Amanda Wilson is over, again, because ever since their coffee adventure she’s decided her mission is to give Bucky and Steve a crash course in the 21th century. She burst in earlier that day with a convicted “You both need to know about emojis ” and she and Bucky have been messing around with Bucky’s phone ever since. Steve only escaped the tutorial by proving, via text, that he could send a message with at least three emojis that made sense. Amanda insisted. “No eggplant-moa statue-smiley poop nonsense like my mom texts when she’s trying to be hip and funny,“ Amanda scoffs.
Smiley poop. The very idea. That one is Clint’s favorite, not Steve's.
Hearing about Amanda’s visit, Natasha drops by. When informed of the afternoon’s technological pursuits, she decides that she’s going to kill two birds with one stone. Pepper’s birthday is coming up; this is as good an excuse as any to teach Bucky and Steve about online shopping, according to Nat. Steve and Bucky share a look. They silently agree not to mention that the Depression era Fire-King glass mug Nat is drinking tea out of, was purchased on Ebay. Steve normally isn’t choosy about household items, but he’s always liked the particular heft and milky glass of those mugs for some reason.
Now they are gathered around Steve’s laptop, scrolling through the Bergdorf Goodman website. Steve is trying to rein in his deep disgust at $500 jars of face cream. It’s difficult. Amanda is playing a sort of game called “How Many Chucks I Could Buy With That Much Money,” which isn’t helping either. Steve can still remember how the cold used to make his feet ache, no matter how much newspaper he stuffed into his worn-out shoes.
After “I could buy 20 pairs of Chuck Taylor low-tops with that much money” in response to a damn 1.35 ounce jar of something called “Cle de Peau Beaute Synactif Cream” that costs a thousand dollars , Steve cannot keep quiet and blurts “This is fucking insane. What’s in that, anyway? Unicorn tears? I remember that all the USO girls needed--” before he realizes what he’s just done. A sharklike smile is spreading across Natasha’s face. Amanda just looks gleeful, about his cursing probably. Bucky’s been a bad influence.
“Oh,” says Nat, in the type of voice that makes grown men piss themselves during interrogations. “Please do go on and tell us about the USO girls, Steven.” Amanda looks to be stifling a squeal, and Bucky is frowning. In response to what, Steve isn’t quite sure.
“Uh, they just used plain old cold cream. Or honey,” Steve mutters. “They made me help sometimes,” he adds, under his breath. Extreme tactical error, Rogers, what is he even doing.
“Excuse me, Steven? What was that?” Nat’s grin has edged over to “psychotic.”
“They, made me help. Sometimes.”
Amanda does squeal then, flinging her hands into the air dramatically, causing Bucky to jump like a scalded cat. Ignoring her profuse fussing and apologizing, Steve glares daggers at Nat.
Not 10 minutes later, Steve is resentfully stirring brown sugar and honey together in one of their cereal bowls. Amanda and Nat sit across from him, chins propped on their hands, both enjoying his embarrassment entirely too much. When the mixture looks how he remembers it looking, he sighs. “Amanda. Tie your hair back.” She does, and he rises with the bowl, taking some of the sticky mess and smoothing it over Amanda’s upturned face. He’s taken back, suddenly, to a narrow, dim room, cluttered vanity tables, the heady scents of Midnight In Paris and face powder. The way the girls tittered like birds if there were any men there besides himself, and brayed with laughter when there weren’t. Red lips and a voice cigarette-rough around the edges: “C’mon, handsome. Be a doll and help me out here, I just did my nails.”
“They’d leave it on for awhile,” he tells Amanda. “Then they rinsed it off with warm water.” He moves on to Nat, making sure to show her how to rub the sugar into her skin. She smirks at him.
“Well, thank you, Steven.”
“What other little tricks did you pick up from the chorus girls, hmm?”
There is movement at his elbow then. Bucky’s melted out of his shadowy corner, and is eyeing Steve’s hands on Natasha’s face intently. She grins at Bucky, then rises to join Amanda on the couch, where Amanda is scrolling through Netflix. And hopefully not texting her friends about how Captain America has just been dispensing beauty tips.
Steve turns to go rinse the bowl out in the kitchen, but Bucky sits abruptly on the chair Nat vacated. He looks up at Steve, and lord, his eyes are blue. “What is it, Buck?” Steve asks. Bucky jerks his chin at the bowl in Steve’s hands pointedly. Oh fuck. Steve swallows. On the one hand, touching Bucky. On the other, touching Bucky . He scoops the viscous goop up with unsteady hands.
Bucky tilts his head back, baring the beautiful line of his neck. His eyes are closed, and his eyelashes fan dark against his cheeks. Steve is viscerally reminded of the inscrutable statues of saints and angels that used to distract him when his mother took him to Mass. Swallowing, he smoothes a thin layer of the mixture onto Bucky’s face and Bucky accepts the touch with perfect stillness. Amanda is chattering at Nat in the background but their voices have blurred, and all Steve can hear is the beat of his own heart in his ears. Ostensibly to smooth the honey better, Steve cradles Bucky’s face, letting his thumbs stroke gently along his cheekbones, just once, no more.
Bucky opens his eyes, and Steve freezes. Bucky blinks. His gaze is focused, present. Steve should really take his hands away, but he can’t move, and his hands might be shaking a little. Bucky takes in Steve’s expression, and brings his own hands up to Steve’s wrists. Steve prepares for Bucky to push his hands away, but instead-
Instead Bucky turns his head, and presses his lips to Steve’s palm.
“Buck.” Steve’s voice is wrecked. Bucky smiles, small and private. Steve recognizes that smile. “Buck,” he breathes again, because that’s really Bucky, that smile.
Bucky slides his hands up and threads his fingers through Steve’s. Steve can’t breathe. The look in Bucky’s eyes is so soft. In one fluid motion, he rises to his feet, and takes a step forward, backing Steve up like the time he’d tried to teach Steve to dance, more than seventy years ago. One step, then another, and then the wall’s at Steve’s back. Bucky brings their joined hands up against it, bracketing Steve’s face. The room has gone silent, honey is dripping down onto the floor, but Steve can’t look away from Bucky’s eyes, and his chest heaves with the simple effort of drawing breath. It’s impossible, breathing, when Bucky’s eyes flicker to Steve’s mouth. Dimly, Steve hears Nat say “Ok, we’re leaving, right now, Amanda. Let’s go.” But then Bucky’s lips are on his, and Bucky’s body is pressed up against his, and Bucky tastes of honey, and Steve feels incandescent .
Seconds or eons later, Bucky is drawing back. Steve takes a hitching breath. Bucky tugs on his hands and smiles at him. “Stevie, shit’s getting everywhere. C’mon. Let’s go clean up.”
Steve’s sure that they went into the bathroom and washed honey off of their hands and faces, and he knows at some point shirts were shed. But it’s all a delicious blur, and now he’s lying back on his bed, and James Buchanan Barnes is pressing his lips to Steve’s collarbone. Steve can’t quite muffle a choked sob. “Hey--hey--hey, no, Stevie, no,” Bucky croons at him, lifting his head, kissing the side of Steve’s nose, his eyelids, his mouth.
“I just--” Steve can’t speak. “I never--” He reaches up and tangles his fingers in Bucky’s hair. “Never thought I’d ever have this. Dreamed of it, yeah. Never dared--” Bucky kisses him again. It tastes like salt instead of lingering sweetness. Steve hadn’t even known he’d started crying. Or is Bucky crying? Bucky curls into him, resting his head on Steve’s chest. They just breath together for a moment.
“I remember,” Bucky says, and Steve’s heart jumps. “We were, oh, fifteen? You weren’t feeling well, so I’d brought you the latest dime novel I’d been reading and we ended up sitting on your bed. It was winter, with that bright light you get when it’s snowy outside coming in through the window. You were laughing about something in the book, and I just remember looking at you and realizing down to my bones how beautiful you were. Scared the piss out of me.” Steve curls an arm about Bucky’s shoulders, clutching him even closer to his chest.
“That long, Buck?”
“Yeah, Stevie. But you know how things were. Didn’t want to make things even harder for you, so I tried to forget. And then, well.”
Steve is rolling stormclouds, flickering heat-lighting, a collapsing star. He can’t speak, only slides out from under Bucky only to curl back into him, needing to be held. Bucky does.
“Steve.” His voice is hesitant. “It’s still gonna be bad sometimes. I don’t always remember like I do right now.”
“I know,” Steve murmurs into his neck.
“But Steve, I promise, since the Helicarrier, I’ve always remembered that I…” He doesn’t finish, but Steve knows what he means.
“I love you too. Always have. Always will.”
And wrapped up in Bucky, Steve feels like some of the jagged pieces of himself have slotted back into place somehow. Imperfect, but whole.
To the end of the line , he thinks.
And then, they sleep.