“Fuck,” Bucky hisses, eyes scanning the man’s chest and arms, his throat, looking for any other signs of injury. There aren’t any, but Bucky’s eyes settle on the chain around the man’s neck, thick and golden, and to the eagle pendant that hangs from it. “Oh, fuck. You’ve got to be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”
Bucky recognizes what that eagle represents. He has seen it in banners all over the main city, has seen it in war. His eyes go wide in horror when he realizes just who is bleeding out on his lands, freezing when his gaze reaches the man’s face, confirming what he already knows to be true.
Crown Prince Steven Grant doesn’t answer him, just keeps lying on the ground, covered in blood, looking like he’s seconds away from death. Bucky gulps, hands shaking as he gets a grip on the Prince’s shirts and rips them, panic rising in his throat.
- - -
“I’m okay,” Bucky tells him, kneeling down just as Strider barrels into him, sticking his cold muzzle against the side of Bucky’s neck. “Safe.”
Strider whines, snuffling around Bucky’s chest and getting his fur dirty with blood. Bucky scratches behind Strider’s ears, grounding himself with each touch.
- - -
“I’ll try my best not to do anything that stupid,” Prince Steven answers, grin stretching from ear to ear when he winks at Bucky, “but I make no promises.”
That wink is enough for Bucky to snap out of his stupor. He makes a little sound in the back of his throat, unbelieving and mocking all at once. “I won’t be there to save you every time,” he forces out, trying to match the Prince’s humor with his own.
- - -
Steve isn’t prepared for what he finds once he gets to Barnes’s house.
Mostly because what he is prepared for is more of Barnes’s grumpiness and icy glares. And that is not what he gets, oh no. What awaits him once road transforms into the little rundown path to Barnes’s house is something entirely different. And Steve thanks his quick reflexes for not falling off his horse as soon as he catches sight of Barnes.
The man is kneeling down on the ground by the side of his house, tending to what appears to be a small garden, a few old and rusted tools close to his knee. His dog is lying by his side, head resting on his paws, watching as Barnes digs his fingers into the soil. It is not the mundane task that baffles Steve, though.
- - -
He watches in wonder as Prince Steven shrugs and brings one hand up to scratch at the back of his neck. The expression on his face is one of embarrassment, the smile he tries to give Bucky sheepish.
“Working with rusted tools is dangerous,” the Prince says, shrugging. “Sometimes they don’t work properly. You could get seriously hurt.”
“Dangerous,” Bucky repeats, astonished.
- - -
But as soon as he catches sight of Steve and the banners emblazoned with an eagle, he puts away his knife and assumes a position Steve is finding himself familiar with: arms crossed over his chest, mouth tight, and leveling Steve with a glare that would send lesser men running.
But Steve hasn’t been known to run from a thing in his life, so he walks up to Barnes, the small selection of books held tight in one hand.
“Hello,” Steve says once he draws near. “I brought you some books.”
- - -
Steve is not prepared for the look of absolute loss on Barnes’s face when he gently picks up the drawing and stares it. A blank look or a small smile? Sure. But not this. Never this. And it only gets worse when Barnes glances up at him.
“Why do you keep showing up?” he asks, voice nothing but a whisper, Strider whining at his side. Barnes touching him once, between his ears, as if to offer himself some sort of comfort.
Steve gulps, stomach in knots. He doesn’t tell the whole truth when he says, “I like coming here. And it feels right to try to thank you for what you did for me, for saving my life.”
- - -
Bucky focuses on his work, every once in a while glancing at the two of them. The Prince now sits on the ground, unconcerned about his clothes, with Strider stretched out in front of him, panting happily as Prince Steven gives him as many belly rubs as he wants.
All in all, it is a very efficient day at work.
- - -
“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t see any blueberry muffins,” Bucky says, just as he picks up a blueberry muffin and sticks it into his mouth.
It is totally worth it for the outraged look on Prince Steven’s face. At least until he clenches his jaw and swipes one of Bucky’s preferred sugar cookies and stuffs it in his mouth, his cheeks full, crumbs falling on his shirt.
They stand there at an impasse, chewing and glaring at each other. It’s the most fun Bucky’s had in a really long time.
- - -
Prince Steven frowns, hands curling into fists at his sides. “It is the truth. People should know what you did. It was noble and brave, and you deserve the recognition.”
Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that, because to him those words sound untrue. He does not want recognition, never has. With it comes attention, prestige, remembering. And Bucky wants none of that. He’d rather be a ghost story, a forgotten memory, lost in the mists of time.
If people take Prince Steven’s words to heart, then it means they will pay more than just a passing attention to him. It means people will remember him, and he can’t afford to have anyone recognize him or find out what he’s capable of.
Bucky does not tell Prince Steven any of that, of course.
“I don’t want more recognition than I already have, thank you,” is what he says instead, low and rough.
“But you’re a hero,” Prince Steven argues, eyes hot and ready to fight anyone who dares say otherwise, even Bucky himself.
- - -
Steve nods, but he can’t help but ask, “Do you forgive me?”
Because there is a world of difference between acceptance and forgiveness.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Bucky says, a faint smile on his lips. “I forgive you.”
- - -
Steve’s bangs fall across his forehead, hair almost white under the light, making the blue of his eyes even more striking. His cheeks are flushed, and little freckles cover the bridge of his nose, making him look younger than his years.
And beautiful, not that Bucky is going to say that out loud.
“I have trouble sleeping, sometimes,” Bucky finds himself saying, a little more honest than he meant to be. But when he sees the interest in Steve’s eyes, sharp focus all on Bucky, he can’t help but continue, “So I go on walks to clear my head. I came across this place during one of them, and couldn’t stay away.”
“It’s beautiful,” Steve says quietly, eyes never leaving Bucky’s.
Bucky digs his fingers into the ground beneath him, all so he can hide the shiver that runs down his spine. “It is,” he agrees, lowering his gaze. “Especially at night. You can lie down and see all of the stars from here, and the moon, when it's full, reflects across the water and makes everything glow white.”
“I’d very much like to see that one day,” Steve tells him, and the smile he gives Bucky is sweet and filled with longing.
Bucky takes a deep breath, staring at Steve from under his lashes. “If you can get away from all of your princely duties, maybe we can come back here.”
Steve’s smile turns into a grin, big and excited. “I’d like that.”
- - -
Bucky tugs at his collar as he prepares to leave for dinner, feeling stiff and awkward in the clothes Peggy and Angie picked for him.
The pants are tight, hugging his thighs and calves and other parts Bucky would rather not think about but that, according to Angie, makes him look very striking. The white plain shirt is much the same, laces done up, fabric stretching across his shoulders and back. Too bad it is mostly hidden under a vest, and over that Bucky is wearing a fitted burgundy coat with silver details on the collar and chest.
“Do I look stupid?” Bucky asks Strider, who turns around and pointedly ignores Bucky, just as he’s been doing since Bucky forced him into a bath. “We’re meeting the Queen. We need to look good.”
Bucky has even combed his hair and tied it at the back of his head with a ribbon. He put his foot down on getting a shave, knowing the skin covered by stubble would look pale and pink instead of the healthy tan he has everywhere else.
- - -
A hug sounds like something he needs right about now.
So Bucky opens his arms, letting Steve pull him close and hold him tight.
Bucky finds himself relaxing into Steve’s arms, knowing that there he is safe from harm. “Hi,” he mumbles against Steve’s neck, letting Steve’s scent and warmth wash over him.
“Hey,” Steve says back, lips brushing against the shell of Bucky’s ear, making him shiver. Steve just hugs him tighter, neither of them eager to let go any time soon.
And they don’t, just pulling back far enough so they can stare at each other, not letting go.
“Hi,” Bucky repeats, just because he doesn’t know what else to say.
Steve doesn’t seem to have that problem, although he does flush bright pink when he says, “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks,” Bucky murmurs, heart in his throat. He can’t remember the last time someone called him that, but the pain in his chest makes him think it was his mother. Bucky guesses he’ll have a lot to thank Peggy and Angie for, after tonight. “You, as well.”
- - -
Laughter that quickly dies when he sees the blood running down Steve’s thumb, a small cut on his skin from cut prickled by a thorn.
Bucky doesn’t think twice before he throws the rose on the floor and holds Steve’s hand between his own, blood staining his fingers. He doesn’t think when he taps into that place inside himself, finds that little spark of magic he’s kept so well hidden as these years. He doesn’t think as he heals Steve’s small injuries, their skins glowing as the cuts close.
Bucky doesn’t think and uses his magic in front of Steve.
“Bucky,” Steve whispers reverently, awe in his face.
- - -
“Wait, I forgot something,” Steve says, letting go of Bucky’s hand so he can pat his pockets.
Bucky presses his lips together in amusement, watching as Steve fumbles with whatever it is he is looking for. It takes Steve a few tries until he manages to fish something out of his pocket, a small flash of silver and blue catching Bucky’s eye.
“What…,” Bucky trails off, heart beating rapidly when Steve takes his left hand and slides a ring on his finger, a wide silver band with crowns and a rectangular blue stone in the middle, and then kisses his knuckles. “Have you been carrying that out with you the entire time?” he asks, eyes round with shock.
“Not the whole time,” Steve says, sheepish.
“Since when?” Bucky looks down at their hands, chest tight.
“Remember the stream?” Steve asks him, squeezing Bucky’s fingers. “The first time we touched?”
Bucky remembers. He can still feel the press of Steve’s fingers against his own on the ground. The first gentle touch he’d received in so long.
“I do,” Bucky whispers, knees almost giving up as he falls in love with Steve all over again.