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Though he'd been knee-high to a grasshopper when his family moved (ran for their lives, more like) from Chicago, Bucky wasn’t quick in shaking his tendency to flatten his a's, to pitch his words a little too high and tight across the plate of his tongue. Certain neighborhoods in the city were still sore about the '19 White Sox Scandal (more than a few people had lost more than a few packets of cash thanks to Shoeless Joe), and that, combined with something weird and remote about his otherness, had made him seem a reeeeeal easy mark right at first, on the playground, in the alleys.

Bucky learned. So did the neighborhood boys. They learned that the Barnes kid wasn't to be messed with - he was half-crazy, he carried a knife too well for one so young, and he'd laugh while he used it. For his part, Bucky learned to say "youse guys," he learned to eat chop suey and only fish on Fridays, he learned how to bean a boy in the head with a rock from fifty paces - even taking into account cabs and carriages and pedestrians. He learned not to wander more than a few blocks from his own home turf.

And he learned the Shakespearian dexterity with which the average Brooklyn boy manipulated, interfered-with, bastardized, and otherwise besmirched the honor of the English language. By the time he was ten, James Buchanan Barnes could curse an inventive, terrifying stream that led no less than three priests to box his ears, stood him a few covert drinks at his da's "social club", and on one glorious evening made a group of carousing sailors cheer his lambasting of one of their pals who'd tried to steal a kiss off his older sister. He'd collected almost fifty cents' worth of tips off of them, and his legend got another chapter amongst the younger grades at PS 109.

Which made it all the more demoralizing, having a best pal whose idea of profane language was a snapped-out "cheese and rice" or, if the situation was incredibly dire, "Mary-mother-of-God."

He despaired of Steve, he really did. And he wasn't quiet about his desperate worry for the little runt he'd picked up, picked out of a trash barrel one day, dusted off and set down to walk beside him - Christ, if he'd known it was to be all the days of his life, he'd've chosen someone a little more fun.

"Sorry to disappoint," Steve said, around a mouthful of blood and a couple of worryingly loose teeth. He spat onto the cobblestones, wiped his lip, and winced when the split edge of it caught his cuff.

Bucky sighed, and helped him up. "What'd this one do?" he asked, already steeling himself for an answer like throwing rocks at pigeons or whistling at a broad.

"Said that the Germans had the right idea," Steve said mulishly. "'Bout the Jews."

Bucky winced, and sucked his teeth, shoving his hands into his pockets as he surveyed the litter in the alley. He poked at an empty bottle with the toe of his shoe, and thought about Mrs. Blumenthal, who'd lost her son and half of her husband in the Big One, who still managed to run a bakery and spare smiles and day-old hamantaschen for the pack of neighborhood boys, earning their unswerving devotion.

Bucky frowned, and spat on the end of his sleeve, and rubbed a smudge of coppery blood off of Steve's cheek. Then he poked his toe through the alley detritus, until he found a serviceable-looking length of wood (probably from one of the fire escapes above). He hefted it in his hand, and then squinted down the street, into the sun.

"Well, which way did he go?" he asked finally, his grip on his makeshift bat tightening. Beside him, Steve broke into a grin, traces of blood still staining his teeth.

 

 

The sound of mouths smacking together behind him was getting real old, and Steve rolled his eyes and shifted uncomfortably, inadvertently brushing the arm of the girl beside him. She recoiled instantly, so fast that he felt a weird rush of relief and irritation, and he turned his head just enough to give her a game, apologetic smile. "So, uh. You like baseball?" he asked, swinging for the cheap seats.

"No."

Swing and a miss, then.

He sighed, and frowned a little at the unmistakable sound of Bucky snickering at him, in between kisses and probably trying to get a hand up Beverly's shirt.

"I heard you like to draw," the friend offered, startling him. He glanced over at her, and was struck by the small, encouraging little smile she was giving him. In the seat behind them on the trolley car, her friend gave a little gaspy laugh, and the girl beside him actually rolled her eyes.

Steve's lips twitched. "Yeah. Yeah, I sure do, um - "

"Moira."

"Moira," Steve repeated. They exchanged small smiles.

Seven blocks later, he and Moira were animatedly discussing chiaroscuro and Rembrandt and cartoons, and Steve had resorted to drawing out explanatory sketches on the back of an old weekly, using a neighbor's pen. Behind them, the kissing noises tapered off and stopped, and eventually Bucky poked his head up for air, giving them both a breathless smile as he leaned over the back of their bench to examine Steve's doodles.

"Welcome back," Steve said dryly.

"Thanks," Bucky said, careless. "Hey, is that Madam Fong's?" he asked, recognizing the shape of the neon sign in the windowfront Steve had drawn. Behind them, Beverly breezily reapplied lipstick and fixed her shirt.

When they walked the girls back to Bev's place, Steve and Moira shook hands, and rolled their eyes at each other as Bucky and Beverly started up again. "You wanna keep your sketches?" she asked, holding the paper out to him.

"Nah, you hold onto it for me," he told her. "Sell it off when I get rich and famous."

"I'll send you half of the taking," she promised, before huffing and telling Bev,
too-loud-on-purpose, "Hurry up, before your pop gets wise and plugs him one." She actually shoved between them, and opened the front door of the building, grabbing onto Beverly's arm and all but dragging her inside. Steve snickered, and waved, and pretended not to notice the way Beverly's hand had been inside Bucky's trousers. Jesus.

On the way back home, Bucky waxed filthily rhapsodic about Beverly's chest ("just a sweet lil' handful, Steve, anything more's too much of a good thing, just enough to keep hold of") until Steve had threatened him with severe beating, cutting his tongue out, dumping a bucket of water on him while he slept, and finally, the coup de grace:

"Buck, I'm gonna tell you one more time. If you don't shut the hell up, I'm telling your mother."

That brought Bucky up short. His ma was notorious in the neighborhood for being short on temper and long on reach, and she didn't much care what his reputation was, or how he was nearly sixteen. "You're not half a bastard, Rogers."

"Learned from the best," Steve said wryly, a small spring in his step.

 

 

Steve caught up on the cussing, eventually.

“Goddammit to hell,” he gasped, trying to wheedle his lungs into not spasming, not right that moment, not when his mother’s had finally given up their ghost not a minute before. He rubbed a hand over his chest, and held onto her cold little fingers, and tried not to let his mind reel.

It was rough going. He’d feel like a heel for it later, but his first reaction to her leaving him wasn’t even grief - it was fear. Real, pants-shitting fear. She’d always been real honest with him about their money situation - he knew they were in the hole on the rent, and the gas, and the hospital, just like he knew there was a mostly-empty rat-gnawed box of oats and half a bottle of sour milk in the kitchen. He could sell the radio and her - her clothes, what little they hadn’t already taken to the pawn shop five blocks down so nobody would know their shame. He knew his docs cost a fortune, and he didn’t know how much a funeral cost but he figured since everybody had to have one eventually, they wouldn’t make ‘em cheap, and he knew that the girls at her job would throw in for a real nice flower arrangement and drop a couple of dinners by, but after that - after -

“Hey. Hey, you listen to me,” Bucky said, sounding too firm and grown-up to be anything but half out of his mind with worry. Steve felt two hands gripping his shoulders tight, but he couldn’t really focus on anything but his ma, slipping just out of his reach, where he couldn’t follow. He held onto her hand tighter. “Steve, fucking breathe, asshole,” Bucky snapped, thumping him one on the shoulder.

Steve gasped, a small, hitching thing, and realized it was something he hadn’t done for a while. He sucked in a couple more deep breaths, until he started to cough, and that sent him over again because the sound of coughing made him miss her. “Oh Jesus, Buck, what am I - “ he managed, in between rasps, “ - what the-the fuck am I going to do anymore, it’s just me left, Christ almighty, what the hell am I - “

And then there was a thump on his shoulder again. Steve looked up, eyes wet. Bucky was staring down at him, stark concern in his eyes like nothing Steve had ever seen before, and it made Steve feel horribly guilty for a second, before Bucky’s hand curled around his shoulders and tugged him into a fierce hug. “The hell you talking about, Rogers?” Steve heard Bucky say, his voice thick and muffled. “Haven’t managed to shake me yet.”

 

 

When they’d met, even though Bucky was a year older ("an’ a decade wiser - you’re like a little baby bird, Stevie, fallen out of your nes - hey, ow, OW"), he only had a couple of inches on Steve. They were the shortest kids in their year, which meant they were both late bloomers, according to their 4th grade teacher, Miss Ferguson. Bucky batted his dark fringe of lashes at her, gave her a look with the sweetness of angels in it (behind him, Steve pretended to puke), and asked her if that meant he’d be big enough to call on her one day.

“Not on your life, honey,” Miss Ferguson said, giving them both a small, conspiratorial grin. “Now, do your work and stop pestering the girls and Steven.”

Steve loved her.

She was only half-right, though: it took him most of their inglorious high school career, but eventually, Bucky grew into his ears and his shoulders, sprouting up and up and whining about muscle aches and constant hunger the whole time.

(Steve tried to be grateful he never made his mother worry unduly about keeping them both fed, but his efforts weren’t very effective.)

Steve stayed the same. Doc Kovalenko, a bewhiskered Pole who kept Steve’s ticker running despite its best efforts to the contrary, said it was likely a combination of genetics, childhood illness, and malnutrition that kept him short and frail-looking, birdlike in his joints. “Not weakness,” the old man told Steve sternly, tapping him on the chest with his stethoscope. “This body is not weak, Steven. No. Spent too much on not giving up, to save much for growing tall. Is all.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Steve muttered, actually feeling a little better as he tugged his shirt back on and went to coax the front desk into letting him pay something for the appointment.

And there appeared to be something to the Doc’s assessment: even though his legs dangled from the seats on the subway, and even though he couldn’t sprint to catch a bus, he still wasn’t weak. He could take hits and not break. He had a decent uppercut (Bucky taught him). He’d taken to heart a few homilies from the James Buchanan Barnes Bible of Personal Insults and Obscenities, which meant that if he got into it with some mook in front of a crowd, he could at least embarrass the hell out of him before he got his ass kicked.

It only really rankled whenever Buck’s girl-of-the-week found a friend willing to put up with the shrimpy little tagalong for an evening. There was a - a goddamn formula to how they reacted to him: first the double-take, then the incredulous glare at Bucky and Bucky’s girl, and then the resigned sigh. It never really occurred to him to be mad at the girl in question - mostly he just stayed a low-grade irritated with Buck, for putting him and a stranger in that position, for not getting it, for not seeing how much of a liability the rest of the world saw in him, in Steve.

Thank God for Dr. Erskine and Vita-Rays.

 

 

A string of bad luck and scarce supplies had burned out all the patriotism left in the 107th, left them running on nothing but cigarettes, shitty coffee, and spite. Even before those kraut fucks with the big guns had run ‘em in, they’d been a silent, hardened group of misanthropes.

Azzano hadn’t helped.

He’d mouthed off at one of the jerrys when they tried to grab Dum-Dum, got hauled into the Special Room with a couple of replacements who looked all of 15. Poor kids didn’t last long. Probably a mercy.

Bucky, though. Well.

Bucky had a good seven generations of All-American behind him, which had contributed to turning his genes into a gladiator ring of Last Man Standing. His people’d got around back in the Old Country, probably got booted out for indecency, and started eyeing the native beauty the minute they stepped off the boat. Commingled with some other people’s people. Long story short, Bucky had good teeth, good eyes, good ears, the alcohol and pain tolerance of an Irish dockworker, and an immune system that could make polio turn and run.

Bucky lasted.

He wasn’t sure how long - he’d lost track around the third day. He’d been expecting the disorientation, to be honest. First thing he’d do, get the prisoners all confused, not knowing if it were day or night. Made sense.

The constant syringes were a surprise. Burned like hell. He’d passed out once or twice, just at first, but eventually he started to develop sort of a resistance to it, which meant that he felt the full effects - felt it swirl around in him, pulling and burning at his guts, rearranging him from the inside out.

He was still too ashamed to admit it to anyone, but that second day, he’d started talking. After he stopped passing out, they brought in the next big plunger of that shit and Bucky started flapping, singing like a goddamn canary. His name, his rank, his serial number, in a loop, til he couldn’t even remember why he was stringing the words together, just that they were tethering him to his body, to the chair. He didn’t even remember that til they were safe, back in England, being debriefed by a bunch of bookworms.

He kept the singing to himself. Just like he did the syringes, the way they burned, the way sometimes he felt like time slowed down when they were in a fight.

He also kept it to himself that having this new, improved Steve around was fuckin’ weird. Same guy, same mouthy too-earnest little piece of shit as ever, but now Bucky couldn’t actually reach to fit his arm around Steve’s shoulders. Now, he couldn’t mess with Steve’s hair.

It wasn’t until they were in Holland on a mission that Bucky started to realize that just as his war had grown him up fast, Steve’s own particular war had done the same for him. He was quieter. Angrier. Less inclined to trust the first person who showed him a lick of kindness - basically all of the lessons that Bucky had been trying to pound into his head for the last 15 years.

And, as if suddenly being taller and stronger than Bucky wasn’t enough insult, Steve was better at day-to-day soldiering than all the rest of them put together. Better at teasing someone out of a bad mood, better at finding smokes for Jim and morphine for the doc from Easy Company they’d hooked up with, better at picking up vocabulary from Dernier.

Better at saving their asses and shaming them for making him do it.

Like now, for instance.

“I should just leave you here to get your dumb asses shot,” Steve yelled as he huddled in with them, over the whoosh-zing of the HYDRA guns.

“Aw, hell. Who called Mom?” Morita groused, crouching behind the carcass of a truck, rewiring one of the guns into a makeshift bomb.

“We promised we’d be home for tea, and it’s not yet four,” Falsworth pointed out, lobbing a grenade over the side of an embankment. They all observed an appreciative pause as it exploded, sending shrieks and bits of HYDRA soldiers into the air. Dernier broke into a delighted chuckle.

“There are over 200 HYDRA soldiers behind that gate, and heavy munitions,” Steve reminded them all sternly. “Did you even have a plan, before you left?” he huffed, folding his arms. There was a small zip, and his helmet pinged off of his head, dented by the bullet that had cracked off of it. Steve turned and glared in Bucky’s direction, and flipped him the bird. “Funny,” he half-called, as he plunked the helmet back on his head. “Very mature.”

“Yeah, Cap,” Dum Dum said, smirking horribly as he finished strapping huge blue guns onto both of his arms. “We had a plan. Go out, get us some bad guys,” he said, with relish, before he stood up and ran out into the field of fire, laying down what appeared to be waves of blue pulses against the HYDRA forces, so fast and mean that half a minute later, they were all surrounded by relative quiet.

“Asshole, I told you to save me some,” Gabe groused, tossing a HYDRA glove (it still had a hand in it) at Dum Dum’s head. Dugan had the grace to look a little sheepish, but then they could hear yelling from inside the factory, and a rumbling on the ground where they were hiding. Dum Dum scurried back over to where the rest of them were crouched low, and they waited to see what fresh hell HYDRA had come up with.

Instead, a few seconds later, a rogue HYDRA tank burst through the treeline and fired an immediate shot towards the front walls of the factory, blowing a massive hole in one of them, laying down fire as black-clad soldiers poured through the breach. Dum Dum cackled, and reached to punch Gabe. “Saved you some!” he crowed, getting back up while everyone grabbed their weapon, readying for the fight.

The tank, though, cranked its gears in an ominous way, swinging towards them, and finally sent a - a thrum through everything, almost visible in the way it shook the ground, the building, the leaves on the trees. In the clearing, the HYDRA soldiers all collapsed, to a man, their suits all twitching strangely. Behind the Commandos, they could hear the weird, groaning sound of high-powered machines suddenly powering down, slowing their cycles. The blue HYDRA guns in the HCs' hands shut off, like magic.

After a couple seconds of gaping at each other, their attention was drawn to the hatch on the tank opening, and Peggy’s head poking up outside, beaming at them. “Just the lads I wanted to see!” she crowed, not looking a bit disturbed at the helm of an enemy tank. “Went rather well, eh? Stark designed it, some sort of...magnetic...pulse to knock out their electrical grid. Worked a charm on the suits and weapons as well, lovely, Phillips’ll be glad to hear about that.”

All of them, to a man, turned to stare at Steve, who was staring at her, open-mouthed.

“...Who call Dad?” Dernier finally quipped, in halting English, making Falsworth and Jim snort into their hands. Eventually, Steve managed to close his mouth, and waved stupidly at Peggy.

There was another zip-ping! and Steve’s helmet flew off his head again. “Dammit, Buck!” he shouted, whirling around and glaring at the treeline, trying to find him.

It was pretty easy, since Bucky laughed so hard he fell out of his tree.

 

Steve was still growling about how they were all the stupidest sonsabitches he ever had the misfortune of meeting, and he was including Johann Schmidt in that list, when they managed to get back to camp later that evening. Behind him, Gabe and Jim and Monty were riding on the HYDRA tank Peg had liberated from God-only-knew-where, and Jacques was singing a stirring rendition of Le Marseilles at the top of his lungs, unhindered by Dum Dum making up bawdy lyrics as he sang along.

Bucky flicked his ear, and nearly got dumped off of Steve’s back, for his trouble. “Hey, owwww, m’an injured man here,” he complained.

“I hope your ankle’s fuckin’ broke,” Steve said, his accent coming in thick and irritated, making Bucky weirdly homesick for a second or two. “It’d serve you right.”

“You think I’ll get a Purple Heart for this?” Bucky asked him, cheered by the idea.

“I am going to stuff you into a cannon,” Steve told him thoughtfully.

“Heroic,” Bucky observed, flicking his ear again. Steve retaliated with a swift smack on the ass, making him yelp.

“It occurs to me that I’ve probably carted your sorry ass across more of Europe than you’ve actually marched,” Steve said, sounding put-upon.

“Yeah, that was my plan all along,” Bucky told him, lighting up a cigarette since, hey, he didn’t have to worry about setting off Steve’s asthma anymore.

They kept bickering, through the debrief and Phillips’ mostly amused come-to-Jesus afterwards, through dinner and drinks with the other Commandos at a mostly-intact place in town. Bucky had his foot propped up on an empty beer barrel, and was milking sympathy from the pretty local girls and holding court with various members of the 107th and paratroopers when Steve plunked a drink down in front of him. “Aw,” Bucky said, giving him a winsome smile, making Steve roll his eyes. “Forgiven me for being wounded in action?”

“You fell out of a tree,” Steve reminded him ungently. “As injuries go, it’s right up there with shooting yourself in the ass.”

“If you’re saying you’d prefer it if I did that - “

“Shut up, Buck,” Steve huffed, taking a sip of his own drink to mask his grin.

Across the table, Peggy watched them, eagle-eyed (she’d been accepted at meals for weeks, ever since she’d beaten Dum Dum at arm-wrestling by flagrantly cheating). Bucky blinked at her, beginning to take an interest in her interest (old habits died hard), when she leaned forward.

“So, do you two…” she said, gesturing between himself and Steve, “...fondue?”

Bucky tilted his head, not sure what to make of that. He glanced over at Steve, who had gone bright red, and his eyes snapped back to Peggy. “Now that,” he said, licking his lips, sitting back with his beer, “has the makings of a story.”

“Oh god,” Steve whimpered, putting his head down on the table.

 

 

Peggy told him later. Bucky laughed until he cried.

 

 

Back in Brooklyn, it had always been him and Steve against the world, against evil old Mrs. Hinsch in the candy shop, against Principal Dobbs, against a wide array of teachers and bullies and goons that would turn their little lives to shit, rub their faces in it, given half a chance. And that was his adopted hometown. Bucky didn’t quite like it, but he respected it, respected the way his streets would chew him up and spit him out without even a shrug, if Steve wasn’t there to make sure it didn’t happen.

Figures that once he’d gotten half a world away, surrounded by mad scientists who wanted to kill him and everybody he ever knew, he’d find something approximating home. Something like family.

Jim and Dum Dum got into roaring arguments at least once a day, and Falsworth got snippy if anyone so much as breathed on his shaving kit. Jacques and Gabe tended to mutter asides to each other in French, which Bucky didn’t mind so much until Steve had picked up enough of the language to start snickering too, and that didn’t seem fair. Sometimes he wanted nothing so much as a chance to crack their idiot heads together, especially when they went off half-cocked, charging into some HYDRA base like a bunch of jackasses with Number One Jackass Steve Rogers leading the way.

But he knew enough about siblings to know that that kind of wanting to kill someone could be a sign of affection.

Besides, there was other stuff. Jim always shared his smokes. Whined like a little baby the entire time, but never left a man wanting for one. Dum Dum was truly bugfuck nuts, but he was one hell of a storyteller, and the man knew his weapons. Gave Bucky a few pointers on variables and wind resistance that had saved all their asses once or twice.

Gabe was the smartest damn man on the team. Probably in the Army.

Dernier was a shit-stirrer to rival Steve, back in his shrimpy glory days. Bucky lived in fear of the day Steve became fluent enough in Frog to shout along with Jacques about the responsibilities of the civilian, about the fine French tradition of revolution. And Falsworth inspired them all to new dizzying heights of smartassery; the man could read the fucking funny pages and make them sound insouciant.

They were a good group. Good men. He trusted them - with his life and Steve’s.

Christmas of '44, they were holed up in a safe house outside of Meximieux, laying low while they waited for new intel on Schmidt and HYDRA. Dernier's local friends in la Resistance had turned up earlier that evening with un petit banquet - a spread of pastries and cheese and smoked meat, and a ridiculously huge pot of cassoulet - and, most importantly, a crate of assorted booze that one of the locals had managed to keep hidden from the occupation.

It didn't take long for the little farmhouse to turn into a regular party, Jacques talking a mile a minute about their exploits that hadn't made the newsreels yet, the Resistance members shouting their approval, the wine flowing freely. Falsworth found a piano, covered in a sheet and languishing in a corner, and he could bang out a few Bing Crosby carols.

Round about the fourth rousing chorus of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," (Dum Dum was blubbering quietly in a corner), Bucky excused himself from the festivities to step out onto the lawn, breathing in the biting-cold air. Back home, the winters had never really touched him, never sunk into his bones like this one had, and he gritted his teeth, walked around the perimeter of the little garden out front, tried to ignore the blowing snow as he rolled a smoke and rummaged around in pockets for his lighter.

Jim beat him there, offering over a light. Bucky nodded his thanks, cupped his hands around the small flame as he inhaled, and sighed out the first plume.

"Think this is what they mean by joie de vivre?" Jim asked, laconic, as he gestured back towards where the infamous Howling Commandos and the brave men and women of Meximieux were drunkenly butchering O Come, All Ye Faithful (in English, French and Latin all at once).

Bucky snorted, shook his head a little. "Y'know, in school they taught us that the Frenchies were all real classy and sophisticated. And then yesterday I spent twenty minutes waiting for Dernier to take a shit behind a tree."

"War certainly gets you an education," Jim agreed, snickering.

"I guess you could call it that," Bucky sighed, taking another drag, looking over at the small village, the peaceful-looking lights in the houses, the stillness of the river. He was distracted by the small crackle of Jim folding up pages of a letter from back home, tucking it into his coat pocket. "How's the family?"

There was a brief pause. "Making do," Jim said shortly. "They got shipped out to Wyoming. Not really used to the winters. Sis says it's hitting my ma pretty hard."

Bucky's jaw clenched, and he nodded, not sure what to do with the hot surge of fury that went through him. More time he spent running after the forces of evil on earth, more he came to realize that the worst men weren't necessarily the loudest, the craziest like Schmidt. They were the wormy little bureaucrats, the men who punched their time-cards and insisted their hands were clean, even as they spread suffering and hate.

He had a flash of golden spectacles; a soft, mildly curious, detached-sounding voice in his ears for a second, and he shuddered and quickly took another drag off his smoke, trying to rid himself of it. "Fuckers," he grumbled, under his breath.

"You said it," Jim agreed, smoking peaceably with him for another minute, both of them watching the quiet town. Presently it started to snow, soft and pretty, like a postcard.

The door to the house opened behind them, and Peggy tumbled out, looking a little rumpled. She straightened her coat, and came to stand beside them, stealing Jim's cigarette straight out of his mouth and taking a long, luxurious drag, exhaling a slow curlicue of smoke that wisped and teased around her hair. She offered it back politely, but Jim was already getting out his battered pack, and he waved her off, letting her have it, since the effect was so pretty.

Good man, Jim Morita.

Not that Bucky had eyes for Steve's girl. Because that's what she was, by unspoken consent of the rest of the HCs - they could tease her like the sisters they'd left back home, occasionally submit to her rare displays of oddly maternal affection, but all of them had felt the crackle and pop in the air between Cap and Peg, knew they didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell. Falsworth was running a book on when everybody thought Steve and Peg would give them all a break, make it official.

"It is, officially, after midnight," she said, in the ponderous voice of the comfortably tipsy. "Happy Christmas, boys." She hiccuped, held a hand to her mouth after. "Goodness. Someone should really ban Gabriel from attempting cocktails, I think he might have been trying to murder us with that last round," she complained lightly, leaning against Bucky. He automatically shifted to take her weight, hold a steadying arm around her shoulders, and then he remembered that Jones' entry in Falsworth's book had been for New Year’s. Sneaky.

"Merry Christmas, Peg," Jim told her, before giving them both a grin and a theatrical shiver, and heading back towards the house. "Gonna go get me one of those murderin' cocktails."

"Yeah, make sure Jones gives you a little umbrella," Bucky called after him, privately pleased at Peggy's small chuckle. "How you feelin'?"

"Oh, you know," Peggy sighed, leaning back enough to look up at him. "Drunk," she admitted, giving him a sheepish little smile, before resting her head back where it had been, on his shoulder. "This is the first Christmas I've spent away from my family," she murmured a moment later, quiet and sad. "I miss them."

Bucky sucked his teeth, frowning a little, and gave her a quick squeeze. "Bet they miss you too," he said, going quiet for a minute. "You know, every year my ma re-wraps the present she got my dad, their first Christmas together. And after Mass, we'd always go and look at the tree at Rockefeller Center, didn't matter if there was a blizzard or anything."

Peggy smiled, and patted his chest a little. "My father would cook dinner, give mum the night off. God, those were some tragic meals," she snorted. "Last year, he tried to make omelette. Total disaster. We wound up eating beans on toast."

Bucky snickered quietly. "Jesus, that's bleak. Oh, hey, I'll do you one better - first time I went to Steve's for Christmas Eve, the heater was busted. When I got there, he was sitting in bed, wearing all of his clothes, under both his blankets, holding a mug that just had hot water in it," he remembered, smiling a little at the memory of how mad Steve had been at him for just showing up unannounced.

Beside him, Peggy was quiet.

"I made him come home with me," Bucky added. "Little punk put up a hell of a fight about it, too."

"I imagine he did," she sighed, shaking her head. "Has he always been so..." but there she trailed off, looked a little wistful.

Aw, hell. "Yep," Bucky told her, his mouth screwing up apologetically. "Always."

She rolled her eyes, fixed him with a schoolmarmish look. "James. You don't even know what I was going to say."

Bucky gave her a look right back. "Yeah, Margaret, I do."

"You do what?" Steve asked, behind them. Bucky and Peggy both jumped, clutched each other. Peggy started to giggle, and Bucky gave them both an exasperated look. "You do what, Buck?" Steve repeated, starting to look hurt, and jesusgod that was all Bucky could take of these two lovesick idiots. He officially repented of all the times he'd waxed poetic about some dame's assets to Steve, he'd go forth and sin no more, if it meant not having to deal with this.

"Know Captain America. She was hoping I could get an autograph," Bucky told him, giving Steve a firm don't-fuck-with-me look (it never worked). "Now, I can't feel my toes anymore, so I'm going to pass this over to you," he said, shifting Peggy's weight despite her protests, gently pushing her off on Steve, who'd automatically opened his arms for her. "And I'm going to go inside. Leaving you two alone, to survey the picturesque French countryside on a snowy Christmas Eve," he drawled, still staring Steve down as he walked backwards towards the house. Steve gave him a wide-eyed, scandalized look for a second, before glancing down at Peggy, who'd arranged herself to her liking, nestled into his chest. He hesitated, and then wrapped his arms around her, and then shot Bucky a suspicious look.

Kiss her, Bucky mouthed, scowling when Steve just looked confused. KISS. HER. Bucky pointed at Peggy, and then shook his fist at Steve, threateningly, before he turned to go back inside. He couldn't stick around to watch.

Mostly because he was really mad about the entire thing, since he was down in Falsworth's Steve-and-Peg book for Valentine's Day.

 

 

He'd taken to hiding in the strangest places.

Peggy found him, once, crouched in the blasted-out upstairs bedroom of a house in London, slumped against the metal frame of what had obviously been a little girl's bed. Another time, it was up a tree in Belgium, watching a pitched battle take place across the river.

This time, she found him in a barn in Arnhem, patting the nose of a horse that had apparently decided the stranger meant no harm, since it was still industriously eating hay.

"You missed the Colonel's meeting," she said, announcing her presence before she drew too near - he'd been jumpier lately. Steve turned to look at her, and then moved his focus back to the horse, watching it placidly demolish its meal. "He sent me to find you and, I quote, 'drag that star-spangled behind back here so we can get to planning how to end this war.'"

"He's never gonna let that song go," Steve sighed.

"Likely not," Peggy agreed, coming to stand with him. She made a few low cooing noises in the back of her throat, and reached up to pat the genial horse's neck - it had been years since she'd ridden, and sometimes she rather missed it. "Especially if you keep giving him opportunities to use it."

"Did he have any new intel?"

"All quiet on the HYDRA front."

"Then I didn't need to be there," Steve said, frowning.

"There were a few...remarks, on your attendance, of late," she hedged, not quite sure how to proceed. It ached, just behind her sternum, seeing him so quiet.

Steve didn't respond.

"They're mourning too, Steven," Peggy said, her voice softer. "Perhaps this is something you could do as a team, as well."

"Didn't get him killed, as a team," Steve said shortly.

"Didn't we?" Peggy replied. She reached out, cautious, covered his gloved hand with hers, stilling its movement. Under their linked fingers, the horse nudged its nose up. "If you insist on taking away your friend's agency, you'll have to share the responsibility for his death."

"You weren't on that train, Peg," Steve said, actually sounding a little irritated.

"You're right, I wasn't. I never even volunteered. I assumed it would be you and J - Sergeant Barnes, because the two of you insisted on throwing yourselves into danger so much that it became rote." She shifted a little, til her shoulder pressed against his, from behind. He froze, his fingers curling under hers a little, and Peggy was a little embarrassed at the small, hurt sound that escaped her -

- but then he was shifting, turning around, and she felt herself being gathered up in strong arms. She tensed for a second, and then realized that Steven wasn't about to - to try anything, he was just. Well. Clinging seemed the appropriate word. She sighed, and wrapped her arms around his neck, petting his hair gently.

Eventually, he spoke, his words muffled in the crook of her shoulder. "He always had my back. I didn't even think to tell him no, because I was so used to him being there. Took advantage," he spat, his voice a little strangled. "Got him killed."

"If he could hear you say that, he'd knock your block off," Peggy scolded gently. "Do you think that man would have countenanced even the idea of you haring off after Zola without him? Or made my life anything less than a living hell the entire time you were gone, if you'd managed?"

"...Well, no," Steve admitted finally. "But he was an idiot."

"Darling, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you're both idiots."

Steve snorted, and squeezed his arms a little tighter around her. "Blame the Army."

"Oh, I have it on good authority that this unfortunate tendency extends farther back in your history," she said, still running her hand over his hair, soothing. "I blame Brooklyn."

"Sounds about right."

She huffed a small laugh at that, rested her cheek on his shoulder for a moment. "...Did you really set loose an entire lorry full of chickens, when you were eight?"

"He told you about that?"

She pulled back at that, moving her hand down to cup his cheek, lift his head enough to meet her eyes. "He told me a great many things, Steve Rogers. Including how proud he was of you. How proud he'd always been, to have your back."

 

 

Gabriel Jones was a mysterious man, Dum Dum reflected, as he finished his second pint. For an unassuming college boy with a penchant for pretty French ladies, he could certainly lay his hands on a considerable amount of dough, seeing as he'd sprung for everyone's flight back out to Italy, to the little bar where Cap had first talked to them about the Commandos.

Dum Dum didn't even have time to signal for another one; the barkeep just pushed it into his hands. When he looked up, the man shrugged. "Open tab. Telephone said big stupid-looking man in a stupid-looking hat would be here an hour before everyone else, and." The man had the audacity to give a significant glance up at his new chapeau, and Dum Dum briefly considered hauling him over the counter and throwing him through the window.

The beer was pretty good, though. And the oily little barkeep couldn't help that Gabe had a bastardly sense of humor, so Dum Dum gave him a stay of execution, and started on his third.

Falsworth was the next to arrive, and got a pint just as promptly, settling into the seat beside Dugan. "He give us all descriptions, or just me'n'my hat?" Dum Dum rumbled at the bartender, who gave him a little grin and sidled past. "Wiseass," he huffed, before drowning his sorrows.

"What was that about?" Monty asked, taking a sip of his drink, making an irritated face at it. Man was too fastidious about his hooch.

"Just Gabe Jones being Gabe Jones," Dum Dum said, world-weary, as he clapped a hand on Falsworth's shoulder and they both settled into drinking. The VE-Day crowds still shouted and cheered, jostling around them.

In short order: Jacques and Morita. Jim had shaved off the horrible hobo beard, which everyone decided was the right choice, and Jacques made a show of fluttering at Dum Dum, filling his ears with such rapid French that he had half a mind to claim shell shock and hang him on the coat rack (which was a pretty funny idea - he'd have to remember that one). They all sat around, drinking, ignoring the celebrating around them, until another figured sidled up to the bar. "Hey."

Gabe fuckin' Jones. Showing up looking part G-man, part mobster, all money.

Once they'd all got the back-slapping out of the way, Dum Dum trained a slightly unsteady finger at him. "Now. Just what the hell do you do, Jones? Because I don't think speakin' French at a bunch of co-eds paid for all this," he said, gesturing expansively around them.

Gabe ducked his head, looked sheepish. "Classified." He laughed at their collective groans, and held up a hand for peace. "Going after the bad guys that got away," he said, trying to clarify a little, though everyone just rolled their eyes. "Anyway, officially? I didn't pay for the trip. The US Government did."

"Oh, well, in that case, a round for the bar!" Jim shouted, holding his arms up in victory, absorbing the responding cheers from the crowd in the room, ignoring the way Gabe suddenly looked panicked and tried to yank him back down into his seat.

"Jesus Christ, could y'all not try to get me fired?" he groused, even as he started helping the bartenders hand back pints to everyone. Boy was always a soft touch, except for when he knew he was right. Dum Dum watched him work, watched him speak halting Italian to the people moving around him, and was suddenly, powerfully, reminded of the first few hours after they'd lost Barnes.

Jones had kept it together in a way none of the rest of them could - arranging prisoner transport for Zola, bullying them all onto a passenger train in the nearest town, getting them a private compartment away from prying eyes. Rogers had tried to sidle out, obviously intending to find some hidey-hole and work himself into a mess, but Gabe had grabbed his jacket and stared up at him, implacable. "Sit," he'd said, firm, righteous. "This train is his wake, Cap. We need you here, to the end of the line." Cap had stared at him for a minute, and then sat.

It was a good visit, a good couple of hours. Jim was engaged to a girl back home, and his family were all back in Fresno, thank Christ. Dernier's wife had had a baby, a girl, with little fat legs and an ever-present smile. Falsworth was teaching again, and they got him going for a good twenty minutes on how his students were all complete morons and the entire United Kingdom was obviously doomed.

It felt good, being with them, even if they still unconsciously left a couple of gaps in their circle, waiting for the arrival of another two who'd never come.

Right there at the end, when they were finishing up, another revelation: "Has anyone heard from the lovely Agent Carter?" Falsworth asked, shrugging on his coat, breaking into a crooked, rueful smile.

"Oh man. Not since that day," Jim said, wincing. Dum Dum and Dernier both shrugged, but Gabe fuckin' Jones.

"Uh. ...Yeah, she sends her love," he muttered, looking nervous, before taking one last swig of his beer, the bastard. Everyone stared at him. "We work together," he said. Too defensive.

Dum Dum could almost hear the gears in everybody's brain grinding for a minute, trying to process, trying to decide whether to be relieved and happy for the girl, or to sock Gabe one for having the damn nerve.

"Ah. Well, that's nice," Falsworth said, voice faint but firm. Decisive.

There was a beat. Then, Jacques cleared his throat. Waggled his eyebrows. "Do you two...fondue?"

(God bless Bucky Barnes. Kid could never keep his trap shut.)

 

 

Steve knew it was a bad idea, but after the aliens (Jesus, he never thought he'd miss having to deal with mad scientist Nazis), he found himself circling around upstate New York for a bit on the bike, before turning back towards the city. Going home.

Brooklyn was...different. He didn't remember there being so many bakeries with just cupcakes in 'em.

He washed up, eventually, in the brownstone that Howard's son was using while the Stark Tower reconstruction was going on. He didn't see Tony much, but Pepper was kind to him, showed him around, introduced him to the voice in the ceilings. He didn't much mess with all the gadgets in the house, too intimidated to do much poking around, until Bruce shuffled him over to the massive television and wrote down exactly which buttons to push to get to the list of all the movies Disney had put out since he'd been gone. That was a kindness.

He wasn't even aware Stark was in the house until he happened upon him in the study one day, manipulating his moving monitors with a dexterity that made Steve kinda jealous, not even looking at the keys. "Hey there, Deep Freeze, come to join the party?" Tony joked, not looking away from what he was doing. Which was -

"What are you doing?" Steve asked, his eyebrows furrowing as he recognized Dum Dum on the tv screen on the wall.

"Our friends at the FCC finally got around to putting closed captions on all your old newsreels, thought I'd do them one better and fill in the actual conversations. I dunno, I got bored, it was there. Dad had a mountain of recordings from most of the Commandos, soooo...digital transcription, voice analysis and projection, JARVIS is doing most of the verbal/nonverbal match-up - and a bang-up job of it, too - "

"Thank you, sir," the voice in the ceiling said.

" - annnnnnd here we go," Tony said, flicking a finished file over to the tv, where it started playing, right in the middle of a completely staged conversation between Dum Dum and Jim. Steve stopped breathing.

It had been the first clear day in Lyon after about three weeks of drizzle. He'd been right on the other side of the camera, making ridiculous faces, trying to distract Morita from doing his stupid "heroic soldier" face. Bucky had taken Dum Dum, was on the other side of the camera from Steve, miming all the things he was going to do to whichever girl Dum Dum had taken up with that week.

"Is Dugan okay? They're just talking about a bridge in France, he looks like he's about to blow an artery," Stark said, dubious.

"Bucky was on the other side of the camera, pretending to spank Dum Dum's girl," Steve said, without thinking.

"Huh." Tony gave him a sharp look, checking to see if he was joking, looking discomfited once he realized Steve was actually kinda rattled. "Wanna watch another one?"

No. No. Hell no. "Yeah."

Steve wandered out of the room a few hours later, headed straight for the front doors. Got on his bike and didn't stop until he somehow found himself in DC.

He'd done enough radio ads and deeply regrettable movie cameos during wartime that Tony's program had gotten his voice right. The rest of the Commandos had given enough television interviews over the years, done enough press that their voices were all a fair approximation as well. Bucky was the only missing piece. He only existed on those silent newsreels, there just - how had Tony put it? - wasn't enough raw data to make a composite.

Steve sat on the Mall in front of the reflecting pool, pretended not to notice the tourists snapping pictures, and made a couple of calls. Within an hour, Agent Hill had found him a furnished apartment and a job at SHIELD, and Steve tried not to sound pathetically grateful as she called to give him the address and the entry codes.

Miss Potts emailed him a few days later - the same day, coincidentally, that a star-struck courier dropped off the duffel he'd inadvertently left at Tony's house, at his new place.

From: potts@stark.com
To: 54985870@shield.us.gov
Subject: Tony’s kinda dumb, part 1 of ?

Hi Steve -

I finally got Tony to tell me what he did before you left. He can be an idiot, but I think he does genuinely feel bad about this one. This is a warning, as much as an apology- a repentant Tony is an unpredictable Tony, so if a new car or a puppy (or five) or the leases for every cupcake shop in Williamsburg show up on your doorstep, you'll know why.

You're welcome to stay, whenever you like. Please don't be a stranger.

Love,
Pepper

 

A week later, another email appeared.

 

From: mfingironman@stark.com
To: 54985870@shield.us.gov
Subject: seriously? your serial number? is your password also “password”?

CAPSICLE you don’t want to know how many people i had to threaten for these. hope we’re square after this, i dont want to have making someone move to DC of all places on my conscience

Attachment: bbarnes01.mp3
Attachment2: bbarnes02.mp3
Attachment3: bbarnes03.mp3
Attachment4: bbarnes04.mp3
Attachment5: bbarnes05.mp3

 

Steve frowned, resolved to change his password immediately, and clicked on the first attachment with a fair amount of trepidation - he’d done enough exploring on the internet to realize that people were really, really gross.

It opened in his media player, and he was startled a few seconds later when Bucky’s voice streamed out of the speakers - crackly, not entirely clear, but definitely Bucky.

 

"...Brooklyn, yeah. He was a good kid, even back then. Kept me on the straight and narrow - well, mostly. As much as anyone could, I guess. There was this one time, we were maybe twelve? Thirteen? I watched Steve march right up to a bunch of kids who were twice his size, who were tormenting this cat in an alley. Had to have been five of them, all gathered round, and Steve, he goes up to them, and he says, 'hey, pick on someone your own size'. And the biggest kid turns around and looks at him, says something smartalecky like 'find somebody who is, and I will' and Steve just gives him a mean look and sucker-punches him, right in the stomach, right in front of his friends, and says - he says ‘well I'm a hell of a lot closer than that cat is’. Got the shit beat outta both of us, over a damn cat. Doesn’t even like cats."

 

Steve closed out of the media player, his hands shaking, and called Tony.

"Rogers!" Tony shouted on the second ring, over the loud whirr of a power tool in the background that quickly got shut off.

"How the hell did you get these?" Steve asked, his voice a little uneven. "How did you - I thought there wasn't enough raw data."

He heard Tony huff down the phone line. "Yeah, didn't sit right. You guys were always in such a fishbowl, I figured there had to be records somewhere. Turns out SHIELD has a searchable library, but the funding for digitizing everything only covered when it was reorganized from the SSR. So all the original audio for the newsreels? I shit you not, sitting in goddamn file cabinets in a basement annex."

"You're kidding."

"Wish to hell I was. I didn't know Morita's family was in an internment camp, that's something they failed to mention in history class."

"Not surprised," Steve said, a small smile cracking over his face. "Wouldn't exactly have inspired patriotism on the home front."

"Still horseshit," Tony griped, sounding so much like his father in that moment, that it brought Steve up short.

"No arguments from me," Steve told him, suddenly more fond of Tony Stark than he ever thought he’d be.

"Yeah. Well. You listen to all of 'em yet?" Tony asked.

"No, just the first one."

"Uh huh. Well, when you get to that last one, I'm going to need you to give me context, all right?"

Oh geez. "Why?" Steve asked, wary.

"I'm just saying, it's not every day you hear Captain frickin’ America calling his BFF a - hang on, let me remember the exact quote here - a fat, useless, whiny sack of cat shit," Tony said, sounding delighted. "Didn't know you had it in you, Rogers."

Steve groaned, and hung his head. "He fell out of a tree. I had to carry him across Belgium. There's your context," he grumbled, already pulling up the fifth and final file. He could remember yelling it in a forest outside Bastogne, could remember Falsworth's fervent please tell me the news crew got that, but he had to hear Bucky's reaction.

 

 

Steve rolled his eyes, and wiped the blood off his chin. The bruise under his eye was already darkening into what would be a world-class shiner by the end of the day. "Shut up, Barnes, it's not that bad."

"The hell it isn't, Steve. They take your stuff too?"

There was a telling silence. Bucky groaned, and kicked the side of the building. "If you'd just listened - "

"It's not your problem," Steve said, words clipped and mad. "I can get new stuff, I didn't have anything that was irreplaceable. Not worth the effort they made of taking it off me, really," he said, resigned.

"That's not the point, and you know it," Bucky sniped back, suddenly furious, at the men who'd ganged up on the new kid at the Y, at God for taking Steve's ma away from him, and at fuckin' Steve, for being Steve. "If you could just stow the goddamn pride for a second and see sense - "

"Would you just shut the hell up? I'm not your little pet, Bucky, I can't just follow you home," Steve said, getting up and actually shoving him. Bucky rocked back on his heels, shocked, and took a breath, clamping down hard on the instinctive urge to shove back. He leveled a deadly stare at Steve, who hunched his shoulders, already looking guilty for what he'd done.

In ten years, they'd never raised a hand to each other. Bucky wasn't about to start now.

"You get this through your fat fucking head, Rogers," he hissed, his eyes narrowing into slits. "You're the closest thing I have to a brother in this whole goddamn world, and I'm not about to watch it tear you to pieces, you understand? Now, you can walk back home with me, or I swear to God and all of His angels, I will deck you and carry you there myself."

Steve blinked, eyes wide and startled. "Jesus." He rubbed a hand through his hair, winced at a lump on the back of his head where they'd thumped him, and sighed. Bucky frowned, and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, and started walking.

"You coming?" he asked, voice hard and expectant, turning over his shoulder to look.

"...Yeah, okay," Steve finally mumbled, trotting to catch up with him. Bucky breathed a silent sigh of relief, and nodded, slowing to a stroll so Steve's lungs wouldn't complain. They walked beside each other in silence for half a block. "What would you have done if I hadn't said yes?" Steve thought to ask, as they were hurrying to cross the street before the light changed.

Bucky ran his tongue over his teeth, considered the question for a second. "Been real mad at you for making me carry your bony ass all twelve blocks home," he answered, smiling at Steve's little huff of laughter.

The Asset opened his eyes, forced them to focus, even in the too-bright light surrounding him. His fingers twitched, and he blinked up at the man before him. Every other time, it had hurt to wake. The absence of pain was confusing.

The man stared at him for a minute, and then turned to one in a white coat. "Why is he smiling?"

White Coat shrugged.

 

 

He got her an extra pillow, fluffed it for her, and grinned when she groused about him being a mother hen. "I'm allowed," Steve told her, taking his customary seat beside her bed, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

"The hell you are," Peggy huffed, drawing her robe a little tighter around her, turning the television off (she didn't care what her niece said, those Kardashian girls were a delight). "Passersby would think I was infirm," she said, swallowing back an untimely cough.

"That'd be good cover," Steve said easily, making her smile. They regarded each other warmly for a minute. "How you doin', Peg?"

"Fine, thank you. My marathon training continues apace," she said idly, one corner of her mouth quirking. "How are you, dear?" She paused. "I heard about SHIELD. I..." and here she faltered, not quite knowing what to say. "Pierce was a little shit. I always hated him."

"Not your fault," he said, reading between the lines. She raised a sardonic eyebrow. "It's not, Peggy," he insisted.

"I didn't know we'd hired Zola. Believe you me, when I see Gabriel again, there'll be a reckoning," she said irritably (she'd never stopped being a little irked at Gabe, for slipping away from her so quietly. Still didn't handle her grief well).

"Didn't come to talk about that," Steve told her. "You hear about everything?" he couldn't help but ask.

Peggy blinked at him. "You mean Bucky."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's what I mean."

She sighed, and nodded. "My niece keeps me abreast of things. I must say, I'm a bit miffed that no one considered me for their various fountains of youth projects, since they were apparently a dime a dozen," she said lightly, though she was still frowning, through the joke. "Have you seen him, since?"

"Nope. Vanished."

"Which means you stopped to see if I had any ideas." Steve sighed, and looked sheepish, and she chuckled at him.

"Looked around the old haunts back home, but no dice. Thing is, Peg, with everything they did to him, I don't know if I should actually be hunting Bucky, or - "

"Whatever it is they made him into?" Peggy finished, so he didn't have to. She gave Steve a sorrowful look. "I'm sorry, darling. I wish I had answers." She broke into a small coughing fit, allowed him to hand her a glass of water. "You know, you could try asking for help."

"Kinda burned my bridges with our old employer, and they had the best surveillance game running," Steve pointed out. Peggy just snorted.

"I was under the impression that you and the Stark boy were on good terms. If there's any information to be gotten, believe you me, that little sneak will find it," she said. "Put him on the case. Tell him I said he owes me."

Steve's eyebrows shot up, at that. "I know he gets around, but - "

"Shut up, Rogers," Peggy huffed, smacking his hand, privately delighted. "He was like a son, to me. We made a trebuchet together, when he was a schoolboy. Launched a can of paint onto his headmaster's car."

"Peg."

"Oh, I paid for the damages. And the man was a lech, he had it coming. But it was a valuable object lesson in physics for our Tony, and I've always been very keen on education."

Steve stared at her for a minute, and shook his head. "The thing is, I know you're not joking."

"I never joke about physics, Steven," she told him severely, her eyes sparkling.

Steve sat back and regarded her for a moment, grinning. "I saw you on a documentary the other day," he remembered. "About Margaret Thatcher." Peggy instantly rolled her eyes and scowled.

"Don't talk to me about that horrible old baggage, Rogers, she was a blight- "

"'War of the Roses', I think it was called?"

She fixed him with a glare. "You are a terrible man. And I can't tell you how delighted I am that I outlived her."

"Jesus, Peggy!"

"You never had to sit in meetings with her! Believe me, I'd have traded places with you in an instant!" she groused, looking a little mollified when Steve ducked his head and started laughing helplessly.

 

 

Steve ran him aground in Chicago, of all places. Got a text from Tony at 4am on a Tuesday that just said pinged on twitter four minutes ago, west town chicago, bg of a photo taken outside a bar with a link to a college girl's Instagram photo. And yep, there was Bucky in the background, still unshaven and unkempt. There was a small sliver of metal showing on his arm, and the coat he was wearing was a dead ringer for the one he'd worn all through the war.

Steve paused at that, and did a quick news search. He sighed at a small item on Wonkette from three days earlier, citing another robbery at the Smithsonian's Cap exhibit. He tried not to read anything into it, though - sure, it might have been a good sign that Buck had taken the jacket. Or he might've been cold.

Steve tabbed back to the Instagram photo. He allowed himself a second of worry that those girls were running around Chicago in winter with so little clothes on, confirmed to himself that it was, in fact, Bucky, and then went back to Tony's text, typing a reply.

yep. him.

Tony's reply was quick in coming.

Get to IAD in 45 minutes, I'll have your ride waiting.

Steve had to google "IAD", and had to leave a note for Sam, but he made it to Dulles in 30. A guard in long-term parking recognized him, and, beaming, whisked him to the far corner of the air field, where a Quinjet was parked, engines still running. Tony poked his head out of the open door. "Get the lead out, old man! Daylight's burning!"

"Sun's not up yet!" Steve countered, as he stepped out of the modified golf cart and grabbed his bag. He slung it up on his shoulder and headed up the stairs, prepared for any number of adrift SHIELD agents to be accompanying them on their little jaunt - but there was only Tony in the jet, grinning expectantly, handing over a mostly-full bottle of whiskey.

Steve glanced around the empty cargo hold, and started chuckling.

"What?" Tony asked, as he headed back to the pilot's seat. Steve came over and took the co-pilot's, without being asked, and started strapping himself in.

"This is the second time a Stark has flown me to try to find Bucky," Steve told him simply, taking a swig of the whiskey. It burned pleasantly, anyway. Tony snorted, and started flipping switches, moving the jet out onto the runway.

"Wait, that's the fondue story, right?" he asked, after they were safely in the air. Steve gave him a horrified look.

"Dammit, did Peggy tell everybody about that?" he complained, rubbing a hand over his face, feeling it go hot.

"Man, I didn't hear it from Aunt Peggy. Dad used to tell it at Christmas parties. It was one of his favorites," Tony told him gleefully, as they shot towards Chicago.

They touched down in a remote part of O'Hare an hour later, and Steve doled out the requisite number of handshakes and smiles to the assembled staff as they disembarked, before Tony took pity on him and hurried him along, playing up the "privileged asshole" thing. As they walked down the moving runways, Tony ostentatiously ignored the T-rex and the neon around them, hammering away at his phone, trying to follow the trail of social media crumbs that would lead to Bucky.

"Traffic camera picked him up moving towards downtown thirty min - come on, there aren't going to be any animatronic singing dolls, it's an airport," he groused, weaving around an arguing family who were treating the walkway like a damn Disneyland ride. "On foot. Headed down LaSalle, eight minutes." Steve used the signs and guided them towards the Blue Line, not even thinking anything of it until he turned around from buying a CTA pass, and realized Tony was staring at him.

"What?"

"The hell're you doing?"

Steve raised an eyebrow. "Getting the train."

Tony whimpered, and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up unattractively. "You're killing me, Rogers," he grumbled, shoving forward and getting his own pass, muttering under his breath the entire time. Steve rolled his eyes, tried to contain a grin.

"Come on, Stark. Public transit. It'll be an adventure," he teased, swiping his card, heading through the turnstile to catch the next train into town.

"Note to self, make sure all immunizations and boosters are updated before going on another road trip with Captain America," Tony grumbled behind him, swiping his own card, hip-checking the turnstile a little more violently than necessary.

The last time Steve had been in Chicago, it had been for Senator Brandt's tour. He hadn't been able to see much of the city - hadn't been able to see much of anything except hotel rooms and the USO bus, for a good few months there - but he remembered the kids, more vivid than any other place he'd been. The way they sounded like Buck, right at the beginning of when they met, right before he wised up and lost his accent. Steve had kind of had a soft spot for the city after that, so taking the train in - watching the skyline get closer, up until the train dipped underground - was exciting, in a way few things were anymore.

He and Tony got off at the Jackson stop, navigated the maze out to the streets, and started walking - Tony glued to his phone, tracking both them and Bucky, and Steve gawking at the city. "It's like he's not even trying anymore, he was in front of the damn Bean a few minutes ago," Tony wondered, sounding a little disappointed. "Got caught in five different Facebook photos." Steve glanced over at him.

"He was born here," he said simply. Tony's eyebrows shot up, but Steve just shrugged and kept walking, following Bucky's lead, like he'd never stopped.

They stopped in Millennium Park, Tony frowning down at his phone, Steve watching the first pink rays of sun break over the horizon. "Where is he now?"

"Last trace puts him at the Water Tower," Tony said, twisting the map on his phone around. "Straight shot up Michigan," he said, gesturing to the street they were already on, sounding dubious.

"I'll handle it," Steve told him firmly, turning and giving him a small, distant smile as they walked. "Thank you, Tony. For getting me this far."

Tony narrowed his eyes a little, gave Steve a searching look, but then nodded and clapped him on the back. "Oooh, look, Starbucks. My second - no, third - favorite stimulant," he said lightly, giving him a wry smirk as he headed towards the crosswalk. "You got your Life Alert on you, Gramps?"

"I do actually know what you're talking about, and you're a jackass," Steve called, snorting as Tony blew him a kiss. He watched Tony safely across the street, and then started walking, zipping up his coat, shoving his hands in his pockets to stave off the cold.

The streets were still mostly empty - a few early-morning workers, a few joggers down near the park, but the city was strangely quiet. Peaceful. Steve walked the bridge across the river, just as the sun was breaking over the water, illuminating it and the glass-paned windows of the surrounding buildings, and he felt himself walking a little faster, hopeful.

He knew it was dumb. Didn’t stop him, though.

He didn't pay much attention to the store fronts on Mag Mile, had more important things to attend to. It didn't occur to him until he was past Tribune Tower that he...didn't exactly know what the Water Tower actually looked like, but then he saw an old stone pillar, completely out of place among the rest of the buildings, nestled in against them. He could see one lone figure, sitting on the steps at its base, and his throat closed up as he walked across the street.

"Hiya, Buck," he said, quiet, as he approached.

Bucky glanced up. Regarded him silently for a moment.

And then he shifted, made room for him on the stairs. Offered over a second cup of Dunkin (still warm), when Steve hurried to accept. They were both quiet, wary, for a few very long minutes. And then:

"My parents got engaged here."

"No shit," Steve said, baffled, as he took a sip of his coffee (cream, no sugar, like he'd taken it back home - he almost dropped the cup when he realized).

Bucky snorted at that, fiddled with the lid of his coffee cup. He frowned, his eyebrows drawing together, having to concentrate on holding the memory for a moment, letting it come into focus. "There was a postcard of it. In the living room. They bought it that day," he said, sounding relieved when he'd finished. They sat in a more companionable silence after that, hands huddled around their cups, watching the city start to wake.

"What else do you remember?" Steve asked, trying to tread carefully. Bucky tilted his head, exhaled as he watched a group of people go by, still too vigilant, too observant of his surroundings.

"Cold," he said finally. "Blood. You," he said, frowning a little, "smaller you. I saw the exhibit, in the muzei, and then the memories made sense."

"The exhib - oh, right, the. Yeah. Hey, did you steal your coat?" Steve suddenly remembered to ask, unable to help smiling.

"They stole it from me first," Bucky huffed, taking a long swig of coffee, hiding a tiny smile as he listened to Steve chuckle. "Did you steal your uniform?" he shot back.

"Borrowed," Steve amended.

"Did you give it back?" Bucky asked shrewdly, smirking when Steve gave him a guilty face. He shook his head a little, amused, looking so like his old self for a moment that it made Steve dizzy. "Came all the way to Chicago to yell at me for a coat, huh?" he asked, staring off at the gathering traffic, the way the morning sun was lighting up the tip-top windows of the buildings.

"Buck," Steve said, reproachful, getting himself a cool, sidelong glance, for his troubles.

"Been a while since someone called me that," Bucky said quietly, matter-of-factly, as he finished off his coffee. Steve nodded, and stared down at his own cup, tracing the outline of the pink-and-orange letters.

"Still answer to it?" he asked, eventually. Beside him, Bucky stilled, a line appearing between his brows as he considered the question.

"Sometimes," he said. Steve shrugged a shoulder, tried to square with how a one-word answer from the ever-evasive bastard next to him could make him feel both terrified and elated. Give him a hard-hitting topic like the Army's piss-miserable attempts at coffee, or Rita Hayworth's prowess as an actress, and Bucky Barnes could spew out a ten-thousand word manifesto in the course of an evening. Ask him if he loved his ma, and he'd respond with a shrug. He'd only ever clammed up about the things that mattered.

"Good enough for me," Steve said, swigging down the last of his cold coffee, holding a hand out for Bucky's empty cup. He got up and trotted over to the trash can at the intersection to throw them away, and was mildly surprised when Bucky was still sitting on the steps when he turned around. He strolled back, trying to keep any and all shit-eating grins from his face, failing miserably at it. Bucky was in the middle of tying his hair back, out of his face, pulling it into a small, sloppy bun high on the back of his head. "So pretty," Steve teased, beaming at the way Bucky rolled his eyes and flipped him off.

"Punk," Bucky huffed, looking a little confused at himself after.

Steve waited until Buck was done primping, and then held a hand out to him, to help him up. Bucky just eyed it, arched an eyebrow at him. "Come on, show me your town," Steve wheedled. After a couple of seconds, Bucky deliberately reached up with the metal hand, grasped Steve's firmly, and Steve just smiled, the placid nice try smile he'd always used on the butcher back home when he politely insisted that no, he'd seen the man's thumb on the scale, perhaps he'd like to try weighing those chops again?

He pulled Bucky up, onto his feet, and patted his back gently. Bucky rolled his shoulders, and pulled his collar up to cover his neck, and started walking them down Chicago Ave. "We'll get you a hot dog," he offered, chuckling at the horrified look Steve gave him. "Nah, they're different here. You'll like 'em." Said with a smile so guileless and familiar, Steve couldn’t help but believe him.

 

 

still alive?

im trusting no news is good news you better not be dead

also when you find him tell him im a big fan

HELL YES THIS PLACE STILL HAS CHESTNUT PRALINE

you're trending on Twitter somebody posted a pic of the two of you on a BUS

where the hell did you find a hot dog place open at 7 in the morning

bring me a hot dog these scones are lacking

steve

steve

STEEEEEEEEVE

 

The coffee became a thing.

Steve didn't want to push, didn't want to scare Bucky into taking off, so after grabbing a hot dog with him and winding up wandering around the Lincoln Park Zoo for a while, he'd just given Buck his address in DC and his phone, shown him how to text and use the maps function, and let him saunter off, back towards the reptile house. It had taken everything in him not to follow after, not to beg to tag along, but they hadn't been those kids in Brooklyn for a long while.

Tony'd squawked - both about not getting to meet Bucky and about being stuck at a Starbucks for five hours - but he guilted Steve into replacing his phone with a Stark phone and maybe getting photographed a couple of times using it, which mollified him a little. Steve got him a refill on his drink, promised him an outing for dirty-water hot dogs back in New York, and let Tony order them a sleek black town car for the ride back to O'Hare.

It took a week and a half, but eventually Steve got a text that was just a picture of a Dunkin cup and coordinates. He gave Sam a sheepish grin and bailed on the last half of their run ("okay, but if anybody asks, it's because I outlasted you"), and headed out, plugging in the coordinates, putting on a burst of speed when he realized he wasn't ten miles away.

The incongruity of seeing Bucky surrounded by the bright lights and colors of a Dunkin Donuts franchise was almost as jarring as seeing new Times Square, that first awful day. He looked like a crow trying to roost with a bunch of robins. Steve froze in the doorway, and couldn't help snickering softly, rubbing a hand over the bottom half of his face to try to mask it as he walked over to where Bucky was sitting (back to the wall, view of the exits and the kitchen door), took the seat across the table. Bucky blinked at him, shoved one of the cups on the table top over towards him. "What?"

Steve took the cup gratefully, still smiling. "Good job blending into your surroundings, soldier," he said, by way of explanation.

Bucky raised both eyebrows, and then glanced down at himself, looking over the old, beat-up coat, the dark jeans and thin black sweater he'd lifted from a laundromat dryer while their owner was outside having a smoke. He shrugged a shoulder. "Would it be better if I covered myself in - " but here he paused, frowning, his face scrunching up a bit as he sifted through his vocabulary, "drazhe?" He gave Steve a frustrated, lost little huff, and gestured to the hanging sign behind them, advertising two doughnuts for $2.22. Steve turned and looked.

"Oh, sprinkles," Steve said, cottoning on quickly, snorting at the joke. "Yeah, you want me to see if they have any to spare?"

"I like the pink ones," Bucky told him, his voice a flat drawl, though his lips twitched a little in an attempt to hide a smile.

Steve chuckled and sat back, and took a long sip of his coffee, sighing a little as he set the cup down. Bucky sat back as well, mollified, his shoulders relaxing a tiny bit as he watched Steve drink. "You okay?" Steve asked.

He nodded, once. "You?"

"M'fine. Seriously, you're getting enough sleep? Eating enough?" Steve pressed, unable not to.

"Geez, ma, yeah, I have food," Bucky groused, tilting his head, his accent suddenly thick enough to slice. The answer seemed to catch him off-guard, by his expression, but he shored up well enough, holding Steve's gaze steadily. "Probably sleep as much as you do," he said, looking a little smug when Steve ducked his gaze guiltily. "Thought so."

"Slept long enough," Steve muttered, taking another sip from his cup. Bucky raised his in an ironic toast, and took a swig as well. "Noticed anything...um, off?"

Bucky sucked in a breath at that, looked a little sheepish. "Had a tail. Don't anymore."

Steve rolled his eyes, but didn't much look surprised - he'd been keeping track of his own (the slate sedan five doors down, across the street; and the black SUV half a block up, parked at the bank), unsure which was made from the remnants of SHIELD and which from HYDRA. "You get bored and want to take a couple more out, let me know," he said wryly, before glancing pointedly at Bucky's left arm. "Had a few people tell me you might have a tracking chip somewhere in there," he said.

Bucky just smirked a little, like the idea had already occurred to him, and nodded. Once. "Good," he said darkly.

Steve watched him for a handful of seconds, his eyes glittering with something like approbation, before he returned the smirk, faintly. "Stuff goes fubar and you need help, you call me," he said bossily, waiting for Bucky to roll his eyes in acknowledgement, before he took another sip from his cup. "What kind of coffee'd you get?" he asked, just for a change of conversation.

"...Black?" Bucky said a couple of seconds later, looking bewildered. "Whaddya mean, what kind?"

Steve broke into a delighted grin. "Oh man. They might've screwed up a lot of other things, but you know what the future got real good at, Buck? Coffee."

 

A week later:

 

Three words for you: toffee nut syrup. If you feel like it, I'm at the Starbucks at Dupont Circle. I'll be here for a while.

Bucky showed up twenty minutes later, looking askance at the mood lighting and retail fixtures, the set of his shoulders stiff and anxious until he saw Steve, tucked in an armchair in the corner of the room. He started over, and snorted when he realized Steve (the asshole) had put the damn shield in the chair beside him, to save it. "Subtle," he muttered, as Steve beamed at him and moved his stuff out of the way so Bucky could sit.

"Dog eat dog world," Steve said, shrugging a shoulder, handing a cup over to him after Bucky sat. "No cream, like you take it, but I had them put some syrup in it," he explained, as Bucky took a first cautious sip. The coffee was strong, and sweet, warming him through. Both eyebrows flared up, and he gave Steve a surprised look, then glanced down at the cup and took another sip, longer this time. Steve relaxed back into his chair, and actually looked Bucky over, checking in. "You okay?"

Bucky just shrugged. Took another swig. "You?"

Steve's eyes narrowed. "M'fine. What happened?"

Bucky rolled his eyes. "Nothing happened, stop inven - "

"Buck."

He sighed, and set the cup down in his lap, glancing around at the rest of the customers (there were a few people trying to be covert about checking Steve out, but so far, none of them had transferred their interest over to him). "Getting more memories back," he finally admitted, wincing as he watched Steve perk up. "No, not - not good ones," he clarified, his eyes sliding to his coffee cup and staying there. He gnawed at the corner of his lip, and tried not to think about the screams he'd heard in his dreams the night before, the sense-memory of a neck snapping under his hands. He took another sip of coffee, letting it sit heavy on his tongue for a moment.

Steve's face fell at that, but he rallied a few seconds later, reached a tentative hand over to pat Bucky's shoulder. It didn't exactly have a nerve system capable of feeling the touch, but the sentiment was nice, anyway. "You wanna talk about it?" he asked, too soft, too understanding. Made Bucky's skin crawl.

Bucky shot him a filthy look, making Steve hold both hands up pacifically. "Not really much to say that I think you'd care to hear, Cap," he said lowly.

"Don't know if I'd agree with that," Steve said easily, raising his eyebrows, taking a sip of his drink. "You got something to say, then I wanna listen."

Bucky rolled his eyes, just before fury swept through him and left his hand shaking - directionless, impotent anger making him flare up like a grease fire, catching hold of whatever happened to be nearby. "Charitable of you, Rogers," he said, his mouth twisting as he stared down at his cup. "Just let me know when you've had enough, wouldn't want you worrying that the thing that got into your best pal goes too deep," he drawled, taking another sip, watching Steve go unnaturally still, out of the corners of his eyes.

"You want to pick a fight, wait until we've finished our drinks," Steve told him finally, giving him a sidelong unamused glance. The metal fingers twitched on the armrest of his chair. "But if that's what you're after, you're gonna have to try harder," Steve added, slouching down, looking stubborn.

Bucky huffed a laugh at that. "If you say so," he shrugged. "You know I killed kids?" he asked, conversational, rubbing a finger over the lip of his cup lid. "Remembered one this morning. Probably...seven, eight years old. Little, like you were. Cried for her parents, but I'd already done them before I got to her room," he mused, watching his finger trace the edge of the lid. Beside him, Steve was quiet and still. Waiting.

"Did you want to?"

Bucky glared at Steve, for that. "I wanted to finish the mission."

"Not what I asked. Was that mission your idea? Did you have a choice?" Steve asked, glaring back.

"Does that make her less dead?" Bucky snapped, tilting his head. Steve just stared at him for a minute, frustrated and bewildered.

"Why do you want me to blame you for that?" he huffed, running a hand through his hair, uncomfortable. "I don't - Jesus, Bucky, it's not like it was even you - "

"Yes it was," Bucky snarled, his voice rising on the last word, turning a few heads in his direction. He didn't notice, too focused on trying to make Steve understand, eyes dark with fury and intent. "It was me, Steve. I tucked her in after. I killed her parents, and put a bullet in her head, and then went back to the rendezvous point so they could wipe me clean, like it never happened," he seethed. "I never even knew her name."

Steve looked like he'd been gut-stabbed. "I - okay," he said, lost and worried, carefully reaching over to take Bucky's cup out of his unsteady hand, before he sloshed his coffee everywhere. "Buck, I'm sorry," he said quietly, setting the cup on the little table in front of them.

"What're you apologizing to me for, I'm the one who did it," Bucky said, scowling down at the cup like it had betrayed him, wiping spilled coffee off of his hand, onto his jeans. "I'm the one who - "

"I still feel guilty about Erskine," Steve interrupted, trying to knock Bucky out of his own head for a moment. "And Tony, I almost got Tony Stark killed in a big way a couple years ago."

Bucky blinked, caught off guard. "Stark?"

"Howard's kid."

"Jesus, who'd have a kid with him?" Bucky grimaced. Steve just sighed, tilting his head in silent agreement. The two of them paused for a minute.

"Point I'm trying to make here is I understand having regrets," he said, rolling his shoulders, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees.

"Not sealing the deal with Peg is a little different than murdering a shit-ton of people, Steve," Bucky said, unimpressed, taking a stab in the dark.

"You shut up about her," Steve flared, narrowing his eyes, hunching in a little more, curling in on himself. "I'm not trying to one-up you here, you know that, right?” he asked, lifting his eyes up at Bucky, looking for all the world like the kid he used to be, a dozen lifetimes ago.

Bucky sucked his teeth, felt himself losing hold of the cold, razor-sharp edge of his anger. He sighed, and squeezed his hands down between his thighs, warming the real one, holding them still for a moment. “Not like you ever could,” he half-joked, giving Steve an attempt at a smile.

A line appeared between Steve’s eyebrows, but he returned Bucky’s smile, his appearing about as genuine. “Look, I just. I know you. Or,” he said, frowning a little at himself, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, “I know who you were. I know who we both were, those kids, the places we come from. I know you saved my life, like I didn’t manage to save yours.“

“Whoa, hey,” Bucky tried, sitting up, automatically reaching for him. Steve shied away, kept talking.

“No, I’m just saying,” Steve said quickly. “I know you’ve got stuff, Buck. I’m just - I’m sayin’ you don’t have to deal with it on your own. I’m with you, on this,” he said, squeezing his hands together, rubbing his fingers nervously. Bucky was suddenly struck by a handful of old memories - watching Steve purl his fingers together exactly like that on cold nights, to keep them from going numb while he was trying to draw, or write. Watching him do it nights before an attack on another HYDRA stronghold.

“End of the line, huh?” Bucky asked, the corner of his mouth quirking up in a smaller smile, real this time, fond. He wasn’t expecting Steve to flinch at that like Bucky’d smacked him, glance up at him with his eyes full of hurt, red-rimmed.

“Shit,” Steve muttered, quickly looking back down, shaking his head a little, rolling his shoulders. “Sorry.”

“What?” Bucky asked, worried.

“Nothing. Stupid,” Steve managed, scowling at himself, having to press the heel of his hands to his eyes, trying to be subtle about wiping them. “...Missed you,” he murmured, so low Bucky almost didn’t catch it.

“Ah, hell,” he said, startled at the twisting wrench in his chest at that, like somebody’d just taken his lungs and tried to tie them in a bow. He could feel his own eyes prickling suspiciously, but he watched Steve attempt to recover, for a couple of seconds, before he couldn’t take it anymore and pushed himself up out of his seat. “On your feet, soldier,” he ordered, reaching for Steve, pulling on the front of his shirt until he complied and stood, looking almost wary.

“Buck, what - “

“Shut up,” Bucky grumbled, tugging him into a tight hug, straightforward and warm, no messing with his hair or teasing him for his girlish figure or anything. “Missed you too, punk,” he muttered, shifting as Steve sagged a little, in relief, and clung onto him for a moment.

“Jerk,” Steve grumbled, wrapping both arms around his middle, giving him a quick squeeze. Bucky shivered a little, at the realization that Steve still smelled exactly like he used to (how the hell was Aqua Velva still in business, jesus), and felt only a little self-conscious as he pulled away, patting Steve’s back gently, arching an eyebrow at him.

“Done blubbering about it?” he teased quietly, chuckling as Steve narrowed his eyes and gave him a swift, mean jab to the ribs.

“Asshole, you were almost there,” Steve complained, reaching to grab his jacket and the shield, apparently determining that they were done with both hugging and taking up space in the coffee shop. “Last time I heard somebody say that was during your wake,” he muttered, bringing Bucky up short.

“Jesus,” he said, feelingly.

“Yep,” Steve said, handing Bucky his coffee. Bucky took a swig - still wasn’t bad, if a little cool. Put enough sugar in it, though, and he’d always been able to drink anything.

“Well, I take it back,” Bucky said kindly, nudging him with an elbow. “You cry all you want.”

“Shut up, Buck,” Steve sighed, shrugging on his jacket, tugging the shield on after. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Ready?”

Bucky blinked at him. “Where we goin’?”

Steve grinned a little at that, shrugged a shoulder. “Got a couple of ideas,” he said, heading for the door. Bucky watched him, amused, and followed a few steps after, loping along behind the shield.

 

A month later:

 

“Her nurse said she was having a pretty good day today, but that doesn’t mean she won’t still slip. If she does, then we’re supposed to call the nurse’s station - “

“God almighty, Steve, you’ve explained already, stop fretting,” Bucky groused, though he was smoothing his hair back a little, tucking it behind his ears, trying to get it out of his face and make it look less a rat’s nest. Both of them clammed up as they walked through the doors of the long-term care facility. It smelled like they all smelled - strong disinfectant, plastic, pain. This one, at least, had windows and plants, and comfy-looking chairs in the rooms. Bucky’s lips thinned, and he glanced over at Steve. “Looking a little peaky, there, Rogers.”

“M’fine,” Steve said shortly, shooting him a quelling look. Bucky subsided peaceably, though he did give Steve a sidelong glance that said they’d probably be talking about all the reasons this place was different from his mom’s TB ward, later on.

Peggy had a good room, corner room with a lot of windows, lot of light. He knocked politely, gave her a smile and a wave through the slice of window on the door, before he opened it and moved inside. “Morning, Peg,” he said, coming forward to grab the vase on her side table, plunk his latest (daffodils and irises) inside.

“Good morning, dear,” she told him, struggling to sit up, until he clucked his tongue and reached for the bed’s remote control, raising her up until she was sitting comfortably, glaring at him. “I could’ve done that,” she huffed.

“I know,” he shrugged, giving her an unrepentant smile. “But now you don’t have to.”

“Hateful,” she pronounced, before reaching to give his hand a pat. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah, everything’s good,” he told her, giving her a quick smile, squeezing the tips of her fingers gently. “I, uh. ...Brought you a visitor, that okay?”

“Did they happen to bring gin?” Peggy asked him, smirking a little at Steve’s scandalized splutter. “Oh, well, can’t have everything, I suppose. Yes, of course it’s fine. Is it that Sam fellow you’ve been telling me about? Because anyone who gives you hell is all right in my b - “ she began, as Steve turned towards the door and beckoned his friend in.

Peg stopped, and stared, her eyes going wide and disbelieving.

“Hiya, gorgeous,” Bucky said, giving her a nervous, crooked little smile, as he sidled into the room.

“...What happened to your hair,” she managed, before she burst into tears.

“Oh Jesus, Peggy, don’t,” Bucky told her, rushing forward, moving around Steve and perching on the end of her bed, reaching for her other hand. Her breath caught on a sob, and Bucky gave Steve a helpless look, before he shifted and stretched up onto the mattress, scooting up until he was sitting beside her, letting her sag against him as she cried. He looked stricken, but Steve just gestured for him to go on, and watched (through increasingly blurry vision, dammit) as Bucky tentatively threaded the metal arm across Peggy’s shoulders, cradling her gently. “I know I’m overdue at the barber’s but you don’t have to take it so personal,” he said lightly, curling around her a little more protectively as she just smacked his hand and kept crying.

“Had to go all the way to Chicago for him,” Steve told her, propping his chin in one hand, privately committing the both of them to memory, like that, so he could try to draw it later. “Always has to make everything a production,” he said, smiling faintly at Bucky’s huff of indignation.

“B-both of you do,” she gasped, opening her eyes enough to glare at Steve again, reach for him with her free hand. He tangled his fingers with hers, his eyebrows quirking up as she pulled him forward feebly. He went with it, though, moving forward until he was out of his usual seat and shifting up onto the bed, squeezing in beside her, letting her slump against his chest and cry herself quiet.

“Well, that went well,” Bucky murmured, making an outraged little noise when she smacked his hand again. She and Steve both started snickering at that, and she sighed and wiped her eyes, shifting so that she could look at Bucky, inspect him. “What?” he asked, wary.

“Nothing,” she said, turning to look at the arm around her, making an impressed little noise as she tapped the metal with one fingertip. “Goodness, who knew the Russkies were capable of such things,” she mused. “Lucky you didn’t have their auto engineers trying to build it, it would’ve been half-size, mostly wood, and only have three fingers,” she joked, making Steve snort with laughter.

“Yeah, but the three fingers would’ve fit inside each other,” Steve pointed out. “Real space-saver.”

“Oh, yes, they were always very economical,” Peggy agreed.

“Why am I even friends with you jerks,” Bucky sighed, sounding put-upon.

“Because everyone else you know is dead, darling,” Peggy told him kindly, giving him a placid smile, until Steve actually started giggling, which set them all off. “My boys,” she sighed, eventually, giving them both a small, tired smile. “God, I missed you.”

“Missed you too,” Bucky told her, his voice a little thick, while Steve stayed very busy smoothing her hair and not looking at either of them, having to clear his throat once or twice. They stayed like that, in unspoken agreement, as Peggy drifted asleep between them, breathing peaceful and even.

 

 

It took no less than three months and five different members of the extended Avengers Lonely Hearts Club Band to convince Steve that moving out of a fifth-floor walkup in Bushwick and into the ready-and-waiting Cap Wing in Stark Tower was actually a good idea. Natasha texted him daily, Sam threatened, Bruce gave him a bullet-pointed list of pros and cons, and Tony ambushed him at his usual diner one morning, over bacon and pancakes, wearing a trench coat and holding a boombox over his head that was blasting the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."

"This is really not helping your cause," Steve griped, as he tried to bundle a resisting Tony into his booth, giving the other patrons a horrified smile.

"Baby, baby, I'm sorry, I need you," Tony pleaded, grabbing onto the lapel of his jacket, much to the delight of everyone already pointing a phone at them. "I can't live without you, come home."

"You're just trying to get stony trending again," Steve hissed, finally wrestling the boombox away from him, flailing over the knobs and buttons for a minute before he found the one marked POWER. A blessed silence fell over the diner, interrupted only by a longing sigh from one of the kids recording them.

"Guilty," Tony said, giving him a lightning-fast smirk before crowding in against him, halfway sitting on his lap. "Tired of you and the Half-Tin Soldier getting all the love - are you gonna finish these?" he asked, picking up Steve's fork and taking a quick bite of his pancakes. "...Damn. Oooh yes, come to daddy," he said, stealing another bite, before Steve squawked in alarm and grabbed his fork back. Tony pulled a pout, but subsided, allowing Steve a good inch, inch and a half of personal space on the bench. "Seriously, what's the problem? Don't you love us anymore?" Steve glowered at him, which had the same success as all the times before - Tony just gave him a bright smile, and turned his attention to the diner owner, who'd materialized at their booth with a stack of pancakes and a cup of coffee (she knew an opportunity when she saw one). "You're an angel," Tony breathed at her, reaching to cradle the coffee in both hands.

"Thanks, Rach," Steve muttered, because he couldn't not. "He's got the check," he said quickly, pointing an accusing finger at Tony.

"No charge," she said, blushing hotly, obviously trying to tear her eyes away from Tony and not quite succeeding.

"Have you tasted your pancakes?" Tony asked, setting his cup down, his eyes going wide. "Triple-charge."

"Oh my god," Steve whined, thunking his head against the back of the booth.

"Sweetie, hush," Tony said, giving his hand a pat. "You sit there and look pretty while we talk business."

In the end, Bucky was the deciding factor. He showed up early on a Sunday morning, picking the locks and appearing in the kitchen doorway, nearly scaring Steve out of his skin as he turned around to put the milk back in the fridge.

"Jesus Christ, Barnes, you can't just - "

"Is the heat even on in here?" Bucky interrupted, frowning as he looked over the spartan kitchen. Steve paused, and realized that yeah, the place was kind of freezing. Bucky stomped over and opened a few of the cabinets, snorting at how bare they were, making Steve clutch his coffee cup to his chest and feel a little bit like he was watching himself flunk out of a spelling bee.

He followed Bucky out of the kitchen, into the living room, where Buck stared at the empty walls and the couch Steve had found on an obliging street corner, and then Steve followed him to the bedroom, where Bucky glared at the suitcases Steve was still living out of (what, he'd only been there a couple of months). Then he turned on Steve, and folded his arms across his chest, raising one very judgmental eyebrow. "Didn't realize 1941 was such a sentimental year for you, that you'd want to recreate it," he said acidly. "Real authentic, though. Too bad you can't get double pneumonia anymore, that'd tie the whole thing together up nice."

Steve took a breath, stung, and frowned back at Bucky. "That's a hell of a thing to say," he managed, dropping his eyes to stare down at the contents of his cup. They stayed like that, locked in a holding pattern, for the better part of a minute, before Bucky made a disgusted sound.

"They think they've done something wrong, and that's why you won't come," he said finally. "But then they aren’t familiar with the Steve Rogers martyr complex," Bucky continued, flicking through a crate of records near the door that Steve still hadn't decided what to do with. “So what high-blown ideal is it that’s keepin’ you here?”

Steve’s eyes narrowed at that, and he took a long sip of coffee, just to be provoking, watching Bucky paw through his albums (Gene Autry, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald). “That one’s from Tony,” he said quickly, when Bucky paused, bewildered, at Led Zeppelin’s IV. “And I don’t have a martyr complex. Since when in the hell do you know about martyr complexes?”

“Eh. April 1925 or thereabouts, shortly after I plucked your scrawny ass out of a trash can and got a lecture on not talking to strangers, for my troubles,” Bucky said, abandoning the albums, leaning against the doorframe, louche and irritatingly superior-looking. “You gotta give me one solid reason, Rogers, because this is just…” and here he gazed around the bare little apartment, “...sad.”

“Thanks for the decorating advice,” Steve sniped, a little raw from the whole exchange. The thing was, he knew the place was sad, but he couldn’t really - he didn’t particularly know how to go about setting up a home for himself. The last one he’d known had been over 70 years ago, the tiny apartment he and ma had barely kept hold of, and even though she’d done her best, it hadn’t really inspired any cozy feelings in either of them. They’d been too busy trying to keep the heat on. “I can’t just mooch off of Howard’s son rent-free,” he said.

“Why not? Rest of the team is,” Bucky pointed out, arching an eyebrow at him, unmoved.

“It’s different. They’re not - “ Steve started, before realizing he didn’t really know how to end that sentence without sounding like a real heel.

“Employable? Sane? Goddamn Captain America?” Bucky suggested, a hint of a smirk curling his lips.

“Go to hell, Bucky,” Steve sighed, his shoulders slumping a little.

“Been. Can’t say as I recommend it,” Bucky said lightly, keeping his gaze trained directly on Steve. “Wanna know what I think?”

“No,” Steve said mulishly.

“I think,” Bucky said, ignoring him, “that you’ve never squared with being here, and not being able to go back to the war. I think that you’re in this shitty little apartment because it’s the closest you can get to sealing yourself in a time capsule - Gene fucking Autry, Steve? Jesus, you hated him at the time, but you’ve got his music?”

“It was buy 3 for fifteen bucks,” Steve objected. “I needed one more for the deal.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” Bucky scoffed, rolling his eyes. “...Look, I get it. Believe me, if it were an option, half the time I’d choose to go back in cryo for keeps, because at least then I wouldn’t keep stepping on memories like land mines.”

“Wasn’t your fault,” Steve said automatically, taking another sip of his coffee.

“Doesn’t make a difference when you wake up screaming,” Bucky said, shrugging a shoulder. There was a small whirr of gears grinding in the arm, and Bucky’s mouth twisted up a little at the reminder. “What I’m saying is, you’ve got people here. If you’ll let ‘em in.”

Steve stared at him for a moment, thinking. “Are you there? At Tony’s?”

“I make them nervous,” Bucky said, matter-of-fact. “I make appearances.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at that, but decided against lecturing, for once. “They okay to you?”

“Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s mostly because they think I’m their best chance to get Dad to come back home,” Bucky needled, “but yeah, they’re all right. Stark keeps staring at my arm,” he complained. “Like it’s the nicest pair of tits he’s ever seen, or something.”

“Don’t doubt it,” Steve snorted, breaking into a grin, behind his coffee mug. “Wants to get his hands on you,” he teased.

“Ah, he’s so rich, I might let him,” Bucky smirked back. “Seen his girl? I’d make a few compromises for an opportunity with that.”

“Always a sucker for redheads,” Steve sighed, shaking his head.

Bucky chuckled. “Always.”

“Want some coffee?” Steve asked, feeling sort of guilty for not offering, before.

“No, I want you to finish your cup and change out of your pj’s so we can escape this shithole,” Bucky told him, subtle as a sledgehammer. “You been to the Met yet?”

“Not yet, no,” Steve said, brightening a little at the prospect.

“Good. They got an exhibition on Cubism now, we’ll go see it and you can explain to me what the hell it’s supposed to be.” Bucky shoved off of the doorframe, looking expectantly at him. Steve finished his coffee, and went to set the mug in the sink.

“Not even gonna waste my breath,” Steve said, heading towards his bedroom to change into something sharp enough for the Met.

So they went.

Steve knew that he had a two-hour window at the museum, at most - Bucky had never had the attention span to devote to the place like Steve had - and he tried to stay under it, not wanting to test Buck’s reserves in a crowd of strangers.

Besides, despite their low-key profiles (Buck had his old jacket on, covering the arm; and Steve was wearing a tie because part of his soul shriveled up at the idea of looking at da Vinci drawings in something less formal), they were starting to get more attention than the art that people had come to see. Steve gave a guard a sheepish little smile as they headed towards the exits, and Bucky stared down a couple of hipsters who were covertly taking pictures.

Once they were outside, Steve steered them towards an empty alcove, pretending to shuffle through pockets for his MTA pass, giving Bucky enough time to breathe deep and slow for a few minutes, get the danger out of his eyes. “Ha,” he said, finally holding the card up triumphantly (he’d palmed it a few minutes prior).

“Real proud of you,” Bucky told him, distracted by an old-fashioned horn sounding once from his pocket. He pulled out his phone and snorted, showing Steve the notification he’d just gotten.

HOMEWRECKER instagram.com/p/xKrK1a0DmWl

Steve pulled up the link, and rolled his eyes at a blurry photo that someone had just got of the two of them, in the museum. “I don’t know how he gets hold of these things so quickly,” he sighed.

“Stalker,” Bucky said succinctly, texting Tony as much. “What now?” he asked, producing a pack of smokes from a pocket, ignoring Steve’s automatic frown of disapproval.

“I dunno. What did you have planned for the day?” Steve asked him.

Bucky hmmed, tilted his head up to blow smoke away from Steve. “I said I’d bring back dinner,” he said finally, raising his eyebrows.

Steve narrowed his eyes, but didn’t feel much like putting up a protest - it had been good, bickering with Bucky all day, and he felt more like himself than he had in over half a century. “Uh huh. What were you thinking?”

“I dunno. There are a lot of pizza boxes there, so probably not that,” Bucky said, grimacing a little at the memory. Steve made a small noise of despair.

“Jesus, all of them combined have the common sense of a parakeet,” he complained, stomping off in the direction of the nearest grocery store, trusting Bucky to follow.

They spent nearly as long in Whole Foods as they had at the museum, both of them gawking a little at the selection (and, occasionally, bitching about the prices. And the terrible, bland, mealy lies that were 21st century bananas). Two shopping carts later, Bucky shoved Steve out of the way and swiped a black AmEx to pay for everything, giving him a shit-eating grin as they started piling bags and bags in their arms, making every customer and employee in a five-lane radius stop and watch the show. “Some benefits to being unemployable and insane sometimes,” Bucky smirked, as they headed outside. Steve huffed, and hailed them a cab, paying for the trip back to the tower out of stubbornness.

He wasn’t really prepared to be assaulted by the goodwill of most of the team, as soon as they stepped in the doors of Stark Tower’s residential section. “It followed me back, can we keep him?” Bucky yelled, making Steve groan, as they made their way towards the kitchen.

Steve froze as an arrow zipped through the ridiculous atrium and thunked into the wall, a couple of inches above Bucky’s head. Bucky didn’t even flinch, just sighed disappointedly. “Made you as soon as we came in,” he called, not even pausing.

“You’re a lying commie bastard,” Clint hollered, poking his head out of a hidey-hole several stories up. “Hey, Cap.”

“Hey,” Steve called back faintly, poking his head around the mountain of groceries in his arms to give Bucky a wide-eyed what the hell did you get me into kind of look. He followed Bucky into the kitchen and waited to have his arms unloaded (they’d carefully stacked the bags three-high on him, so that Bucky could have a hand free to mess with the elevator).

“Last I checked, it doesn’t take seven hours to run to the store,” came a familiar voice from the other side of the room.

“Got sidetracked,” Bucky said easily, still unloading bags from on top of Steve, gradually giving him his line of sight back. Natasha looked mildly surprised to see him, which made Steve feel immeasurably guilty, because he knew how much it took to get her to indulge in actual facial expressions.

“Hi,” he said, stupidly.

“Hi yourself,” she said, breaking into a small grin as she came to help, starting to unpack the groceries as Bucky set them on various counters. There was some sort of organizational system to where Bucky set the bags, but for the life of him, Steve couldn’t figure it out. Natasha seemed to understand it, though, so he submitted patiently to being unloaded like a pack mule. She even waited for him to stretch feeling back into his forearms, before she launched herself at Steve, hugging him tight, startling him. “Good to see you.”

“Yeah, you too,” Steve told her, patting her back, ignoring Bucky’s smug little smirk. “Been awhile.”

“Yeah, you jerk,” she said lightly, pulling back enough to look him over, inspecting for damage. “Doing okay?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Can’t complain.”

“I watched the last hearing,” he told her, his eyes crinkling a little. “Real proud to call you a friend.”

“Ugh, gross,” she groaned, though she smiled crookedly, patting his shoulder as she pulled away. “Boys, was this really necessary?” she asked, surveying all the groceries they had yet to put away.

“You were down to ketchup packets and Clint’s piss-beer in the fridge,” Bucky pointed out, ignoring the it’s the champagne of beers, asshole! that filtered from down the hall. “Plus, Steve can cook.”

“I can boil water and not set a pan on fire,” Steve clarified.

“Still better than pretty much everyone here,” Natasha said wryly. “Whatcha making us, Cap?” she asked, pulling out two bags of frozen gnocchi, giving them both a strange look before shrugging and putting them in the freezer.

Steve stared down at the steadily-decreasingly pile of groceries on the counters (and taking up half the floor), and sighed. “Spaghetti, I guess.”

“Thor’s here,” Natasha said. “So, um.”

“Told you we should’ve gotten more ground beef,” Steve grumbled at Bucky, as he started separating out the noodles and meat and sauce from everything else.

“Sorry I only let you buy half a cow,” Bucky told him, smirking at Steve’s little irritated look. He rolled up his sleeves and started demolishing the grocery bags, working in easy tandem with Nat, keeping up a low, steady conversation in Russian with her.

The rhythm of the unfamiliar words was soothing, as Steve started knocking around the kitchen, and he found himself losing track of time as he found pots and pans and chopped a few things, gawked at Tony’s professional-grade kitchen range and fridge. That, in itself, was no little thing - normally, the passage of time was something that Steve tracked carefully, portioning out parts of the day for specific tasks, trying to make them seem more manageable, less like a yawning void.

Pepper wandered in for a yogurt and squawked delightedly at the sight of him, and Steve pretended not to see Bucky waggling his eyebrows, or his look of astonished outrage as Pepper kissed his cheek and helped him season the marinara, before heading back out for a meeting. The voice in the ceiling (“for the umpteenth time, his name is JARVIS, Steve”) started playing music that Steve recalled from the handful of times Bucky had managed to actually drag him into a bar back in the 40s, and he found himself humming along, quiet and content.

“ - with the fogey music, JARVIS?” Tony was grousing, as he sauntered into the kitchen and headed straight for the fridge. “If I wanted distilled old, I’d get out the good scotch.”

“Nobody’s stopping you,” Bucky pointed out, from his vantage point at the long bench-style kitchen table.

“Oh, is the Lawrence Welk your doing, C-3PO?” Tony huffed, taking a bottle of fizzy water, opening it and necking half of it, before turning to glare at him.

“Actually, I think it was because of me,” Steve told him apologetically, giving Tony a wave of his spatula as Stark noticed him for the first time.

Tony just stared at him for a few seconds. “When the hell did you get here? Are you staying? Are you cooking?” he asked, his voice going higher-pitched the longer he talked. He moved forward, inspecting Steve’s progress on the spaghetti, taking a mixing spoon and stealing some of the sauce, whimpering a little at the first taste of it. Steve huffed and grabbed the spoon back, pushing him away from the range.

“An hour ago, for a while, and obviously,” he answered, gesturing to the pot of noodles and the pot of sauce.

“Marry me,” Tony ordered. “Just do it. The story would single-handedly destroy Fox News,” he offered.

“Romantic,” Steve snorted. “I’d live in fear of Pepper’s wrath, though.”

“She is terrifying,” Tony agreed, fondly. “JARVIS, connect me to Pep,” he said, barely waiting for the telltale echo of the intercom coming on. “Hey, how would you feel about having Steve as a sister-wife?” he asked, instead of saying hello.

“We talked about this,” Pepper’s voice filtered through the room, sounding long-suffering. “No sister-wives. If it’s Steve, though, we could negotiate for a triad,” she offered. From the corner of the kitchen, Bucky made a small choking sound. Steve decided to pretend that his flush was because of the heat from the cooking.

“Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe the color he’s gone,” Tony said, delighted. “Love you, knock ‘em dead.”

“Always do,” she said, before the echo in the room was gone, the call ended.

“Go sit,” Steve told Tony, shoving him towards the table where Bucky and Nat were, giving him a severe look. “And tell the - tell JARVIS to tell everyone that food’s almost done.”

“I can respond to you as well as I can to Mr. Stark,” JARVIS responded tetchily, and Steve looked sheepishly up at the ceiling. “I do not, in fact, reside in the ceiling, Captain Rogers.”

“Sorry,” Steve mumbled.

“I’ve taken the liberty of informing Dr. Banner and Thor, both of whom will be along presently. Staff Sergeant Wilson is en route, and will be arriving in approximately 15 minutes. Mister Barton has communicated an antipathy toward attending, as Sergeant Barnes insulted his choice of beer.”

“Damn it, Clint,” Bucky hollered, in the general direction of the hallway. “Get your ass in here, or I’ll tell Natasha where you’re hiding!”

Barton materialized at the table not thirty seconds later, giving Bucky a deeply irritated look. “Playing dirty,” he grumbled, ignoring Natasha’s placid little smile, taking a seat beside her. “Smells good, Cap,” he called, tilting his chin in approbation as Steve gave him a salute, with the spatula.

A somewhat subdued Thor wandered into the kitchen next, and though he embraced Steve with his customary enthusiasm and pounded his back hard enough to bruise, Steve decided not to ask for an update about home, about Loki, until he’d got Thor by himself. (He’d learned the hard way from Morita - been sucker-punched by him one evening in a bar, had his shoulder cried on later on that night as Jim had told him about his ma having to leave her grandmother’s jewelry behind before his family got shipped out.)

Bruce slipped in, frowning down at the tablet still in his hand, and wordlessly took the seat beside Tony at the table, handing over the tablet with a sigh, letting Tony look it over and make a couple of notes. “Thank you,” he said, relieved, as Tony handed it back over. “It was driving me crazy. Hi, Steve.”

“Hey,” he said, distracted, in the middle of draining the noodles. He jumped a little, as Bucky appeared behind him and grabbed the pot of sauce, leading the way towards the table. Everyone who’d already gathered there split evenly, grabbing silverware and plates and cups, a team effort. Steve brought up the rear, spearing tongs and a serving spoon into the noodles and sauce, taking the seat across from Bucky. “We have to save some for Pepper,” he told the table at large, before gesturing for them to have at the food.

The mad scramble was exactly as he’d thought it might be. Clint nearly got stabbed.

They’d all tucked into their food by the time Sam showed up, toting in a couple bags, depositing a couple of huge deli containers of spinach salad and a pre-sliced loaf of garlic bread on the table. “Uh huh,” he said, giving Steve a distinctly unimpressed look. “Let the guy from the 40s do the cooking, I figured it’d just be meat and starch,” he said, poking Steve until he scooted over enough for Sam to slide in.

“Tomatoes are a vegetable,” Steve said, giving him a deeply, deeply injured look, as he handed him a plate.

“Tomatoes are a fruit,” Sam told him, grinning a little, as he served himself. “Get with the times, old man,” he said, handing Steve a slice of garlic bread. Steve blinked at him, and then looked over to Natasha for confirmation.

“Yup. Fruit,” she said, not missing a beat, as she put salad on her plate and Bucky’s. “Don’t give me that look,” she said, not even bothering to glance up to confirm that Bucky was, in fact, grimacing at the amount of spinach she was piling on his plate.

Steve stared.

Down the table a little, Thor noticed Steve’s unblinking stillness, and glanced over to see what had caught his attention. “Ah,” he said, grinning a little, crooked, pleased to have caught an opportunity for a purely Midgardian reference. “Do they fondue?” he asked knowingly, giving Steve a little nod of solidarity.

Clint and Sam both choked on the food they were chewing, and Tony held his hands up in innocence. “Whoa, not me, promise,” he said, before Steve could glare in his direction. Steve nodded, and whipped his garlic bread at Bucky, beaning him directly on the forehead.

“Ow, what the hell?”

“Seriously, who haven’t you told?”

 

Bruce guilted Clint and Tony into helping him do the dishes after, which was a minor miracle, and Steve found himself wandering the main floor of the Avengers suite, catching up with Sam and Nat. He’d made sure there was a plate of food waiting for Pepper, and he’d made plans to spar with Thor the next day (he was trying to figure out the best way to broach subjects like found family).

“No comments? Really?” Natasha asked him quietly, as they walked down a corridor.

Steve paused at an original Kandinsky, and shrugged a shoulder. “He’s kinda robbing the cradle,” he offered, giving Nat a small, crooked smile.

“I got some questions about whether or not that metal hand stays cold,” Sam offered, laughing and cringing away as Natasha slugged him on the arm. Steve snorted, and shoved his hands into his pockets, and tried not to think about his cold little apartment, or found families, or the way everyone had worked together during dinner. He headed down the hallway, almost turning back towards the atrium, before Natasha caught up.

“No, this way,” she said, turning him in the opposite direction, leading him down a wide hallway. He blinked, but followed after, knocking elbows with Sam beside him, raising his eyebrows at Natasha as she came to a stop in front of a set of doors.

“Seriously, no pressure,” she said, biting the corner of her lip as she grabbed the handle and opened the doors, walking inside. Steve followed, curious, for a couple of feet before it became obvious what he was looking at.

There were a million windows, it seemed like - one whole side of the apartment, perfectly placed to get the sunrise, the skyline. Inlaid bookshelves and warm tones, crown molding and stuff that he knew Tony probably hated, given the functional tastefulness of the rest of his place.

There was a goddamn radio in the corner, big and boxy, the same kind he and his mom had, before they’d had to sell it to pay for his doctors. His breath hitched, as he ran his hand over the top of it. He made his way through the apartment, pausing at the soft afghan thrown over the back of the sofa, the easel resting in the corner, and cleared his throat with some difficulty. “Wow,” he breathed.

“Talked Tony out of putting the Dali drawings up,” Sam said, hovering in the doorway, watching with a tiny little smile as Steve moved around, touching things, getting used to the place.

“Thanks,” Steve said, distracted, going over to the windows, staring out at the city beyond, the one written in his bones. He looked out towards the river, the bridge, towards Brooklyn, and thought of his mom and dad, and Bucky’s folks, everybody buried in Green Wood that would’ve loved to see two neighborhood boys make it so big.

“Far sight from a cold-water flop in November, huh?” Bucky asked, his voice rough and knowing, as he leaned against the doorframe. Steve turned, gave him a guilty little smile, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Feel like I’m gettin’ away with something,” Steve admitted.

“Don’t I know it,” Bucky agreed, coming forward to stand beside him, gazing out of the windows in the same direction. Steve found himself gazing more at their reflection in the glass, unrecognizable from the kids they’d been, except for their expressions. “You gonna stop being a jackass now, let your people in?” Bucky muttered, too quiet for Nat and Sam to hear.

“Maybe. You gonna take your own advice?” Steve shot back, glancing over at him, slinging an arm around Bucky’s shoulders on impulse, ruffling his hair.

“When have I ever done a fool thing like that?” Bucky asked him, even as he slid his arm around Steve’s back companionably.

“I dunno,” Steve said, feeling settled in his bones. “Haven’t managed to shake me yet.”