The sound of the engine and the air around them was a constant, tuneless hum; clouds passed beneath them like a slow procession of softly whipped cream, as though with enough vigorous whisking, cream could become so aerated that it was no longer subject to the laws of gravity.
"So..." Steve hesitated to finish the question, "are we dating?"
"I think we're past dating," said Bucky, watching the pale, soft landscapes out the window. "We've been living together since the Thirties."
"No, but I mean, we're... you know, together? Going steady? Shit, I don't know," said Steve. It felt stupid to ask.
"Steve, you know I want to be with you, if you want to be with me." Steve felt Bucky's hand hovering over his, hesitant. Steve clasped them together.
"Of course I want to be with you, Buck," Steve beamed, letting his head lean down to rest on Bucky's shoulder. "Should I call you my boyfriend? Partner? My best guy?"
"I like the sound of all of those," said Bucky, with a quiet smile.
"Boyfriend sounds okay," Steve concluded. "Does boyfriend sound weird?"
"Boyfriend sounds good," replied Bucky, squeezing Steve's hand in his. "I'm your boyfriend. Wow. What the hell are your friends gonna think?"
Steve gave it a moment's thought. "I don't know," he said, truthfully. Natasha would not be surprised, at least, though he was fairly sure she only trusted Bucky at all because Steve did. Sam would make fun of him. Wade knew. Thor would clap them both on the shoulder hard enough that most Midgardians would almost bruise. Tony? Oh, who knows, he thought. Steve leaned into Bucky's shoulder.
"I missed you so much, Stevie," Bucky told him. Steve could hear his heartbeat.
"I missed you too," he said.
Steve jumped to attention at the sound of T'Challa softly clearing his throat with all the grace and regal bearing of an exceptionally polite gazelle. Bucky straightened in his seat, pulling his hand away and setting it, as casually as he could, in his lap.
"You know, I am not so easily bothered by public displays of affection," he told them, settling into the seat opposite them with a cup of tea. "Please, don't stop on my account."
Steve blushed. "Sorry, your majesty," he said, straightening himself in his seat. "You know, you didn't have to fly us back in your private jet."
"It's not an inconvenience," T'Challa assured him, "but an opportunity. It has been far too long since the last time I had Roberta's Pizza."
Steve nodded. T'Challa sipped his tea. Bucky stared out at the passing clouds. A few minutes passed comfortably.
"Steve's my boyfriend," said Bucky, and the pair collapsed into each other, overwhelmed with joy.
It was almost a miracle that Steve had managed to find a new place at all, at such short notice and sight unseen. He was grateful to the friends who had agreed to scout a few properties ahead of time, and managed to hit upon this little chestnut on the third floor of a 19th century converted townhouse, nestled comfortably on a quiet street shaded by trees that had to be at least as old as the house itself. He drew a nervous breath as he guided the key into the lock for the first time, felt a momentary pang of concern when it caught slightly, but with a little extra force, it turned smoothly to open.
It was... honestly, really nice.
"What do you think?" he asked, searching Bucky's face for approval. Bucky squinted, bumping shoulders as they let the front door close behind them.
"It's bigger than our old place," he said. "Did the furniture come with it?"
"Yeah," said Steve. "Figured it was easier than having to start from nothing."
Bucky set his bag down cautiously by the bookcase. "That's a relief," he said, his deadpan delivery betrayed by the faintest smile. "That sofa's uglier than the ass end of an elephant."
Granted, thought Steve, the sofa was not one of the apartment's greatest selling points: what was probably once the height of aspirational sophistication was now something of a misshapen wodge of faded orange damask that probably left chafe marks on the backs of your legs if you dared to sit on it in shorts. There may have been at least one spring desperately straining to break free under the worn seat cushions, but it had character. Besides, Steve was not about to quibble over the state of one sofa versus a comfortable two-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors overlooking the park, in Brooklyn, that was within his price range, albeit by the skin of his teeth.
"... we can Craigslist it," said Steve, with a sigh of resignation.
"Sure," Bucky agreed, glancing into the kitchen. "Who's Craig?"
There was little else to do that day but sleep, and sleep again. By Steve's estimate, they had achieved a good four hours' proper rest between them in the eighteen hours it took to fly back from Wakanda (with a pit stop in Zurich for fuel, pastries, and as much chocolate as they could fit in their bags, admittedly) but there was something in the prospect of sleeping for the first time in their new home that left Steve almost too excited to sleep at all.
It was still new: not the sharing of the bed, mind, which had been their preferred way of sleeping since almost as long as they had known each other. In the years they had spent apart, Steve found sleeping came less easily than it had before, burrowed together down beneath the well-worn blankets in their drafty little bedroom, the whisper of Bucky's steady breaths soft against his skin. Steve had not quite realised just what a comfort Bucky's presence was until it was gone.
Now, away from the danger and the dark, nested in blankets and twined together in their little bed, Steve was home. He was grateful to have learned that they still slept best when they slept together; except, it turned out, for the part where his body held stubbornly to the notion that it was the early hours of the morning, and not the late hours of bedtime. Science be damned, he thought, time zones were stupid, and whoever invented them was a lousy bum. Shifting onto his side, he could feel the brush of cool metal lean into his thigh.
"Hey Buck, are you asleep?" he asked into the dark.
"Nope," said Bucky, staring at the ceiling.
"Nope," said Bucky.
"And cryo-sleep," added Bucky. "My circadian rhythms are fucked so hard right now they're gonna be walking bow-legged for days."
Steve blushed. He stretched his free arm over his head with a tired groan and laid it across Bucky's chest. Bucky mumbled his approval, like a gently hibernating bear.
"Maybe we should just get up for a while, do something, try again," Steve suggested, nestling into Bucky's side.
"Nope," said Bucky, folding himself into the embrace. "We had to wait way too long to get here. I'll take every moment that time gives us."
"Can I kiss you?" Steve asked him.
"I'd be disappointed if you didn't," Bucky smiled against his lips. He still tasted like toothpaste. Steve kicked the covers away from his feet.
The next thing he knew, it was morning.
"To be honest, ma'am, I'm not totally sure what I'm doing here."
Steve, hands folded in his lap, was perched on the edge of the soft leather chair. The therapist was pouring them each a cup of coffee. Steve would have taken his with milk, given the choice, but did not wish to ask for it.
"First off, you can dispense with the ma'am," she told him, settling into her chair, tapping the tip of her pen against her notepad. "Susan's fine. Ma'am is what airport security call me when I'm trying to get my shoes into one of those stupid bins before walking through the metal detector."
"I'm not totally sure what I'm doing here, Susan." He gave what he hoped was a casual smile.
"Okay, let's start out nice and simple," she suggested. "Milk and sugar?"
It was a warehouse full of fake rooms, labyrinthine and impossibly large for what had seemed from the outside to be a normal-sized building. Steve, notepad and tiny pencil in hand, friends tagging along for the ride, was looking for a sofa.
"This place is weird," said Bucky. Steve could see that he was mentally surveying the fastest and best exit routes from their vantage point; at least, as best as anyone could with all the twisting pathways that confused and divided the space.
"I know," said Steve, tucking his hand around Bucky's arm. He glanced over at Natasha and Sam, who were examining an artfully stacked display of side tables. "Maybe we should just order online."
"Hell no," said Bucky, leading them into the terrifying showroom. "You can't buy a sofa if you don't know you can sit on it. This is our home, Steve."
If Bucky knew that Steve was giving him an out, he was content not to take it.
"If it's any consolation, there's a restaurant at the end," Natasha told them. "Come on, fellas. Let's get you some new stuff."
They shuffled through the showroom, led by friendly arrows painted at regular intervals on the floor. The array of possible ideal futures was confusing; perhaps intentionally so. Rarely, if ever, had Steve been afforded the opportunity to give as much thought to the sort of home he would make: their old home had been largely hand-me-downs, handmade, or second-hand. As he skimmed a hand over the upholstery of a clean-lined, slipcovered sofa, he wondered what sort of people they would be in their new home.
"What colour's your carpet?" asked Sam, turning over the pricetag on a set of blonde wood kitchen cabinets.
"It's hardwood," said Steve, shifting a throw pillow out of the way as he settled into the remarkably unyielding seat cushions. "There's a couple of Persian rugs down."
"Then I'm calling it: no patterns," Sam told him. "How are you for throw blankets?"
"I don't think we need any," said Steve, moving on to more utilitarian, metal-framed piece. Too spartan, he thought. Not built for actually sitting down on for any length of time.
"The hell we don't," protested Bucky. "It's an old house, Steve. We don't know how cold it's going to get. I... I don't like the cold much."
"Throw blankets it is," Steve agreed. Sam and Natasha were attempting to squeeze themselves into a child's bunk bed, doubled over with laughter. It had been some time since he had seen either of them so carefree. He wondered about those two, if things had been different, if maybe now they were. He was scrutinising the arms of an almost overstuffed two-seater in abstract colours on a field of white. It came in other, solid colours, but a cursory sit-down told him it was less comfortable than it looked.
"Uhh, Steve?" ventured Bucky, from two living rooms over.
"I think I found something."
It was almost uncanny: just like that, he was nineteen years old again, settling in beside Bucky in their very own living room, greedily tucking into the sandwiches Bucky's mother had made for them before they hauled the last of their possessions the few blocks from Chez Barnes to the first home they had made together. It was small and did not get much sun, and the cold liked to sneak in through the little gap where the bedroom window did not quite meet the frame at a perfect angle, but it was home, and it was theirs, and they were happy.
"It's the same shape as the sofa we had in our old place, isn't it?" Bucky asked him, skimming a hand over the warm faun-coloured upholstery. "But that one was..."
Bucky was making that face he made when he was trying to remember something that sat just out of his reach, like a jar of jam set a few inches too deep into the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.
"It was the colour of pea soup," supplied Steve, "and velvet, and god forbid we ever spilled anything on it because that thing stained like nobody's business."
"My mom always used soda water to keep spills from staining," said Bucky, taking a seat.
"Your mom was a smart woman," replied Steve, settling in beside him.
"Damn right she was." Bucky nodded, relaxing down into the cushions.
It was not that the feel of the sofa was quite an exact replica of the old one, but on the other hand, the last time Steve had sat on their old sofa, he had weighed at least half as much, and took up considerably less space: sofa cushions were bound to displace themselves differently. Bucky reclined slightly into the seat, arms crossed and eyes closed. Steve drew his fingers through Bucky's soft hair; so much longer than he had ever worn it before the war, but it suited him now.
Something in Steve had broken open when he and Bucky had reunited, slotting together like a child's patronisingly simple two piece jigsaw puzzle. He found himself loosening free of tensions so tightly embedded into his muscle memory and for so long, he had forgotten that he was holding them at all. This, he thought, this was what good felt like. They found themselves, without having to try at all, exactly where they both belonged.
"If you people are finished being disgusting, I'm pretty sure there's a slice of princess cake past the kitchens and kids' bedrooms that is begging me to eat it."
Sam was looming over them, his irritated demeanour betrayed by the smallest smile.
Natasha was already disappearing around the corner. Steve noted down the serial number to take to the warehouse, and that was that.
“Good coffee,” said Steve, setting his cup down on the low table. “What is this, French roast, Guatemalan? Costa Rican, maybe?”
Susan shrugged. “It’s whatever’s in House Blend,” she shrugged. “You’ve had an interesting few years, haven’t you, Steve?”
Steve chuckled at that. “You can say that again,” he said.
“So, what are you working on right now?” she asked.
“Right now? I don’t know,” he told her truthfully. “I was part of a good team for a while there. Now? I don’t know if I still am.”
Susan regarded him sympathetically, her head tipped to one side; a colourful earring swung in response to the movement. He was not sure why, or what it was about her demeanour, but he felt as though this was someone who was in his corner. He supposed that was because it was her job.
"And how do you feel about that?"
For all his vocabulary in all the language he had at least a passing knowledge of, Steve did not have a word for the way he felt. There was the relief, the gratitude, the exhaustion, the restlessness, the guilt: things that never strayed far from just under the skin, a layer so infinitessimally thin that you could almost see their shadowy forms moving beneath it, but held fast, bound in place by the skin's uncanny ability to heal itself over within moments.
"That's a good question.”
"Hell no," Sam warned him. "Don't you do it."
"... assemble," Steve concluded, immensely pleased with himself.
Natasha and Sam glared up at him from the carpet, various sofa pieces spread out in front of them. Bucky, on the other hand, had collapsed into a ball of giggles.
"Steve, that was terrible," he just about managed to say.
"I'm going to pretend this never happened," said Natasha. "What terrible dad pun? I didn't hear anyone say anything. Who are you? What's furniture?"
"Your boyfriend's a bad influence," admonished Sam, shaking his head at Bucky. "Now, who's got one of those... donut-looking things that hold the long peg pieces in place?"
Steve shuffled the pile of bits around the carpet, finding a donut piece to hand to Sam. According to the instructions (in which a a strange, nearly anthropomorphic figure puzzled its way through the construction of what had to be one of the generally more complex pieces of major household furniture), catastrophically bad things would happen if the sofa were set directly onto the hardwood floor at any time during construction. It was unclear what this catastrophe would be, but Steve was taking no chances.
"Wait a minute," puzzled Natasha. "What the hell is this picture on step three trying to tell me? There's a hand pointing at the nut, which you screw on after you've put on the washer, but then underneath it, it says don't screw the nut on after you've put on the washer."
"Just do what you think you're supposed to, and we'll just blame you if it breaks," said Bucky.
"Thanks." Natasha shot him a tight-lipped smile. "Maybe you should blame yourselves for not buying furniture from a store where experts build it for you."
"Says the woman who walked out of there with... how many bags of frozen Swedish meatballs?" asked Sam, playfully nudging her shoulder. Steve must have been very much mistaken, he thought, because he could have sworn that was what Natasha must have looked like when she blushed.
"And for that, you're no longer invited over when I make them for dinner," she told him.
"Not even if I promise to get a babysitter for Redwing for the night?" he asked.
Bucky shuffled up to Steve's side of the building site, leaning in. "Is this normal for those two?" he asked, in a low whisper.
"More or less." Steve shrugged.
It would be another five hours, four pizzas, and three ill-considered bottles of red wine before Bucky and Steve had a sofa.
They had a few hours left before a good half dozen friends would descend on the apartment, expecting snacks. Bucky was dutifully slicing cheese into bite-sized cubes, while Steve portioned the hummus into a pretty stoneware bowl.
"We can still cancel if you want," said Steve, emptying a bag of baby carrots onto a large serving plate.
"Nope," replied Bucky, unwrapping a wedge of brie from its little waxed paper parcel. "Who's going to eat all this fucking cheese?"
Steve scoffed. "What, you don't think we could do it?" he asked.
"We could," conceded Bucky, "but should we?"
Steve shrugged, turning his attention to the bell peppers. Bucky had abandoned the cheese board, instead curling an arm around Steve's chest. It was hard to slice vegetables with Bucky looking on over his shoulder, but much nicer to snuggle in.
"Mmm, you've always had the ass of an angel," said Bucky, patting him lightly on the left cheek.
Steve paused at that, puzzled. "Wait, what does that even mean?" he asked.
"It's immaculate," grinned Bucky.
Steve raised an eyebrow at him. "In spite of the night farts?" he asked.
Bucky frowned. "Jeez, punk, I'm trying to pay you a goddamn compliment and you remind me of that?"
The knock at the door was hours too early, and yet there stood Wade in the doorway, brandishing a surprisingly neatly-packaged gift and wearing what Steve was sure was one of his own hoodies that he did not remember giving Wade permission to borrow. It was too early for guests, but Wade Wilson was never one to abide by each and every rule to the letter. It was one of the things Steve liked about him, some of the time.
"Holy shit, you're awake!" exclaimed Wade.
Bucky squinted. "What the hell - " he began, interrupted by the thump of Wade barrelling him into an enthusiastic embrace. No sooner had he snuggled himself in than Bucky had him on the floor, forearm poised over his throat.
"Okay, okay, uncle!" protested Wade. "I get it, I get it, I wouldn't want to hug me either."
"Who is this guy, Steve?" asked Bucky. Steve could see the uneasy shift in Bucky's demeanour, eyes wide, as though trying to process too many things at once.
"That's enough, both of you," he cautioned them. "He's a friend, Buck."
Bucky eased off then, and slumped off of Wade's chest. Wade offered a conciliatory hand, and they helped each other back to standing.
"Sorry," said Bucky. He was blinking too much. "You seem nice."
"It's the face, isn't it?" asked Wade, plopping into one of the beanbag chairs they had bought for guests. "When you've got a face that looks like a cantaloupe left in the sun for a few weeks... sometimes you still forget you've got a face that looks like a cantaloupe left in the sun for a few weeks."
"Your face is fine," said Bucky, absently scratching his metal arm. "Just... ask before hugging."
"You know, you're even more beautiful when you've got your eyes open and you're talking about stuff," observed Wade, snagging an apple out of the fruit bowl. "A little less serene, but serene's overrated."
"How did you know this guy again?"
Steve let out a long breath, staring at the ceiling, as though the ceiling would tell him how to condense the story of Captain America and Deadpool Becoming The Very Best Of Friends in any meaningful way.
"Us former supersoldier guinea pigs gotta stick together," interjected Wade, slinging a friendly arm around Steve's shoulder.
"Easy there, buddy," laughed Steve. "Bucky, this is Wade. Wade's my friend. He helped find us the apartment, and he came to visit in Wakanda."
Bucky nodded. "Thanks, man," he said. "Sorry I wasn't better company."
"Wade, this is Bucky," said Steve, doing his absolute best not to blush, "my boyfriend."
In hindsight, Steve thought, he should have predicted just how enthusiastic Wade's reaction to the news would be: his face illuminated with wide-eyed and gaping-mouthed glee, balling his hands into tight fists, vibrating with joy.
"Shut. The. Front. Door," he said, smiling at Steve, then Bucky, then Steve again, then Bucky. "This is the best news I have ever heard in my life."
Steve knew now he was most definitely blushing. "You're early," he said.
"Oh shit, I should have called first!" said Wade. "You two could have been boning! The last thing I'd want to do would be to interrupt a couple of sweethearts boning. You weren't boning, were you? Tell me something, Bucky - our Steve's pretty shy so he'd never say so himself, but just satisfy a fellow super-dude's curiosity here. Is it, you know, is it as super as the rest of him?"
Wade gesticulated as grandly as he could with his eyes in the direction of Steve's crotch. Bucky blanched.
"Wade," Steve warned him. He was keen to nip this line of enquiry in the bud: while he was reasonably sure that his penis was fine, if fairly unremarkable as far as penises went (which was more or less what one wanted in a penis, really) it was no one's business but his own, and Bucky's, when they were ready to take that step again together.
"Okay, okay," said Wade, hands raised in surrender. "I'm just here to give my apologies for tonight, and to drop off a lit-tle housewarming gift before taking Ellie to her soccer game. Here."
"That's really sweet of you, Wade," said Steve. "Thank you."
"Just promise me you'll enjoy it when you're alone together," said Wade, handing over the small parcel. "And I know what you're thinking - no, it doesn't vibrate."
"Waaaaaaaade," protested Steve.
"Okay, okay," said Wade. "Happy housewarming, you crazy diamonds."
Susan's office was painted in a reassuring shade of muted green, no doubt meant to evoke a certain sense of calm that was echoed by the abundance of plants: a trio of orchids bowed elegantly in the windows, and her framed accreditations were camouflaged by a little community of hanging succulents. Among the artistic bric-a-brac on the bookshelves sat a well-tended terrarium.
“There must be a lot of demands on someone in your line of work,” she said. “That can’t be easy for anyone.”
“No, it isn’t,” he replied. “But you can’t not do the right thing just because it’s difficult.”
“That a very noble sentiment,” she said. Susan had the demeanour of a grade school teacher, patient and helpful. Steve was grateful that the comparison stopped short of being asked to spell an emotion he was experiencing.
The housewarming party was a small gathering, in part because a small gathering was all that even a reasonably spacious Park Slope apartment could accommodate comfortably, but also in no small part due to the fact that Steve's circle of friends was, in all honesty, small and odd.
Clint was dutifully wrapping a handful of hors d'oeuvres in tinfoil to take home for Kate and Lucky. Wanda was animatedly recounting a children's television show to Bucky.
"And there was, I think, a mouse?" Steve overheard her telling him. "He lived in a cottage where he baked bread."
"I saw it in Bucharest!" Bucky replied to her, beaming. "His house was a mushroom, wasn't it? In the Romanian dub, his name was Bogdan."
T'Challa was at the window, surveying the view: Bucky and Steve had been blessed with a living room that looked out over a park, instead of the usual picturesque fire escape, someone else's laundry hung out to dry, or the back end of the next building over. Objectively, it had nothing on the misty, rolling hills of Wakanda, but it was calm, comforting.
"I wasn't sure we'd see you, your Majesty," said Steve, gazing out over the tree-lined pathways across the road.
"I understand," replied T'Challa. "It's true that when you are a leader, there isn't much time for housewarming parties, and friends are not easy to come by. It may be some time before we are in the same place again, and I wanted to convey my best wishes for your new home."
"Glad you could make it," said Steve, "and thanks for the housewarming gift. It's perfect."
"I could not help but notice you both have a fondness for Wakandan coffee," he chuckled. He had left enough beans in their kitchen to last a good few months.
"I know we can never repay your kindness, your Majesty, but... if you ever need anything, just give us a call," said Steve. It felt such a silly gesture, an offer of so little to a man with the resources of an entire nation at his disposal. But T'Challa greeted the offer with a warm smile, resting his hand on Steve's shoulder.
"Thank you, Captain Rogers," he said. "It is much appreciated."
Steve circulated for a while, dipping in and out of conversations, nursing his bottle of dark beer - trust Bucky to pick one brewed with plums. He could at least appreciate the complexity of the flavour, even if his metabolism meant that no reasonable amount of microbrew would allow him so much as a wobble. This was for the best, most of the time, but this was a party.
Natasha, meanwhile, was on DJ duty. Steve could see that Scott was attempting to peer over her shoulder for a look at the playlist.
"It's a party, Nat! You've gotta play some Beastie Boys," he pleaded.
"What kind of uncultured swine do you take me for?" she asked him. "Of course there's Beasties on the playlist. Please. Steve, you trust me with your music, don't you?"
Steve chuckled. It was fair to say that he and Natasha did not quite share music libraries, but she knew how to craft a pleasant party atmosphere. Ostensibly pleased with the next few tracks she had lined up, she flopped down on the sofa, patting the empty seat beside her, and Steve settled in.
"I don't think I've ever seen you this relaxed, Steve," observed Natasha, tipping back the last of her red wine. Steve shifted in his seat, spine straightening as if by reflex. "Whoa, honey, don't un-relax just because I said that, okay? It's a good thing."
Steve made a concerted effort to shove his shoulders down, to let his spine slump. He balanced a heel against the edge of the coffee table.
"How's that?" he asked.
Natasha pursed her lips. "Forget I said anything," she said. "I'm happy for you. You deserve this."
They had not talked about work. He was not sure whether she had taken it as read that the team would reconvene in good time, just as before, or whether she had assumed instead that the team, such as it was, was at an end. He was not sure which she wanted. He was not sure which he wanted either. It was not the time to ask.
"You don't like him, do you?" he asked her. He supposed she had every reason not to.
"I don't know him," she shrugged. "I definitely don't know him like you do. I'm used to enemies becoming allies, sometimes friends... sometimes vice-versa. I get it. I know it's not going to be easy for him, for a long time. I'm glad you have each other."
"That's... thanks Nat," he said.
That was when Steve realised it had been some time since he had last seen Bucky.
"You've been through a pretty big culture shock. Would you tell me about it?"
"I died, and then I didn't," he said. Susan sipped her coffee. Steve was half afraid she was courting danger, on her second refill of black coffee while wearing a pale yellow turtleneck. But he trusted that she was a professional.
"You must have been very brave," she replied. He crossed his arms over his chest without thinking, straightening in his seat.
“Not a lot of people know what it feels like to die,” said Steve. He let himself draw a long breath. “It’s terrifying, and it’s sad, and then for a long moment, I made peace with it. I was going to die, but I was going to die saving the world. I was doing something good. And I never really took stock in god and heaven and all that, but I think for a split second there, just a second, I thought of Bucky, and that maybe this was meant to be, that we’d see each other again, that we just belong together. And then it went cold, and it went black. And then I woke up.”
“And we’re all glad you did,” she said.
“I should have been grateful to be alive, but… I think a part of me wasn’t,” he admitted. “I should have died, I was ready for it, but I didn’t. And then I was someplace I didn’t belong.”
“It can’t have been an easy transition.”
“Everything and everyone I had ever known was gone, just like that,” he said. “Next thing I know, ‘hey, Cap, let’s get back to work! What do you mean you’ve never seen Star Wars?’ And so I just got on with it.”
"I can't imagine what it must be like," she told him. "How could I? I'm just a therapist from Queens. But I know that when something big happens to you, it's important to afford yourself the opportunity and the time to process it."
"I," Steve struggled to find anything to say. "For a long time, I couldn't let myself be that selfish."
Steve found him in the kitchen, perched on the counter next to the sink and perfectly still.
"Bucky?" he asked carefully.
"It's fine," said Bucky, staring at the pale grid of tiles on the floor. "I'm checking on the spring rolls."
"It's okay if it's not fine," Steve told him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Bucky blinked. It was all Steve could do to retain a veneer of reassuring composure, even as it broke his heart.
"It's okay if you don't want to talk about it," said Steve. "What do you need?"
"I'm here, Buck."
"I think somebody asked if I shot JFK," said Bucky, so quietly that Steve strained to hear. His gaze had not moved from the floor.
"Son of a bitch," muttered Steve. He wanted so much to reach out to Bucky, to hold him close until everything was safe and okay. Instead, he lifted himself onto the countertop, legs dangling over the dishwasher. "Listen, you want me to have a word with the others?"
"Fuck, no," insisted Bucky, turning to look at Steve for the first time since he had found him. "Jesus, please don't. Your friends already think I'm a basket case. They think I'm - "
Steve could hear the tremble at the edges of Bucky's voice, but he leaned into Steve's shoulder and puffed out a long breath.
"Nobody does," Steve reassured him. He brought his hand to Bucky's shoulder: tentatively at first, then, feeling the muscles there soften at his touch, massaging softly in. "Except maybe Sam. Sam hates your guts. Can't you guys at least try to get along, for my sake?"
Bucky let out a soft laugh, his shoulders giving a shake. It was all Steve could do to contain his relief. Steve could only guess at the extent to which Bucky had been hurt; he did not wish to ask, or to push Bucky to relive things best left far behind them. He hoped, if Bucky had something that needed to be shared, he would.
"I don't know why you're friends with that loser," he said. Steve could feel the smile creeping back into his words. "I'd say I'm surprised at your lack of standards, but then again, you've been friends with me since - who was president when we were kids?"
"It was Hoover," replied Steve.
"I can't remember what he looked like," said Bucky.
"I wouldn't sweat it," Steve told him. "You're not missing much."
"Thanks, Stevie," said Bucky. "I think the spring rolls are just about done. They're going to notice we've been missing."
"You know, we've been alone together in the kitchen for long enough that our guests probably just think we're necking." Steve smirked, resting his hand over Bucky's leg.
"Well then, I guess we'd be bad hosts if we didn't," Bucky agreed, his stubble brushing against Steve's cheek.
Steve could feel the blush rising in his cheeks as Bucky drew him into a comfortable embrace, dragging his fingertips slowly along Steve's back.
"Stevie, there's something I need to tell you," he whispered, his voice low and warm against Steve's neck.
"Anything," Steve told him. Bucky sat up straight then, regarding Steve almost nervously.
"I'm gay," he said, with an earnest smile.
"Yeah, I know," puzzled Steve.
"I know you know," said Bucky, "but I've never said it."
Suddenly, Steve understood. It was something that existed only at the edges of public awareness when they had come of age, even in their neighbourhood, the domain of artists and their bars, the sorts of illicit encounters Steve had often quietly pretended not to notice. It had existed in whispers and polite euphemisms. Now was not perfect, but they were together. It was a blessing.
"I'm bisexual," replied Steve. "Thank you."
"Hi," Bucky smiled, greeting him with a trail of kisses along Steve's jaw. Steve was aglow.
"Hi," he said.
"Get a room, you two!" Natasha shouted from the living room.
"Technically, this whole fucking house is our room!" Bucky shouted back in response.
Wade's gift sat quietly on the coffee table for several days before Steve was ready to open it. The card attached to the gift simply read:
Say hello to the greatest piece of your legacy.
x x x x
Steve carefully nudged away at the tape, unfolding the paper - a tasteful red background decorated with the words HAPPY FUCKING BIRTHDAY forming a pattern in large white letters, because of course it was. Inside was a film. A Captain America film. Hitherto, Steve had attempted to no small degree to avoid any such derivative media. This one, it turned out, was about twenty-five years old, and if the reviews on the box were anything to go by, it was hardly a cinematic masterpiece. This was terrifying.
"I'm not watching this," said Steve.
"Come on, Stevie, we gotta," insisted Bucky, already feeding the disc into the player. Steve emptied the last of the pita chips into a bowl, puffed out a long, slow, apprehensive breath, and settled in beside him.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," grimaced Steve, as he hesitantly clicked play.
"Hey, how bad can it be?" asked Bucky.
There, onscreen, was someone... dressed as Captain America, facing off against a man who was painted red, in what looked to be somewhere in southern California. As far as Steve could tell, and for reasons unbeknownst to probably anyone but the costume designer, there were rubber ears on the outside of his cowl. Steve blanched. It was irredeemably terrible.
"Please tell me I never looked this silly," he cringed, but Bucky was already in stitches beside him.
"Stevie," he wheezed between giggles, falling into Steve's lap, "what the hell is with the ears?"
Steve succumbed then, shaking with peals of laughter, tears at the corners of his eyes.
"We have to keep watching," he said.
"I can't do it," protested Steve, struggling, and failing, to regain his composure.
"Yep, nope," Bucky agreed, wiping his eyes. "It's just too good."
Then it dawned on Steve.
"Oh my god," he said. "How many of our friends do you think have seen this?"
And then Bucky lost himself again to a fit of giggles, tumbling into Steve’s lap. Steve could not help but follow suit, shaking with peals of laughter, tears at the corners of his eyes.
He could scarcely recall the last time he had felt so free.
"You know, Steve, being kind to yourself isn't the same as being selfish. Who else is going to look after Steve but Steve?"
It was not something that had ever come easily to him. Steve grew up fighting, be it with fists or words or sheer force of will, against bullies, against injustices in his community, against his own body’s lousy immune system. Then came the growth spurt, and Steve kept fighting, against greater injustices, against almost unimaginable forces that sought to enslave and to destroy, and then sometimes, it turned out, against others who should have been on the side of the good guys.
"If you have the ability to do what I can, and you don't..." Steve struggled to find an end to the question.
"Isn't your life worth as much as the people you've saved?" she asked.
"You know something? This sofa is kind of like a metaphor for our relationship," Steve mused, settling himself against Bucky's side.
"Oh yeah?" Bucky seemed skeptical. "This I've gotta hear."
"Yeah," asserted Steve. "It's so familiar, but there's a lot about it that's new too. Its design has had a few updates, it's a lot more stain-resistant, but the most important things have stayed the same. It's supportive. It's soft. It's the most comfortable I've ever been."
"Jeez, punk, were you always this schmaltzy? Sounds like you read that off a fucking Hallmark card." Bucky shook his head affectionately, letting his hand settle on Steve’s thigh.
"Hey, maybe I should pitch it to them," Steve smirked. "You know, I do have some experience as an illustrator."
Steve curled himself tighter around Bucky, legs twisted across the arm of the sofa. Bucky's arms encircled him as best they could at such an awkward angle, and Steve struggled to turn himself round in Bucky's lap. They managed to elbow each other only a few times in the process.
"This would be a lot easier if you weren't such a big ol' meatball," lamented Bucky.
"Oh, you love it," grinned Steve.
"Yeah," said Bucky, leaning down to kiss him. "I do."
"Hey Buck?" he mumbled against Bucky’s lips. Bucky nodded, sitting them up slightly. "I know we haven't really talked about what we're going to do now that we're... home."
"What do you want to do?" asked Bucky.
"I don't know," Steve told him truthfully. He was sure he would not stop fighting, but how that manifested itself now, after everything, remained to be seen.
"Me neither," said Bucky, his fingertips raking softly through Steve's hair, just like he would on their old sofa in their old home, after bandaging each other in the aftermath of Steve's latest fight, and settling in to listen to the radio until it was time for bed. "We'll figure it out together."
"I'd like that," Steve smiled. "But we don't have to figure it out tonight."
"Nope," said Bucky, "or tomorrow. Maybe there's a farmer's market in the neighbourhood. Maybe we can have a picnic."
"Our first date?" ventured Steve.
"We've gotta be well past first dates by now, punk," sighed Bucky, shaking his head with a soft smile.
"Just steppin' out with my best guy, then," he suggested.
"Okay," said Bucky.
"Okay," said Steve.