for you, and I can only hope that you love him as much as he loves you. I only met him once very briefly, and I would barely even consider it a meeting through the shiny glass of the windowpane, but he looks at you like the sun. He looks at you like how Bucky looks at me.

Bucky is as always, Bucky. He’s brilliant and funny and well, you know. Still can’t believe that same kid who went out with a different dame every night now belongs to me. Send greetings to Daniel and Baby Carter. Tell me all about the wedding when it happens.

Steven

Steve,

Completely understandable that you have work to do! The wedding was gorgeous. We had it in the springtime, you know, like Dot and Bucky’s. But ours was closer to the summer, so it was so humid and my dress was so suffocating! But it was all worth it when I saw Daniel at the altar. He loves me so much, Steve. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’m not deserving of the way he looks at me.

We’re honeymooning in London again, it feels like deja vu. But this time, I know it will last. He’s got no suspiciously good looking best friends since childhood I should be worried about. 

Margaret


1961

Steven,

A little bird told me that you led a crusade to get the combined oral contraceptive pill approved federally! It’s an incredible thing you’ve done and was definitely the right thing to do. I had a partner at the SSR, she was the bravest agent I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, she had to retire from her career almost as soon as it began because she got pregnant. This pill you’ve legalised will help a lot of women progress in a lot of careers. President Kennedy has placed many women in high ranking positions in his administration. I told you, Steve. Our world is progressing. It’s women today, and couples like you and Bucky tomorrow. 

Margaret

 

Peggy,

To get a birth control pill legalised was the work of many, many lawyers and powerful politicians. Sure, I was a catalyst for the movement, but that is almost solely because the headline Captain America Endorses Birth Control is such a sensationalist headline that no one can look away from. I was merely the spokesperson, which is entirely inappropriate. Shouldn’t it be dames like you that lead this movement? Not a geriatric white guy like yours truly.

It’s entirely optimistic to believe that couples like me and Bucky will be getting protection some time soon, but it’s also wishful thinking. We rarely go out together, and when we do, the nights always end in raids. We’re lucky to be who we are, because the blacks and the queens have it worse than we do. They don’t get the opportunity to hide. For them, they go to the bars and they fight at the raids because they have nothing to lose. Us, we’ve got everything to lose. I feel almost cowardly for it. But I love Bucky, and I’ll do anything to protect him. Even if it meant stepping into the spotlight for him.

Steven


1969

Steven,

Are you alright? Daniel has friends on the New York riot task force and they told him about a riot at a “fairy bar”. I know you and Bucky frequent those places often, and I hope you stayed safe and out of trouble. I know a riot is a terrible, awful thing - a riot and arrests. But it’s a great thing too, I believe. Didn’t I say it was the women today, and the queers tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is here. I feel like we’re on the precipice of change, Steve. Perhaps marriage for you and Bucky is closer than you presume.

Send my love to Bucky. And if he writes to Nancy, tell her I miss her. And the next time I’m in London, I’d hop on a train at Kings Cross and pay her a visit.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Me and Bucky were caught in the crossfire, yes. We braved the night for once and were found in the middle of another raid. We thought it would be like any other raid, which is why we never ran. We did what we always did in the event of a raid. We stayed pressed up against the walls, waiting for it to pass. But it didn’t pass. And there was a woman, a woman we didn’t know well. But she was there every evening when we decided to go. And I knew that she knew who we are. I mean, we were two six foot army veterans in a bar full of queens. And she stared at us and we stared back. She picked up a shot glass and smashed it at the wall.

Her name was Marsha. And I’ll never forget what she said. “I’ll have my rights, thank you.”

I still can’t believe she said that! She had the bravery to come out to the world as the person she was, and to fight for her identity. If anyone noticed us at the riot, they didn’t take note. Reporters darted in and out, but for the most part, they didn’t stick around. And the next day, it was hardly in the papers at all.I believe what you’re saying. And a legal battle for marriage would take decades. But it will happen. I believe that much, at least.

Steve


1975

Steve,

The FBI may have briefed you already, but I thought I should tell you myself. The rumours are true - I founded my own government agency! It’s called S.H.I.E.L.D, and me and Daniel run it together. We’re like the FBI, but specialise in international security. We haven’t decided on what we wanted to do yet, but we’ve definitely got an idea of a team of specialists that defend us, and perhaps the world from danger. The Tesseract is under our care at the Los Angeles branch, and at the very least we know for sure that there are extraterrestrial beings out there. And when they decide to show themselves, we have to be ready. 

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Hopefully S.H.I.E.L.D will work out for you. An idea for a team of specialists to defend the world from danger is brilliant! Shortlisted any candidates yet? 

It’s so thrilling to see you succeed in your career. Sure I love working for the FBI, but the bureau is at the end of the day just my day job. I’ve been painting a lot more recently, as a historical alliance wanted to do a segment on Captain America after the war. Usually I paint Bucky. HIs portraits, his clothing, any ounce of humanity I can glean from Bucky. Because truly, he’s beautiful. I love him so much, Peg. And even if I don’t marry him, I’m glad I at least get to spend the rest of my life with him, even if it isn’t on paper.

Steve

P.S: Don’t hire Arnim Zola.


1980

Steve,

By now you must have heard the news. New York State is decriminalizing homosexuality! Well, it’s about damn time. My kids have all grown up now and only now we’re legalizing things that have never been outlawed. Does this mean that you might say a statement publicly? It might inspire a lot of kids, you know.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

It is truly incredible that only now such a thing is legal, even if we’ve been doing it for years now. I hope things with you and Daniel are well. Me and Bucky are good, as always. I don’t think that I’ll say anything publicly. It’s too dangerous, you know. But this does mean that eventually, me and Bucky might be able to take each other’s names. Life is changing, just very slowly.

Steven


1984

Steve,

It has been a while since I last sent a letter to you. How are you? How is Bucky?

I’ve taken your advice and thrown out any applications from candidates with Nazi Germany affiliations. And lucky I did, because apparently HYDRA is taking root in the German government once more. Thanks for the tip. They didn’t hire you as a strategist for nothing.

I did, however, hire Howard Stark. He barely remembers who I am, but he’s got a cute kid. Tony Stark, he’s a genius I think. He can keep up with his father’s ramblings at only a quarter of his age.

Margaret

 

Peggy,

Tony Stark, huh? I’ve heard that name before. He’s gonna do wonderful things, I guarantee you. He’ll create a way to keep everyone safe. He may still be a kid, but he’s the type of person who would put the mission before himself. Or so I think. Keep an eye on that kid, and the second he turns 18 keep him on as a full time associate. 

That is, if he isn’t already CEO of Stark Industries :)

Steven


 

Bucky gives Steve a box full of letters. Steve frowns.

 

“What is this?” Steve asks, picking up the papers.

Bucky smiles and kisses him on the cheek. “You’re really in love with me, huh?”

Steve lets out a chuckle. “What do you mean, darlin’?”

Bucky laughs. “I saw these letters from Peggy and I thought you were cheating on me.” Steve rolls his eyes. “But when I read them, in almost every single one you talk about how lovely I am.”

 

Steve laughs as Bucky pulls him up close.

“I love you, Steve Rogers.”

 

Steve smiles and kisses Bucky. Forever and always he would love that man. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

The date passes Steve and Bucky by as the years melt together. They’re retired now, and they walk in parks and go to museums and spend time visiting friends in the cemeteries. Bucky writes and reads, Steve paints and draws. They’re a lot older and a hell of a lot wiser. They don’t make any public appearances, but when they’re spotted in public they try to be kind and gentle with everyone they come across. And as the years wear on, they aren’t afraid to hold hands in public, or go on dinners, or pose for photos in the photo booths.

 

Steve didn’t expect a life like this. A life where they had a chance. It wasn’t the life that he asked for, but it was the one his soul was screaming for. Ever since he left the womb, this is what he wanted. He wanted the chance at a life where there was still adrenaline and adventure at every turn, but peace and justice still bled through his every action. This was the life he would always lead, and it was the life built just for him.

They spend their days finding old records and travelling the world. Steve loves Indonesia, and Bucky loves Mongolia. They go everywhere they can. They explore, because they can. They dance to Sinatra on vinyl and laugh at the way their skin wrinkles as time wears on. They slow dance and take cooking classes and remake the world around themselves. They laugh as often and as loudly as they can, because no one was there to stop them.  And some nights, when there aren’t any words to say between them, Steve lies back in bed and exhales. He has lived a full and fruitful life, one that made him happy and one that he was not ashamed to live. He can say once and for all that he is really, truly, undoubtedly, happy. 

 

Bucky is reading the newspaper on his tablet while Steve is sketching him. Bucky needs reading glasses, and his eyes still shine when they read. The wire frame is thin on the glasses and he has a pencil tucked in his ear. Steve smiles. He wonders how rare this was, to grow old with the man you loved. Bucky drags his fingers along the words, feeling the cool glass of the screen as he felt the newsprint on the paper. By this time, they had to build a bookshelf solely just for Steve’s sketchbook. He’s made them out to the Museum of Modern Art in his will. (Apparently they’re worth millions. Bucky says it’s because the model of the drawings is so damn handsome.) Steve runs his hands along the smile lines on his cheek, forever cemented in his skin. 

Bucky drops the tablet onto the carpeted floor quietly. He’s staring off into the distance. His breathing is slow and still.

 

Steve puts his pencil away and quietly turns to Bucky. “Is there something wrong?” He asks cautiously. He looks to the screen in the hallway, the one constantly monitoring their security system. He still wakes up in the night at all the bumps and creaks. The war lives in him, but it takes up a different space in his heart these days.

 

Bucky blinks and takes hold of Steve’s hand. “We can get married.” He says calmly, so quiet that Steve might have missed it.

 

Steve swallows and jumps up, looking at the calendar. He flicks on the television, and CNN is providing live coverage.

 

He remembers being awake the first time it’s legalized. He remembers the pride parades and rainbow colours, flags and glitter and broken glass and all the joy in the world. But most of all, he remembers being cold and sad and still living in another decade. He remembers the nightmares, waking up and missing Bucky, and not knowing much of anything else. He remembers living in his own stratosphere for the years before meeting the Winter Soldier. He didn’t have a taste in his mouth for politics and rights, because the time he was defrosted in was so foreign and strange.

But now, everything is different. Now, the world is worn down at the edges and old and it belongs to him as much as it belongs to everyone else. Now he can feel the weight of the revolution coming to a head. He can feel the bloodshed on the pavement for the people that wanted this before. And he knows how important this is. He knows that this is his destiny, clear and true and more important than any mission before.

 

He sees the revolution he fought for in the silver linings of his life. Oscar Wilde in the way a third year university student reads a crumpled paperback at their local coffee shop. Alan Turing, in the way your footsteps sound as the echo across museum floors. Freddie Mercury, in the desperate laughter of a harried teen. There was so much fight that he ought to have pride. Because he lived through the years where they were on the brink of extinction. And Steve can never forget the way more Americans died of AIDS than in the Vietnam war. These were the things he had to live with, always and forever.

He looks at his ring. The one that belonged to the older Mister Barnes. The one who fathered a brilliant boy, who was kind and caring. Who didn’t say many words but loved his son more than anything else. And he looks at Bucky. The one he had tied every chamber of his heart to. 

 

Steve smiles and there’s tears streaming down his face. “What are we waiting for?”


 

It wasn’t a very big wedding. 

It was in their garden, one week after the news broke out.

 

Their garden is in full bloom, with daffodils and petunias and marigolds. With fresh basil and thyme and mint. With tomatoes and strawberries, all ripe for the picking. They have a wrought iron fence, the kind that creaks when it’s pushed. Steve drives a classic Corvette down the highways, wearing aviator shades and listening to cassette tapes. Bucky thinks Steve looks lame. But he also has never loved Steve any more as he does now. Their house is a weird mix of old and new. Bucky insisted on buying Amazon Alexas in every single room, a roomba for the kitchen, and the doorbells with video cameras on them. But Steve made sure to keep the record players and embroidered curtains and all the picture frames of polaroids from over the years. It’s a blend of their personalities and the people they were. 

 

They weren’t big on pride, because being gay was a fact of life. It was as simple as Steve knowing he didn’t like his tea without sugar or his favourite season was summer. But on their mailbox, the old fashioned one with the flag that raises, the flag is a rainbow, and there’s a rainbow flag that flutters out of their guest room window. 


Sharon Carter is the minister, because she was the only one out of their weirdly knit family that had the license to wed people. (She claims that she got the license when she was drunk, which everyone can believe.) Steve tries not to think of how, in another life, her and him shared a kiss. It forms all sorts of paradoxical crises in him that he’s too old to figure out.

 

Peggy Carter is there with her husband and children and grandchildren, old and wise and smiling eternally. Her daughter, Laura Carter-Sousa Tate, was a prominent criminal defense lawyer. She's got her mother's spirit and her father's eyes. She’s got a gun in her purse and a mind full of memories. She’s still got her Cockney accent, but it’s weathered from the years living in Los Angeles. She’s got a tan on her, and gone were the days of her paper white skin and bold red lip. Her hair is longer now, too.

Rebecca Barnes-Proctor is there, too. With her husband and a heart of gold. She's got stories from the war years, jokes to make the night last longer, and enough soul in her to drive the wolves away. She's the last of the Barneses aside from Bucky, living on her parents memory in any way she can.

Nancy is there too, wearing a rose colored dress and folding her weathered hands, delicate and precise after years of being a cardiologist. Aromantic is a word now, one that she doesn’t quite understand but one that applies to her entirely. The only thing she says of it is that she wishes she had a term like that when she was in her youth.

 

It’s a small wedding, because the two of them are so sick of press and galas and pompous things they didn’t have a taste for. It was a short ceremony, with a potluck of dishes concocted by Peggy’s daughters.

 

It was very quick, because Steve and Bucky have been waiting an eternity to get it over with. There were no bridesmaids or flower girls or maids of honour or best men. It was just two men who loved each other so damn much.

They held hands underneath an apple tree, wearing white suits and baby blue ties. Bucky’s hair was greying and had more white than in salt and pepper. Steve’s hands were rough to the touch and had more stories than most people have in their whole body.

 

As the first time, Sharon Carter’s voice comes to Steve in waves.

 

“Do you, Steve, take this man to be your wedded husband?” She asks, looking at the two of them.

Steve nods his head vehemently, crying and laughing and a hurricane of emotions. It was so different from his first wedding, where he felt like he was under anesthesia. “I do.” He replies, one hundred and ten percent certain.

 

Sharon smiles and nods. “Do you, Bucky, take this man to be your wedded husband?”

Bucky swallows and smiles, holding Steve’s hands tightly. “I fucking do.” He says with a smile, laughing hysterically and tears streaming down his face. There is so much joy and passion coursing through their veins.

 

The get lost in each other’s eyes, Steve, silently observing Bucky’s mannerisms and quirks that he had come to love over the years. And when Sharon’s voice comes back to Steve, it almost comes as a surprise. 

“Repeat after me,” Sharon says.

Steve gulps and nods. “I, Steve, take you, Bucky, to be my husband.” He gives Bucky a squeeze in his hands, and smiles at Bucky. He could spend a lifetime staring into those eyes. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Steve holds Bucky’s hands tight. Calloused and gentle, and he looks up at Bucky’s eyes. Through the years, Bucky’s eyes have never changed. They were always the colour of coffee with one cream. They were Steve’s anchor through the night. They kept him afloat. They kept him alive.

 

Steve blinks back tears, feeling the heat prickling at skin. They got a summer wedding, after all. It makes him smile.

Bucky looks at Steve. His lips move quickly, mouthing an I love you so quiet and just for Steve to hear. Steve blushes and shakes his head. Steve whispers I love you back to Bucky, and the two of them laugh.

Sharon turns to Bucky. “Bucky,” She says. “Repeat after me.”

 

“I, Bucky, take you, Steve, to be my husband.” Bucky’s voice is calm and gentle. It’s the thing that drives the wolves away. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Bucky’s smiling. Steve knows his religion. He knows that on the seventh day God didn’t rest, but created Bucky Barnes’ smile.

 

Steve thought he knew happiness when he rescued Bucky from being tortured. He thought he knew happiness when the Winter Soldier remembered him. He thought he knew happiness when Bucky kissed him on the bitterest of winter evenings. He thought he knew happiness when Bucky got down on one knee. He thought he knew happiness when they built a life for one another from the ground up.

But this was happiness. Standing at the altar across from the love of your life and being able to show the world without any uncertainty that they were married and forever part of one another’s souls. Happiness was having a marriage certificate, something real and tangible, to show for their decades-long love story.

 

Happiness was being able to marry the man you have loved since the moment you have met him.

Sharon takes a step back and looks at the two of them. “Steve and Bucky, by the power vested in me by the State of New York,” There’s a beat of laughter, a speck of joy. “it is my honour and delight to declare you married and husbands.” She says. Steve is grinning from ear to ear. This was the best day of his life. This was everything he had been working for.

“You may seal your vows with a kiss.” She says.

 

 They do.

Chapter Text

James Buchanan Rogers-Barnes died on April 19, 2017. 

 

He died due to complications with Alzheimer’s, but he died happily. He died with his husband, the love of his life on his bedside. His husband was distraught, but they had seen it coming for a while. Steve thought of the gentle irony, the way that Bucky would lose his life to memory loss any way his life turned out.

 

He died in the morning, on a spring day. There were flowers by his bedside. He was wearing white. He had a smile on his face. He was peaceful. He wasn’t surrounded by friends, because he didn’t have much of any. He tired easily from socialization and he didn’t care much to keep insincere friends around. Peggy passed on a year before, Nancy two years before. Sharon Carter and the other litter of Carters visited at the viewing, paying their respects with polite tears.

 

By May, Bucky Barnes was in the ground with a garden of lilies and carnations. Steve doesn’t know if he wants to believe that Bucky was in an afterlife. If it was an afterlife where their love story would condemn them, he doesn’t want it.

By June, Steve had sold their house and was packing up the rest of their belongings. He sold the house for cheap, giving it to a couple who had trouble getting on their feet. He gave it to them for practically nothing, because he saw the way that they looked at each other. One of them had curly blonde hair. She looked at her wife the way Bucky used to look up at Steve. He hopes this world is kinder on them than it was to him and Bucky.

 

Steve's walking down the road on his last day in their house, a cell phone pressed up against his pocket. He’s trying to make a list of things that he needed to get done before the house was sold.

 

There wasn’t much left, most of it going to charity and vast amounts of wealth going to funds bequeathed in the Rogers-Barnes name. This was all that Bucky Barnes had left behind. A house that smelled like cedarwood, rumpled bedsheets. No kids, no grandkids. But it was enough. It was enough that he left behind books with the margins written in and warm wool sweaters. It was enough that the left behind a grieving husband and an unfinished manuscript.

Steve found it on his last day clearing out their attic. Most of their things were going to the Smithsonian, to be moved around from museum to museum until history has better things to display. He finds a box, one box far in the back. A leather-bound notebook was full of his husband’s finest handwriting. The unfinished book that Bucky could never title. The story of two beautiful tyrants. He leaves the manuscript on the counter table for the new owners to discover. He hopes history will remember them like how Bucky wrote them. Two boys out of their depth but with enough strength and courage to take on the evils of the world.

 

For a while, Steve thought of moving to Los Angeles and living out the rest of his days in the sun. But it doesn’t feel right, to walk the streets where Peggy walked without her by his side. He’s going to hit the road and see where life takes him. 

 

In the box, there were just two other things outside of the manuscript. A suit and just one Pym particle. Just one left, and many a memory ago. And there it was, just one more chance.

 

He’s leaving tomorrow, saying goodbye to New York because New York isn’t itself without Bucky Barnes. He pulls into a coffee shop, buys a lemonade, and watches the news on the television. Life is strange without someone to share it with.

 

Tony Stark is giving a speech outside the New York Stark tower, rambling on about renewable energy or whatever he had set his mind to now. 

It was then when Steve was drinking his lemonade and feeling his other hand despairingly empty did a thought come into his mind. He pulls out his cellphone and calls one of the only people he had in his contacts list.

 

He knew what he had to do, where he had to go. There was just one thing left that he had to do.

 

Sharon Carter picks up on the first ring. “Hello?” She asks, and it sounds like she just woke up. 

Steve is biting his lip. “Sharon. Can you do me a favour?”


 

Tony Stark is wearing heavily tinted glasses and a well-tailored suit even in the New York heat. If he is sweating, he’s playing it off really well. He spots Steve sitting on the far end of the Starbucks and pulled a chair up quickly. Everything about his actions screamed that he was in a hurry.

 

“Tony,” Steve says, trying not to let the familiarity creep into his voice. Tony looks like an old friend, a memory resurfacing, a time forgotten, and a corpse reanimated.

 

Tony narrowed his eyebrows and took off his shades, folding them and tucking them away. “Can you tell me how you got Nick Fury to ask me to come down to a coffee shop in Brooklyn to meet some geriatric that comes on the news every now and then?” He says quickly.

Steve exhales softly. “That’s not important.”

Tony frowns. “It kind of is. If you can call in and request to meet me, who can?” He blinks at Steve. “No offence. You were my dad’s hero or something.”

 

Steve shakes his head. “None took.” Tony crosses his legs and waves over a barista, whispering an order in her ear. He rolls his eyes. “Sharon Carter is a family friend and a high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D official. I got her to ask Nick Fury to set up a meeting with you.” He shrugged.

Tony looked out the window and checked his watch. “Okay. I’ve got to be at the Statue of Liberty in fifteen minutes. You’ve got ten minutes with me.”

 

Steve let out a breath of air. This was the last thing he had to do. He had to make things right in this timeline before he left it forever. It was the last heroic thing he was obligated to do. It would save these people a lot of heartaches. 

The air is sweet and warm. Bucky was somewhere, just not with him. But it was a miracle enough that Bucky ended up with him in the first place. But it was once more time for Steve to find his own path, even at the end of the line.

 

Steve looks at Tony Stark, sees everything he stands for. He’s a good man, underneath under the pompous exterior and the flashy facade. He sees Tony Stark, and he sees not the man that created Ultron or opposed his beliefs but the one who sacrificed his life to save the human race

Steve feels the Pym particle in his pocket and smiles. Tony Stark’s exterior falters for a moment, and he looks quiet and understanding.

Steve smiles at Tony, looking in his eyes. 

 

“Let me tell you a story about Thanos.”

Chapter Text

The sky is bright blue, like the ocean, like his dreams, like first kisses and love confessions, like the taste in Steve’s mouth after the war. There are birds chirping and dancing in the wind. The ground beneath him is warm and soft and crunches against his shoes. His clothing smells like the hospital and death but also new hope and possibility. 

 

The waves of the lake crash against the shore. Steve didn’t hear it the first time around. He remembers being young and strong, holding gemstones that had all the power in the universe, being the spitting image of a young god and being worthy of a hammer made of lightning and immortality. He remembers being young and foolish, not knowing what life would have in store for him.

 

Sam Wilson looks like the man in his memories. As does the shadow of Bucky Barnes. This Bucky had circles under his eyes, hair down to his chin, and a few days worth of stubble. His eyes are cloudy and he has a frown on his face. His jaw is clenched and his metal hand is tucked into his pocket. He looks different. He doesn’t look like the man Steve married.

Steve exhales. He feels free. He looks at Bucky and where he is supposed to feel pain, he only feels catharsis. Perhaps because he expected to be filled with longing and despair when greeted with the young-again face of his soulmate, but this Bucky wasn’t his soulmate. This Bucky was something belonging to both worlds, something completely his own.

 

Sam Wilson walks up to Steve. “Cap?” Sam whispers, voice hoarse.

Steve looks over to Sam, and he smiles. It has been a long time since he came face to face with one of his longtime friends. “Hi, Sam.” He says weakly, because his throat goes dry and he isn’t quite sure what to say.

Sam smiles at Steve, giving him a once-over. “So did something go wrong, or did something go right?”

 

Steve thinks of Bucky. He thinks of his smile. The way his face always turns red and flushed after a bottle of beer. He thinks of Bucky’s laugh, the way his hands got weathered as time wore on. He thinks of Bucky going up against the world, the night they kissed in Chicago. When they went behind the backs of their wives and their night at the hotel. He thinks of the tattoo on his finger, until the end of the line . He thinks of how there was a man in another timeline well underneath the ground with the same tattoo of him. He thinks of the life they lived together. He thinks of how he fell in love.

 

Steve smiles. He tries not to cry, but to keep it vague instead. Because there were no words for the life he lived after the war. “Well, after I put the stones back, I thought, maybe I'll try some of that life Tony was telling me to get.” He said simply.

Sam nods. He keeps staring at Steve like he’s seen a ghost. Steve looks at the lake. He thinks of everything he has done and everything he has yet to do. He is so grateful for this life he lived, and the fact he lived it beside the love of his life.

 

“How did that work out for you?” Sam asks quietly.

Steve blinks back tears. “It was beautiful.” He says simply, because that was what it was.

 

It was a beautiful, anarchistic thing that he and Bucky did. They fell in love during a time in which the world would rather see him dead. And underneath all the prejudices and hatred and homophobia they were inflicted, the only thing that shone forth was beauty. Steve thinks back on his life and he thinks of Bucky, warm and soft. He thinks of Bucky making him breakfast. Steve teaching Bucky how to slow dance. Them smoking cigarettes on the fire escape. Steve painting the sunset but instead painting Bucky.

 

He wants history to remember them like this: they were punched and beaten and refused an equal shot at life. He hopes they were not remembered for their suffering, but for their beauty. He wants history to know that even if their world was difficult and painful and full of animosity, they were happy, too. In the midst of a bloody lip or a broken heart, there was a split second of wonder. There was a crack in their pain that shone forth joy. Steve doesn’t remember his life as one of fighting and wars, but one of crows feet at the corners of his husband’s eyes, and smile lines decorating his. He doesn’t remember the world that was cruel because of who they loved, but instead remembering all the reasons why they loved.

He remembers how much he loves Bucky. He remembers his heart swelling with joy every time Bucky was bathed in the glow of summertime sunsets. He remembers reading poetry on the subway with Bucky’s hand held by his, covered by the knocking of his knees in the cold winter. He remembers dancing and laughing and weddings and spring. He remembers Bucky, in all seasons of the year. He remembers light and laughter and love. He remembers Bucky’s heart, his spirit, his soul. Yes, they suffered. But they loved, too.

 

Sam smiles at Steve, nodding contentedly. “I'm happy for you. Truly.” He replies.

Steve smiles and holds back his tears. He misses Bucky so damn much, but he loves him even more. “Thank you.”

 

Sam gazes off into the distance, watching the lake. “Only thing bumming me out is the fact that I have to live in a world without Captain America.” He jokes with a chuckle.

Steve perks up, chastising himself for having forgotten. “Oh, That reminds me.” He says, bringing out his shield. “Try it on.”

 

Sam looked over to Bucky, for something Steve doesn’t understand. It’s permission, it’s acceptance. Bucky nods, and Sam picks up Steve’s shield. 

Steve knows that he should have given it to Bucky. But Bucky has enough on his shoulders without the weight of a shield. Bucky would have been the best Captain America, but some things were more important than the title. Steve knew that by giving Sam the shield instead of Bucky, it would set Bucky free.

 

Steve looks at Sam, who was holding the shield up. It had been such a long time since he saw the shield, and it looks perfect for Sam. It wasn’t his anymore. It hadn’t been his for a very long time. “How's it feel?” Steve asks.

“Like it's someone else's,” Sam says, shaking his head and chuckling.

Steve grins. “It isn't.”

Sam blinks rapidly, and Steve sees that his friend’s eyes are glassy. This was how life was always meant to turn out. “Thank you. I'll do my best.”

 

Steve shakes Sam’s hand. This would set all of them free. “That's why it's yours,” Steve says earnestly.

Sam sucks in a breath and saw Steve’s wedding ring. A smirk danced upon his face. “You wanna tell me about her?” He teases.

 

Steve smiles. Because he would never be able to explain to them how this was not a marriage to Peggy Carter, but one to Bucky Barnes. No, Steve wouldn’t tell Sam about Peggy, because what was there to tell? Peggy Carter was the most beautiful and headstrong girl Steve had ever crossed paths with. Her story does not belong to Steve, it belongs to the history books. It belongs to her husband and kids and everyone she was always meant to be with. She was never meant to be with Steve. They were always fated to be footnotes in each other’s stories. 

 

“No. No, I don't think I will.” Steve says with a fond, careful smile. 

 

But, if prompted, Steve would talk about Bucky. The love of his life. The one with four flesh limbs of blood and bone. The one who had never grown his hair out further than his ear. The one that loved music and life and writing. The one that was always confident and brave and would never back down from a fight. The one that was perceptive and caring and always knew the right thing to say. The one that got down on one knee and proposed to Steve even when they knew it wouldn’t be possible. The one that loved as openly as the Bucky who stood behind him. 

 

He looks to his right and sees another rendition of Bucky Barnes. That was not the Bucky he married, that was not the Bucky that belonged to him.

 

This Bucky belongs to a world that would accept him with open arms no matter what his path in life would be. This Bucky belongs to a world that would allow him to love whoever he wants to love, or not to love at all. He belongs to a world that would accept him and take him in and show him the light. That wasn’t a task for Steve to do. That was a task for the world to teach Bucky. 

Bucky belonged to Steve as Steve belonged to Bucky. They said vows to each other, intertwined their souls so that they may never be apart. Steve belonged to Bucky because he could never belong to the world. He was always a man out of time. He never was supposed to belong to the world. He was always meant to belong to Bucky.

 

But this Bucky, this Bucky with long hair and battle scars and renewed faith in his capabilities did not belong to Steve. This Bucky belonged to the world.

 

And what a beautiful thing it was, to belong to the world.