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There's So Much That You Want (You Deserve Much More Than This)

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It’s the quiet, easy noise of Bowie floating through the air from somewhere off to his right from the radio that Steve always leaves on that wakes Bucky up, slow at first, like the drip of cold honey off a spoon, and then all at once. 

He’s aware of several things, suddenly: his mouth is dry and thick and disgusting, and he’s in bed with Steve, splayed across Steve’s chest with his thigh resting atop Steve’s hip and his other leg bracketed by both of Steve’s, and they left the window open last night in hope of a cool breeze so there’s bright fingers of dusty yellow sunlight reaching across the room that bite into Bucky’s tender eyes; he’s got a pounding headache from the hot beer they scored after work and Steve’s breath puffing into his face is rotten and his ass hurts something fierce. 

He sighs and rustles himself closer to Steve, as close as he can while lying across his big, awkwardly still-growing body. Steve’s sparse chest hair is itching Bucky’s cheek, and he’s sweaty, and his dick is taking interest in their close proximity because he’s eighteen and perpetually horny, and it’s the last day of school before the summer and Bucky’s in no hurry to change a goddamn thing at the moment. 

And then the thin sheet is being yanked off of him and Steve, and he lets out a subdued yell and looks down at the foot of the bed to see Natasha standing there; he was lucid enough last night after having his ass pounded into the mattress to drag on a pair of drawers before collapsing in bed but Steve opted to stay naked to fend off the humidity and yeah, maybe his and Steve’s position is a bit compromising but Natasha’s known the two of them for years and, frankly, Bucky’s not sure if there’s anything he and Steve can do that would surprise her. 

She’s already dressed for school in a yellow blouse with white flowers and blue jeans, and fuck, she’s beautiful, and fuck, he kind of wants to get under her but she would have him there for a completely different reason than the one that gets his cock hard if he ever makes a move. 

Besides, she’s got somebody and he’s got Steve, and yeah, they’re just somebody for the other to stick their dick in to and sometimes kiss, but it works. 

She crosses her arms, pushing her tits together like a damn dirty magazine cover, and juts out her hip. “My, my, my, you two look cute,” she comments, smirks, and raises a brow. 

Bucky makes a noncommittal noise and waves his hand at her, adjusting his hips so he can hide the hard on that’s sprouted; beneath him, Steve grunts and twitches, flopping his arm over his face as he rolls away from Bucky and onto his stomach. 

“Cute ass, Rogers.” 

“Suck my cock, Nat.” 

“Not my job.” 

Bucky chuckles and moves off the bed to stand. “Sam makin’ breakfast yet?” he asks, running his hand through his hair and sleepily stretching the muscles in his back. 

She nods. “You two won’t have enough time to eat if you don’t get up now and shower,” she tells him, and Bucky scoffs because no wonder Wanda, a sophomore he shares geography with, started to act a bit too big for her britches—she’s been around Natasha for too long. 

“Yeah, yeah. We’re up, Mom.” 

Natasha rolls her eyes at Bucky’s comment but she’s smiling. “Sharon’s gonna eat all the gravy if you let him go back to sleep, James,” she says, and she’s getting ready to leave, too, but adds, halfway down the corridor, “And be sure to take it together!”  

Bucky groans, and Steve grunts, again, and she’s laughing, and the sugary sound ebbs and flows nicely with the music on the radio, fading from Bowie into Foreigner, and he doesn’t think life can get any better than it is at this very moment. 

Bucky turns back to Steve on the bed. He’s naked, and he’s already got the start of a nice summer tan on his shoulders and back from the spring practices, little dark and light brown freckles dotting his skin, mixing with a bruise here and there, and he smiles for no particular reason other than he’s happy to be here. 

“Steve?” 

Steve flops his arm out from beneath the pillow, palm up, and Bucky reaches over the bed to take it. “‘M awake, Buck,” he grounds out, using their intertwined fingers to jerk Bucky back onto the bed, and Bucky goes willingly, snuggling against Steve’s side as he turns his head to meet Bucky’s eyes. “Hi.” 

Steve’s got a stupid, sloppy smile on his face and there’s a crusted line of dried drool on the side of his chin; Bucky rolls his eyes and leans forward and kisses Steve right on the mouth because he doesn’t really want to wonder why he’s so goddamn in love with the color of Steve’s eyes this early in the morning or how fucking lucky he is that Sarah Rogers trusts them to be alone in the big farmhouse outside of town when she’s working long shifts at the hospital. 

Steve pulls away rather quickly, nose wrinkled. “Something died in your mouth, Buck,” he muses, turning onto his side. “God.” 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Yeah, your swimmers,” he remarks and leans forward to shove his tongue in Steve’s mouth again; it’s not often he gets to spend the night like this with Steve, what with Peggy Carter, who’s a year older than them at nineteen and graduating this evening, in the picture and so often snatching Steve’s attention before Bucky can say anything, and, by God, he’s going to take advantage of it while he can regardless of how nasty both of their mouths taste. “C’mon, big guy. Let’s go shower.” 

-

The thing is—Bucky and Steve are fucking. Have been, actually, for a while. Since they were sixteen—since Joseph Rogers took off in the middle of the night during a thunder and lightning storm to chase down a group of dumbass kids who liked to sneak up the long driveway and cut up in the back pasture after dark and flipped the car to avoid a big cedar that was struck and fell during the heavy downpour. The group of kids got away and Joseph Rogers was dead and Steve was dealing with having to buy a new pair of jeans every other week because he finally hit that growth spurt. 

That was over two years ago; they’re eighteen now, and grief’s a bitch but life goes on—never let it be said that Sarah Rogers let the world and its secrets keep her down—and their messy rutting in an unlocked storage closet in the library during their shared shift after school just a few short weeks after the funeral has evolved into Bucky being pressed against the shower wall with three of Steve’s fingers in his ass while Steve’s other hand is working furiously over Bucky’s angry red cock. 

“You’re still sticky and stretched.” Steve’s words are echoed by his laughter; the water is hitting both of them in the back of the head and Bucky is torn between fucking himself into Steve’s loose grip or humping back on the fingers Steve’s got shoved in his ass. It’s fire, the feel of a hand on his dick and fingers massaging that little spot inside him that makes him lose his self and start babbling like a baby, but he grits his teeth and keeps his head because Steve’ll sprain a lung laughing if he knew how much Bucky drools to have something (preferably Steve’s cock) up his ass. “Got three fingers in ya, easy. Could prob’ly fit four—maybe my whole hand.” 

Bucky snorts and bows his head; his legs are stretched and he’s braced against the wall and Steve’s just rubbing at his prostate, tickling the nerve and milking Bucky for all he’s worth, massaging like it’s his mission in life, and he kind of likes the idea of having Steve’s whole entire fist inside of him but that’s not something he wants to dwell on at the moment. They’ve not got time for that this morning and, really, Bucky just wants Steve to fill him up so he can come, too. 

“You fucked the hell outta me last night, Stevie, ‘course I’m still open and nasty,” he says, a bit exasperated and more breathless than he cares to admit—Steve likes it soft and fast and Bucky likes it hard and slow, and they compromise, for the most part, whenever Peggy’s not around and they fall in with one another, but Steve won’t hurry up and Bucky’s hunger is only slightly second to his arousal and they don’t have time for Bucky to catalogue every reason why he’s still gaping and why he’s still slick from all the lube Steve pumped into him last night. “Hurry up and stick me, punk. Ain’t got time for your seduction.” 

Steve drops his forehead on the back of Bucky’s shoulder blade and chuckles; Bucky can feel the grin that Steve rubs into his wet skin and it makes his stomach clench in a reason entirely apart from the handy and milking he’s receiving. 

He forces it out of his mind—there’s no point of allowing himself to linger on the reasons he wants only Steve to see him like this. 

“God, you’re so pushy.” He removes his fingers from Bucky’s ass and replaces them with his cock, damp with water from the shower and sticky with whatever slick he’s got in the bathroom. It’s a tight fit, still, and the stretch of Steve’s prick burns in the best of ways: Steve’s well-endowed, okay, even if he’s somewhat slimmer than Bucky, and they don’t do this often enough for either of their bodies to be accustomed to frequent penetration but goddammit, Bucky loves the soreness, loves the blaze of being stretched and filled in ways he never thought he would and not being able to sit down comfortably for hours. “You feel so good, Buck.” 

Bucky tilts his head back, arching his spine; he turns toward Steve and lays his forehead against Steve’s temple, using one hand to tangle with Steve’s where it’s at, stationary, on his cock to start up a steady rhythm of jerking while the other reaches up and grips Steve’s sand-colored hair. 

“Yeah?” Bucky closes his eyes on a sigh; he wiggles his ass where it’s settled cozily against Steve’s hips and sighs. Steve burns Bucky’s shoulder with the hot puff of breath he expels at the punctual movement. 

“Hmm. Yeah.” Steve wraps his arm around Bucky’s waist, tugging the two of them flush against one another. He draws back till just the tip of his prick is breaching Bucky’s hole and then shoves back in, hard, and it draws out a wilted whimper from Bucky. “Wanna stay inside you forever.” 

Bucky shuts his eyes, tight, till he can see oranges and yellows and reds dance across the blackness. “Fuck me,” he breathes, and it’s more begging, really, breathy and thick with it. “Fuck me, Steve, fuck me.” 

Steve nods, keeps his forehead pressed against Bucky’s shoulder; he starts up a wicked pace that’s fast and hard, brutal in its intensity and force, and each slap of his balls on Bucky’s sensitive perineum are punctuated by the repetitive “fuck me, Stevie, fuck me” and it doesn’t take long for either of them to crest and swell and finish. 

Steve comes first, biting sharply on the shell of Bucky’s ear to smother a hoarse cry and gushing inside of Bucky; it’s a wonder he has anything left after last night, when Bucky sucked him down twice and then fucked himself on Steve’s cock till he collapsed from oversensitivity and exhaustion onto the big bed, but it’s hot and it’s so glorious to feel that warmth spread inside him that he comes just a second after, thumbing the slit at the tip of his cock with Steve’s fingernail and painting the salmon-colored tiles with his spunk and growling low in his throat to stifle the howl that he wants to let loose. 

He winces when Steve slips his softening cock out, allowing his knees to buckle to he can slouch against the wall. It’s humid and hot, and it’s no respite from the absolute heat of the shower and Steve’s body that’s still pressed tight against his. 

“I love watching you leak.” Steve’s out of breath and his tone is thick with satisfaction and it makes Bucky shiver and he doesn’t try to hide it because he’s always been an absolute slut for Steve—friggin’ golden boy Steve Rogers—whenever he talks so filthy like that. “You good?” 

Bucky brings his hand up and touches his ear where Steve bit him; he sees blood on his fingers and rolls his eyes and ignores the ping in his stomach. “You fuckin’ made me bleed,” he curses, pivoting and shoving Steve away from him for a moment, not unkind in the separation but definitely with enough force that it gets the point across that he wants some space. 

Steve smiles, regardless of the separation, and he looks dopey, all soft edges and smooth lines, and it kind of floors Bucky that he can have this effect on Steve but then it kind of upsets him the next moment that Peggy gets to see Steve like this, too. That’s not necessarily a new revelation but it’s never been this difficult before. 

“Like you’ve not left bruises on me that lasted most of a month, Buck.” Steve raises his hand and wipes off the few dribbles of blood from Bucky’s ear; his expression is open and wondrous and Bucky’s a little bit frightened at how much they own of each other in terms of experiences and moments and—and, fuck, yeah: how much of one another’s souls they own. They’re so tangled and so intertwined that it’s a wonder people still haven’t caught on that Steve likes to have his ass licked and slick before taking Bucky deeper than any girl ever has. “It was good?” 

“It was good.” Bucky doesn’t say that it’s always good because that’s just not something they do. 

Steve’s satiated smile grows, the right side higher than the left, and he leans forward to give Bucky’s dimpled chin a quick, puckered kiss. 

They hurry to scrub off after that, taking turns washing their hair with the clean-smelling shampoo that Steve prefers and Bucky cleans Steve off with a soapy rag while Steve cleans Bucky out with a finger or two till they’re both more or less satisfied and turn off the spray that’s long since turned a bit icy. 

Back in Steve’s bedroom, they dress quickly, dancing around and with each other because this is something the two of them have been doing for over a decade, since they were knee-high to a grasshopper and Bucky wasn’t allowed to stay past dark on a school night. Bucky stays over with Steve more often than not, now—is here, at the farmhouse, sometimes, even when Steve’s not, even when Steve’s out with Peggy—and so he’s got most of his clothes over here already; years ago, Sarah even gave Bucky a bedroom of his own, with a bed and a dresser, and he tried it out for a while but he’s always preferred Steve and Steve’s space, and so after Joseph’s death he began to officially bunk with Steve. Bucky’s bedroom now has two beds instead of one, bought a year ago with pocket change from a yard sale; Sharon and Natasha and Sam share the dresser and wardrobe and ensuite whenever the three of them are over, and it works out perfectly. 

“Hand me that shirt.” 

Bucky looks at the plain gray shirt in his hand. “It’s mine.”

Steve gives him a raised brow. “And? I wanna wear it. Hand it over.” 

Bucky frowns. “It’s mine, though.” 

Steve just laughs and reaches out for the shirt anyway; Bucky lets him take it because it’s barely passed seven in the morning and he’s still floating from the aftershocks of being fucked good to put up any kind of fight. Bucky notices how well it fits Steve after he’s put it on, though, and has to bite the inside of his cheek. 

-

“Morning, sunshines,” Natasha says with exaggerated cheer as Bucky and Steve both bound down the stairs, crowding into one another like two idiots intent on seeing the other stumble. Nobody thinks anything of it because that’s how they’ve always been, even when Steve was little and a fragile—Bucky never treated him like he was breakable because, dammit, Steve never has been breakable. 

“Fuck you,” Steve says, and yeah, he’s a real treasure with his words, isn’t he? 

Sam yawns into his hand, fuzzy and slow, like he’s got all the time in the world to deal with Steve’s grumpiness. “Good to see you’re still a morning person.” 

“Fuck you, too.” But he’s smiling, all toothy and wide. 

Sam just grins—his patience with Steve makes Bucky envious sometimes. Not because Sam’s giving Steve soft attention, but because Sam has a sort of never-ending bucket of patience for Steve that Bucky wishes he would share. 

Sharon lifts up off the sofa. She’s casual, all blue jeans and white t-shirts, and her hair is down and straight and almost the same color as Steve’s. “We’re gonna be late ‘cause you two can’t keep it in your pants,” she says, but she’s grinning, and she hauls Bucky into a quick hug. She smells like Natasha. “Better eat on the way.” 

And of course they’re going to be late. They’re always late, Bucky and Steve—and especially when it’s the two of them plus Sharon and Natasha and Sam. 

It’s just a thing: when Sarah’s pulling doubles at the hospital, Sam comes over to the farmhouse with booze and Natasha comes over with movies and Sharon comes over with new music she sneaked from Coulson’s record shop whenever she can and Bucky’s already there, of course, cooking in the kitchen, waiting for Steve to get off at the library, and they just chill. 

There are friends, and there are family, and then there are friends that become family. That’s them, that’s Bucky and Steve and Natasha and Sam and Sharon, and it’s chaotic as fuck and it works. 

Bucky grabs two steaming bowls full of peppered gravy from Sam’s hands as Steve crowds behind him and presses a sloppy kiss to Sam’s temple in an affectionate ‘thank you’ for making them breakfast. Natasha sighs and shakes her head, and Sharon’s shoo’ing Bucky, and Sam laughs, and Steve’s on his way out the door already, holding it open for them with that goofy grin still on his face, and he’s got keys in his hand. They’re to Bucky’s car, a midnight blue Camaro that his grandfather gave to him a few years ago, and he isn’t really concerned why they’ve chosen his ride when the five of them all have their own vehicles, and he tosses the keys to Natasha, who catches them easily because she’s got the best reflexes out of all of them no matter that Bucky and Steve and Sam are reigning state champions. 

They pile in: Natasha and Bucky up front, her behind the wheel and him shoving a few empty Yahoo bottles off the black leather bench seat and into the floor, and Sam and Steve and Sharon are in the back, and Steve’s right behind Bucky’s seat because he’s a dickhead and likes to put his knees in Bucky’s back. 

“Don’t spill that shit on the leather, ‘kay?” Bucky reams Steve, who snorts, but Bucky’s serious as a heart attack. “I mean it, jackass.” 

Natasha starts the car, puts it in gear, and pulls down the long driveway toward the unmarked county road that’ll lead to the highway. 

In the back, Sam’s got the window down with his arm out, wiggling his fingers in the early morning air, unworried and relaxed, and Sharon’s pilfering through the stuff in the floorboard till she finds a book that’s been back there for months, and Steve’s chowing down on the gravy, and Bucky reaches forward to turn Pink Floyd up a little louder, and Natasha’s tapping her nails on the steering wheel to the beat. The morning is warm but still crisp, too, the dew having already left the green grass, and Bucky feels longing begin to stir in the pit of his stomach because summer’s so close but so far away. 

“Can we swing by and pick up Peg?” Steve asks from the back; his words are garbled, which means he’s talking with his mouth full, and Bucky rolls his eyes for only that reason. “I promised I’d get her for her last day.” 

Bucky can hear the fond smile Steve’s sporting in his voice; it almost drowns out the ache in his ass and the still-tingling sensation in his balls from the orgasm Steve pulled out of him. 

He sighs. 

In his peripheral, he sees Natasha toss him a glance; it’s questioning, and he wants to tell her everything that’s going on in his head right now but he isn’t ready to open that can of worms just yet. He’s got some shit to figure out on his own, first. 

Instead, he nods, and Natasha says, “Of course. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Peggy.” 

Bucky sighs and rolls down his own window. There’s a herd of cattle in the field across from Steve’s winding property, and all Bucky smells is the promise of heat and fresh cow shit. 

It’s going to be a long day. 

-

They pick Peggy up. She’s wearing a dress—a pretty dark blue thing that’s lined with white lace. It’s sleeveless, and the neckline dips, and even Bucky can see that she’s not wearing a bra because wearing a bra would hide the light purple bruise she’s had sucked into the beginning swell of her breast and Bucky knows that she wants Steve to see that she isn’t ashamed to have his mark on her body no matter what her uptight father might have to say about it. 

Bucky knows because Bucky’s the same way whenever Steve lets himself go enough to leave a mark; it’s easy to laugh and shrug when the guys poke fun at him during practice, easy to play it off as the elusive lady he’s apparently been making time with for a while because they haven’t come to the conclusion that two of their captains are fucking, and it makes Steve absolutely glow whenever he gets to see the suckled bruises and blood-colored bites shine in the white-yellow sunlight. 

Peggy crowds in and sits on Steve’s lap. He wants to tell her that there’s plenty of room for her to not have to sit on Steve’s lap since Sharon’s moved up front to sit between him and Natasha, but then he reverses their situations and knows he would be doing the same thing. So he shrugs. Lets it go. There’s no point in getting riled up over something that he would copy. And besides—this isn’t new. It’s been going on for months. So what if Steve’s found somebody he may actually want to pursue a solid, defined relationship with? 

She greets them all each, individually, a point she makes sure to make every time she’s around any of Steve’s friends. Bucky begrudgingly respects her for it. She’s one hell of a woman, and Bucky’s got absolutely nothing against her. 

Besides, well. That. 

Natasha gives him another look. Sharon pokes his side to let him know she’s there, but she keeps her mouth shut. Sam says one thing or another after they’ve all got their greetings in, and Peggy pulls her lips away from Steve’s to bite back something in reply, and it’s sharp and hateful but Peggy is sharp and hateful herself and she’s unapologetic for it. Bucky looks in the rearview mirror and sees that Peggy’s red lipstick has hidden the blush on Steve’s lips that Bucky’s kisses left behind. 

Natasha shakes her head, subtly, and just turns up the radio as she drives on. Maybe Springsteen can drown out his thoughts for a while. He makes heartbreak sound so fucking good. 

-

The parking lot is full once they pull in off the highway and so they’ve got to shimmy up in the grass across the field next to Rumlow’s ugly ass blue Ford and Tony’s blood red Challenger; it’s a bit of a walk, and it’s sure to make them tardy, and they’ll all probably get a firm talking to, but it’ll have to suffice. 

And if Bucky swings his door open a little too hard, bounces it off Rumlow’s fender a little too solidly to be an accident? Well, then. He reckons he’ll just have to apologize for it like the good kid that he is. 

Sam’s laughing as he opens the door and practically crawls out; he’s finally got the collar on his white shirt fixed and his pants done up right, and he’s handsome as sin. Bucky opens the door for Peggy and Steve, and she climbs out first, laughing, and really, she’s gorgeous, all dark-haired and bright-eyed, and she’s sharp-witted, too, a perfect match for Steve, and Bucky’s not jealous or hurt or upset. Really. He’s just resigned to knowing that he has to share Steve, and there’s nobody else in the whole fucking world he would rather share Steve with than Peggy Carter. 

“Hey.” Natasha throws the keys to Bucky; he slips them in his pocket. Sharon’s next to her, has her hand on the small of Natasha’s back like that’s where it belongs. Bucky pretends he doesn’t see; he doesn’t want to rush them because they never rushed him. “Gonna come to class today?” 

They’ve got first hour together. History, whatever-year-the-US-was-founded to present—meaning seventy-nine, because they haven’t gotten new textbooks in six years. The class is full of annoying freshman and horny sophomores, and there’s so much information packed into the months they’ve been sat at the back of the room, but it’s easy, and Steve’s a fucking genius at it, so Bucky and Natasha and Sharon are doing fine. 

He nods. “Might as well, right?” 

“Right.” 

They link arms, Sharon on one side of him and Natasha on the other.

Sharon speaks first. “You gonna talk about it or are we just supposed to keep guessing till she moves off for college in August?” 

Ahead of them, Peggy and Steve are holding hands, and Sam’s telling a story, clearly, because he’s using both hands to gesticulate wildly, which Bucky knows so well after having been on the receiving end of his friend’s overzealous memories for years, and Steve is as enraptured with Sam as he is with Peggy right next to him and Bucky is beguiled. 

How could he ever hope to take that simple joy away?

Bucky grins, and it isn’t even fake. “Nope.”

She hums. “That’s fine. I like winging how to act around my friends.” 

“You already know, anyway. I don’t see the point in having to explain it.” 

“But we don’t know, James.” That’s Natasha, and she’s got that placating tone that he’s heard her use more than he wishes. “How can we know, when you don’t talk to us about it and just expect us to be aware of what’s going on inside of that empty brain of yours?” She laughs, and Bucky and Sharon do, too. “I’m here for you, James. We’re here for you. It’s a shame I have to remind you of that.” 

He shakes his head. “I know—"

She starts to open her mouth, but he’s not having it. 

“No. I know, Nata. I know. But I think this is something that I gotta deal with myself. When I get it all figured out? Maybe I’ll talk about it then.” 

Sharon makes a noise and pinches Bucky’s flank; he makes a noise, a squeal, in turn, and Steve looks over his shoulder and meets Bucky’s eyes for a moment and he smiles, all fucking bright and sunshine, when he sees Bucky and Natasha and Sharon wrapped around one another. 

Bucky raises a brow; Steve’s smile grows and he shakes his head and turns back around and grips Peggy a little closer. 

Sharon sighs. "The thing is, James? You don’t have to.” She leans her head on his shoulder. “Deal with anything alone, I mean. Isn’t that what you told Steve when his father died?” 

Bucky frowns. “You can’t use my own words on me.” 

She gives him a look. Bucky’s seen that look plenty of times on his own mother and Sarah Rogers to know that his best plan of action is to just lay down and let somebody else take over. 

“You love him.”

Bucky chuckles. “We all do.” 

Natasha grumbles. “You’re in love with him.” Sharon nods in agreement. Bucky feels attacked. 

Bucky shakes his head once again; they’ve got it wrong. Bucky isn’t in love with Steve—Peggy’s in love with Steve and Steve’s in love with Peggy, but, no, Bucky is not in love with Steve. Steve’s dick, maybe, and how fucking nice it is to wake up with Steve’s warmth wrapped around him, but that’s no different from waking up to Sam cooking breakfast or Natasha driving any vehicle but hers or Sharon sneaking him Springsteen records before they’re set to launch, and Bucky doesn’t reckon the school parking lot is the right place to be delving into that kind of conversation. 

“He loves her.”

“Maybe.” Sharon shrugs. “I think he might, if given a little bit more time.” Bucky sometimes forgets that her and Peggy are cousins—now, though, he can’t get it out of his head. They’re so different. “He loves you too, though.”

“How can he?” 

Natasha tilts her head, lays it against his shoulder like Sharon. “James, the human heart is very large and very strange. And we all know that Steve Rogers has always had a heart bigger than most, even before he hit that growth spurt.” She pulls away, then, and turns her face to look up at Bucky: her eyes are green like the creek behind Steve’s house that they all four learned to swim in and Bucky wants to drown himself in their depths if only to be able to see things the way she does. “What makes you think he’s not got room enough in his heart for two?” 

Bucky opens his mouth to say something—anything that would help to close the sudden gaping wound he’s got now that her words have splayed his heart apart—but before he can there’s somebody calling out for them ahead and his attention is pulled away. 

It’s Rumlow. 

Brock Rumlow is that piece of shit kid that peaks in high school and doesn’t make anything out of himself after he’s graduated; instead, he’ll sit in that trailer park his father owns for the rest of his life, drinking cheap beer and throwing the cans off somewhere that he makes the kids he didn’t want pick up in hopes that they get some affection. Bucky’s seen enough of men like Brock Rumlow to know exactly what kind of person he’ll grow in to. 

At Rumlow’s side is Jack Rollins; they’re cousins, the two of them, and they’re the asshole kids you turn around and walk away from on the street. He’s not as bad as Rumlow, really—he’ll just steal you blind and key your car, probably, and nobody’ll do a goddamn thing because his daddy’s on the school board. 

Steve, Peggy, and Sam stop; Bucky and Natasha and Sharon are quick to come and stand beside the three of them. 

Rumlow sneers, and he’s got too nice of a face to be the kind of asshole that he is. He hands Bucky and Steve and Sam a piece of paper. It’s Rollins that explains, though. “Pierce wants us all to sign that and have it on his desk by the end of the day. No later.” 

“The fuck is it?” 

Sam sighs. “Jamie, just don’t,” he says, warm and doting. 

Bucky loves that name, loves that Sam’s the only one who uses it, and how fond he is whenever he does, too, but he decidedly doesn’t like the way Rumlow jeers with a taunting curve of his mouth at it because, for some reason, it gets on Rumlow’s nerves, the fact that Bucky’s got several names, and, in turn, makes Bucky prickle since it’s nobody’s fucking business. 

He’s Barnes to his teammates and coaches and teachers and students even though there’s another Barnes and that’s his twin sister Rebecca (who’s graduating today, actually, and Bucky and Steve should walk across the football field with her later this evening but Steve got sick five years ago and had to repeat a grade and, by God, Bucky threw a fit to be pulled back, too); he’s Jimmy to his family; he’s Junior to any old man he’s introduced to. He’s Jamie to Sam, and he’s James to Natasha and Sharon, and he’s Bucky to Steve. 

He’s all of those, put together. And Rumlow pisses every one of them off.
Bucky unfolds the paper and reads along in his head while Steve’s voice rings out aloud. 

“‘As a current or future member of the SHIELD football team in the upcoming season of eighty-five-eight-six, I hereby pledge that I will not partake in any illegal or morally fallacious activities this summer, including but not limited to the consumption of alcohol, the use of narcotics, the attendance of parties or gatherings after twelve am...’” 

He trails off, but Bucky’s still reading. There’s something about not driving fast, not getting in trouble with the law, not staying out later than midnight during the week or one am during the weekends; there’s a sentence or two about refraining from premarital sex that makes Bucky’s mouth twist into a morbid smirk because if only they knew. 

It’s Sam who addresses the two assholes, thank God. “Thanks. We’ll get it to him soon.” 

“By the end of the day.” 

Steve raises his gaze from the paper he’s got tightly clutched in his hand; he gives Rumlow a look that could cut glass and Bucky inwardly winces because he knows that today’s already going to wear on him long after it’s over. 

“Okay,” Steve says, and it’s just pure steel. 

They walk off then, and they’re silent the rest of the way, contemplating this sudden urge to be on their best behavior. Inside the big gray doors of the school, the winding hallways are empty and quiet and they part ways; Peggy and Sam head off to the right, toward English at the end of the hall, and they leave with a wave from Sam and a kiss pressed to each of their cheeks from Peggy. 

The class Bucky shares with Natasha and Sharon is down the corridor in from of them. Sharon flicks Steve on the back of the head as a way of saying goodbye and heads off toward history, and Natasha kisses Bucky’s cheek because he’s her favorite. It’s just Bucky and Steve now. 

“Can you believe this shit, Buck? No drinking, no parties, no drugs, no sex? It’s like they’re tryin’ to—trying to control us or something. Trying to make us into something... something else.” 

Bucky crosses his arms over his chest and smiles at how flustered Steve is. “You’ve got a way with words there, Stevie,” he teases, and he gets a bark of laughter out of Steve and the tension on his face eases out just a bit. “You keep going and you’ll have me swooning.” 

“Can make you swoon with a lot less than pretty words.” He rolls his eyes and holds the paper neatly, putting it in the pocket on his left breast. “What are you going to do?” 

“About the paper?” At the question, Steve nods, and Bucky shrugs. He’s never had much of a problem of letting things roll off his shoulders and slide off his back—in fact, Steve’s the one who’s always itching for a fight, and Bucky’s never not standing behind him and waiting to help Steve finish whatever fit he’s throwing. “I don’t know. I’ll probably sign it just to get them off my ass. Doesn’t really mean much of anything to me.” 

Bucky’s a good kid. He thinks he’s a good kid, at least. He likes to drink, he likes to have sex, and he likes football. It’s not his life, by no means, because being good at football isn’t going to get him in the good graces of vet school, and, also, it’s not Steve or Sam’s life, either, who’ve both decided their careers already, too. Bucky doesn’t see the problem with signing the paper for the reason of getting Pierce off his ass, like he said, because he’s never been much of a partier, and tends to like things better the more private they are. Sam’s the same way, too. 

But Steve? God. Steve. 

“It isn’t fair, Buck,” Steve reiterates, and Bucky wishes he would’ve said fuck it and just gone back to sleep after Natasha woke him up—and then he gets pissed off because he knows Steve wouldn’t have let him skip even if it is the last day of the school year. “They can’t do that to us. They can’t try to take away the things that make us autonomous human beings just ‘cause they want to have another winning season next fall.” 

“Autonomous.” Bucky whistles. “That’s a big word for an artist.” Steve gives him a ruffled, soft grin. 

“Watch your mouth there, Bucky.” 

Bucky tips his chin up. “Or what?” 

Steve steps forward. One quick look around shows that they’re alone; Rumlow and Rollins are still outside dicking around, but Bucky and Steve are at an angle and can’t be seen through the skinny glass windows on the big gray doors. 

Bucky reaches up and wipes at Steve’s lips, taking off the red smear. “Peggy left some of her lipstick on you,” he says, quietly, as he continues to rub at the corner of Steve’s mouth. “You look absolutely defiled.” 

“Did she?” Steve feigns detached amusement and his tepid grin just grows. Bucky loves all of Steve’s grins. “A good color?” 

“On you? Always.” Bucky smiles, too, but he just can’t quite make himself meet Steve’s eyes at the moment. “You’re going to make a big deal out of it, aren’t you?” 

Steve nods, says, “Oh, yeah,” with more than a little bit of solid attitude, and it’s then that Bucky looks into his eyes, and they’re a blaze of bright blue fire that’s so goddamn fierce it’s a wonder nobody’s burned from it before. Bucky doesn’t think he would much mind if he got a bit scorched, though. 

Bucky exhales and hangs his head. Steve Rogers and his authoritative complex is going to be the death of him. 

“Take it easy, okay?” 

“No promises.” Bucky glares; Steve acquiesces, impishly. “I’ll see you third hour?” 

Bucky shrugs. “Maybe,” he says, but he’s grinning, and so’s Steve.

-

Peggy knows. About Bucky, that is, and that he and Steve fall in with one another at least once a month to fuck themselves silly, and have been long before she became the sparkle of Steve’s pretty blue eyes. Of course she knows—Steve Rogers can’t keep a lie from somebody that he loves, and he loves her and he loves Bucky, too. 

She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care much, at least. Bucky’s never sat down and explicitly, word for word, asked her how she feels about him and Steve, and that he gets to touch Steve the way she does, sometimes, but he’s seen the way she looks at him, at him and Steve when they’re together, being who they are—which is so fucking hard to describe because they’re their own people, yes, but they’re also so much of each other that it’s easier to go with the flow of their shared attributes than attempt to dissect their intertwined personalities—and she’s always got this adoring, attentive kind of smile on her pretty mouth that leads Bucky to rationalize that she’s okay with it. 

With him and Steve, that is. He can only return the favor. 

And, besides, Rebecca may have been the one that convinced Steve to finally “let his balls drop far enough” to ask Peggy to go to the movies with him a few months ago after she got wind that Peggy was a little sweet on Steve, but it’s Bucky who’s been listening to Steve absolutely fawn over Peggy ever since they started high school three years ago and has had plenty of time to brace himself against the inevitable climax of his life: Steve losing interest in him as the one person who he wants to be next to forever and finding a good girl to pass that role on to. 

But. It didn’t happen like that. 

Steve took Bucky by the hand, kissed him hard on the mouth after he sucked Bucky for all he was worth, and told him that he was going to ask Peggy out. Bucky said okay, because it’s not his decision to be making, and, really, it was okay. Because, at that moment, Bucky had Steve for a long, long time—over a year and a half. Longer than that, too, since they’ve been in each other’s back pockets since they were two years old. And, sure, they weren’t each other’s first, and they weren’t exclusive to one another, but Bucky still had a little bit of Steve that nobody else ever would, and that’s his complete loyalty and glorification and earnest respect, and that was more than enough because it’s more than he thought he would have. 

Bucky thought it would end. The thing the two of them have with one another. It’s not a relationship, and neither of them have ever been partial to labels; Bucky’s fucked his fair share of women and men since he was fifteen, and Steve leans more toward the former than the latter but he had a cock in his mouth before Bucky’s, and neither one of them have truly considered themselves to have been one-half of a romantic relationship before. He thought it ran its course and was now over.

He was wrong. 

Because that night, after Steve dropped Peggy off at her house, he came and snatched Bucky up out the bed they’ve come to share through the years and talked Bucky into taking a walk down to the creek that’s behind Steve’s house. It was still a little cold for March, just a few days after Bucky’s eighteenth birthday, but Steve’s fearless and Bucky’s loyal to a fault and the two of them stripped bare and swam for hours and hours and hours—till Bucky’s lips were blue and Steve’s eyelashes were spiked and they couldn’t kiss because they couldn’t stop laughing. 

And that’s how it’s been ever since. Bucky and Peggy share Steve; they don’t step on each other’s toes, don’t complain or harass or whine for more of this or that—they let Steve decide when to come and when to go, because he’s the common denominator, and Bucky assumes that Steve talks enough for all three of them since this strange kind of relationship is working as well as it is. 

People talk, though. They talk about how Steve drops Peggy off at night sometimes; they gossip welcomingly of the sheriff’s daughter making time with the town’s favorite son and what that could mean for their futures. 

And then they spit and spat about the fact that Bucky all but lives with Steve, has moved nearly all of his belongings into that big room in the farmhouse that feels like home, and what it means when they catch a glimpse of the two of them feeling each other up outside of the diner or after a game next to the locker rooms or between the towering shelves at the library while they’re on the clock. 

People talk, and people are heard, too. Bucky just shrugs it off; yeah, he’s bisexual, sees absolutely nothing wrong with falling into bed with somebody that’s the same sex as him and has Elton John’s 1976 interview with Rolling Stone tacked up on the wall in Steve’s bedroom, which brings a smile to both of their lips, and no, he doesn’t fucking care what people have to say. 

Steve blushes when he hears whatever’s being said. Peggy shakes her head and deflects like the good sheriff’s daughter that she is (Bucky can’t wait to see her paint Capitol Hill absolutely fucking red). Natasha tells everybody to mind their fucking business, Sam rolls his eyes and sighs because “Steve’s got two people falling at his feet and I can’t even get a second date with the cute girl in the office”, and Sharon never knows what to say because she doesn’t care what others think. 

Bucky thinks Natasha’s probably right. It’s nobody’s goddamn business.

-

It’s second hour, and it’s art. Steve’s already rushed out and headed toward the other end of the school for wood shop, but Bucky shares this period with Peggy. She catches him outside the door, and her lips are red and pretty and her blue dress makes her look like she’s royalty. 

“Steve asked me to tell you to meet him on the field,” she says as she catches his arm. Her touch is light, and she smells like vanilla and honey and woman and a little bit of Steve, too, crisp and clean. 

He raises a brow. “After this hour?” 

Peggy nods. There’s a lot of emotions on her face, but known of them are negative or upset, as far as Bucky can perceive. He assumes it’s mostly nostalgia and faded excitement for her last day of high school, and he can’t blame her for feeling a bit saddened at the fact that she’ll never be here again after today. 

“He say what for?” 

She smiles and shakes her head. “Now, Barnes, doesn’t it break some sort of rule if he were to share his plans for you with me?” 

“There’s rules?”

Peggy’s smile grows, and it’s kind and beaming. “Unspoken rules, but rules nonetheless.” She lets go of his bicep and reaches up to smooth his hair off his forehead; it’s growing out now that the season’s over, and it’s just reaching the top of his shoulders and more often than not it’s hanging over in his face. He likes it too much to trim it, though, and he usually has sunglasses holding it back. “Don’t leave our boy waiting, okay?” 

He returns her smile with a toothy grin of his own. “Now, why would I do that?” 

They laugh and enter the classroom together; it’s big and cold, and there’s paint splattered all over the floor and the windows are letting in the warm sunlight. Peggy moves to sit next to Carol and Maria and Rhodey, parting with a gentle kiss to Bucky’s temple because that’s just Peggy fucking Carter, okay, and he wobbles toward the back table where the boys are waiting for him. 

Dum Dum’s sleeping, Gabe’s got a stack of paper that he’s drawing obscene images on, Dernier is eating an entire plate of spaghetti that he got from some place or another, Morita picking at a ball of lint rolled up in the stitchings of the knee of his jeans, and Monty’s looking at the scene with a mix of awe and disgust. 

Bucky sits down, startling Dum Dum awake which, in turn, nearly causes Dernier to choke on a mouth full of food, and all six of them start bickering immediately. 

-

In the end, Bucky doesn’t have to meet Steve on the field because Steve’s waiting outside the classroom for him already, and he’s got a crooked grin on his mouth that Bucky wants to kiss off. He can’t, though—not because he’s ashamed of openly showing affection with another man, but because he’s rather private and already has to share Steve with somebody else. He doesn’t want to have to share their touches, too. 

Steve grabs him by the hand after waving at Peggy, and then they’re off. The school is big, long and winding, and the corridors make no fucking sense because there’s one hallway that’s all windows and then another that’s nothing but lockers; they maneuver through groups of students, and then they’re escaping out the back and heading toward the field. 

It’s not a long walk. The faculty and staff park at the back of the building; they wind through the cars, and it doesn’t take long for them to slip through a tear in the chainlink fence around the football stadium. On either side of the dark green field are rows of white metal bleachers; they’re hot and bright, reflecting the light of the sun, and Steve keeps a tight hold on Bucky’s hand as he drags Bucky toward the guest’s student section. It’s the only place that has a proper shade at the moment and, luckily for them, is hidden on one side by the red brick concession building and the tunnel to the guest locker rooms on the other. 

“Steve?” Bucky’s breathless from running and laughing, and maybe it’s Steve’s constant smile, too, that’s got him weak in the lungs. “What are you doing?” 

Steve doesn’t answer. He grabs Bucky by the hips after dropping his hand and pushes him, gently, against the bulge of the tunnel. He hums. “Are you okay with this?” 

“Skipping third hour? God, Steve, of course. I hate speech.”

Steve giggles—that’s the only word for it. The noise absolutely floors Bucky. “That, too, but, I mean—this.” 

Bucky tilts his head to the side; there’s a tentative smile that’s twitching at the corners of his mouth as he drapes his arms over Steve’s shoulders, curling his fingers in the soft tufts of Steve’s hair at the base of his neck. He knows what Steve’s asking without actually asking, but he wants to hear it, anyway. 

“What’s ‘this’?” 

“C’mon, Buck.” Steve groans and rolls his eyes but he buckles his knees and leans his chest against Bucky’s anyway. “I wanna skip speech and make out with you under the bleachers. You okay with that?” 

How could Bucky not be? 

He presses his mouth to Steve’s. Both their lips are chapped—Sam’s always got the windows down whenever they’re in the same vehicle—but they’re soft, at the same time, and Bucky slants his head, angles his nose just right, and licks his tongue out. Steve makes a noise, the kind that starts in the bottom of your throat and crawls out to be heard, and Bucky flicks his tongue again, and that drags a grin from Steve before he parts his lips and lets Bucky lick inside. 

Steve tastes like the gravy Sam made earlier and the metallic water from the fountains back in the school. Bucky’s tasted worse, so he just licks back and forth for a moment, swallowing the mewling noises Steve’s making that rumble in his chest and get caught up in his throat, and when Steve’s tongue shakily slides along to play Bucky can’t hold himself back and he’s falling forward fast. 

Steve laughs, muffled against Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky takes advantage of that slight deterrent and sucks Steve’s tongue between his lips. That knocks the amusement out of Steve quicker than anything, and Steve’s fingernails are digging into the fleshy bit of skin on Bucky’s hips as he jerks Bucky as close as he can without filling himself up inside with Steve’s body. His arms tighten around Steve’s neck and he swivels his hips a bit, jockeying their lower bodies so they’ve each got a thigh between their legs in the perfect position to grind against, and tilts his head back, kind of, and lets himself be kissed for all he’s worth. 

It feels good, all fire and heat and sparks, and Steve’s scent is like pure sunshine—dusty and ancient and warm. 

Steve pulls back to take a breath; there’s a line of spit that hangs between them and it breaks apart and falls onto Bucky’s chin. Steve watches it, and Bucky can see that he wants to lick it off. He doesn’t, and Bucky grins. 

“Thought for sure you’d be tired of me after last night,” Bucky muses, titling his head back against the wall. Steve leans in and noses along Bucky’s throat, sniffing hard and pressing butterfly soft kisses to the warm skin there. Bucky hums. “And this morning, too.” 

“Get tired of you? Never.” Steve speaks into Bucky’s throat; he feels the words against his skin and they’re imbedded like a permanent tattoo and they feel like he’s just gotten knocked off his ass by Dum Dum. “You make me happy.” 

Bucky snorts. “I make your dick happy.” 

Steve shrugs—there’s no use in arguing that because both of them are sporting semis and they’ve only been kissing for a few minutes. He’s still got his face pressed into Bucky’s throat, and now he’s nudging along at Bucky’s collarbone after pulling the lapels on Bucky’s shirt to the side. It feels good: Steve’s got a bit of prickly hair that he missed while shaving this morning that scratches along Bucky’s skin but the slight burn is kissed away and it’s a repetitive touch that has Bucky swooning. 

“That too, yeah.” Steve leans back, then, and he’s smiling—he’s always smiling, but today it’s almost like he hasn’t stopped; that thought makes Bucky gooey—and takes one hand off Bucky’s hips to run it through his hair like Peggy did earlier. “But you make my heart happy, too, and that’s why I can’t get enough of you.” 

Bucky kisses the sweet smile off Steve’s lips and cradles Steve’s face in his hands. “You’re such a fucking sap, Stevie,” he says against Steve’s mouth. Steve nips at Bucky’s lips. It stings, but it feels nice, and especially when Steve undoes the buttons of Bucky’s shirt far enough to get his hand inside and across Bucky’s chest. 

“I make your heart beat, too,” Steve reflects dreamily and he’s not wrong because Bucky’s heart has a mind of its own and it’s pounding like a freight train in his chest. “You can’t get enough of me, either, can you?” 

Fuck. 

Bucky kisses Steve again and lets Steve lick all over his mouth. 

Steve moves away, breathless. “God, Buck, I—” 

Bucky kisses the hell out of him again because that’s easier than handling the juxtaposing emotions and feelings. “Stop trying to sweet-talk me by being a gentleman, Rogers—I’m gonna put out for you without that shit.” 

“But Bucky—”

Stevie. 

Steve sighs, and there’s a flicker of something stormy in his pretty blue eyes, but he does what Bucky says, anyway. 

-

Rumlow and Rollins meet them after they’ve got themselves mostly put back together. 

It’s lunch, and the school isn’t an open campus but it’s also not a closed campus, and most of the time they meet with the others in the parking lot to decide who’s going where with who to grab a bite to eat. Bucky’s got his keys in his pocket, and he and Steve are on their way to his car to wait for Natasha and Sam and Sharon and Peggy when Rumlow calls out to him. 

“You two up for visiting the middle school?” 

Bucky sighs and leans his head forward. He forgot that the last day of school usually means that the junior football players—who are the upcoming seniors—take it upon themselves to “break in” the approaching freshman boys. It happened to Bucky when he was fifteen; he remembers getting his ass paddled by the bigger kids and he swore then that he would never do it when it was his time. 

That still hasn’t changed. 

“I’m not going with you to threaten those kids, man. That’s fucked and I’d rather spend my lunch period at the diner.” 

Steve gnaws on his bottom lip—it’s red and pink and kiss-bruised—and shrugs after a tense moment. “I’ll go,” he says, but he’s looking at Bucky. “Not really that hungry, anyway.” His smile is wilting like an old flower left in a vase without water for too long. 

Rollins makes a positive noise and nods and pivots on his heel; over his shoulder, he calls, “Ride with us, Rogers,” and he’s off toward the dark purple Mustang that’s parked a few rows away. 

Bucky sighs. “Steve.”

Steve shrugs. “Somebody’s gotta make sure these fuckers don’t hurt those kids, Buck.” 

“And it’s gotta be you, huh?” 

“Who else is it going to be?” Steve’s smile is kind of sad and kind of soft, and he pats Bucky on the shoulder as he turns and heads off after Rollins. 

Bucky stares after him. Steve’s a late bloomer, didn’t hit puberty till a few years ago when he was sixteen, which is fine, but since then he’s turned from a thin-waisted boy into a broad-shouldered young man and grown several inches, as well. It was almost overnight, really, and since then Steve’s been nothing more to this town than a football star. 

Steve’s more than the heir to a fucking football legacy, though. He’s a big and bad football player that always has extra pencils stuffed in his locker for the underclassman; he still likes art, in every form, and running through the fields and swimming in the creek behind his house and yeah, his birthday’s on the fourth of July but he fucking hates the noise of fireworks but he likes the vibrations (and so he and Bucky tend to watch them from on top of the water tower and Steve’s always sitting between Bucky’s legs, back to Bucky’s chest no matter how big or small he is, and Bucky holds his hands over Steve’s ears even though he’s fairly sure it does nothing to fend off the noise). He still likes Buddy Holly more than Springsteen, which is a travesty, and he still stands up for the little guy because he used to be a little guy, and his heart has only grown since he was a kid. He still laughs at stupid jokes and wakes Bucky up early for no reason other than to have somebody to talk to and he still likes lemon in his tea. 

Steve Rogers. He’s a big, bold name in the town, in the school. But Bucky’s Steve, who sits on the porch of the farmhouse and eats peach cobbler, is only as large as life. He’s not all brawn and thick-headedness. He’s warm, always, and welcoming to a fault, and he laughs easy and always has a smile whenever somebody needs it and he’s got a heart made out of sunshine. He’s just a regular guy. 

He’s still Steve. He’s still Bucky’s Steve. And he’ll never be the Steve that this town wants him to be. 

“Why do you look at him like that?” 

Bucky’s shaken from his thoughts. He looks over and sees that Rumlow is still standing there, off to the side; his face is open and his brows are knitted and he’s got his hands stuffed in his pockets. 

Bucky doesn’t need to ask what Rumlow means by that question because he knows just how he looks at Steve—like he never wants to stop, like he’s the earth that’s finally found his eternal sun. 

“What’s it matter to you?” 

Rumlow shrugs. “I’m just curious, is all,” he replies, and he’s not lying. Rumlow’s a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them, and yeah, he’s a jackass, but he’s not that kind of a jackass—the kind that makes fun of boys who go with boys or girls who go with girls. Bucky’s seen Rumlow flatten a linebacker from a rival team for saying some shit about Pietro. Bucky doesn’t like Rumlow, but he’s not worried about Rumlow thinking any less or any more of him for having a place at Steve’s side. “I get it. You’re everything that Peggy’s not.” 

“Watch your fucking mouth, Rumlow.” 

“No.” Rumlow shakes his head. “Not like—I mean, God, Barnes. Can’t you see it? He looks at you the same way. Like you two make each other whole.” 

Bucky sighs and pinches his nose. He sees Natasha and Sam and Sharon and Peggy coming over and he’s thankful because he’s very much tired of people telling him about his (lack of) relationship with Steve. It’s still early in the day, barely noon, and he’s got entirely too much to focus on and, dammit, contemplating what he and Steve are to one another should not be high on that list. “Anything else you wanna say, Brock?”

Rumlow hums, pensive. “You know anything about that dent in my door?”

Bucky barks out a laugh that hurts his throat. “Ain’t got a damn clue, man.” 

-

Steve’s waiting by the entrance of the school when Bucky and the others get back from the diner. He’s leaning against the door, and he’s got his arms crossed, and Bucky hates how fucking hot he looks in that wrinkled, over-washed gray shirt because he’s kind of overwhelmed at the tamed savagery of his feelings for Steve and Steve looking so good in his clothes isn’t helping matters any. 

Bucky slants his head in silent question. Steve just shakes his head. 

Peggy tilts up on her tiptoes to press a quick kiss to Steve’s mouth in greeting; Natasha nods and Sharon offers her hand for their weird sort of handshake they’ve had since middle school. The girls make their way inside after saying their goodbyes, but Sam waits with Bucky in front of Steve. They’ve got fifth hour—biology, with (Colonel) Phillips—together, so they might as well go with one another. 

“How’d it go?” Sam asks. 

Steve sighs. “D’you know that the only thing those fuckers talked about was how I needed to sign that goddamn piece of paper by the end of the day?” Steve’s furious: his nostrils are flared and his throat is kind of red and he looks hot to the touch. “It was ‘Pierce this’ and ‘Pierce that’ and if I was going to have it signed and put on his desk by the end of the day.” 

“How big of a deal did you make?”

Sam eyes Bucky from his peripheral. “You really gotta ask that question, Jamie?” 

Steve’s shoulders deflate, suddenly, and he slumps forward; he grabs Bucky by the hip and reels him in just a little bit closer, till they’re nearly touching, and drops his head against Bucky’s chest. He looks so small like this—smaller than he used to be, that is. 

He wasn’t small then, though. Not really. In Bucky’s heart, Steve’s never been small. 

“That bad, huh?” Bucky runs his fingers through Steve’s thick hair. Sam just shakes his head. “You could always just sign it like the rest of us.” 

“You know I can’t do that, Buck.” 

“‘Course you can.” It’s Sam, and his voice is a whole lot more chipper about the situation than he outright looks. “It doesn’t mean anything, not really. We’re still gonna party, and we’re still gonna drink, and you two are still gonna fuck.” 

Bucky laughs, and Steve does, too. 

“It’s not even that, you know?” Steve takes his head away from Bucky and looks at Sam. “It’s like—football isn’t everything to me. I like it just fine, right? I’m good at it, I’m great at it; it’s what’s expected of me. I don’t hate it, but I know that it’s never going to be anything more to me than a damn game.” 

“Steve.” 

“But I can’t quit. I can’t quit because quitting would let this whole town and the team down, and I can’t do that. Football’s just a goddamn game but the way it makes people feel is a whole lot more important than a dusty golden trophy in a case. And if I take that away from them, I don’t know what’ll happen.” He shakes his head, lightly. “But I can’t sign that paper. I won’t sign that paper. Signing that paper means I’m okay with letting people control me and others, and I just—that’s not who I am.” 

“Of course it’s not,” Bucky soothes, and he’s got a tight grip on Steve’s shoulders to ground him. Steve’s never been one to roll over and let authority scratch his belly like he’s a placated dog—Steve’s the dog that jumps the fence and chases the authority off for even thinking about coming into his territory. “You’re the kid that never runs from a fight, even when you should.” 

“Are you saying I should run away from this?” 

Bucky shakes his head, but it’s Sam that says, “Nah, that’s not what we’re saying at all. You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, and me and Jamie? You know we’re gonna back you the entire time.” 

“You sound like you’d follow me into war.” 

Sam chuckles. “Every time I step out of your house with you, it’s a war, Rogers. It’s a shame you haven’t realized that yet.” 

Bucky hums, preoccupied. “What’d those assholes say to you, Stevie?” Steve’s usually not this forthcoming with what’s eating him up inside, and Bucky knows the effect that Rumlow and Rollins can have on you after you’ve been at their mercy for a little too long. He’s worried, and he needs to know what’s going on so he can formulate how to take care of it. 

Steve looks at Bucky and his pretty blue eyes are glassy. He opens his mouth to answer the question, but before he can there’s a loud holler of, “Boys!” that cuts off whatever it is he was going to say. 

As a whole, the three of them turn and see that Sitwell, the assistant coach, and Pierce are in the parking lot. Sitwell’s the one that called out to them, and he hurries up the concrete steps. His glasses are askew and he’s got a line of sweat on his temple. 

“What’re you boys planning this evening?” he asks, and he’s feigning nonchalance but Sitwell’s a pussy and Bucky knows his question isn’t just to make conversation. 

“It’s a surprise,” Sam answers with an easy, fake grin, and it’s not technically a lie. There’s supposed to be a party, but there’s no solid details yet 

Sitwell purses his lips but doesn’t comment on the vagueness of his answer. “Don’t go into summer thinking that you’re not going to have to put some work in—the three of you are the most important players on the team, and you’ve all got too much leaning on your shoulders to let a party or two take your futures away.” 

Bucky wonders if Sitwell came up with that himself or if Pierce made him practice beforehand. “Yes, sir,” Bucky acknowledges Sitwell with a wry, crooked grin. 

“Good. Don’t forget to sign that paper and have it on Pierce’s desk by the end of the day, either.” Sitwell beams, but it’s forced and he’s looking directly at Steve. Steve bristles and Sam’s hackles raise, too. “See you boys in July!” And then he’s gone, bounding back down the steps toward Pierce, and Bucky lets out a sigh of relief. 

But it doesn’t last long. 

Because then Pierce is calling out, “Barnes!” and Bucky’s got his hand on Steve’s bicep and he feels the way the muscle flexes at the tone that was used on him. Steve’s a protective asshole, and Pierce has always had a strange obsession with Bucky. It rubs all three of them wrong way. 

“Yes, Coach?” 

“You’re in need of a serious attitude adjustment before next season,” Pierce says, and he’s pointing at Bucky like his finger’s the barrel of a gun and his words are the trigger. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that group of friends you and Rogers have been hanging out with.” Bucky thinks, What group?, and realizes Pierce is talking about Natasha and Sharon and Wanda and Pietro and T’Challa like they’re a disease. “You sign that paper, you and Rogers, and have it on my desk by the end of the day. Not any later or you’ll be off the team.” 

Steve snorts and Bucky tries not to grin so hard it’ll break his lips. There’s no way in hell Pierce will cut them; Bucky’s not worried at all because he knows the kind of chain reaction Steve boycotting Pierce’s attempt at controlling them will send through the team. 

Steve pats his breast pocket, where the paper is folded and unsigned. “Yes, sir.” 

Pierce nods, once. “Keep them in line, Wilson.” 

Sam gives a sloppy salute and nods, as if he’s going to be enough to keep Bucky from doing something he doesn’t want to do let alone Steve friggin’ Rogers, the biggest headache in the world; Pierce and Sitwell wander off after that, and once they’re out of earshot Steve starts cussing and Bucky starts sighing and Sam starts laughing so hard it’s a wonder he’s not keeled over yet. 

Bucky looks at Steve, sees that flame in his eyes that lights him up inside. He’s still not over what Rumlow and Rollins said, that’s for sure, but he’s more himself than he was earlier, and that’s all Bucky can ask for. 

“You’re not going to sign that paper, Steve, are you?” 

“Nope,” Steve says and shakes his head, and Bucky thinks that maybe Steve’s made of stardust, maybe that’s why he shines so fucking bright and why Bucky can never look away. 

-

The rest of the day passes with relative ease. Geography is interesting, as it always is, what with Wanda sitting beside him and never shutting up, and shop leaves him smelling like oil with a burn on the fingertips of his entire left hand because some freshman almost caught the whole place on fire; last hour is athletics, and, seeing as the season is over and practice won’t pick back up again until mid-July, Bucky decides to leave an hour early with Sam and T’Challa so the three of them can pick up Shuri and her friends on their last day of middle school. 

She’s fourteen now, an incoming freshman; T’Challa doesn’t have to worry about any hazing—the cheerleaders tend to only go after the kids that plan to join the squad in high school and Shuri has made it quite adamant that she won’t be—but discovering how feral and dangerous small-town rituals are have turned T’Challa’s stomach and he’s refused to join in with the football team for obvious reasons and has obdurately discussed with the school board how vile such “traditions” are. 

Did they listen to him? No, of course not. He’s a black man, and it’s 1985—the people in charge tend not to listen when change needs to be made. 

They pull up to the middle school in no time; it’s only a five minute drive from the high school, after all. It’s one large red brick building: it’s tall, five stories, and long and wide, and when Bucky was in there it smelled like wet walls and faint acrid smoke that lingered after a fire that caught a few years before he came in. He doesn’t think much has changed in three years, if what Shuri and her overactive friends say can be taken as truth. 

“You don’t think they’ll hurt the kids much, do you?” T’Challa asks once they’re parked and waiting; they’ve still got a few minutes before class lets go so there’s not many vehicles sitting out front waiting on other kids. 

Sam, who’s in the front beside Bucky, shrugs his shoulders. “I hope not,” he answers, and Bucky nods his agreement as he tentatively touches at the little burns on his fingers. “Steve’s gonna be with the team so he can make sure nothing gets too out of hand, and I don’t think Dum Dum or Monty will let him do that alone.” 

“And you trust Steve that much?” 

Bucky meets T’Challa’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Steve’s a one-man army, T’Challa.” He smiles and hopes it’s enough to help smooth the tension that’s got T’Challa’s shoulders clearly strained. It isn’t, but Bucky can’t blame T’Challa, really—everybody knows he and Steve are best friends that fuck each other occasionally; of course his opinion of Steve is biased. “I trust nobody more to keep the team in line than Steve.” 

T’Challa opens his mouth to reply, but before he can he’s interrupted by the door opening. Shuri climbs in, scoots over her brother’s lap—and then another kid is crawling in, too, and it’s Peter (“That kid’s a problem, Jamie, I don’t know why you continue to buy him those juice boxes.”) and Ned and MJ are suddenly inside, as well, and Bucky’s confused as fuck. 

“Uh...” 

Peter maneuvers so he’s sitting on T’Challa’s right leg; Shuri’s on the other, and on either side are Ned and MJ. T’Challa’s completely hidden except for his shoulders, and Bucky wants to laugh but he doesn’t think this situation calls for mirth because of the panicked looks on all of the kids’ faces. 

“Okay.” Sam’s spun in his seat and is now looking at the clusterfuck in the back with wide, interested eyes. “What the fuck is going on?” 

“And why are you all in my car?” It’s not like it’s big enough for three rather large eighteen-year- olds and four bratty kids. 

Shuri lifts her chin defiantly, as if she’s preparing to fight. “They’re going to paddle Ned and Peter.” 

Bucky blinks. “Well, yeah,” he says, frowning. “Steve’s going to be there with them after school to make sure it doesn’t get too bad.” 

“No.” Shuri is feisty and she’ll not be talked over. Bucky knows that. “They’re going to take Ned and Peter and paddle them for no reason.” 

Bucky hurries to find T’Challa’s eyes. There’s a look in them that’s like molten steel, and Bucky’s reminded of the sparkle in Steve’s eyes when Bucky watched him walk off with Rumlow and Rollins. 

“There’s a—” 

“Being a freshman isn’t a good reason to have your ass paddled,” MJ interrupts, and she’s got a bored expression on her face but she’s just as obstinate as Shuri. “That’s not fair, and I know you know it. Doesn’t matter if it’s some God-awful tradition.” 

“And for what?” Shuri interjects, and she’s spitting mad. “Because they’re going to play sports?” 

“It’s wrong, and nobody’s going to touch Peter or Ned without going through me and Shuri first.” 

T’Challa grunts, every much the protective older brother. Bucky thinks he understands that feeling; he’s got two younger sisters, Elizabeth and Carol Anne, and they look up to him like he hung the moon and placed the stars just for them. Those two snot-nosed, ruddy-cheeked brats mean the world to him, make his heart swell with love, and, yeah, they’re too young for Bucky to have to worry about hazing and initiations, only seven and nine (“and a half, Jimmy!”), and he’s never given it much thought before, but now he’s vibrating with anger at the indecency of such a stupid tradition at the idea of an older kid laying a finger on the two kids he would do absolutely anything for. 

“Then they’ll have to go through me, too,” T’Challa adds, and his tone just asks Bucky to intervene. 

Peter and Ned are both too spooked to get a word in, but the instant relief on their still-chubby faces is enough to make Bucky feel the bitter taste of regret in his mouth. He suffered the paddling when he was their age, yes, and he’s not really cared much for it ever since, but that doesn’t mean that these kids feel the same way as him. 

“Huh.” 

It’s Steve that’s always saying the world isn’t going to change unless people start caring about things that don’t affect them, and, well, Bucky reckons this is the best time as any to square his shoulders and tell this town to eat his ass. He’s never liked it much, anyway. 

Bucky blinks again, and a lot of things make sense all of a sudden. “You’re right,” he relents, and nods, and then he’s turning around and putting the car in drive and pulling away without a second thought to just what the fuck he’s doing. “Guess that means Sam and I got your backs, too.” 

Sam cracks his knuckles in a show of toughness but he’s got a lopsided smirk on his face that contradicts his actions. “I’ve always wanted to tell Rumlow and Rollins and the rest of their bunch to fuck off with their alpha male bullshit, anyway.” 

In the rearview mirror, MJ smiles and Shuri radiates pride and T’Challa gives Bucky a nod of gratitude. Peter and Ned stay quiet, but they’re both much more relaxed than they were just moments before and Bucky knows they were just as scared as them as they are of the other players. Bucky can’t blame them—there’s a lot of stereotypes about football players, and they’re more often true than false. 

As they’re leaving, Rumlow pulls in; Dum Dum, Gabe, Morita, Monty, and Dernier are in the back of the truck, hooping and hollering, but Bucky’s not worried about them going too far because of the tight reign Steve’s got on them. They respect Steve too much to let themselves go. 

Speaking of Steve—he’s in the passenger seat, arm out the window; he gives a weak wave and an even weaker smile at seeing everybody crammed into the cab of the car and Bucky returns the gestures and something hurts in his heart as he drives off and leaves Steve behind. They’ve always faced life together, side by side, problems and joys and all—Bucky isn’t sure why they’re doing it separately now. 

-

They arrive at the farmhouse a half hour later, after dropping the kids off. Natasha’s ruby red Mustang is gone, and that means Sharon’s probably with her, but Sarah Rogers’s dark green Pontiac is in the yard beside Steve’s cobalt pickup, having gotten off from work nearly an hour ago, and Sam’s cannery yellow Cougar is parked just off to the side. Sam and T’Challa hop out; neither bother with running in to see Steve or his mom, instead leaving Bucky to relay their goodbyes, and they climb into Sam’s car and peel off. 

Bucky has absolutely no clue what those two are planning, but he thinks it has something to do with Scott and Luis and that entourage of people. Either way, he doesn’t much care—Steve’s here, and it’s been a long day, and it’s only four-thirty and they’ve still got time before the graduation at seven and he kind of wants to relax and nap a little. 

Only he doesn’t get to. Of course he doesn’t get to. He’s Steve Rogers’s best friend—there’s no such thing as rest when you hold that title. 

Steve rushes out of the house with a radio in one hand and a jug of lemonade in the other; there’s two large towels tossed over his shoulder, and Bucky can just barely make out the tapes he’s got stuffed in his pockets. He greets Bucky with a wide, toothy grin, leaning forward to goad Bucky into a quick, sloppy and sugary kiss. 

His lips taste like lemons and tea, and Bucky loves it.

“Got any plans at the moment?” Steve asks after he’s got his fill of Bucky’s kisses. 

Bucky makes a contemplative face. “Uh, not that I know of.” They’ve all had to carve out their schedules to make room for the graduation tonight, so Bucky doesn’t feel the need to remind Steve that there’s only so much time they can waste. 

“Good.” Steve’s smiles are fucking blinding. Bucky doesn’t think Steve’s real but he thanks whatever higher power there is that he and Steve are alive at the same time. “Then you can come swimming with me.” 

“At the creek?” 

It’s a gorgeous place, really, the property. There’s over three hundred acres, and that’s quite a lot, and that’s complete with four pastures—one for cattle, two for haying in the summer when they want extra money, and the front pasture, which is where the house is. There’s a winding creek at the back of the property, just a few yards from the dense forest that separates this land from the neighbor’s, and it’s deep and shady and cool and the prettiest green that he’s ever seen. Kind of like Natasha’s eyes: bottomless, clear, and glorious. 

It’s one of Bucky’s favorite places. Steve knows that. 

He doesn’t allow himself the time to stop and contemplate this spur of the moment idea. He needs it after the first half of the day he had, and he isn’t going to ask questions. 

Steve nods. “Fixed the rope swing last week with Sharon and Nat, and the dock’s plenty sturdy now after Mom added a few more braces.” 

Bucky lets his mouth grow in to a big, joyous grin. “Lead the way, Stevie,” he says, lacing his fingers with Steve’s. 

-

For the record, they swim. They really do. 

Even if they’re only in the water for, like, fifty seconds—Bucky can’t help it because Steve is entirely too handsome; Steve seems to feel the same way about Bucky, too, because he offered no protesting—before they’re dragging each other out of the water and onto the dock that’s shaded by weeping willows on all sides that allow little slivers of yellow sun to sneak through. 

Bucky’s got Steve spread out on his knees on a pile of their clothes and the towels; he’s leaning over Steve’s back, both hands on Steve’s upper legs to hold his thighs together as he fucks his cock slickly, obscenely between them while Steve’s fisting his cock dry and pulling his foreskin back and slipping his fingernail just a little bit into the slit because he likes it like that, likes it absolutely dirty and near-degrading. 

Faintly, off to the side, Bad Company’s cutting through the static. Bucky reckons it makes the most sense, really. Feel Like Makin' Love and all. Even though this is just fucking. 

(It's not for Bucky, though. It's not been 'just fucking' for Bucky for a while, he thinks. He's not sure what Steve thinks of it as. He's not going to ask.) 

They must make a sight. Steve’s back is arched so intensely it’s a wonder he’s not broken in half yet and he’s making the prettiest mewling sounds that come from deep within his chest every time he passes his palm over the underside of his cock, every time Bucky’s prick grazes his drawn balls in a way that makes the both of them shiver with delight and desire. 

Yeah, a sight. A hot, sun-bathed, ancient sight—the kind that poets write about, even though the poets down here don’t write anything at all. Beautiful. 

“Flip over for me, will you?” Bucky almost pleads, no more than a faint breath because he’s been whispering dirty words in Steve’s ear for nearly fifteen minutes; there’s a cramp just above his tailbone from leaning over and plastering his front to Steve’s back and his stomach is coiling with the hot embers of his orgasm and his arms are shaking from holding himself up to fuck into the press of Steve's inner thighs. He wants to come, and he wants to do it on Steve’s dick so he can lick it off and suck Steve down deep. “Please, lovely, honey, just—” 

Steve moans and does as he’s asked—he flips onto his back after Bucky’s moved away a bit, gracelessly, and there’s a dopey smile on his red-cheeked, wide-eyed face that makes Bucky throw his head back and laugh like the kids they no longer are. 

“You gonna come?” Steve cocks his head and raises his brow. He returns his hand to his weepy, angry red dick and begins a lazy flicking motion of his wrist. The other hand stays next to his cheek, palm up, and Bucky slips his fingers along Steve’s for a moment before taking them away and fondling Steve’s balls. Bucky can’t take his eyes off Steve’s cock; it makes his mouth water and his jaw ache. Dick's not always the best thing to have in your mouth, but Steve's always been easy to clean himself up real nice and Bucky likes to take advantage of the weight, of the velvety feel and salty-soft taste of Steve's prick. 

“On you.” He gulps and brings his gaze back up, taking his hand off Steve’s crotch and raising it to smooth along Steve’s brow. Steve’s smiling because he’s always smiling, more effervescent than the sunshine, and his legs bracket Bucky’s thighs, spread wide with room for Bucky to fit himself against. It's lewd and terrible, and it's heaven to see Steve so debauched, so close to squirting off that he'll let Bucky do just about anything to get him there. “If I can.” 

Steve nods and wraps his legs around Bucky’s waist, kicking with his heel against Bucky’s ass to pull him in. Bucky goes, laughing, and he plants both elbows next to Steve’s head so he can shove his fingers in Steve’s sunshine hair and hold him steady, kiss him silly, chaste and filthy all at once. 

It's all tongue, slick and hot and wet, and Steve gives just as good as he takes, keeping his mouth open for Bucky so that their spit dribbles from the corners of his lips and mixes with the sweat on his throat. He lines his body up with Steve’s, ruts their cocks together, slick with precum and sweat, and rolls his hips. 

It’s messy. It’s hot and sweaty, and sticky from spit, and it’s really messy. Steve’s gripping Bucky’s ass with one hand, digging his nails in just right, scratching across Bucky’s back with the other; his mouth is open under Bucky’s and they’re not kissing, not really, but they are breathing in each other’s air, licking at each other like they're delicacies to be savored, and Bucky swallows Steve’s noises and Steve sucks on Bucky’s tongue as he comes, so hard he nearly blacks out. 

He’s breathless, and he pulls away to gather his what little air he can. Steve shoves his face into Bucky’s neck, and he’s loud and whiny, and then he’s coming, too, searing and sticky, and his entire body shakes like he’s freezing, like he’s the earth and all his plates are moving to make room for something new and untouched. He smiles, loosely, and Bucky can feel it pressed into his skin like a brand, like a tattoo. 

That burns him, bad. Deep. Where it won’t heal right. 

In a hurry, Bucky yanks himself away and scoots down. He’s dirty, but Steve’s worse, and he gets comfortable between Steve’s legs, mindful of the dock and its splinters, as he eyes the situation. Steve’s half-hard now, still twitching, but they're young and virile and Steve's got another orgasm in him; the defined vein on the underside that runs from the base to the bottom of the head is shrinking, slowly, and pulsing, and their mixed jizz catches the sun just right. 

Both of Steve’s hands fly into his tangled wet hair and hold him steady. He's not pushy, never has been with Bucky when they fuck, but he makes known what he wants. And Bucky wants to give Steve everything. 

He makes a cruel, crushed noise in the back of his throat and sticks his tongue out. Steve tastes like sweat and skin and cum, sour and creamy, and Bucky suckles at the head, milking the tip with his tongue for all he’s worth. The taste is grainy, bitter on the back of his teeth, but he loves it. He moves down, then, drawing his tongue along the length; he sucks one of Steve’s balls in his mouth first, laving it with his tongue, and then gives the same treatment to the other. 

He doesn’t mind the coarse, thick patch of dark blond hair, either—in fact, he’s always liked hair on his partners, man or woman. Always Steve. It just turns him on because it makes them smell like the simmering, deep desire that’s flowing through their bodies whenever they’re fucking. It's musky and rampant and clings to Bucky's body long after he's finished. It’s nice. Steve doesn’t complain. Razor burns are a pain in the ass and no fun to deal with, anyway. 

He’s not sure how long he stays down there, licking up the mess and tugging at the thatch of hair just at the top of Steve’s crotch to offset the too-much pleasure he’s sure Steve’s feeling with a little bit of pain. Steve gives a quick few twitches, and then he comes again, mostly dry, and he sobs loudly with oversensitivity so desperately that Bucky pulls off immediately and cradles Steve’s cheek with one hand while the other caresses softly, lovingly at Steve’s hip as he moves to the side. 

He meets Steve’s eyes. Steve’s dazed, confused, and he’s gloriously stunning, red-faced and breathless and teary-eyed and all. 

“I don’t think I can move.” 

Bucky chuckles and presses a few firm-mouthed kisses to Steve’s freckled shoulder. The skin’s a little red from the sun already, and he’ll have to remember to rub some aloe on it before they leave for the graduation. “That good, eh?” 

Faintly, he can hear Springsteen. It's The River. It's one of Sarah Rogers's favorites, something she confessed whens she took Bucky and Steve to a concert in ‘80. 

Steve scoffs as he grabs for Bucky’s hair, but it’s all in good fun. “You act like you’re shocked. You just sucked a second orgasm outta me—you’ve actually killed me.” 

“Don’t be dramatic.” 

“I can’t be dramatic if I’m dead, Buck.” 

“You’re not dead.” 

“My dick’s dead. So, by default, I’m dead.” 

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Steve?” 

Steve is silly when he turns his head and looks into Bucky’s eyes. “Yeah, Buck?” 

“Shut the fuck up.” 

They kiss, then. It’s chaste, close-mouthed, but they still taste like each other and that still kicks Bucky right in the chest. He pulls away and sighs, and lays his cheek against Steve’s shoulder. 

“You okay, Bucky?” 

Bucky nods, as much as he can, and slings his arm across Steve’s chest and cuddles in close. “Of course I am,” he replies, and it’s a mantra in his head at this point — he’s fine he’s fine he’s fine. And he is. Really. But that doesn’t mean everything is fine. He doesn’t want to have that conversation yet, though. He’s not finished figuring everything out just yet—or maybe he has. Maybe he has figured it all out, and he just doesn’t want to talk about it yet. It’s his decision, isn’t it? He’ll talk when he wants to, and he doesn’t want to right now. “Why wouldn’t I be?” 

“You’ve been out of it all day, kinda.” Steve brings his arm up and cradles Bucky’s head to his shoulders, dragging his fingers through Bucky’s frizzing hair. “Peg and I talk, you know.” 

“You mean you two don’t just fuck each other like rabbits?” At that, Steve pulls at Bucky’s hair, hard, till he’s saying, “Sorry, Stevie,” because he knows he sounds hateful and envious even though he was going for a joke. 

Envious because you’re only jealous of the things that you have. Bucky doesn’t have Steve, so he isn’t jealous. He’s just—envious. 

And he doesn’t think he can be blamed, not really. He and Steve have been fucking each other for two years now; everything’s changed but nothing has, at the same time, and he’s tired of that repetitiveness. Being the other person has never bothered Bucky as much as it does now, starting as a hidden ache in his gut this morning and since then flourishing into something that’s eating at his heart and body and soul and mind. He doesn’t want to share anymore, but he very well can’t make Steve let go of Peggy and the tentative relationship they’re nurturing with one another. 

“I asked her if she thought you were acting weird.”

Bucky tries to make himself as small as he can but, fact is, he’s not little at all. “What’d she say?” 

Steve huffs a laugh and pets behind Bucky’s ear. “She asked me if I thought you were acting weird. And I said yeah ‘cause you are. And she said that if I think so, then I ought to talk to you about it.” He uses his other hand to reach for Bucky’s leg, then, and pulls it across his hips so they’re as tangled together physically as the roots of their lives are. “So this is me talking to you about it. What’s wrong, James?” 

Bucky swallows. Steve opted for his first name—he means business, that’s for sure. 

He won’t tell Steve. Steve, who deserves to have whatever he wants in life because he never asks for a goddamn thing; Steve, who’s one-fourth of the only people in the entire world who looks at Bucky and sees somebody instead of something. 

No, he’ll not tell Steve. This is his mess to clean up, and he’ll do it by himself. He doesn’t want Steve to know what’s going on in his mind because Steve deserves nothing but good—what Bucky feels isn’t good. It’s mean, and it’s hot, and if a feeling was a color Bucky reckons the love he has for Steve would be the darkest red anybody has ever seen. 

That’s his to take to the grave. 

“I’m fine.” He lifts his head from Steve’s shoulder to meet his eyes; they’re blue, they’re always blue, but they look different in every light. “Honest, Stevie.” 

He smiles. It’s forced, but it’s real, and it meets his eyes. Steve doesn’t mirror it, though, and that’s not good. 

“You want me to say it? Because I will. It’s been long enough, I think. It’s time.” 

Bucky’s breath catches; Steve is a self-sacrificing bastard and Bucky wants to thump him on the back of the head for it. “Say what, Steve?” 

“I’m not afraid to make that promise, Bucky,” he says, soft and tender and sweet and all the things that they ought to not be with one another because Steve deserves more than Bucky can ever offer. “It’s you and me. You hear me? It’s you and me till the end of time.” He smiles, then, a small quirk of his lips that’s higher on one side, and it’s only for Bucky. “I’ll be here for as long as you want me and after that, too, ‘cause you’re my best friend first and the guy I fuck second.” 

Bucky can’t meet Steve’s open, promising eyes when he whispers, “What if I want to be the only person you fuck?” 

It’s silent for a moment, and then—Steve shoves Bucky off him, not unkindly, and sits up. He tugs Bucky into a sitting position, and they’re facing each other, legs still somewhat tangled, face to face and chest to chest, naked, and it’s an awkward position but Bucky can see the yellow flakes of sunshine in Steve’s sky-like eyes and the scar that’s on his nose from that time he broke it falling off his bicycle and hitting a hidden tree stump and remembers how he calmed down only after Bucky gently cleaned the blood off. 

“You gotta know. Christ, you gotta know, Bucky.” Steve cups Bucky’s face, holds him close and gentle. “Peggy and I—I love her, you know I do. I love her enough to marry her, if that’s what she wanted.” He shrugs; Bucky doesn’t feel the spike of hurt because it’s something he’s known for a long time. “But if it comes down to it I pick you. Always. In every situation, in every universe, it’s you and me. Even if I marry Peggy? It's you and me, Buck.” 

Bucky feels like he’s been cut right down his chest and splayed open for the entire world to see. It’s painful, deep and intense and fearless, and he doesn’t want to bare his soul to people anymore. He feels naked and unbalanced by it. It's something he wants only Steve to see. 

“I’d never ask that from you, though,” Bucky says in a whisper so faint that he wonders if it’s only for the leaves of the weeping willows sifting slightly, softly in the mid-spring sun. “I’ll never ask that of you.” 

That—that: giving up the life he wants to give somebody the life they want. Bucky’s known Steve for years; he’s not a perfect young man but he is a good young man, and his heart is so big it’s like a physical presence, and he would lay down on a wire if it meant somebody else would be happy because making people happy makes him happy. 

But Bucky? He just wants to see Steve happy without having to rip himself apart by handing off little bits of his heart to people until there’s nearly nothing left. Because he’s so fucking selfless like that, always giving and never asking, and Bucky doesn’t want to ask because he doesn’t want to just be another notch in the wood of the forest of people who have taken and taken and taken from Steve. 

And with Peggy—Steve’s happy with Peggy, and with the relationship he has with her and with the relationship he has with Bucky, too. It works. Maybe Bucky’s taking a few pages out of Steve’s book, but the only thing he can offer Steve that Peggy can’t is this: a shoulder to lean on from the one person in this town, in this world who knows him better than he probably knows himself. 

“You’d never ask that of me, Buck, of course you wouldn’t,” Steve repeats, nosing along Bucky’s cheek; he’s blushing, hot and pink, and Steve wipes his smile across Bucky’s warm skin. “You don’t ask for anything. You’re like me.” He grins. “But I wouldn’t mind giving it to you.” 

“You can’t be—” 

Bucky doesn’t know how Steve can continue to be so utterly engrossed in him when he’s very nearly about to break. 

Steve puts a caress of a kiss on the tip of Bucky’s nose. “I’m serious, Bucky. What Peggy and I have—it isn’t serious. We fuck around, and we hang out and we talk, and it could be serious but it isn’t. It’s not gonna go any further than it is right now.” He kisses Bucky on the cheek, then, reverent and dry. “But what you and I have?” He shakes his head, snorts, drags his lips across Bucky’s. “We’re so much of one another that I don’t think they can separate us even when we die.” He laughs. “You hear me, Bucky Barnes? They’re going to have to bury me in the same grave with you.” 

“Steve...” 

But Steve keeps on. And it rips Bucky apart more and more and he feels like he’s on display for the whole galaxy to see. 

“I love art. I love art, and my mom, and the family I’ve made for myself in this shit town, and you. I love that, all of that—and you, Bucky. Art, my mom, my family, and you.” 

They kiss, then, and it’s like an awakening of sorts—never in his life has he ever felt so free but so weighted, so carefree but so callous. He isn’t sure what’s changed—if anything’s changed—but it feels right to keep kissing Steve, to keep touching Steve, and it feels right to crawl back into the water and swim and play and wrestle with one another till the sun is flirting with the horizon and they’ve got to leave soon if they want to make it in time to get a good seat. 

-

The football stadium is packed to the brim, loud and voracious and hot as the sun continues to sink below the mountains in the distance, giving off various shades of oranges and yellows and reds. There’s people on both sides, filling both sets of bleachers; there’s a makeshift stage on the fifty that spans ten years in either direction, and there’s chairs on one side for the graduates and chairs on the other side for the families. 

Bucky and Steve make it just in time to hear the ass end of the pledge of allegiance, stuffed in the very last row on the field with the entirety of their friends, old and new. 

Steve’s on the ground in front of Bucky’s legs, dressed in his best pair of Levis and the prettiest shirt Bucky’s ever seen, all white with gold stitching, head leaned back against Bucky’s knees as they listen to Becca’s valedictorian speech, and it’s big words and snide comments and stories that probably shouldn’t be as funny as they are but everybody laughs; Natasha’s sat on one of Sam’s knees and Sharon’s on the other, and they’re all there, for the most part, gathered around each other as they prepare to send off a few of them. 

It’s bittersweet, like an age old ache in the bottom of his heart that’s been there for so long it’s become a part of him now. 

In a year’s time, Bucky knows, all things willing, that it’ll be their turn up there on that stage, wearing those God-awful crimson gowns in the humid heat of a promising summer. And it just—hits his heart. Because he’s only got a year left with the people next to him, in front of and behind him, and they’ll all gather for one last time together, and it takes his breath away to imagine a morning without arguing with Dum Dum and Gabe, a lunch break that doesn’t involve skipping off campus with Natasha and Sharon and Peggy and Sam, a night going to sleep without Steve bundled up into his chest. 

It’s scary, imagining the life he’s going to have without the people he loves beside him. 

He pointedly doesn’t think about it as he watches his sister—his big sister, his twin sister, his hero; the one person, other than Steve, that he looks up to—walk across the stage and snatch her diploma from Fury. She’s grinning so big it’s a wonder her mouth doesn’t rip in half, and she’s beaming, and she’s beautiful, and Bucky can faintly hear Peggy and Hope and Pepper hollering—and then his sister is turning to face the entirety of the crowd and she’s flipping both stands off because of course, of course, she’s got to go out in a blaze of fucking glory and, by God, he nearly rips Steve’s hair out of his head as he stands and hauls Steve up beside him to roar. 

The following applause is deafening, nearly. Bucky swears he’s the loudest, though he knows Steve would argue. 

The school is close to a housing complex that was recently built; Bucky can see the rooftops quite easily, if he stands on his tiptoes. He hears music playing faintly, coming from a car radio or something. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd, smooth guitars and a soothing voice—Tuesday’s Gone. And I don’t know where I’m going/I just want to be left alone/Well, when this train ends I’ll try again/But I’m leaving my woman at home. 

Bucky thinks it’s rather appropriate, given everything that’s happened so far today. 

-

There’s a gathering at an old bar that’s run by two Russian immigrants after graduation. It’s a pre-party, full of cold beer and darts and teaching Sam how to play pool (and maybe making out with Steve in the restroom, too). 

But, as promised, Bucky drops Steve off at the bar and makes his way toward the baseball field where Ned and Peter are. Natasha and Sharon decided to tag along with him, and the two of them slip their arms through either of Bucky’s as they make their way from the car to the fence surrounding the field. 

It’s dark out, with a lot of stars and not a lot of moon, and the overhead lights are blinding as he leans against the fence. He scans the field, surveying the kids until he can find the two numbers he was forced to remember earlier—nineteen and seventeen. Ned’s pitching—and, fuck, if that kid can’t throw a hell of a fastball Bucky doesn’t know who can—and Peter’s catching. 

His eyes move to the crowd, then. It doesn’t take him long to find Shuri and MJ—they’re both staring pointedly at him. He gives them a tentative smile and an even more timid wave, and they break out into grins and blow kisses back. 

He snorts.

He fucking loves these kids. 

Natasha hums and crosses her arms as she leans her shoulder against the fence; she’s never been interested in any sport, no matter who’s on the team, and that’s the exact opposite of Sharon, who’s got her fingers hanging in the chains and is avidly watching everything play out. 

“So,” Natasha begins conversationally, giving Bucky her best smile, all teeth and pink lips curling, “since when did you become the big brother to all of these little kids?” 

He shrugs. He’s been a big brother since he was nine. “Somebody’s gotta watch over these jackasses and make sure they don’t do anything stupid.” 

Sharon nudges his shoulder. “And it’s you, huh?” 

“I’m good at it.” 

He’s looked after Steve Rogers since they were old enough to reach the lock on the door at the farmhouse and sneak out to play hide and seek in the fields. Of course he’s good at taking care of people. 

“Never said you weren’t.” Natasha jostles. “Are you and Steve going to sign the paper?” 

Bucky almost asks, “What paper?” when he remembers. Both his and Steve’s paper is shoved in the glovebox in his car; his is folded nicely and Steve’s is crumpled and ripped because, in a fit of anger, he wadded it up and threw it on the ground. Sam snatched it back and gave it to Bucky for safekeeping; if anybody’s going to be able to get Steve to compromise, it’ll be Bucky. 

He isn’t sure if he wants to, though. Make Steve compromise, that is. The paper and all that it demands is bullshit, and Bucky has a problem with doing what’s expected of him and Steve has a problem with authority and it’s causing the two of them a lot more issues than it should have the right. 

He thinks about it, for a moment. He’s like Steve, in a way: he likes football, enjoys it because he’s good at it, but it’s not something he can see himself pursuing. He’s smart, quick-witted and bright when he has to think critically, and he knows he doesn’t need football to get a scholarship or two to pursue an education beyond a high school level. Neither does Steve, for that matter. 

Football’s just... fun. They’re eighteen, they’re young, and playing football makes high school just a little bit more bearable by giving them something to look forward to on Friday nights and offering a healthy outlet for teenage rage. 

“I think I will,” he replies, distantly, as he watches the teams switch places for the last inning. They’ve already won—finishing the game is just polite. “Just ‘cause it’s our last season and I don’t really care.”

“It’s because it isn’t your life.” 

“No, it isn’t my life.”

“I didn’t think drugs and alcohol and wasting away your youth having fun were such a big deal that Pierce had to resort to something like this to get rid of it.” 

Bucky flicks Sharon’s shoulder, and she rolls her eyes at him but smirks nonetheless. “I think they’re just worried that some of us are having too good of a time with life and they can’t anymore.” 

“We’ve read the paper,” Natasha supplies, answering a question Bucky didn’t know he needed to ask.

“And Steve?” It’s Sharon who asks. “Is he going to sign it?”  

Bucky sighs. “It’s Steve,” he answers, and that’s explanation enough, really. “We all know Steve, and he’s not gonna do something he doesn’t wanna do.” 

“And he doesn’t want to sign the paper.” 

“Nope.” 

Sharon makes a noise that sounds an awful lot like a scoff. “You boys make everything so much more complicated than it needs to be,” she says, and it’s something that you’re supposed to mumble under your breath but Sharon has never been afraid of facing things head-on. “You act like you’re so fucking oppressed. What are you bitching about? You guys are the kings of the school. You two gotta learn to tell them to fuck off without making yourself martyrs ‘cause nobody likes a self-sacrificing asshole.” 

Bucky quirks a brow; the sound of a ball hitting a wooden back echoes in the distance. Her words are harsh, but they’re true and she’s smiling, albeit faintly, and Bucky can’t be mad because he values truth and honesty a lot more than most. “Care to explain?” 

She turns to face him and Natasha, who’s leaning over Bucky’s shoulder curiously. She blinks, once. 

“It’s the same bullshit everywhere. The older you get, the more rules they’re going to try to get you to follow. If it ain’t that piece of paper, it’s going to be something else. They’re always going to try to make your decisions for you.” She shrugs like she’s not tearing apart Bucky’s brain, opening new doors he’s never seen and closing ones he’s been striving toward for so long. “You’ve gotta do what James Buchanan Barnes wants to do, and you gotta let Steve do what Steve wants to do. It’s that simple.” 

Bucky grunts. “Is it?”

Sharon looks at him, pointedly; she’s a Carter through and through, for fucking sure. 

“Yes. It is.” She smiles. Bucky returns it.

Natasha chuckles. “You don’t pull your punches at all, do you?” There’s exasperated fondness in her tone—he’s not sure how he didn’t notice it before. Natasha looks at Sharon the same way he looks at Steve. 

“I’m just trying to be honest about being a misanthrope,” she retorts around a laugh, reaching out to run her fingers along Natasha’s cheek, and Bucky’s mind fizzles a little bit at the knowledge that he isn’t the only one embarking on a journey of self-discovery at the moment. “Everything we do and everything we’ve been taught is just to service the future, you know.” 

“Yeah, I know.” Bucky turns back to look at the game, mystified and stunted in ways that he never knew he could be before. Life’s fucking stupid, and he’s sick of playing games and running around the important parts—but therein lies the question. Just what the fuck is the point of life? “Like it’s all preparation.” 

“Right. The point of life, and all that shit. But what are we preparing ourselves for?” 

“Death,” Natasha chimes in, and it’s so deadpan that Bucky can’t tell if she’s faking the monotone or not but it makes him laugh regardless because it’s so her and he’s about to lose his mind at everything he’s been thrown into today and it’s nice and comforting to realize that she’ll always be at his side like she is now. 

“Life of the party,” Bucky says, jostling Natasha’s shoulder with his until she giggles and shoves him off. “It’s true, though, isn’t it? All this is just preparation for something else. And that’s dying, right?” 

Right? 

“No, but that’s valid, I think. Because if we are all gonna die anyway, shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves now?” Sharon moves her arm around in a wide circle, gathering everything in a tiny space. The model of life—her grabbing everything, moving it into the space between them, proverbial as it is—slams home a sudden realization in Bucky. 

Life is stupid. He’s known that for years. But life is large—life, meaning the populace and the world and universe. It’s so fucking large that it’s incomprehensible. And what matters to him may matter to his friends but, in the scheme of it all, that doesn’t hold any weight over the larger picture. Everything’s simultaneously infinite and finite that everything matters but nothing matters at the same time and, really, the only things that matter are what you want to matter. 

So. 

So fuck it. Fuck the paper, fuck Pierce, fuck Sitwell—fuck life, even. Because he gets to choose what matters and what doesn’t and, right now, this moment fucking matters because he’s sharing it with two friends, and maybe that’s the meaning of life. For him, at least, because everybody has to have their own unique meaning of life. 

Maybe his meaning of life is spending it making memories with people who he cares for; maybe that’s his way of measuring a life well lived versus a life well wasted on doing the things that are expected of him. 

“Oh.” He breathes out hard. “Fuck.”

Natasha snorts. That’s all he’s going to get as acknowledgement and acquiescence, he supposes. 

“You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, and even tomorrow, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.” She sighs. “And that’s why you’re either going to sign that fucking paper or you’re not. The choice is up to you, so don’t let Pierce and that pussy Sitwell try to change your mind.” 

“Maybe college will be radical or something.” Natasha tilts her head against Bucky’s shoulder for a moment. “I figure we’ll be in our twenties and it can’t get much worse. We’ve lived through eighteen years of life doing what other people have told us to do—maybe by college we’ll know ourselves well enough to not need to be told what to do and when to do it.” 

Oh. That’s another thing, isn’t it? They don’t know themselves that well, do they? They only know what people have told them, in a sense—he knows he’s good at football, he knows he’s good at biology and chemistry, he knows he's good at making his little sisters laugh, he knows he's good at keeping Steve Rogers in line, he knows he’s good at sucking dick. 

But who is Bucky Barnes?

Bucky shakes his head, subtly. Fuck. “Maybe.” 

Bucky hums, but they’re quiet after that, all three wrapped up in their minds; Sharon’s leaning against his shoulder and Natasha’s got her arm slung around his waist with her hand touching Sharon and it’s grounding, in a sense. It’s a shock to his system, really, to hear somebody lay it out so plainly in front of him—the decisions he makes now are going to affect him for the rest of his life but, also, they don’t even matter if, in the end, all you’re preparing for in your life is death. So what matters, really, are the moments between, and what they’re made of, and how well you know yourself in the end, when you’re ready to go. 

So, does Bucky have a clearer understanding of things? Fuck no, of course he doesn’t. It’s all a preamble to something, though, and he isn’t sure what, but he’s quick to wave at Peter and Ned and Shuri and MJ at the end of the game because he’s kind of missing Steve a lot more than usual and Steve isn’t his world but God, is he a big part of it. 

Maybe that’s Bucky’s destination, in the end. Maybe everything Bucky’s dealing with right now is preamble for being able to have a life with Steve in it, whether he has Steve all to himself or not. 

-

“You are an embarrassment to the game of pool,” Bucky says, looking at Sam with an exasperated grin as he snatches a few wrinkled dollars out of Sam’s hand, enough to buy the two of them an orange soda, “and should be glad I even let you play at my table.” 

Sam raises a brow. “So that’s how it is, huh?” 

Bucky shrugs, grinning. “That’s how it is, man.” 

They laugh, and Sam slings his arm around Bucky’s shoulders, and the two of them head toward the tables they pushed together earlier for all of them to sit at. Steve’s there, sipping at a sweating glass of lemonade—“I’ll drive us to the field, Buck, don’t worry.”—and Peggy’s sitting beside him; she’s out of her graduation gown and in a pair of high-waisted jeans with a too-big t-shirt that’s rolled up into a knot just below her bellybutton. Her hair is frizzy and her lips are red; Steve doesn’t have any red on his mouth, though. 

He sits, puts his feet in Steve’s lap. Steve glances at him, and smiles, so warm and welcoming, like home after a long day away, and he looks soft and sweet in yellow button down Natasha was able to force him in after the graduation. 

“You win?”

Bucky nods. “I always win.”

Sam grunts as he sits down next to Bucky. “He’s a fuckin’ cheater, that’s why.” 

Peggy tilts her head and smiles. “I suppose I would accuse him of cheating, too, if I lost to him as many times as you have,” she quips, teasingly, and it’s almost enough to send Bucky into a fit of hysterics but what really does him in is the gargling noise that seems to be the only sound that Sam can make at the moment. 

Steve throws his head back and laughs like a little kid, clutching at his chest just above his heart. It’s an old habit, kind of a stupid one, too, but it’s endearing to see that Steve’s not as susceptible to change as Bucky is. 

Sharon and Natasha make their way over from their own game, having heard the racket. They’ve both got cans of beer in their hands, and they’re red-cheeked and grinning, and they sit so close to one another it’s a wonder they don’t topple over each other. T’Challa follows not long after. 

“Is Sam still bitching ‘cause he can’t beat James at pool?” Natasha asks, toeing at Sam’s thigh beneath the table. 

Sam squirms and curses. “Jame’s a goddamn cheater and everybody here at this table knows that,” he says, and it’s what he always says and it’s what he’ll always say, too. Bucky likes that—that everything’s predictable, and comfortable. He likes comfortable because he’s been uncomfortable for a while, he’s realizing. 

“D’you remember that one time Sam thought he won, Tasha?” Steve leans forward, angles his head to see Natasha’s eyes. “Sam was so fucked that he thought he was sinking his balls but he was actually doin’ Buck’s—and Bucky didn’t say a damn thing about it!” 

Because he was too busy watching how Steve play with Peggy to pay much attention to his own game. 

Natasha laughs, and Sharon and Peggy and T’Challa join in because it was one of the best times, really, even when Bucky was horny and confused, to see the triumphant look on Sam’s face when he thought he finally bested Bucky at pool but, instead, was helping Bucky all along. 

“Or—or—do you lot remember that one time we broke into the high school to play hide and seek?” Peggy asks, reaching to slap Sharon lightly on the shoulder. “It was after the fall carnival, or something. I think I was only a sophomore at the time. It was Natasha and Bucky’s idea, and Sharon somehow sneaked her mother’s car for us all. I thought for sure Fury was going to catch us and expel us!” 

“Steve was still small then, wasn’t he?” T’Challa questions, and, funnily enough, he’s aiming toward Bucky. 

Bucky looks at Steve, sees that Steve is riveted on Peggy and Sharon as the two of them go back and forth about what they remember and what they don’t. 

“Yeah, he was five feet tall and full of piss and vinegar,” Bucky replies, and it’s full of too much fondness. He thinks he may be sick by sheer amount of adoration in his chest; it’s tight and big and won’t quit swelling. “‘Course, now the only thing that’s different is that he’s six-two and won’t fall over if the wind blows too hard.” 

“Hey,” Steve interrupts, dragging the word out longer than necessary. “Don’t talk about me.”

Bucky gives him a soft smile. “All good things, baby.”

Steve huffs. “They better be,” he says, content. 

Bucky turns a smirk toward T’Challa. “Did I ever tell you about this one time Steve and I decided we were gonna run away?” T’Challa shakes his head, and he looks avidly interested, so Bucky continues. “Well, Stevie here got pissy about something or another, and we were seven so of course I agreed with him ‘cause I was too damn dumb and blind to think of anything else ‘cept following Steve Rogers to the ends of the earth, and—” 

And then Steve’s interrupting, whining, “Bucky, you promised you wouldn’t tell anybody that!” 

And Bucky laughs. Well, they all laugh. Because they’re all telling stories, all drinking, all reminiscing about the times had and the times to have; the bar is loud and crowded, and Bob Dylan is crooning in the back of Bucky’s head, and he doesn’t think he’s ever been more happier than he is in this moment, counting the freckles on Steve’s cheeks through his pretty pink blush and laughing with the people he picked for himself to keep. 

-

Bucky and Steve get sidetracked on the way to the field party outside of town. 

(Bucky wishes he could blame it all on Steve, but, the truth is—Bucky can’t stop thinking about Steve’s mouth and how gorgeous his smile would look stretched around Bucky’s cock.) 

So. 

That’s how they end up, pulled over on the side of the road, parked just inside of the entrance to somebody’s property, headlights bouncing off the purple-tipped fenceposts and the big trees, with the radio on and the windows cracked and the car smelling of nothing but sex and sweat and Steve’s flowery detergent. 

Buddy fuckin’ Holly’s on the radio, one of Steve’s favorites, and Bucky’s mashed up against the driver side door, pants pulled down to just above his thighs, giving him very little room to spread his legs or maneuver himself comfortably to fend off the cramp that’s building in the bottom of his back, and Steve’s on his knees, ass up, fully dressed with the first several buttons of his shirt undone from Bucky biting at his nipples, laving at the puffy things like they were real tits, with his mouth suckling at Bucky’s cock like it’s a cherry lollipop and he can’t wait to get to the gooey goodness inside. 

Which. The gooey goodness inside is, in fact, Bucky’s cum. But he doesn’t want to think about that right now. Not when he’s getting the life sucked out of him through his dick, that is. 

He tosses his head back against the window—they’re up, though cracked, for a modicum of privacy even though they’re the ones more or less trespassing—and inhales sharply, holding it in for a long moment and then releasing it slowly. He feels like he’s about to explode, kinda. 

Steve’s mouth is warm and wet; he’s got so much saliva built up that it’s practically leaking from the corners of his mouth and collecting a pool in Bucky’s pubic hair. It’s sticky, nasty, and kind of cold when it dries, pulling at the hair, but Steve Rogers sucks cock like that’s what he was made for, going down all the way to the base and swallowing around the tip and flicking his tongue along the thick vein on the underside and nuzzling the coarseness of the pubes like it’s his home, and Bucky’s got nothing else to live for but this. 

He pulls off, for a moment. He’s backlit by the two streetlights bracketing the car, looking like some sort of angel of paradise by the dashboard light, and Bucky reaches for Steve and cups his cheeks and holds his face and doesn’t even let the fact that the two of them look just a little too debouched to find a place to stay in heaven cloud his desire and affection because he’ll be damned multiple times over before he lets Steve be damned with him. 

Steve smirks, all kinds of enticing. “Gonna make you come by the time the song’s over.” He takes his hands off of Bucky’s thighs where they were holding them as far apart as they could; one goes to Bucky’s dick and paws at the length of it, smearing in the spit and precum, and the other goes to pull Bucky’s shirt up so he can splay his fingers across the muscles on Bucky’s abdomen. His hand is big and Bucky is big, too, and it makes him absolutely shudder with repressed adoration and gratitude—Steve’s the only person he’s been with that’s made him feel small. He’s not, but he likes that. “Bet I can.” 

It’s a new song, and it’s Buddy Holly again, one of those late-night stations that play two songs in a row from the artists—I’m Gonna Love You Too. It’s just over two minutes long, and Bucky’s been known to squirt off in as quick as a minute and a half if he’s wound up tight enough. He thinks there’s no way he can be any more stretched thin than he is right now. 

Bucky raises a brow and breathes deeply to try to catch his breath. “You sound awfully sure of yourself, Stevie.” 

Steve shrugs, rolling his shoulders. He’s lopsided, one foot in the floorboard while the other is curled beneath his thighs, and that position can’t possibly be comfortable. “Never had a reason not to be with you, Buck.” 

He meets Bucky’s gaze. They’re both heavy-lidded, buzzed from the molten give-and-take of feelings between them. It’s hot and fiery, and feral, and Bucky basks in the simultaneous freedom and turmoil of it all. 

He swallows Bucky down, then, moves his tongue along the underside as much as he can, and it’s so sudden that Bucky nearly busts the back of his head open as he wails and scrambles to find purchase against the car door. It’s too much—he doesn’t know if he wants to get closer or to get away and he can’t decide so he just settles for thrumming like a plucked guitar string, full of lightning and thunder, and his legs are shaking and no matter how hard he grips the steering wheel and the headrest he can’t stop his body from quaking like he’s the earth being split apart. 

“Fuckin’ goddamn shit—oh, God, Stevie—” Bucky manages to brace one hand against the back of the seat that gives him some leverage while the other tangles in Steve’s thick hair; he tugs, just this side of too hard, the way Steve fucking loves it, and Steve moans and it’s so fucking good that Bucky echoes the noise with a sob that’s pulled from deep in his chest. His nose is flush against Bucky’s crotch, like it’s his personal heaven, and his throat is closed so tight around Bucky’s cock that, for a second, he thinks Steve may be choking, may be on the verge of an asthma attack, but then he whimpers like he’s dying and Bucky’s his life line, and Bucky loses it. 

An explosion of color erupts behind his closed eyes, nothing more than a rush of endorphins and sensations, and it makes his mind slow and his spine turn to liquid as he curls up over himself to concentrate the uproar of hormones to his center. 

Steve slides off just far enough to get a grip around the base, tangling his fingers in the pubic hair and pulling for a bit of pain that has Bucky keening. He swirls his tongue around the shaft, bobbing up and down, up, and Bucky begins to shake, horribly, like he’s got a sickness deep in his bones. He opens his eyes, tilts his head, and looks down. 

And it’s a mistake because Steve’s jaw is slack and fucked wide open by his cock, and those eyes are gazing up at Bucky like he’s glorious, like he’s art, like he’s some kind of ancient definition of beauty and love and power and Steve’s only purpose in life is to suck Bucky’s life out through his cock. 

Bucky doesn’t even get a warning from his body. It catches him off guard like the second drop of a tall rollercoaster, the one that you’re not expecting until it’s too late to brace yourself, and he just comes. 

Steve holds Bucky’s cock in his mouth through the onslaught of cum. It’s quite a bit, and his eyes are heavy and his heart is weighted as his body ripples and spams and rearranges itself for Steve. Steve watches him throughout. It doesn’t make Bucky uncomfortable one bit. 

Once Bucky’s finished, Steve pulls off and moves up. His mouth is shut tight and there’s just a bit of spunk on his lips; he leans over Bucky’s quivering body, bracing himself against the door with one hand while the other goes to finger at Bucky’s cheek. He gets his thumb hooked in the hollow of Bucky’s jaw and he smears as the skin with the pad of his thumb, hard enough that there will be a mark, and Bucky opens his mouth for Steve because that’s surely what he wants. Steve angles downward, stopping just short of Bucky’s parted lips. 

He opens his mouth, too. Bucky’s eyes cross as he watches the amalgamation of his cum and Steve’s spit slip out of Steve’s mouth and into his, warm and sour and the best fucking thing Bucky’s ever tasted. Steve follows the drizzle and kisses Bucky, licking into Bucky’s mouth and playing with his tongue, swapping the jizz back and forth, till both of them swallow and Bucky’s hands are white-knuckled as he grabs harshly at Steve’s shoulders in a hope that it’ll ground him. 

When it’s over, it’s over. Steve makes no move to take himself out of his pants, and he’s not looking at Bucky with any sort of inclination. He’s smiling, though, even after he’s just spit cum and saliva in Bucky’s mouth and fucked it in between his teeth, and he looks as happy as Bucky’s ever seen him. 

Bucky lifts his hips and does up his pants. He’s tender, and he winces as he tucks his softening prick back in his jeans. His senses come back slowly, muddled and thick, and then, all at once, he notices that Buddy Holly’s off and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band is on. 

Blinded By The Light. 

It was Springsteen’s song, at first, in 1973. It was the first song on and first single to come from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and it never did really well, but it’s the first Springsteen song Bucky ever heard. And then Manfred Mann’s Earth Band got it in ’76, and it’s nine years later, and Bucky really likes their version better than Springsteen’s, and no, that doesn’t make him a fake fan. 

Bucky blinks, indolent. He pauses, reflects. The song’s nothing special—it’s long, it’s catchy, it rhymes entirely too much, and it reminds Bucky of wanting something you’ve been warned off of but getting it anyway because that’s where the fun is, momma—and it makes Bucky’s eyes start to sting with the abrupt flood of hot, sore tears. 

Because, in the most simple of terms, Steve’s the light that Bucky’s blinded by.
And it’s taken a fucking song written by his favorite artist and performed by the world’s weirdest named band for Bucky to realize that he’s irrevocably and insufferably in love with Steve Rogers. And probably has been for God knows how long, really. This feeling of bombarding acknowledgment at the realization that he fucking loves Steve Rogers doesn’t feel new. 

It’s not a flood of emotion; it’s not a rearrangement of the stars or a new alignment of the planets. He doesn’t feel unmade; he didn’t feel like half of a person before, either. In fact, his chest doesn’t even swell and his breath doesn’t even catch in his throat and there’s no butterflies taking flight in his belly. He just feels... at home. At ease. Like he’s had a hurt for so long that it dulled to nothing perceptible and now that it’s gone he realizes how badly it was affecting him—like he’s been so far gone from home for a long time and now he’s back where he belongs. He feels at peace. 

Steve’s still smiling as he reaches out to cup Bucky’s face. His fingers are soft but they sting like they’re made of flame and Bucky’s too quick to catch to Steve’s fire. 

Angry, and so in love with him it’s a pain, and holding back scorching tears that sting deep inside, and tremendously sorry for it, beyond any kind of gathering of words that can explain, Bucky turns away from Steve’s touch—because the ice has broke and the last stone has fallen and his heart is on fire with the sun. 

“Bucky?” 

He’s waited long enough, hasn’t he? He doesn’t want to keep secrets anymore just to keep Steve.

Is his sudden understanding of loving Steve really that unbelievable, or has he simply been running from it for years? 

There’s a lot of things that Bucky’s afraid of—failure, chickens, never finding his place in life, letting his sisters down, offending somebody so terribly that he can’t fix his mistake, never making something of himself. But he’s not afraid of Steve—Steve, who’s so brave because he’s kind and he treats people with tenderness even when they don’t deserve it and he doesn’t care if the world knows it. 

For all Bucky knows, people are writing stories about him and Steve—one that’s afraid and the other that’s brave, and how they figure out all the secrets to the universe and all the secrets to one another. 

It feels right, loving Steve like it’s something his soul acknowledged a long time ago. And it feels good, to know that his head has finally caught up with his heart. 

(Steve’s so big that Bucky can’t hold enough of him in his arms.) 

“I love you,” Bucky howls, and the words fall out of his mouth so fast and so free it’s a wonder he’s been able to hold them in for so long. “I love you, Steve, and ain’t that just about the worst thing you’ve ever heard?” 

Steve looks up and he’s grinning like the devil. Bucky just can’t stop himself. 

“I look at you, and I just love you, and that’s all I’ve ever done, and it terrifies me. It terrifies me how much I love you and what you would do for me.” Bucky is beyond caring about how much of a wreck he is—love is a fucking mess and it’s tearing him up inside to keep it all in now that he knows. “You’re everything to me, Stevie. I don’t know how to be without you.” 

Steve just keeps looking at Bucky. 

Bucky reckons that’s fine. He’s got a lot to say—he’s a floodgate, and the water has been gathering behind his walls for far too long, and it’s time that the dam is opened. If he doesn’t say what’s in his heart he doesn’t think he’ll be able to breathe for much longer. 

“There’s so many times I should’ve told you. There’s so many things I should’ve told you. I’m in love with you, and I don’t want to share you with Peggy anymore, and I just want you all to myself.” Bucky shakes his head—words are hard but Steve’s gaze is soft, steady and solid. Bucky sees the way Steve’s face is lit up by the lights on the dashboard, commits the shadows that settle and skitter across his face to memory, and for the first time he sees what the two of them can be. It’s a rock in his heart, and it’s a welcome weight. It holds him down and keeps him steady. “I think part of me belonged to you before I was even born. Like it knew you, like it was coming back to you from a life before this one. And I’ll wait for you, Stevie. I’ll wait forever. I just love you so much.” 

He’s finished, and Steve’s beaming, the epitome of the yellow sun, the definition of glory, and he leans forward, and he cups Bucky’s red hot face, and he kisses Bucky on the forehead, all gentle and tender, and Bucky feels like he’s shoving out of a cocoon that he’s been in for far too long. 

Steve pulls away from Bucky’s space, just a bit. “Oh, Bucky,” he says, and he breathes Bucky’s name like it’s a quiet prayer. “You aren’t perfect, you know.” 

Bucky snorts. "This is a very promising start.” He laughs, just a little bit, because he isn’t afraid of Steve or what he’s going to say, because he knows that the heart beating in his chest isn’t just his, and Steve does, too. God, they’re morons. “I know, Stevie.” 

“And, like, if your personality was split into two bodies, with all your good in one and all your bad in the other, and the good one was killed for some reason—” 

Bucky’s laugh startles him. “Steve, what the hell?” 

“—I’d still take the bad one over any other person on earth, Bucky.” Steve smiles once he’s got it all out. “I love you, and I want you, and I’ll always want you. You don’t have to share me anymore, Bucky, if that’s what you want. It’s what I want, too.” He shrugs, then—like it’s nothing, like he’s not absolutely turning Bucky’s world upside down. “You never said anything about me and Peggy. I just thought you were okay with it, and I didn’t want to push you or hold you back.” 

He rolls his eyes, kinda, so Steve can’t see it. The two of them, him and Steve, are two peas in a goddamn pod, that’s for sure. Fucking idiots. 

“That’s what you get for thinking, Rogers.” 

“Fuck off, Buck.” But Steve’s smile is what Bucky’s soul is made out of—yellow memories from the past and promises for the future. “It was you when my father died, it was you when I couldn’t breathe after running ten feet and when I couldn’t throw a football to save my life and when I took Peg out for the first time and when the town called me their captain.” 

Stevie.” 

“It’s still you, Bucky. It has always been you, and it always will be you.” He rubs his thumb across Bucky’s fat bottom lip, like an intimate caress that touches and melds their souls together. That’s wrong, though—their souls have always been one. It’s just taken them this long to realize it. “Will you let me love you the way I want to, Bucky?” 

He smiles, hopeful and pleased, and God, Bucky can’t take it anymore. Bucky leans in to kiss him, and Steve doesn’t move, and Steve doesn’t pull away, and so he keeps kissing him. And kissing him, and kissing him until Steve puts his hands to Bucky’s cheeks and comes alive beneath his mouth, opening his lips up for Bucky, and it’s like heaven, and they start smiling, holding closely to one another, and Bucky wonders why he ever thought he could let this boy in his arms go. 

-

The party’s in full swing by the time they arrive. Bucky parked as close as he could, and he and Steve walk into the crowded clearing hand in hand; they smile at one another, and it’s Steve who tugs Bucky close and puts a soft kiss just behind the lobe of his ear. Bucky shivers, and Steve smiles, and Bucky’s starting to realize that he’s the only one in the world to get to see this side of Steve Rogers. And then Steve lets his hand go, and he’s off, and Bucky sees Natasha and Sam and Sharon leaning against Sharon’s car. 

He meanders over, grabbing a beer that’s offered to him by a stuttering, blushing freshman; Bucky vaguely recognizes him as one of the kids that Ned and Peter play with and he has a moment to worry about those two fuck heads being here and getting up to God knows what before Natasha is laughing and Sam is rolling his eyes and Sharon is shaking her head because they just know him so well. 

“Relax, Daddy Barnes.” It’s Natasha who says it, and Sam laughs like he’s never heard anything as funny as that before. “The kids are here but T’Challa and M’Baku are keeping a close eye on them. You can let loose for a little while.” 

She winks and Bucky shakes his head. He throws an arm around her shoulders, hauls her in to his side, and presses a tight kiss to her temple. She pats him on the hips, puts her hand in his back pocket, and reaches for Sharon as Bucky holds her close as he settles next to Sam. 

She smells nice. Like flowers and mint and hot air, and a hint of sunshine. Sam smells like sunshine and grapes and cinnamon, and Sharon smells like oranges and peppermint and sunshine, and Steve smells like sunshine and dust and rain. Bucky thinks he smells like sunshine, too, probably. Like they’re the earth, the stars, the meteors, the galaxies, all surrounded by their sun or something. 

“You and Steve took a while to show,” Sam comments, tilting his head as Bucky nudges his shoulder. “You two good?” 

Bucky smiles, softly, and looks around. There’s so many people, and Bucky knows some but he doesn’t know all, and Steve’s nowhere to be seen and that’s okay because he’s an autonomous human being and he has other friends besides the four of them. 

“Yeah,” Bucky replies, and he isn’t consciously aware that he’s still smiling like a goddamn idiot. “We’re good.”

Sharon hums. “That smile have anything to do with Peggy catchin’ a ride with us?” 

Bucky frowns, then, worried—not for Peggy’s backlash, because he doubts that’ll even happen, but for Peggy’s heart. Steve’s easy to love, simple to fall in love with, and Bucky figures he’s not the only one who’s given his heart to Steve. 

“Did she say anything?” he asks. 

Natasha shrugs to get closer to Sharon, jostling Bucky just enough to mush him against Sam’s side, and then the four of them are connected in a roundabout way. Bucky thinks it makes sense considering the five of them share one fucking braincell between them and it’s Steve’s turn to use it for the night. 

“Only that it took long enough,” Natasha says, a bit opaque. She looks up at Bucky—it makes him feel loose inside of his body, the fact that she’s so big but so small—and narrows her pretty green eyes. “I didn’t know what she was talking about at first, but now I think I do.” 

Bucky doesn’t say anything this way or that. He just looks down and smiles and takes a drink of his cheap beer. That’s enough. 

Sam gasps. “No fucking way,” he says, quiet at first, nothing more than a puff of breath, and then—“No fucking way!” 

“Sam.” 

That’s Sharon, trying her best to keep order when the boys she lets into her life are nothing short of absolutely chaotic. Bucky can hear the smile in her voice, like a taste of honey. 

“You finally let your balls drop, Jamie Barnes, and did something about that boy you’ve been in love with for years!” No matter Sharon’s slight chastising—Sam’s still louder than a motherfucker, and several people ambling by turn and look and stare. Bucky knows them, kids from school and around town, and he smiles, and they go off, talking between each other. “I’m with Peggy—it’s ‘bout goddamn time, Jamie.” 

Bucky looks at Sam. He’s handsome, always has been; his eyes are dark, like deep pools of comfortable abyss, and his face is soft and he’s got a smile that can knock anybody off-kilter if he really wanted to. It’s aimed at Bucky. 

He raises a brow. “Did everybody know about it but me?” 

Natasha shrugs again, a nice constant against his side. “Pretty much, yeah.” She takes a drink of her beer. “Doesn’t mean we’re not happy for you two, though.” She pinches the meaty part of his ass where her hand is, settled in his back pocket, and he squirms and she laughs and pulls back. 

“Do we have to give you the shovel talk, Jamie?” 

“The ‘shovel talk’?” 

Bucky’s confused. He’s been having sex since he was fifteen—he was the one who taught Sam how to jerk off. He knows what happens sometimes when two people like each other. 

Sharon shakes her head. “Of course not. We’ve already seen what he looks like split in half on Steve’s dick. I think it’s a little too late for that talk.” 

She says it like it’s nothing. And it is nothing, isn’t it? It’s nothing in the world, and the universe they’re revolving in, and the galaxy they’re floating in. It’s not a goddamn thing in the world but in Bucky’s world? God, it’s everything. 

“Christ,” Sam swears. “Don’t remind me ‘bout that. I don’t think I’ll ever get the Bucky’s ass out of my head.” He shivers, for added affect, because he’s a dramatic bitch. Bucky loves him in spite of it. 

“I have a cute ass.” 

Sam shrugs. “It’s cute, but nothing’s cute when there’s a cock in it,” he replies, and Bucky chokes, and Natasha laughs, and Sharon sighs. 

-

The four of them end up embarking on a journey after they’ve got a few more beers in their system. It’s Sam’s one true downfall as a person—whenever he’s drunk, he feels an undeniable need to go on a journey, and Bucky and Natasha and Sharon can’t let him do that stupid shit on his own. 

So off they go. 

(They pass Steve and Peggy at one point on their journey. They’re talking against a group of small cedar trees, sharing a cup of liquor between them; they’re oblivious to everything but each other, and Bucky doesn’t feel a twinge of envy because he’s got Steve and he trusts Steve to take care of his heart. It’s not like he hasn’t been doing it for years, after all, and besides, Steve does love Peggy. Bucky will never think any different; he’ll give the two of them this, then, one last night between them, and then the rest are his.)

They wind up at the foot of the wooden water tower. The moon is full and the stars are bright, a twinge of yellow and iridescent white, and it’s enough to illuminate the cursive and obscene things spray painted on the body of the tower above. Bucky hasn’t climbed it in years. 

It’s a cylindrical barrel, kind of. Around it is a deck that’s outlined with a rotted wooden rail; it’s definitely not safe to lean on but they do anyway. It smells like mold and mildew and mangy wood, and Bucky’s thankful that the town is no longer supplied with water out of this thing and instead one of the bigger lakes a few towns over that they’ve begun to harvest. 

It was a very progressive moment which caused an obsession in the town for a while—that, and Bucky’s a nerd for biology, so of course he knows almost everything there is to know about it. 

They sit in quiet at first. The stars are twinkling and the moon looks like it can tell the best stories; the music is filtering up from below, and it sounds an awful lot like the Stones but Bucky’s never been a big fan of them even though Natasha would definitely push him off the tower, consequences be damned, if he ever said one single bad thing about them. 

They’re okay; average and decent. Bucky likes some of their songs. Bucky just prefers Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bad Company, CCR—you know, real talent. Sharon agrees with him. 

Sam loves ACDC. They don’t talk about it much.

And Steve? His favorite is Buddy Holly. They talk about it all the time. 

Sharon says, “There’s some tickets for Springsteen’s concert August fifth. It’s in DC, but that’s just a few hours drive.” She’s sitting next to Natasha, and when she shrugs Natasha moves, too. “Figured the five of us could drive down and grab some before they’re all gone.” 

“I’ll drive,” Natasha offers, like it was up for debate in the first place. 

“We can take my car,” Bucky replies. It’s got the most room, anyway, and it’s more comfortable than theirs. “No fuckin’ snacks, though.” 

Sam sighs, like it’s his life’s greatest tragedy not to eat gummy bears in the backseat. “I fuckin’ guess so.” 

And so they fuck off and talk about all sorts of shit. The plan for the trip to DC, Rumlow and Rollins, the paper that they were supposed to have signed and on Pierce’s desk by the end of the day but is instead shoved in his dashboard, the school that Peggy’s going off to in the fall halfway across the country, whether or not Sharon’s going to stay on the soccer team or finally push for that position playing football like she’s wanted to do since she was twelve and could make even Dum Dum cry with a mean right hook. 

It’s nice. Strange. They’re so young, still, so bright-eyed and concentrated on having fun in the moment; life is long, though, and they all know that, in their own ways, and it’s funny how they’re all pointedly ignoring that there’s only a few more months like this before they’re off in the world as adults, too, by themselves, like Peggy and Hope and Pepper and Rebecca, expected to know how to balance a checkbook and be a decent human being. 

Bucky can’t even wash his own clothes. Not that he doesn’t know how—he does—but his form is wrong and, most of the time, Sarah Rogers swats him on the ass like she’s his own mother and shoos him out of the laundry room so she can do it herself. 

Sam’s saying something—“Remember that time Bucky and Tasha set my ass on fire?”—when there’s a voice calling up at the four of them from down below. Bucky leans over just a bit. 

It’s Peggy. Steve’s right beside her, too, grinning, with his hands on his hips. He’s still got a bit more growing to do, that Bucky can tell from the width of his shoulders, and Bucky can’t wait to be the one that watches Steve slowly grow into the man he’s supposed to be. 

“Comin’ up?” Sharon asks the two. 

Peggy shakes her head. “I’m afraid heights tend to make me vomit,” she replies around a laugh, and the four of them chuckle as they gather their trash—“It’s important to pick up after ourselves, Buck; we only have one planet and don’t fucking bring up the moon landing, you nerdy son of a bitch, we can’t live there.”—and amble down the ladder, one after another. 

It’s as rickety going down as it was up; Bucky’s thankful that Steve’s standing right at the bottom and doesn’t hesitate to put a hand to the small of Bucky’s back to offer his assistance in keeping him steady. 

He beams at Steve. Steve smiles back, more radiant than the sun. He leans in, too, and puts a kiss to Bucky’s forehead—like it’s normal, and it is, between them, between the two of them and Sam and Natasha and Sharon, but never with meaning. Never. 

It feels good. To just—have a definite meaning to the little touches and the sidelong glances and the sparking crackle of timid electricity that shocks between them. Bucky reckons by Steve’s toothy grin and silly, dopey expression when he pulls back that it feels good for him, too, to know that his love is requited. 

Everybody’s talking amongst each other, about this or that; Springsteen’s on, finally, one of the older songs with the E Street Band, and Bucky starts swaying his hips and poking at Steve to do the same because they dance so well when they dance together when Peggy comes up beside them and clears her throat. 

Bucky looks at her. She’s gorgeous, inside and out, all dark curling hair and deep eyes, and she’s the only other person besides himself that Bucky would be satisfied with Steve settling down with. He hopes that she feels the same way with him where Steve’s concerned. 

She smiles. It reaches her eyes and they glow in the starlight. “May I speak with you alone?” she asks him, and there’s no malice behind her words, either. 

And, really, if Bucky’s being honest he knew there wasn’t going to be. The thing is—Steve and Peggy may have had a thing, but Bucky and Peggy had a thing, also, and it wasn’t defined or labelled or even brought up, most of the time, but it was, quite simply, this: whoever Steve chose between the two of them would be happy for the other. Bucky just always thought Steve would choose Peggy. 

Peggy’s like soft moonlight to Bucky’s eyes. She’s happy for him, for them, and it isn’t even faked. He’s not sure why he ever doubted that it would be. 

He nods. “Lead the way, ma’am.” 

She giggles, takes his hand in hers, and off they go. It’s a short walk—there are woods all over but the lights only go so far—and they reach a clearing that they stop in. The smell of sappy cedar and harsh pine permeates the air; that, along with the noise from the party and music revving up in the cars gives Bucky a twinge in his stomach. It reminds him of football season, of how much fun he has with those assholes he loves so much, and he’s not ready to have it all come to an end, really. Maybe he’ll sign that goddamn paper, after all, just to have a little bit more of that brotherly camaraderie feel. 

It isn’t awkward between Peggy and him. He’s not entirely sure why he expected it to be. They’ve been in love with the same person for a while—that kind of mirrored situation creates a camaraderie that makes everything feel normal and comfortable. 

“Steve broke up with me just a while ago,” she says, in lieu of a more appropriate conversation starter. But they’ve been sharing the same person for months, fucking him and being fucked by him; Bucky’s not sure if anything’s appropriate anymore. 

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, and he means it—that it took him this long to realize his love for Steve wasn’t as innocent as he thought it was. She deserves the respect of knowing, too, and not having to wait and allowing herself to continue to fall for Steve when he wasn’t falling for her. “I—I love him, Peg.” 

So bad it almost hurts, so fiercely he would walk straight into a war at Steve’s side if that’s what Steve needed from him. 

He doesn’t say any of that. He knows Peggy would do the very same. What he feels for Steve isn’t special because it’s always been there—pretending that it’s some life-altering thing is, in a sense, lying to himself.

“I’m not sure why you’re apologizing to me,” she begins, “when I knew long before you did that you were as in love with him as he is you.” 

Bucky sighs. “I’m beginning to learn that everybody knew except for me.” 

“Not everybody.” Her tone is meant to soothe but her grin is not placating in the least; she’s laughing at him, not with him, and he isn’t bothered because sometimes he kind of stupidly ignores things that are very important. “Steve had no clue what you really felt for him, either.” 

He flashes back, just a moment, to what transpired between him and Steve in his car. The words Steve pressed into Bucky’s heart—they were messy but they sounded rehearsed, like Steve’s thought about it a lot more than Bucky did. 

“Are you sure? ‘Cause when I told Steve that I was in love with him and I didn’t want to share him anymore with you, he wasn’t very surprised.” 

“Were you surprised?” 

“By what?”

She rolls her eyes. “When you realized how you felt.” 

Oh. 

Bucky shakes his head. “No,” he replies, honest. The realization didn’t rock his world. It just settled a lot of things that were otherwise chaotic and untamed. “Not really. It felt like—like I always knew it. Like I always know the sky will be blue or the sun will still shine or Pierce will still be an asshole long after we’ve all graduated.” 

That last bit makes them laugh, but it’s true—Bucky realizing his love for Steve was no more exciting than a kid learning that the sky will always be bigger today than it was yesterday or that the sun’s going to shine no matter what happens on the days between. It wasn’t spectacular or miraculous; it just was, not there one moment but there the next, but Bucky knows he can’t live without it, like the consistency of the sky and the sun. 

“Steve said the same thing. That loving you was just something he’s always done, and he didn’t realize when it went from brotherly to something else.” 

Bucky scratches at his nose. He doesn’t know, either. Maybe it’s always been there. 

“I’m happy for you two,” Peggy continues. “I knew from the start that nothing more would come from me and Steve because we want different things in life, but I still enjoyed the time I was able to have with him, so thank you for allowing me to have it.” 

Bucky very nearly swallows his tongue. “You don’t need to thank me, Peggy!” he says, and maybe it’s a little too loud but he can’t really find it in himself to care at the moment. “I—it should be me thanking you!” 

Peggy raises a brow. Bucky takes that as an inclination to keep going. 

“When Stevie and I started whatever we had it was ‘cause he was so sacred of losing me like he lost his dad, Peggy—”

“Are you sure of that?” 

No. They’ve never really talked about the reason they started their trysts. Bucky’s just always assumed. 

“—and it just—it never stopped. And then he got bigger, got a little more comfortable, and then you came along, and you made him feel the way he’s supposed to feel, like he’s the goddamn sun because he is, and—it should be you, Peggy. It should’ve been you.” 

Bucky’s startled when Peggy thumps him on the forehead. Hard. He deserves it. It’ll probably bruise. 

“Peggy—”

“James Barnes, how dare you try to say something like that to me.” 

He sputters. “It’s the truth!” 

She scoffs. “It very well is not the truth at all, Bucky,” she says—she says Bucky like Steve does and he doesn’t even correct her. “I did not ask you out here to discuss your insecurities with yourself, so you listen here, and you listen good—there is not a goddamn person in this fucking world who can tell Steve Rogers what to do. You know that—you told me that.” 

Bucky nods. 

At his acknowledgment, she smiles. “He chose you because it’s supposed to be you,” she continues, a lot more gently than she was just moments before. “You’re the one that he’s supposed to be with, Bucky. It’s supposed to be you—it was always supposed to be you.” 

She laughs, then, and wipes at her nose; she’s not crying, but this has to be hard for her because she cares for Steve, too, and he wants to offer her some comfort, so he reaches out and takes her hand. She holds on to him tightly. 

“I’ve already told Steve, but I want you to know that I’m happy for you two, and that I don’t hold any anger or hatred toward either of you. Especially you.” 

Bucky smiles, tugging at her hand until she’s in his orbit. “You promise?” 

She shakes her head and rolls her eyes and kisses Bucky chastely on the mouth, in the way that his mother and his little sisters sometimes do. It makes him warm to know that she’s telling the truth—that she’s happy for the both of them, truly. 

“I promise, Bucky.” She says it again, Bucky, and he kind of likes it. “Oh, I’m not an idiot, though. Don’t ever think that.” 

Bucky presses his free hand to his chest in mock scandal. “Peg, I would never.” 

She swats at his chest playfully. “You’re a menace,” she quips but she’s laughing. “I’m not an idiot, Bucky. I know that Steve loves you, but I know that he loves me, too. I know that I love him, as well. Maybe not as much as you, but enough to keep him satisfied. You keep him happy, though.” 

“Peggy?” 

She looks at him, sharply, and he listens like he’s in Sunday school again. “The heart is big, James Buchanan Barnes, and there is room in Steve Rogers’s heart for more than one person. Loving you never took away from him loving me. He loves us fiercely, but he loves us differently.” She shrugs. “That’s all that matters.” 

“That’s all?”

He barks out a laugh. He laughs, and he grabs at her to hug her because he thinks they both need it, and he laughs some more, and he pulls her into his arms, and he laughs as he holds her and she laughs as she clings to him and yes, that’s really all that matters. 

-

When he and Peggy finally end their discussion and they make their way back toward their group of friends, it’s Sam that pulls Bucky to the side for a moment to have a quick chat, disguising it as a need for more beer. 

“You’re acting different.” 

Bucky looks at Sam as they pump the keg and begin to fill their cups with foamy, half-hot beer. “How?” 

“I don’t know.” Sam shrugs—he’s always been great with words but Bucky’s always been great at keeping things to himself and, more often than not, that leaves the both of them communicating nonverbally because that’s easier. Not better, not worse, but easier than trying to force themselves to do something they’re not good at. “You’re just acting different, is all.” 

“Weird?” 

“Yeah, weird.” Sam laughs, clapping Bucky on the back. It’s not a denouncing or accusing sound. The movement spills a little bit of beer, but he doesn’t mind. “But in a good way. 

“Good.” Bucky wipes his nose. “I’ve always wanted to be weird in a good way.” 

Sam kicks him, just a little bit. “I wish you’d talk more, man,” he begins, and they’ve had this conversation so many times over the years but this time it feels different. Like, this time, Sam’s actually speaking with the full intention of making Bucky realize just why it’s unnerving when he goes into his head sometimes. “Steve doesn’t shut up and you, Jamie—you never talk about anything.” 

Bucky sighs. “Is this an intervention?” he asks, and he’s only partly joking. He thinks. “Nata, Sharon, Peggy, you? I’ve had enough conversations today about my head that’ll last me into next month.” 

Sam kicks him again, and this time it’s a little harder. “Jackass,” he quips, lovingly. His eyes sparkle like black diamonds. “We just love you, is all. And we worry about you.” 

Bucky’s quiet a moment. He reflects. The day’s been fucking weird, starting off normal and then quickly veering from the track; he thinks he’s doing a decent job, dealing with all the shit that he’s never thought about before. But then he thinks—maybe it would have all been easier if he would’ve just talked about what’s going on in his heart and head instead of keeping it to himself. 

“I... I appreciate that, Sam.” Bucky gives Sam a timid, small smile. He’s not good with words—he’s not Sam, but Sam doesn’t seem to mind because he’s beaming so brightly it’s a wonder that he’s not the sun. “And I promise I’ll just to start talking about things more. I just thought...” He shrugs as he trails off. “I just thought I could do it myself.” 

“You did.” 

“I did.” Bucky’s proud of that—he may have faired a lot better if he would’ve said something to the people he’s got in his corner but, by God, he came out of the other end alive and breathing and smiling. He did okay. “But it would’ve been easier with you and Nata and Sharon, huh?” 

Sam nods. “A lot easier, actually. You’re our best fuckin’ friend, Jamie—if you hurt, we hurt. You don’t have to run from us, dude. You get that?” 

Bucky’s heart swells and he’s so warm. “Yeah,” he says, quiet—but he’s not quiet, really, and neither is Sam. He looks over at Steve and Natasha and Sharon, how they’re leaning into each other’s space because they belong there, and then he looks back at Sam, and he doesn’t think he’s ever felt quite so full before. “Yeah, I get that.” 

-

The night’s going great until Rumlow shows up. 

He’s pissed. He’s got paint splattered here and there on him and he’s got the ugliest, meanest look on his face as he zigzags through the crowd and inserts himself into Bucky’s face. 

He’s rough when he grabs at Bucky’s shirt, balling the fabric up in his hand. His knuckles are white because he’s holding on so tightly, so angrily. Bucky shifts forward to accommodate that anger—he doesn’t know what’s going on, and he doesn’t want to fight, but he will if he needs to. 

Steve’s shoulders tense and Natasha turns toward them and Sam’s laughter trails off and Sharon crosses her arms and T’Challa’s hands turn to fists and Peggy tips her chin upward. Bucky raises a brow, but otherwise does nothing. 

It’s seven against one. Rumlow’s pissed, and he’s tough and fast but he’s not the best fighter and that’s hardly fair odds. 

“What?”

Rumlow’s absolutely seething. It would be rather funny if his fury wasn’t directed at Bucky. 

“I know it was you that talked those fuckin’ kids into dumping paint on me,” he answers, and he’s so mad he’s spitting on Bucky’s face and that’s just disgusting. 

Bucky sighs. Those damn kids; there’s no doubt in his mind that Shuri and MJ had a lot to do with this. A majority of the crowd overheard Rumlow’s accusation and have turned toward them in nosy anticipation. Aerosmith’s on the radio, and he can hear every word Steven Tyler’s belting because everyone’s fucking quiet. Bucky hates Aerosmith. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bucky says, and it’s the truth, but it’s the wrong thing to say because then Rumlow’s really turning red and he’s reaffirming his grip on Bucky’s shirt as if to hold him there while he pulls his fist back—and then there’s a flurry of movement as Bucky sidesteps and Rumlow stumbles and Sharon’s fist lands right in the socket of his eye. 

He falls down with a howl. His nose isn’t busted, though, and he’s still got one good eye to drive home in and he doesn’t smell like soured beer, so Bucky shrugs it off. Rumlow’s fine. 

Steve relaxes and reaches for Bucky’s hand to offer a bit of comfort and Sharon’s grateful when he hands her his icy beer to chill her knuckles; Bucky can take care of himself in a fistfight with Rumlow—has had worse, what with being Steve’s best friend—but it’s nice to know that he has people at his back. 

T’Challa helps Rumlow up. “Go home, man, and sleep it off,” he says, and he’s even nice about it. “There’s other things in the world that matter more than having paint thrown on you because you paddled some kids. Take it easy.” 

Rumlow’s not happy but he goes; Rollins meets up with him along the way and the two of them are off with a scowl and a few choice words at the people who’re still eyeballing them. Bucky’s thankful Peter and Ned’s problematic asses decided to make themselves scarce—he’s about tired of having to be a big brother to those two fuckers. 

He looks over at Steve. Steve’s cheeks are flushed a faint pink from the beer he’s been drinking and his hair is fuzzy, messy, and his eyes are bright. 

Bucky blinks, slowly. “I wanna take a walk with you,” he says, softly. Maybe he should stay here, make sure Sharon’s okay—but Sam and Natasha are doing just fine, and Sharon’s too solid to let somebody like Rumlow rock her core—but he just wants to wander off for a quiet moment with Steve under the moon and the stars so he can gather his wits about him. “Please?” 

Steve nearly falls over himself as he nods and smiles, holding Bucky’s hand softly in his as they amble off by themselves. 

-

Steve wastes no time to get his hands on Bucky when they’re alone, a bit away from the party, in one of the many small clearings. There’s a cluster of trees around; they’re tall and slim and they smell sharp like cedar and pine and spruce, and those mixed with Steve’s sunshine and sex scent makes Bucky laugh gently because he never knew something could be so heady. 

“Are you okay, Bucky?” Steve’s in a frenzy—he’s cradling Bucky’s face with one hand while the fingers of the other ghost across his bare skin, tips tickling along his shoulders and clavicles and the wrinkled bit of fabric where Rumlow grabbed at his shirt just moments ago. 

He’s still laughing, too soft and too tender for it to be anything but exasperated adoration and awed fondness. 

Steve’s a fucking menace and a half. Bucky loves him in spite of it. 

“I’m fine, Steve,” he replies, but it’s almost like Steve doesn’t hear him because he doesn’t stop his careful touches. It makes Bucky turn red—how did he never realize it? “Stevie.” He brings his hands up; one grabs Steve’s wrist to keep it from moving and the other lays on top of the one that Steve’s got on Bucky’s face. Everything’s soft and everything’s hard all at once and Bucky feels like the world is about to tilt on its axis but that’s not possible. “I’m fine, Stevie. Sharon’s knuckles are worse off than I am.” 

And they are. She lobbed the fuck out of Rumlow, and it’s nothing less than he deserves but goddammit, Bucky feels bad for Sharon’s hand because Rumlow’s got one thick skull and it’s definitely going to hurt for a while. 

Steve swallows. “I know—” he begins, stops himself as he shakes his head. He steps closer, making himself at home in Bucky’s atmosphere. It’s where he belongs, after all, since he’s Bucky’s sun. “I know you can take care of yourself. And, Christ, I know Sharon’s got the meanest right hook in the entire town. But I just—I hate Brock Rumlow, and I hate that he touched you, and I hate that he made Sharon hit him, and I hate that T’Challa is so fucking nice when the world’ll be a better place if he just lets go for once.” 

Bucky wants to step inside of Steve’s body for a moment. But that’s not realistic, and they’ve not got time or privacy for anything more than this—a moment of tender acknowledgement and reassurance that whatever’s budding between them like a newly sprouted flower will not wilt in the face of a thunderstorm in the form of Brock fucking Rumlow. 

“What’d Rumlow and Rollins say to you, Stevie?” He’s only now realizing that Steve never told him. 

Steve’s nostrils flare and he’s angry and upset but he’s warm to Bucky and Bucky isn’t scared of a goddamn thing when Steve Rogers is looking at him like that. 

“They said that I’m nothing. That all I’m good for is football, and that I’ll never amount to anything after I’m done here, and—and that they don’t understand what you and Peg see in me ‘cause there’s nothing there at all.” 

Bucky’s anger soars like a rocket and he breathes sharply. “Don’t you dare believe that, Steve Rogers,” he says, and it’s with such a ferocity that it kind of scares him. He’s always known that he would do anything for Steve, always joked that he would follow Steve off into war, and he would, no matter what—he just never imagined that war would be with the thoughts that people put into Steve’s head. “Don’t you dare, for one second, believe a goddamn thing that either of them said to you.” 

Steve’s lips quirk up in a crooked smile that’s higher on one side than the other. Bucky melts, a little, because Steve doesn’t look any worn down from their untrue words than he does when Pierce gets on his ass for one thing or another. And that’s not at all—Steve’s the type of person who would face God head-on and then come back unimpressed. 

“I don’t. Not really.” Steve shakes his head. “Football isn’t everything to me like it is for them. It’s just—am I that transparent? Am I that easy to read? Is it that noticeable how much I care about you?” 

Bucky doesn’t ask what he means because he knows. 

“You’re as gone for me as I am for you.” Bucky shrugs like it’s nothing—he’s beginning to realize that it really is nothing. It’s just life—his life, with Steve. “Who gives a fuck if you’re, uh, transparent about it? I don’t. Unless it’s a problem for you, I don’t care who knows about you and me.” 

Steve grins like a little kid. “Yeah?” 

Bucky nods. “Yeah.” 

Steve laughs, just a little bit, and kisses Bucky on the forehead. “I want the entire world to know how I feel about you.” The words are smeared against Bucky’s skin and he feels them sink low. “I want the entire world to know that I would go to the ends of the earth for you.” 

It’s not a huge moment of wonder and flooding emotion. It’s just peace and ease and reassurance; soft cotton sheets with the windows open to let in the late spring air as yellow sunlight filters through the curtains and their skin is warm from their touches. Bucky loves Steve and Steve loves Bucky. 

“You could always scream it, I suppose.” 

Steve quirks a brow as he hums, as he steps into Bucky’s body and flushes their chests together. “Scream my love for you to the world, huh?” He’s smiling as he leans in and puts his mouth to Bucky’s ear. They’re cheek to cheek, chest to chest, and Steve breathes, and Bucky shivers, and Steve holds him close. “The thing is, Buck? I don’t want to share you, either.” 

Bucky pulls his away from Steve so he can see the grin that’s stretched all across Bucky’s face. It doesn’t feel real, in a sense—he’s wanted this for so long without knowing that he’s been craving to have Steve all to himself, and now that he does he’s not sure which tangled emotion he should focus on first. Or even if that’s something he ought to be spending his time on. 

Bucky’s grin grows till his cheeks feel like they’re about to split in two. “Steve Rogers, you are one soft motherfucker,” he says, and it’s a joke, and Steve laughs even though it’s not funny, it’s just the truth, he’s so soft for Bucky that it’s a wonder he’s able to even stand upright, and he puts a small, gentle kiss to the corner of Bucky’s mouth. 

-

Bucky runs in to Rebecca when he sneaks off to take a piss. She’s leaning against a tall, towering water oak with Luis and Darcy. 

He smiles at her. Because she’s his twin sister and she just graduated fucking high school and he’s proud of her and he loves her like she’s what keeps him breathing. 

She smiles back. Because she’s his twin sister and she knows him in ways that even Steve never will. 

“So, you and Steve, huh?” 

Bucky’s smile turns in to a full-on grin. “Yeah,” he replies, and he melts, and he just feels himself going soft for Steve. He’s still in awe at how long he was able to hide his love for Steve from himself; he can’t even be upset anymore when people announce they’ve known for a long, long time. “Me and Steve.” 

“Gonna tell Mom and Dad?” 

They’re not going to care, really. Bucky’s father likes men, too, even though he’s never explicitly defined himself like Bucky has. Sarah Rogers won’t care, either, and that Bucky knows. She’s never made a goddamn noise about Bucky and Steve—ever, even when she caught them with their pants around their ankles as they kissed awkwardly when they were just barely seventeen and still learning how to touch one another. But, yeah, he’ll tell them. They deserve to know. They’ll be happy for them, too. 

“You don’t think they already know?”

Rebecca nods. “They already know,” she confirms. “I won’t stop loving you for it, you know. Neither will the two munchkins. I don’t think you were worried about that, but. I just wanted you to know.” She smiles. “You’re our brother. We just want you happy. And we know it’ll be with nobody but Steve, even though he’s a worse troublemaker than me.” 

Bucky leans toward her for a moment. He wants to hug her so fiercely and hold her close and never let anything hurt her and he knows that she would do the same for him. 

“I know.”

“I’m happy for you. I really am.” 

“Thanks, Becca.” He’s not called her that in years. “I know.” This time, his heart does swell. “I’m happy, too.” 

-

The party dies down not long after Rumlow and Rollins left. The keg’s are empty and it’s after three in the morning. The radio’s on, and Bob Seger’s playing, and everybody’s loading up in their vehicles and they’re saying their goodbyes and leaving. It’s sad because this is the last time a lot of people will be here, but Bucky doesn’t dwell on that too much. 

Instead, cozy in Steve’s arms, warmer than the sun and happier than the angels in heaven, he turns to his friends. T’Challa and Peggy are shoulder to shoulder as they lean on Bucky's car talking about something with furiously excited eyes, and Sharon’s pulling at Natasha’s hair to tug it back into two thick braids and Sam’s offering his help but they’re not taking it. 

Bucky asks, “Wanna go watch the sunrise from the fifty yard line?” becuase he’s tired but he’s not exhausted and he loves this family he’s made for himself and he wants to hold on to it a little bit longer before things come crashing down. 

They nod. Bucky knew they would. And off they go, in Peggy’s Cadillac and Bucky’s car because Peggy’s sober and Bucky quit at three cups and that was hours ago, and Steve holds his hand the whole way even when T’Challa and Sam tease him mercilessly for it. They’re happy for him, for the two of them. Bucky doesn’t need to ask to know. 

It makes Bucky hot on the inside, to be with Steve in a way he’s only dreamed about, and to have his friends, his chosen family, treat the two of them like nothing’s changed. Because it’s not. 

Bucky smiles, and it’s to himself, but Steve catches his chin in his hand and tilts that grin to his own mouth, just for a moment, before T’Challa and Sam start hollering about keeping his eyes on the road. 

It makes him laugh.

Yeah, this—this is what life’s all about. 

-

The football field’s wet with a heavy layer of cold, crystal-like dew as they slip through the rips in the fence. The stadium lights up above aren’t on because none of them have a key to the control room, but there’s plenty of illumination streaming in from the streetlights. It smells like grass and dirt, and Bucky makes himself at home in the center of the field, right on the fifty yard line. 

Steve settles next to him, and they’re shoulder to shoulder, touching from head to toe; it’s not cold, but having Steve’s heat next to him is nice.

Natasha flops down to his left, on her belly; she’s got a bag of gummy candy and a soda pop she snatched from a twenty-four hour convenience store on the way to the field and she’s not sharing and that’s fine. Sam’s next to her, complaining about the wet ground because that’s all he does, but he doesn’t hesitate to get comfortable, either, and then he’s snagging some gummy candy from Natasha because he’s the only person she’ll share with, apparently.

Not even Sharon gets to do that. 

Peggy, T’Challa, and Sharon are on his right. They’re comfortably sprawled, too, snacking on chips and chocolate, and Bucky and Peggy left the radios in their cars on, turned it to the same channel like everybody did at the party, and the Stones are taking up a slot, crooning Wild Horses. Natasha’s humming it under her breath, content and soft; Bucky pretends he can’t see Sharon gazing at Natasha. 

He settles and leans back on his hands and spreads his legs out, and he looks at the sky, facing the east where the sun comes up. It’s after five, now, because they wasted a bit of time; the day’s are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter, and the sunrise happens just a bit after six in the morning this time of the year. 

They’re all quiet for a moment. The birds aren’t awake yet, but the crickets are, and they’re singing a song that’s as old as anything Bucky’s ever known. There’s a surreal sense of completeness blanketing them, Bucky feels—he’s not sure what it is, what’s brought it on, so he can’t very well explain it, but it feels nice, solid like a stone wall against his back. To just be here, be comfortable, be at ease with who he is as a person and who he’s sure he’ll become whenever he gets out of this town. 

“I can’t wait to get out of this town.” 

T’Challa glances at Bucky with a quirk of his brow. “What? You gettin’ tired of the monotony and ignorance of it all?” His tone is teasing but there’s truth reflecting in his dark eyes—he knows, he understands, and he feels the same way. Out of everybody all of them know, it’s this group that’s got the most to lose if they stick around much after high school. “I think… I think I’d be worried if you wanted to stay. Not other people—some are gonna stay here till they die. But us? I’d be worried if we wanted to stay.” 

Bucky purses his lips in thought for a moment. His dad’s got a solid standing in the community, even though he’s sometimes whispered about behind his back because he’s raised a son who likes dick just as much as pussy, and Sarah Rogers has a large farm that she’s not going to be able to run by herself. There’s a life here, for him and for Steve, a comfortables slice of the American dream that doesn’t mean shit. 

“I’m not saying I’ll stay gone forever,” he says. Steve maneuvers so he can lay his head down in Bucky’s lap and look up at him like he’s hung the stars. For Steve, he reckons he would. “I’ve got a life here, you know? And I’ll have a life to come back to, after I’m gone. I just—”

“Don’t wanna be here any longer than you gotta,” Sharon finishes for him. “You’re not the only one. Don’t feel bad for thinking like that, either.” 

Sam makes a quick noise. “But it’s okay if you feel bad for thinking that,” he says, and he’s not playing the devil’s advocate. Bucky knows him better than that. Sam’s got a younger brother, after all. “Our whole lives are here—it’s okay to feel bad for wanting to leave it all behind.” 

Steve sniffs. “Not all behind.” He rolls onto his back and furrows himself further into Bucky’s lap; he’s looking up at Bucky, all sky blue eyes and yellow smiles, and Bucky runs his fingers through Steve’s hair. He feels Peggy looking at them. He knows without glancing that she’s smiling. “I got my mom, and the house, and the land, and this is where my dad’s buried.” 

“It all makes for a good retirement for a world-weary and well-traveled artist, don’t you think?” 

Steve grins at T’Challa. He’s beaming with adoration; that’s what it is when you realize that the people you surround yourself know you so well. “Spoken like a prince.” 

T’Challa scoffs and rolls his eyes, but it's all in good fun. It’s not like he’s actually a prince. 

“Retiring here is a lot different from living here,” Peggy intones; she’s closest to Bucky, and she leans back, and Steve fishes his arm out and his hand tickles at her side till she’s snatching it with hers and tucking it against her stomach. “It’s… idealistic. But it’s not for me.” 

Sharon shrugs. Natasha nods.

“I don’t think it’s meant for any of us, really.” Steve’s lashes flutter against his red-tinted cheeks, and Bucky swipes at the heat on the skin. “We’re all just so—this ain’t for us. Not forever.” 

Bucky smiles. “It’s for us now, though, isn’t it?” he says, and he’s not disillusioned—he’s eighteen, and he’s got an itch under his skin; he doesn’t want to stay here forever, but he’s got to be patient because he’s getting out on scholarships. “We gotta tough it out for another year. And then we’re gone.” 

“Not me.” Peggy’s smirk is plain in her tone. 

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Bucky turns to look at Peggy. She’s who he’s talking to. “That this is your last time here.” 

She smiles, and he can see, faintly, that she’s rubbing Steve’s big hand with her small thumb. “I’m not leaving tomorrow, Bucky.” It’s the first time she’s called him by that name in front of the others; nobody says anything because it’s not a big deal but Steve muffles his quiet laughter into Bucky’s thigh and maybe it’s a big deal for him. “I’ll be back. Not to stay, of course, but to visit. Besides, I can’t let you lot graduate without me being there.” 

“Oh.” Sam’s tone is equal parts mystified and bittersweet, strangled with joy and enlivened with abrupt melancholy. “This is it, then? We’ve got one year, and that’s it, and then we’re all going our separate ways, huh?” 

Bucky shrugs, thinking for a moment. He’s leaving, but not the state; there’s a pretty good veterinary program up north a few hours, and he reckons that’s far enough to go for the first few years, and Rebecca will be there, so he’s got a place to stay. Steve’s leaving—to where, he’s not sure, and neither’s Steve, but there’s no way he’ll stay here to cultivate his passion for art. Natasha’s heading off to Stanford, and Sam’s got himself a university south, and Sharon’s talked about traveling abroad before she decides what to settle herself on, and T’Challa’s already made plans to move to D.C. with Peggy after he’s graduated. And with the two of them there, shit’s bound to change. 

But that’s in the future. And it’s not far off, only a year or so, but it’s enough out there that there’s no need to focus on it right now, when they’re all here together with one another, and Bucky says just as much, and they agree like he knew they would, and they shoot the shit after that, talk about nothing and anything and everything in between, and Bucky feels— 

It’s been a day. It’s been a goddamn day. And here, right now, sitting with Steve’s head in his lap, his hand in Steve’s hair, Steve’s fingers intertwined with Peggy’s because he can’t let her all the way go, with Sam and Natasha teasing him like he’s fourteen and popping boners from a stiff breeze, and Sharon laughing like she can’t believe she’s actually friends with all of them, and T’Challa and Peggy heatedly discussing politics back and forth, Bucky’s never felt more happy. 

And that’s a stupid word. It is. He hates using it. It’s like using ‘very’—it gets the point across, but it doesn’t offer anything for the imagination. He likes dramatics, and flare, and explosions of emotion, like an ongoing orgasm, but he can’t think of a better word for how he feels. He’s just—happy. 

Everything’s coming together in his mind, and it’s all anticlimactic. He expected more. 

Time passes. Quickly. An hour’s gone before they know it, and then the sun is peaking up over the horizon, over the little mountain in the distance; it’s all stretches of burnt orange and hot pink and lemon yellow, and Bucky has to squint as the sun pops up into sky to start a new day. 

“Hmm,” Steve mumbles against Bucky’s thigh; he’s still laying there, snuggled close, cozy and warm and half-asleep. “Would you look at that, Buck.” 

Bucky does. The orange-pink-yellow is bright and vivid, and it paints Steve’s face in all sorts of colors and highlights and shadow. 

“It’s everything I thought it would be.” 

“Sap,” Steve says, because he knows Bucky’s looking at him and not the sunrise. He’s looking at Bucky, too. “Me too.” 

They’re quiet, for a moment. All of them. It’s enough—to just take it in: the sunrise, the smell of the grass, the future they’ve all got stretching out before them. 

-

Sam’s coming back from a piss break when he throws two wadded up pieces of paper at Bucky and Steve. He knows what it is before he even opens it. 

“Nobody signed it,” he says to Bucky, to Steve, and then his brows knit and he shakes his head. “Nobody that matters signed it, at least.” He shrugs and sits right down in front of them. “Pierce is an asshole, and I think, maybe, that little paper—” he motions to it with a nod of his head, “—will be what takes him down.” 

T’Challa crawls over. “You’re making this sound like he’s the big bad villain you’ve all gotta take down.” 

Bucky shrugs. “Isn’t he?” 

T’Challa’s quiet. He’s usually got a lot to say. 

“Or you can all just sign it,” Peggy says. “Just to get the coaches off your backs, I mean. They’re assholes. You can all sign it, and never think about it again after that.” 

Bucky doesn’t tell her that it’s too late. He knows Pierce’ll give them all a pass for not having it on his desk, but still—it was supposed to be there by the end of the day and it wasn’t. 

Steve’s frowning as he finally lifts himself up off Bucky’s lap. “It’s not that cut and dry, Peg,” he says, softly. His brows are drawn together and he’s got a thoughtful expression on his face. “It’s about how—how Pierce thinks he can control us.” 

“Of course it is, Steve. I’m not saying that you should let him teach you to roll over so he can scratch your belly every time he sees fit. What I am saying is that you’re gonna have people try and control you for the rest of your life. The world’s full of manipulators who’re gonna want to coerce you over by any means necessary, and that’s what Pierce is.” 

“Just another manipulator, yeah,” Sharon echoes. She leans forward to meet Steve’s eyes. “It’s like I told James, Steve—you gotta do what you wanna do. Tell ‘em all to fuck off, or let them keep making your decisions for you.” She shrugs, and gives him a crooked smile. “You’ve gotta do what you want to do, Steve Rogers.” 

Steve looks at Bucky, for a moment. They’re touching, still tangled with one another; Bucky can feel how warm Steve’s palms are where they’re at on his thighs and Steve can probably feel the little tufts of Bucky’s breaths against his cheeks. They’re so close they could kiss. 

He smiles. He hopes it’s encouraging, hopes it’s enough to ease some of the panic he suspects is bubbling below the surface at not knowing what to do or say or think or feel—Sharon’s a lot sometimes, and she uses big words and even bigger ideas, and, like Natasha said, she doesn’t pull her punches. 

He turns back to Sharon. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” he says, honest as sin. “I just—I know that I want to look back and say that I did the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place.” He grins at Bucky, then. “Had as much sex as I could while I was stuck in this place.” 

Bucky shakes his head. And he’s laughing, and Steve’s opening his mouth to say something else, but before he can the music from the cars is being turned off and Pierce is yelling at them from the parking lot. 

-

They crawl out the same way they came in. The sun’s up, and everything’s painted in orange-yellow light. Pierce is here with Sitwell, and Fury is, too, although he’s staying in his truck. He’s got a funny expression on his face, and he offers Bucky a tight smile. 

Pierce is seething. He was probably handsome as a young man. Now he’s just hateful and ugly, and Bucky isn’t scared but he is rather annoyed. 

“Come here, boys. Come here.” He’s pacing, kind of; Bucky looks at Steve, and Steve shrugs. They walk toward Pierce, with Sam and T’Challa on either side. They must look a sight—they’ve been up almost twenty-four hours, and it’s been a long, long day. Bucky’s mouth is nasty; he doesn’t want to know what he looks like. “You three have been out with those losers all night?” 

He speaks the question loudly and the girls hear. Sharon hollers, “Suck my dick, Pierce!” because she’s not scared of a thing and Bucky loves her for it. 

Pierce sighs. “That’s the kind of people I was talking about,” he continues; Bucky remembers earlier today—yesterday—when Pierce spoke to them. “Trouble like this—breaking in to the field—means nothing to those clowns. You four are the ones with something to lose.” 

“Coach, you don’t even know them,” Steve interjects, winded and angry and confused. Bucky’s heard worse, and he knows that if the girls wanted something done about what was being said then they would do it themselves. Steve’s too righteous to let anyone lift a finger. “How can you even talk that way about them?” 

Still, Bucky stays quiet. He’s fought his battle already. This belongs to Steve.

Pierce reflects, quickly. “Okay, Steve. Okay.” He holds his hands up and shakes his head, exasperated. “I shouldn’t do this, boys, but I’m willing to wipe the slate clean. For all of you.” His eyes scan across the four of them and linger on Bucky. “I want the four of you to get your priorities straight, quit hanging out with those hoodlums, and sign your commitment to your team. Have you done that yet?” 

Bucky looks at him squarely. He blinks. He doesn’t answer. Sam and T’Challa are quiet, too, and that’s answer enough. 

“I’m still thinkin’ about it,” Steve replies. 

“No one’s paying you to think about it!” Pierce nearly yells; it’s enough to make Sam start. “Just sign it and get it over with, son!” 

Bucky turns to Steve and watches as Pierce’s words register. Son. Only one man other than Joseph Rogers has ever called Steve that, and it’s damn sure never been Pierce. Steve’s decision was made as soon as that word came out of Pierce’s mouth. Bucky watches everything unfold. 

“You know, Coach, I gotta get going,” he says, and he’s feigning polite diversion but that’s not the case. “My loser friends and I—you know, we gotta get Springsteen tickets. Top priority of the summer.” He thins his lips and shrugs. “Oh, and Coach? I forgot.” 

And then he’s reaching in his front pocket for that damn piece of paper, and he’s wadding it up, and he’s throwing it at Pierce. 

It hits Pierce in the chest. He looks like he’s been shot. Steve looks like he’s won a war. 

“I might play ball, but I will never sign that.” 

Steve’s turning, then, and walking away, dramatic as always. Bucky huffs a laugh and risks a glance at Fury; he’s looking at everything with wide eyes, and he’s got a tired smile on his face. He gives Bucky a nod, and then he starts his truck, and then he’s gone. 

Bucky pays no mind to Pierce as he goes toward Steve. He’s swept up into Steve’s side, and Steve kisses him quickly on the forehead, and Sharon’s irritated and Natasha’s laughing and Peggy’s got her brow raised, and Sam and T’Challa are shaking their heads, and Bucky’s in love, and Pierce can’t touch that. 

-

They part ways. Bucky and Steve drop Peggy and T’Challa at their houses; Sam takes Bucky’s car to fill it up with gas and goes with Sharon and Natasha to Sharon’s to grab some clothes and a quick shower before they’re set to meet up again at Steve’s.

The farmhouse is quiet when Bucky and Steve ease through. It smells like coffee and cigarette smoke, and Sarah’s still asleep; they hurry through the kitchen, through the living room, up the stairs, down the corridor, into Steve’s bedroom. It’s just as messy as they left it, and the window is open, and they grab clothes and head off in opposite directions to clean up. 

Bucky showers fast but thoroughly, and he’s walking into Steve’s bedroom when he’s hit with the realization of how much has changed in the last twenty-four hours.  

He stands still, in the doorway. Steve’s getting dressed, tugging on his jeans, and he’s a sight: awkwardly-sized, still growing, with freckles and muscles and a sand-colored tuft of hair on his head that’s softer than anything. He’s not the prettiest thing Bucky’s ever seen but Bucky loves him in spite of that.  

Steve catches him looking. Appreciating. He raises a brow. “What?” he asks around a laugh; Bucky can see him turning red and he’s so pretty. “You haven’t changed your mind, have you?” 

Bucky shuts the door and walks toward Steve and cups his face with the hand that’s not holding the towel around his waist. “Change my mind about you?” he asks, shaking his head. “I will never change my mind about you.”   

They lean forward, and Steve’s lips are chapped and his mouth tastes like minty toothpaste. His hands are gripping Steve’s shoulders, and his tongue is flicking the back of Steve’s mouth, and he’s pressing himself against Steve, and it’s suddenly a flurry of movement as Steve jerks the towel away and they’re flush, hot flesh to scratchy denim, and it’s hot, and they’re swaying to the song as they lazily kiss one another. 

It’s nice. It’s warm. 

Steve’s hands tickle down Bucky’s back and settle on his ass. He pulls away, but he doesn’t go far because he’s kissing Bucky’s nose, cheeks, forehead, jaw, neck. “Do we have enough time for a quick go?” he asks, all breathy and drowned. He grabs Bucky’s ass and spreads the cheeks, and there’s a cool rush of air that has Bucky shivering and stepping closer. “If you wanna?” 

“God, yes,” Bucky acquiesces, and they tumble onto the bed, Bucky first, and Steve’s got one leg between Bucky’s, and the denim of his jeans is rough but it feels too good on his shower-fresh skin for him to care as he arches for more—everything. 

Steve puts both his hands on either side of Bucky’s head and leans up. “Me in you?” He raises a brow. Bucky nods. “Gonna eat you out first.”  

Bucky huffs and rolls his eyes. He loves it when Steve gets him open like that. There’s a thrum of electricity buzzing beneath his as he runs his fingers through Steve’s damp hair. “I love you, Steve,” he says, like he can’t help it. 

The grin Steve gives him is nothing less than glorious. 

“You’re so fuckin’ soft,” Steve says, and he’s moving off Bucky, going to kneel on his knees on the floor. He grabs Bucky around the hips, and pulls till he’s hanging off the bed, and his legs are thrown over Steve’s shoulders and Steve’s tilting his hips up. 

Bucky’s dick is half-hard, sloppy against his stomach, and he stretches his arms above his head with a low moan of satisfaction. He’s in no hurry. 

Steve laughs and smears his lips along Bucky’s inner thighs. They catch and drag, and Bucky’s breath hitches. “I love you too, Bucky,” Steve whispers, and then he’s nosing around Bucky’s crotch, pulling apart Bucky’s cheeks, and the flat bit of his hot wet tongue on Bucky’s hole is a jolt to both of their systems. 

A little noise of stunted pleasure rips itself from Bucky’s throat, swirling in the yellow morning air. It makes Steve smile because Bucky can feel it against his body. 

“You like me being loud?” 

Steve shrugs; the movement is awkward with Bucky’s legs thrown over his shoulders. “If you wanna be loud, then be loud.” The words are said against Bucky’s hole and he’s torn between being shocked with pleasure and being slammed with love. “I just don’t want you to hide any part of yourself from me.” 

And he gets back to work, holding Bucky open and spearing his tongue and delving inside, kissing around the pucker, and Bucky’s not loud but he does let out a constant stream of mewls and whimpers, and they’re breathless and ragged and every once in a while Steve will pull away and press his lips to Bucky’s hot thighs in the tenderest touch. 

It brings tears to Bucky’s eyes. Being like this, with Steve. It’s liberation of the highest kind. 

Steve’s got some slick on his bedside table. He’s not quiet as he grabs the bottle and smears his fingers and presses them in with his tongue, one at a time till there’s three and he’s scissoring them deferentially. It stings at first but he spreads his legs so far there’s a cramp stirring in the bottom of his spine like there’s heat pooling in the pit of his belly and Steve’s eating him like he’s a last meal, and, God, he isn’t sure if he can take it anymore. 

“Stevie. Stevie.

Steve hears, and he pulls off and away and stands and undoes his pants and sits on the bed and leans back on his hands. Bucky’s legs are flimsy but he maneuvers in a wobble and sits himself on Steve’s lap. Steve’s cock is hard, rigid, and Bucky slides down easy; his ass is flush with Steve’s thighs, and Steve’s jeans are scratching at his soft skin, and he looks into Steve’s eyes and he finds everything he was looking for. 

He smiles. “Hey.” 

The song’s changed a few times. It’s Bruce Springsteen now, and it’s I’m On Fire. It’s melancholic and wilting. 

Steve’s cheeks are dark pink and his lips are glossy from slick and spit. “Hey,” he says, softly, and he brings one hand up and cups Bucky’s cheek and rubs at the puffy skin under Bucky’s eye. “You’re so beautiful, Buck.” 

Bucky knows he’s not. He’s got purple swells under his eyes, and his hair is damp and tangled, and his lips are chapped; his eyes are bloodshot and ache from lack of sleep, but Steve thinks he’s beautiful and that’s—something. 

“You’re such a fuckin’ idiot,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes. He curls his arms around Steve’s neck, holding on as he starts a slow grind; he’s terrifyingly hard, closer than he thought he was, and Steve usually goes off like a rocket more times than not so he’s not got much work to do and he thinks that’s a good thing because he fucking hates being on top. 

Steve grins, dopey and drowsy and dazzling, and Bucky wants to feel that smile on his lips. “‘M your idiot.” 

Bucky sighs and thumps Steve on the back of the head. This feeling is not new—he’s constantly wanting to kiss or kill Steve, and the feeling’s always been mutual, it seems. It’s just so much more, right now. Like Bucky’s running across the sun itself, and it doesn’t burn but it’s so terrifying in its endless possibilities. 

“You’re so fuckin’ sweet, Steve.” 

Steve huffs a breath and he leans forward and he presses his lips, all spit and lube-wet, to Bucky’s. It tastes nasty, and Bucky rears away, and he’s laughing, and the angle hits him just right, a jolt of actual electricity that zigzags up his spine, and he comes while he’s laughing, gasping at the unexpected release of pressure, and he slumps forward. Steve wraps his arms around Bucky’s pliant body and he leans forward and hums with his release and Bucky feels the vibration in his chest. 

They fall over, sweaty and soft, and Steve smiles at Bucky, and Bucky touches Steve’s face, and they kiss for just a little while longer. 

-

Afterward, they finish dressing in a hurry, in t-shirts and blue jeans; Steve’s hair is sticking up in all sorts of directions and Bucky’s pretty sure there’s a hole in the toe of his sock but Sam’s in the yard honking for them and Sharon’s throwing rocks through the open window and Natasha’s hollered that they’re not waiting much longer. 

They rush down. They don’t worry about being quiet: the radio in the kitchen is on, playing George Jones, and that’s a sure sign that Sarah’s awake and having her morning coffee, and she’s sitting in the kitchen sipping at her mug, and Bucky’s mother is there, too, and they’re sharing a pack of cigarettes between them. They smile when they see Bucky and Steve coming their way. 

Bucky presses a kiss to the top of his mother’s head. He got his hair from her, all dark and thick and curly in the humidity. Steve does the same to Sarah, hugging her to his side. 

“You boys are up early,” Sarah comments with a raise of her brow in Steve’s direction. Bucky knows that she knows what transpired up stairs, and he knows that his mother is aware, too. “Going anywhere special?” 

“To DC. For Springsteen tickets.”  

“Sam and Sharon and Nata are coming with us, too,” Bucky adds. 

Bucky’s mother makes a sound. “Of course that’s what you’re doing,” she says, swatting Bucky on the rear. “You two will be back before we have to move Becca into her dorm?” 

Bucky kisses his mother on the forehead when she looks up at him. “Of course.”

“We’ll call when we get close, okay?” Steve hugs Sarah one more time. “It won’t take long.” 

“Be careful, and make sure Sam and the girls  don’t get in too much trouble,” Sarah calls over her shoulder, and Bucky and Steve are both smiling, and then Bucky’s mom is saying, “It’s about time you two boys got your shit together,” and Bucky groans because of course she knew, everybody knew, and Steve laughs because he’s insufferable and they kiss each other on the lips, just a little peck. It sends the two women into a fit of laughter, happy and light, and Bucky and Steve walk through the front door with the echo. 

Sam, Natasha, and Sharon are waiting in the yard. Sam’s leaning against the side of Bucky’s car, gorgeous in a white t-shirt, and Natasha’s between Sharon’s legs as she sits on the hood, both of them wearing thin cotton dresses that make them look ethereal, and the three of them are grinning. Like they finally feel at peace, too. 

Bucky looks at Steve. The sun is shining, brighter than it’s ever been before, and Steve’s painted in a faint yellow glow that makes his smile burn and his eyes sparkle. And then he turns that smile to Bucky, and Bucky’s blinded. 

He reaches for Steve’s hand and intertwines their fingers and holds on. 

How could he ever be scared of loving Steve Rogers?