And it’s 1938 and Steve Rogers is holding out a daisy between two fingers, looking at Bucky with an almost smile hitching his mouth. He’s sitting cross legged next to Bucky’s shoulder, all sharp elbows and knees, cheeks already turning pink in the sun.
“What is that?” Bucky says flatly, hands behind his head and squinting in the sunlight as he tries to focus on Steve. He had been having a nice nap until Steve had rudely awakened him by jabbing a finger into his stomach.
“Flower,” Steve replies in a tone of voice that suggests Bucky’s the one being the idiot here. “For you.”
“You’re hilarious,” Bucky says and closes his eyes again, only to feel a bony finger poke him hard in the ribs. “Ouch, what’re you playing at?”
“Take the flower, Buck. It’s rude to turn down a gift.”
Bucky cranes his neck up, hastily looking around the park. There’s no-one close enough to hear, but still. Someone sees Steve handing over a flower like that and chooses to make a joke or an issue of it, it’ll come down on their heads in ways too terrible for Bucky to think about.
“Can’t,” Bucky says, shutting his eyes again, breathing in deep the smell of grass and the nearby river. “You know that.”
“Fine,” Steve sighs, looks away. “If you don’t want it, I get it.”
Bucky cracks an eye open, scowling. “Don’t.”
“No, I get it,” Steve says with a sad twist of his mouth, shrugging and pulling at the grass with his fingers. “I just thought you’d appreciate it a little more, is all.”
Bucky narrows his eyes. “I’m not falling for that.”
“Falling for what?” Steve says. “I’m not doin’ anything. I guess I’ll just keep ahold of it, maybe give it to a dame on the walk home-”
It’s a lie and they both know it because Bucky is sure Steve would have a better chance of becoming a strongman in the circus than successfully giving a girl flowers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop him sitting up and leaning over, snatching the flower out of Steve’s hand, unaccountably put out at the mere thought of Steve even contemplating handing over the piece of shit flower to someone else.
“You’re a fucking punk,” he says irritably, and carefully threads the stem of the daisy into the third buttonhole of his shirt. “Happy now?”
“Very,” Steve hums, turning his face up towards the sun and smiling. Bucky lies back down and watches him lazily through half lidded eyes, enjoying the peace and quiet. The company isn’t half bad either, he thinks to himself, even if the company is currently being a pain in the ass.
He’s still not sure how Steve does it, even after ten years of knowing each other, how he can be so bullheaded and stubborn and irritating, yet simultaneously so good and kind and earnest. He’s hopeless, is what he is, but he’s still the best goddamn thing to ever happen to Bucky.
Bucky’s sure there’s a word for it somewhere, a word to describe how Steve is all of those things at the same time, but he hasn’t found it yet.
And it’s 1944, and Steve is still the same utterly hopeless guy that Bucky has been head over heels for ever since he can remember, but now he’s also not. He’s now in a body that matches the strength inside, one that won’t let him down and betray him with illness, that allows him to do everything he’s ever felt he needed to. Even so, he’s still the same, he’s still Bucky’s best friend, his best guy. It’s just that these days, he’s also Bucky’s Captain as well.
And Captain or not, right now Steve Rogers is about to get a boot up his ass.
"Where is that useless sack of star spangled shit?!"
Storming around the edge of the tent, rifle in hand, Bucky kicks an empty ammo canister out of his path and is just in time to see Steve hastily scrambling to his feet, almost tripping over Dernier’s legs but regaining his balance at the last moment. He staggers back a step and then twists, vaulting over the crate he'd been sitting on and making a clear - though ill advised - bid for freedom.
"GET BACK HERE," Bucky bellows, striding after him, cursing as his rifle strap snags on a branch. He wrenches it free, but by the time he’s got himself untangled, Steve is gone.
"Motherfucker," he snaps, and turns his glare on the others as they all start to laugh.
"The man can take on the Red Skull hand to hand and only be scared of a telling off from you," Falsworth says with his usual sideways smirk, eyes twinkling as he leans back and kicks his feet up onto Steve's vacated crate.
"Dumb jerk should stop getting shot then," Bucky scowls, taking off in the direction Steve had run and ignoring the laughs and ribbing from the others, shouts of ‘run, Rogers, run!’ and ‘mother hen Barnes is on the move, might as well give it up, Cap!’ and ‘you can’t shoot him, Barnes, the president will have your hide!’
"He only got nicked," Moritia calls after him over the laughter of the others, sounding long suffering.
"Nicked," Bucky snarls, slinging his rifle onto his back and carrying on muttering to himself even though the others can no longer hear him. "Wouldn't have got nicked if he'd stayed put like he was fucking supposed to, 'stead of running at the fucking guy-"
He slows down, feet dragging as his sharp eyes spot a familiar flash of blue around the edge of a tree that unfortunately isn’t quite wide enough to serve its intended purpose as a hiding place.
“Oh, Captain America,” Bucky calls, voice a dangerous sing-song. The edge of a blue shoulder and elbow he can see don’t move an inch.
Stopping completely about four feet away from the tree, Bucky crosses his arms over his chest, feeling utterly unimpressed. “I can see you,” he calls, to a response of nothing. “Steve. You're behind a tree that isn't as wide as your shoulders. I can literally see you.”
Finally, Steve moves. He appears from behind the tree, thumb tucked in his belt and expression carefully nonchalant, smiling at Bucky like he wasn’t an idiot who had just got himself shot. “Oh hey, Buck.”
"Don’t you," Bucky begins, voice threatening as he scans Steve and spots a new tear in his uniform, across the side of his calf. "Don't you ‘hey Buck’ me," he tries, but Steve is still looking at him with a stupid winning smile fixed firmly in place, and it’s no good, Bucky is starting to laugh.
"Stop grinning at me, punk, I'm mad at you," he insists. "Oh my god, you were hiding behind a tree, how have you survived this long-"
"Dumb luck," Steve says. He steps closer and looks around quickly before hooking his fingers under the strap of Bucky’s rifle, dragging him in and kissing him square on the mouth.
A startled noise breaks free from the back of Bucky’s throat, and he reactively shoves Steve back with a hand on his shoulder. “The fellas might see,” he says, voice low.
Steve just tightens his grip on the rifle strap, licking his bottom lip in a way that really isn’t very fair at all. “Pretty sure they know.”
Bucky leans back, but Steve is reeling him in, close enough so Bucky can feel his warm breath washing across his mouth. “They might, but at least give them plausible deniability. Come on, I don’t want to be blue-ticketed outta here-”
“They won’t blue ticket me,” Steve says.
“No, they’ll just have you accidentally die in some very heroic and patriotic accident to avoid having to,” Bucky replies, and smacks his palm to Steve’s shoulder. “Me, on the other hand-”
Steve huffs. “Fine, fine,” he says, and takes a step back. “I just thought you were ashamed of being seen getting too close with the great Captain America.”
“Too right,” Bucky says, and pushes Steve’s hand away from the strap of his rifle. “Don't want no one knowing I'm sweet on a fella that wears tights."
Steve shakes his head, sending an exasperated smile in Bucky’s direction. “Punk.”
“Jerk,” Bucky replies, and tilts his head back in the direction of the camp. “Come on. I think they’ll worry that I shot you myself.”
“Wait,” Steve said, and steps up again and grabs Bucky’s elbows with both hands. “One for the road,” he murmurs, and he leans in and kisses him again, a long lingering press of his mouth against Bucky’s.
Bucky hums in the back of his throat and gently eases back, nudging Steve’s nose with his own before smacking him sharply around the back of the head.
“Hey, what the hell?!” Steve ducks away, looking wounded. “What was that for?!”
“Nice try with the distracting,” Bucky says flatly. “Stop getting shot.”
The look Steve shoots him is full of hurt and betrayal, and Bucky is not having any of it. “Face isn’t gonna work today,” he says, and turns away because he knows from experience that the longer he looks at the face, the more likely he is to give in to it. “Stupid jerk, hiding behind a goddamn tree like you’re still five foot nothing.”
“You could be nice to me, I did get shot,” Steve grumbles behind him, following with a bad grace. “Bet you won’t even kiss me better.”
Bucky bites the inside of his cheek to hold back the laugh. “Not a chance,” he says loftily, but he’s smiling and he’s pretty sure that Steve doesn’t believe a word he says anyway.
And it’s the same year, different season, and Bucky finds himself where he belongs, wrapped up in Steve’s arms, safely hidden away from the eyes of the rest of the world. The rest of the Commandos are in tents nearby, close enough to be dangerous if they weren’t to be trusted.
“What is it you want?” Steve whispers in Bucky’s ear, so quiet it’s little more than a breath. Bucky slides his hands under Steve’s arms, hooking around and splaying his palms flat out on Steve’s back. Steve nuzzles into the side of his face, pressing his mouth against Bucky’s neck and keeping his breathing deep and even, so they’re not overheard through the thin walls of the tent.
Bucky starts to laugh. He can’t help it. His shoulders shudder and he clamps his lips together, but the way he’s shaking gives it away-
“Really? You’re still laughing?” Steve asks flatly, lifting his head and pinning Bucky with a glare, and that’s it, Bucky is gone. He gasps in a lungful of air and starts to laugh helplessly, hastily pulling an arm free and clamping his palm over his mouth.
“It’s not that funny,” Steve says, though there’s a quirk to his lips and a twinkle in his eye.
“‘Take that, Hydra Nazis,’” Bucky chokes out, and then he’s laughing so hard he can’t stop, the sound carrying easily through the cold air.
“Shut up,” a voice groans irritably from nearby.
“Go to sleep, man.”
“Jesus, Barnes. Neither you or Rogers are that funny-”
Bucky lifts his head and shouts, “Take that, Hydra Nazis!” loud enough so that the others can hear him, and Steve shakes his head as the others all burst into laughter too.
“Yeah, yeah,” Steve calls. “It was a brilliant line and you all know it.”
“No way pal. Not suave enough to make the cut for Captain America, The Movie,” Dugan calls back, still chuckling.
“It did give us the element of surprise, I’ll give you that,” Falsworth adds. “Don’t reckon those chaps were ready for such a dramatic entrance, Captain.”
“Way to ruin the moment,” Steve whispers so only Bucky can hear him, and Bucky just grins.
“You are…” he trails off, not sure what the word is he’s looking for.
“Madly in love with James Barnes?” Steve breathes in his ear and Bucky laughs again, shoving at him.
“You’re getting soppy, Rogers, can it,” he whispers back, but Steve has got his arms around Bucky’s shoulders and isn’t letting go, pressing open mouthed kisses along Bucky’s jaw. Bucky knows struggling against Steve’s strength is futile, especially if they don’t want to draw attention to the fact Bucky’s sleeping roll and bag are on the other side of the tent, empty and unused.
“Can’t call me a liar,” Steve breathes, and Bucky manages to squirm an arm free, trying to clamp it over Steve’s mouth. Steve just licks his hand, stifling laughter of his own as Bucky immediately snatches his hand back.
“Jesus, you know where that’s been? When was the last time we got a halfway decent wash-”
“Don’t care,” Steve mouths, and reaches up to slide his hands onto Bucky’s neck, leaning down for a silent kiss.
“You are such a…” Bucky starts again.
“A what?” Steve breathes into his ear.
“Haven’t found the word for it yet,” Bucky whispers, and leans up to press his mouth to Steve’s once more.
And it’s the beginning of 1945, and snow is thick on the ground, the sky white steel above their heads. Bucky stands shoulder to shoulder with Steve on the edge of a cliff, looking down at the valley below them. The landscape is grey and white and bleak, except for the telltale bright orange and yellow of fire, spewing grey smoke into the sky.
“Nice,” Bucky says, drawing out the sound at the end of the word, letting it drag over his teeth. “That’s a real pretty explosion you got goin’ there, Captain.”
“It’s not my explosion, its Dernier’s explosion,” Steve replies vaguely, folding his arms across his chest.
“He took out the entire complex,” Bucky points out. “Phillips is going to have your balls for that, he wanted the place intact for an intelligence sweep.”
“What a shame,” Steve says with a shrug, and leans back slowly. “Falsworth, they get out okay?”
“Affirmative,” Falsworth calls back from his position by the radio, crouched down about eight feet behind them. “I hear Jones is a little singed and none too pleased about it, but other than that everyone is fine. No casualties.”
“You’re in charge, ergo it’s your explosion,” Bucky reminds Steve. “You’re the one who’ll get his ass hauled in front of the boss.”
Steve hmmms at that, and then reaches for the ever-present binoculars that Bucky keeps slung around his neck. He pulls them over, crouching just enough so that he can hold them up to his eyes. Bucky leans slightly sideways so the strap doesn’t dig into his neck, frowning as he watches Steve do an apparent sweep of the area.
“Hang on, hang on,” Steve says, and Bucky rolls his eyes, waiting patiently. “Nope. Sorry Sergeant Barnes. I cannot locate any fucks to give,” Steve says, and tosses the binoculars aside. They bounce against Bucky’s chest, and Bucky chokes on a laugh.
“Your sense of humor gets worse every day,” he grins.
“Oh, please,” Steve says. “I’m hilarious.”
“Not exactly the word I’d use,” Bucky says and Steve nudges him with his elbow. Bucky elbows him back harder. Steve shoves at his shoulder with his hand. Bucky shoves him back with his shoulder. Steve shoves him with both hands and Bucky goes sprawling onto the ground.
“I’m going to file a complaint,” Bucky says matter of factly from where he’s lying on his back on snow covered rock.
“Sure,” Steve says. “Hand it in to your superior officer.”
“Falsworth, I’m going to be handing you a formal complaint about the Captain.”
“Delightful,” Falsworth says without looking up, sounding as bored as he always does with Steve and Bucky’s bickering.
“See?” Steve says, and folds his arms over his chest, looking down at Bucky who is still making no effort to get up. “He can’t find any fucks to give, either.”
And it’s 2014 and the future is too loud and too bright and too strange, and there are rules about everything Bucky can see, rules about all the things he can’t see. Most of the rules make no goddamn sense and even when he thinks he’s got it, he learns something new that completely negates what he’d just about got a grasp on.
And even under the crippling burden of the terrible things he’s done, he knows that it’s barely a dip in the ocean of terrible things that the world has done since he fell from that train. Even if the future is brighter, at times it seems a hundred times darker.
He sees it in Steve’s face. Miraculously still there, still fighting, still trying to do the right goddamn thing. He sees the frowns, the clench of his jaw, the thousand yard stare. The world has not been kind to Steve Rogers, and to Bucky that’s the worst thing to realize out of it all.
He’s still Steve.
Bucky sees it in odd moments; flashes of Steve seeming to shake loose his own demons and lift his chin with the same crooked smile Bucky used to know. The hopeless idiot that Bucky has always been head over heels for slowly starts to come back, piece by piece.
He first sees it when Steve looks an argumentative Tony Stark in the eye and responds to a not-altogether-polite question about why he’s telling Tony what to do by saying “because I’m in charge,” in the most obnoxiously flippant tone he can possibly manage, before turning on his heel and walking off. Stark gapes after him, and then his mouth twitches in an almost smile as he says, “unfortunately, he’s not wrong,” before slamming the faceplate of his armor down and taking off after him.
He sees it again when Steve leaves a note on the fridge in the communal kitchen saying ‘Captain America will have everyone court-martialed if no-one fetches any more Italian roast.’ Stark and Banner are the ones to find it, and they both look at Bucky like he can explain.
“Has Steve hit his head lately?” Stark demands. “Do we have an imposter?”
“He’s always been like that,” Bucky says with a shrug, feeling as awkward as ever when the attention turns to him. “He’s not all doom and gloom, you know. He’s a bit of a…”
He trails off, because even though the vocabulary of the twenty first century is certainly colorful and varied, he’s still not found the word for it.
He sees it when Steve calls Clint a ‘whore-faced cheating son of a bitch’ when they’re fighting over a game of Mario Kart, and Clint laughs so hard he nearly chokes.
He sees it when Natasha, Clint and Sam attempt to teach Steve how to dance. A chair is broken. It is tragic. Bucky is a thousand percent sure that Steve is coordinated enough in his Captain’s body to dance perfectly well, and that he’s just acting hopeless for the sole purpose of watching the others alternate between laughter and despair at his apparent incompetence.
He even keeps the act up when Stark turns up and starts filming him on his phone, talking about how Youtube would break if the footage ever became available for public consumption.
When Steve and Bucky turn in for the night, Bucky accuses him of being a filthy trickster and Steve laughs so hard there are tears in his eyes.
It’s okay; Bucky is laughing as well.
He sees it when Steve holds him close when they’re pressed together in the tangled sheets of Steve’s bed, kissing his way down the metal arm. When Bucky tries to squirm away Steve manhandles him into the middle of the bed, sits on him and says very pointedly that he’s not stopping, not now, not ever, so Bucky might as well suck it up and deal with it.
He sees it when Steve becomes obsessed with Doctor Who and makes Jarvis record every episode, and watches them over and over, somewhat neurotically. He makes Bucky watch it too, asks if he’s still watching every ten seconds, pointing out things that Bucky has noticed already thanks, demanding to know if Bucky is enjoying it.
Sam buys him a shirt with a Tardis on the front, and Steve wears it so much that in the end Bucky has to wrestle him out of it just to get the damn thing washed.
He sees it the day Steve buys him flowers and leaves them on the nightstand. “You are such a…” he whispers into the empty room as he spots them, trying to not feel overwhelmed by the stupid gesture, heart aching as he thinks of two stupid boys sat in the Brooklyn Bridge park a lifetime ago.
And he finds the word for it the day Steve and Sam step out of the elevator, Steve laughing and Sam cursing, shirt drenched with sweat.
“So how does it feel to be slower than a ninety-eight year old?” Steve is saying, jogging backwards as Sam leans over, hands on his knees and back heaving as he gasps for breath.
“Shut up,” Sam manages.
“You did really well on that last mile,” Steve says seriously. “That cute girl from the coffee shop looked really hot for the way you were gasping like a fish outta water-”
“Rogers, I swear to god-”
“If you’ve got enough energy to threaten, you could have run a little better,” Steve says, and cackles with laughter, dancing out of the way as Sam lunges half-heartedly at him, aiming for a punch.
“You’re an asshole.”
“I’m a champion,” Steve says, and walks over to Bucky to kiss him on the mouth, humming happily as he does. “Right, Buck?”
“Yep, sure, champion,” Bucky says. “You stink.”
Steve responds by lifting his arm and leaning over Bucky in an attempt to get his sweaty armpit right in Bucky’s face. Bucky lets out a strangled yell and shoves him away.
“Go shower, you-” he begins, and Steve is grinning just like he used to and walking away, pulling his shirt over his head as he goes, humming tunelessly.
“Hate to say it,” Clint says round a mouthful of cereal. “But Captain America is actually the world’s biggest dork.”
“A what?” Bucky says.
Clint swallows his mouthful. “A dork. You know? Someone who is, I dunno. Doesn’t care what other people think. Happy to be themselves, even though who they are is probably an absolute tragedy. Loves what they love and gives no fucks about other people knowing it.”
And Bucky stares at Clint as the word fits into eighty years of history, four letters that suddenly give shape to a something he could never quite grasp.
“Is it rude to call someone a dork?”
“Used to be. Used to be like the word geek, I guess,” Clint shrugs. “Not now. It’s not something you’d call someone you didn’t know. Between friends though, yeah.”
Bucky immediately goes on a quest, searching the depths of the internet for confirmation of what Clint told him over breakfast. When he’s finished, he sets off in search of Steve and finds him sat at the table in their quarters, reading what appears to be a well-thumbed sci-fi novel.
He strides over, smacks his palms down either side of the book.
“Bucky,” he replies, without looking up.
“You know I love you.”
Bucky pauses. “You also know you’re a massive dork, right?”
Steve nods, reaching out to turn a page, eyes still glued on the story in front of him. “Yep,” he says easily, and then finally looks up. His eyes flicker over Bucky’s face and then he reaches out to pat Bucky gently on the cheek. “Don’t worry Buck,” he says seriously. “So are you.”