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i know that you're scared (because hearts get broken)

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It’s something like this. When you’ve bought an older record, you take it home, thrilled to listen to the music. You’re ready to sit next to the warm fireplace and just sink into that comfy chair you love, it’s your favorite one. The music sounds a bit like home, as it spreads through your bones. The song is about to hit a crescendo when the needle jumps, and you miss part of the song. You can’t remember what part you’ve missed, but you can feel in your bones that it was important. You’ve missed the most important part of the song. And no matter how well you clean the record, change to a new needle, even try a different player, the song keeps skipping. You can’t do anything to stop it. You can’t fix it. It leaves an anxious feeling in your chest because it just doesn’t feel right when you can’t hear the whole song. You miss part of the story.  The most important part.

 

That’s what it’s like. Bucky’s the record, and he keeps missing Steve. He doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong, or how to fix it, but the needle keeps hopping off the record. And they just miss each other, can’t seem to make the connection. There’s a sinking feeling in Bukcy’s gut that it’s all about to go wrong. It just feels so wrong. And there’s nothing he can do to stop it. There’s no one thing he can do to stop the record from skipping, other than to go out and buy an entirely new record. But that would mean buying a new Steve, and well that just doesn’t make much sense. Not when Steve’s the only good thing to ever happen to Bucky in his miserable life (he’s being dramatic, but the anxiety will do that to him).

 

But he feels it, he feels the dread wash over his entire body as he rides in the back of his uber. Finally heading to their shared home. He hasn’t been home in months, touring the world with a band will do that to him -- keep him away for months. He knows it’s hard for Steve to handle, for them to handle, but it’s his life. One day it won’t be his life, but for now it is. So this sinking feeling doesn’t sit well with Bucky, and he fidgets in the back seat, picking at his nails (Steve hates when he does this, but Bucky can’t help it). The last time he’d talked to Steve, just a couple of days ago, it hadn’t gone well. They get in fights a lot (more often that Bucky would care to admit) but there was something different in Steve’s tone. Like he was tired. Bucky didn't know what to do with that underlying tone in Steve’s voice, but it hadn’t felt right hanging up the phone with Steve still sounding like that. Bucky had never heard him sound that way before. So tired, exhausted, just bone dry.

 

Bucky had tried to call the next morning, but Steve hadn’t responded. Bucky hadn’t been too worried, he was coming home in just a few days after all. But that dread that was weighing heavy on him now, tells him he should have called Steve again.

 

 

“Steve, what are you doing?”

 

He knows what he’s doing, Bucky’s not an idiot. It’s more about not wanting to see what Steve’s doing. Wishing his eyes were betraying him.

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve sighs. He runs a hand through his beautiful blonde hair, but he doesn’t stop what he’s doing. The panic falls deep into Bucky’s stomach. “I meant to be gone by the time you got back.”

 

Bucky blinks for a moment, staring at Steve’s hands where they’ve moved to folding his hoodie. It’s one that Bucky got him for Christmas two years ago. It’s worn now, kind of like Bucky currently fees. That sinking feeling he felt before is now more akin to drowning.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“Nat’s, maybe, I think.”

 

“You were just going to leave? Not even talk to me first?” Bucky’s throat is dry. He really doesn’t know how he’s still speaking, if he’s being honest. Maybe it’s in his head, maybe it’s all in his head. God he hopes it’s all a dream, that he’ll wake up with Steve in their bed.

 

“There’s nothing left to talk about, Buck,” Steve says, finally (finally) standing up to look at Bucky, at his boyfriend. He runs a tired hand through his hair again, and Bucky sees for the first time that Steve’s not just tired, he’s not just exhausted. It’s fatigue. It’s resting deep in his bones. It’s evident in the way his shoulders slump, where he normally holds impeccable posture. It’s evident in the red rims around his eyes. There’s something here, now, weighing on him, and it’s been weighing on him for days. Perhaps, weeks, even.

 

“Stevie,” Bucky takes a step towards him, “What’s happening?”

 

“I can’t do it anymore, Buck.” Steve sighs. “I can’t. I’m so tired.”

 

You look tired, Bucky thinks to himself, let’s just get some sleep. It will be better in the morning. But that’s not what comes out.

 

“We can fix this.” Bucky says instead, feeling like he’s gasping at straws. “We always fix it. Always.” He’s desperate, he realizes but he can’t do anything to stop the downward spiral he’s already on.

 

“There’s nothing left to fix,” Steve says, stronger now. His shoulder raised, his head held high. “I don’t even know who you are anymore. You’re gone more than you’re here, and it makes it impossible for me to know who you are. Because every time you come home you’re a different person. Every day you become less and less like the boy I first knew. The person I fell in love with. And it’s not fair to me, to have to relearn who you are, every goddamn day, Bucky!” He’s not screaming, but his voice is deafening. He’s telling Bucky that there’s nothing left to fight for. That soon, there will be nothing left of them at all. “I didn’t sign up to love a completely different version of you every fucking month. It’s exhausting trying to know you, James.”

 

James. Steve never called Bucky by his first name. His own ma never even called him that.

 

“What can I do?” Bucky begs. “Please, god, Steve, please. You can’t just leave. We’re supposed to be in this together. To the end of the line. You’re the one who said that first!” Buck takes two more steps towards Steve, coming to stand in front of him.

 

Steve flips his suitcase closed, and readies to zip it. Bucky’s hand grasps Steve’s on the zipper. “Stop! Please, Steven stop! Four years together,  a lifetime of being us against the whole world and I deserve more of an explanation than this. I don’t deserve you just walking out on me with no explanation.” It’s not until Steve pulls away from Bucky, that Bucky realizes his hands are shaking.

 

“Buck, please stop. Breath. I really don’t want you to have a panic attack.” Steve’s voice is quiet, calming.

 

Bucky laughs at that. “Fuck your sentiment Steve. You don’t want anything from me anymore? You know me. Known me my entire goddamn life. You really think the one person who matters to me, leaving without a fucking word wouldn’t give me a panic attack. Fuck you.” Bucky spits his words out, disgusted. His world tumbling to pieces around him. He feels the familiar tightening in his chest, and realizes this is the moment he’d pick up the phone to call. To call Steve. It’s as Steve rolls the suitcase to the entryway of their home (the one they’ve shared for almost ten years, since Steve’s mom passed), that Bucky registers that Bucky hasn’t had a panic attack without Steve there, ever. He’d gotten his first one when he was sixteen, waiting to take their first SAT’s together.  Steve had been there for every single one after that. Steve was always there. Even when Bucky wasn’t.

 

It’s that thought that really sends Bucky over the edge. “Fuck. You. Steve. I don’t need you anyway. I’ve never needed you.” The gripping in his chests tells Bucky he shouldn’t have said it, but he doesn’t care. Steve’s leaving him. That’s all that matters, which really means that nothing matters. Because Steve’s the only thing that matters. And Steve’s leaving.

 

“I’m sorry, James.” Is what Steve says as he leaves his own house. His own home. The place where he’d built a life with Bucky. The place where he’d planned a future. He leaves it all behind because he just doesn’t recognize any of it anymore. It’ll be easier this way, Steve thinks. It’ll get better after this, Steve thinks. He knows he’s wrong. He knows there’s absolutely no truth in that. He knows he has no idea what it means to live without Bucky. Even when Bucky was hard, different, he was still Bucky. Which meant that somewhere, no matter how deep down, the Bucky that Steve knew was there. He just got so tired of looking for him. When Steve leaves, he doesn’t look back.

 

**

“Stop it Steve!” Bucky giggled, “I’m trying to make dinner!”

 

“I’m sorry, you’re in our kitchen wearing nothing but your boxers, and you think that’s the appropriate time to make dinner?”

 

“Well, I’m hungry!” Bucky whined, as Steve nipped at his neck. He swatted lightly at him, trying to get Steve to ease up. “And if you don’t get off me, I’m going to burn the eggs.”

 

“Eggs aren’t dinner food, Buck.” Steve said as he wrapped an arm around Bucky’s thin waist.

 

“Well, it’s not my fault you kept me in bed all day, and I want breakfast because I didn’t get breakfast! Or lunch, thank you.” Bucky grumbled something about stamina under his breath, and Steve laughed hotly against Bucky’s neck.

 

“Didn’t find you complaining while we were in bed.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Bucky didn’t finish his sentence because Steve was pulling him away from the stove, and pushing his mouth into Bucky’s.

 

“Dance with me,” Steve whispered against Bucky’s lips.

 

Bucky laughed, “What are you on about?”

 

“Dance with me, Buck.”

 

Something in Steve’s voice was thick, heavy even. Serious in a way, yet completely relaxed. Bucky didn’t know what for, but dancing with his boyfriend wasn’t exactly a hardship. He leaned up just an inch or so to close the gap between himself and Steve, laying a sweet kiss on his lips before whispering, “Okay.”

 

There was no music, but that didn’t seem to matter. They kissed periodically, just swaying on the kitchen floor, Steve in his socks and Bucky in his boxers. Today the kitchen was Steve’s dance floor, and Bucky was his partner. Bucky was always his partner. The sun was going down outside, and the glow in the room made Bucky look more beautiful than ever. Rays of sun beam off his long brown locks of hair, making them look golden.

 

Steve ran a hand through Bucky’s hair, resting it firming on Bucky’s cheek. He kisses him again, slow and sweet. And finally whispers, “I’ve never wanted you more than I want you right now.”

Bucky’s breath catches; god, he loves Steve so much. It never gets old, the feelings never dull. The spark is always just as strong as it was the first day Steve had kissed him. “Lucky for you, I’m all yours,” Bucky whispered back when he could remember his voice.

 

Bucky wanted to remember this day forever.

 

Even after his eggs burned and their fire alarm went off.

 

**

 

Living on the road, eight months of the year, never made Bucky’s like particularly easy. The fans were obsessive, needy, and pushy. They were everywhere. Some nights they even managed to make it onto the tour bus, following one of the other boys, or even worse having an invitation from them. It wasn’t the life Bucky had imagined when he’d wanted fame, but people were hearing his music. They got to hear what Bucky had to say, and they liked it. It was a feeling unlike any other. And so he put up with everything else, even the things that threatened to ruin his life because it was part of the job. It was part of releasing the songs. Just another part of the fame.

 

Bucky realized two years too late, that he didn’t want the fame. By then he was knee deep into a band that depended on him. He wasn’t even half way through a record contract that would put him and Steve into debt up to their eyeballs if Bucky broke it. It was a daily fight from then on, just for Bucky to survive. He’d get up in the morning, in a tour bed bunk, and just want to be with Steve. When he was home, he’d get up and spend 14 hour days at the studio, he’d just want to sing his songs to Steve. He didn’t even care about the rest of the audience anymore. Steve was the only one that had ever mattered anyway. Steve had been listening to his songs since they were little kids. Bucky kicked himself everyday for not realizing that Steve had been enough.

 

Bucky had tried for the first year to renegotiate the contract. To find a way out. But nothing worked, Steve knew this. He understood it. But it didn’t make any part of their relationship easier. It didn’t make Bucky stop drinking every goddamn day just to drown out how miserable he’d become. He hadn’t meant to drag Steve down with him. He hadn’t meant to turn into an ugly monster that no one recognized. But it had somehow still happened. Bucky couldn’t control everything. And this was just one of those things he couldn’t seem to control.

 

It was just after the three year mark of Steve and Bucky’s official relationship that they started to fight. It started small. Steve would wonder when Bucky had a break, or when he could come home, or when he could FaceTime. Bucky never had time, that was the problem. So they’d fight because he couldn’t find the time of day for the one person who mattered most. Bucky had tried once, to duck out of interview duty, and another time to skip the fan signings. Three times, and he’d been chewed out like never before. Fury had threatened to throw a fine at him for not complying with his contractual duties. And that’s when he realized how little control he had over his own life.

 

Wanting Steve wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough, not with a contract around his neck like a noose.

 

Looking back now, Bucky should have just taken the fines, taken the contract lawsuit. He should have showed Steve that he was worth everything, because he was.

 

Add it to the list of Bucky’s daily fuck ups.

 

Bucky’s laying on his mattress, stripped of all blankets and sheets because those smell like Steve. He’s wearing black leggings and a crop top because his sister had got them for him as a white elephant gift for Christmas last year. And turns out most of his clothes also smell like Steve. And if he smells Steve’s scent, he’s going to cry again. And he’s been crying for -- Bucky looks at the clock on the nightstand -- about eleven hours. It’s just after two in the afternoon, the day after Steve walked out on him, when there’s a knock on his front door. Bucky ignores it for as long as possible, which turns out to be around 87 seconds until he starts going crazy.

 

He makes the short walk through the hallway to the front door and opens it.

 

“What?” He asks annoyed at the intruder.

 

It’s at that moment he hears a familiar laugh slide past his ears. It’s not the laugh he wants to hear. “What the fuck are you wearing?” Sam Wilson says, still laughing.

 

“Fuck you too,” Bucky says with no mirth.

 

Sam rolls his eyes, “Wanna tell me what’s got your leggings in a twist? And why you haven’t answered my texts or phone calls, despite the fact that you got home yesterday?”

 

If Steve weren’t Bucky’s best friend, Sam Wilson would be. Bucky, for the first time, thinks maybe Steve isn’t his best friend anymore (he’s definitely not his best friend anymore, actually). And Bucky chokes on air, just thinking about that.

 

Sam’s eyes bulge, “What’s going on, Barnes?” He sounds concerned, but Bucky doesn’t register that.

 

He tries to get out words about the day prior, but he can’t seem to breath. It’s happening all over again. He’s reliving the entire conversation again. It’s exhausting trying to know you, James, He hears Steve’s voice booming in his brain, reminding him of what he’s lost.

 

Sam pushes his way into the house, closing the door behind him. And he grabs Bucky by the arm. “Where’s Steve?” He thinks for a moment to call out for him, but it’s when he looks up at the house around him and realizes there’s a myriad of things missing, that he doesn’t say anything. Steve’s laptop, always on the kitchen island. His gray blanket that his ma crocheted for him before she passed, always on his side of the couch. But the most deafening difference, astonishing silence in the entire house, Dodger is gone. And Dodger would never be out of the house if Steve weren’t just simply taking him on a walk. But then, the blanket, the laptop, the missing keys in the bowl by the door, all those things would be there.

 

Bucky is gasping in Sam’s arms, and Sam has no idea what to do. This is Steve’s territory. Steve handles the panic attacks, not Sam. Sam’s never had to do this for Buck before, not that he’s not willing. It was just always Steve.

 

“Steve’s gone.” Bucky managed before he starts coughing as if he’s gagging on nothing but air.

 

Sam’s heart stops for a moment, but then it kicks into overdrive. If Steve’s gone, that means Sam’s the final defense. And he’s got to take care of his best friend.

 

“Come on,” Sam whispers, pulling Bucky close to his chest. They sink down the wall and Bucky puts his head into his knees. “Okay Bucky, breath with me, okay? Just match my breathing.” He’s not sure it will help, but he’s heard this helps some people.

 

Bucky tries his best, he really does. But the fact that Sam is there, and Steve still isn’t, is enough to make Bucky’s panic even worse. Sam shouldn’t have to deal with this. Sam shouldn’t have to see Bucky in such a mess. Sam’s supposed to be the light hearted, happy go lucky friend.

 

Bucky shakes his head, trying to tell Sam he can’t do it.

 

“Uh, okay,” Sam improvises. He remembers a grounding technique he learned in school once during one of those mandatory counseling lessons. “Open your eyes,” Bucky does. “Five things you can see.”

 

Bucky looks for a moment, breath uneven. “You,” his voice is tight, “the couch, the kitchen.” He pauses for a moment when his eyes find a picture of him and Steve, but he can’t say that. “The coffee table,” He says instead. He looks down at himself, “leggings.”

 

“Good,” Sam does his best to smile, and squeezes lightly on Bucky’s arms to let him know he’s there. “Four things you can feel?”

 

“Your hands,” Bucky tries his best to breath. “The carpet,” His hands move around, trying to feel things, “Your jeans, and my stomach,” His hands rest now on his own abdomen, feeling his short and fast breaths. It’s a reminder that he’s still alive.

 

“Yeah, that’s good Bucky. That’s good.” Bucky’s breathing steadies a bit more with every item. “Three things you can hear.”

 

“Your voice, my own voice,” He stops for a moment to listen, “The air conditioning.”

 

“Yeah, listen for a moment, just listen to the air.”

 

Bucky does, and he breathes in time with the wave of air that flows out.

 

“Two things you can smell.”

 

Bucky’s chin wobbles for a moment before saying it, “Steve,” he does his best, but isn’t successful in keeping his eyes from watering.

 

“Okay,” Sam says, not pushing that, “What else?”

 

“Maybe...maybe dog hair?”

 

Sam smiles a moment, because their house most certainly does smell like Dodger.

 

“Okay, one thing you can taste.”

 

Bucky’s not sure what to say for that, so he pushes off the ground to enter the kitchen, stumbling only for a moment. Sam follows. Bucky opens the fridge to find that Steve must have cut up a plum the day he left. Bucky grabs a piece of it and says, “Plum,” before popping it into his mouth.

 

Sam nods, feeling somewhat accomplished, despite the horrible circumstances. “What do you need?”

 

“To burn down the house,” Bucky says with absolutely no hint of sarcasm.

 

Sam understands to an extent, the house is reeking of Steve’s presence. And that’s got to be hard. It’s less Bucky’s house than it is Steve’s. Steve’s the one that lived in it everyday. But Steve was ever the gentleman, so of course he’d leave, rather than kicking Bucky out.

 

“You didn’t know?” Bucky asked quietly.

 

“God, of course not Bucky. Of course not.”

 

“What do I do now?”

 

Sam sighed, “I don’t know man. I really don’t.”

 

**

 

Sam started by throwing away all the food. It was wasteful, but Bucky hated seeing all of Steve’s food. His special milk and butters because of his milk allergy. His specialty health foods. It was all just a reminder of who wasn’t every coming home again. Bucky stared at the TV while Sam did all of this. An episode of The Office was playing, but Bucky couldn’t see a single thing.

 

Sam was a good friend. That much Bucky knew. Bucky appreciated him, even in his current vegetative state.

 

Next, Bucky put on a pair of sweats and a shirt, ones he’d taken on tour with him. They were gross, but they didn’t smell like Steve. They left the house and bought groceries. Then they bought new sheets and a new comforter. Bucky considered a new mattress altogether, but Sam convinced him that was a bit overboard.

 

His bed made, his fridge full, it was about eight in the evening. Bucky was trying to convince Sam to go home. He could handle himself now, thanks so much for the help, yadda yadda. But it didn’t work. Sam was staying. He could leave in the morning, and Bucky could fall apart all over again then. But for now, he was stuck with him.

 

They watch a superhero movie together because anything with emotions involved threatens Bucky’s thinly veiled sanity. And Bucky falls asleep on the couch thinking about a time when Steve had been happy. It hadn’t felt too long ago he thinks, but Bucky realizes in the morning that the memory was at least three years old. Longer than he’d thought.

 

**

In retrospect, going to Walmart with Sam Wilson, dressed like a mess, and looking like even more of a mess hadn’t been their smartest idea. Three days later, and the internet was still flooding with conspiracy theories and photos of their impromptu trip. Why was Bucky dressed so poorly? Where was Steve? Did Bucky have a new best friend? What was happening? Most of the band members had reached out, but Bucky didn’t feel like talking. He wondered if Steve saw what was happening. What was becoming of Bucky. Did it bother him? Or was it just another thing to happen to someone he no longer knew?

 

 

Two weeks post Steve leaving, Bucky picked up his guitar for the first time. It hadn’t been great, but it felt good. Bucky figured that was a win amongst days full of nothing but loss. He wrote a song, and told himself it wasn’t about Steve.

 

It was.

 

 

A month after the break up, and Bucky decided it was time to take down the pictures. He called Sam over to help because he wasn’t actually sure he could do it alone. Sam brought a box, promptly labeled it “Steve’s Shit” and they got to work. Every picture, a reminder of the life Bucky had lost. Picture frames came down, trinkets were pulled from the tables, books taken off the shelves. Until every reminder of Steve was gone. Besides, well, the house itself. Bucky offered again to burn the whole thing down, and Sam had told him it wasn’t an option.

 

“Listen, if it’s that hard, you can always move. But arsen isn’t the answer.”

 

Bucky knew he was right, but moving...moving actually made this real. Moving meant closing this entire chapter of his life, his entire life up to this point. Steve and Bucky had lived here for ten years together. A fucking decade, Bucky couldn’t even process all the memories they’d made together. The first six, just as best friends, the last four as so much more. As each other’s everything. And if Bucky sold the house, it was like saying Steve would never come back. And there was absolutely no part of Bucky that was actually willing to accept that outcome of life.

 

**


“You seem to write an awful lot of love songs, Bucky.” An interviewer from some magazine said. “You write some songs with your band together, but your love songs are always just you in the room. Who are you writing those songs about?”

 

Bucky chuckled, smiled his charming smile that had been trained into his head a year and a half ago when this all started. “Well, you know, an artist can’t reveal his muse.”

 

The girl smiled, caught under the spell Bucky was casting. “Right,” She laughs lightly, “But, a lot of your songs speak about something that’s been going on for a while. In Two Ghosts you say ‘two hearts in one home.’ Sweet Creature says, ‘You bring me home.’ Home is an entire song about being at home with someone and finally being yourself. Just a few other lines to mention ‘let me adore you like it’s the only thing I’ll ever do,’ ‘I’d give up everything, if you just asked me to,’ and ‘I’d walk through fire for you,’” Bucky’s smile falters for a split second. It’s an odd feeling having your own love thrown in your face. “Bucky it appears as though you’re in love, and you’ve been in love for quite some time. But you’ve never publicly dated anyone since the conception of the band a year and a half ago.”

 

“Not everyone wants to be famous,” Bucky smiles again, doing his best to stay calm. The reporter was hitting awfully close to territory that Bucky couldn’t talk about. What Bucky wants to say is Steve doesn’t want to be famous. Steve doesn’t want that life. But he can’t say any of that.

 

“Do you?” She asks in response.

 

Bucky’s eyebrows furrow, “Do I, what?”

 

“Want to be famous?”

 

There was a time that Bucky would have said emphatically yes, but -- “I’m not so sure sometimes,” he answers instead.

 

“Bucky,” She starts again, unphased by his answer, “Who do you look up to most?”

 

Bucky smiles, for real this time, “That’s easy. My childhood best friend. He’s been with me through thick and thin, and he never wavers.”

 

“That’s Steve right?”

 

Bucky nods his head.

 

“You brought him with you to the Grammy’s last year, did you not?”

 

Bucky laughs, “I did, and god let me tell you, it was a disaster.”

 

She smiles, “How so?”

 

“Steve’s never been more out of his element. He had no idea what he was doing. Tried to convince me to bring my sister instead.”

 

“Right, Becca? She’s usually your date to things like this isn’t she?”

 

Bucky’s face goes soft, thinking about his sister, “Yeah. It’s nice to have family grounding you when something big happens like that.”

 

“So why Steve and not Becca?”

 

Bucky thought for a moment. He knew why, but he didn’t know what to say. He shrugged lightly, “Just...the Grammys felt like something larger than myself. Than the band even. And I was afraid it may never happen again. And I thought, if I never get to come to this again, I would want Steve by my side. Win or lose. That’s what a best friend’s for, innit?”

 

The girl smiles, “Suppose so.”

 

**

 

Fury had let Bucky wallow in self pity for exactly two months before he’d demanded studio sessions for the next single and album started. Little did Fury know, Bucky had already written enough songs for three albums. Three very, very depressing albums.

 

The first day back in the studio is the first day that Bucky sees the band since tour. Usually they would have gone out, had celebratory drinks. Hung out just as pals. But Bucky had been distant. They all knew it, which means this first meeting was going to be awkward, at best. And hostile, at worst. Bucky was prepared for either.

 

In ripped jeans, and an old worn Patriots tee, Bucky entered the studio. The rest of the band, Clint, Bruce, and Peter, were already there waiting for him. They all tentatively smiled, unsure what to do. But Bucky had decided the day that Fury called that he’d just be upfront about the entire situation.

 

“Listen,” he says as he approaches the boys, “I know I’ve been distant. Steve, uh,” He cleared his throat. This never got easier to say out loud, “Steve left the day we got back from tour. I’ve been dealing with a lot. I know you guys are good friends, but it’s just been something really, really personal. And I really had to do it on my own.”

 

Clint’s face is covered in worry. Peter, the youngest of the boys and still mostly innocent to the world, looks perpetually confused. Bruce looks angry.

 

“That’s fucked up,” Bruce speaks first.

 

Buck smiles sadly, it is, but not because Steve left. It’s fucked up that Bucky let it come to that. He’d done a lot of soul searching over the past two months. He saw who Steve saw now. The person he didn’t recognize. Bucky didn’t recognize him either. He hated him, even.

 

“I’m sorry, man.” Clint offered.

 

“Should make for some good songs,” Peter offered.

 

Bruce thumped him over the head, “Don’t be a dick, you dick.”

 

Bucky laughed. “It’s okay,” he paused. “Well, it’s not okay. But I’d prefer to not discuss it in depth, if you don’t mind. I've already written a lot of songs. We definitely don’t have to use any of them if you guys hate them. But I’d like to share them with you, if you’d like?”

 

“Hell yeah, dude,” Clint replied. “Fury’s got studio 4 set up for us.”

 

Bucky nods and follows Bruce’s lead to the studio.

 

Bucky sits in the studio, just him and his guitar. The other three boys are in the sound area with Fury.

 

“Okay, Bucky,” He hears Fury’s voice through the microphone system. “They guys say you got stuff to share, so take as much or as little time as you want. We got the studio for plenty of time, so if you gotta take the whole day, that's fine. The guys are taking notes on what they like, and what they think is less likely to fit the band's sound. Sound good?”

 

“Yep,” Bucky said dryly.

 

Really, none of it sounded good. The last thing Bucky wanted to do was pour out his heart in front of these guys. But this is what Bucky had left. Music was all he had left, so he’d better make it fucking worth it.

 

 

Four hours later, and Bucky still had songs to sing.

 

“Can we stop and like talk for a bit?” Bucky asks into his mic. “I’m sorry, I have more. I just really need a break for a bit.”

 

“Yeah that’s fine,” Peter says, as if he has any sort of control over them. But Bucky takes what he can get before someone tells him otherwise.

 

“So, thoughts?” Bucky asks as he drops onto a couch next to Clint.

 

“There’s a lot of good shit in there,” Bruce says first. “I mean we all know you’re talented, but this is just pure raw talent and emotion. It looks good on you, even though I know it’s painful.”

 

“I think Falling is probably a high contender for single territory,” Peter offers.

 

Bucky raises an eyebrow at that, “Really? A ballad for a single?”

 

“Unusual, sure,” Peter shrugs. “But I think people are going to relate to that song on a deep, deep level, and they’re going to love it. I think it should get the attention it deserves.”

 

Bucky looks to the other boys.

 

“I’m inclined to agree,” Clint says.

 

Bucky really hadn’t expected it, but that’s how Falling becomes the first single. It’s that easy, and for once Fury agrees. Instead of Bucky finishing his list of songs (leave it for another day, says Fury), they start messing around with tracking Falling. It feels raw, but good and cathartic in a way that Bucky had never expected. Thinking about the fact that this song would release, his name would be the only one on writing credits, and the world would know that something had happened to Bucky. Only Steve would know exactly what. It felt in a sense, like a betrayal of Steve’s trust. He’d always ran songs past Steve before releasing something that was about them, but that wasn’t an option now. Not when Steve had left him and not when they weren’t talking.

 

It takes only about four days of studio time to get the song down. They move on to other things, but the single goes to final cut. Artwork is created, marketing is being planned. And it’s all very real that in just under two months from now, the world will hear Bucky’s whole heart.

 

 

Four months past Steve leaving, the dull ache in Bucky’s chest isn’t gone, but it’s found a home. It’s quiet, and something that plays in the back of his everyday life. He thinks about Steve perennially. He considers calling or even checking on Nat, to see if he’s still with her. But he never does. He instead, focuses on his music, and on coming back to himself. He stops drinking altogether, not because he was an alcoholic or anything, but because he just saw how it brought out nasty parts of him. He saw how it made him more angry and too introspective. It made him spiteful, and he found himself pushing himself away from the band members or from Steve over the months of tour. He’d used the drinking as his main coping mechanism on tour, but now he’d come to a more healthy way of coping. He realized it had been unhealthy. Now he wrote songs, and journaled when he couldn’t make the words come out like a song. He meditated, to help reduce panic attacks. He’d learned how to mostly get through those alone. He’d used different grounding techniques he’d learned about on the internet. Still he had to call Sam over a couple of times to help him through some bigger ones. Sam was really good at helping him, it turns out.

 

Bucky’s life looked different now. A little more empty. A little more lonely. But it wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t as good. His life had once been full, and it now felt something more like an empty shell of what it once was.

 

He woke up that morning alone and got ready as usual. He didn’t focus too much on how he looked, because his stylists would do that for him. Today was the big release. They were debuting at Good Morning America. It was one of Bucky’s least favorite places to perform, but it was a good enough audience. Bucky looked at the clock that read 5:00 AM, and he sighed. It was too early to be so emotional. It was too early to be thinking of all the things he was now missing, but he knew that’s just what was in store for this day.

 

Four months. God, it was so fucking long and yet a blink of an eye all at once. Steve walked out of his life just yesterday, Bucky could convince himself if he tried hard enough.

 

And now he was about to debut his broken heart to the entire world --and Steve, if he was listening. He wondered, in that self destructive way that one does when their heart is broken, if Steve would be watching. If he would be wondering what was becoming of Bucky, four months after his departure. Bucky tried not to think about Steve not being interested. He tried not to think about what Steve would do if he saw him on the tv. Would he turn the channel? Leave the room? Would he stay and listen? What would go through his mind. It was odd not knowing someone that you had once known everything about.

 

The house was quiet, and not for the first time, Bucky considered getting a pet. He knew it wasn’t feasible. They’d only had Dodger because Steve was able to stay home with him when Bucky was touring. But some days, the silence was deafening. The loneliness felt like a life sentence.

 

This morning, he just got up and out of the house as quickly as possible, unwilling to consider the thoughts running through his head.

 

**

 

“You want to get married, right?” Steve asked.

 

They were lying in a cemetery at night. Lying on one of Bucky’s favorite blankets, looking up at the stars. It was something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Bucky can’t remember which, but he’s sure Steve would know if he asked. He doesn't.

 

It’s a couple days after the anniversary of Steve’s mom’s passing. Bucky hadn’t been able to make it back on the actual day, but Steve hadn’t minded so much. Buck had made it back. That’s what mattered. They did this every year, brought the same blanket out to her grave site at night, despite the fact that it freezing every single year. Every year, it got just a little bit easier. The burden weighing on Steve, a little bit lighter. He missed his mom, but he knew he wasn’t completely alone. Not when he had Bucky with him.

 

“Of course,” Bucky whispered, almost as if he were afraid someone would overhear.

 

“It bothers you that you’re still closeted, doesn’t it?” Steve turns his head to Bucky.

 

He sighs heavily, keeping the emotion from his voice, “You know it does.”

 

Steve nods, he does know. “One day.”

 

“Yeah.” Bucky answered. It’s not a favorite topic to talk about, and if he’s honest with himself, he's not sure he does see an end to it. But marrying Steve, that’s different. That’s better, something he wants to think about, so he goes back to that. “I want to get married in a white cathedral, with really tall ceilings, good acoustics. I want a harpist to be playing.”

 

A soft smile covers Steve’s lips, and he reaches over to squeeze Bucky’s hands. “That sounds lovely, Buck.”

 

Bucky looks at him now, “What do you want?”

 

Steve’s smile grows, “Just you.”

 

Bucky laughs, “What?”

 

“Just you, standing across from me. That’s all I want.”

 

“You asking me to marry you, Rogers?” Bucky chuckles lightly.

 

Steve shakes his head, “Not yet. I will one day though.”


Bucky thinks he can’t wait for that day to come.

 

**

 

“If there were one line that stands out to you most from this song, what would it be?” Robin Roberts asks the boys.

 

They’re sat in chairs across from her. They haven’t officially introduced the single yet, so this is a bit of a stupid question, but the boys smile anyway.

 

“Well we wouldn’t want to ruin the song for the fans who haven’t heard it yet.”

 

She laughs good naturedly, she’s not an amateur like most interviewers are. This isn’t Pop Sugar Magazine or some equally as silly publication. This is Good Morning America, and this is Robin Roberts. “Well, now you and I both know that one spoken lyric isn’t the same as sung lyrics. So what would it be, boys?” She doesn’t give in.

 

Peter goes first, “What if I’m someone I don’t want around?”

 

They go down the line then, ending with Bucky.

 

“Well,” Bucky laughs, and tugs on a strand of hair, it’s one of his nervous ticks, “I wrote the song, so I’d say the whole thing if I could. But I guess if I had to pick one, it would be ‘forget what I said. It’s not what I meant.’”

 

“That is an interesting choice Bucky. What is it you said?”

 

These are the interviews that are harder to dodge. It may be why Bucky hates them so much. He smiles tightly, more of a grimace. “Well, sometimes in the heat of the moment, you just say words you don’t mean. But you can’t ever take them back.”

 

“And someone left because of these words?” She prods.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes internally, those are the exact lyrics of the song, so one with a brain could assume. “Guess you could say that.”

 

“What did you boys think of this song when you first heard it?” She asks the other three.

 

“I think it’s something a lot of people are going to relate to,” Clint responds easily.

 

The other boys nod along.

 

“Do you think it has the potential to be your biggest hit yet?”

 

“We sure hope so,” Bruce answers with a smile.

 

There’s a sinking feeling in Bucky’s stomach when he realizes he’s going to have to sing this song everyday for months on end during their next tour. Daily reminders of Steve’s absence. Hearing the fans scream the words of his own personal pain back at him. It leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

 

“What do you think, Bucky?” She asks him.

 

This is the bad thing about writing your own songs. Everyone knows they’re personal, and it’s impossible to avoid. There’s no way to swerve. There’s no way to hide behind something when you’re the only person that wrote on a song. There’s no fake story to make up, it’s your life.

 

“I just hope it speaks to someone. And that...if someone needs to hear it, they do.”

 

“Well, this is Shield and their new single Falling.”

 

The boys head over to the stage, where about 75 fans await their debut single. Luckily, their inside the studio and not out in the already chilly New York City air.

 

Bucky sings most of the song, with the boys occasionally harmonizing in the back. He feels his voice shaking before it even begins. “I’m in my bed, and you’re not here. And there’s no one to blame but the drink and my wandering hands. Forget what I said. It’s not what I meant. And I can’t take it back, I can’t unpack the baggage you left.”

 

If Steve were watching, he’d know Bucky was thinking about him. Bucky choses a memory to grasp onto and he remembers the way that Steve’s eyes shined when they looked at him. Bucky wonders when the light went out, and how he could have possibly missed it.

 

“What am I now? What am I now? What if I’m someone I don’t want around? I’m falling again. I’m falling again. I’m fallin’.” The boys harmonize beautifully with Bucky, and he thinks for a moment, that this is why people care about them so much. It’s moments like this, when they just fit so perfectly. They continue together, like perfect pieces of the puzzle that they are, “What if I’m down? What if I’m out? What if I’m someone you won’t talk about? I’m falling again. I’m falling again. I’m fallin’.”

 

The voices around Bucky go silent. He knows the boys aren’t singing anymore, it’s just him now. But he doesn’t hear any fans. He’s not sure if he’s so focused on himself and what he’s singing, or if they’re really that in awe of his song. “You said you care. And you missed me too. And I’m well aware I write too many songs about you. The coffee’s out at the Beachwood Cafe. And it kills me ‘cus I know we’ve run out of things we can say.” That one stings a bit because he thinks a little too hard about the time they were at the Beachwood Cafe. And Bucky remembers it being the first time in his entire life that he found himself unable to talk to Steve. It wasn’t a comfortable silence, or camaraderie of some sort. Bucky just didn’t know what to say.

 

They sing the chorus again, and it’s beautiful. And it’s the next line that Bucky knows is going to kill him inside, maybe everyone listening to. His voice wavers for a only a moment as he belts out the words, “I get the feeling that you’ll never need me again.” And as he finishes his falsetto he feels a tear run down each side of his face. And then thinks, great that’ll be on every fucking news outlet within the next five minutes.

 

Bucky sings the last two chorus’s himself and he knows there’s tears streaming down his face when he sings, “What if you’re someone I just want around?”

 

Four months, and it didn’t get any fucking easier, no matter how much he could pretend. He’s glad they did the interview before the song and not after.

 

The song ends, and the boys wrap around him, almost as if they were his protective shield, which is ironic considering their name. But he accepts it nonetheless. And he loves them a little bit more for it. For loving him.

 

 

His phone blows up for the rest of the day. Congratulations, condolences, you name it. Everyone and their fucking mother has an opinion on Falling.

 

It’s around 11 that his phone rings, and Bucky drops his phone when he sees that it’s Steve calling. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s going to answer it, but what the fuck do you say to someone you haven’t spoken to in four monhts, who used to be...you’re entire world?

 

He picks up the phone, and decides he won’t say anything. Steve called him, he obviously has something he needed to say.

 

After listening to each other breathing for a few moments, Steve starts to talk. “You’ve got to stop writing songs about me, Buck.”

 

Buck. Who the hell is he to call him Buck? He’s no one to him now. He left. He lost that right. It deepens the cavern in his chest.

 

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Bucky utters.

 

“Bucky,” Steve says. It’s careful, cautious, or even unsure.

 

“What?” Bucky spits out. He doesn’t mean to be angry. He’s not angry. He’s hurt. He softens for a moment, not wanting to fight. Not having the will in him to fight, so he says it again, this time just tired, “What?”

 

“You’ve got to stop writing songs about me.”

 

“So you said.”

 

“I’m serious. It’s not healthy”

 

Bucky laughs at that. Just hums.

 

“What?” Steve says, annoyance clear in his voice.

 

“Just funny coming from you, is all.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“What the fuck do you think it means, Steve?” His voice registers his hurt. “You wanna talk about what’s fucking healthy? With me? You have no right. No place. You don’t fucking know me anymore, remember?”

 

“And you don’t need me anymore, remember?” Steve throws his own jabs.

 

Bucky stops for a moment.

 

“I didn’t mean it.” He whispers.

 

“So I heard,” Steve says.

 

So he was watching. Was listening. Bucky’s not surprised, but it’s still nice to know. “Well it’s true,” Bucky breathes, “I didn’t mean any of it, and I’d take it back if I could. But I can’t. You still left anyway. So I’m doing what I fucking can to survive. Because it’s a goddamn fight every day.” Bucky’s crying now. He’ll yell at himself for being so weak later, but that doesn’t matter right now.

 

“It’s not easy for me either,” Steve whispers.

 

“Yeah, well.” Bucky offers nothing else, has nothing else.

 

“It was hard, Bucky. You being away like you were.”

 

“I know,” Bucky says. “God, Steve I know. And I know I was horrible. God I know I became someone unrecognizable, but I wish you would have helped me see it rather than leave me to my demons alone.”

 

“You really don’t want to be around yourself anymore?” Something in Steve’s voice registers as hurt. Almost as if it hurts him to think of Bucky being hurt like this.

 

Bucky gives a watery laugh, “If you could know the things going on in my head everyday.”

 

“You look a little bit more like the Bucky I grew up with,” Steve offers quietly. “I hope that even if you don’t want to be around yourself, everyday you recognize yourself a little more. I know I do.”

 

Bucky doesn’t respond to that. “I can’t stop writing songs about you, I’m sorry. But I can’t.”

 

“You already have more written?” Steve knows the answer, but he asks anyways.

 

Bucky laughs again, “You know I’ve got dozens.”

 

Steve’s quiet on the other line for a moment. “You want to sing one to me?”

 

Bucky stops. If writing songs about Steve isn’t healthy, this sure as hell isn’t healthy. But Bucky doesn’t much care, there’s this warmth in his chest that’s been missing for four months. “You want to hear one?”

 

Steve smiles a little at that, “You got any happier ones?”

 

“Only a few,” Bucky admits.

 

“Can I hear one of those?”

 

So Bucky sings him Sunflower Vol. 6.

 

After he’s done Steve asks, “Why volume 6?”

 

Bucky blushes a bit, “Because I wrote twelve of them total, a literal whole album of them. Volume Six is the only one that’s going on the album though.”

 

“Are they all that happy?”

 

Buck takes a moment before responding, “No, but they’re all real. I’ll have to play them for you some other time.”

 

“That sounds nice, Buck. I’d like that.”

 

It’s late, and Bucky’s tired. It feels like an ending to the conversation, but he’s not sure he’s ready to say goodnight. “Steve?” He asks quietly.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m really sorry I made you leave.”

 

“I’m sorry too,” Steve responds.

 

They sit for a moment, wallowing in their self made pity.

 

“Goodnight, Steve.” Bucky offers.

 

“Night, Buck.”

 

Bucky’s not sure he’ll ever hear from again, but the warmth in his chest lingers until he’s asleep.

 

**

 

“Steve called me,” Bucky says just as Sam sits on his couch, pizza and beer in hand. It’s Friday night movies at the Barnes’ residence, which is something Bucky started after the first time Sam came over post breakup. It helped having a scheduled time every week dedicated to not being alone.

 

“What did that asshole have to say?”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, they both know Steve’s not an asshole. “He saw the interview, heard the song too. We talked. I apologized for all my words during the break up, for being so awful to him after all those years together. He asked me to sing him a song. I don’t know, it was weird, but it was nice to know he’s okay. To hear his voice again.”

 

“And how are you after?”

 

Bucky shrugs, “Not sure if it was like a one off thing. Or if he’s gonna randomly call me now. Kinda puts me on edge a bit, but not really in a bad way.”

 

“Man, I don’t want to be a cynic, but just be careful. Don’t let him play with your heart when he’s already broken it once.” Sam takes a bite of his pizza, chewing loudly.

 

It’s good advice, Bucky will keep it in mind if he needs it. But for now, they’re going to watch The Little Mermaid, and Bucky’s happy enough with that.

 

**

 

“Wow,” Buck says, completely breathless. He doesn’t even have to look at Steve to know there are proud tears forming in his eyes. Bucky can feel them from by his side. “Stevie, you—“ he can't even finish his thought.

 

“I know,” Steve chokes out. He reaches for Bucky’s hand because that’s what grounds him. “I never thought this would be my life, not really.”

 

It had taken twenty-five years, but here they stood, at Steve’s own art exhibit. His beautiful sketches and paintings hanging carefully against the pristine white walls.

 

“I’m so proud of you, Stevie.” Bucky whispers.

 

“I love you,” Steve says in response. It’s not the first time he’s said that. Probably not even the hundredth time. But it’s the first time at one of Steve’s exhibits, Bucky knows there will be many more to come, and somehow this moment feels special. Unique.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

“I wish my mom could see this,” Steve says, squeezing Bucky’s hand just a bit tighter.

 

Bucky nods, “I know.”

 

Bucky comforts Steve for a moment as they walk to see the next sketch. It’s the view from their bedroom window, no one but him and Steve would know this though. It’s their unspoken secret.

 

Bucky really wants to kiss Steve, but he knows he’s not allowed to. Not in public, not here. Not with the band just now taking off, not even a year old. They’d had unprecedented success. It was suffocating Bucky slowly, but Steve was his best friend. He’d hold his hand for this one night, even if he’d be yelled at in the morning. Even if he’d have two more hours of media training than the other boys. None of it mattered. Only Steve. This was Steve’s night. It was a good night.

 

**

 

It’s October 15th. Bucky’s sitting in the back of a discreet black car. He’s never been one for particularly bright clothes, but today he dons an all black ensemble, finds it appropriate. It’s the first year of doing this alone, and really he’s not sure if he has any right to do this at all. But Sarah Rogers was a mother to him as well, even if not in the biological sense.

 

So after he’s collected himself enough to face the cold winds outside, Bucky pushes the door of the SUV open and steps outside. He knows the walk to her grave site in his sleep. He’s done it dozens of times, not just on the anniversary of her death. The first year, they’d come at least once a month. The second year, a little less. And by year four they only came for their annual trip on the anniversary. He’d never come without Steve though.

 

Bucky holds flowers in his hands. He didn’t usually place anything on Sarah’s grave, but something felt wrong this morning when he’d tried to come empty handed. He nears the headstone that he’s had memorized for years, and he sees her name come into view. His throat closes a bit at the memory of her. He places the flowers on top of the thick piece of stone and decides to sit. The grass is dewy, and he wishes he’d brought a blanket. But that just haven’t felt right either.

 

“We meet again,” Bucky says a hushed tone. He’s not particularly confident that Sarah can hear him. That she’s looking down on them or anything like that. He decides to talk anyway, if only as a comfort to himself. “I bet you never thought we’d fuck up this bad.” Bucky laughed, “Actually you’re probably surprised it took so long for us to fuck it up. We always were idiots.”

 

Thinking about Sarah Rogers, for Bucky was mostly fond memories, never quite as painful as it was for Steve. Steve missed her in a way no one could understand. Sarah was a loving mom, but stern when Steve was being an idiot. She’d disciplined Bucky just as much as she had Steve, but Bucky has never held anything but affection for her. To Sarah, Bucky was another son.

 

“I wish you were still here,” Bucky whispers tightly. “I think you’d tell us how to fix all this. How to just get over our own stupidity, and remember how much we love each other. You’d be so mad at us for giving up on each other the way we have.”

 

Bucky sits in silence for quite some time, just remembering Sarah. He breathes deeply, and smells the grass. It probably should be cut one more time before the winter frosts start to come. There are birds chirping overhead, sounding happy. Bucky wonders what happiness feels like anymore.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Bucky whispers it like it’s prayer. He’s a sinner in need of forgiveness. He thinks how ashamed she must be of who he had become.

 

There’s footsteps behind him, and for a moment he expects Happy to tell him they need to leave, late for some appointment he didn’t know he had. But the footsteps stop somewhere behind him, and no one speaks. So he stands up, and looks behind him.

 

Bucky blinks, his eyes are seeing something that his brain can’t quite agree on.

 

“Steve?” He feels like crying all over again.

 

“Hey Buck,” Steve says quietly.

 

Bucky backs away from Sarah’s grave. He stumbles over his words, “I’m sorry, I-I didn’t know you’d be here. Let me, I’ll just leave. Sorry.” Bucky stares resolutely at the ground as he goes to pass Steve and go back to the car, but something stops him. Not metaphorically, but physically. Steve stops him with a hand on his wrist.

 

“You don’t have to leave,” he says quietly, quickly dropping Bucky’s wrist. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t leave.” He adds.

 

Bucky stops in his tracks and turns. He’s almost shoulder to shoulder with Steve. Bucky hasn’t seen Steve in so long. It’s been almost six months. Steve never called again after that one night. There’s a gaping hole in Bucky’s chest as he settles on this idea, not seeing his own best friend for six months. He’s not sure how he’s survived the last six months without Steve, but he had somehow managed to squeeze out something that resembled a life. Or whatever was left of his.

 

Bucky’s realized sometime in month five that he’s fine without Steve. But only fine. There’s nothing good. Or fulfilling. Or exciting. Not without Steve.

 

“It’s been ten years,” Steve says, intruding on Bucky’s thoughts. “I haven’t seen my mom in ten years. Haven’t heard her voice in ten years. How did I survive Bucky?” Steve looks over at him, red rims around his eyes.

 

“You just do,” Bucky whispers. “You go forward even when all you want to do is look back at what used to be. “

 

“That’s so fucked up.”

 

“Well, sometimes life get’s fucked up, Stevie.” Bucky whispers. “It’s not a pretty answer, but life isn’t pretty.”

 

“You ever think about her?” Steve asks, looking back at the grave.

 

“All the time,” Bucky responds quickly.

 

“This year has been a lot harder than others,” Steve admits.

 

Bucky wants to laugh, a humorless laugh albeit. It’s been harder because of him. Because of how royally screwed up music, fame, and heavy closeting made him. How he took it all out on Steve. He was the reason it was harder.

 

“Well, this year has been pretty shitty,” Bucky offers.

 

“Your song is doing well.” Steve kicks the grass a bit.

 

“Can we not talk about music?” Bucky asks.

 

Steve sighs, “Never known a day when James Buchanan Barnes didn’t wanna talk about his music.” He chuckles lightly, as if this is a happy moment. As if they’re just old pals catching up. But they aren’t. And this isn’t. No, they’re ex boyfriends and ex best friends. And Bucky’s music is what destroyed his entire life.

 

“I always though music was all I had. Like it was a part of me? It was my identity?” Bucky shakes his head. “I was so fucking wrong, and when I finally realized it, I was actually right. Because then it was all I had. And it was the only part of me left that mattered. How does something that completely ruined you also somehow save you?”

 

Steve’s sad eyes, find Bucky’s. Bucky feels a slight panic in his chest as he looks at Steve’s blue ocean eyes. It’s been so long since he’s been lost in them, he’s not sure he’ll find a way back out. “Buck, the music isn’t what killed you.”

 

“Without music, none of the other things would have happened.” Bucky says stubbornly.

 

“Maybe so,” Steve shrugs.

 

“I know it wasn’t the music. But the control, the complete fucking loss of all control, that’s what killed me. You know that first year, the boys would practice so often without me because Fury would having me doing media training for goddamn hours with Pierce. Media training, what a bullshit way of saying, stop being so fucking gay. Girls won’t like the band if you’re gay. Maybe it’s fine for a bit, but years on end? Grinding slowly against every fucking part of me. How the hell was I supposed to make it out alive? Do you know what kind of a toll it takes on you to pretend you’re someone completely different all the time? Who the hell is Bucky after all that?” Bucky swallows, and he feels bile rise in his throat for a moment. “Walk a certain way, smile a certain way, wear your clothes this way, but never that way. Flirt with the interviewer, but only if it’s a girl. God, I’m just lucky they didn’t stick me with a fucking beard for years. But then again, don’t worry, they still have the chance. There’s moments of hope, and you think maybe, maybe it’s finally coming to an end. And they’ll let me be me. But it’s never going to happen. And even once it’s over, even the hint of forced closeting and I’ll be sued. I just want to be free, god and it’s just such a fucking sick game. Because they know that the music is what means most to you, so even when everything is fucking hell, the music is what keeps me sane. And without them, the people killing me, I can’t even have the music.”

 

Bucky doesn’t notice it, too caught up in his self induced anger, but Steve’s holding his hand now. He’s squeezing tightly, grounding Bucky for the first time in half a year. Bucky lets himself cry.

 

“What would your ma think of this?” Bucky says through his sobs, “What a fucking loser, I am, huh?”

 

Steve chokes a bit on his own sadness, some for his ma, but a lot for Bucky. For his best friend. His lifeline. His everything. He wraps his arms tightly around Bucky, who just sobs into his shoulder.

 

“You’re not. You’re not, and she’d never say that. Buck, she’d be so goddamn proud of you. Proud of the way you’ve held on, that you’ve fought. Proud of the way you slip in little remarks into interviews just as a fuck you to Fury. Buck, they can’t keep you down for much longer. And when you finally win, god you’re going to soar higher than ever. You will rise. Above everything. It’s going to be alright.”

 

Bucky doesn’t know how the hell that could be true. Nothing was alright. But he allows himself to pretend he believes Steve in this moment and he responds stupidly, “We’ll be alright.”

 

**

 

There’s a shift after that. Bucky’s not sure what’s happening, but Steve starts calling. First it’s just once. Then once every two weeks, and then it’s once a week. By then the band is heavy into studio sessions, working away on their new album. It feels good so far, but they haven’t found that one song, that defines the whole thing. Something that encompases what they’re intending to accomplish. Bucky’s not sure what it is they’re trying to accomplish, but if he had to guess the boys were trying to mend someone’s broken heart. Bucky wasn’t conceited enough to think it was him (it was definitely him).

 

“How’s it coming then?” Sam had asked on one of their friday movie nights (it was Mulan tonight, and no they don’t just watch Disney movies). “The album, I mean?” He clarifies.

 

Bucky hums, “Think we’ve finally crossed the halfway point.”

 

Sam nods, “That’s good, so how much of it’s about your lame ass?”

 

Bucky scoffed, “None of it of course.”

 

Sam laughs at this, “Sure, sure. There’s definitely not a single song in there written about you and Steve. Not like the entire world hasn’t heard Falling by now.”

 

It sent a thrill up Bucky’s spine, thinking about the success of Falling. It was a bit off brand for Shield to release such a song as a single, but the world had really responded. It was number one on the Billboard charts for weeks. Somewhere around week twelve, Bucky stopped keeping track. The success for the band was unprecedented, something they hadn’t experienced since their debut album.

 

Bucky doesn’t respond to Sam’s harassment, and just sings along Honor To Us All instead.

 

“Fine, don’t tell me. You can tell Steve when he calls.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. And tosses the fry he was about to eat at Sam as retaliation.

 

Sam laughs, but goes back to watching the movie as well.

 

Bucky smiles, almost as if he’s content.

 

**

 

“God, Bucky I know. I know that they’ve got you in a fucking box. But you really have to cheat to do it?”

 

“It’s not cheating, Steve. I don’t want anything to do with it. But they’re insisting that I bring her to the ceremony. Something about keeping up pretences.”

 

“Pretences of what?” Steve screams as he throws a pillow clear across the living room. “There’s nothing fucking happening, so what do they gotta keep up?”

 

“They leaked a ‘source close to me’ who says we’re getting pretty friendly.” Bucky’s voice is dry, void of all emotions. It’s not like he wants to take some fake girlfriend to the Grammys of all places, but he doesn’t think he has much of a choice.

 

“Take me instead.” Steve says boldly.

 

“You know I can’t do that.”

 

“Sure you can,” Steve reasons, “You take Becca all the time, so just make it about bringing your best friend instead of your sister.”

 

Bucky sighs, “Steve, they know we’re dating.”

 

“So what! The world doesn’t. I’ll be the best friend. But you’re not going to the fucking Grammys with her. You’re not.”

 

Bucky knows that Steve doesn’t really have a say in it, but he also knows that if anyone’s going to fight harder than Bucky, it’s going to be Steve. Steve was a born fighter, got himself into trouble more times than either of them could count. He’d go to war for his family, for Bucky. And this, this tone in Steve’s voice, this was him declaring war.

 

“They won’t go for it,” Bucky sighs.

 

“Then tell them you’ll go with her and ditch her. Walk the carpet with me instead. They won’t be able to stop it once it’s already happened.”

 

As much as Bucky loves to defy Fury and the record label, he knows this will only make his life more miserable. “Steve, we’re going to go down if we start this. It’s not a war we can win. I can’t bail us out of this.”

 

“Then we’ll go down together.”

 

Steve always was one for righteous anger.

 

**

 

“Remember that time we went to Coney Island?”

 

“Gonna have to be a bit more specific, Steve. We went there a lot.”

 

“We brought Peggy with us so it wouldn’t look like a date or nothing, and you made me ride the Cyclone.”

 

“And you threw up,” Bucky laughs.

 

“Yeah, not funny, but thanks for that reminder.” Steve smiles through his words.

 

“Whatever,” Bucky continues to laugh. “What about it though?”

 

Steve’s silent for a moment, and Bucky busies his hands on his guitar a bit where it rests in his lap. “Just been thinking about going back,” Steve says almost wistfully.

 

“To Coney Island?” Bucky asks in disbelief. “Steve you hated that place.”

 

“I just keep thinking about walking on the boardwalk.” With you, Bucky thinks Steve must add it on in his own head too. “The sounds and just how calming it felt.” Steve’s somewhere else inside his head now, “I just want to feel it again.” It wouldn’t feel the same, Bucky thinks.

 

“It only felt that way because…” Bucky trailed off for a moment, unsure exactly what he’d intended to say, even though he knew the reason.

 

“Because I was in love.” Steve finishes for him.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says, not missing the past tense. “You were in love.”

 

“We were in love.” Steve corrects.

 

It’s been a long day, and Bucky feels an onslaught of emotions coming that he’s in no way prepared to handle. So he does what any coward does, and he runs. “Steve, I gotta go.” It’s quiet, small, just like Bucky himself.

 

Steve understand though, he always does. “Okay.” He puts up no fight this time. “Night Bucky.”

 

Bucky doesn’t respond, he only hangs up the phone and grips his guitar a little tighter.

 

**

 

They’re hand in hand because it’s pitch black out. The boardwalk is mostly empty, but those lingering are in their own world, just like they are. It’d been a pretty good day, but Peggy had gone home an hour or so ago. Steve and Bucky were alone, which ideally would have been the case all day. But they both knew their circumstances. No matter, Peggy’s company isn’t terrible anyway. She’s a good sport and puts on a show of doting Steve with love so people think they’re together and not Bucky and Steve. Because it’s New York City and people talk around here.

 

But now, in nothing but the light of the moon, the real Steve and Bucky come to life.

 

“You want kids?” Bucky asks Steve as they continue to walk.

 

Steve nods, “Yeah. Don’t really have a preference on how many, though. You?”

 

“I think so.” Bucky considers it for a moment. “Maybe two or three. I think, maybe,” he looks out at the water, “I might be a good dad.” He adds it as an afterthought, “One day.”

 

“Bucky you’ll make a wonderful dad.” Steve says with no hesitation.

 

Bucky looks at Steve and smiles. He allows himself a few moments of searching Steve’s eyes, just enjoying the way his pupils dilate in the darkness. “Not as good as you, Stevie.”

 

“Well two wonderful dads, makes for some pretty spoiled kids don’t you think?”

 

After two and a half years together, and a lifetime of friendship, this shouldn’t shock Bucky, yet it does. “You want to have kids with me?”

 

Steve stops dead in his tracks, pulling Bucky to a stop as well. They come face to face and Steve raises a hand to press against Bucky’s cheek. “Buck, of course.” He almost looks hurt that it’s even a question. “I want everything with you. The whole thing. The house, the pets, the wedding, the kids.”

 

Bucky smiles, “Well we already got two of the four.”

 

Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand. He looks around for a moment to see that no one is paying them any particular amount of attention, and he presses the quickest of kisses to Bucky’s lips. “I don’t care how long it takes to get the other two. I don’t care if it takes five years, or ten. I know what we’ve got to work against now, but I still want it. Only with you.”

 

“Halfway there,” Bucky quips with a sad smile. 

 

“We’ll get there when the time is right,” Steve reassures, “for us.”

 

Bucky’s not sure how long they spend on the pier that night, but he doesn’t want it to end. He doesn’t want to forget the way that Steve’s hand feels in his own. Or the smell of the water mixing with greasy hotdogs. He wants to remember every detail because they’re all important.

 

**

 

They’d been writing the album for nine months now, and Fury wasn’t happy. Nine months is three months too long, and the boys still weren’t even finished. It’d been a day already, nerves were high, and Bucky was about to lose his mind.

 

“Something is missing,” He tells the boys frustrated, “What the hell is missing? You feel it too, right?” He looks at the boys desperately, “I’m not going fucking crazy here, right?”

 

Peter’s sitting on a beanbag in the corner, the other two are on a couch. They’ve been running song ideas by each other for the last two hours, but nothing is coming. Nothing fits. And Fury chewing them out this morning for taking too long really put Bucky in a mood.

 

“Nah, there’s definitely something off,” Clint says. “Just like...it’s so small, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

 

Bruce hummed an agreement.

 

“I think you just gotta realize you’re going to be alright.” Peter says lazily.

 

Bucky whips his head around, “What?”

 

Peter shrugs like its no fucking deal. “Like I mean, we got an album full of depressing shit, even with the happy beats, but none of it speaks of hope. It just speaks of brokenness. The album won’t be finished until you realize you’re going to be fine.” It irks Bucky because he looks so fucking plase on his goddamn bean bag, but Bucky knows he’s actually right, the little dickhead. “With or without Steve.” Peter adds as a final one, two punch.

 

Bucky loses his breath for a moment. He grabs his leather jacket off the seat, because his mind is racing and he needs his guitar. But not the shit guitar that’s in the studio. He needs his guitar, and he didn’t think to bring it in today. Why didn’t he just bring it in?

 

“I’m going home, tell Fury to fuck off. I’ll be back tomorrow. I think I got it.”

 

Clint and Bruce look equally intrigued, while Peter looks like it’s about fucking time this idiot realizes the most basic understanding of life. But it’s not basic, not to Bucky. He feels his feet moving out of the studio, headed towards a yellow taxi on the street, and he thinks how stupid he was. How stupid he is. He’d lived a lifetime with Steve by his side, and now eleven months on his own and he finally knows he can stand on his own two feet.

 

He flashes back to a couple months ago at Sarah’s grave when Bucky’s conscience seemed to have figured it out before him. We’ll be alright. He’d told Steve that, but he distinctly remembers not believing it.

 

But they would. They would be alright, even if it meant they never got back together. Even if they never got married, or had their kids, or lived together again. It’d be alright because Bucky had finally learned how to stand alone. It’d taken him thirty fucking years, but he thinks he might finally be an adult.

 

It’s not like Steve had been holding him back, god the opposite was true. Steve had been helping him grow. He’d been supporting him through thick and thin. But when it came down to it, Bucky didn’t know how to exist without him. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on one person, for so many years. Bucky realized, he hopes not too late, that they’re like one of those old trees. They have strong roots, but somewhere in the growing process the tree splits, and has two trunks, but then, in an act only nature can accomplish, the trunks grow back together and form a single trunk again. The tree is still completely healthy, but there was a moment, a breaking point, where the tree had to seperate. In order to stay alive, the tree had to split, and only once both parts of the tree were healthy enough, did they come back together. And Bucky realizes, that’s him and Steve.

 

He knocks through the front door, not bothering to take his shoes off. He grabs his phone out of his pocket and does the only thing that seems right. He calls Steve.

 

“You wanna hear a song?” He says before he even says hello. He doesn’t bother to tell Steve he hasn’t actually written the song yet, that doesn’t matter.

 

 

“Are you done now?” Steve asks forty five minutes later.

 

Bucky sets his guitar down next to him and sighed, “Yeah, I guess so?” Steve had sat with him through the entire writing process, hadn’t even said a word about the fact that he most certainly did not have to do this kind of shit anymore.

 

“Okay, well I’m going to take a shower now then.”

 

Bucky chokes out a laugh, “What the fuck, Steven?”

 

“Well, you literally called me as I was entering the bathroom to take a shower.”

 

Bucky laughs, “Well, fine, but what did you think?”

 

“Of the song?”

 

“No of the quality of Natasha’s showerhead. Of course the song you dickhead.”

 

“Well,” Steve ponders. “I mean, it’s been eleven months, so I don’t want to be presumptuous and assume this song is about me too, but is it? About me, I mean?”

 

“Well, some, but I think mostly it’s about me.” Bucky offers as a response.

 

Steve hums at that, “Then I think it’s really good, Buck.”

 

“Thanks.” It’s quiet, and maybe he would have missed it if he hadn’t been listening for it, but Steve doesn’t miss it. He’s always listening when it’s Bucky on the other line.

 

**

 

Once Bucky finally found the missing link, finishing the album was easy. The boys agree on the title Fine Line, and everything about the record is perfect to Bucky. It fits his season of life exactly. He thinks this is the best music will ever get for him. There won’t be a moment, in music, that will feel more satisfactory than finishing this album has. He’s really thankful the guys ran with him on it, and he makes about a thousand mental notes to run with the boys on their ideas when they need their own space to process life too.

 

The album goes to post, and is finished in a short few weeks. Marketing and advertising is the same way. Fury is doing everything he can to make the spring release times work. That’s the best time for business, other than November which they missed greatly due to their slow moving on the song writing (Fury would never let them live it down, but heaven forbid the boys get a break and wait around for the next November). 

 

Merch is being teased on the instagram page, and Falling, despite being almost a year old, is back at the top of the charts. It all feels good, mostly. Other than that sinking feeling Bucky gets when he thinks about the tour that follows every album. When he thinks about the long days and even longer nights. He thinks about the parties. And the fans that throw their hands on him like they’ve known him for years. There’s nothing that will make someone feel like a product rather than a person more than eleven months of touring with little to no breaks.

 

Sometimes Bucky didn’t think performing was even worth all of it. Some artists lived for the performance, most of the boys did actually. For that high you get when there's thousands of people screaming your own lyrics back at you. But Bucky had always preferred the quiet of the writing, of discovering new avenues to release emotion, of finding out what people will connect with. That’s what Bucky lived for. Playing a song for Steve while they sat in bed together, was all the performing Bucky would have ever needed in life.

 

Touring was just another reinforcement of Bucky’s heavy closeting. Every new country meant a new dozen interviews with local press. It meant another question about another faceless girl that Bucky had never known. It meant more pretending. Bucky was so sick of pretending. He was just so tired. And for the first time in the past year of living alone, Bucky recognizes that Steve was right. It really is exhausting trying to know James.

 

**

 

It isn’t often that Bucky calls Steve. It’s almost exclusively been the other way around, aside from the writing of that final song. But when it came to music, Bucky didn’t mess around. He’d already released a single about his break up with Steve, but a whole album of the break up journey was different. It felt personal in a way that ought to be presented respectfully. Steve deserved to know what Bucky was about to tell the world. It just didn’t sit well with him to not at least allow Steve the opportunity to hear it first and give himself time to process it in whatever way he needed. Even if he didn’t want to accept that opportunity.

 

It’s early on a Saturday morning when finally Bucky picks up his phone and dials Steve’s number.

 

“Bucky?” He hears from the other end of the line.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Didn’t know you were still capable of waking up this early.” There’s a smile in Steve’s voice, and Bucky’s heart does a gentle flip in his chest.

 

Bucky rolled his eyes, doing his best to ignore himself “It’s nine o clock, Steve.”

 

“Exactly,” Steve laughed.

 

“Whatever, I call with a purpose.” Bucky says in his most serious voice possible.

 

“Oh, that sounds official.”

 

“It is, well kind of, I guess.”

 

There’s a sound on the other end of the phone, it something like the closing of a book and setting it down on a table with a soft thump. Bucky imagines that Steve’s wearing his reading glasses that he always gave Steve shit for. You’re such a grandpa. Yeah, well some of us have to see, Buck.

 

“Well, what is it then?” Steve asks softly.

 

Bucky takes a deep breath before releasing it, “We finished the album.”

 

There’s a beat of silence and then, “That’s good.”

 

Bucky hadn’t exactly planned out this conversation before hand, but he was wishing he had now. How exactly do you bring up this conversation to your ex boyfriend? Um, yeah, I wrote an entire album about our love and fall out and how miserably it tore me to pieces, do you want to listen to it, maybe? He didn’t love the sound of that.

 

“Do you,” Bucky pauses. “I mean, would you want to--” He struggles for a moment “Do you think it’s a good idea if--” He stops, almost thinking about hanging up. Giving up all together. This was going swimmingly thus far.

 

“Out with it already, Bucky.” Steve grumbles. His tone tells Bucky that he’s not angry or frustrated, simply impatient.

 

“Do you want to hear it? I mean, before we release it?”

 

There’s silence, and a long moment of them simply breathing. In this moment, Bucky reminds himself that the worst response is no. And if he says no, well then that’s just the end of the conversation. It’s not like there’s really much he can do about it. If he doesn’t want to listen, then he doesn’t. It’s Steve’s own choice, but either way it’s not a make or break scenario.

 

Steve sighs heavily for a moment, “Why do you want me to hear it?”

 

“Well, to be honest, Steve, a lot of it’s about you. It’s coming out whether you like it or not, I can’t stop it anymore. But, I figured you deserve the right to at least hear it before the rest of the world does. I always ran songs by you in the past, and it just doesn’t feel right for you to not know beforehand.”

 

He hums in agreement, “I guess that’s not a bad point. You got a copy for me to listen to or something?”

 

Bucky scratches his neck awkwardly, “Well, that’s the thing…”

 

“What?” Steve asks suspiciously.

 

“Fury would never allow a full copy of the album out this far out from release. So, you'd have to come to the studio and listen to it with me...”

 

A strange sound comes out of Steve, almost like a sound of shock, like a wave of disbelief, “I don’t know, Buck.”

 

“No one’s saying you gotta listen to it, Steve. I just wanted to give you the opportunity.”

 

There’s a clenching in Bucky’s chest as he waits for Steve’s answer. The honest to god truth is he misses Steve. He misses lounging around on a couch with him doing absolutely nothing. He misses cooking with him in the kitchen. Or watching criminal shows way too late into the night. He misses the smell of his hair when they’d hug. He misses their facetime calls they’d occasionally have during tour. He misses hearing Dodger bark, even. He missed Steve like something he’d never be able to fully replace. Bucky would never admit it to anyone, not even if a gun was put to his head, but a small part of him would shrivel to pieces if Steve didn’t want to sit in the studio with him for an hour to hear these new songs. If even that amount of time with Bucky was unfathomable, unattainable, never gonna happen again. Bucky wouldn’t know what to do with himself if his Stevie hated him forever.

 

“Okay.”

 

It’s quiet. It’s soft. It’s easy to miss. It brings life to Bucky’s dying soul.

 

“When do you want me to come?” Steve adds.

 

“Well, we can do it today if you’re free?”

 

 

 

So they end up in the studio alone, in the early afternoon. Just Steve, Bucky, and a sound system. It’s a little awkward, a little heavy, and a lot of tension. But it’s something. It’s the most alive Bucky’s felt in months. Steve looks something out of a sad novel: sullen and tired. Bucky figured that without Bucky in his life, Steve should have looked more full of life, happy even. Bucky was the one bringing him down afterall. But then again, he didn’t know this version of Steve in front of him. They were a year removed from their life together, so it was likely that Steve had changed in plenty of ways that Bucky wasn’t aware of.

 

“Well, you want me to just...uh, start, then?” Bucky asks nervously.

 

Steve nods. He hasn’t said a goddamn word yet, and it sends nervous pricks up energy up Bucky’s spine.

 

“Okay, well...this is Golden.”

 

Steve sits on the couch, while Bucky thinks it smart to stay at the chair in front of the soundboard.

 

I know you were too bright for me, I’m hopeless, broken so you wait for me in the sky.

 

Steve’s eyes register an amount of shock as the music filters through. It’s unexpected, Bucky understands this. The upbeat sounds of most of the songs to come, contrasted against deep, confusing lyrics. It’s nothing like what Shield’s done before. People will be shocked. It excites Bucky, yet terrifies him, especially with Steve sitting there, so still.

 

I’m out of my head, and I know that you’re scared because hearts get broken.

 

The song comes to an end and they wait in silence for a moment. Bucky isn’t sure if he should speak. Should he just rush through the songs? Does he allow time to process? See if Steve offers thoughts? This is new. He’s never shared music with Steve in this capacity. It’s stilted, awkward, unusual.

 

As Bucky goes to start the next song, Steve speaks up almost indiscernible, he’s so quiet. “That’s really different.”

 

“Yeah,”Bucky replies in an equally small voice. “You’ll notice a lot of it is different from our usual sound. Want me to play the next one?”

 

Steve shakes his head no, “Give me a minute, yeah?”

 

Bucky nodes and he waits in silence until Steve gives him a signal to move on. It’s exactly two minutes and thirty-seven seconds later when Steve does a quick nod, and Bucky takes it as a sign to forge onward.

 

“Watermelon Sugar.” Bucky announces.

 

Steve’s eyes flash, searching Bucky’s for only a moment. It was the drink Steve had ordered endlessly when they’d gone to Ibiza for a week and a half on their two year anniversary. It had been a special time for them both, Bucky knows this. Steve knows this too.

 

Breathe me in, Breathe me out. I don’t know if I could ever go without.

 

This song is upbeat, fast, and high energy. The boys are thrilled to sing this song live particularly. They’re convinced it will be the party song. Bucky really doesn’t have much of an opinion on tour details, set designs, or set lists for that matter. He’s going to show up when he has to, and he’s going to focus on surviving another year in the band.

 

Baby, you’re the end of June.

 

Steve visibly deflates at this line, and Bucky knows why. Their anniversary date was at the end of June, and equating Steve to that date was something only Steve and close friends would understand. To everyone else, it will sound like Bucky just thought the nameless lover was something like summer, that she reminded Bucky of the warmth that summer offers. But Bucky really just meant that everything was Steve, just hear him out. Everything that Bucky had, his memories, his thoughts, his heart, it all belonged to Steve. June was Steve’s. Watermelon Sugars were Steve’s. Strawberries on a summer evening-- Steve’s. Breathe in Steve, Breath out Steve, Bucky really, really, really can’t live without.

 

“Jesus fuck, Bucky.” Steve curses when the song ends.

 

Bucky doesn’t say anything. He really doesn’t have anything to say. His words, his thoughts, they are all in his music. It will speak better than anything else could.

 

“Go to the next one.” Steve urges, almost demands.

 

They continue like this for Lights up and Cherry. Steve slowly unravels, and Bucky watches it happen, completely unsure of what to do. With each song, each word sung out from the painful depths of Bucky’s heart, Steve sinks deeper into the couch.

 

“Did you write all of these? Is there not a single song on this album that belongs to the other boys?” Steve seems desperate, almost. Like he needs a reprieve. He needs something that won’t remind him of the years they spent together. He pleads for a life line, and Bucky doesn’t have one to offer him.

 

“Steve, you gotta understand, I was--” he stutters for a moment, “there was nothing else. Nothing else mattered, so for a bit they let nothing else matter to them too. It was nine months of unanswered questions and anger and sadness. And the boys pushed me through it, held me up in every sense of the word. It was the only way I knew how to wake up in the morning.” Bucky chokes out the truth.  “I would have done the same thing for any one of them, if they were--” Bucky stops completely without finishing his thought.

 

“God, Buck.” Steve closes his eyes, the heels of his hands come to press against them. “I mean no one but our friends will know these are about me. No one is going to guess you wrote an entire goddamn album about your best friend, especially not with the changed pronouns. But jesus fuck, this is...a lot that you’re telling the whole goddamn earth. It’s our entire story, Bucky.” Steve sighs and sits back up more erect.

 

“I know.” Bucky sighs. “I know, Steve.”

 

Silence falls over them again. There’s been a lot of silence. So much so that the first four songs have taken an entire half an hour to get through. “Well,” Bucky breaks the silence, “the next song is Falling. And you’ve heard that. So we can skip it.”

 

“No,” Steve says quickly.

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t skip it, I need to hear it in order at least once. I need to hear how you intended for it to be listened through as.”

 

Bucky nods and plays the song. He doesn’t look at Steve because if he does he’ll remember how much he loves him. He’ll fall all over again, just like the song says.

 

They move on to the next song, To Be So Lonely. Steve doesn’t make it very far.

 

Don’t blame me for falling. I was just a little boy.

 

Steve actually stands up, he stands to his feet and points at the soundboard, as if the lyrics are its fault.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?” He seethes.

 

Bucky stops the song, unsure what exactly is happening. He doesn’t say anything, he just looks at Steve, confusion written in his expression.

 

“You really wrote the song Falling.” Steve breathes in through his nose,  “A song completely dedicated to the perennial falling in love with your significant other. WITH ME,” He shouts, his arms flailing desperately around him. He doesn’t look angry, is the thing that confuses Bucky the most. He looks like he’s going mad. “A song that literally says it doesn’t matter that I fucking left you, you’re still going to keep falling in love with me. And then you had the audacity to write that lyric?” Steve breathes deeply for a moment. “Bucky, I really can’t do this.” Steve turns away from Bucky and places his hands over his face. “Just a little boy,” Steve mumbles to himself, as if it’s a question. “Jesus Christ.” He sniffles for a moment, and fuck, is Steve crying?

 

“I’m sorry, Steve, I, what can I do?” Bucky feels utterly helpless.

 

“Shut up.” Steve demands harshly. “Shut the fuck up.” He falls to the ground and pulls his knees to his chest. And Bucky thinks about how similar this looks to one of his own panic attacks. He’s never seen Steve have a panic attack before, but he’s also only seen Steve twice in a year. So it could be a new thing. Bucky takes the space on the floor next to Steve and grabs onto Steve’s leg. Steve sobs a little harder, but he grabs Bucky’s hand and holds on for his life. His grip is tighter than what’s comfortable, but Bucky won’t complain.

 

They sit that way for a while, Steve occasionally wailing or hiccuping, and Bucky remaining steady by his side. Steve eventually quiets, but he doesn’t release his hold on Bucky. He looks up at Bucky, face a complete wreck, and voice even more so and says, “What are we doing, Bucky?” The pain is written all over his face, the loss, the loneliness. All of what Bucky’s been experiencing over the past twelve months is reflected back at him in Steve’s expression. “ What are we doing here? How did we end up so fucking screwed up?”

 

And well, Bucky thinks, there’s a lot of reasons, but not one does justice to how they allowed the most important thing in their lives disintegrate before their very eyes. Bucky places a gentle hand to Steve’s cheek, wiping a tear away despite the wealth of tears on his cheek. He stares deep into Steve’s eyes until he finds him. Until Steve focuses, and Bucky knows he’s listening. “I don’t know Stevie, but I’m not convinced that we’re unfixable. I’m not convinced that we can’t fix this.”

 

Steve’s lips wobble for a moment, “I left you though.”

 

“And I still love you.” Bucky responds fiercely, squeezes Steve’s face tighter ever so slightly. “I still love you even though you left. Do you still love me enough though I became the worst possible version of myself?”

 

Steve swallows heavily, “I do.” He nods his head to emphasize his words. “I do, Buck.”

 

“Then it’s not unfixable.” Bucky whispers it like it’s gospel truth, and no one can take that away from them.

 

**

 

Bucky grumbled a bit as Steve continued to drag him into the office.

 

“This is stupid,” Bucky groans.

 

Steve ignores him, which makes Bucky grumble more.

 

“We don’t need a new house, Steve.” He’s annoyed because this is all a colossal waste of his precious time with Steve. “The house we have now works just fine.”

 

“For now,” Steve doesn’t so much as toss Bucky a glance, but continues into the office of some real estate agent that Bucky’s sure is great and everything -- IF they needed a new house, which they DON’T. 

 

“Stevie, don’t you think we should get married before you start going off and planning a huge family for us. We got three bedrooms in the house, why the fuck would two people need anything bigger?”

 

They cross the threshold of a door and are met with a breeze of air conditioning and a warm smile. “Mr. Rogers, so lovely to see you,” a lady with a pantsuit greets.

 

“Susan, it’s a pleasure.” They shake hands and Bucky crosses his arms, like the petulant child he is.

 

“You must be Mr. Barnes.” She smiles at him, but doesn’t offer her hand. Good, at least she’s smart. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

 

“Well, did you hear the part where I don’t need a new house?” Bucky glares at Steve’s ear because he refuses to look at him, the punk.

 

“He’s just not a fan of change,” Steve dismisses.

 

“Well,” Susan says all perky-like, also ignoring Bucky, “I sure do have some great prospects lined up for us to look at this afternoon.”

 

“Great,” Steve responds, “We’re really looking forward to it.”

 

 

The thing is Bucky and Steve really, really, really don’t need a new house. It’s not like they couldn’t have something nicer and bigger and fancier. Sure, they could. Bucky’s got a shit load of money now that he’s rich and famous and shit. Bucky just doesn’t see the need for it all. Their home has worked just fine for them the last seven years together. Why Steven Grant Rogers thinks they need to move now is unknowable.

 

The houses they look at are nice, Bucky will give Susan that much. But it just isn’t necessary. Bucky likes his house. Sure it’s old and it's in a weird part of town, but every time Bucky steps through that door he remembers who he is.

 

“It’s not about not wanting a new one,” He tells Steve later when they’re on their couch in their home, the one they’ve made together. “Steve, everything in my life is different now. Everything except you. Except us. And this house, this house is us! It’s ours! It’s the only thing that’s left of us before fame took over my life. Before you because a big artist that every smoozes up to. Babe, this is all we have left. If we change this, then everything has changed. I don’t know if I can handle that. I want to be able to come home and know it’s still my home. Know that my best friend, from when I was five years old and already saving him from fights on the playground, is going to be waiting for me. I don’t want Steve Rogers Art Extraordinaire. Just like I’m sure you don’t want to come home to Bucky Barnes Shield’s Frontman. We can’t let go of this, Stevie, please.”

 

Steve’s looking back at Bucky now with awe in his eyes. “Okay, I’ll tell Susan we aren’t interested.” It’s soft and private. It’s quiet in a way that says ‘I love you, I just gotta let you know, I really love you, and I just needed to know you still love me.’ God, of course Bucky still loves Steve. Nothing’s worth coming home to like Steve.

 

**

 

Bucky had two panic attacks in the last week, and Sam was on the verge of just moving into the house because apparently driving over at three in the morning is ‘exhausting’ or something. Bucky gripes with him about it, but eventually thanks him for helping him.

 

“Man,” Sam says the morning after (because yes he had just crashed on the couch after it was all over and Bucky was finally asleep), “you know you’re going to have to talk to Fury about this.”

 

Bucky says nothing, he just continued to cook up the eggs on the stove how he knows Sam likes them made.

 

“If you go on tour like this, you’re going to fall apart.” Sam says, trying to reason with Bucky.

 

Thing is, Bucky doesn’t want to be reasoned with. Bucky doesn’t want to talk to Fury. Bucky wants to pretend like there isn’t a problem at all, when in fact there is a problem. And it's a really big, really unhealthy one.

 

“I can’t be flying out to help you through this shit on tour.” Sam scowls.

 

Bucky flips the egg and goes to grab a plate.

 

“Who’s going to help you? Peter? Is Peter going to hold you while you fall apart?”

 

Sam’s being harsh, but he also knows how to get through to Bucky. Bucky allows it because even if he doesn’t want to see reason, there’s a voice in the back of his mind whispering to him that Sam’s right and he should listen to him.

 

“I don’t want to talk,” Bucky finally says.

 

“Tough titties,” Sam responds, “Because we’re talking. And we’re doing it now. You wanna last another year? You want to come home at the end of this tour still alive? You want to live to make another album? You tell Fury what you told me last night. There’s no other way.”

 

Sam’s egg is done, and he accepts it from his seat at the island with a soft thanks. Bucky gets to making his own breakfast.

 

“It’s going to be fucking hell,” Sam concedes. “That conversation won’t be pretty or easy, but it’s necessary, man. We aren’t talking about a little anxiety here. You have a problem. You need help, and you need support. From more than just me.”

 

**

 

Sam was definitely right, unfortunately.

 

Two days later, with little to no sleep, and Bucky was exhausted, but now he was standing in front of Fury’s office door, ready to talk. (Well as ready as he could possibly be for this conversation).

 

He stares at the door for a moment, not sure he wants to go through with this, but knowing he has to. After a moment's deliberation, he knocks hesitantly on the door.

 

“No need to knock when you’re on the schedule, Barnes.” Fury hollers from inside, and Bucky takes that as his cue to enter.

 

“Uh, sorry,” Bucky offers nervously as he takes a seat across from the older man.

 

“So,” Fury says as he sets down the pen he was using to write in some notebook. He sets it all to the side, and folds his hands on top of his desk. “What can I do for you, Bucky Barnes?”

 

“We need to talk about renegotiating my contract.”

 

Fury groans for a moment and leans back into his chair, “Thought we already talked through this a couple years back.”

 

“We did, but circumstances have changed.” Bucky responds tightly.

 

“What circumstances would that be?”

 

Bucky takes a deep breath. It won’t be pretty or easy, he hears Sam’s voice echoed in his mind. “Well, if we don’t renegotiate, I’m prepared to leave.”

 

Fury eyes him for a moment. “You know the consequences of a move like that, Barnes.”

 

He nods succinctly, “I do, sir. I wasn’t ready to do it before, but I’m thoroughly prepared to go through the legal fight it takes, and to be fined in whatever way I will be if I leave. So, you want to take time to talk through a contract or you want to send the record label to court for a couple years and lose your lead singer to your most successful band to date?”

 

Fury leans forward, “And what renegotiations are we specifically talking about this time?”

 

“I want, no, I need,” Bucky corrects, “to come out.”

 

“Barnes.” Fury hissed a warning.

 

“Listen,” Bucky gains a small ounce of confidence. “I’ve had two panic attacks this week alone about going on another tour in the state I’m in. You don’t think I’ll leave? I will. I have nothing left worth fighting for. The band took the one thing I had, so if you don’t think I won’t drop this band’s ass quicker than you can say goodbye, then you’re wrong. My health is more important to everyone on this team, but you. The boys would understand. The simple fact of the matter is that I won’t survive another tour if it’s like the last one, much less finish my entire six album contract. I won’t. I cannot physically do it. So I won’t, if something doesn’t change. I’m not going to kill myself over this band. Even music isn’t worth it if it costs me my life. So yeah, I’m fully prepared to step away, even if that means I’ll drown in debt for the rest of my life, and never perform music again. I have to do what keeps me alive.”

 

Fury stares him down for a long, hard minute.

 

They stare at each other in silence, Fury hard set, and Bucky feigning confidence. He’d backed down from a lot of things in his life, but this wasn’t going to be one of them. Bucky knew his worth, finally, and he was going to fight for it, even if it’s the last thing he does in the music industry. Even if he should have done it two years ago.

 

Fury presses a button on his office phone before barking, “Coulson, get your ass in here.”

 

There’s no reply, just a small man entering the office from behind Bucky and saying, “Yes sir?”

 

“Would you bring me a copy of Bucky Barnes’ contract with the record label please?”

 

Coulson nods and scuries out of the room as quickly as he came.

 

“Here’s how this is going to go,” Fury replies.

 

Bucky feels a wave of relief fall over him because he may not know what’s about to happen, but something is about to happen.

 

**

 

“No more forced closeting?” Sam asks.

 

“Nope,” Bucky says proudly.

 

“No more media training?”

 

“Nope!” Bucky could practically be bouncing off the walls.

 

“And they’re going to let you come out on your own terms?”

 

“Yeah!”

 

“Damn, you actually did it, Barnes.”

 

“I know,” Bucky smiles, sinking into the couch next to Sam. “I could cry.”

 

“I’m proud of you,” Sam smiles, clapping his hand on Bucky’s thigh and squeezing. “And I hope I never have to come over at 3 am ever again.”

 

Bucky smacked his hand off his leg, but he’s still smiling that cheek to cheek smile. He’s coming out. He’s actually going to do it. He’s important enough to the band that they didn’t want him to leave. That they’re actually going to let him come out, even if it messes with sales or whatever.
(Bucky doesn’t think it will though).

 

“So how are you going to do it?” Sam asks quietly.

 

“Honestly,” He hums, either thoughtful or sad, he’s not quite sure which one, “I don’t know. I always imagined it happening because I wanted to let the world know about Steve.” Bucky shrugs lightly. “But it’s about me. I don’t know how I’d want to do it if it’s for myself.”

 

“Well, it should always be for you, either way,” Sam says wisely.

 

Bucky’s lips twist as he thinks. “Some people do it in a quick tweet, make a joke of it or something, or just state it matter of fact. But I don’t know what I see myself doing. That could be fun, sure. But maybe I just want to sit down with someone and have that conversation, you know? It’s more personal that way I think.”

 

“You get the opportunity to tell your story,” Sam offers.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky sighs, “Exactly.”

 

**

 

“Bucky,” the interviewer smiled. He recognized her, but most certainly didn’t know her name. “It’s been quite some time since we’ve spoken.”

 

Bucky smiles, wishing he could remember the last time. “It’s good to see you, Lynn,” (her name is on her press pass, and Bucky thanks the heavens for small mercies). They shake hands politely and then each take their respective seats.

 

“So Bucky,” Lynn goes to click on a recorder. Her eyes appear kind, and she looks mostly relaxed. Bucky likes her, as far as interviewers go. “The last time we spoke you had just won your first Grammy as a band. So tell me, what has happened to the great Bucky Barnes in the past, gosh, three years?”

 

Bucky chuckles in his most charming way, “Well, wow, so many things. I mean, we won another Grammy first of all.” Lynn laughs at that. “We’ve toured more countries than I can name. I’ve seen the world, that’s just crazy to think about.”

 

Lynn smiles, “What about you? What’s changed for you personally in the last four years since the band started?”

 

“What hasn’t changed?” Bucky quips.

 

“Fair enough,” She smiles. “If you remember, at the time of that first Grammy, we spoke quite in detail about your lyrics from that latest album. The theme of a long term relationship or life long love was strong, and has continued to stay strong in subsequent albums.”

 

Bucky nods to show he’s tracking with her.

 

“Well now, Shield has a new album slated to release in just under a couple of months, isn’t that right?”

 

“Sure is,” Bucky grins widely, “I am certainly more proud of this record than I ever have been.”

 

“So what changed?”

 

“What do you mean?” Bucky asks, even though he knows exactly what she means.

 

“Well, the only song we’ve heard from this album thus far is Falling. Your name is alone on the writing credits which is incredibly unusual, and you fell apart on national television when you debuted the song. This song tells a story much different than your others.”

 

She means it tells a story of love lost, but Bucky doesn’t say that.

 

“I’d beg to differ,” Bucky replies quietly, “I think it tells a continuation of a story that still hasn’t been fully written.”

 

“So you obviously wrote this in a place of pain. Would you mind taking us through the writing process for this song?”

 

Bucky took a deep breath and closed his eyes. This was the moment, and Lynn had no idea what was coming to her, just that it was what every journalist dreamed of -- an exclusive.

 

“Well,” Bucky starts as he opens his eyes. “I came home from tour last year to find my boyfriend packing his bags to leave…for good. And my world came crashing to pieces in a mere matter of minutes. Everything I had known to be true flipped on its head, just like that.” Bucky snaps his finger as illustration.

 

Lynn blinks rapidly. She turns to look around, at members of his team. As if to say ‘Is this real? Did he just say what I think he said? Can I comment on this?’ Bucky tried his best to smile, but he was terrified. His stomach swirled nervously.

 

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Her lips quirk up in this sort of questioning way, “Did you say your boyfriend?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“So do you mean to say that this story, the story you’ve been telling for the past four years is about a love story between yourself and a now ex boyfriend?”

 

Bucky nods, “That’s right.”

 

“And how long had you been with this person?”

 

Bucky struggles for a moment. It should always be about you, he hears Sam again. This isn’t about Steve, it’s about him. It’s about Bucky’s story. “We got together right as the band was being formed.” Bucky responds, trying his best to not drop any hints that it could have been Steve that he was talking about. The last thing he needed was for his crazed fans to go after Steve and ruin his life for good.

 

“Wow,” She gasps, “That’s quite a long time to be with someone and then have them leave you. That must have been awful.”

 

“Well, the world will know just how bad in March when the album comes out.” Bucky tries to laugh, but it comes out stunted.

 

“Is the entire album about this time in your life?”

 

“Pretty much,” Bucky smiles nervously.

 

“Well you mentioned that the story wasn’t yet completed, how do you mean?”

 

Bucky thinks for a moment, “Nothing’s ever over until both people say it is.”

 

“Do you see yourself getting back together with him?”

 

Bucky smiles a sad smile, “Well I can’t foresee the future, I can only share what I wish to happen. And I want to spend the rest of my life with him, so I really hope that we reconcile one day. I want to marry him. I want to have kids with him. Lynn, I want it all with him.”

 

“How long do you see yourself waiting for him?”

 

Bucky laughs, “Lynn, I’m no damsel in distress in need of saving. I’ve learned I am perfectly fine without him, but life is certainly a lot better with him. And I would welcome him back anytime he’d want to come back. I’d be willing to wait forever, not because I can’t move on without him, but because he’s my person. There’s no one else that will fit me like he does. If I’m going to be with someone, it’s got to be him.”

 

“Even though he left you?”

 

“Even though,” Bucky replies.

 

“I think that’s beautiful, Bucky.” She smiles and it’s a little sad, but also a little hopeful. “I hope that works out for you.”

 

“Thank you,” Bucky whispers. “I hope so too.”

 

**

 

“FUCK!” Bucky shouts to the empty walls of his home.

 

“Jesus, man, not in the phone please,” Sam says on the other end of the phone.

 

“How the fuck is me saying I had a boyfriend for four goddamn years, saying I wanted to mary him, and have his fucking kids, not enough. How the hell are people still going to disrespect me and call me straight. HOW SAM, HOW?”

 

Sam grunts, “Please man, really. My ears were not made for this. But I don’t know, maybe you just gotta say a big fuck you to them all, and kiss a boy in public or something.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, “That’s fucking stupid Sam. Besides, who the fuck would I kiss?”

 

“Well then tweet ‘hey i’m super gay’ or some shit.”

 

Bucky hums, “That’s not a bad idea.”

 

Sam chuckles, “I mean I was mostly kidding, but also... I’ll retweet it if you do.”

 

“Thanks for the support, Sam.” Bucky laughs before hanging up the phone and opening his twitter app.

 

This could be fun, Bucky did always love being a troll.

 

ItsBuckyBarnes: Hey dickheads, in case saying I had a boyfriend for four years didn’t tip you off, I’M FUCKING GAY. GET OVER IT.

 

Bucky got a hit of adrenaline as he hit the send button, and now he suddenly knows why people get so high off of internet drama. He swipes off the app as quickly as possible before the notification numbers start jumping.

 

His phone rings forty-eight seconds later. And he’s only counting because he’s expecting a call from Fury any moment now.

 

He picks up the phone without looking, and before he even has a moment to push out his already prepared sarcastic retort, there’s someone yelling at him.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Steve yells.

 

Bucky’s taken aback, but only for a moment. “Hello to you too, Stevie.” He says sarcastically.

 

“I mean it Bucky, what are you doing?”

 

“You know, I just woke up feeling super gay today, and I thought, fuck it. Let’s just tell the whole goddamn world.”

 

“You’re going to ruin your career.”

 

“Maybe, a year and a half ago,” Bucky considers, “But now I got myself a brand new shiny contract. And it says Bucky can be super gay in bold.”

 

Steve breathes for a moment, “You what?”

 

“Got a new contract.”

 

“How?” Steve questions.

 

“Apparently all you have to do is threaten to quit.”

 

“No,” Steve responded, “You did that three years ago, after the first tour.”

 

Bucky hums. That is true. “We weren’t as successful back then. But when you come into Fury’s office saying I either come out or I leave the band. And yeah I know it means I’ll lose a shit ton of money and probably never sing a day in my life, but I’m okay with it because you’re fucking killing me with your goddamn closet, then they actually take you seriously. No one wants to lose the frontman of their two time Grammy winning band.”

 

“So you came out?” Steve asks, because he’s a fucking idiot.

 

“Looks like it.”

 

“And you told the world we dated for four years.”

 

“Well, not you specifically. A nameless, faceless, man. Emphasis on man.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

Something like annoyance pricks up Bucky’s spine. “Cus it had nothing to do with you, Steve. It had to do with me. It was my story to tell. I kept your name out of it because your name had no business being in it. It’s my story. It’s my coming out. Not yours. Not even ours. It was mine, and I deserved to have it as mine. And only mine. You might be the one I fell in love with, but that doesn’t make my orientation about you.”

 

Bucky’s breathing heavy on his side of the line, while Steve just waits. They wait in silence for longer than probably normal.

 

“I’m proud of you, Buck.” Steve finally says.

 

“Thanks,” Bucky huffs out.

 

Proud is such a strange would. What’s there to be proud of when all he’s doing is being himself, finally. He stopped being a coward, stopped letting money scare him into silence, how’s that some great accomplishment?

 

“Your interview was good, and I’m sorry not everyone believed you to be sincere.”

 

“Yeah, well…”

 

“Dickheads,” They both say at the same time, causing each of them to laugh.

 

“Damn,” Bucky says.

 

“Apparently that’s a thing we still do.” Steve offered with a smile in his tone.

 

Bucky’s quiet for a moment, thinking about his interview. About the words he’d said. The ones about Steve. What he wanted. He wondered if Steve would talk about it, or would Bucky have to bring it up? How long are you willing to wait? Bucky had meant to say forever, but waiting even another minute for Steve seemed like hell. Bucky sighed, unintentionally. Being proud and loud and no nonsense on twitter or with an interviewer you don’t know is one thing, but being that bold with someone you’ve loved your entire life… that shit isn’t easy.

 

“Steve,” Bucky whispers.

 

“Yeah?” Steve’s voice just as quiet on his end.

 

“When are you coming home?” Bucky really, really hopes Steve understands what he’s really saying. “I’ve been waiting for you to come home for so long.” He feels like crying. He feels his brokenness become a little more pronounced as he bares his soul, “I meant it…” His words are slow, “I’ll wait. I’d wait forever, but Stevie,” Bucky feels a rogue tear run down his face, “I gotta say, I really don’t wanna have to wait anymore.” He hiccups, and he hates that his body betrays him like this, “I’m so tired of waiting, Steve. It’s so lonely here without you.” There’s a beat of silence. And Bucky thinks he’s done, but Steve isn’t responding. Part of him panics, thinking, maybe if he just explains a bit more, Steve will see how much he’s changed. Then he’ll come home. “I know I messed up, I know it. I messed up so bad. I didn’t value you the way I should have, the way I once did.” Bucky hiccups again, damnit. “But I do now, and I’m different now. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past year. And I know, I know with all my fucking heart and soul and being that I’m so much better now, Stevie. I’ll be so much better for you. Just please, please come home to me.”

 

It’s another minute before Steve replies.

 

“Soon, Buck. I’ll come home soon.”

 

And if that’s not the best fucking news Bucky’s ever heard, then he doesn’t know what is.

 

 

**

 

Bucky’s always loved rainy days, and he especially loves this rainy day because he’s able to enjoy it. He doesn’t have to work at all today and that’s blissful. He’s got the blinds of every window pulled up so he can see and hear the droplets of rain as they come down, and his record player is playing something by Fleetwood Mac. And Bucky, well, Bucky is doing nothing. He’s loving every minute of it. He basks in his love for music and his love for rain, and he just enjoys the solitude for once in his life.

 

There’s a beauty in rain that Bucky sees, if he were in the mood, he could write a song about it. But he isn’t. So he doesn’t. He just enjoys the feeling of knowing everything is washed away by the rain and made brand new. That’s pretty poetic, if you ask him.

 

Bucky stands to flip the record over when it stops, and then goes back to lounging. He thinks to himself about how maybe retirement wouldn’t be so bad. Not if this is what retirement feels like. In the subsequent weeks following his interview, the world has come around. They’d buzzed for a few days, and then they’d moved on. The real impact of Bucky’s announcement wouldn’t really be felt until they saw album numbers later next month. If the sales tanked, they would probably know why. Not that that’s a definitive form of science or anything. Bucky doesn’t mind though, he’s freer than he’s ever been in his life. It feels great. It feels like something he deserves. Like something he should have been given a long time ago.

 

When the record comes to an end, Bucky stands to put it away and grab a new one. He pulls out a collection of vinyls and places one on the record player, unsure even what he chose, but not concerned. He chooses this time to sit in the armchair that faces towards the window, rather than lie on the couch. He hears the soothing sounds of an orchestra fill his ears and finds it beautiful. He’s not sure what it is, and he vaguely wonders if Steve may have bought this record. He doesn’t recognize it, but Bucky’s not concerned. He listens intently, as he stares at the rain and thinks of nothing. A blissful, quiet nothing.

 

The soft voice of a man fills Bucky’s ears, and he thinks for a moment how pleasant his voice sounds. He hears his words. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay. Amen…. In my heart, I reconciled all the darkness and light inside my chest. Bucky finds the music so incredibly calming, something he could fall asleep to peacefully, if he weren’t so intrigued by the story the man was telling. The story of a daughter being born. You are beautiful like your mother… a better version of our past. In the distance Bucky sees a different life. A beautiful suburban house, two kids running around outside, giggling as Bucky chases after them. He wonders about that smile on his face. He looks happy, in a way that Bucky’s not sure he’s ever been. And in a split second he sees why, as he sees Steve step outside the front door of that beautiful home. It must be their home, it must, Bucky feels it in his heart. He hollers something about dinner being ready, and the kids run inside squealing. And Bucky thinks, this must be his life. Bucky blinks again and sees the rain fall to his window pain.

 

Bucky thinks about the chair he’s sitting in, rather than the moment he just had inside his own mind as it betrayed him. His throat feels a little tight, and he wonders what happened to his blissful peace he had moments ago. He closes his eyes for a moment, and hears music pass his ears but decides not to listen for a while. He enjoys the darkness behind his lids for a moment. His eyes open again, and the world comes back into focus. Fall in love in a single touch, and fall apart when it hurts too much? Bucky thinks this has to be Steve’s record. Because he’s never heard it, and he thinks he wouldn’t listen to such painful music. He’d only write it. The song ends and shifts into an upbeat plucking of a guitar. It’s beautiful too, and Bucky would really like to meet the man behind this music. He has a gift. We’re swallowing light, we’re swallowing pride, we’re raising glasses until we’re fixed from the inside.

 

Bucky listens to the music and switches the records multiple times. There’s three in total, and he's somewhere on Side B of the second record when there’s a knock on his front door. It startles him out of his own thoughts, and he pushes off the couch to stand. He pads down to the entryway and opens his door.

 

He blinks a few times and thinks he really must really be out of it today. He knows he saw Steve earlier, but that was just his imagination. And this must be his imagination too. Because there’s no reason why Steve would be standing at his front door...looking like he wants to come inside.

 

“What?” Bucky asks, just utterly confused.

 

“Hey,” Steve says. And that’s definitely Steve’s voice and Steve’s body, so if Bucky’s mind is playing with him, it’s being super cruel today. It’s not funny, and Bucky isn’t pleased with the mind tricks.

 

Bucky reaches a hand out, centimeters away from touching before he stops, realizes that may not be welcome. If that doesn’t hit him square in the chest and remind him of reality, he’s not sure what would.

 

“You wanna come in?” Bucky offers lamely.

 

“I want to come home,” Steve responds instead.

 

He, what? Bucky remembers him saying many weeks ago that he’d come home soon, but in the weeks that passed since he’d kind of convinced himself that was probably just a delusion of grandeur. From somewhere behind him, Bucky hears a man singing the words I’m short of breath, standing next to you, I’m out of my depth. Bucky laughs internally thinking, of course Steve’s record would manage to be a soundtrack behind them in an already cliche movie scene reconciliation.

 

When Bucky doesn’t respond, Steve shifts on his feet, like he’s getting impatient. “Can I come home now, Buck?”

 

Bucky gasps lightly, like he’d forgotten to breathe in the moment. You are beautiful, like I’ve never seen before. “You mean it?” Bucky chokes out.

 

Steve nods earnestly. “I know we’ll have to talk about a lot of things. But just know, I was stupid, and I shouldn;t have run. I was a coward, and I ran from our problems rather than trying to fix them. And I will never do that again. Buck, I will never leave you again.”

 

I’ll be the dangerous ledge, you be the parachute. Bucky really thinks he should send this man a letter thanking him for his beautiful music because in this moment Bucky decides to jump, and he trusts that Steve will catch him.

 

“Yeah, god, yes of course, Stevie. Of course you can come home.” He, for the first time in fourteen months, wraps his arms around Steve and holds tight. He thinks he’ll never let go of him again. A quiet sob releases from somewhere deep inside Steve’s chest, and Bucky thinks it's something of relief.

 

“I love you, Bucky.” Steve speaks into Bucky’s hair. “I love you so much. And even when I left, I loved you. And I’ve loved you for the last fourteen months. I never stopped. I’m sorry that I made you think I’d stopped.”

 

It is the calm water in the middle of an anxious sea.

 

Bucky pulls back and kisses Steve firm on the lips, grounding themselves to each other once again. “I love you, too, and absolutely nothing else could matter to me.”

 

Steve smiles, face beaming from elation, “Are you listening to Sleeping at Last?”

 

Bucky laughs, “I have no fucking clue, but whoever he is deserves a lot of awards.”

 

Steve smiles, “Yeah he’s really good, but not as good as the musician I have in my arms.”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, “God that was gross. Please don’t ever be that cheesy again.”

 

They laugh together for the first time in a really long time, and Bucky just pulls Steve into the front door. Into their home. Into their future. Back into his world. And everything just feels fucking right.

 

The clumsy start of adolescence, the glue that mends our broken remnants, an overwhelming sense of reverence…

 

Bucky turns off the record player, and thanks the man for his time and service, but he’s got something more important to tend to right now.

 

**

 

“This is pretty fucking ironic,” Sam laughs. “Is no one but me going to recognize how ridiculous this is?”

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, as he fixes his velvet suit jacket. “Yeah, yeah we get it. It’s hilarious I’m going to the Grammys with my boyfriend, for an album that I wrote about my ex boyfriend who also happens to be my current boyfriend.”

 

Steve laughs from somewhere behind Bucky, He’d taken the new (well old) relationship in stride. He’d happily stepped out into the limelight with Bucky. He took on the nasty comments of people saying he didn’t deserve Bucky because he left him and broke his heart. He came along on quite a few tour dates, and beamed at Bucky from the front row every time.

 

“We’ve come full circle.” Steve smiles at Sam, Bucky can see through the mirror.

 

Sam raised an eyebrow at him, “More like you some weird figure 8 or something. Friends to lovers to ex lovers to weird phone buddies to lovers again. Y’all are tiring. I need rest.”

 

Bucky turned to look at the two men, “Well good thing you’ll have plenty of time to rest while I take my loving boyfriend to the Grammys,” Bucky hit Sam with a hard stare, “And you stay here.”

 

“Ouch,” Sam laughs good naturedly, “That hurt man, that hurt.”

 

Steve looks at Bucky and Bucky looks at Steve, and his heart bursts from out of his chest.

 

“You look incredibly handsome,” Steve whispers to Bucky as he steps closer.

 

“God, do not start making out again.” Sam groans, “Get a fucking room.”

 

“You’re in our fucking house Sam, the whole thing is our room.” Bucky glares.

 

“Whatever,” Sam says, “When are you going to leave? Can’t be late for your big event.”

 

“Why are you here again?” Bucky asks incredulously.

 

“Cus you have beer,” Sam says easily.

 

Steve laughs while Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

“Are you ready to go?” Steve asks moments later.

 

Bucky nods, “Yeah, I’ve had enough of this idiot for the day.”

 

They turn to leave, Steve grabbing Bucky’s hand as they go.

 

“You love me!” Sam shotus as they reach the door.

 

Bucky doesn’t even reply.

 

 

 

On the red carpet, the lights are hot, and the flashes are bright. These are the worst parts of being famous besides the intrusive paparazzi. Bucky’s excited to have his first official power couple walk with Steve by his side though. And he knows the pictures are going to be hot as fuck. And they’re going to be the talk of the town. It’s the interviews at the end of the carpet he’s not too thrilled about. He imagines the questions in his head now. How’d you forgive someone who left you so abruptly? He broke your heart, why’d you take him back? Everyone wanted to be angry at Steve as if Bucky had no part in the split. They were both equally at fault. And sure Steve was the one to walk out, but Bucky had practically pushed him out the door first. And in the seven months since the album’s release, they’d had plenty of time to talk through their issues. They’d gone to counseling for the first two months, just as a precaution. And Bucky could not say with more confidence that he has never once regretted a time when he chose Steve. Not as a child, not as a best friend, not as a man figuring out what love means for the first time, and most certainly not now.

 

They ready themselves to walk the carpet, but first Bucky turns to Steve and says, “I want all of it, with you, and only you. And that’s all that matters.”

 

Steve smiles that soft, beautiful smile that sinks deep into Bucky’s chest and finds its home. “And I’m with you ‘till the end of the line.” Steve responds.

 

They walk the carpet with a confidence Bucky didn’t even know they possessed. And when they reach the end of the flashing cameras, Bucky’s relieved to find a familiar face.

 

“Lynn!” He greets happily.

 

He reaches out to the young lady and pulls her in for a hug, rather than a hand shake. And it would be weird, if he hadn’t shared one of the most important moments of his life with this woman, and she had handled it delicately and with grace. He appreciated her deeply.

 

As Bucky pulls away, she smiles. She looks incredibly pleased as she sees Bucky tuck himself neatly into Steve’s arms.

 

“Would you say it worked out for you?” She asks first.

 

Steve and Bucky looked at each other for a long moment, just smiling breathlessly at each other. Bucky looks back at Lynn, “Better than I could have ever imagined.” Bucky feels Steve squeeze him just a bit tighter, and he thinks he’s won the lottery of life. Because there’s no possible way life could get better than this moment.

 

“And you, Steve,” Lynn turns to Steve, which is slightly odd, but Bucky trusts her. “There’s a lot of questions I’m sure people will want to ask about you today.” Bucky stiffens the slightest, and he just really hopes she doesn’t ruin the one good interviewer relationship Bucky’s ever made in his almost six year career. “But do you have any questions you’d like to ask?”

 

Steve smiles. His hand that was previously wrapped around Bucky’s sides moves to his pocket. Bucky looks at him questioning for a moment. Steve grasps something, and his smile widens just a titch. “I actually do, Lynn. Thanks so much for asking.” Steve winks at her, and Bucky thinks that’s pretty weird. Steve takes a step away from Bucky, and the confusion on Bucky’s face must be evident right? Because what is happening? Bucky looks at Lynn for a moment, and then out of the corner of his eye he sees Steve move. His eyes go back to Steve’s where he’s on the ground kneeling. Really, what the fuck is happening?

 

Steve’s hand comes out of his pocket and there’s a ring box in his hand. And Bucky blinks rapidly. “What the fuck, Steve? What are you doing?”

 

Steve only smiles up at him. “James Buchanan Barnes, it has been the pleasure of my life getting to know you. Some days it’s been hard, other days it’s been incredibly easy. But more than anything else, I want to spend the rest of my life knowing you, James.”

 

“What?” Bucky gasps, he definitely has tears running down his face. And he’s going to yell at Steve for that later because he’s actually wearing makeup for once. It’s all going to be ruined because of this little fucker.

 

“James Buchanan Barnes.”

 

“Stop calling me that,” Bucky whispers quickly.

 

“Bucky,” Steve corrects with a roll of his eyes, “Would you do me the honor of marrying me.”

 

Bucky swallows hard, “You really planned this out?” Steve nods, “You planned this, with Lynn?” He looks at Lynn. She smiles and nods. Bucky turns back to Steve. “Oh my god, you fucking sap. Of course I’ll marry you. Want it all, don’t I?”

 

There’s a ring on Bucky’s finger, and Steve’s kissing his lips and he thinks life can’t get better than this. He vaguely remembers thinking that just two minutes ago, but he was definitely wrong then.

 

“And I’m gonna give it to you, Bucky. All of it. I’m with you--”

 

“To the end of the line.” Bucky promises.

“I love you,” Steve said through a kiss.

 

“I love you too,” Bucky giggles. “But don’t ever fucking do something like that on national television again.”

 

“Good thing I only have to propose once then,” Steve laughs.