Shopping in the twenty-first century is a whirlwind experience, and afterward, Bucky is never quite sure if he was traumatized by it or if he wants to go again. He'd mentioned Macy's, mostly as a joke, because back in the day (yesterday), he and Steve would have never had the money for Macy's. But now, Stevie McMoneybags with his big fancy apartment with two whole bathrooms and a powder room looked like he could probably afford a whole suit of clothes for every day of the week, not even secondhand. So, yeah, he called out Macy's. What a laugh, right?
Only then Tony Stark gets all wacky about it, making noise like Macy's is the Goodwill Mission or something, which gets Bucky's back up quick. "What's it to you?" he asks, rounding on Tony after about the third disparaging comment. "It ain't none 'a your beeswax where Bucky Barnes gets his glad rags anyway."
There's a long moment of silence. Behind Tony, Bucky can see Jane Foster and Bruce Banner exchange amused glances. Reed Richards isn't even listening, thank God, because Bucky has a feeling that guy's an even bigger asshole than Tony without even trying, and that's saying something. Steve puts a hand on Bucky's shoulder, same way Bucky always does - used to do? - when Steve's about to get worked up about something that ain't worth it. But Tony's cruising for a bruising when his big fat mouth spreads out into a wide, toothy grin. "Well, that's just perfect," he says. "JARVIS, you got that, right? What am I asking, of course you did. And just for that astonishing display of vintage slang on the hoof, buddy, I am going to reward you big time."
Bucky blinks, but Tony sails past him, heading for the door. "Everyone with me! Come along, chop chop!"
"I don't have time, Tony," Richards says in a tone that is somehow both completely detached and completely condescending. "I've got to get back to the Baxter Building; I have work of my own, you know."
"Your loss, Richards," Stark replies breezily. "Everybody else, hop to!"
Banner and Foster exchange glances. Banner shakes his head. "Not me. I've got work, too. Plus, I don't really think I'm up for it today."
"I understand," Foster replies. She's got one of those ubiquitous little rectangles in her hand; she's poking at it with both her thumbs. "I'm texting Darcy, though. She'll kill me if she misses out on this."
Steve lets out a slow breath. "That's good," he says. "Thank you, Dr. Foster. She'll keep him distracted while Bucky and I shop."
Foster grins. "You know Darcy loves any opportunity for a sassing contest with Tony. Especially because whether she wins or loses, he buys her things."
Bucky is, by now, thoroughly confused. Steve, thank God, keeps his head, and steers Bucky out of Tony's lab and down the hall toward the elevator, where Tony is impatiently waiting. "He likes you," Steve says in an undertone. "I'll explain more later, but this is basically how Tony shows affection."
Bucky raises an eyebrow. "You tellin' me he's gotta buy his friends?"
Steve shakes his head. "He doesn't, actually. Not any more. But he doesn't really understand that, and when people reject his gifts, he thinks they're rejecting him. So we all sort of just try to keep him restrained as much as possible."
Bucky doesn't really get it. Not then. But he trusts Steve - there will never be a time when that isn't a true statement - so he goes along with it. It ends up being him, Steve, Stark, and Foster in the elevator going down; they're met in the lobby by a girl with long brown hair and bright red lipstick. She's wearing blue jeans and leather boots and a loud purple-and-yellow striped top, and when Steve steps out of the elevator, she outright squeals and damn near attacks him before he can get two steps away. "Steve!" she shouts, leaping into his arms.
Laughing, Steve catches the girl and swings her around once before putting her down. "Hey, Darce."
"I didn't know you were back in town!" she exclaims, wrapping one long arm around his waist. "When did you get back?"
"Just yesterday," Steve says. "It was late and I was exhausted, and on top of that I had to go grocery shopping, so I didn't really tell anyone I was back."
"Because a cranky Steve is nobody's friend," the girl says, laughing. "Well, I for one am glad you're here." Her arm contracts and she squeezes him against her side. "Did you have any luck looking for Bucky?"
Looking for Bucky? Bucky wonders. But now is obviously not the time to ask; he'll pin Steve down and make him talk later. For now, he does his best not to look like an overwhelmed kid in his older brother's hand-me-downs when Steve turns his dish of a girlfriend around to see him. "Only in a manner of speaking," Steve is saying. He explains about the different universes before saying, "Darcy Lewis, meet Bucky Barnes. Bucky, Darcy Lewis, former assistant to Doctor Foster and current Director of Public Relations for the Avengers Initiative."
"Ain't that a mouthful for a pretty dame!" Bucky exclaims, taken aback, even as he puts out his hand automatically.
Darcy laughs, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. "It basically means that I'm in charge of riding herd on all these crazy superheroes and making sure that the press only says nice things about them even after they wreck half of midtown fighting off aliens."
"To be fair," Steve interjects, "we were fighting off aliens."
"Huh." Bucky's eyes go from Darcy to Steve and back again. Darcy has the look of someone who could happily talk about their preferred topic for hours, and Steve looks proud. He takes a risk. "So, how long you two been...?"
Darcy blinks and her eyes widen almost comically. She looks over at Steve and then back at Bucky, and she shakes her head vigorously. "No, no," she says. "We're not dating."
"You're not?" Bucky asks. He looks over at Steve. "I don't know what you've been waiting on, pal, but you just lost your chance." He offers Darcy his arm. "Miss Lewis, I would be honored if you'd be willing to accompany me out onto the town this evening."
And Darcy throws her head back and laughs. "I don't know where you found him, Steve, but I like him and I'm keeping him." She tucks her free arm into the crook of Bucky's elbow. "But just so you don't throw your back out trying, I don't sleep with men."
Bucky blinks. "You... sorry, what?"
"I don't sleep with men. Well, more accurately, I don't sleep with anybody. I find it helpful to get that out of the way first thing." She glances over at him, then back at Steve. "Did he miss the sexual revolution?"
Bucky nearly swallows his tongue. "The what?"
Steve steps in to try and help. "Buck, remember how I told you it's legal to be queer now? And how queers can get married to each other?"
Bucky blinks. "Yeah, but... I didn't think..."
"You didn't think anybody talked about it out loud?" Darcy guesses. She looks - well, she looks like she gets it. "It's all right. I get that. Don't let him fool you; Steve had a hard time with it, too, at first. But things are different now. Mostly better."
"Only mostly?" Bucky asks.
Darcy laughs softly. "Yeah. The future's not always everything it's cracked up to be."
From across the lobby, a sharp whistle gets their attention; Stark and Foster are waiting for them near an underground exit. They go down a moving staircase - which gives Bucky a severe case of the willies at first - and into the vast, echoing cathedral of Grand Central Terminal, which Bucky would recognize anywhere, even under the veneer of the future.
The bickering starts when Tony wants to go north, to some place on the Upper West Side. Darcy scoffs at him. "Are you kidding me? You don't take Bucky Barnes to the Upper West Side. He's not a frat bro. We need to go to SoHo."
"Hey, I am well aware that he's not a frat bro," Stark replies. "And I wouldn't dress him like one, either. Besides, we'd have to go all the way to the Hamptons for that, and nobody wants to drive that far tonight. I've got a guy on the Upper West that does suits. You're gonna love them, by the way," he adds, leaning around Darcy to address Bucky directly. "Everything's custom. I'm seeing you in a double-breasted pinstripe, something straight out of The Godfather. It'll be - "
"It'll be completely ridiculous, is what it'll be," Darcy interrupts. "Stark, it's almost seven o'clock at night. By the time your tailor gets done measuring him for those suits, it'll be midnight. He needs clothes he can wear now, so he can stop looking like Steve's raggedy little brother. Take him to the Upper West tomorrow or something."
Tony frowns, stroking his beard for a moment, then finally nods. "Lewis, you have a point. That's a pair of boots for you, I think."
"It's always a pair of boots for me, Stark," Darcy replies, grinning broadly. "Or possibly a super-cute circle skirt. Still not gonna sleep with you." She starts forward, across the concourse, and Steve and Bucky have no choice but to follow, since she's holding onto both of their arms.
Once they're on the train, Darcy flops down onto a seat next to Stark and leans over his shoulder to look at his little glass square. Bucky raises his eyebrows at Steve. He shakes his head in return, leaning over to murmur in Bucky's ear. "They're all like this," he says. "I'll be honest; it gets kind of exhausting, being around them."
"I can imagine," Bucky replies. "That Darcy, though, she's a firecracker, ain't she?"
"Ain't she just," Steve replies. He's quiet for a long moment before he says, "We should talk about this later, but... I've been thinkin' about askin' her out."
Bucky looks up at him - and ain't that a kick in the head? - and says, confused, "But she don't like men?"
Steve looks over to make sure that Darcy is still occupied with that thing Stark's carrying and lowers his voice to speak directly into Bucky's ear. "She doesn't have sex," he explains. "She still dates people, though."
Bucky tries to process this. "But you...?"
Steve shrugs. "I don't really like having sex with women," he replies. "But I was in love with a woman once, during the war, and I like Darcy a lot." He moves to the other side of the mostly-empty train car and sits down; Bucky follows him, fascinated. Steve keeps his voice low, just between the two of them. "It's like this," he says. "Just because you have sex with somebody, it don't mean you love 'em, right?" When Bucky nods, Steve continues. "Well, by the same token, just because you love somebody doesn't mean you wanna have sex with them. With you, I got both, you know? I love you, and I pretty much wanna fuck you through the mattress." He grins, filthy and dark.
A shiver runs up Bucky's spine. "Yeah, I pretty much feel the same way about you, pal." He grins back.
Steve reaches up and puts his hand on the side of Bucky's neck. "I'm going to kiss you now," he says. "In front of Darcy and Jane and Tony Stark and God and everybody."
It must really be okay, if Steve is offering it in front of other people. He's reckless but not stupid. "Well, then," Bucky replies, swallowing his nervousness and putting on his best face, "get on with it."
Steve does, and it's soft and slow and hot and wet and it's chaste but at the same time it's just this side of indecent. When he lets Bucky go, both of them are breathing hard, and Stark wolf-whistles. Steve says, "We'll talk about it more tonight."
"Yeah," Bucky agrees, licking his lips. He spends the rest of the ride in a daze, probably with a dizzy grin on his face, and he doesn't even care.
When they finally get off the train, they're on Canal Street, right between Chinatown and Little Italy, and Darcy leads them a block or so up to a shop in the basement apartment of an old row house. There isn't any store name on the door, only a sign in the window that reads DNA. Jane leads the way, pulling the door open and ducking inside. Tony follows, and Darcy herds Steve and Bucky both in front of her, bringing up the rear.
The interior of the shop is brightly lit and well-organized; here are jeans, there are slacks, over there undershirts with words and pictures printed on them, farther over are button-up shirts. In the back, there are jackets and shoes. He looks around. "Where's the men's section?"
"Everything in the store is unisex," comes the reply from somewhere around his elbow. He jumps, not expecting the new voice, and finds himself face-to-face with a tiny person who is so perfectly androgynous that he genuinely cannot even make a guess as to gender.
Darcy puts her hand on his shoulder. "Bucky, this is River; zie owns the place. River, this is Bucky, he's a friend. He's going to need a whole wardrobe."
"Any friend of Darcy's, and all that," River replies. Zie - Bucky's mind easily assimilates the unfamiliar pronoun - leads Bucky to the denim section. "Let's start here." Zie pulls a measuring tape out of a pocket and wraps it around Bucky's waist, then gets his length and inseam measurements and begins to dig through the stacks of denim.
Everyone else drifts around the shop; Jane goes for the button-up shirts, Tony starts trying on jackets, Darcy goes to look at the shoes, and even Steve takes a few steps away and starts looking through a pile of dark-blue denim. Bucky, who blew past his weirdness threshold when he turned a corner in Brooklyn in 1938 and found himself in 2014, just lets it happen. River picks out a whole stack of denim in a variety of washes and sends him into a fitting room to try them on; when this happens, Jane and Darcy both reappear. "Let us see how they fit," Jane says simply.
Bucky isn't sure how he feels about this part, but he obeys; he ducks into the change room and shimmies out of Steve's jeans, pulling on the first pair, which are black and nearly skin tight. "Uh," he says. "I'm... not sure this pair fits."
"Let's see," Darcy says. "Out you come."
He's not comfortable with it, but he comes out. Darcy gives a low whistle, and Jane twirls her finger in a clear order for him to spin around. "Jesus, Steve," Jane calls across the shop. "With an ass like that, no wonder you've been chasing him from hell to breakfast."
Steve's only response is a choked laugh; Bucky feels himself flush bright red. Darcy says, "They're supposed to be tight. They're skinny jeans. Can you breathe okay in them?"
He nods. "Yeah, I just..." He makes a vague gesture, feeling his face burn.
"You get used to the way they hug your junk," Darcy assures him. "They look really good, though." She shoos him back into the change room. "Let's see the next pair."
He ends up with six pairs of jeans. Two of them are the skinny jeans, a couple of them are just sort of regular, and a couple of them are a little loose. All of them sit on his hips rather than at his waist, which is not a thing he's accustomed to. Steve commiserates with him while they flip through the racks of shirts. Jane squawks at him about color, and so he chooses colors - lots of colors. There are tee shirts in reds and blues and greens, and button-ups in stripes and solids and plaids. The pile of clothing on the counter beside the cash register is getting alarmingly large.
"I don't need this many clothes, Steve!" Bucky protests under his breath. "I know you've got money now, but - !"
"Don't worry about it," Steve replies, resting a warm hand on the back of Bucky's neck. "I can afford it. And even if I couldn't, I'm pretty sure Stark's going to beat me to paying for it all anyway."
And sure enough, once the shirts are all picked out and placed by the register along with an amazing leather bomber jacket, a couple of pairs of leather boots, and a couple of pairs of Chuck Taylors, plus whatever everyone else was buying, Stark has River put everything on his charge account and arranges for most of it to be delivered either to Stark Tower or to Steve's apartment. He pulls out one pair of jeans (the skinny black ones), a blue tee shirt with a red-and-white shield printed on it, and a short-sleeved red button-up, and he pushes these at Bucky. "Go change," he says, pointing imperiously to the change rooms. "I'm not taking you out for dinner looking like a reject in your grandpa's old clothes."
"You're an asshole, Stark," Bucky says mildly, but he takes the clothes and heads for the change room anyway. When he comes back out, Darcy hands him the black pair of Chuck Taylors, and he puts these on in exchange for Steve's slightly oversized running shoes. Steve takes one look at the shirt Bucky is wearing and flushes bright red, but Bucky doesn't know why. And honestly, at this point, his brain is so full of things he doesn't understand that he decides to let this one go.
All of Steve's clothes that Bucky was wearing go into one of the bags that will be delivered to Steve's apartment, and then Tony is shepherding them all back out onto the street and insisting that if they're on the edge of Little Italy anyway, they might as well go and have Italian food.
Steve looks like he wants to protest, maybe beg off, but Bucky's stomach growls at just the right time. Bucky flushes red, but Steve hastens to accept Tony's invitation. They end up at a little joint that looks familiar to Bucky; he squints at the name of the place - Marcello's - and says to Steve, "Didn't this used to be Francosi's?"
"Yeah, it did," Steve replies. "Apparently it's changed hands a few times since our day. The food's still good, though."
When they walk through the door, the hostess's eyes fix on Steve and go very wide. She stammers for a minute, and only manages to offer them a small private room when Jane intervenes. Jane accepts the private room graciously, and they all troop across the main dining room and through a curtained alcove. There's a round table in the middle of the room with six chairs; they take one away from the table and all spread out around it. Bucky ends up between Steve and Jane, and he relaxes into his chair and lets the conversation flow around him while he tries to process the last several hours.
He'd known the moment things changed around him; Brooklyn in 1938 - at least, his own part of it - was dirty and sort of run-down, tainted with coal smoke even in the summertime, with trolley tracks running down the center esplanades of all the main streets. In the fancier areas of town, the streets had been properly paved with asphalt; in his own neighborhood, though, they were still roughly cobbled. But when he had turned off Washington Street onto Front Street, heading west toward the automat where his buddies liked to sometimes gather after work, everything had suddenly been different.
He'd first noticed the noise; it wasn't louder, exactly, but it was different. More mechanical or something. Then he'd looked up and realized that the streets, which had been cobblestone yesterday, were today a smooth, uniform black of pavement. None of the storefronts had looked right; all the names had changed. There were cars everywhere, shiny and sleek and terrifyingly different in shape. The people looked different, too - all their clothes had changed, and their hairstyles and the general way that people stood and walked and moved.
He'd panicked, and he wasn't ashamed to admit it. He didn't run - that was a quick way to catch the attention of the coppers, and he knew it - but he moved quickly and with purpose toward the closest place he could think of that contained people he cared about. Steve was still at work in Manhattan, so that meant his Ma, who lived at the corner of Orange and Willow.
Only, her building was gone. The row houses across the street were still there, but the ones where his Ma and his Pops had lived, where he and his sisters had all been born, they were gone, replaced by a ten-story brick monstrosity that made his heart shrivel up in fear. Without knowing what else to do, Bucky had turned around and walked away, feeling blank and numb.
And just a few blocks away, up Cranberry Street, he'd heard that voice, and he'd turned around to see Steve Rogers standing there looking like something out of a Charles Atlas ad.
Now, several head-spinning hours later, he sits in a comfortable chair in an Italian restaurant, still a little sore from Steve's romantic attentions earlier in the day, sharing table space with Steve himself and his crazy future friends. He comes out of his reverie when the waitress arrives, glances down the menu quickly, and settles for the safest option of spaghetti and meatballs. Then he tunes back in, listening while Jane and Darcy bicker about Jane's eating habits and Tony starts pestering Steve about rocket packs.
When the meal is over, Tony and Steve bicker briefly about the check. Steve argues that Tony bought all of Bucky's clothes, and the least Steve can do is buy dinner; Tony argues that Steve is ridiculous and why are they even having this conversation. Bucky would have bet money on nobody being able to out-stubborn Steve Rogers, but he would have lost: Tony eventually wins out of sheer absurdness and Steve literally throws up his hands in frustration. Darcy offers to give him consolatory head-scratches, and Steve actually looks tempted for a long moment, which in Bucky's opinion backs up Tony's assertion that Steve is ridiculous.
They part on the sidewalk; Tony, Jane, and Darcy head back toward the Tower while Bucky and Steve, after promising to come by the next day, turn toward Brooklyn. It's a nice night, so they decide to walk it. For the first several blocks, they're quiet, content to simply be together. It isn't until they reach the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge that Bucky finally bites the bullet and says, "So, um. You were thinkin' about askin' Darcy out?" He rubs at the back of his head. "How's that even work?"
"Well," Steve says. He pauses. "Okay. I'll tell it to you the same way Bruce told it to me. Our understanding of human gender and sexuality has changed and expanded a lot since our day. I mean, you know how it is. Fellows go with dames, and that's just it, and anything else is illegal and morally wrong and sinful. But now, they know more stuff about how people's brains work and how it all happens. And they proved that bein' queer is somethin' you're born with. It's not... you don't choose it, see? It's like bein' brown-haired or havin' green eyes. It's just how some folks are. They even see it run in families."
Bucky nods. "Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, why would you choose to be queer, knowin' it's illegal and could get you killed? That'd just be stupid."
Steve nods as well. He stops near the middle of the bridge, moving to the railing and leaning against it. "So. There's that. And then there's the business, like I mentioned earlier, about how who you love and who you have sex with are not always the same people. Which also makes sense, because, like... you love your sisters, right?"
Bucky takes Steve's meaning plain, and gags. "Shut your mouth."
"No, but that's the point. You can love somebody without wantin' sex with them. That was how I felt about Peggy. I loved her. A lot. Probably woulda married her, if I'd made it through the war and she'd have me. And if she'd wanted kids, I coulda managed the job, even if I didn't like it much."
Bucky nods. "That... okay." He considers, leaning back against the railing as well and taking a deep breath. "I, um. I like both. Men and women, I mean."
"And love, I think." He shrugs a little bit, feeling strangely shy. "Not sure I've ever loved any dame the way I love you, though, Stevie."
Steve leans in and kisses him softly. "I've never loved anybody the way I love you, either, Buck. And I never will."
Bucky leans against Steve's newly-broad chest, and Steve wraps one strong arm around his shoulders and holds him close. And for a little while, even though everything is still very wrong, everything's all right.
Sure would be nice to know what y'all think about this.
They've almost made it home, both of them thoughtfully silent, when Steve's pocket starts making a sound like crickets chirping. Bucky leans back, looking at him askance. "What the fuck, Steve?"
Steve laughs, pulling out that stupid rectangle and swiping his thumb across the front of it. "Sorry," he says. "That's my text alert."
Steve sighs. "Let's go inside; I'll explain."
Steve stops in the building's foyer to poke at the rectangle with his thumbs the same way Jane had earlier; then he retrieves the mail and they head upstairs. Once they're inside, Steve pulls the rectangle out again. "This is a phone," he says, and Bucky's mind gets blown for the umpteenth time that night.
In the process of explaining the phone, and texting, Steve also explains about the Internet. And Bucky's mind gets blown again. "So all of this stuff works on radio waves?" he asks, looking up from Steve's Netflix queue.
"It's not radio," Steve says. "Not exactly. I... You should ask Tony about it. Science and mechanics and things were always more your speed, not mine. He can explain it to you."
Bucky nods. Yeah, he's definitely gonna do that. Because this Internet thing is great. "Okay," he says. "What's next?"
"Well," Steve says, picking up a long, thin piece of plastic off a nearby table. "Television's a big thing now." He points the plastic at a black glass square that's hanging on the wall over the fireplace, and Bucky's mouth drops open.
"Holy shit," Bucky breathes, because he's seen television, once, at the GE plant in Schenectady, and it was nothing like this. He steps toward the screen, staring in awe. "Jesus, Stevie," he manages. "That's amazing."
Steve nods. "I know, right? When I first woke up here, I spent hours watching this thing."
Bucky shakes his head. "Is it always people telling the news? Or is there other stuff too?"
"Oh, there's all kinds of other stuff." Steve pushes a button on the plastic thing, and the screen flickers, and suddenly Bucky is watching a man sit on a cot in a prison cell. The man is staring up at a huge black-and-white photo of a bombshell dame that's hanging on his cell wall. He pushes the button again and another bombshell dame in an evening dress is touching blocks on a wall to make letters appear in them. He pushes it again and an old lady in a judge's robe is yelling at a short, fat man about responsibility and ordering him to pay someone a thousand bucks. He pushes it again and there's a man in a button-up shirt and slacks standing in a kitchen shouting about some kind of cleaning product. He pushes once more, and the screen goes black. "So, you know, feel free to watch it anytime you want," Steve says. He gestures with the plastic thing. "This is the remote control for it. It's pretty hard to screw up, so." He shrugs.
Bucky nods, committing the term to his mental dictionary. Remote control. Because it controls the television remotely. That makes sense. "Okay," he says. "What else? You got a robot around here?"
Steve laughs. "No, but I got an icebox that keeps cold all the time. Wanna see?"
They spend about half an hour in the kitchen with Steve going over all the appliances and how to use them. He shows Bucky how to use the coffee machine, the stove, the water-and-ice dispenser in the front of the icebox, and the microwave, impressing upon him the importance of not putting anything metal into that loud little box. "Nobody told me," he says, "and I did, and it started a fire in one of the break rooms at SHIELD." He shakes his head. "On the other hand, it's hard for people to be in awe of your legendary status when they're making fun of you for catching the microwave on fire."
Bucky says, "What's SHIELD?" and blinks in surprise when Steve startles. "Whoa, sorry."
"No, I just..." Steve shakes his head. "I forgot. I forgot you don't know about any of it." He sighs. "Well. Since you can't go back, I guess there's no harm in me telling you what happened here. It's kind of a long story, though. You want a Coca-cola?"
"Yeah, sure." He watches Steve pull two bright red cans out of the icebox and hand him one; two frosty mugs come out of the freezer drawer, and they both sit down at the kitchen table.
Steve visibly casts around for where to start. "So... after the war, I told you I was stuck in the ice." Bucky nods, and Steve continues. "Well, it was SHIELD that pulled me out. Sort of. The plane was actually found by an expedition that was looking for oil in the Arctic; SHIELD came in on it because that's what they did. Intelligence work, especially anything dealing with weird stuff or alien stuff. They came into the plane, found me, pulled me out, and brought me back to the States. As I understand it, they were in the process of defrosting me for a big public funeral when they realized I wasn't actually dead."
Bucky shudders. "That's... Jesus, Steve."
Steve nods. "I know." He sighs heavily. "Anyway, after I woke up, I sort of went to work for them. The Army retroactively listed me as missing rather than killed in action, which meant I got back pay and all my promotions, and then they formally retired me, which I was given to understand at the time was basically a symbolic thing, and I was really being transferred to SHIELD, just off the books." He scratches at the back of his head. "If I'd been in my right head, I might have fought them on it, just to see what would happen. But I wasn't, and I didn't. I just went along with it. I'd only been out of the ice about three weeks when the aliens attacked."
Bucky damn near swallows his tongue at that one. "Are you serious? I thought you were joking about that!"
Steve goes and gets the tablet, brings it to the table, and pokes at it for a minute. Then he hands it to Bucky, who watches in dawning horror as Steve, a red-haired woman, a blond man in a cape, another blond man with a bow and arrows, a giant green monster, and Tony Stark in his Iron Man armor go head to head against what is clearly an invading alien army. He watches the Steve on the tiny screen throw his shield around, and suddenly something dawns on him.
He looks down at his shirt. "Is this...?"
"My shield, yes," Steve replies, sighing. "Tony thinks he's funny."
He can't breathe. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
Steve is there in a moment, his warm hands - Steve's hands were always cold, on account of his bad heart - gripping Bucky's wrists firmly. "It's okay," he says softly. "This was two years ago. It's all over."
Bucky can't tear his gaze away from the little screen, so Steve turns the pad completely over so that he can't see it any more. His thumbs rub soothingly at Bucky's pulse points until Bucky's breathing slows down again. Then he says, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thrown so much at you at once. I forgot what it's like."
Bucky shakes his head, because he can't think of anything to say. Finally he manages, "You... you do this all the time now?"
"No," Steve says, and he says it so swiftly that Bucky knows it has to be the truth. Still. He shakes his head. "What do you do, then?"
"Well, I..." Steve lets him go, taking a drink of his Coca-cola. "That's the thing. SHIELD... you remember how I said during the war we were fighting HYDRA? Well, we thought I'd beaten them. Turns out we were wrong. They infiltrated SHIELD from the very beginning. Working behind the scenes the whole time." He takes another drink, then he stares down into his mug. "And it turns out they had Bucky - my Bucky - held captive the whole time."
Bucky stares at him. "But you said... you said he fell. Off the train."
"He did. And we all thought he was dead. But apparently whatever happened to him while he was held captive in Austria helped him survive the fall, though he lost his left arm. They replaced it with a metal prosthetic - you saw it in the picture upstairs. And they brainwashed him and turned him into an assassin." He pauses, swallowing hard, and looking a little bit like he wants to throw up. "And they kept him frozen. They... it's called cryogenic storage. Basically the purpose-built equivalent of what happened to me by accident."
Bucky crosses himself.
Steve runs a hand through his hair. "And I didn't know about any of this until they sent him after me."
"They..." Bucky blinks, trying to process this. "They sent me to kill you."
And Bucky... Bucky bursts out laughing. "Well," he says, "I'm sure that worked out real good for 'em, huh?"
Steve stares at him for a long moment as though he thinks Bucky might have gone crazy, and then suddenly he is grinning as well. "Actually," he says. He picks up the tablet and pokes at it again. When he turns it to face Bucky this time, the picture is of a huge building on a riverbank. It's got what looks like a giant aircraft carrier slammed right into the middle of it, and two more of the same in the river. There is smoke and debris everywhere, and it is obvious that there was some heavy-duty carnage going on. "That's kind of how it ended."
And Bucky can't help it. He laughs more. "Yeah," he says. "A big smoking crater. That sounds about fucking right."
Steve shakes his head, draining his mug and setting it in the sink. "Come on," he says. "Let's go upstairs. We've got all the time in the world to talk about this stuff. We don't have to do it all now."
Bucky follows him, because there will never be a universe in which Bucky Barnes will not follow Steve Rogers wherever he goes.
He dreams of Steve - his Steve, five feet tall and a thousand pounds of attitude in a ninety-six pound sack. In his dream, Steve fights aliens alongside gods and monsters, flinging that shield left and right, heroic and brave as he has always been, and Bucky steals up behind him and cuts his throat.
Bucky wakes in the dark of Steve's bedroom, a scream behind his teeth. He lies rigid on the mattress for a long moment, listening to this new Steve's deep, even breathing beside him. Then he slowly rolls out of bed. He snags his t-shirt and Steve's sweatpants and slips out of the bedroom, pausing in the hallway to pull the clothing on and then padding downstairs to get a drink of water.
He ends up with a glass of milk, and he takes it to the window and stands, staring out at Brooklyn. It's so different here and now than it was there and then, and it's contributing to the feeling that this is all some kind of awful dream that he'll wake up from eventually. There's a sense of unreality to it all: this change in Steve cannot be real; this high-tech future cannot be real; that his family and friends are dead and gone cannot be real.
He turns away from the window, unable to look any longer. He goes instead into the kitchen and sits down at the table, picking up the tablet. Steve showed him how to turn it on and how to access the Internet, but he doesn't do that. Instead, he occupies his mind by figuring out what the other little pictures do. The first one he opens is for drawing; Steve has a picture on it half-finished, so he gets out again to avoid accidentally spoiling it. He finds a solitaire game and plays several hands of that before trying something else.
This one isn't a game; he isn't actually sure what it is. When it opens, it just has a list of names. He isn't sure what it could be for, and is about to close it when it chimes, and the screen changes of its own accord.
Darcy: Can't sleep?
He stares at it for a moment, confused, until Steve's brief explanation of text messaging comes back to him. He pokes tentatively at the screen, and a keyboard appears. He recognizes the layout - it's just like the one his father's secretary uses at the factory - and he begins poking out letters one at a time. Once he's finished, it takes a moment to work out how to make it send the message, but he's always been fairly bright and he refuses to admit defeat. If Steve can figure this stuff out, so can he.
Steve: no i had nightmares this is bucky
Darcy: Oh, hi Bucky. I'm going to open a call; the screen will ask if you want to answer. Hit the green button.
Sure enough, in just a moment, the tablet begins to trill, and a square pops into the middle of the screen advising him that he is receiving a video call from Darcy, and does he want to answer. He touches the green button, as instructed; a moment later, the screen is filled with a picture of Darcy herself. She's wearing a black tank top, and her hair's pulled back into a messy bun at the base of her neck. "Hey," she greets him. Then she says, "See the little square in the bottom of that picture of me?"
He looks; sure enough, there is a blank white square on the bottom corner of her image. "Yeah, I see it."
"That's what I'm seeing. There's a camera on that tablet; if you point it at yourself, I can see you."
He blinks, then lifts the tablet from its position flat on the table, and watches in surprise as the kitchen appears in that little square. In just a moment, he's worked out where the tablet's camera is, and pointed it at himself. "Heya, dollface," he says, grinning at her.
"Heya back, fella," she replies, grinning back. "I figured a video chat would be easier than a text chat for now."
"Yeah, thanks," he says, nodding slightly. "What's got you up so late?"
"I got a tip that one of the late-night gossip shows claims they have some kind of scoop on something Avengers-related," she explains. "I need to see what it is so I know how to deal with it when I get to work in the morning." She cocks her head at him. "So, nightmares, huh? I'm not surprised, to be honest. I had them every night for the first month or so after I got dragged headfirst into this crazy superhero life."
He blinks. "You did?"
"Oh, yeah. Sometimes I still do. I was a lot like you - just a normal person living a normal life when crazy literally fell out of the sky and landed right in front of me. I'm glad it happened - I wouldn't give up my life now for anything - but at the time, it was terrifying. I'm not ashamed to admit I woke up screaming for a long time after that."
Bucky runs a hand through his hair. "I just... I feel like I can't get my head wrapped around it. One minute I was just goin' about my life like normal, you know? And the next minute, it's just... gone."
Darcy nods. "I get that. I really, really do. It's hard, because you didn't ask for this. You were minding your own business. Steve at least volunteered for Project Rebirth, and so anything that happened after that is kind of on his own head. But you got shoved into it, and it's not fair."
And there it is, the words that he's been trying to avoid saying. They hang in the air. It's not fair. It's not fair. He wants to scream it at the top of his lungs. It's not fair. Instead, he closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath. "Life ain't fair," he manages.
"No, it's not," Darcy says, and her voice is soft and compassionate. "That doesn't make it any easier to deal with when the unfairness lands squarely on your head."
There doesn't seem to be much to say to that, so Bucky just shakes his head and takes a long drink of his milk. They're quiet for a moment, and then Darcy, bless her soul, changes the subject. "Are you guys coming by the Tower tomorrow? I mean, I know Tony said to, but we only give in to his demands about twenty percent of the time. Any more than that sets a dangerous precedent."
The sound Bucky makes is a little shaky, but it's definitely a laugh. "I dunno," he admits. "Whatever Steve wants to do, I guess. Ain't like I got huge plans."
"Well, you should - oh, oh, hold on." Darcy does something off the screen that he can't see, and he hears the sound of a woman speaking in the background.
"...in superhero-related news, this one's a doozy. It seems like we've been talking for years about the resemblance between the Human Torch, Johnny Storm, and America's favorite Star-Spangled Man, Captain America. Reps for both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four have maintained steadfast denial that the two superheroes are related. Well, we here at CelebWorld News have been trawling through the recently released SHIELD files just like everyone else, and our researchers have discovered indisputable proof that Captain America's genetic material was used in reproductive experiments. Now, most of the relevant information remains redacted, but that certainly opens up a whole new set of questions for all of us, doesn't it?"
Darcy holds up a remote control and presses a button; the sound in the background goes off. She sits there for a long moment, staring off into the middle distance, while Bucky stares at her. Finally, she swallows hard, and she looks down at the camera again. "Bucky," she says, and her voice is faint. "I need you to please go wake Steve."
They meet Darcy and her team at the tower at three o'clock in the morning. By that time, Steve has explained to Bucky about the SHIELD file dump and Darcy has had JARVIS locate the relevant files. They go over the available information and Steve fills in what he knows, which is not much but is still more than Darcy expected. She's pleased. Tony and his girl, Pepper Potts, join them around four, and Darcy fills them in. They're also pleased.
By five-thirty, they've cobbled together a press release that explains in simple terms what kind of experiments Steve participated in and what was learned from them, and Darcy hands it off to an assistant to be sent around to all the news agencies.
At six o'clock, Darcy's work phone rings. She takes the call, and it's from someone at a show called Good Morning, America. They're looking for a quote. Darcy considers what to say for a long moment, tapping her finger against her chin and staring at Steve with narrowed eyes. Steve looks very nervous. That narrow-eyed gaze shifts to Bucky, and Bucky finds himself getting nervous as well.
Darcy says, "Let me put you on hold for a second." She presses a button on her phone and she looks at Steve. "Steve," she says, "do you trust me?"
Without even pausing for a second, Steve replies, "Completely."
Darcy nods. She goes back to her call. Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve, who shrugs. "I'd still trust you more," he admits in an undertone. "But Darcy knows her job. If she suggests a course of action, it's probably the right one."
Darcy finishes her call and says, "I'll see you guys later; I've got to get down to Times Square." She disappears, and Tony takes over, herding Steve and Bucky and Pepper upstairs while talking a mile a minute about some new project. Bucky isn't exactly listening. By just after seven o'clock, the four of them are sitting around a table in Stark's tower penthouse - the chef from his Park Avenue mansion making breakfast in the nearby kitchen - when a show called Good Morning, America leads off the morning news coverage with a report on the gossip piece.
Pepper waves a hand at Tony, who's been expounding on his own genius for Bucky's benefit. "Hush, Tony, they're talking about Steve."
A woman who introduces herself as Robin Roberts starts off reading the news; she repeats the announcement that the gossip rag made the previous night, but follows it up by stating, "Captain Rogers was unavailable for comment; however, Darcy Lewis, Director of Public Relations for the Avengers Initiative, is with us this morning to discuss this bombshell revelation. Ms. Lewis, what can you tell us about the information that was released last night?"
The camera angle widens, and Darcy, looking freshly professional in a blue skirt suit, is sitting beside Robin, her hair pulled back and a calm expression on her face. "First of all, Robin, I can tell you that it's woefully incomplete and was either unearthed by incompetent researchers or cherry-picked for scandal potential."
Robin laughs. "So I assume you saw the broadcast."
"That's correct," Darcy says. "We saw that piece - and I have to tell you, there were eyes rolling all over Avengers Tower last night - but I knew as soon as I saw it that people were going to be upset and worried, and I knew that we couldn't just ignore this the way we usually do. This is a pretty serious matter, the question of genetic experimentation, especially as it's related to HYDRA. So I got Captain Rogers out of bed at two a.m. and we discussed the matter with Tony and Pepper, and as a group we decided that talking about this openly and answering any questions that people might have was the best thing we could do. And since your show was the first one to call..." She trailed off, grinning.
Robin grins back. "Lucky us." Then she sobers. "So, obviously what we've heard is that Captain Rogers's genetic material was used in experiments. The implication was that it might be possible that he is related to Johnny Storm."
Darcy shakes her head. "Robin, I promise you: no matter how ridiculous a rumor might be, if the American public can think of it, Tony Stark already did and thinks it's hilarious. Nobody noticed the resemblance between Steve and Johnny faster than Tony did. Steve and Johnny didn't even notice it before him, and they were face to face with one another."
"So the answer is still no?"
"The answer is one hundred percent, irrefutably, Tony-did-a-DNA-test-as-a-joke no. Steve Rogers and Johnny Storm are no more related than you and I are."
"Then what can you tell us about these genetic experiments?"
Darcy takes a deep breath. "I can tell you what we know. Please understand that there may be more that we don't know about, but this is what we know. Captain Rogers underwent several rounds of genetic testing after his return in 2012. Among other things, we know that his genome was mapped in order to determine - or at least theorize about - what changes Dr. Erskine's serum may or may not have made to his actual DNA. We do not at this time have any reason to believe that Captain Rogers's genetic material was used in any unorthodox manner. So everyone who's suggesting clone experiments and so forth? To our knowledge, that hasn't happened." She pauses. "And even if it did, according to the results of the genome map, HYDRA would not be able to create an army of tiny blond super-soldiers. Tiny blond asthmatics with bad attitudes and a tendency toward color-blindness, maybe, but not super-soldiers."
There is a general laughter from the audience, and even Steve has to chuckle at that. Bucky, who remembers the holy terror that Steve was at ten, does not. Instead, he shakes his head. "They better hope these HYDRA people don't try that mess," he says. "Steve nearly burned down his apartment building when he was eight. I can't imagine what he coulda pulled off if there was two or three of him to put their heads together."
Steve blushes hotly when Tony and Pepper turn to stare at him. "It was an accident!"
"Yeah, sure it was," Bucky replies, snorting softly. "You accidentally lit a roll of firecrackers and tossed 'em into the privy while old Mr. Wesson was in there."
There is a long, tense pause before Steve mutters, "That was damn sure the last time he hogged the toilet for hours, though."
Bucky falls out of his chair howling.
Darcy returns from the television studio and there is a lengthy dissection of the interview, most of which goes right over Bucky's head. He thinks Darcy looked great on the television and came across as very intelligent and confident. He thinks the colored lady who interviewed Darcy seemed very nice, and he also thinks it's really great that they let colored people be on television with white people because they never used to do that, so that's another way that the world seems to have improved. Nobody really asks Bucky's opinion about any of those things, though, so he keeps himself to himself and wanders off to a quiet corner with a book.
Steve comes and finds him around lunchtime. "How about some food?" he asks.
"Sure," Bucky says. "I could eat." The truth, of course, is that he's fucking starving, but he doesn't want to make Steve feel bad for making him wait to eat. What Steve was doing was important.
"You want to try something you've never had before?" Steve asks, and Bucky knows that face, oh God, that's Steve Rogers's patented I want to show you a thing and I want you to like it as much as I do but I am afraid that you will not face.
Bucky has never been able to resist that face, or the ridiculous attempts at hiding puppy dog eyes that go with it. "Sure," he says. "Let's go." He glances around behind Steve. "Any of your buddies coming with?"
"Nah," he says, shrugging slightly, his shoulders hunching down in what Bucky thinks must be an unconscious effort to make himself smaller. "They've all got work and stuff."
Bucky feels his eyes narrow, just for a second, but he pushes the feeling of suspicion back. Sometimes that kind of thing just happens. "Well," he says instead, "their loss. Let's go see about this crazy new grub."
The place Steve takes him is called Los Rios, and Steve explains that the food is the kind that comes from Mexico. Bucky's never had Mexican food before, not really, because he's never really been around Mexican people. There weren't a lot of Spanish types in Brooklyn. He mentions as much, and Steve nods, then smiles up at the waiter who comes to put a bowl of chips and another bowl of some kind of chunky red stuff on their table. "Two waters, please," he says, and then he asks for two things that Bucky has never heard of before.
The young man nods and disappears, and Bucky tries repeating one of the unfamiliar words. "What the hell's kay-so?"
"Queso." Steve spells it. "It's a kind of cheese, it's really good on the chips. And the other thing is guacamole. It's spelled with a g, but you don't say the g." He shrugs. "It's Spanish. Anyway, it's made out of avocado, which is a green thing, but it's really good, you'll like it." He grabs a chip and scoops up some of the chunky red stuff. "This is salsa. It's spicy."
Bucky shrugs and grabs his own chip. Like hell he's going to turn down a challenge, however implicit, from Steve fuckin' Rogers. He's pleasantly surprised by the taste of the salsa. When the queso and the guacamole come, he tries both of them, and is pleased about that as well. They look over the menu and he genuinely doesn't know what to order, so when Steve suggests a combination platter, he goes with it.
Tacos, he determines a little bit later, may in fact be the world's most perfect food. He demolishes the three on his plate and is appalled to discover that he is actually sad about not having any more of them. Then he tries the enchilada. His mind is blown - how can cheese and onions and red sauce taste so damn good? He doesn't understand it, but he all but inhales it. Then he tries the chimichanga.
By the time they stroll out of the restaurant - after Bucky learns about sopapillas and chimichangas with cheesecake in them, he is not sure he will ever eat again, but he is sure that if he does, it will be Mexican food. Steve is laughing softly. "This is just the start, Buck," he explains, slinging a companionable arm around Bucky's shoulders the way Bucky always used to do for him. "There's so much stuff now that we didn't have before. There's an Ethiopian place around the corner from the apartment that's amazing, and there's Thai and Indian and - oh! There's a kind of Japanese food called sushi, it's actually raw fish on rice."
"Bullshit!" Bucky exclaims.
"No, I swear it's true," Steve promises. "I had a really hard time convincing myself to try it, but some of it's good. I mean, some of it's disgusting, but some of it's delicious."
"You are full of shit, Rogers," Bucky replies. "Ain't nobody eatin' no raw fish."
Steve just smirks. "I know what we're having for lunch tomorrow."
Bucky's new clothes have been delivered when they get back; there's a note from the building super on the apartment door saying that he let the delivery guy in. The boxes and bags are all stacked neatly just inside the door, and Steve and Bucky carry them all upstairs. There's a moment at the top of the stairs when Steve hesitates for just a second, his eyes cutting between the door of his own bedroom, where Bucky spent part of the night curled up around him, and the door across the hall, which is presumably a spare bedroom.
Bucky reaches out and gives Steve a hard nudge in the back of the knee with his toe. "Quit bein' a punk."
"Hey, fuck you," Steve replies mildly. "I was tryin' to be considerate."
"Uh-huh. Considerate your ass into the bedroom and make some space in that Rockefeller closet for my stuff."
They spend the rest of the day sprawled out on the couch watching documentaries on Netflix. Once Steve explains what Netflix is, and how it works, and the fact that they can literally choose to watch whatever they want, whenever they want it, Bucky is astonished and amazed. And then he's addicted. He chooses a show about beavers first, because they're cute and they can cut down trees with their teeth. Then Steve chooses one about volcanoes. Then Bucky decides the one about aliens looks interesting, and they discover that it's a whole series. They debate, and they decide that it won't hurt to watch one; if it's boring, they can always pick something else.
Six hours and an entire box of microwave popcorn later, Bucky is half-convinced that the aliens were shooting laser lights out of the pyramids and Steve has drawn four pages of studies featuring Giorgio Tsoukalous's hair. Steve is sprawled out on the couch and Bucky is cradled between his thighs, his left hand resting on Steve's kneecap where Steve's right leg is across Bucky's lap. Steve's heavy lidded gaze is focused on the television as he listens to a guy with a Germanic accent explain about how parts of the Old Testament are about alien spaceships.
The only light in the room is coming from the television screen, and Bucky finds himself watching how it washes over Steve's face, illuminating the shadows under his eyes and the planes of his face, and turning him, just for a moment, back into the skinny, pointy-faced kid Bucky used to know only a day or so ago. Bucky closes his eyes and silently prays for his own Stevie's health and safety. Then he rests his right hand on Steve's leg and starts slowly sliding it upward toward his crotch.
Steve's eyes shift from the television to Bucky's face, and his lips slowly start to curl up into the same sweet smile Bucky remembers. Bucky's own lips twist up into a grin in reply, and his fingers find the button of Steve's pants, flicking it open and then grasping the zipper's tab. His fingers slide in through the flap of Steve's boxer shorts and gently wrap around Steve's cock, his hand sliding up and down slowly, gauging Steve's interest in the proceedings.
Steve is extremely interested, and his filling cock proves it. Bucky waits until it's a little over halfway to full hardness before shifting in place on the couch, turning to face Steve and bracing himself on his right knee, bending over Steve's hips and taking the thick head of Steve's cock into his mouth.
This is the same. Steve's cock is bigger, yes, and longer, but the taste is the same, the smell is the same: bitter-salty, like ocean water, with the tang of the day's sweat behind it and a thick masculine musk that clung to Steve even when he was five-foot-nothing. Bucky closes his eyes and relishes that familiarity, revels in the way that his mouth and his heart know who it is underneath him even if the ways their bodies fit together have changed. This is still Steve, his Steve, and it always will be.
He takes it slow. Used to be, he couldn't tease Stevie like this; he'd get all worked up and then his lungs would seize up or his heart would start to rabbit, and they'd have to stop again and let him calm down before he had some kind of attack. But this Steve, this new and improved and twice-as-much-as-before Steve, he can take the kind of torture that little Stevie never could. So Bucky takes his time. He shifts again until he's lying on his stomach, his elbows on either side of Steve's hips and his hands resting on Steve's cloth-covered rib cage. He doesn't let Steve take any of his clothes off. He doesn't let Steve thrust up into his mouth.
He doesn't let Steve come.
He just closes his eyes and he loses himself in it, in the smell of Steve and the taste of Steve and the feel of Steve's cock in his mouth. He mouths at the head and he nibbles his way down the shaft and he licks his way back up. He noses down into Steve's jeans to lick at Steve's balls and then slides back up again to suckle, the tip of his tongue delving into the slit. He covers his teeth with his lips and works at the foreskin, sliding it back up and then back down again. And he does all of this to the sweet musical accompaniment of Steve's groans and sighs and gasps and broken pleas for mercy.
There is no mercy in Bucky Barnes this night.
He keeps Steve on the edge for what feels like hours, reveling in the power that he feels in this act. There were, and probably still are, those who would claim that this act, between two men, was some form of degradation, but with Steve Rogers's cock in his mouth, Bucky Barnes has never felt closer to God.
He finally relents when Steve's voice breaks on a high, wavering cry, and Bucky thinks that he might actually weep if pushed too much farther. He bends himself in with a will, swallowing Steve's cock down to the root and holding it with the ease of long practice, the muscles in his throat working around Steve's cockhead as he swallows and fights not to choke. Steve's hands bury themselves in Bucky's hair, and he comes with a howl, ecstasy indistinguishable from agony as he pours himself into Bucky's throat, his hips thrusting upward once, twice, a third time before he sags, boneless, to the couch.
Bucky pulls back, gasping for air, and coughs once in reaction. His face is flaming red, he knows, and there are tears of exertion trailing down from the corners of his eyes. He wipes at his face, breathing deeply, and when Steve's eyes finally slit open, Bucky offers him his best grin. "Yeah," Bucky says, "I ain't even gotta ask."
Steve opens his mouth to make some kind of retort, but the only thing that comes out is a weak sort of wheeze. Bucky just laughs.
True to his word, Steve drags Bucky to the sushi place the next day. It's tiny, just a little hole in the wall where Bucky thinks there used to be a millinery shop, and the sign beside the door says "Kato Sushi." A little bell rings over the door when Steve pushes it open, and he gestures for Bucky to precede him inside.
A tiny, old Japanese woman comes out of the back room through a curtained alcove. "Hello!" she greets him enthusiastically in somewhat imperfect English. "Come, come, you come in, sit here at bar - " And then she freezes for just a moment, her eyes widening almost comically as she looks at Steve over Bucky's head. "Steve!" she exclaims. "You bring a friend today?"
"Yeah," Steve replies, his cheeks going a little red as Bucky glances back at him. "Atsuko-san, this is my friend Bucky. Bucky, this is Miss Atsuko; she runs this place."
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you," Bucky says, calling on all of his charm to give her his best smile. He glances back at Steve again. "Guess you come in here a lot, huh?"
"Oh, yes," Miss Atsuko says, pulling Bucky to a seat at the long counter and then shoving Steve along to a spot beside him. "Steve come here many time. Always alone. I tell him all the time, you pretty young man, go out, find you friend!" She grins now, wide and bright. "Now he have friend, very good, bring friend to come have sushi!" And she pats Steve on the head.
Bucky can't help it; he laughs. "Yeah," he says. "It's obvious somebody needs to be watchin' out for this punk."
Atsuko clucks at them a little bit longer, and then she vanishes back into the back again. She reappears momentarily with a tray, bearing two glasses of water, two tiny china cups, and a tall flask. She offloads everything, pats Bucky on the head, and vanishes again.
Steve picks up the flask to pour. "This is sake," he says. "It's rice wine. It's really strong, or at least, that's what I'm told. My metabolism is so fast now that it doesn't touch me, but Darcy says she has to be very careful with it or she gets drunk really fast."
Bucky takes the warning to heart; it's only midday, and he has no intention of being seen looped on the streets of Brooklyn, even if his Ma isn't around to be shamed by it. They sip the sake, talking quietly, for a few minutes, until a tiny, old Japanese man comes through the curtained alcove on the other side of the counter. His seamed face creases in a grin at the sight of Steve, and he says, "You bring friend today! Is good! I make good sushi for you today."
"Jirou-san, you always make good sushi," Steve replies. "My friend Bucky has never had sushi before, though."
"Ah," Jirou replies, nodding. "You bring him here to teach him, same as we teach you." He cocks an eyebrow in Bucky's direction. "First time Steve come in, he wander like lost. I say, what you want? He say, don't know. Someone say eat sushi but he never have. I say, okay, I make sushi for you, you love it." The whole time he's talking, his hands are busy on the counter, spreading out a green sheet, covering it with sticky rice, adding ingredients that Bucky can't identify. He rolls it up and then chops up the roll with his knife, arranges the slices on a plate with some kind of pink stuff and some other kind of green stuff.
Steve has chopsticks in his hand already, and reaches out to pluck one of the pieces off the plate. "And don't worry if you don't like one," he says. "I'll eat it even if you don't."
And like hell does Bucky Barnes back down from a challenge issued by Steve fuckin' Rogers. He picks up his own chopsticks, watches Steve to figure out how to use them, and (after a couple of false starts) picks up one of the pieces. Steve sticks the whole thing in his mouth, so Bucky does, too, and chews with no small amount of trepidation. This would not be the first time Steve ate something gross to trick Bucky into doing it, too.
He feels his eyebrows shoot towards his hairline, and Steve's smile turns from satisfied to smug. Bucky pokes him with his chopsticks and goes back for a second piece. Jirou makes a pleased sound and begins making another roll of something. Bucky gets them to tell him the names of the things they are eating, because the words are all interesting and new - maguro and toro and tamago and unagi, california roll and spicy tuna roll and eel roll - and Bucky eats them all with gusto. Jirou just beams at him.
They fetch up on the street around one, leaving the restaurant as other people are starting to filter in, and Bucky says, "Okay. I'm convinced."
"Excellent," Steve replies, smug as anything. "Thai next."
The thing that bothers Bucky, he realizes about the fourth day, is that most of those people he thought were Steve's friends apparently, well, aren't.
Steve has a phone that he keeps in his pocket. (He gets one for Bucky, too, and Bucky tries to remember to keep it with him.) He has a whole bunch of numbers in the contacts list on that phone. It occasionally beeps with a text message from Sam, who lives in Washington, or from Darcy, who is extremely busy but makes it a point to check in with Steve at least once a day. Bucky thinks, but doesn't say, that Darcy has noticed the same thing he has.
So the phone occasionally beeps. It doesn't ring very much at all.
Stark calls a couple of times: once because he and Reed Richards want Bucky to come to the tower and be scanned for some kind of particles (it takes about half an hour and then they're done, wandering Manhattan with nothing else to do), and once because he wants Steve to come in and test out a new kind of body armor (Steve is clearly reluctant but promises to come). Natasha calls once, something about training, and Steve begs off but promises to be there "next time."
Nobody comes around to see Steve. Nobody invites him out places. Steve pretty much sits at home, or wanders around Brooklyn. He gets up every morning and runs - an activity to which Bucky is pretty opposed, until he realizes that Steve is doing it (like everything else) alone - and he stops at one of a dozen little cafes or diners for breakfast when he's done. He's a regular at every single one of them, and the staff always seem surprised and pleased that he has a friend when they discover that Bucky is with him.
Possibly the worst part is that Bucky isn't sure Steve realizes what his life is. Time was that Steve Rogers left his apartment of a morning and didn't come back to it until the night fell. He worked and he socialized and he came by to see Bucky's Ma and he checked on old Mrs. Wachowski; he went up to the church to confession or sometimes just to pass the time of day with Father Flanigan; he stopped in front of the barbershop to play a game of checkers with the barber's old Pops, who sat out there in the sun all day.
Everywhere Steve went, people had a nod or a smile for him, even the dames who didn't see him romantically still liked and appreciated him. Hell, even some of the gangsters, like Mickey Callahan, liked Steve; Bucky wasn't the only one who'd pulled Steve out of a scrape back in the day, and Bucky owed Mickey Callahan a debt he could never repay for the time Mickey stood between Steve and a line-up in an alley back in 1934.
But this new Steve is different. Sure, in the places where he's a regular, folks smile to see him and greet him friendly-like, but on the street, nobody speaks. Nobody tips their hat, or calls a greeting, or even just smiles and waves. When people do notice Steve, when they do recognize him, they oftentimes get huge eyes and awed expressions, and Bucky knows they're thinking of the aliens or that building in D.C. with the aircraft carriers. They aren't seeing Steve; they're seeing a fellow in a stupid blue suit with a shield.
It doesn't take Bucky very long to decide that he doesn't care for this state of affairs very much at all. And because he's Bucky Barnes, and Bucky Barnes will always take care of Steve Rogers no matter what, he waits until Steve is in the shower after their run on the sixth day, and he goes downstairs and pulls his phone out.
He can hear the sound of traffic when Darcy answers. "Hey, Bucky! How's it going?"
"Not so great, actually," Bucky says. "I need to talk to you. Stark's been pestering Steve to come up there and do something with his uniform; can I come by and see you?"
"My door is always open to you," Darcy replies, and her tone is firm and serious. "Are you coming by today?"
"No, I think Steve said something about tomorrow."
"Tomorrow's fine, too," Darcy assures him. "Just tell JARVIS that you need my office and he can drop you off on the right floor."
"Thanks, Doll," Bucky says. "I'll see you sometime tomorrow."
He and Steve end up spending the rest of the day in front of the television again; they finish watching Ancient Aliens and then they accidentally stumble upon the horror that is Hoarders. A bit of injudicious web-surfing in the wake of a couple episodes of that show leads them straight down the slow-train-wreck rabbit hole that is reality television, and they spend several hours gaping at the screen and trying to figure out just how the hell the world went from radio plays like "The Shadow"to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Halfway through the first episode of Duck Dynasty, Bucky turns the television off with extreme prejudice and says, "Ain't you got a pack of cards, Stevie?" They spend the rest of the evening playing gin rummy and feeling much better about themselves.
By the time Bucky makes it to Darcy's office the next day, he's not in the best mental space. Steve didn't sleep much the night before - he kept having nightmares, and wouldn't tell Bucky what they were about, only clutched at him in the night and woke himself up shivering or choking or - in one horrible instance that Bucky hopes never to repeat again - keening softly and reaching out as though trying to take hold of something that was just out of his grasp.
When Steve doesn't sleep, neither does Bucky - something else that hasn't changed just because the rest of the world has - and then they argued over breakfast, so it is with a giant carry-out cup of coffee and dark circles under his eyes that Bucky drops into one of the very comfortable leather chairs in Darcy's elegantly appointed office (sixty-eighth floor, corner, floor-to-ceiling windows and a receptionist out front).
"Thanks, Jameson," Darcy says. "Can you please hold all my calls until Bucky and I are done? I don't know how long I'll be, and this is important."
Jameson nods and leaves, pulling the door shut behind him. Bucky takes a minute to look around the room with tired eyes. "Pretty ritzy," he says.
"Yeah, I've been working in this office for a couple of months now and I still catch myself tucking in my elbows to keep from knocking anything over." Darcy does something at her desk, then stands and crosses the room, sitting down on the other leather chair. She leans back and crosses her legs. "So, what's up, Bucky? You sounded pretty serious on the phone."
"It's about Steve," Bucky says. He sits forward, his elbows on his knees, and he stares at the top of his coffee cup for a long moment, trying to figure out how to put his concern into words. Finally he just says, "How long has he been like this?"
Darcy's brow furrows. "Like what?"
"You know," Bucky says, frustration bubbling in the back of his throat. "All... with the... the diners, and running alone, and reading the Internet all day and, and..." He waves a hand in frustration. "Being... He never does anything, he just... he just sits around being all... I don't even... God, I can't even explain it. He's just. Ugh!" He puts his coffee aside on a little glass table and pushes himself to his feet, pacing across the carpet.
"He gets up in the morning and he goes running, right? So now I go with him. And then we stop and have breakfast at a diner or something. And they're always fucking surprised. Like, oh look everybody, Steve brought a friend! Of course he brought a fucking friend! Why wouldn't he? Only except for, it don't look like he ever does. So we have breakfast and the waitresses flirt, and he smiles and he calls 'em ma'am which I guess nobody does any more, and they giggle, and then he leaves."
He runs his hands through his hair, turning to face the window rather than looking at the expression of polite confusion on Darcy's face. He thought she got it - but he's starting to think maybe he was wrong. "So we go home," he continues, his voice getting a little soft. "And we take a shower and get dressed for the day, like we're gonna go do somethin', right? Only it's like he can't think of nothin' to do. He don't have Mrs. Anderson to go run errands for, or the queens down at the St. George. He don't have a job any more, I guess, so he can't go to work. Sometimes he'll start to draw somethin', but it's like he gets partway into it and he just don't see the point no more, so he stops."
Bucky glances over his shoulder and notes that Darcy is sitting up now, turned in her seat and watching him, with an expression he can't parse. So he continues. "So maybe he reads a book, or he looks up stuff on the Internet outta that book he's got. He tries to cook somethin', or he drags me out someplace for lunch to try out some new kinda food I've never had before. And do you know," he asks, turning to face her, "that's the only time I ever see him get excited about anything? When he realizes I haven't had sushi yet, or Thai food, or seen some film, or heard some new kinda music. When he gets to show me something that's new, he just fuckin' lights up." He shakes his head.
Darcy is chewing on her lip, looking like she's thinking very hard about something. She says, "Go on."
He shakes his head. "That's it, though. That's all he ever does. He runs. He eats. And half the time he eats like it tastes like cardboard. He tries to read, he tries to draw, he tries to watch TV, but it's the same every time, like halfway through, he forgets why he was doin' it and he looks at it like there ain't no point, and he just quits." He swallows hard. "Darcy, I ain't never seen Steve Rogers give up in my life, but I've seen it four times a day since I came here."
Darcy's expression clears up and goes totally blank. Bucky has a feeling she's putting something together in her mind. "Bucky," she says, leaning forward now, "aside from you, when's the last time he spent any time with his friends?"
And Bucky laughs bitterly. "What friends?" he asks simply.
Natasha Romanov corners him in the media room and barks at him in Russian. He's startled the first time, confused the second, and frustrated the third. "I don't understand you!" he finally explodes at her after the fifth. "I don't speak Russian. I told you that four times already. I don't understand why you keep speaking it at me!"
She refuses to explain herself; instead, she folds her arms and glowers at him. In response, he turns his back on her and goes to the couch, pulling his book out of his pocket and sitting down to read and ignore her. It might be childish, but it's the best he's got under the circumstances. After his conversation with Darcy, (and, really, after the past six days) he kind of wants to shout at her about Steve, but he doesn't. He controls himself.
What surprises him is when she comes and sits down at the opposite end of the couch a few minutes later. "You're really not him, are you?"
"I'm me," he responds firmly.
She shakes her head. "He would never have turned his back on me," she says. "And he speaks Russian. What I said - well, let's just say he couldn't have faked a lack of understanding."
"Yeah, well, I hear he's got a metal left arm, too," Bucky replies, raising his own left arm and waggling the pink fingers at her.
She waves a hand. "Those things can be faked," she says airily.
He rolls his eyes. "Whatever," he says, a simple and useful word-and-gesture combination that he learned from a girl in a coffee shop the previous morning, and he turns his attention back to his book. He's sorry if the other Bucky was friends with this woman (not really), but he's not that other Bucky, and the sooner everybody gets that figured out, the better off they'll all be.
It's not that he minds when people forget he's not that other Bucky - not exactly. But he stumbled across some of the news footage from D.C. online and he saw, he saw what that other Bucky did to Steve and that... that's just not acceptable. Because there's no way on God's green earth that he would ever hurt Steve - never - and the idea that some version of him somewhere was capable of that...
Well, it's just not okay.
Even worse is the idea that the other Bucky is in his world now, maybe even pretending to be him, with his Ma and his sisters and his tiny, sickly Steve, and that's worse because Steve told him that the other Bucky was brainwashed and programmed - like a machine or something! - to try and kill him, and what if he doesn't understand the difference and he tries to kill that Steve? That Steve whose heart races when he climbs stairs and who catches pneumonia any time the wind blows crooked outta the north?
He grinds his teeth together, tossing his book aside and stalking across the room to stare out the window. He can't think about that. He'll go crazy.
He hears her blow out a breath with a sound of frustration. "I won't apologize," she says. "I have a responsibility to - "
Responsibility? he thinks. Where's that been while Steve's dyin' inside out there in Brooklyn? "I don't want your apology," he snaps. "And I don't care about your responsibility." He continues to glare out the window for a long moment before he says, "You know what? To hell with this." He turns and crosses the room, entering the elevator and viciously stabbing the "L" button. Once the door slides shut, he says. "JARVIS?"
"Yes, Mr. Barnes," the computer voice says smoothly.
"When Steve gets out of his meeting with Stark, will you please tell him I went home?"
"Certainly, sir," JARVIS agrees easily. He's the most agreeable person – for a fluid definition of person – that Bucky's met in this new world, aside from Steve himself and maybe Darcy. He adds, "Would you like for me to arrange a car for you, sir?"
"No, thanks, pal," Bucky says. "I'll walk it."
"Certainly, sir." There's a pause, and then JARVIS says, almost gently, "May I inquire as to whether you have your mobile phone, sir?"
"Oh." Bucky's still not used to carrying the damn thing, but it makes Steve feel better to know they can get in touch if it's necessary. And he has to admit that's convenient. He digs into his pocket and pulls out the phone, swiping the screen to check the battery icon. "Yeah, JARVIS, I've got it. And it's even got a full charge."
"Excellent. Thank you, sir."
"Nah, JARVIS, thank you for watchin' out for me. I know I don't always sound like it, but I do appreciate it."
"Of course, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?"
"Nah, pal, I'm good."
The elevator slows to a stop and the doors slide open. "A good afternoon to you, then, Mr. Barnes," JARVIS says. Bucky gives a nod in the direction of the ceiling camera, then steps out and crosses the lobby, heading for the doors.
Once he hits the street, he feels better almost immediately. He loses himself in the crowds of pedestrians, merging into the crowds with the ease of a city native. He jams his hands into the pockets of his hooded jacket and makes his way up the street, glaring with a generalized, free-floating sort of anger at the buildings around him. They aren't right. They aren't his buildings. They're too tall, and they're ugly, and everything is just wrong and he sort of really hates his life right now. He wishes there were rocks to kick or something; he'd really like to kick some rocks or something right now.
At Sixty-First, a light goes on in his head and he turns left; two long blocks later he's in Central Park, and he's kicking rocks left and right as he makes his way up a path and into the park. There's a black knot of anger simmering in his chest despite the bright midday sun, and he decides that he needs something to take his mind off his problems. Wallowing never helped anybody, that's what his Pops always says, usually right before he decides Bucky needs a refresher about what the regular workers do on a day-to-day basis and throws him out on a line shift for a couple of days.
Besides, maybe if he can get his head cleared, he can figure out what to do about Steve.
He hooks a right into the Central Park Zoo and ponies up the almost twenty bucks to get into the gate. It almost feels meaningless, spending money, because he's not even using cash; Steve gave him a little card called a "MasterCard" and anytime someone wants money, he just has to swipe the card. He explained it as buying on credit, which Bucky knows about because he always has to - used to - buy Steve's medicine on credit, but that just went on a ledger at the pharmacist. And Bucky gets that the card goes on the Internet somehow, but Steve doesn't really understand how it works and couldn't really explain it. He swears it works almost everywhere, though, and so far every time Bucky's needed to use it, he's been able to.
So he swipes the card and signs the slip and they let him into the zoo, and he wanders around for a little bit, looking. He passes the petting zoo and pauses, leaning against a tree, to watch a tiny girl in overalls throw her arms around the neck of a long-suffering goat. He chuffs a soft laugh at the look of patient acceptance in the goat's eyes. I know the feeling, pal, he thinks to himself. His lips twist a little sourly as he thinks about the incident that morning over breakfast – the one that had led or at least greatly contributed to his current lousy mood.
"I've got that meeting with Stark this afternoon," Steve said over toast and eggs. "I guess he wants me to try to break some things for him, and he said he's got some design ideas for the new uniform he wants to go over with me, too."
"Okay," Bucky replied. "You mind if I go with?"
Steve shrugged. "Whatever you want to do is fine. You could use the gym or the swimming pool at the tower; I'm sure Stark wouldn't mind. Or the media room."
"Yeah, sure." Bucky nodded. "Or I might walk down and see Darcy, if she's not busy."
Steve smiled. "I'm sure she'd like that."
"Yeah, she was talkin' movies the other day, sayin' somethin' about introducing me to the modern body-horror genre. Something about saws and human centipedes, I dunno. To be honest, sometimes I think she's just tryin' to see how far she can push my old fashioned sensibilities." He said the last three words in a sarcastic tone.
Steve laughed. "If it was anybody but Darcy, I'd agree with you, but she's usually pretty genuine. If she suggested something, most of the time, it's genuine. Now, that's not to say that she won't suggest something she doesn't really think you'll like just to find your limits. She did that with me on music; it's how we discovered that I have very little tolerance for boy bands."
Bucky blinked. "The hell is a boy band?"
"Don't ask." Steve shook his head, standing up to carry his plate to the sink. "That said, I don't know if body-horror is such a great idea. I... I've seen a couple of the Saw movies, and I'm not sure ... after Azzano."
Bucky was silent for long enough that Steve turned around to look at him, one eyebrow raised inquiringly. Bucky's jaw clenched hard when he swallowed, pushing his plate away. "What's Azzano, Stevie?" he asked, not liking the roughness of his voice as he forced the words out.
Steve blinked, and Bucky saw the moment that understanding dawned on him. "Oh," he said simply.
"Yeah," Bucky replied. He stood up and left the room, his fists clenching. He was too upset already; if either of them said anything else, there was gonna be a fight, and for once in his life, Bucky wasn't sure he could win it and didn't really want to. So, unlike Steve, he walked away.
The trip to the tower was accomplished in silence once it became obvious that Bucky wasn't interested in talking about it, and when Steve got off the elevator at Stark's lab, Bucky punched the close door button as quickly as he could, refusing to look at Steve's stupid sad-puppy face. He went down and talked to Darcy (which didn't help much), and after that, JARVIS obligingly carried him back up to the media center, where he found a book and a comfortable spot to sit and be angry for a while.
And then, of course, Romanov showed up.
Bucky feels his lip curl in anger and turns away from the petting zoo, not wanting to scare anybody. He stalks up a random path that has less people than his other options, eventually finding himself alone on a walkway over an enclosure that holds big cats. He leans over the wall for a few minutes, watching them, until he feels the familiar itch in the back of his brain.
Looking around carefully to make sure nobody's watching, he hoists himself up onto the rock wall above the cat enclosure, drawing on two decades' worth of experience going up and down Brooklyn fire escapes to scramble quickly up the angled surface to a funny wasted-space alcove that's almost out of sight. If he doesn't draw any attention, he should be okay there.
He reaches it without being spotted and tucks himself in carefully; it's just large enough to shield his body from view when he sits down cross-legged. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the sketchbook that always resides there (and how lucky is he that he had it in his pocket the day he switched?). The mechanical pencil he swiped from Steve's art table is in the pencil loop on the sketchbook's cover; Bucky pulls it out, flips to a blank page, and starts roughing in the shape of the cat habitat.
One of the things Bucky and Steve have always had in common was their art. It was how they met; Bucky had encountered the skinny little wisp of nothing that was Steve Rogers in the process of getting pushed into the dirt by some bigger boys who were messing with him about his sketchbook and his art. Bucky, who also carried a sketchbook and a pencil at all times, understood about drawing and was big enough (and well-respected enough in the neighborhood) that when he took up for Steve, sending Tommy O'Malley howling home with a bloody nose and a split lip in the process, the bullying about his art stopped.
He lets the organic lines of the cat enclosure unspool under his fingers, light and shadow and dirt and grass, the lazy sweep of a long tail, the graceful curve of a furry, spotted back. His frustration slowly bleeds out of him as the cat takes shape on the page, its powerful form reclined against stone, and as he roughs in the shape of the cat's face, erasing and forming and shaping, he feels the anger go with it.
He takes a deep breath, tipping his head back and closing his eyes, letting the sun warm his face. It isn't Steve's fault, he reminds himself fiercely. It isn't Steve's fault this all happened. He can't help it; look at everything he's been through. With a soft sigh, he raises his head. He turns his attention back to the cats, but when he bends his head to glance at the sketchbook again, a flash of orangey-red catches his attention. He blinks, then sighs again in resignation when he recognizes Romanov, who is standing in his earlier spot, leaning against the wall and looking down at the cats.
"Are you coming up, or am I coming down?" he calls out.
"You should come down," she replies. "They close in an hour anyway."
With a sigh, he tucks the pencil back into its loop and stands, clambering back down to the ground level. He brushes off the seat of his jeans, then folds his arms across his chest. "So, what, I'm not allowed out without a babysitter now? I am full grown, you know, and it might be the future, but it's still New York."
"You told JARVIS you were going home," she says, rather than answering.
He shrugs. "So? I'm pretty sure I can do what I want. And I am going home, eventually."
"Steve will panic if you're not there."
"Steve will get over it," Bucky snaps. "And if all you're here to do is scold me like a maiden auntie, you can take it right back to the tower. I ain't interested." His eyes narrow. "You do this to Steve, too, when he first woke up? Trail him all over the city like a child that might lose his way home?"
"I know it's difficult for you to understand, James, but this isn't your world, and - "
"I know that!" His shout stops her talking – in fact, draws a split-second of shock to her face – and he steps forward, getting right into her face. "I know it's difficult for you to understand, sweetheart, on account of you keep talkin' to me like you think I'm somebody else. I ain't him. I ain't James, I ain't that Winter Soldier guy, I ain't a soldier, I ain't none of that. I'm just me. Bucky Barnes. And maybe I don't know all your fuckin' movie references or what a fellow wears on a date these days with a dame he likes, but I ain't stupid, neither, and I sure as shit don't need you hoverin' over me like I ain't been runnin' around New York by myself since I was in fuckin' short pants."
He turns and starts to walk away, and then he stops and turns back. "And I'll tell you somethin' else you don't know, lady. Steve Rogers ain't no shrinkin' fuckin' violet. He was right out there runnin' the streets with me, from Brooklyn to Harlem and on up to Queens and even into the Bronx a time or two. You think me not bein' there when he gets there is gonna panic him? You clearly don't know him nearly as well as you think you do."
"I've never claimed to know anything about him."
"Bullshit." Bucky spits to one side. "Every one of you idiots up there in your big fancy tower thinks you know him. Tony thinks he's an idiot; you think he's some kinda wilting flower; Clint thinks he's some kinda fresh-faced virgin girl on the verge of takin' Holy Orders. Every one of you, you look at him and you see that idiot in the newsreels wearin' a stupid costume and carryin' a shield. Well, I knew him when he was a foul-mouthed punk kid throwin' rocks at the coppers that was tryin' to break up Socialist meetings. You might think you know about this Captain America chump, but I know Steve Rogers."
He stuffs his sketchbook back into his pocket, and he gives her one final glare. "You keep fuckin' following me, I'll make sure you regret it," he promises. Then he turns and he stalks away.
It's nearly dark when Bucky finally does make it back to that Brooklyn apartment, but he's brought a peace offering with him. He enters with bags of Chinese food in his hands – he and Steve both really like Chinese food – and he calls out, "Hey, Stevie!" as he comes through the door.
"Upstairs," Steve calls back, and from the sound of his voice, Bucky thinks he must have been working in the studio.
"I brought dinner," he says, leaning over the banister to look up the staircase, and Steve leans over to look back, a charcoal streak alongside his nose. Bucky grins at the sight.
"Be right down," Steve replies, grinning back. "Let me wash the charcoal off."
Bucky nods, then goes back into the kitchen to dump the food out of the cartons and into proper dishes. He's seen people on television eat with their chopsticks directly out of the cardboard packaging; he doesn't approve. They might be living in the future, but they don't have to act like savages.
By the time Steve makes it down, the food is spread across the table, and Bucky is just getting out plates and forks. Steve smiles, stepping up tentatively to press a kiss to Bucky's lips. Bucky reciprocates; there's mutual apologies and forgiveness in the touch that neither of them quite knows how to vocalize. "This looks great, Buck," he says. "Thank you."
"Sure thing," Bucky replies. He hands Steve a plate and they sit, passing bowls back and forth for a few minutes. Bucky waits until they've both had a chance to get a little bit of food in, and then he says, "Say, Stevie, there's somethin' I've been wondering about."
"Hmm?" Steve inquires around a mouthful of noodles.
Bucky spears a piece of sauce-covered beef. "What, um. What do you do? Like, when you're not takin' off to show me around the twenty-first century or goin' up to the tower to try on your new uniform. What do you do?"
"Well, um." Steve pauses, putting his fork down and rubbing awkwardly at the back of his head. "Not a whole lot, as it turns out."
Bucky tilts his own head. "What do you mean?" he asks, even though he pretty much knows. He wants to hear Steve say it for himself.
"Well," Steve begins. "I was working for SHIELD, you know? Doing... missions and things. Because of the serum, and all. Because there's not a whole lot of people who can do what I can do. But since SHIELD isn't there any more..." He shrugs. For a long moment, he doesn't meet Bucky's eyes, clearly working through something. Finally, he looks up and he says, "Since SHIELD went down, I've been chasing Bucky – the other Bucky – across the continent. We, by which I mean Sam and I, stayed consistently about a day to two days behind him, hunting for where he might be, and following the trail of the dead. We'd just come in for a few days' rest and to regroup, because Tony said he thought maybe he could use JARVIS to help track and anticipate where he might be going next, when I ran into you on the street."
Bucky nods. "So, what are you gonna do now?"
Steve sighs and sits back, stretching his legs out under the table and crossing them at the ankle. "I dunno, Buck," he says, his eyes looking a little hollow. "I thought about the FBI or something, maybe the NYPD, but the FBI's at just as much risk of being infected as SHIELD was, and the NYPD's no better now than it was in our day. Maybe worse."
Bucky finds himself shaking his head. "Since when'd you wanna be a copper?"
Steve shrugs. "Don't, especially. But what else am I supposed to do? I got a responsibility to – "
"Seems to me like you did what you were s'posed to do," Bucky interrupts. He gets up and goes into the living room, grabbing the tablet computer off the coffee table and coming back into the kitchen. He switches it on, then turns it so that the screen is facing Steve. "I been readin' some books Darcy gave me. It says here you got that serum and all for the war effort, right?" When Steve nods, he continues, "Well, did you or didn't you win the fuckin' war for 'em?"
Steve shrugs again. "I mean, I didn't do it by myself, but – "
"Did you or didn't you?" Bucky demands.
"Okay, I helped," Steve finally concedes. "So what?"
"Well," Bucky explains after deciding that's probably the best he's gonna get, "strikes me like you done what you said you'd do. You got the serum, you got all big, you went in and you fought their war. You damn near gave your life. Then you woke up and you saved the fuckin' world from aliens, and that still wasn't good enough for 'em? Now you've saved 'em from this HYDRA thing again and, what, you still ain't done?"
Steve is silent for a long moment, then reaches up and scrubs vigorously at his face with both his hands. He pushes his fingers into his hair, his eyes fixing blankly on the far kitchen wall, and for a long moment, Bucky isn't sure he's going to answer. Then, finally, he speaks, and what he says both surprises Bucky and doesn't surprise him at all.
"I was done," he says, and his voice is soft and oddly flat. "I was done when he fell off that train. I never wanted to live in a world where there was no Bucky Barnes, and when I had to, the only thing that kept me moving forward was knowing that I was going to get revenge. I told Peggy I was gonna wipe HYDRA off the face of the planet, and by God, I meant it. And once Schmidt was gone..." He pauses, shaking his head. When he finally meets Bucky's eyes, his own are... empty. "I wasdone."
Bucky feels his jaw tighten, but he forces himself to say the words. "You put that plane down on purpose."
Steve nods. He closes his eyes, turns his face away. "I was done," he says again. "And then they woke me up and I wasn't any more. There were aliens and monsters and terrorists. And then there was HYDRA again. And then suddenly there was Bucky again, only... only... God, what they did to him. It makes me sick thinkin' about it."
Bucky nods. He got the general idea a few days ago when he found the folder in Steve's desk; he might not read Russian, but he can damn sure understand a photograph, with or without a caption. There were several in that folder. "So you went from war to losin' him to killin' yourself," he says, and Steve's head shoots up like he's going to deny it, but Bucky just looks at him evenly until he drops his eyes, nodding his admission. "And then they woke you up and threw you right back into war. Jesus Christ, Stevie. Didn't you even get a break?"
"A break for what?" Steve asks, throwing out his hands helplessly. "What was I supposed to do, sit around in my apartment - which was almost as nice as the last one me and you had down on Montague - and stare out the fuckin' windows?"
"Well, I dunno, Stevie," Bucky shoots back. "You got all this money now, maybe you could go on a proper trip someplace. Didn't we always say we wanted to go see the Grand Canyon? How come you didn't do that?"
And Steve, to Bucky's eternal shock, breaks down, huge tears filling his eyes and falling down his face when he whispers, "How the hell was I supposed to do that without you?"
They spend the rest of the evening in bed, curled up together and wrapped in each other's arms. They don't even have sex - not that Bucky thinks Steve was in the mood to begin with. They just lie there curled up under a fleece blanket and Bucky holds Steve tight against him and whispers promises into his ear. Steve doesn't say much; he cries a little, but mostly he just lies there with his arms wrapped so tight around Bucky's waist and Bucky's fingers carding through his short hair and rubbing at the back of his neck.
Somewhere around midnight, Steve finally falls asleep. Bucky waits until he's sure Steve's not going to wake up if he moves, and he slides out of bed. He collects his phone from the nightstand and pads barefoot down the hall to the little art studio, parking himself on the chaise under the window where the streetlight shines in, and he sends a text. Are you awake?
Moments later, a reply comes. Yeah, actually. What's up?
He chews his lip for a moment and then says, Can I call you?
Sure, comes the immediate reply. He dials, and Darcy's voice is warm when she answers. "Hey."
"Hey," he says back, keeping his voice down so that he doesn't wake Steve. He runs a hand through his hair. "So, you were right, I think. When you said Steve's depressed. I made him talk to me tonight and he admitted he did the plane thing on purpose."
Darcy gives a low whistle. "Okay," she says slowly. "We need to think about this." She pauses. "I can probably find him a therapist without too much trouble - probably even somebody he'll like. But I don't know if he'll talk to them; I mean, therapy wasn't a thing when you guys were coming up, right? You didn't talk to doctors about your problems."
"No," Bucky agrees. "That's what your family's for. Your wife or your brother or your best pal, maybe. But no doctors."
"Okay. And with his metabolism, I don't know if medication would do him any good."
"They have medicine for that?" Bucky asks, startled into derailing.
"Yeah, antidepressants and mood stabilizers and things." Darcy sighs, and he hears her settle against something. "But like I said, I don't know if it'd do him any good."
Bucky nods, considering. "I think," he says slowly, "that maybe I might take him away for awhile."
There's a long silence on the other end of the line. "Away?" Darcy asks cautiously. "What do you mean?"
"Just away," Bucky says. "He ain't had a break in fightin' since before the war, Doll. It was only a week after he woke up he was fightin' aliens and then he had to go to Washington and do whatever he was doin' down there, which I guess was more fightin'. And then SHIELD. And then... the other me."
"Huh." Darcy sounds thoughtful now. "I hadn't realized that, but you're right. He's been going nonstop since 1943, which for him is, what, four years? Five years? Something like that, anyway. So you want to take him on a vacation?"
"Yeah," Bucky says. "Get out, see the country. We always talked about goin' west, seein' the Grand Canyon and stuff. Maybe... I dunno. I dunno what's out there."
"Huh." The silence on Darcy's end this time is punctuated by typing. "Bucky," she says, "you're a fucking genius."
"Yes. Yes, you are." The sound of typing is furious now. "How would you feel if I worked you up an itinerary for a month-long trip across country? It wouldn't get you to see everything out there, but seeing everything would take years anyway. This would be kind of a highlight reel, with a lot of historical stuff from the 1800s and things, and some really interesting places to go and things to do and see."
"Yeah," Bucky says. "Yeah, that sounds great."
"Awesome," Darcy replies. "I'll email it to you as soon as I get it worked up. Shouldn't take long." She pauses. "Just... keep in touch while you're gone, okay? I... I'll miss you."
"You could come with us," Bucky says impulsively, even though he already knows what she'll say.
"No, I can't," Darcy replies, her voice soft. "Even if I could take a month or more off work with no notice like that... this is for you and him. I'd be in the way, and you know it."
"Less than you'd think," Bucky replies. "But maybe you could... I dunno, you could fly out and meet us someplace, maybe? In a couple weeks?"
"Yeah, I could do that," Darcy agrees. "But in the meantime, you two need to focus on each other." She pauses, and then she says, "I'm sorry I didn't realize how badly he was hurting." There's another pause, and she sniffles. "I just thought that was how he was. Sort of stiff and... and... I dunno. Old."
"It ain't your fault," Bucky assures her. "You couldn't have known how he was before to know how different he is now. And Steve's good at puttin' up a front."
The typing on the other end of the line pauses, and Darcy says, "Can I ask you... No, you know, never mind."
Bucky rubs at the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Just ask. If I don't know, I'll tell you, and if I don't want to answer, I'll tell you that, too."
Darcy takes a deep breath. "I just... I was wondering when you and Steve got together."
"1935," Bucky replies easily. "Jeez, Doll, I thought you wanted to know somethin' hard."
"1935," Darcy repeats slowly, as though she's thinking of something. "Jesus, no wonder."
"No wonder what?" Bucky asks.
"Well, I just... I mean... Okay, you have to understand that the history that's been taught has been, for the most part, pretty heteronormative. Largely because, given the time period, there was no way you two could have been publicly out - I mean, people couldn't know."
Bucky chuckles. "I know what 'out' means," he says.
"Okay." She blows out a long, slow breath. "So most of the time, when people talk about Steve's alleged death, they talk about it in the context of this great heroic act that was undertaken to save the country and the world from the Red Skull and his nefarious plans." By the end of the sentence, her voice has taken on the tone of a breathless radio-show announcer, and Bucky can't help but breathe out a soft laugh. Then she continues, "About ten years or so ago, the transcript of his last radio contact was declassified. It's... it's pretty horrifying, if you think you're reading a conversation between a woman and the love of her life that's about to sacrifice himself to save the world."
Bucky thinks about that. He's not sure he wants to read it. "What are you gettin' at?" he asks finally.
"I'm not sure," she admits. "Just... I'm not sure anyone really understands what Steve's actually been going through. I mean, heroic sacrifice is one thing, but if he thought he was going to die - I mean, if he was trying to die because he was following his husband of ten years... it... it changes things. Doesn't it? It changes everything about what Steve's going through."
"Maybe so," Bucky says after a long moment's thought. "What... what do you think I oughta do?"
"I have no idea," Darcy replies. "Literally none. I've never even so much as taken a general psychology class. But you can ask Sam. He's a counselor with the VA."
"Sam's that guy that lives in Washington, right?"
Bucky nods. "Yeah, okay. Him I'd ask."
"What do you mean, him?" Darcy asks, catching the emphasis. "Is there someone you wouldn't - Bucky, did somebody say something to you?"
"Don't matter what anybody said to me," Bucky replies. "Matters what they don't say to him. Matters how come nobody calls him, nobody checks on him, nobody seems to give a shit about him except when they need somethin' from him." He stands up, beginning to pace. "Stark, Romanov, whoever else - everybody wants a piece of the Captain. Who gives a shit about Steve Rogers?" He blew out a breath. "You do," he adds, to be fair. "And Wilson does. But aside from you two, nobody so much as rings his phone unless they want him to do somethin' for 'em. And I'm about sick of watchin' it happen."
Darcy is silent for a long moment. Then she says, "That's it. That's the piece I was missing."
Bucky blinks. "What are you talkin' about?"
"Here's the thing," Darcy says. "Steve's out there in Brooklyn, and he's totally by himself. And that's a problem. Because like. Tony's got this tower, right, and he and Pepper live here, and Bruce lives here - has done since Tony basically made him move here after the aliens thing."
"Right," Bucky says, giving up and going downstairs for a glass of water.
"Right. Well, shortly after the thing in London that you don't know about and I will tell you another time, Tony bribed Jane to move in with promises of telescope time and labs and supercomputers. So Jane and I moved in, and Thor came with us."
"Okay," Bucky says, deciding on milk instead and pouring himself a glass.
"Well," Darcy continues, "after everything that happened in D.C., when SHIELD went kablooey, Natasha came up here to talk to Tony about putting the band back together or whatever, and he gave her an apartment, so she lives here too. As much as Natasha lives anywhere; I'm pretty sure she's got places all over, because from time to time she just disappears for long stretches. But anyway, that's not the point. So, Natasha's here. Well, wherever Natasha is, Clint isn't far behind, so as long as she's here, he's here, even though he's got a place in Bed-Stuy."
Bucky drinks his milk. "Okay?" he says, making it a question because he's obviously missed something somewhere.
"Well," Darcy says again, "the thing about Steve is that just shortly after the aliens thing, SHIELD transferred him to D.C. So he's been living there, and sort of out of the loop, I guess. And then when SHIELD collapsed, I guess he stayed with Sam for awhile. But he felt like - or at least, he told me that he felt like - that Brooklyn was the best place for him to be, with Bucky, you know? It's different, but it's familiar, and it might help him heal and start to get his memories back."
Bucky nods. "That makes sense," he admits, rinsing his glass and sticking it in the dishwasher.
"Right. So he asked Pepper to help him find a place in Brooklyn, and Pepper got him that apartment that you guys are in now. And she set it up - well, she and I and Jane, actually, we came over on a weekend when Steve shipped his stuff up and we unpacked him - and so the apartment was there, but of course Steve was off looking for Bucky and so he wasn't even in New York."
Bucky pauses at the top of the stairs. "And he said he'd just come in for a rest when he found me on the street."
"Yeah," Darcy said. "He's been in and out of the city; they'd get a lead and tear off to wherever and just miss him, and come back disappointed. Which happened just, like... maybe a day or two before you showed up? So yeah... I didn't even realize it, but while everyone else has been sort of playing dorm-mates and learning how to get along, Steve... well, he hasn't."
Now that Bucky thinks about it, that actually does explain a lot. He isn't friends with the others because he hasn't been around to make friends with them. So they probably don't feel comfortable just showing up - he gathers that people nowadays don't really do that, anyway - and if Steve has perceived them as a tight-knit group, he might feel uncomfortable about trying to break in.
That's going to have to change, too. But Bucky isn't a miracle worker; he can only focus on one thing at a time. He blows out a slow breath. "Okay," he says. "We'll deal with that when we come back."
"Right," Darcy says, suddenly brisk. "First things first. One Road Trip of Joy and Happiness, coming up." Her fingers go ballistic on the keys; he can hear them rattling like a freight train through the phone. A moment later, his own phone trills. "There," she says. "I've sent you a basic itinerary; it's actually designed to be a thirty-day cross-country trip. Obviously the two of you can take your time and go as slow as you like; if you need any logistical help, like hotel rooms or anything, you just call me and I'll take care of it. Okay?"
"Yeah," Bucky says. "Sure."
"Great," Darcy replies. "Steve can show you how to find maps and things on your phone - I know he can because I showed him how. So you've got everything you need except clothes and money right there." She pauses. "Do you need money for the trip? Because I can get you a credit card, if you need it."
"No, I don't think so," Bucky says. "I'll check with Steve and make sure before we go. And if we do," he adds hastily, "I'll keep tabs and pay you back."
Darcy chuckles. "It won't be necessary," she says. "Believe me when I tell you that if I tell Tony Stark where you're taking Steve and why, he'll be falling over himself to fund the whole trip, penthouse suites and all." She pauses. "Come to think of it, you ought to let me at least put you up in Las Vegas. The VIP treatment in that city is not to be missed."
"Sure, okay," Bucky says, suddenly impatient to get back to Steve. "But only if you come out there."
"Give me a couple days' lead time before you get there and you've got a deal."
"All right." He runs a hand through his hair. "Okay, I'll call you tomorrow before we go."
"Sounds good. Sleep well. And hey, Bucky? Thanks."
"For what?" he asks, genuinely perplexed.
"For trusting me," she says softly. And then there's a beep and the line has disconnected.
Bemused, Bucky returns to the bedroom. He plugs his phone into the charger and turns to get into the bed, only to jump in surprise at the sight of Steve's eyes glittering at him in the dark. "Jesus, Rogers," he manages. "I thought you were still asleep."
"Just woke up a little bit ago," Steve replies, rolling onto his back. "Heard you out there on the phone."
"Yeah, I was talkin' to Darcy," Bucky says. He lifts the blankets and slides in next to Steve, reaching out to pull the blond man into his arms. "C'mere, you lug, and I'll explain."
Steve comes willingly, wrapping himself around Bucky again, and Bucky finds himself carding his fingers through Steve's hair as he talks. He explains his concern that Steve hasn't been himself, and his feeling that maybe getting out of the city would be good for both of them. "Darcy said she thought it was a good idea, too, and she sent me a trip itinerary and stuff. I haven't looked at it yet, but she says it's got maps and all. And if we need a motel room or anything, she can get it."
"That..." Steve pauses, swallowing. "That actually sounds pretty great, Buck," he admits.
"Good." Bucky squeezes the back of Steve's neck warmly. "And if we give her a couple days' warning before we get there, she'll meet us in Las Vegas. She said it's a big deal out there, something about VIP treatment. I'm guessin' it's a lot bigger and fancier now than it was back in the day?"
"Alongside everything else, yeah," Steve comments wryly. "They started building casinos out there - well, you might know about that, actually, since it was when we were teenagers."
Bucky nods. "Yeah. They keep that up, then?"
"And how," Steve says.
Bucky chuckles. "Sounds like a good time."
"I'm sure it will be," Steve agrees. He takes a long, deep breath. "In fact, I think the whole thing sounds like a great time. When do you want to leave?"
Bucky makes a show of looking at the clock, and Steve laughs. Bucky leans down to kiss that smile on Steve's face. "As soon as you're ready to go, I'm ready to go," Bucky assures him. "Darcy says we can get a charge card from Stark if we need money."
"Nope," Steve replies. "I've got plenty."
"Then all I gotta do is pack some clothes and call her to tell her we're leaving," he says. "Whenever you're ready, I'm ready."
"Okay," Steve replies, sounding certain, and more light than he has since Bucky got here. "We'll leave out in the morning, then."
"Good," Bucky says. Then he leans down and kisses Steve again, warm and slow, just because he can.
Steve kisses back, and the tinge of desperation Bucky can taste on his mouth causes him to pull back, just a little bit, his fingers tracing the side of Steve's face. "Hey," he murmurs. "It's okay. I'm not goin' anywhere. Not without you, anyway."
Steve buries his face against Bucky's shoulder then, his shoulders shaking, hot tears scalding the side of Bucky's neck. Bucky wraps his arms around Steve in return, shifting to lay them both back on the mattress and then pull the blanket up over them. He cards his fingers through Steve's hair, rubbing at Steve's back with the other hand while murmuring quiet reassurances into the darkened bedroom until Steve finally drops off into an uneasy sleep once more.
This time, Bucky does not leave the bed.
When he wakes in the morning, Steve is already in the shower. Bucky rolls out of bed, shucks his pajamas, and joins him, ducking under the warm spray with a groan of happiness. "I think the hot water is the best thing about this century," he says, reaching for the shampoo.
"That and the food," Steve agrees, handing it to him.
"Although," Bucky adds, rubbing the stuff into his hair, "all the technology's pretty good, too."
"I could do without all the cameras," Steve rebuts, pushing Bucky's hands aside and replacing them with his own. His strong fingers work Bucky's scalp down to the top of his neck, and Bucky feels his knees go to jelly. He braces himself against the wall with one hand, and Steve chuckles, his hands making their slow, careful way down Bucky's back.
Bucky arches against Steve's touch. "Yeah, I get that," he agrees. "On the other hand, the new music is pretty great."
"Some of it," Steve allows. "Some of it's just noise." His hands reach Bucky's waist and slide around to the front of his body, one sliding up to pinch his flat nipples, the other down to grip his cock.
The noise Bucky makes as he leans back against Steve's chest is almost inhuman. Steve chuckles, resting his nose against the side of Bucky's neck despite the dripping shampoo. It doesn't take very many strokes to bring Bucky off, and soon he's arching and writhing in Steve's grip, striping the tile wall in front of him with white. He sags in Steve's grip and Steve chuckles again, holding him up until his legs steady.
Bucky turns then, rinsing his hair out to avoid getting the soap in his eyes, and takes his revenge, pushing Steve back against the other wall and going to his knees. Steve's eyes flutter closed as Bucky's mouth takes his cock, and his head falls back against the wall, one hand coming to rest on the top of Bucky's head, the other fisting against the tiles. Bucky closes his eyes, focusing on the taste, the smell, the weight of Steve's cock on his tongue, the sounds of pleasure falling from Steve's lips, and this is better, better even than the feel of Steve's hands on him: knowing that he can make Steve feel like this, that he can look up at Steve's face and see, for the moment, that weight taken off Steve's shoulders, that he can, for as long as this lasts, give Steve the wings to fly.
He takes it slow, wraps his own hand around his cock and strokes himself even as works Steve up to a fine froth, and by the time Steve's approaching incoherent, Bucky's hard again, his hand working with hard, quick strokes that belie the slow, languid pace of his mouth. But he knows what he's doing, and he times it just right, and when he finds himself back on that precipice, he reaches between Steve's legs with his other hand, digging his knuckles in gently just behind Steve's balls.
Steve shouts something incoherent and fills Bucky's mouth, and Steve's climax triggers Bucky's; his own cries are muffled around Steve's cock, but no less satisfied as he spills a second time on the shower floor. He takes everything Steve has to give him, swallowing it down, and when it's over, he rests his forehead against Steve's hip and takes a minute to catch his breath.
He calls Darcy a little after noon. He's standing on the back stoop, watching Steve attach saddlebags and removable luggage to the sides and back of his motorcycle so that they can pack their clothes. Neither of them is taking much: a few pairs of jeans, T-shirts, underwear, socks. They'll have to do laundry on the road, but who cares? They have their basic toiletries tucked into a small pouch, phone chargers, a first aid kit, ponchos, and helmets. Anything else they need, they can buy on the road.
"Hey," Darcy says. "Heading out?"
"About a half an hour," Bucky replies. "We're packing the saddlebags now."
"Okay. Do you need anything before you go?"
"No, Steve says we have everything. He also said to tell you thank you but we don't need Stark's money."
Darcy laughs. "I get it," she says. "It's all good. You guys be careful out there, okay? Is Steve taking his shield?"
"I don't think so," Bucky replies. "He said it was too noticeable."
"Okay." Darcy pauses, then she says again, "Just be careful out there, okay? And call me if you need anything."
"We will. Take care, Doll."
"I'll miss you," she says softly, and then she hangs up the phone.
Bucky tucks his phone in his pocket and goes to help Steve pack the luggage.
The first leg of their trip is short: it's just about a hundred miles to Philly, and they go immediately to the hotel Darcy recommended so that they can take the luggage off the bike and leave it somewhere safe. Then, with most of the day still to spend, they stand on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and engage in one of their time-honored, traditional activities.
"I dunno," Bucky says. "What do you wanna do?"
Steve gives him a look of disgust. "This whole trip was your idea," he points out.
"Yeah, so?" Bucky replies. "That don't mean I planned out every minute of it. What do you take me for?"
"If I may," the doorman interrupts. "Independence Park is a fairly popular destination; the Liberty Bell is there, and the building where the Constitution was written, and a number of other interesting historical sites and museums."
"Hey, thanks, pal," Bucky says, grinning. He shakes the guy's hand, slipping him a fiver as he does so, and then gives Steve a shove on the shoulder. "Let's go see some historical stuff."
Steve narrows his eyes at Bucky as they start down the sidewalk. "You just want to take pictures of me in front of the Liberty Bell and send them to Darcy."
"Stevie, it's almost like you know me."
They end up getting a thirteen year old girl with a school group to take their picture; she giggles at them and then teaches them about selfies, demonstrating the technique with her friend before explaining about Instagram and Snapchat at a hundred miles an hour, punctuating herself with the sound of snapping chewing gum. By the time she's done, though, Bucky has an Instagram account and it's sporting pictures of himself, Steve, and himself-and-Steve in front of the cracked bell. They thank the kids for their help and wander off to take selfies in front of more stuff.
Over dinner at a steak house, he texts Darcy a few of the photos; as predicted, she loses her mind over the one of Steve in front of the Liberty Bell. But she promises him that the one she made her phone's new wallpaper is the one of both of them in front of the First Bank building. He grins, showing Steve the text. "Think she likes us, pal," he says, nudging Steve's leg with his foot.
Steve grins back. "Think she likes you," he rebuts.
"Nah, she likes both of us," Bucky insists, leaning forward and putting his elbows on the table. "I'm startin' to think she's the only one of those people in that tower that gives a shit about you."
Steve blinks at him in obvious surprise. "Wh- Bucky, what makes you think that?"
Bucky shrugs, fiddling with the straw in his Coca-Cola. "I just... I started noticing. How nobody ever calls you except when they want you to do somethin' for 'em. Like Stark only calling on account of wantin' me to come in to be scanned or you to come break stuff or work on that uniform or whatever."
"Bucky." Steve looks like he can't decide if he wants to cry or smile. "That's not... I mean..." He pauses, shaking his head, and takes a deep breath. "Okay, so, I guess we missed a few steps. That's okay; we can go back and correct them. But the thing about Tony is that he does care – that's how he shows it. Tony was..." He trails off for a minute, his eyes going distant, seeing something that Bucky wasn't there for. "Tony's Pops, Howard, he was a good guy when I knew him. But you know what war does to guys. Look at your uncle Tommy."
Bucky raises an eyebrow. "I don't have an uncle Tommy. I have an aunt Tammy."
Steve's eyes go wide. "Well, that's awkward," he says after a moment.
Bucky laughs. "A little bit, yeah. Tammy was always a little manly, so maybe that explains it. But I know what you mean, about the guys that came back from the war bein' different. You telling me your war changed Howard, is that it?"
Steve nods. "He spent years trying to find me," he explains. "And apparently he forgot along the way that he had a kid who was alive and needed him." He shakes his head. "Tony never learned how normal people express friendship and affection. His father threw money at him, so he throws money at other people. So for him to call us up to scan you for particles, or get me to test the uniform? That's Tony's version of a friendly social call."
Bucky frowns, sitting back as the waitress arrives with their food. "Darcy said a bunch of them are livin' over there in that tower."
Steve nods. "They do. After the thing with the aliens, Tony thought we needed a sort of headquarters if we were gonna be a real team. So he built one into the tower when he fixed it up. He offered me space, but Fury wanted me in D.C., so that's where I went. And then when it was time for me to come back, he offered me the space again, but I thought Brooklyn would be better for... for Bucky." He shrugs, poking at the baked potato on his plate.
It matches what Darcy said, but Bucky suspects that there's more to it; he can tell that Steve doesn't want to talk about it right now, but they've got time. He lets it go and instead studies the steak in his plate. "Stevie," he says, "if you'da told me two weeks ago I'd be sittin' here today with you, eatin' steak in the goddamn future, I'da told you you were nuts."
"Bucky," Steve replies, "I know exactly what you mean."
They poke around Philadelphia the next morning, but there isn't much that captures their interest, so by eleven they're back on the bike and zooming down the I-95 toward Washington. Steve wasn't sure he really wanted to go back to that city, so recently the site of so much pain for him, but Bucky had commented that Sam might be unhappy if they simply drove past without stopping to say hello, and Steve acknowledged that Bucky had a point.
A little after two, Bucky follows Steve into the startlingly fancy building that housed the Veterans Affairs offices in D.C. "Man," he says softly, "I can't get used to all the glass and metal and shine."
"I know what you mean," Steve agrees, nodding. He leads the way up two flights of stairs and down a hall, and then very quietly through a set of double doors into the back of a room where a meeting is already in progress. A number of people are sitting in a rough circle of chairs, and Steve joins them wordlessly. Bucky hangs back, finding a broken-down armchair at the edge of the room and folding himself into it.
A man in a blue check shirt is speaking. His voice is low, but it carries across the room. "I knew it was coming," he says. "I could feel it coming on. But I didn't do anything about it, even though I knew I should have. And then yesterday Mikey spilled his milk at the dinner table and I snapped and threw a dish at him." He swallows hard enough that Bucky can see his adam's apple bob. "Gina got up from the table and took the kids upstairs. I thought she was just taking them to give me space to calm down, but when she came back down, she had her bags packed. She wouldn't even tell me where she was taking them."
A slender, colored man in a yellow shirt takes a deep breath, his shoulders shifting. "Paul," he says gently, "do you understand why she left?"
Paul is silent for a moment before speaking again. "I scared her," he admits. "I scared the kids, too. Made Mikey cry. And I didn't hurt him – I missed – but I might have."
"That's right," the colored man says. "And you love your kids, right? You want them to be safe, right? And you know Gina loves you, but she's those kids' mom, and she has to be responsible to keep them safe. Even from you, if that's what it comes down to." He pauses for a moment, letting those words sink in. "But Paul, the important thing is that you're here now, looking for the help you need. Because what happens if you don't get help?"
Paul takes a deep breath. "This happens again," he admits. "And maybe I don't miss next time."
"That's right," the colored man says. He's gentle, but he's firm. "I want you to stay after and let me get you in with one of the psychs, okay?"
There's a long moment of silence, and then Paul nods. "Okay."
Bucky is impressed. He's heard about this therapy business - Steve told him a little about it, and he's seen it mentioned on television and on the Internet - but he hadn't put much stock into it. It seemed like bunk, the whole idea of sitting around and wallowing in your problems and having somebody tell you it was all gonna be okay or some other pretty lie, but this isn't quite what he'd expected.
And throwin' a dish at a kid for spilling their milk is kind of shitty, so if talkin' about it will make this guy not do that any more, well, that's okay by Bucky. His own Pops had never been the type to smack - not Bucky or his sisters, and not their Ma either - but he knew some men who were. And it's one thing to know that a kid got taken out to the woodshed over some offense like poor school marks, and something else to see a kid - or a lady - sporting a shiner or a split lip.
He recalls a time when he and Steve were still boys, somewhere around their transition from short pants to long, when Katie Hanrahan from down in Cobble Hill had married Joe Miller, who lived upstairs from the Barneses. Katie was young, only sixteen or so, and Joe was a war vet in his late thirties. One warm spring night when Steve had been sleeping over, about three months after the wedding, there'd been an awful commotion from downstairs, shouting and dishes breaking and such, and Katie had screamed. It was an awful sound, one that brought Bucky and Steve both out of sound sleep in the Murphy bed in the living room.
Bucky will never forget the look on his father's face when he came out of the bedroom. His voice when he ordered the two boys back to bed had been terrible, and neither of them dared to disobey. He had taken his gun, the one he'd carried in the war, out of the wooden box on the mantel, and he had gone out the front door.
Bucky and Steve had looked at one another with huge eyes, but neither of them quite dared to go to the window and look out to see what was going on. Just a short time later, they had heard the sound of men - at least three of them, judging by the noise - going up the metal staircase on the outside of the building. Someone with a heavy fist had banged on the door of the Millers' apartment. And they had heard Bucky's Pops, in that same terrible voice, demand that Joe Miller step outside.
There had been the sound of men - at least four of them - going back down the metal staircase. Someone rapped a pattern on the Barneses' front door on the way past, and Bucky's Ma, in her robe and slippers, had come out of the bedroom. "Boys," she'd said on the way past, "take those old quilts and go sleep on the roof. And mind me, now - stay away from the edges. What's going on out there ain't none of your nevermind."
"Yes, ma'am," they'd both said in unison, scrambling to collect the old quilts from the sea chest and clamber out through the bedroom window and up the fire escape. With the obvious seriousness of the situation, neither of them had dared to disobey his mother; instead, they had built a warm nest of blankets near the rooftop garden and huddled in it without speaking until they fell asleep.
In the morning, when they came down to breakfast, Katie Miller had been sitting on the side of the Murphy bed, with Bucky's Ma tending to the injuries on her face. It had been some time before anyone in the neighborhood saw Joe Miller again, but when he finally did come home, there was no more screaming from upstairs.
"...for coming." The colored man's voice interrupts Bucky's woolgathering. "See you all again next week, same time, same channel. And remember, if you need help, call me. It's why they pay me the little bucks, right?"
There's general laughter, and the circle breaks up, people drifting from the room individually or in quiet pairs. The colored man steps aside with Paul, pulling out his phone and making a call. He makes some notes on a pad, which he hands to Paul with a warm clasp on the shoulder, and Paul leaves.
Steve stands up, a funny smile on his face that Bucky can't classify, and when the colored man approaches him, they embrace warmly. Bucky concludes that this must be Sam, and this conclusion is verified a moment later when Steve says, "Sam, I want you to meet somebody." He pulls Sam toward Bucky and Bucky stands, stepping forward. "Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes. Bucky, Sam Wilson."
Bucky sticks out his hand to shake. "Pleased to meet you," he says. "Heard a lot about you from my pal here."
Sam is shaking his head, even as he reaches out and shakes Bucky's hand with a firm grip. "Damn, Rogers," he says. "You told it to me but I didn't really believe it."
"It's true," Steve says, a bit unnecessarily.
"Yeah, I see that now," Sam replies, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking back a little on his heels. To Bucky he says, "I met the... the other you, I guess. Before."
Bucky winces. "Yeah, uh... From everything I hear, I guess maybe I oughta say sorry?"
And Sam laughs. "Nah, man," he says, waving a hand in the air. "It wasn't you."
"No, it wasn't," Bucky says. "Thank God."
"So, have you two had lunch yet? Or is it time for the super-soldier's afternoon snack?"
Bucky laughs at Steve's discomfited expression. "We had a late breakfast, but I could definitely eat lunch."
"Well, come on," Sam says. "There's a great place just up the road, does burgers any way you like 'em and a whole bunch of ways you probably don't."
"Oh, that sounds great," Bucky says. He feels his grin split his face. "This lug's been tryin' to feed me raw fish and rice."
"Nobody shoulda ever let him try sushi," Sam agrees, rolling his eyes. He claps Bucky on the shoulder. "C'mon. It's nice out; let's walk it."
The restaurant is not far up the street, but it feels really nice to be walking instead of riding for a little bit. Bucky tries to stretch unobtrusively, but Steve catches him at it and grins a little sheepishly. Bucky whacks him with his elbow. Sam grins to see it and says, "So, explain this to me again, because no offense man but you are so very clearly not the same guy we've been chasing that it's not even funny."
Bucky shrugs. "None taken," he assures Sam. "I don't really get it - that guy Richards is kind of a dick, and he don't explain things too good - but the way I understand it is that this universe and the universe I come from basically, like... I dunno, bumped against each other?"
Steve nods at Sam's skeptical look. "Richards says this kind of thing happens all the time. Something about a theory of divergent multiverses or something, I don't know. Bucky's right; he doesn't explain well, and he's not just kind of a dick, he's a huge dick, so trying to get him to stop and go back and explain again is just not worth getting talked down to like you're an idiot."
"So this happens a lot?" Sam asks. "People just... switching universes?"
Bucky shakes his head as Sam steers them into a restaurant. "Nah," he says. "Apparently it's really rare, because you have to both be in the same place at the same time when the - what's the word, Stevie?"
"Convergence." Steve holds up three fingers to the hostess, who smiles and leads them to a table by a window.
"Right. When the convergence happens." Bucky drops into the chair beside Steve, grinning at Sam across the table. "And the chances of that happening are just." He holds up two fingers, very close together. "So, no, it doesn't happen a lot."
"Good, because I was about to be super nervous," Sam says, exaggeratedly wiping at his forehead. They pause to order when the waitress drops by the table, and then Sam continues, "So, what brings you two Brooklyn boys down my direction?"
"Road trip," Steve says succinctly.
Sam raises an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah," Bucky takes over, ignoring the sudden wary expression that crosses Steve's face. "Steve's been kinda havin' a hard time, so I thought it might do us both some good to get outta the city for a little while. We always said we wanted to save up and hop a train and go see the Grand Canyon, you know? So we're goin'."
"Grand Canyon by way of D.C.?" Sam asks, eyebrows climbing.
Steve shrugs diffidently. "We're... touring a little."
"Yeah, check this out," Bucky says, pulling his phone out of his pocket and pulling up his mail to access the itinerary Darcy sent. "We're goin' down through the Carolinas to Atlanta - I've never been South before - and then west through Tennessee and Arkansas, Oklahoma, a little bit of Texas, New Mexico, then the Grand Canyon, yeah? And then Darcy said she'd meet us in Las Vegas. And then after that, California."
"That's a hell of a trip, man," Sam says with a low whistle. "That's guaranteed to take you, what?"
"At least a month," Bucky supplies. "Probably longer, because this map only goes to the top of Texas and I want to go to the Alamo."
"That's... that's a hell of a trip," Sam says again, clearly at a loss for anything else to say.
"Yeah, it oughta be great," Bucky says, grinning. "Especially Las Vegas."
"Yeah, back up to that part," Sam says, pointing a finger at Bucky. "What was it you were saying about Darcy?"
Bucky feels his grin get even wider as Steve's cheeks start to go pink. "Yeah, she's gonna meet us in Las Vegas. Something about gettin' a really great hotel room and doin' the whole experience, whatever that means."
Sam's expression is endearingly confused. "I thought she didn't do guys, though."
"She doesn't do anyone," Steve says, in a slightly repressive tone. "She's ace. But she's romantic."
Bucky, sensing an opportunity, leans across the table toward Sam, and stage-whispers, "Stevie's got a crush."
Sam looks like all his Christmases just came at once. Steve's face gets even brighter red. Sam says, "I always thought you two were kind of a thing, though."
Bucky nods. "More'n kinda," he confirms. "But I'm a - what's it, I saw it on the Internet - a switch hitter?" When Sam's nod confirms that he's used the term correctly, Bucky continues, "And Stevie thinks girls are nice to cuddle with on account of they smell nice."
Steve chokes on a sound of outrage. Sam blithely ignores him. "And does Darcy know the two of you have nefarious designs?"
"Ah, nothin' above the waist counts as nefarious," Bucky says, waving a hand. "We're talkin' slightly shady, maybe a little bit crooked. At most I'd say mildly degenerate."
Steve folds his arms on the tabletop and rests his burning face on them. "Let me know when you're done."
Bucky reaches over and pats Steve on the back. "It'll be awhile, pal," he assures him. "You might as well get comfortable."
About halfway through the meal, Bucky realizes he needs the bathroom. "I gotta go see a man about a horse. Be back in a minute." He stands up and crosses the restaurant, rounding the bar area and disappearing into the bathroom. He handles his business, washes his hands, and leaves, but when he comes back around the bar, he sees Sam leaning across the table and speaking very earnestly to Steve, who looks about as low as a man can look.
Bucky stops in front of an empty high-top table and leans against it, training his eyes on the television above him. There's no sound, but it's playing some kind of sports report. He watches a story about golf, a story about basketball, a story about hockey, and a story about something that might be football if the players were a hundred pounds lighter and not padded up like clumsy toddlers, before looking back over at the table again. This time, Sam is leaning back in his chair, looking more relaxed, while Steve has his arms folded across his chest and a sullen expression. That's definitely Bucky's cue to return.
"What the hell," he says as he sits back down, "is with the padding on these football players? They scared they might get hurt?"
Sam laughs and begins to explain about safety regulations and traumatic brain injuries. Bucky listens attentively, and presses his knee against Steve's under the table. Steve presses back, just for a second, and then slowly lets out a long breath and forces himself to relax and get involved in the conversation again.
When they finish eating, Sam has to go back to the VA to finish his work shift; they walk him back to the building, and Sam says cryptically, "You know where it is," before vanishing inside.
Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve, who rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck. "Sam wants us to stay the night."
"You mean he wants to talk to you more about all the stuff that's botherin' you," Bucky interprets.
Steve sighs. "Yeah." He turns and heads toward the parking garage where they left the bike, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he walks. "Sam's a good friend," he says, "but sometimes he doesn't know when to leave the counselor at work."
Bucky stops walking and rubs at the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Jesus Christ," he finally says. "I dunno why I thought you'd be better just because you're bigger. You're still the same stubborn asshole you always were, though, ain't you?"
Steve blinks, turning to face Bucky. "What do you mean?"
"You remember when you used to be sick all the time, and me or your ma'd say to stay in bed, 'cause you're too sick to be up? And you'd get up anyway, because you're a pigheaded asshole, and you'd make it halfway through whatever job you set yourself before passin' out on the goddamn floor?"
Steve's face goes the color of old bricks. "What of it?"
Bucky glares at him, pointing a finger at his friend. "This is me, and Darcy, and Sam, all three of us, tellin' you to stay in the goddamn bed. You can't keep goin' like this, Steve. I know you, pal, and I know you're not doin' okay, no matter what you try to tell everybody. And Darcy and Sam, they don't know you like I do, but they've figured out that everything under the surface ain't as good as it looks on the top." He pauses, struggling to put his thoughts into words. Finally he gives up, just reaches out and grabs Steve's hands. "Sam can help you," he says. "Can't you just, for once in your goddamn life, let him?"
For a long moment, Bucky isn't sure what Steve's going to do. He looks like he's torn between walking away, slugging Bucky, or just flat-out ignoring him. And then all of a sudden something happens that Bucky's never seen before. Steve takes a deep breath, and then he lets it out, and all of the fight seems to go out of him along with it. "All right," he says softly. "I... I can't promise anything. But I'll try."
"That's all I'm askin'," Bucky says. "That's all any of us are askin'. Just try."
Steve nods. "Well, come on, then," he says, turning again and heading back toward the bike. "We'll actually see a couple of the monuments on our way to Sam's place."
Whoops, my finger slipped and I accidentally edited a whole nother chapter onto the end. I'm sure you're all heartbroken.
Steve and Bucky make dinner; it seems the least they can do to repay Sam's hospitality. They stop at a supermarket on the way to Sam's house, picking up a chicken and some fresh vegetables and a few seasonings, and Steve goes to the kitchen and puts the chicken together as soon as they arrive, while Bucky pokes around downstairs.
He finds a piece of artwork in the hallway that catches his attention; it's a detailed pencil drawing of a Brooklyn tenement house. After a moment, Bucky realizes that, with a few minor differences, it's the tenement house where Steve and his Ma lived while Steve was small – the same building, in fact, where they had lived when Steve and Bucky met. He stands there and studies the drawing for a long time, taking in the careful details – the herb garden in the window box on the fourth floor, for example, and the laundry lines running across the left-hand alleyway, and the two small boys playing on the second floor fire escape.
He smiles, just a little bit, at those two little boys. The two heads are bent close together, one dark and one light, and for just a second, Bucky can smell garbage and June sunshine, and hear the shouts of street vendors and the clack-clack-clack of the streetcar going past. He almost reaches up to touch the drawing, but stops himself at the last moment, not wanting to smudge the glass.
That's where Steve finds him a few minutes later. "Chicken's in the oven," he says. Then he pauses, taking in the picture. He gives a soft chuckle. "Yeah, I, um. I drew that for Sam while we were on the road, the first month or so. I think we were in Belarus or something."
"Huh." Bucky studies it. "Your technique's improved."
"I've been practicing."
"I can tell." He leans against the wall, tilting his head as he studies the picture. "Sometimes I miss that," he says, inclining his head toward the picture so Steve will know what he's talking about. "Everything seemed so simple back then. And you had asthma, sure, but that was before that year when you got really sick."
Steve nods. "Diphtheria, rheumatic fever, whooping cough, chicken pox, and scarlet fever all in one fall and winter." He shakes his head. "I'm still surprised I'm not dead."
"Through the grace of God and your Ma's iron will," Bucky agrees. "I never saw a lady so damn determined to make sure a kid didn't die. Most folks woulda given up after the whooping cough set in, but not your Ma."
"Not my Ma," Steve agrees, grinning. "You know, she couldn't afford a doctor, but I swear, she must have had every herb-witch in Brooklyn in to see me. She owed more favors to more stooped little old ladies than I think anybody could count. I remember toward the end, when I had the pox and scarlet fever at the same time, she even had a Haitian lady come in and do some kind of voodoo spell."
Bucky feels his eyes bug out. "You are shitting me. Your Ma?"
Steve shrugs diffidently. "I think she was desperate. She told me later, when I was sixteen or so, that I'd been through so much already and my heart was so weak, she was afraid anything else really would kill me. And she'd prayed so much she didn't know how to pray any more, you know? She'd run out of things to say. And somebody had heard about this lady through a friend of a friend of a friend, and Ma, she was just to the point that she said she thought, well, if her God wouldn't save me, maybe somebody else's would."
"Damn." Bucky breathes.
"Yeah." Steve shrugs again. "But... I dunno. I mean, obviously something worked, because that was the last time I was sick that winter. I mean, really sick. Obviously I was laid up recovering, but..."
"I remember," Bucky says. "That was the year I brought you all your schoolwork every day so that maybe they wouldn't hold you back."
"And they held me back anyway," Steve replies, laughing.
Bucky blinks. "They did?"
Steve blinks back. "They didn't?"
Bucky sighs, shaking his head. "Nah. They talked about it, but when you - when he - came back in February, they gave him a test and he was mostly caught up with the other kids, so they just went ahead and put him back in class."
"Huh," Steve says, leaning against the opposite wall and scratching absently at the back of his head. "When I went back, they didn't even test me, they just shifted me back a grade. Said I'd just missed too much."
They're both silent for a minute before Bucky says, "I bet your Bucky was pissed. All that effort for nothing."
"He was beyond pissed," Steve agrees, laughing softly. "I don't think I'd ever heard anybody swear like that before. I was very impressed." He pauses. "His mother was less impressed when she overheard him. I think he burped bubbles for a week."
Bucky laughs so hard they almost don't hear the front door open and Sam come inside.
"Damn, it smells good in here," Sam's voice says, carrying in from the living room. "Y'all order in? 'Cause I know damn well Steve Rogers can't cook it unless he boils it."
"Hey, screw you," Steve calls back mildly. "I learned that recipe off a cooking channel show, thank you very much."
"There's a cooking channel?" Bucky asks. "What the hell for?"
"For idiots like Steve who can't cook anything without boiling it," Sam replies, leaning around a door frame and grinning at them.
"What are you doing here so soon, anyway?" Steve asks. "Thought you had work."
"My four o'clock cancelled. Figured I could do paperwork from here as easily as anywhere else."
"Well, that's great timing," Bucky says. "I'm just gonna go upstairs and take a nap."
Steve raises an eyebrow. "Since when do you nap?"
"Since whenever I damn feel like it," Bucky replies, smirking. He takes a step forward and kisses Steve, hard, then moves past him and around the banister, heading up the stairs. "Talk, dammit," he calls back down, then steps into the room Steve claimed for the two of them and nudges the door mostly shut.
"Well, then," he hears Sam say. "Sounds like you got your orders, soldier."
"Sounds like it," Steve replies, amusement in his voice. "Want a beer? I picked up a sixpack of that purple crap you like."
"Do not knock my Purple Haze," Sam demands, and their voices grow muffled as they move into the kitchen.
Bucky crosses the room and sits down on the bed, looking out the window at the brilliant blue sky. He stares, going blank and just existing, for a long moment. Then he goes and digs into the luggage, dragging out his sketchbook and pencil. He kicks his shoes off and sprawls out onto the bed, his feet in the air like a kid, and he flips to a blank page. His pencil hovers for a long moment, wavering, indecisive, but the moment the lead touches the page, it's moving, the skritch-skritch-skritch filling the room, filling his ears, blocking out everything else except for the pencil and the figure that spools out beneath it on the paper.
He starts with the rough shape, ovals and circles and lines, but slowly the form begins to appear: skinny ribs and gawky legs and sharp shoulders, clothes that hang a little loose and ears that stick out a little more than they should. Slowly, the face begins to take shape: the face as familiar as his own in the mirror, and strikingly similar to it, for that matter.
Rose, his littlest sister, gains form on the page, and he hates himself for it even as she does, but he can't help filling in all the little details, can't keep himself from obsessing too long over each of them. She's grinning at him from the paper, eyes sparkling with devilry. She's barefoot, because it's summer and Rosie even at twelve is wild like a boy. Her dress is patched, its torn hem just brushing her knobby knees; her hair is tied back in two tight braids that flop over her shoulders. One of her hands is scratching at her head; the other is behind her back, trying and failing to hide the slingshot she's holding.
He doesn't even realize he's crying until Steve's big hand appears in his view, gently blotting the page with a handkerchief and pulling the book out of his hands to save it getting any more damp than it already is. Steve's eyes are red, too, as he sits down beside Bucky on the bed and pulls him into his arms. They hold each other tight, not speaking, but grieving together for what they've lost.
Dinner is a subdued affair, the conversation friendly but quiet, and after it's over, they clean up together and go to bed early. Steve and Bucky are both emotionally exhausted, and they cling to one another in the bed that night as though they are afraid of waking up alone. They don't; when the sunlight finally makes it in through the blinds at the right angle to draw them both to wakefulness, they're still wrapped around each other, and there are slow, soft kisses in the early morning stillness.
"So," Sam asks them over breakfast in a nearby IHOP, "plans for today?"
Steve shakes his head. "No idea," he says. "Bucky's playing trip planner."
Bucky checks his phone. "Oh, yeah," he says. "The website says there's a historical place, and they dress up in period clothes and stuff. Should be a real laugh."
Sam's eyebrow quirks. "What's it called?"
"Uh. Somethingburg. Hang on." Bucky checks the phone again. "Williamsburg, yeah."
Sam's grin spreads all the way across his face. "You guys don't mind if I tag along, do you?"
Steve and Bucky both shrug at the same time. "Nah," Steve says. "More the merrier, right?"
Since there are three of them, they leave the bike at Sam's house and take the train. Bucky legitimately did not realize that Colonial Williamsburg was, as Darcy would put it, a thing, so he's surprised and a little intimidated when they arrive. "Oh, this is... uh."
"Yeah, it's a huge tourist destination," Sam explains as they line up to buy tickets. "School groups, families, all kinds of stuff. It's a big deal."
And it is a big deal. The place is full of tourists and school groups, just like Sam said, but it's not so full that it's unpleasant; just enough that it feels like a busy little town. "Huh," Bucky says. "Well, let's do it."
Steve takes Bucky's hand as they walk, and Bucky feels warm and proud. He sees people notice them, and at first it makes him nervous, but when he sees a few more pairs of men and women holding hands, he relaxes again. He reminds himself that it's just like New York; nobody's going to attack them. He can't help but notice that people seem to be clocking them more than any of the other same-sex couples, though. He tries to ignore it, but he can't any more when, about an hour or so into their tour of the little town, a small dark-skinned child in overalls comes running up to them, colliding hard with Steve's legs and then wrapping its - her - arms around his knee. "Thcuthe me," the child lisps adorably. "Are you Cap'n 'Merica?"
Steve lets go of Bucky's hand then, and crouches down. "As a matter of fact," he says, smiling gently at her, "I am."
"I knew it," she exclaims, doing a tiny dance of victory. Then she shrugs off the backpack she's wearing and opens it up, pulling out a small replica of Steve's shield. "Can I have your ottermath?"
Steve grins. So do Sam and Bucky. "You mean my autograph?" Steve asks as the kid fishes a Sharpie out of her bag.
"That, too," she says, nodding.
"Okay," Steve says, taking the pen. "What's your name?"
"Lakita," she replies, and then spells it carefully, with the air of someone who has already gotten used to doing that.
"How old are you, Lakita?" Steve asks. She holds up four fingers, and Steve says, "Wow! You're a good speller, for just four." He signs the shield To Lakita, be amazing, Steve Rogers, and then he says, "Hey, do you know my friend here?"
At first, Bucky thinks Steve means him, but he realizes a second later that Steve is actually pointing at Sam. Lakita stares up at him and then gasps. "Falcon!"
"Hey, yeah, that's me," Sam replies. "You heard of me, huh?"
The girl's hand dives into her backpack again, and she drags out an action figure. It's recognizably Sam, wearing a wingpack. She holds it up wordlessly for his inspection. He takes a knee beside her and looks at it. "Hey, this is the first time I've seen one of these," he says. "I like it. Looks good, yeah?"
The girl nods, her braids bouncing around her face. Her eyes are trained on him, huge and sparkling with hero worship. Sam is about to say something else when they all look up at the sound of a woman's voice calling, "Lakita! Lakita, come away from there, what are you doing, bothering these nice folks?" Lakita's mother has arrived, and she is reaching for her daughter's hand.
"Mama, look," Lakita exclaims. "It's Falcon!"
The woman looks at Sam, disdain clear on her face, and Bucky can practically hear the woman thinking some strange man is trying to convince my child that he's Falcon so she'll go off with him. But then her face undergoes a dramatic shift; she looks from Sam to Steve, up to Bucky, back to Steve, and then back to Bucky again like she can't quite believe what she's seeing. "Oh my God," she whispers.
Sam stands up and holds out a hand. "Sam Wilson, ma'am," he says, grinning.
"DeAngela Jackson," the woman replies, shaking his hand. "Oh, my God." She looks around at the three of them again. "You're Steve Rogers," she says, and Steve nods, but then her eyes settle on Bucky. "Oh, my God," she whispers again. Her eyes track to Steve's. "I thought...?"
"Yes, ma'am," Steve says softly. "So did I. It's... it's a very long story."
"I'm sorry," DeAngela says. "It's just that I got my master's degree in American history; I wrote my thesis on the Howling Commandos being the first truly integrated American-led fighting unit."
Steve smiles then. "That's one thing I will say I'm pretty damn proud of, if you'll pardon my language," he says. "We couldn't have done what we did without Jim and Gabe. Especially Gabe; he spoke more languages than all the rest of us combined, and Dernier didn't speak any English at all."
DeAngela laughs then, a little breathlessly. Sam signs Lakita's shield beside Steve's name, and then Bucky is prevailed upon to do so as well. He feels a little bit like a fraud doing it, but not doing it would necessitate explaining why - and possibly making a small child cry, which is not a thing Bucky's interested in doing today. They exchange a few more pleasantries with the girl and her mother, and then they do their best to vanish into the crowd.
"Okay," Bucky says a little bit later, as they sit at a table in one of the taverns, with actual tankards in front of them full of beer. "That was... a little uncomfortable."
"You get used to it," Steve says. Then he frowns at his tankard. "Wow, that sounded... not like I meant for it to sound."
Sam laughs. "It did, a little bit," he agrees. "But it's true. You do kind of get used to it. The weird wears off. And you sort of start thinking, well, I'm just glad I can be somebody for people to look up to."
"But I don't want people lookin' up to me," Bucky argues. "Especially not little kids. I ain't that fella, you know?"
"Exactly," Steve says, leaning forward and pointing a finger at him. "I hate that feeling. When did I become somebody little kids wanted to be like? I used to be somebody the nuns said would drag Bucky Barnes straight down a checkered path to Hell."
Bucky ostentatiously looks around the room, then cocks an eloquent eyebrow at Steve. Sam chokes hard on the laugh he doesn't want to bray across the room. "Don't worry about it, man," he says. "You're still that guy. These folks just don't know it."
"Hm." Steve leans back, taking a drink of his beer. "Maybe I need to get on the cover of one of those tabloid papers."
"What's a tabloid paper?" Bucky asks.
"Gossip rags," Sam explains. "They make their money taking pictures of famous people doing naughty things in public. Like going out in shlubby clothes or kissing their significant others."
Bucky's eyes seek Steve's. "Huh," Bucky says.
Steve's eyes slowly begin to crinkle at the corners. "Huh," he says in return.
Sam looks back and forth between both of them. "Oh, hell no," he says flatly, leaning back in his chair. "I want no part of whatever it is you two are planning."
"Okay," Steve says easily. "We'll let you know when to blend off into the crowd. No sweat."
"Yeah, don't worry about it," Bucky agrees. Then he looks around, his expression as innocent as anything. "Where's that waitress got to? I like the sound of this 'po-boy' thing."
After they eat, they resume wandering the city, pausing here and there to watch re-enactors or take a quick tour. And then, just outside the courthouse, they come across the pillory, stocks, and whipping post. They stand around, listening to one of the re-enactors give a quick talk about the purpose of these items, and then, for a laugh, Bucky convinces Steve to sit down and put his feet in the stocks so that Bucky can send the picture to Darcy. Steve is game enough, and he poses cheerfully, and Bucky sends the best result back to New York while Steve stands up and brushes off the seat of his pants. By the time they're done, they've mugged enough to have caught the attention of several tourists, at least two of whom have identified Steve and are taking pictures that will probably be sold to some of the gossip rags before the night is over.
Then Steve challenges Bucky to be pilloried, and gives Sam a significant look. Sam, rolling his eyes, steps back and disappears into the crowd. Bucky mugs dramatically for several shots, pretending to cry and loudly pleading innocence. "I was framed! Framed, I tell ya!" he shouts to one onlooker, a teenage girl who giggles and blushes.
And then he turns his gaze toward Steve. "Hey, ain't that Captain America over there?" he calls. "Hey, Cap, you wanna fight some injustice?"
Steve rolls his eyes. "I'm pretty sure justice is in the process of prevailing," he replies. "But I'll give you a consolation prize, if you want."
"Hey, I'll always take a consolation prize from you, Cap," Bucky all but purrs, fluttering his eyelashes, because like hell Bucky Barnes backs down from a challenge issued by Steve Rogers.
There's a titter among the watching crowd, and then a sort of rolling awareness, a change in the air as Steve steps forward, almost like the people who are watching already know what's about to happen.
And sure enough, Steve saunters up to Bucky, leans his arm on the wood of the pillory just above Bucky's head, and leans down to kiss him, warm and slow but chaste all the same - rated PG, Bucky thinks wildly, just before Steve releases him and lifts up the wood. "Get outta there, you mook," he says. "There's kids waitin' to get their picture made."
Bucky staggers backward theatrically, clasping his hand to his chest. Steve rolls his eyes. "Come on," he says. "I wanna go see the carpentry exhibit before we leave." And he holds out his hand.
Bucky takes it, grinning, and they turn away as though the crowd gawking at them doesn't exist, and they make their way up the street toward the exhibit in question. They've barely made it a hundred feet, though, before Bucky's cell phone goes off in his pocket. He pulls it out and glances at it. "Oh," he says. "It's Darcy." He swipes his finger across the screen and hits the speaker button. "Heya, Doll," he starts - and gets no farther.
"You complete and total absolute fucking assholes," Darcy explodes.
"Uh," Bucky replies, intelligently. "Hi?"
"Fuck you, Bucky Barnes, you son of a bitch," Darcy snaps. "Don't you dare try to make friendly with me. Did you think I wouldn't know? Did you think I wouldn't see? The pictures were on Twitter before you even finished making out. How could you do this to me? Do you have any idea how hard my job already is without the two of you deciding to make a completely uncontrolled coming-out like that? You're supposed to be laying low on vacation, not getting the world's attention and telling them all you're queer!"
"Uh, whoa," Steve says, drawing Bucky toward a quiet spot near the mouth of an alley. "Darcy, I don't think this is really as big of a deal as you're making it out to be."
"Yeah, pretty much you shoulda stopped with the first three words of that sentence, because clearly you don't think," Darcy snarls. "Seriously, Steve? You're Captain Fucking America, and you don't think coming out is a big deal? Why don't you pull your phone out and check a news site. Let's pick one at random. Let's pick MSNBC. Go ahead, check it. I'll wait."
Steve obeys, pulling his phone out and thumbing up the website in question. He blinks at the screen and shows it to Bucky. In huge, screaming type, above a grainy photo of the two of them kissing, it reads, "Captain Gay-merica?"
"Oh, shit," Bucky breathes. "Jesus Christ, Darce, it hasn't even been ten minutes!"
"It's been up for five," Darcy replies. Her voice is the coldest thing he thinks he's ever heard.
"Darcy," Steve says, and his voice is soft now. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, you oughta be," Darcy replies, and she doesn't sound angry any more. Now she just sounds tired - and somehow, that makes it about a hundred times worse. "Thanks to you two assholes not even bothering to give me a heads up, I'm going to spend the next five days playing catch-up on this, and I don't even have an official statement prepared. You know, if you wanted to come out, we could've done it the other day when I was on GMA. This is really not the way to do things when you have a PR person, you know?"
"I'm sorry, too," Bucky says. "I... I didn't know."
Darcy sighs. "I know you didn't," she finally says.
"Darce, do you need us to come back to New York?" Steve asks.
There's a long silence in which they can actually feel her debate it. Finally she says, "No. But I'm crafting a statement, and I'm going to email it to you, and I need to hear back from you right away about it, because my shit is blowing up over here with people asking about it."
"You got it," Steve agrees.
"And you owe me so huge. Like, you have no idea how much you owe me. Tony Stark never owed me like you owe me right now. You got that?"
"We got it," Steve promises.
"You bet," Bucky agrees.
"Fine. But you're still assholes." Darcy hangs up.
Steve and Bucky look at one another.
From behind them, Sam says, "So, I'm guessing that wasn't as well thought out as you hoped it would be."
Steve looks over at Sam with a rueful expression. "Remember what I said about that checkered path straight to Hell?"
"And remember what he said about it bein' all his fault?" Bucky adds on.
Sam shakes his head. "I'm startin' to think this road trip thing might not be such a hot idea after all. You two end up in jail in fuckin' Albuquerque or something, I am not coming to bail your asses out."
They leave D.C. the next morning, getting off the busy interstate highways in favor of the less-traveled back roads. They stop for lunch in Roanoke, check their itinerary, and decide to push on into Asheville. The drive is beautiful, and they stop several times to take pictures and video, some of which they forward on to Darcy. She responds with appreciative texts, which they take as a signal to keep it up.
In Asheville they visit the Biltmore Estate and the Eastern Cherokee reservation. From there, they go to Nashville, where they visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry. They consider Memphis, but neither of them has any frame of reference for Graceland so they just stop for lunch (yes, the barbecue is delicious) and then pass on.
They detour around Little Rock in favor of Blanchard Springs Caverns, and it's pretty enough that when he finds a brochure, Steve tentatively broaches the idea of going on an overnight canoe trip on the Buffalo River. Bucky considers it for less than a minute before deciding it sounds like a hell of a lark, and they start hunting for options. Most of the companies they find offering guided tours are geared toward fishermen, and neither of them is interested in fishing; however, they eventually find one that offers guided photography tours, and Steve is sold.
Of course, neither of them has anything like proper photography equipment, but after standing in front of a camera display in a local electronics store for twenty minutes debating the matter in an undertone, they decide they don't care; they're paying for the damn trip, and they can take pictures with whatever they want to take pictures with. They spend the money on extra batteries and memory cards, a solar charger, and waterproofing equipment instead.
The tour they end up paying for is all-inclusive: canoes, life vests, tents, sleeping bags, and food are all included. Having seen Steve eat, though, Bucky insists on bringing extra food. Steve rolls his eyes, but he acquiesces easily enough. They find the local Wal-Mart, where they purchase a huge cooler and fill it with food, but when they get out to the parking lot with it, they encounter a minor technical difficulty.
"It would appear," Steve says, staring at the bike, "that we did not think this through very carefully."
"I believe," Bucky replies, rubbing at his chin, "that is an accurate assessment of our current predicament."
They stand there together for a long moment, considering the matter. Finally, Bucky says, "Maybe we can rest it on the luggage, and I can hold it? If you don't go too fast..."
"The first time I hit a bump, you and the cooler are both gonna go flying," Steve says flatly. "That'll never work."
"Well," Bucky says, "what if I drive the bike and you hold the cooler? Strong as you are now, you could probably hold it on top of your head like those people do in National Geographic pictures."
"And the first time you have to turn, you're gonna lay the bike down and then you and the cooler and me are gonna all go flying," Steve replies. "Nothing doing."
It's a fair cop - Bucky's really only just starting to learn how to drive the bike, and turning is a skill he has yet to master - but it stings all the same. "Well then how about we just sit here in the goddamn parking lot until the buzzards eat us, wise guy?" Bucky snaps.
"I'm workin' on it!" Steve snaps. "This was your brilliant fuckin' idea in the first place, you know; we coulda just bought extra rations or whatever from the tour people, but you said we needed to get our own food to make sure there'd be stuff we liked!"
Bucky's back straightens and his fists ball up and Steve's eyes flash and he mimics Bucky's pose and there is every possibility that he and Steve Rogers are about to beat the living shit out of one another right here in the parking lot of a goddamn Wal-Mart in Buttfuck, Arkansas, when a drawling voice interrupts them. "Well," it says, low and gravelly and deeply amused but recognizably female, "looks like you boys are in a bit of a pickle."
They both turn to find that they're being watched by a tiny little brown-skinned woman with a long silver braid and a straw cowboy hat. Her eyes, full of amusement, glint at them from a face that's not so much lined as it is seamed, and she's leaning against a beat-up old Ford pickup a couple of spaces away. Steve clears his throat. "Yes, ma'am," he says. "We, uh. We maybe didn't think this through particularly well."
"Don't look like it," she agrees. "Y'all must be here for one of the river tours."
Bucky nods. "Yes, ma'am," he says. "Picture-taking on the river."
She chuckles. "Of course you are. Toss that thing up in the back, and I'll carry it out there for you. I just live up the road from that place." She pauses when they almost automatically exchange a glance and says, "You can ride along with me, if you like."
Steve glances at the truck and then at Bucky and then says, "Go on, Buck."
Bucky nods. He and Steve hoist the cooler into the back of the truck, and then Bucky climbs into the truck's cab with the lady, who introduces herself as Miranda Redhawk. She asks where Steve and Bucky are from; when he says Brooklyn, she laughs and says she visited New York once, back in the sixties when she was a teenager. "Didn't care for it much," she admits. "Couldn't see the stars at night."
She drops Bucky off with Steve at the site where they're meant to meet the tour guide, tells them with a wink to play nice with each other and not fight, and then heads off up the road, her truck's engine rumbling its way off into the distance. Bucky and Steve take seats on top of an old wooden picnic table nearby. They sit in silence for a minute before Steve nudges Bucky with his elbow. "Sorry," he says simply.
Bucky nudges him back. "Yeah, me too," he murmurs, then leans over and rests his head on Steve's shoulder. They're still sitting just like that when the tour guide gets there ten minutes later.
The trip is absolutely amazing. The tour guide - Jed, of all things - does not judge them for only having their phones to take pictures with - at least, not out loud, and definitely not once he realizes that one of the guys he's guiding is Captain America. The landscape is stunningly beautiful, and even the wildlife is interesting and friendly - or so Bucky thinks, until they make camp in the evening. Everything is fine until Steve steps behind some bushes to relieve himself and comes flying back out again with a yelp of pain.
Bucky, who was half-inside their painstakingly-set-up tent, scrambles out in a hurry, and Jed comes running from the riverbank, and Steve holds out his left hand and there's a pattern of small puncture wounds in a half-circle on the side of his hand, already starting to close up. "Startled a raccoon," he explains as Jed retrieves the first aid kit and insists on dousing the punctures with rubbing alcohol before they close completely.
Bucky shakes his head at Steve and says, "We get back to civilization, I'm getting you a leash."
After that, the rest of the evening progresses quietly. They build a fire - something Steve apparently learned how to do in the war - and they cook their dinner and they sit around and chat and stare at the stars. Jed talks about what it was like growing up in rural Arkansas; they tell him what it was like growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn. Everything is very calm and pleasant, and Bucky is extremely pleased that they decided to come on this trip.
And then he gets up and goes behind a tree - carefully, with an eye toward the wildlife - to take a leak. When he comes back, Jed is staring off into the distance across the river, and Steve has his back to Bucky, and he's twitching oddly. Bucky reaches out and claps him on the shoulder. "Hey, you doing okay? Hand bothering you?"
When Steve turns to face Bucky, his teeth are bared and his mouth is full of froth. He rears up from his seat on a log with a low roar and Bucky shrieks, falling backward, panicking because rabies holy shit steve's got fucking rabies why didn't that fucking serum stop it -
And then Steve falls back onto the log again, shrieking in hysterical laughter, and Bucky realizes that Jed is holding Steve's phone with the camera angled toward the two of them, and Steve is spitting foam and wiping it out of his mouth and still cackling and Bucky realizes.
"You son of a bitch," he says, feeling exhausted. "What'd you do, hold a fuckin' Alka-Seltzer tab in your mouth?"
"Two of 'em," Steve replies, still spitting and grinning widely. "Tastes disgusting but holy shit it was worth it."
"I sure hope so," Bucky replies, attempting to maintain his dignity as best he can in the face of Jed's hysterical giggles. "Because you're sleeping out here tonight."
"Aw, baby," Steve replies, grinning widely. "Don't be like that!"
After they return to civilization, they cut the rest of the way across Arkansas and into Oklahoma. In Tulsa they learn about Route 66, and they decide to follow it as far as they can. This turns out to be very interesting; a couple sections of the road are only nine feet wide – the Internet tells them that this is called a "sidewalk" highway – and Bucky feels like he's fairly confident in saying that he can see why this kind of highway would be abandoned in favor of the larger commuter routes.
They stop several times for souvenirs, picking up kitschy little bits for themselves and a few for Darcy as well; Steve insists on getting things for his teammates also, even though Bucky makes a sour face at the idea. He's still not sold on the team, regardless of Steve's reassurances. They cross the state in this manner, stopping a couple of times to eat and once to sleep before they hit Texas.
Outside Amarillo, they encounter a small patch of ground upon which stand ten Cadillacs, half buried nose-down at a fairly steep angle. Steve pulls off the road and stares. "The hell?"
"The hell," Bucky agrees.
They spend about half an hour investigating the installation and reading about it online on Bucky's phone, and then Steve digs a Sharpie out of the luggage and they both sign one of the cars. "It's kinda keen, actually," Steve says, considering his own autograph on the left fender of one of the cars. "You think about it. People beg me to sign stuff and they sell it online on that eBay thing, and make tons of money. So imagine, if they knew I'd signed this, they'd probably cover it with plastic or something, try to preserve it. But instead, it'll get covered up eventually. Just one more person out of thousands of people."
"Ephemeral," Bucky agrees.
Steve nods. "Yeah."
Bucky claps him on the shoulder. "I like it." And he does... but at the same time, it bothers him. He stands there for a long moment, looking at his own signature on the left rear fender of the 1952 model, and he considers the name underneath his - the one he covered up. Will anyone notice that it's gone? Will anyone notice that it's been replaced?
Will anyone notice when he's been replaced?
Steve prowls among the cars for a few more minutes, taking note of particular interesting bits of graffiti, taking pictures of a few of them with his phone, and then taking a few pictures of Bucky as well. Bucky tries his best to smile, but between the thoughts taking root in his head and the sunlight in his eyes, he doesn't manage it very well. He takes a picture of Steve, and they both get a couple of selfies, and then it's time to go again, and they're back on the bike.
Bucky spends the time on the back of the bike watching the scenery go by, broad and flat and peppered with oddly twisted trees and dry-looking brush, so different from Brooklyn. It's like a different planet almost, something out of a pulp novel or a radio serial - The War of the Worlds just aired on the radio a few weeks before he came here, and Bucky imagines that the surface of Mars must look a little bit like this.
He imagines for a moment that this is only a trip - not just being in Texas, but being here. He imagines, for a second, that he will go home, and Becca and Rosie and Maggie will all fuss at him and complain about him being gone and worrying them. His mother will talk his ear off about what's happened in the neighborhood; his father will scold him for missing work. Steve will -
He buries his face in the back of Steve's shoulder and closes his eyes. That strong, wide, muscled shoulder, the hot bulk of his body, the muscled back and long, straight spine and powerful thighs between his own, so unlike the birdlike bones and cold extremities he's used to -
He shakes the memory away and does not allow it to return. Instead, he keeps his head full of star-spangled Frisbees and ephemeral Cadillacs and the small box of kitschy souvenirs that they posted back to themselves yesterday because there's really not room for them in the bike bag. He thinks about going to Nashville and skipping Memphis, about Darcy's angry phone call and about sitting in that tavern in Williamsburg with Steve and Sam, trying to tell them he's not that guy and neither of them understanding what he meant.
Steve drives until dark, and Bucky wonders what the other him would think about this trip - if the other him would have thought of it at all. Would that blank-eyed man on Steve's canvas be able to do this, to be exposed and directionless and have his face all over the newspapers and the Internet?
Steve pulls off the road at a motel once the darkness is too thick to be safe, and Bucky gets the bags off the bike while Steve goes inside to get them a room. He watches through the window as Steve talks to the desk clerk, handing over his credit card and identification while the tired-looking young woman types his information into the computer. When he comes out, he says, "We're in the back; I'll get the bike."
Bucky slings the bags over his shoulder and Steve pushes the bike across the gravel lot to the far back of the building. He drops the kickstand in front of the very last door and pulls an actual key out of his pocket. It looks odd to Bucky after all the cards they've been swiping, and he shakes his head a little bit at himself. Once inside, Bucky drops the bags by the bathroom door and pulls the curtains shut. Steve goes in to take a shower, and Bucky flops onto the king-sized bed, pulling out his phone to text Darcy. He hopes she's not still mad.
She texts back asking how the trip's going, so he tells her about Route 66 and the Cadillacs and how they're thinking about where to go in New Mexico; there's a theater with some kind of interesting architectural design that's supposed to be haunted, or there's also the Park Lake Historical District, which was a WPA project during the Depression and has a lake and things.
Darcy texts back some pictures of manatees with encouraging captions typed on them, then has to go and do paperwork. She signs off with a couple of hearts and a kissy-face emoticon, so he figures maybe she's not so mad any more. And then he's completely distracted by Steve coming out of the shower in a blast of soap-scented steam, all damp and warm-skinned and just wearing a towel wrapped around his waist. And Bucky forgets to feel guilty because yeah, they owe Darcy big time, but also... everyone knows now.
What he wouldn't have given for that, before.
He tips his head back and back some more to look up at Steve, his lips quirking up into his best cocky smirk. "Hey," he says. "A fella could get a crick in his neck lookin' up at you like this, you know."
Steve's own mouth twitches upward. "Not as flexible as you used to be?" he teases.
"Well, you ain't asked me to be, so how'd you know?" Bucky replies, reaching forward and tugging the towel away. Steve's reply is a low chuckle, and it's the same as before, Steve's voice; Bucky could close his eyes and just listen and be right back in Brooklyn in 1938 -
But Steve's hand is on the back of his neck now, and he opens his eyes again when Steve's hand squeezes. He's right there in front of Bucky now, completely naked and getting hard and totally shameless and Bucky wants nothing more than to take that thickening cock in his mouth and suck until he fucking chokes on it.
"Yeah, okay," Steve says, and heat blooms in Bucky's gut, running up his spine and out into his fingers and wraps around his heart. "Why don't you show me?" Steve continues, and Bucky ain't that fella, but maybe... maybe it's close enough, like this, for both of them. The thought flicks across his mind that maybe Steve has to close his eyes and pretend sometimes, too, but maybe this is close enough.
As if there's any universe ever in which he would ditch out on any version of Steve fuckin' Rogers.
"C'mere, you asshole," Bucky growls, grabbing Steve by the wrist and pulling him down. And Steve laughs quietly and comes to him, kissing him soft and slow. He pins Bucky to the mattress for just a minute, and then lets Bucky roll him over like he's still five-foot-four and ninety-eight pounds. Bucky straddles him then and kisses him, and he feels - he feels - so much - and then Steve's hand is on his hip and Steve is arching up into him just a little bit and Bucky just goes with it.
He ends up on his belly with Steve bent over him, pulling his shirt off and tossing it away. His pants and shorts are down around his knees, baring his ass, but his shoes are still on for some reason, like they're in some kind of fucking hurry or something, even though Steve isn't touching him like they're in a hurry at all. But it's different from being naked somehow, and he shudders when Steve's mouth touches the side of his ribcage and he doesn't kick off his shoes.
"Hurry up," he pants against the bedspread, hips rolling against the mattress, and Steve laughs again and presses another hot, open-mouthed kiss against the small of his back. Bucky thinks about kicking him, but then he hears the now-familiar snap of Steve opening up a tube of slick and thinks better of it. "C'mon, Stevie, c'mon -- "
"I got you," Steve promises, and two wet fingers slide into his crack. Steve's free hand spreads over the small of Bucky's back and that easily he's pinned to the bed. His fingers clench in the spread and he grunts, his knees digging into the mattress as he tries to press up harder for more, and then he's choking on a gasp and jerking as Steve pushes a single slick finger into him with no warning. "There you go, sweetheart."
"Oh, it's sweetheart now?" Bucky laughs, clenching down with his inner muscles and wondering if he let too much show. He hasn't heard that one in a long time, and Steve always has been able to see right through him if he tried. It's just that Steve never really used to try all that hard.
"I thought it was nicer than jerk," Steve says, and there's a smile in his voice even as he twitches the finger inside of Bucky, pressing gently against Bucky's prostate and making him groan, and then - then - oh.
"I th-thought you didn't bring that stuff," Bucky manages, breathless against the heat building inside him, and Steve smirks shamelessly against his back, working a second finger in and making Bucky's toes curl.
"I might've done a little shopping when we stopped at that drugstore in Tucumcari," he says. "You mind?"
"Hell no," Bucky breathes, shaking his head vehemently. Steve's fingers curl inside him and he clenches his teeth on another groan, pushing his hips back as well as he can with Steve's hand pinning him down and his own pants trapping his legs. His skin prickles all over and he shudders. "Steve, Stevie, fuck."
"I still got you, Buck," Steve murmurs. He drops a kiss onto the back of Bucky's neck and his hand slides up Bucky's spine. Bucky's breath catches and he can't decide if he wants to push his hips back and fuck himself onto Steve's thick fingers or if he wants to rut his cock into the mattress until he comes.
"C'mon, Steve, c'mon," he pants again, his eyes screwed shut as he pants for breath. "Don't wanna come before you stick it in me, please."
"It's in you," Steve says, so innocent, like butter wouldn't fucking melt, and he twitches his fingers. "Two of 'em, in fact."
"I mean your dick, you asshole," Bucky groans, and he bares his teeth when Steve laughs and pushes a third finger in, so gently. It kills him how gentle Steve is now; Steve is thick and hot and gentle and thin and cold and rough and it's - it's Steve, but - it's different, and -
He knows it's Steve. He does.
But it's different.
"Steve," he gasps out, the heavy weight on his back pinning him down and making him dizzy in a way that's maybe not as good as usual or maybe just different but it's enough that it makes him feel almost guilty or - or - fuck, he doesn't know, but -
But Steve's mouth is the same when it presses a soft kiss to his shoulder blade, and Steve's voice whispers against him, "I'm here, I've got you, you're good."
And Bucky blurts out, "And I'm yours," because he is, he is, and seventy fucking years and the wrong dimension isn't enough to make that a lie, and he knows it, and Steve knows it, and now everybody on the planet with a fucking Internet connection knows it.
Nobody knew before, but now, now they do.
And Steve presses another kiss to his skin and whispers, "And you're mine."
This chapter mostly brought to you by suzukiblu.
Bucky shudders, turns his head and tries to push up and back with his arms; Steve meets him halfway and they kiss and it is so good and it's so different but at the same time it is exactly the fucking same. He's not that fella who went through the war, who went through all that shit with Steve, who got captured and experimented on and then turned into some kind of Frankenstein's monster. He's not. He's not bad like that man is now - and whatever Steve says, Bucky's read the news and seen the footage, he's looked at the articles where they talked about the numbers of people killed and injured in the shootout on the D.C. overpass and the collateral damage from those giant airships falling out of the sky. Bucky knows.
But if he's not bad like that man is now, he's never been as good as that man apparently once was; he never signed up to go to war to stop Hitler - in fact, he's been a member of the American League Against War and Fascism since it got started in 1933. If he signed up to go to war like Steve says he did, he must've had some kind of a damn head injury or something. But Steve would know, wouldn't he? And so - maybe that's enough. Maybe that makes it okay.
Maybe that makes him okay.
"Ready?" Steve asks, his quiet voice breaking into Bucky's reverie. His fingers are withdrawing but his other hand is still keeping Bucky pinned, and Bucky squeezes his eyes shut and lifts his hips the best he can. He's not that guy with the metal arm and the dead eyes and the body count, but that guy used to be him, or at least somebody a lot like him, maybe...
And Steve would know. Wouldn't he?
"Give it to me," Bucky begs against the bedspread, trying to keep his breath steady and not being very successful. "Give it to me, you've got me, I'm yours." And he is. He knows that. He's known it for years, known it all the way to the fucking marrow in his bones, and now the whole fucking world knows it too, and - and -
Steve pushes in, long and slow and merciless, and Bucky swears hotly and yelps and pleads and Steve braces himself with his knees and fucks him and it's so much harder than he ever could have before, but so much gentler at the same time, and it's good, it's so good, and before he even realizes it, Bucky's clawing at the mattress and begging for it.
"Please, please, Stevie, please, c'mon, give it to me, give it to me," he chokes, even knowing it's unnecessary; Steve's like a goddamn machine on top of him, steady as a metronome, his dick hot and hard and slick inside him and punching the breath out of his lungs with every hard shove, but he can't stop himself saying it anyway because it's just so fucking good. "Please, Stevie, please, don't stop, c'mon - "
"Ain't gonna stop, Buck," Steve murmurs, soothing, and the hand that's been pinning down the small of Bucky's back slides up, resting and bracing between Bucky's shoulderblades. The other hand skims up his side, soothing the skin there, sliding up to cup the side of his neck and then down again to grip his hip. Bucky tries to move into the contact but he can't; his knees and fingers are dug into the bed, his chest is pinned, and his hips are caught under the brutal onslaught of Steve's cock. The only way Bucky's gonna move is if he tells Steve to let him go, and that's never, ever gonna be a thing that happens.
"Don't," he says instead, his voice rough, fumbling one hand back to grip at the hand Steve has resting on his hip. "More, please, please don't stop."
"Anything you want," Steve promises, shifting the hand in the middle of Bucky's back down onto the mattress. He leans down and now he's pinning Bucky's body with his own, his chest against Bucky's back and his mouth on the side of Bucky's neck, and Bucky keens with it as Steve murmurs against his hairline, "You feel so good, sweetheart. I've got you. I'm here. Let me give it to you."
Bucky buries his face against the bedspread and gasps for breath, stifling the urgent moans and desperate whines out of habit, even though he knows that they're alone here, at the far end of this half-deserted motel, the door locked behind them, nobody around to hear and nobody who would care even if they did. It doesn't matter. All that matters is how good it feels, how much he wants it, needs it, and how it's gonna fucking kill him when - when - he doesn't know. He can't think. Steve's fucking him harder now, the hand on his hip snaking underneath to wrap around his cock. Bucky could've come just from the friction of his cock against the bedspread and Steve's cock in his ass but Steve's hand on him, jacking him, big and hot and hard and tight -
He wants to come. He wants to never, ever come. He wants - he wants -
"Stevie, Stevie - "
"I got you, Bucky," Steve murmurs, and Bucky's heart clenches hard and he swears, and he comes all over Steve's big, hot, hard hand and Steve works him through it, hips still fucking him steadily and hand squeezing, pulling, wringing every last gasp and groan out of him.
Bucky collapses against the mattress and Steve stops, but he hasn't finished. He's buried as deep as he can get and he just holds still, kissing the back of Bucky's neck like Bucky can't feel how hard he is, like Bucky can't feel him trembling even while he shudders through his own aftershocks. It's just Steve being a self-sacrificing idiot and ignoring his own dick for no reason but it feels so fucking good.
"Ain't you gonna come?" Bucky pants, clenching down deliberately even as it makes his toes and fingers curl. Steve buries a groan against the back of Bucky's shoulder and Bucky bares his teeth, giving him a breathless half-laugh and doing it again. "C'mon, Stevie, fuck me, use me good. You ain't gonna leave me empty, are ya?"
Steve pulls out then, and Bucky's cocky smirk falls off his face, replaced by a disappointed whine. But then Steve flips him onto his back hard enough he practically bounces on the mattress, and then Bucky isn't disappointed at all.
"C'mon, Stevie," he purrs, finally kicking his damn shoes off and trying to do the same with his pants. Steve has to help him, because he's still so blissed out he's having trouble with his coordination, but once he's naked he stretches, making a show of letting his legs fall apart. Judging by the sharp breath Steve sucks in, it works.
"Come on," he repeats, his voice a little rough, grabbing at Steve's shoulders. "Everybody knows now. You can do whatever you want to me."
"You're what I want," Steve murmurs, dropping a kiss against Bucky's lips even as he slicks more lube onto his cock, and Bucky laughs because if he doesn't, it's gonna be too sweet and too much and he can't do that right now; it's all he can do right now to hold himself together.
"You're a fuckin' sap, Rogers," he accuses instead, smirking hard. "Your cock's hard enough to pound nails and you're sweet-talkin' me like I ain't a sure thing."
"Well, you know me," Steve replies, and now he's the one smirking. "Sweet talk's my fuckin' specialty." And Bucky would give him shit for that, but then Steve pushes back in and anything he might have said gets swallowed in a desperate moan.
"Fuck yeah, Stevie," he manages. "Fuck me. Fuck me hard, I wanna feel you tomorrow. Wanna feel you all week."
"You're gonna," Steve promises darkly, bracing his hand against the bed and shoving, slamming in hard enough to make Bucky yell. He's oversensitive, overheated, and his cock isn't even hard any more, but none of that matters because Steve is over him, and Steve is inside him, and Steve is fucking him deep.
He is definitely going to regret this when he tries to get back on the bike tomorrow, and he can't fucking wait.
"Harder, harder, harder," he begs, and Steve gives it to him. And yeah, he's definitely gonna regret this tomorrow, so much, but not nearly as much as he'd regret Steve stopping. Steve's breath is coming heavy, short and sharp, puffing out of his open mouth and washing over Bucky's face, and Bucky just grabs him and digs his nails into Steve's back and holds on. He was thinking, before, he was thinking about - there was -
There was something, he thinks. Only now he can't really think at all.
Bucky whines softly against Steve's ear. "I'm yours," he whispers. "I'm yours, Stevie, I'm yours, tell me I'm yours. Please, please, you gotta tell me."
"You know you're mine," Steve replies, his voice a rasp of pleasure. "You know you are." He slides a hand under Bucky's back, gripping his shoulder and yanking him down into his next thrust, and Bucky wails. "Yeah, see?" Steve grunts. "You know."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Bucky repeats hoarsely, and his voice cracks as Steve thrusts again, and again, and again -
Steve buries his face in Bucky's neck and comes inside him with a groan and a rough shudder, his hips jerking just a little with every pulse of his cock. Bucky fists a hand in Steve's hair and bites down on his shoulder to keep from squirming, shuddering himself with the pleasure. He's still not hard, not yet, but his cock's gotten heavy and his skin's too tight and everything's so fucking sensitive and Steve's still as hard as rock inside him, he hasn't softened even a little bit.
He wants to get off again. He wants Steve to nail him into the fucking mattress and never let him up again. He wants -
"Steve," he grits out, shuddering again as Steve pulls out of him and Steve's big, hot hand wraps around his cock again. He arches, baring his neck. "Steve!"
"Shh, sweetheart," Steve murmurs, his voice low and thick and the hottest fucking thing Bucky's ever heard. Just like always. Bucky whines incoherently back at him, his hips pushing up into Steve's fist, and Steve mouths his way lazily up the side of Bucky's neck. His hand squeezes rhythmically but doesn't stroke, and Bucky whines again. "Think you can go again for me?" Steve murmurs against the shell of Bucky's ear.
"No," Bucky whines. "No fuckin' way, absolutely not, don't stop," Bucky gasps, his nails digging gouges down Steve's back. Steve puts his mouth behind Bucky's ear and sucks, and his hand squeezes Bucky's cock again, and Bucky pushes up into him helplessly.
Steve lips at his jaw and Bucky turns into the contact for a kiss, and it's sweet and heady and hot and overwhelming, making his head rush and spin, and his heart wants to beat right out of his chest and out of nowhere Steve bites him.
"Mrph!" Bucky protests, jerking back in surprise and giving Steve a disbelieving stare. Steve grins back, that same shit-eating grin he's always worn. "You asshole," Bucky sputters, touching the tip of his tongue to his abused lip, and Steve laughs and pushes his thumb up against the head of Bucky's cock. Bucky tries to smack him upside the head but he misses, of course he misses because Steve's thumb does it again, and he falls backward, gasping. "Gonna - oh God, more - gonna fucking take that bike - again, Christ - take the bike and leave you here, you fucking star-spangled pill - !"
And Steve is laughing so hard he can barely stay upright, which just makes Bucky want to kick him in the kidneys. Steve's still got his hand around Bucky's prick, though, which earns him just enough forgiveness to keep Bucky's feet on the mattress. Bucky growls at him anyway, yanking on his hair, and Steve buries another laugh in Bucky's shoulder. Bucky thinks about biting him back, but he's got bigger priorities right now.
"You're an asshole," he declares flatly, gripping Steve's sides tightly with his knees and shoving them up and over. Steve's still laughing hard, but Bucky's pretty sure he's still just letting him do it. Whatever, Bucky's still getting what he wants.
He grabs Steve's dick, and that gets him to stop laughing, mostly. Bucky relishes the sight of him arching up into the contact. "Yeah, that's how to shut you up," he grunts, grabbing the tube of slick with his free hand and slicking Steve's cock up again. He remembers that Steve uses this stuff on himself when he's alone and shivers at the thought.
"God, Buck," Steve sighs, and his eyes are heavy-lidded and dark, his pupils blown, and Bucky just smirks and gives his cock a good, hard squeeze before shifting forward and sinking down on Steve's dick. Immediately, Steve's the one cursing, and it's so sweet that Bucky smirks even wider and rolls his hips down. "Bucky!"
"Yeah, that's right," Bucky gasps out, moving faster now. Steve's fingers dig into his thighs and he fucks up hard into him and Bucky groans, bracing himself against Steve's ridiculous abs. He's shuddering. They're both shuddering, and it's just about the most perfect thing Bucky thinks he's maybe ever had.
Steve fucks up into him again and Bucky spreads his knees wider, letting Steve in deeper and hissing sharply when their skin smacks together. Steve groans, staring up at him with that gorgeous, fuck-drunk look on his face and Bucky basks in it, rolls his hips down harder, takes every inch of Steve's cock and lets it light a fire up his spine. Steve's fingers dig into Bucky's thighs, and they're going to leave bruises but it's totally fucking worth it.
He flattens his palms on Steve's stomach and fucks himself faster, Steve's cock a burning brand inside him, his skin tight and lit up like he could just catch fire and burn. He wants to come. He wants Steve to bruise him, ten perfect fucking fingerprints on his skin - proof, he wants the proof, he needs it so nobody can ever say it isn't true. He's Steve's, he belongs to Steve, and nobody else will ever touch him like this, nobody else will ever keep him like this.
"More," Bucky gasps. "Steve, more!" And Steve pushes his hands back to Bucky's ass and squeezes roughly, holding him still and fucking up into him savagely. Bucky's on goddamn top and Steve's still strong enough, together enough, to be in control. He doesn't even - fuck, Bucky can barely wrap his head around it, but it's fucking amazing and he is not complaining.
He might come just like this, he thinks, vaguely, somewhere under the part of him that's being reduced to its component parts of heat and need and soft, keening whines, underneath all the rough points of pressure where Steve's holding onto him, underneath the burn where Steve's pushing into him, his thick, hot, gentle fingers and his thick, hot, rough cock, and his whole body under Bucky's coiled up tight, huge and powerful. and strong enough to keep him right there.
And then he does come, no hand on his dick, not even any promises murmured in that thick, hot voice: just Steve holding onto him and pushing inside of him. The orgasm is painfully slow and Bucky can't even name the sounds he makes, his whole body curling up around it and clutching desperately at Steve's cock because nothing, nothing feels as good as coming so full, with Steve's cock and all that seed and slick so good inside him.
"Steve," he chokes out, helpless, and Steve pulls him down against him, wrapping him up in those impossibly strong arms and snapping his hips up tight into him, making the aftershocks so intense that they almost hurt. Bucky can't even hold on in return; he's lost all control of his body and all he can do is drop his forehead against Steve's chest and make soft, blissed-out noises and try to keep breathing.
The angle's different, bent over this far, and Steve's cock is dragging mercilessly against his prostate, punching soft, breathy whimpers and gasps out of Bucky's throat and making him tremble. He wants to melt into Steve. He wants Steve to come inside him again and lay claim to him and call him his, promise him something real and solid that can't - that isn't - that won't just disappear.
Won't just drop him and whisk away like he was never there at all, like he's replaceable, completely interchangeable and no different from any other - no different from - from -
"Don't lose me," Bucky sobs before he can get enough control of himself to keep his stupid fucking mouth shut. "Don't let me go, Stevie, please, please, don't let me go, don't let anything take me - "
The noise Steve makes then is awful.
Bucky's thrown off and a second later, he hits the mattress on his back, and Steve's between his legs again immediately, one hand gripping his hair and the other one across his chest, pinning him down hard and painful and perfect, and Bucky sobs again as Steve thrusts back inside of him. He's too sensitive, too overwrought, and this time when Steve thrusts into him, he screams.
Somebody's going to hear, some vague part of him thinks - somebody will hear, and catch them, and drag them out of bed and beat Steve's stupid, self-righteous skull in, and - and - and Steve thrusts harder, and Bucky screams again, even louder, and he doesn't even know where he's getting the breath for it.
"Nobody's taking you," Steve snarls viciously, his eyes blazing and every word punctuated with another thrust Bucky can practically feel in his fucking throat. He's so hot he can barely breathe, and Steve's suddenly cold enough to burn. "Ain't nobody ever laying a hand on you I won't tear off 'em first, you hear me? You're mine and they'll have to fucking kill me."
Bucky's almost sure he says something back, but by the time it gets out of his mouth he can't remember what it is and Steve isn't helping; Steve's fucking him so hard he can't even think and all the noises that are coming out of his mouth are completely incoherent, if he could even hear them anyway. But he doesn't have any trouble hearing Steve.
"Mine, my fella, my Bucky, all mine, I swear to God I won't ever let 'em touch you again," Steve growls, and Bucky sobs because it's exactly what he wants to hear, but it's also exactly what he doesn't want to hear.
He feels like he's coming again, but he can't be, not with his cock all soft and wrung out and there's no come left in him anyway, but it feels like it and he wails like it and Steve fucks him through it with curses and threats and horrible, beautiful promises that hurt to hear, that fill up his head and his heart and stab through him violently, and Bucky just tries to hold on.
He loses track of time - stops being able to distinguish between one moment and the next, between Steve's hands in his hair and on his face and around his hips and over his ribs all at once, Steve's cock all the way to the root inside him but not deep enough, Steve pinning him down and putting his mouth all over Bucky's face and throat and mouth and swearing in that same promising, punishing tone that he'd burn the whole fucking world down if that's what it took, that he'd do anything, that nothing would be too much.
Everything is too much, and the world greys out around him.
At some point, Steve must stop; he has to, because when Bucky can almost think again, the first thing he notices is that there's a deep, burning emptiness in his ass where Steve's cock used to be. His dazed, stupid mouth tries to protest, and he'd be alarmed by the hoarse, broken little sound that comes out of his raw and aching throat if he had the wherewithal to be alarmed by anything.
Steve shushes him, his voice low and soothing in the dark, his hands gentle when he puts them on Bucky's skin. Bucky pushes up into Steve's touch weakly. He'd have sworn the lights were on a minute ago, and the dark makes him feel sick and nauseous. That's Steve's hand, it is, he knows it is, the shape's nearly right even if it's too big and too hot, but that's definitely Steve's voice. The body, though, that big, strong body that gathers him up and pulls him close like a child -
The sob is an accident. He doesn't mean to let it out. But Steve wraps him up tight in his arms and whispers soft nonsense into his hair and Bucky trembles in his grasp, trying to get himself under control and absolutely failing. He's sore and tired and better-fucked than he's ever been before in his life, his body aching and sticky with sweat and his ass and thighs wet with slick and come, and it hurts so much but it feels so good.
"I got you, Buck," Steve whispers, and at least his voice is right. Bucky clings to the sound of it. "You're okay. I've got you, you're here, you're mine."
Bucky buries his face in Steve's neck and bites back another sob. The words won't come, and he probably couldn't say them even if they did. It's too much. It's not enough. It's perfect and right and totally, completely fucking wrong.
"I got you," Steve whispers again, his lips against Bucky's temple, and Bucky slumps into him. Of course Steve has him. Of course.
"...Fuck," he murmurs blearily a moment later, when he registers the press of Steve's cock against his stomach, a little slick and a lot hard. It almost makes him laugh, except it really doesn't. "Still?" he manages.
"I'm fine," Steve murmurs back, stroking Bucky's sweaty hair away from his face and kissing his temple again.
Bucky makes a soft, sighing whine in his throat. "Me, too," he manages, laying a heavy hand on Steve's hip and tugging with the little strength left in him. "'M fine, Stevie."
"Yeah, you're fine," Steve murmurs. "I've got you."
"No," Bucky mumbles, shaking his head and giving Steve's hip another tug. "'M fine." Steve takes another second to catch on, but then he inhales, quick and sharp, and Bucky shifts away to slump onto his back, his knees falling open loose and easy.
"You're - " Steve starts, but Bucky heads him off with a wet little whine, trying to make out Steve's face in the dark without much luck. He wonders if Steve can see him.
"Stevie," he murmurs, "tell me whose I am."
Steve makes that awful noise again and covers Bucky's body with his own, grabbing him in the same aching places as before. Bucky's tired and sore and already knows he's gonna regret the hell out of this tomorrow, but it's still better than Steve stopping right now.
He wasn't this obsessed with the idea of belonging to Steve before. It's not like - sure, they belonged to each other, of course they did, but this is... different.
Except maybe it's not, and maybe he's supposed to already know that.
He knows he's Steve's. And he knows Steve's his. He knows it better than anything, and so does Steve now, and so does everybody else - Steve's team and Darcy and Sam and all those strangers in Williamsburg and all those strangers on the Internet and everybody.
"You're mine," Steve growls, pushing into Bucky so slow and careful that Bucky's breath hitches. He's so slick and well-stretched that it's effortless.
"Yeah," Bucky manages thickly, because of course he's Steve's. Every Steve. Any Steve. Everyone knows that now.
The other him has to know it, too. Right?
He closes his eyes and goes totally limp, wrapping his arms around Steve's shoulders. He pushes his fingers into Steve's hair, pulling Steve's face down and tucking it into the crook of his shoulder; his other hand splays out across the top of Steve's spine and slides soothingly up and down Steve's back. "I'm yours," he whispers. "I'm here, I'm yours."
"Mine," Steve murmurs back, his hands sliding under Bucky's back and clutching at his shoulders. "Mine, mine, mine."
"Yours, babe," Bucky breathes. "God, I love you."
Steve makes a soft, broken sort of sound then, and he moans, "Love you, Buck, love you so much - " And then he's coming again, his hips jerking and low, hurt noises escaping him with each pulse of his cock. Bucky revels in it, in the stretch and burn of Steve inside him and the thick heat of his orgasm, in the feeling of Steve in his arms and wrapped all around him. Safe. Home.
Steve holds very still on top of him, and Bucky can finally feel him starting to soften. He gives a low laugh, sliding his hand down to cup Steve's cheek. "There we go," he murmurs. "Takes a little bit of effort to put you back in your place these days, don't it?"
At that, Steve huffs out a laugh, and he withdraws gently, rolling over onto his side and then scooting up to sit back against the headboard. He reaches down and gathers Bucky up in his arms. Bucky goes easily, fucked out and exhausted, but sated and stupidly happy. "You okay?" Steve murmurs, and Bucky laughs against his shoulder.
"I'm fine, Stevie," he replies. "I promise."
Steve's hand rubs slowly up and down Bucky's back. He's quiet for a long time, "I think," he says after a moment, "that maybe we should talk."
Bucky closes his eyes. "Tomorrow," he murmurs. "Too tired right now."
"Okay," Steve agrees. He presses a kiss to Bucky's temple. "Sleep now."
He wakes slowly, his head a little fuzzy, and squints at the dim light that fights its way around the hotel curtains. He raises his head and looks around, finding to his surprise that he is alone. There's a note propped up against the lamp on the bedside table; he reaches for it and pulls it close to his face. Gone for breakfast and some Epsom salts, it reads. Back soon. He puts the note back and starts to push himself out of the bed, and is dismayed to find himself bruised and stiff. Oh, well, he thinks. Earned it. With a smile that's a little more than half grimace, he forces himself off the mattress and limps into the bathroom to relieve himself.
He's just flushed the toilet when he hears the door open, and he leans around the bathroom door to grin at Steve, in yesterday's clothes and a couple days' worth of beard, coming into the room with bags in his hands. "Hey," he says, grinning slightly.
"Hey," Steve replies, returning the grin as he puts the bags on the table by the door. "Feeling okay?"
Bucky nods. "Sore," he admits, and Steve laughs.
"Well, I got some Epsom salts for a bath," he says, pulling a small box out of one of the bags. "Come eat, and then we'll soak for awhile."
"Oh, food." Bucky limps back across the room, ignoring Steve's look of concern in favor of whatever Steve's brought to eat.
Turns out, there's sticky cinnamon buns and a tall stack of pancakes and there's fluffy scrambled eggs and biscuits and sausage and bacon. Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve even as he reaches for a plastic fork. "You buy out the whole diner?"
"Just half of it," Steve replies, smirking, and Bucky laughs as they start decimating the food. When there's not much left but crumbs, Steve says, "Let me get a bath started," and he goes to do exactly that. Bucky lies back on the bed, his stomach pleasantly full, and listens to the sounds of water running in the tub and Steve scrubbing the tub out before he puts in the plug. He drifts, warm and satisfied, for a few minutes before Steve comes and gets him, hauling him up off the mattress and guiding him into the bathroom.
It's a tight squeeze, both of them in the tub, but they work it out and soon Bucky is lying sprawled out in the warm water, his back against Steve's chest. Steve's hands run up and down his arms and his torso for a little while, gentle and soothing on his skin, before he starts a concentrated rub at the base of Bucky's neck that soon has him making soft sounds of pleasure. Once Bucky's boneless against him, Steve says, "So, I think it's time for us to talk."
Of course. Bucky sighs. "Do we have to?" he asks, knowing he sounds petulant and maybe a little childish.
"Well, no," Steve says, reasonably. "But if we don't, I have a feeling this is just going to keep happening."
Bucky doesn't even try to pretend he doesn't know what Steve's talking about; what would be the point? He only had a fucking breakdown in the middle of sex and begged Steve not to let anybody take him away again.
He swallows hard, feeling the ghost of that emptiness rise up inside him again, reaching for his throat, and he pulls Steve's arms around him in an embrace. Steve squeezes him warmly, and that's all Bucky really needs to ground him. He takes a deep breath, and he finds that somehow the words he needs are there on the tip of his tongue.
"I ain't that fella," he says, keeping his voice low.
Steve is still for a moment before he says, "Yeah... you said that the other day."
"But it's true, though," Bucky says. "I ain't him. I ain't the guy that did those things - that signed up and went to war and got... got all jacked up and turned into some kinda monster. I ain't him."
And it's like Steve clues in, suddenly, because he leans down and he presses his lips to Bucky's temple. "I know," he murmurs. "I know you're not him." He's silent for a long moment before speaking again. "I know that it probably seems like I think you are, sometimes. And it... I have to admit, it would be easy for me to pretend. Terrifyingly easy."
The way he says it makes Bucky think he's caught himself doing it, a time or two, and he didn't much like the results. "I don't get to pretend," he agrees. "You... you're too different."
Steve tenses just a little, and he swallows hard; Bucky can hear it in his throat. "Am I too different, Buck?" he asks, his voice barely a whisper over the sound of their bodies in the water.
"No," Bucky says immediately, and he feels that tension drain back out. "No, it's just... like how it's easy for you to pretend, it's hard for me to remember, sometimes. Because I turn around expectin' that scrappy little guy and instead... instead you're this fuckin' Greek statue, like somethin' out of a museum." He swallows, tries to keep himself steady. "Your voice is the same, do you know?"
Steve shakes his head, just a bare motion. "No, not really. It sounds the same to me, inside my head, but I don't know what it sounds like outside."
Bucky nods. "Your voice is the same. And your smell is the same. Even though your soap's different, you still smell the same underneath it." He takes one of Steve's warm hands in his own, lacing their fingers together. "But your hands are so big now. And your fingers used to be cold."
"Because of my circulation," Steve agrees.
"Yeah." Bucky takes a deep breath, snuggling in against Steve. "And you were so small before. It was always me holdin' you like this. Even when you hated it."
"I never hated it," Steve denies. When Bucky would call him out on it, Steve presses a finger to Bucky's lips. "I didn't. I know what I said. And I did hate being small and weak and... and not able to... not able to take care of you like I oughta."
"More'n made up for that last night," Bucky teases.
He feels Steve smile against the top of his head. "I hope so." Then Steve takes a deep breath. "But I never hated it when you held me. Sometimes... Sometimes it was the only thing that made it bearable."
Bucky doesn't know what to say to that, he really doesn't, so he just relaxes against Steve and lets himself drift in the warmth of the water and Steve's embrace, and he prays to whichever of the saints might be listening to let it be enough. Just please, let it be enough.
Much later that evening, while Steve and Bucky are lying together on the bed with the television playing quietly, Steve's phone chimes with a text from Darcy, who needs his approval on a statement she wants to release. It seems that a couple of FOX News commentators had some things to say about Steve and his so-far-unidentified male companion at Williamsburg. The statement is a very politely worded invitation for the commentators in question to go fuck themselves and the horses they rode in on, and Steve approves it immediately.
By the time Steve's finished with the back-and-forth, Bucky's staring at the television screen, his jaw tight. Steve notices, and reaches up to touch Bucky's face with gentle fingers. "What is it?" he asks.
Bucky looks away. "Maybe you shouldn't," he says.
Bucky swallows hard, trying to keep it together. "Maybe you shouldn't tell all them people," he finally says, after a moment of searching for words. "Sure, maybe it's okay now, but I don't figure it's somethin' you can come back from. And... and you said you wanted to court Darcy."
Steve's eyes narrow at Bucky. "Were you under the impression that I was going to leave you for her?"
Since that's pretty much exactly what Bucky thought was going to happen, he doesn't reply. Steve picks up the remote control and flicks the television off, sitting up on the mattress and turning to face Bucky. "I thought we settled this," he says plainly.
"Settled what?" Bucky asks. Confused, he raises his eyes to Steve's, even though he knows they're turning red where he's trying not to cry. "We haven't talked about her in days. Not really, I mean. Not about this."
"I thought," Steve says gently, "that you understood that you're not replaceable. That nobody can ever be for me what you are to me - not even another version of you, and certainly not Darcy. Come on, Buck," he half-laughs, leaning forward. "You think I can ever be happy with somebody that never collected Dazzy Vance?"
Bucky laughs wetly, feeling the tears, already so close to the surface, beginning to leak out. "But you could... you could be normal with her," he tries.
"You miss the part where she's asexual and I don't like having sex with women?" Steve says drily. "How's that normal?"
"You know what I mean," Bucky says, wiping angrily at his face. "You wouldn't have to put up with these assholes on the television sayin' things about you."
Steve laughs, reaching for his phone. "Hang on a second. Let me show you something." He pokes at it for a minute until he finds what he wants, then he turns the volume all the way up. He shifts on the mattress until he's curled up beside Bucky, his chin resting on Bucky's shoulder, and he hands Bucky his phone. With a tap to the screen, he starts a video.
For the next five minutes and thirty seconds, Bucky listens with growing horror and anger as different people on the screen say awful things about Steve. They call him a traitor, they call him a freak, and they call him a socialist and a communist in the same tone of voice, like it's something awful to be. One man accuses him of attempting to overthrow the government; a woman insists that he's some kind of deviant personality. It goes on and on. When the video ends, Bucky looks up at Steve in horror. "What the hell, Steve?"
"The thing you have to understand about FOX News," Steve explains gently, "is that they basically hate everything that you and I stand for. They hate all those social programs that kept so many people fed and employed during the Depression; they hate fluoride in the water - it's good for teeth or something, I don't know. Hell, Buck, some of 'em even think vaccines are a mind control plot or something."
"Vaccines?" Bucky asks, bewildered. "Like for smallpox?"
Steve nods. "They got 'em for all kinds of stuff now, Buck. Measles, polio, chickenpox. Hell, nobody even gets smallpox any more; the last time anybody had it was in the 1970s. But these dumbasses think they're some kinda, I dunno, government plot or something. Some crazy broad from a television show says they cause autism or something - whatever, it doesn't matter." He waves a hand, dismissing the whole conversation. "The point is that FOX News is a buncha fuckin' idiots, and they're gonna say shit about me no matter what, so I don't care if they call me a faggot. It ain't like it used to be; nobody's gonna try to beat my ass for it. And even if they did try, well, look at me. They ain't gonna win."
Bucky nods slowly. "But... I'm confused, then."
"About what?" Steve asks, rolling over to put his phone back on the charger and then rolling back again.
"If... if you weren't plannin' on leavin' me... how are you gonna court her?"
Steve smiles slightly. "Well, I sure wasn't plannin' on doin' it without talkin' to you about it first."
"Okay," Bucky says, rolling onto his side so that he's facing Steve. "Let's talk."
A week later, Steve pulls off the road so that Bucky can take a picture of him in front of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. They're both tired and dusty from the road, but they get a little old lady to take a picture of both of them. She gleefully takes several, encouraging different poses, until her husband tugs on her sleeve and cajoles her into rejoining their tour group.
"Where are we supposed to meet Darcy?" Steve asks as they mount the bike once more.
Bucky pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks the text messages. "Place called The Bellagio," he reports. He pokes at the phone a few times, then says, "Got the map up."
"Usual directions," Steve says, meaning that Bucky should tug on his sleeves to indicate turns, and Bucky nods. They pass through the crowded city fairly quickly, mindful of bad drivers and drunken tourists, and in a relatively short time, they are pulling up in front of the hotel. A young man at the valet station gives them directions to the self-parking area, advising them that there is special parking just for motorcycles, and Steve slips him a ten-dollar tip before taking his directions.
In the parking garage, the motorcycle section, which is very near the doors and a security guard station, is almost full; Bucky hops off the back and stands, stretching his legs, while Steve maneuvers into a spot between a Honda and a Suzuki, and then he strides over and helps Steve get the bags.
He checks his phone again as they start into the hotel. "She's on the thirty-fourth floor," he reports. "But it's key-only? I don't know what that means. She says she has to come get us. I texted her that we're here; she says she's on her way."
Steve nods, busy looking around the opulent lobby. He's clearly impressed; Bucky is, too. He gives a low whistle as they pass through the room, glancing into the entrance to the casino as they pass it on their way to the massive indoor courtyard. "Damn, Stevie," he says. "Guess this must be how the other half lives, for sure."
"Feel like a goddamn Rockefeller," Steve mutters, pausing to stare up and up and up at a huge abstract sculpture that appears to be made entirely of living flowers. "Christ."
"Steve! Bucky!" Darcy's voice echoes in the courtyard, and both of them turn in unison to see her darting toward them, a huge and brilliant smile on her face. She fairly leaps into Steve's arms, and he catches her, laughing as he twirls her around once before putting her back on her feet. "I missed you!" she exclaims just before launching herself at Bucky.
Bucky catches her just like Steve did and spins her around, making her squeal a little bit and squeeze him harder. "You ain't still sore at us, then, are you, Doll?" he asks as he puts her down.
"No, I'm over it," Darcy assures him. Then she turns and pokes Steve in the chest. "But don't you ever pull a stunt like that on me again, you hear me, Steve Rogers?"
"Yes, ma'am," Steve replies immediately, nearly coming to attention at her tone.
Bucky snickers. "Sound just like his Ma when you call him that."
"I can come down on you, too, Bucky Barnes, if I think I need to." She pokes him as well, then grabs both their hands. "Come on; Tony sprang for a penthouse suite. You guys are going to shit when you see this room."
Steve and Bucky both exchange glances. "I hope that was a metaphor," Bucky says as she drags them into the elevator.
She laughs. "Maybe. Maybe not." She pulls out a keycard and swipes it through a reader. "You have to have a key to get to our floor. Security. I have yours in the room."
The elevator ride is brief, and spent with Bucky's arm snugly around Darcy's shoulders. Steve tries not to be jealous, reminding himself that he'll get his chance. He and Bucky came to an accord in New Mexico - if Darcy is receptive, Bucky will welcome her romantic, non-sexual presence in their lives and inside their relationship. There'll have to be a lot more talk about how it works, since he and Steve are clearly both very sexual with one another and Darcy is obviously not and will not want to be, but first they'll have to find out if she's even interested.
And before that, they need showers and sleep, because they're both exhausted. So Bucky is relieved when the elevator stops and disgorges them on their floor. Darcy leads them to their room, swiping her key at the door, and she pushes the door open, stepping back and watching their faces as they get their first look at the place.
"Jesus Christ," Bucky swears, looking around at the opulent space. "How big is this thing?"
"Sixteen hundred square feet," Darcy says. "Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, workspace, hot tubs, twice-daily housekeeping, it's ridiculous. And it's all ours for two weeks."
Steve blinks. "Two weeks?"
"I... may have threatened to quit last week," Darcy admits.
Bucky sucks in a breath; Steve blanches. "Was... was it because of us?" Bucky asks, though the clenching in his gut really doesn't want to know.
"No," Darcy says, and both men relax a little bit. "It was fucking Tony and his fucking - No. You know, I don't even want to talk about it. Just suffice it to say that Tony Stark owes me every penny I'm about to spend for the next two weeks, and that's enough."
Steve lets out a soft breath of relief, and Bucky reaches out to hug Darcy again. "Okay. Good. I'm glad it wasn't us."
"Nah, I wouldn't quit over you two," she assures him, patting his arm and smiling up at him. "I'd just scream at you until I felt better and you were suitably chastised."
"That sounds fair," Steve agrees, pulling both of them into a hug.
"Hey, group hug," Darcy exclaims, beaming, and they squish her between them.
Then Steve lets go and says, "As much as I'd love to just sit and hug both of you all night, I am desperate for a shower. And a nap."
"Me, too," Bucky admits. "I feel like I'm vibrating from being on the bike for so long."
"Well, go do that," Darcy says, shooing both of them toward one side of the suite. "I can entertain myself until you're fit for company. There's an entire high-end shopping mall inside this hotel."
"Jesus," Bucky mutters. "They got everything, don't they?"
"They really do," Darcy agrees. "So just call me when you're up and ready to hang out. They've got buffets and things, so we can get dinner, and if it's early enough we can maybe get tickets to a show."
"Or maybe we can just hang out?" Steve asks, his voice soft and hopeful. "We haven't seen you in a long time."
Darcy blinks, and a slow smile crosses her face. "Of course we can do that," she says softly, reaching out to take Steve's hand and give it a squeeze. "I'm sorry, I didn't even think that you might like to just take it easy tonight."
Steve smiles back. "Thanks," he says quietly. "I mean, the buffet sounds like a great idea, because food, but then maybe we could just spend the evening quietly. We could watch a movie or something?"
"That sounds great," Darcy says. "Yeah. Just call me when you're ready to eat, and we'll meet at one of the buffets, and then we'll come back up and chill."
Steve nods. "That sounds great." He squeezes her hand again, and then lets go. "Go have fun."
"Okay." Darcy grins brightly at both of them and leaves the suite again.
Steve leads Bucky in the direction of the doorway she'd been shooing them toward; it turns out to be one of the two bedrooms. Opulently decorated in a French style, just like the rest of the suite, it boasts a king-sized bed, a flat-screen television, and its own massive bathroom with a spa tub and a huge shower. Bucky groans at the sight, stripping his clothes off on his way into the huge tiled room, and he immediately starts the hot water running to fill the big tub.
Steve follows behind him, gathering up his clothes. There's even a hamper for them in the bathroom; he dumps Bucky's into that and lets his own follow behind before clambering into the tub with Bucky.
Bucky waits for Steve to get comfortable before he shifts, moving toward Steve. Steve's arms open and he pulls Bucky to him, settling him across his lap with Bucky's head on Steve's shoulder. They sit there quietly, just holding one another, while the tub fills, and then Steve cuts the water off and turns on the jets.
Bucky knows damn well that the moan he lets out when the jets hit him is pornographic; he can't help it. It feels too good. Steve's cock perks up a little bit under his ass, and Bucky laughs, shifting back against him. "Like that, is it?" he asks.
"Not really," Steve admits. "I don't think I've got the energy for it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh has been on the back of that bike all day."
Bucky laughs softly. "I hear you." He settles into Steve's arms for a long few minutes, just resting happily. Finally he admits to himself that they really do need to wash, so he sits up, looking around. On the edge of the shell-shaped tub, he finds a set of hotel-branded soap and shampoo; he frees the soap from its paper wrapping, dips it under the water, and then turns to face Steve.
He fills his hands with soap lather and reaches out, resting his hands on Steve's shoulders. And like he sometimes used to do when Steve was sick, he starts to run his soap-covered hands over Steve's skin.
Steve's eyes flutter closed and his head falls back against the edge of the tub, and Bucky smiles slightly, rubbing at the sore muscles in Steve's neck and shoulders. Then he picks up the soap again and starts using it in earnest, his hands firmly rubbing it over Steve's skin, washing him carefully, taking care of him the way he has always, always wanted to. Because there will never, ever be a universe in which Bucky Barnes doesn't take care of Steve Rogers the best way he knows how.
Thanks for coming along with me on this magical mystery tour! Here's the final chapter, hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. At some point soon, someday, suzukiblu will finish their current story and get started on the next chapter of skinny!Steve's adventures with the Winter Soldier. Until then, we wait!
After their bath they fall into the bed and take a nap; a solid couple hours of sleep later and both of them wake up feeling a little more human and a little more up to being sociable. Steve insists that they hang up their clean clothing in the closet, since they're going to be there for two weeks, only to discover to his consternation that they only have one set left each.
Bucky chortles in amusement even as he pulls on the same black jeans he was wearing earlier. He tops them with a plain white tee shirt and a green button-down (and he rolls his sleeves up to just under his elbows because he caught Steve eyeing his arms with intent several days ago), and then stamps his feet into his black boots. He watches with interest as Steve tugs on a pair of light blue jeans and a navy blue tee with a yellow button-down over it. He pulls on his brown motorcycle boots and rolls his own sleeves up, possibly in revenge, but Bucky damn sure isn't complaining.
On their way down in the elevator, Steve calls Darcy to find out where she is. She reports that she's still in the shopping area, having gotten distracted by a blackjack table on her way there. "I can come meet you guys for dinner, though," she says. "The mall's open whenever, and it's not like I can't come back."
"No, wait for us," Steve replies. "We're both out of clean clothes, and we'll need some more anyway if we're going to be here for two weeks."
"Okay," Darcy replies. "I'll meet you at the lobby entrance."
Sure enough, she's there when they come out of the courtyard, and she gives a low whistle of appreciation when she sees them. "You two look like a walking Diesel advertisement," she tells them, fanning herself. "Christ have mercy."
Bucky laughs, taken a bit aback. "I thought you weren't into that kind of thing," he says, slinging one arm around her shoulders and maneuvering her in between himself and Steve.
"I can appreciate how hot you both look without wanting you to stick your dick in me," she replies bluntly.
"And I am appropriately chastised," Bucky replies immediately, feeling his face go bright red at her plain-spokenness.
Steve clicks his tongue at them both. "Go easy on him, Darce," he says gently. "Remember how I was when we first met, yeah?"
Darcy heaves a sigh and raises a hand to rub at Bucky's back apologetically. "Sorry."
"Nah, you're okay, Doll," Bucky replies, giving her shoulders a squeeze. "No lesson like a hard lesson."
Another lesson awaits him in the shopping promenade. If he thought prices were high in New York, they were nothing compared to what awaits him in the high-end shops inside the casino hotel. He nearly swallows his own tongue when he realizes that the jeans he's trying on inside a shop called "Dior" - a word that means less than nothing to him - are over $200.
"Two hundred bucks!" he hisses at Steve. "Are you fucking kidding me?!"
Steve stares at the price tag in shock, which makes Bucky feel a little bit better, because he's used to what things cost nowadays and he's shocked too. Darcy, however, swans over from the other side of the store, tugs on the denim covering his ass, and says, "Definitely these."
"No!" Bucky exclaims, and then has to stop and take a deep breath because that came out a lot louder than he expected it to. "No," he says again, more quietly.
Darcy blinks at him. "Why not?"
"Because they're two hundred dollars," he says, feeling like that's a pretty reasonable argument in and of itself.
"I know they are," Darcy replies. She grins. "Why do you think we're even in this store? We're spending so much of Tony Stark's money right now."
"Darcy, this isn't right," Steve says repressively. "Tony gave you that credit card to use for you, to make up for whatever it is that you won't tell us about. He didn't give it to you for us."
Darcy heaves a heavy sigh and pulls her cell phone out. She dials, then puts the phone on speaker. When JARVIS answers, she says, "Hey, J, can you put me through to Tony for a second, please?"
"Certainly, Miss Lewis," JARVIS replies. "I take it that the ban is lifted?"
"No," Darcy replies. "The ban stays. This is a special case. One-time-only."
"Ah," the AI replies. "One moment, then."
A second later, there's a soft beep, and then Tony's voice comes across the line. "Lewis? To what do I very politely owe this extremely unexpected and greatly treasured gentle communication?"
Steve and Bucky blink at one another. It must have been a hell of a blow-up if Tony's being that careful. But Darcy is speaking; she says, "I need you to tell these two sticks-in-the-mud that I'm authorized to buy whatever the hell I want on this card, and that if I want to buy clothes for them, that's allowed."
"Absolutely," Tony replies instantly. "One hundred percent authorized."
"That's all," Darcy says. She hangs up. Then she looks up at Bucky and Steve expectantly. "Further objections?"
The two of them look at one another. Steve raises an eyebrow at him. Bucky shrugs. Steve says, "Nope."
"Good. Buy the jeans. Get them in the dark wash, too." She turns and floats away again.
By the time they're done shopping - an adventure that takes them all across the promenade and into a wide variety of shops with French and Italian names and haughty employees - they've spent a frankly obscene amount of money. Even knowing that the purchases were all authorized by Tony, Bucky is still uncomfortable enough that his shoulders have gotten a little tight, and Steve is looking sort of pinched around the lips.
Darcy ignores their discomfort, though - or maybe, Bucky muses, she's just letting them deal with it in their own way. She takes them back through the lobby and pauses at the concierge, who has a porter come with a cart to take all their bags up to their suite. Then she takes both their hands and guides them across the hotel to the buffet.
This is another eye-opening experience for Bucky. He stands at the front of the buffet line and stares around him at the sheer amount of food, swallowing hard and thinking of his own Stevie, scraping by in Brooklyn and trying so hard to make ends meet. The amount of money they spent just on clothing tonight would have allowed Stevie to buy a row house of his own, maybe even a real house up in one of the better neighborhoods with a little bit of yard, and kept him in food and nice clothing for years. For a second, Bucky wants to throw up.
Then Steve's hands settle on his shoulders, warm and comforting. "I know what you're thinking," he says softly, and Bucky nods once, because he's pretty sure Steve knows exactly what he's thinking. "Don't do it to yourself," Steve continues. "There's nothing that can be done. And I'm going to tell you right here and now that if he knew where you were, he'd tell you to enjoy it and not to worry about him. He gets by all right."
Bucky closes his eyes, swallowing hard. The hell of it is, that's probably exactly what the little bastard would say. And of course Steve would know that. Bucky takes a deep breath, in through the nose and then out through the mouth. "All right," he says, and he's proud that his voice only shakes a little bit. "Where are we starting?"
"They got steak," Steve replies. "It looks delicious."
"Yeah, okay," Bucky says. "That sounds good."
The food is delicious, and while Bucky and Darcy both eat too much for a normal person, Steve's food intake is just ridiculous. He lets them tease him, but he refuses to get embarrassed about it. "I do what I have to do," he says simply. Then he pokes Bucky in the side. "Besides, it's not like you were shy about helping me burn it off."
Darcy cackles, and Bucky's face burns for the second time that night, but Steve's grinning and his eyes are shining in a way that they didn't before, and Bucky can't help but think that this whole road trip, as weird as it's been, really was a great idea.
After they eat, they wander through the casino for a few minutes, but neither Bucky nor Steve is in the mood to gamble. Darcy drops a few quarters into a slot machine and gets nothing in return, so with a laugh she lets them herd her into the elevator and back upstairs to their suite. They all spend a few minutes unpacking their new purchases, removing tags and hanging things up, and when that's done they reconvene, dressed in pajama pants and tee shirts, in the main room, where they curl up on the wide, plush sofa together and watch movies until three in the morning.
The next day is for sightseeing; they wander up and down the Strip, in and out of the casino hotels, to see and do everything there is to see and do. Darcy spends a lot of money, enough to make them both uncomfortable again, but at least this time she doesn't spend it all on them; she also buys gifts for Jane and Thor, for Clint and Bruce and Natasha, for her mother and her younger sisters, and even for Sam, whom she's met all of twice. She doesn't even attempt to defend her purchases; she is clearly focused on nothing more than repeatedly punching Tony Stark directly in the wallet, and she still refuses to say why. Bucky and Steve don't ask.
That night, the three of them go to see Cirque du Soleil, and it is captivating. Bucky's head is filled with color and motion and light and shape and sound, and he spends a mournful hour afterward lamenting his complete lack of skill with watercolors. He is so taken with the show that he wants to go again, and he completely foregoes the third day's sightseeing in favor of taking a taxi to an art supply store and buying a massive set of colored pencils because he simply cannot do justice to that show in shades of gray.
Steve and Darcy thus spend the third day entirely in each other's company, and Bucky spends it at the desk in the suite's workspace, taking advantage of the excellent light to get some serious art done.
And then, late in the afternoon, he finds that the focal point of the drawing he's working on is not the acrobat, but the audience: an audience, specifically, that is made up of a tiny, fragile version of Steve and a larger version of himself that sports a metal arm. He sits back, considering the image, and what must be going on inside of his head for it to have come out in such a manner.
He wonders. Is the other him taking care of Steve like he should be? Is he keeping Steve warm and safe? Is he helping Bucky's Pops out at the factory? Is he walking Bucky's Ma and sisters to church on Sundays?
He wishes there was some way of knowing. Even if he can't ever get back, he wishes there was some way that he could at least know that the other him is there and filling the hole his own absence must have left behind. He wishes there was some way he could tell his Stevie that he's okay.
He pushes away from the desk and stretches, working out kinks that have formed in his back from a long day of sitting hunched over the desk. His cell phone is lying on the coffee table in the main room and the light on the front is blinking, so he checks his messages. Steve just texted him about fifteen minutes ago, wanting to know if he wants to meet at the buffet for dinner. He texts back his assent and goes to wash up.
In the bathroom, he stands and stares at his reflection for a long moment. He looks the same as he always did, but there's something about his eyes that's different. He wonders if it's the cumulative effects of everything he's experienced over the last several weeks showing up on his face. Then he snorts at himself. He needs a fuckin' haircut, is what it is. He changes his shirt and heads out to meet Steve and Darcy.
They're waiting for him in front of the buffet, and they're holding hands.
Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve in question, and Steve's cheeks go dusky pink. "So, um. We talked, Darcy and I did. About... about what you and I talked about before."
"About the three of us getting together," Darcy clarifies, even though Bucky knows exactly what Steve means.
"So, what do you think, Doll?" Bucky asks. "I know it might be weird, but it might be worth it."
"I agree," she says, smiling. "And I'm willing to try. We need to do a lot of talking about logistics and how things work and where our individual boundaries lie, but... if you're in, I'm in."
"I'm in," Bucky replies firmly.
"Everybody's in, that's great," Steve says. "Can we actually go in now? I'm starving."
Bucky rolls his eyes. "Always the romantic, ain't you, Stevie?"
Steve sticks his tongue out in reply.
They spend the full two weeks in Las Vegas, enjoying themselves and enjoying the VIP treatment and spending a lot of time negotiating their new relationship and its boundaries, especially where they involve Darcy and sex. She isn't anti-sex, by any means; she fully accepts and is totally on board with the idea that it's an activity Steve and Bucky enjoy with one another very much. She simply has no interest in participating.
Late in the first week, however, she discovers to her own surprise that she actually does enjoy watching, and since neither of them are opposed to being watched, this dovetails nicely. They all enjoy cuddling, as well, and affectionate touches and gentle kisses, and they all grow quickly accustomed to sharing these at random moments.
One night at the beginning of the second week, they rent a car and drive to the Grand Canyon, stopping for food and coffee on the way, and they have a picnic breakfast on the canyon's rim as the sun comes up, huddled together and wrapped up in blankets. They also visit the Hoover Dam, catch a ball game at Cashman Field (the Las Vegas 51s versus the Salt Lake Bees; the Bees win), attend an English style high tea at the Four Seasons, and - just for giggles - visit an indoor trampoline arena. By the end of the second week, they've done just about everything they can think of to do in the city, and even managed to win a little bit of money in the casino as well - though Steve wouldn't let Bucky hustle any poker because, as he put it, "This ain't the back of Mickey Waite's pub, Buck, these people have guns."
Finally, though, their time in the city comes to an end. Darcy's flight back leaves around noon on Saturday, so they spend Friday packing everything up. She actually gets boxes to ship her purchases back to New York (with the exception of what she's shipping to her mom and sisters) because it's less hassle than having to deal with checking that many bags. Steve and Bucky pack up their things and arrange to ship most of them as well, reducing their luggage back down to just what will fit on the bike.
"You know," Bucky says as they ride out to the airport with her in the taxi, "you oughta think about coming out to stay with us."
"In Brooklyn?" Darcy asks, canting her head at him.
"Well, yeah," Bucky replies. "I mean, that is where we're at."
She nods. "Yeah," she says slowly. "But what if you guys came in to Manhattan instead? You know there's a suite for you in the Tower, right?"
"Tony mentioned it," Steve says, nodding. "I hadn't really taken it seriously."
"Well, maybe you should," Darcy suggests. "At least come and look at it. It's really nice."
"As nice as this place has been?" Bucky asks, grinning.
Darcy and Steve both laugh, and Darcy says, "Believe it or not, in a lot of ways, it's nicer. I mean, there is JARVIS, after all."
"True," Bucky nods. He meets Steve's eyes and reads some hesitancy there; he adds, "We'll think about it."
She nods. "That's all I'm asking. And maybe, like I said, come see the place before you make a final decision. You might like it."
"We will," Steve promises.
They can't follow her past the security gate, so they separate from her there with kisses and hugs. They watch her go through the checkpoint and gather her things on the other side, and then she waves at them and blows them kisses before turning and disappearing down the concourse. Once she's gone, they turn together and leave the airport, Steve's arm slung companionably around Bucky's shoulders. Another taxi takes them back to the hotel, where they collect their luggage and hop back on the bike.
It's only three hours to Los Angeles, where they stop for coffee and consider touring the movie studios or the Sunset Strip but then Bucky points out that they're only two more hours from Tijuana, so they both figure what the hell. They end up spending a week there. They visit clubs to hear live music, watch a lucha libre match, spend a day in a water park, and buy a variety of souvenirs that they carry back into San Diego to ship home.
They follow the Pacific Coast Highway north and, after a brief consultation with the Internet, they bypass San Francisco itself in favor of Napa Valley, where they spend a night in a beautiful bed and breakfast run by two very old women who cheerfully explain that they've been together since 1952 and married since it was first legal in California. It's beautiful, and Bucky can't wait to sit down and draw it all.
It's time to head home, though, and they both know it. They plot a return trip that takes them home through Salt Lake City and Omaha. They spend an extra day and detour up to Chicago, just so they can say they've been there, and then they're bypassing Toledo and Cleveland and cutting through central Pennsylvania, which seems like it will never end. But of course it does, and it's almost jarring when they're suddenly in Newark and dodging commuter traffic into the city. But it's home, and Bucky can honestly say that even though the trip was the most amazing thing he's ever experienced, he has literally never been so happy to see the Brooklyn Bridge in his life.
When he falls into bed that night beside Steve, in Steve's big fancy apartment with two bathrooms and a powder room and an icebox that keeps cold all the time, he's exhausted and vibrating from the road, and he's never been so happy.
Darcy comes out to Brooklyn and spends a couple of days with them, going through the boxes of souvenirs and the masses of photographs and generally unwinding with them, and then she convinces them to come into Manhattan and see the apartment Tony built for Steve in the Tower.
Bucky has to admit, it's a hell of a nice apartment. It's as big as the suite at the Bellagio, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a big kitchen and a common area and also a large, airy, and well-lit art studio. Steve looks half-convinced.
Bucky is fully convinced when they come out of the apartment and are accosted by Natasha Romanoff in the hallway. "You've been gone forever," she accuses, her eyes narrow.
"We brought presents," Steve offers.
"Hmph," Natasha replies, as though their presents mean nothing to her. But Bucky sees that she's wearing the turquoise and silver pendant that Steve sent from Tijuana. "Come and spar with me," she demands. "I want to see if you've kept in condition."
"I am always in condition," Steve replies, but he goes anyway, following Natasha to the gym.
Darcy and Bucky follow as well, and clamber up into the bleachers on the side of the gym floor to watch. "It's how Nat shows affection," Darcy says. "Everyone here is emotionally stunted. You'll get used to it."
"Mmm," Bucky replies. He's watching them prepare, stretching and warming up, and he says, "So they're... Avengers, yeah?"
"Yeah," Darcy replies. "That's what they're called."
"How'd they get to be?"
"Well, you know about Steve and the serum," Darcy replies. "Natasha used to be a spy; she was trained for it since she was a little kid. Tony's got a flying suit of armor that he built. Clint's literally the best archer in the world; he never misses. Thor's an alien. And Bruce had a little accident with some radiation and now he turns into a big green monster."
"How's Clint the best archer in the world?" Bucky asks. "He got magic powers, too?"
"Nope," Clint replies, dropping down out of the ceiling rafters to sit next to Bucky. "Practice. I picked up a bow for the first time when I was about eight and I never put it down again."
"Hmm," Bucky says.
Clint gives him a side-eyed look. "What are you thinking, Barnes?"
"Well," Bucky says slowly, watching as Steve and Natasha circle one another on the mats, "I was thinkin' about that other me. The one that was in the army. They trained him how to be a sharpshooter, yeah? I never picked up a gun in my life, so it had to be the army."
Clint nods. "Yeah, as far as I know that's right."
"Well," Bucky says, drawing the word out as the two on the mat get serious, "if he could do it, and be a good sharpshooter, then I could do it. Right?"
"Sure you could," Darcy says easily. "Why, are you wanting to do that?"
"Would I be able to help keep Steve safe?" Bucky returns.
Clint nods slowly, scratching at his chin. "Sure," he finally says. "And you're younger now than the other you was when he got started, so there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to pick it up as well as he did. You're not going to be an expert right away," he adds in a warning tone. "It's going to take practice. A lot of practice."
"I figured it would," Bucky replies. "Ain't like I got anything else to do with my time."
"All right," Clint says. "Be at the shooting range tomorrow at ten and we'll get you started."
Bucky nods once. "I'll be there." Then he focuses his attention on watching Romanoff do her dead level best to take Steve down. Clint and Darcy exchange bets on whether she'll be able to manage it. Tony wanders in with a bag of microwave popcorn and Bruce in tow, and they heckle the combatants mercilessly. When the match is over, Tony announces that he's ordered in supper for everyone who cares to eat it, and they all troop up to a huge common room to share Chinese take-out and watch terrible science fiction movies.
That night, lying in bed between Steve and Darcy, Bucky tells Steve about how he's going to get Clint to teach him how to shoot. "I want to be out there with you, when you have to be an Avenger," he explains. "I want to be able to keep looking out for you."
And Steve... well, he doesn't like it, and Bucky gets that. But he understands. Because there will never, ever be a universe in which Bucky Barnes doesn't have Steve Rogers's back.