Steve rolled his shoulders a bit as he made his way towards home. It was early evening and his back ached something fierce from a whole shift of bagging groceries at Miller’s. He knew better than to complain. It was a good job and he was lucky to have it so he grit his teeth and bore it when all he really wanted to do was sit at home with his sketchbook.
As he rounded the corner that lead to his and Bucky’s little fourth-floor tenement, he caught sight of a familiar face. Standing on the front steps looking pretty as ever in a mint green dress and matching heels was Bucky’s girl Dolores. Steve could recognize her anywhere, with her flame-red curls and a bright smile.
It was too early for Bucky to be home, Steve worked what was considered a short day, from seven in the morning until about two, whereas Bucky worked ten hours minimum and wouldn’t be home until at least four.
With that in mind, Steve ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to neaten himself up a little and stood a little straighter as he made his way over to where she stood.
“Good Afternoon Dolores,” Steve said when he was close enough.
The girl looked up from her hands, she had been fussing with her nails and smiled warmly at Steve.
“Hiya Steve,” she said, “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” Steve said politely, “ and yourself?”
“I’m great.” She said with another smile.
“I hate to disappoint you,” Steve said, “But Bucky isn’t home just yet. Won’t be until closer to dinner.”
“Oh I know,” she told him as she stepped down a few stairs so she wasn’t looming over him.
Steve felt a weird mix of gratefulness and shame as Dolores stopped on the stair two below the one he was on, giving him the higher ground. She was kind like that and often did things like that without making a big deal about it. It was one of the reasons Steve liked her.
“I came to see you,” she said still smiling.
Steve’s neck and cheeks heated as his eyes widened in surprise.
“Me?” Steve asked, “What for?”
Dolores laughed a little at Steve’s surprise, her small manicured hand resting gently on his thin arm.
“Don’t look so surprised Steve,” she said, “You’re a swell guy.”
It was Steve’s turn to laugh.
“Thanks, Dolores,” he said, “Do you wanna-”
He almost invited her up for coffee then remembered that they didn’t have any coffee, and more importantly, it was inappropriate for a good, single, girl like Dolores to go up alone with Steve to his apartment. The idea of it, of him, tiny asthmatic Steve Rogers, bringing a girl home was laughable but the fact that he’d considered it, for even a second had Steve feeling like his mother was going to rise from her grave to box his ears.
His rosy cheeks colored a little further.
“Get a cup of coffee?” he finished lamely, “There’s a diner around the corner if you wanna sit and talk.”
He wasn’t exactly flush with cash but he’d managed to get a couple of tips by carrying bags for old ladies and skipping his lunch to make deliveries. The coins had been intended for new art supplies or to go into the emergency fund. The large tin ontop the fridge was finally holding something other than the scent of coffee grounds again after his last bout with influenza had set them back. Still, Dolores made an effort to come and see him so he wanted to make an effort too.
Mickey’s Diner was shiny chrome and red vinyl. Steve had been in quite a few times with Bucky most memorably when he had insisted on treating Steve to a shared breakfast on his most recent birthday and the time when he’d tried cheering him up after Sarah died.
The memory of that morning his steve hard as the scent of coffee and greasy potatoes hit his nose. Still, he stood until Dolores was seated and then sat across from her in a booth near the windows.
“Is everything alright Dolores?” Steve asked, “Not that I mind see ya, that is. You just seem a little upset.”
The waitress came, a pretty brunette named Angie who Steve had met before. She usually flirted with Bucky when they came in, though she was also kind to Steve, teasing him about all the hearts he was breaking staying single. She shot him her usual megawatt smile as she plunked down a couple of waters. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Just water for me thanks,” Steve said, then gestured to Dolores who ordered a cup of coffee.
Angie brought back the coffee then left the two alone, shooting Steve an impressed waggle of her eyebrows and a double thumbs up when Dolores wasn’t looking. Steve ducked his head and fought his natural tendency to blush.
Steve’s fingers itched for his pencils as the late afternoon light hit Dolores’ red curls and fair skin. Bucky was a lucky guy, not only was he charismatic, strong, and well, the best thing he’d ever seen, but the ladies saw it too which means his dance card was always full.
Instead, Steve picked at a paper napkin and smiled when she looked his way.
“How’ve you been Steve?” Dolores asked, “Bucky said you work at the grocer’s on 5th?”
“Y-yeah,” Steve said, “A couple’a mornings a week.”
“That’s nice,” she said.
She wasn’t drinking her coffee, just holding in her hands and slowly spinning the cup. She was nervous. Steve looked around as casually as he could, no one was paying attention to them, they were just another young couple in the crowded diner.
Steve leaned in close and tried to keep his voice low.
“Dolores are you in some kind of trouble?” Steve whispered.
His face was on fire, he wanted to puke, and he clenched his jaw in case she rightly slapped him.
Luckily she didn’t. She did jerk in her seat a bit and spill half the contents of her cup on the table top.
“No!” she said looking embarrassed, “No. It’s nothing like that.”
Steve was frantically cleaning the spilled coffee up with napkins until Angie came over and mopped it up quickly with a clean rag then refilled Dolores’ cup.
“I’m sorry,” Steve said when they were alone again, “I didn’t mean- that is to say I don’t think- ah, hell... I’m sorry.”
Dolores reached out and set her hand on top of Steve’s.
“It’s my fault. I’m being silly,” she said, “Steve I came to talk to you about Bucky.”
Oh, God. Not again. Steve thought.
It had happened before. Not often but even once had been too many times. A girl, the first had been Catherine Ann, who Bucky’d met at the dancehall. She’d been his girl for a short week and a half before she’d cornered Steve outside the cineplex and asked him to tell Bucky it was over. She’d met another fella, one with more cash and his own car.
The second had been Rutha pretty Catholic girl with blonde hair and a breathy laugh. She’d asked Steve one day after church. Her father had told her the night before that Bucky wasn’t the type of man that she’d be marrying so it was best they stop seeing each other immediately. She’d begged Steve to tell him since she wasn’t brave enough to do it herself.
Both times Steve was heartbroken for his best friend. Both times Steve’d been the one to both deliver the bad news and console Bucky. He’d vowed he’d never do it again. Preparing to tell Dolores all of this, Steve opened his mouth only to get cut off.
“Does Bucky still like me?” Dolores asked.
Steve wanted to laugh, he nearly did but the earnest, timid look on her face stopped him.
“I know I’m probably overthinking things but, well, Bucky and I have been seeing each other for weeks now and I’ve been waiting for him to make it official. To ask me to go steady, but he hasn’t.”
Steve chewed the inside of his cheek as he listened. It was true that Bucky had been going with Dolores for some time, aside from his friendship with Steve, it had been his longest relationship.
Not that what he shared with Bucky belonged in the same category, Steve reminded himself.
“Of course he likes you,” Steve said, “You’re his best girl. He doesn’t take anyone else out dancin’ or anything if that’s what you’re asking. There’s no one else he’d rather spend his free time with.”
Not even me.
Dolores looked skeptical yet pleased.
“I wanna believe you, Steve,” she admitted, “It’s just- sometimes he seems like he’s got something else, or someone else, on his mind when we’re together. Like there is something holding him back, keeping him from being fully with me ya know?”
Steve felt like his stomach just dropped down into his shoes.
Holding him back.
It was an old fear. Something Steve had worried about since the day Bucky had finally convinced him that getting a place together was the right move to make. He’d been hellbent against charity and Bucky’d known it. The older man had insisted it wasn’t like that and spent weeks pointing out all the ways it would be mutually beneficial. Eventually, the coming winter and lack of funds had forced Steve’s hand.
So they’d moved in together. Steve had been secretly delighted and sick to his stomach. He finally had endless hours of just him and Bucky. The one thing he’d wanted more than anything in the world. Only now that he had it, he felt guilty and terrified.
Despite being poor, Bucky was a catch. Tall, strong, and handsome from a good family with a semi-stable job. It didn’t get much better than that in Brooklyn and everyone seemed to see it but Bucky himself. He insisted on double dates so Steve wasn’t left out, he spent his piddly savings on medicine for Steve or tickets to a ball game where they’d share a popcorn and waste away an afternoon, just the two of them.
Those things had made Steve feel special, they’d fed that secret sin Steve carried in his weak heart. Now he realized that his worst fears were coming true. His selfish life with Bucky was keeping him from the life he deserved. A better life, with a pretty wife and a gaggle of kids instead of half a drafty tenement with an asthmatic runt clinging to his coat tails.
Realizing he’d spent too long in his thoughts, Steve reached forward and clasped his overlarge hands around Dolores’ and gave her his best smile.
“I’m sure he’s just tryin’ to do right by you Dolores,” Steve said, “Buck does things his own way, at his own pace. I’d bet he’s just trying to make sure everything is perfect. I wouldn’t worry.”
Dolores beamed back.
“You really think so?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Steve said, “Unless he himself tells you otherwise, I wouldn’t dwell on it.”
“Oh thank you, Steve,” She said, “I’m really happy to hear you say that. You know Bucky best and I knew I could count on you to know.”
Steve wanted to cry. Instead, he kept smiling.
Angie came over with the bill and Steve paid, unwilling to let Dolores even fish out her pocketbook.
“Do you need me to walk you home?” Steve asked, “It’s getting late.”
“No, thank you though Steve,” Dolores said, “My brother Mike only works the next block over. I’m going to meet up with him.”
Steve nodded and stood when she did.
“Well then I won’t keep you,” Steve said, “It was good seeing you, Dolores.”
She pulled him into a tight hug.
“You too Steve,” she said, “and thank you.”
She left with a bounce in her step, her lemony perfume lingering in the air behind her. Steve shoved his hands into his pockets and crept out the door while Angie wasn’t looking. He didn’t think he could handle her good-natured teasing just then.
On the way home, Steve turned the conversation with Dolores over in his head, playing it forwards and back trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. His first instinct was to tell Bucky. He was the one with the nervous girlfriend so he should know what’s she’s feeling and sort it out with her. Except Steve knew what was holding Bucky back and if he confronted his friend about it, he’d deny it.
He never saw Steve for the obvious burden he was and while Steve loved him for it, it wasn’t right. He had to stop being selfish. Bucky deserved better, he deserved the good life and if Steve had to make sacrifices for him to get it well, Steve was used to going without.
Bucky still wasn’t home when Steve arrived and for once, he was glad for it. Steve moved as quickly as his body would allow going around the room gathering his necessities and tossing them onto the bed.
There was a boarding house not too far from their tenement that had a couple of open rooms. Steve’d seen the ad at work earlier that day. If he hurried and sadly emptied out the Folgers can again, he could get himself a room for the night.
He took his sketchbook out and tore the last page from the book so he could scribble a note to his best friend.
It was a shitty thing to do, leaving Bucky like he was, but it was necessary. Or at least that’s what Steve kept telling himself as his hand shook holding the pencil, fat tears rolling down his nose to fall on the messy bed.
I know this is short notice but I’ve found a new place. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I
wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you can’t thank you enough. You’ve been the best friend a guy could ask for, Buck. I’m sorry I’ve held you back so long. I can get by on my own now so I’d best get to it. I hope you’re not too sore at me, but I understand if you are. Maybe someday we can get together again and catch up. Until then, you take care of yourself.
P.S. I left you half of our savings to cover my portion of the rent. I’ll get you more when I’m settled.
It wasn’t enough. Not by half but it was all Steve had time for. He put the note on his bare mattress then left the bedroom closing the door behind him. Out in the main room, he took one last look around. It hadn’t been much, it hadn’t been easy but he’d had Bucky and that had been worth it. With tears in his eyes, Steve hefted his bag of clothes, tucked his sketchbook under his arm and walked out.
He made it down the two flights of stairs without running into anyone which had been a blessing considering he was one sharp look away from bawling like a baby. His luck ran out when he reached the outside door, however, their neighbor from across the hall, a tall thin man who went by Jon, though sometimes, late at night with a jazz record playing he also went by Joan. He was kind to Steve and Bucky, sharing cigarettes and soup on occasion. Even lending his records to the boys when they were too broke for the dancehalls.
He stood and held the door open for Steve then followed the smaller man outside onto the sidewalk.
“Going on vacation Rogers?” Jon teased, “Or have you and Barnes finally hit it big enough to get out of this dump?”
“Oh, uh,” Steve said, dropping his bag onto the steps and rubbing his palms over his eyes, “No. Nothing like that.”
“You alright, kid?”
“Yeah, sure,” Steve lied, “Just finally time for me to get my own place.”
He wasn’t sure why he was telling Jon. Maybe he just needed someone to vent to, or maybe deep down, he knew people would talk. Steve and Bucky had been in each other’s pockets since grammar school. Their whole building knew them as Steve and Bucky, it would be a big change for everyone, not just Steve and he wanted to control what people had to say about it.
“Is that so?” Jon asked gently.
Jon looked skeptical. Steve’s eyes still felt itchy and hot but he squared his jaw and met the other man’s gaze head-on.
“Yup,” Steve lied giving the other man a watery smile, “Got me a job and ya know, Bucky’s got himself a good girl these days. We’re both ready to make some changes.”
Jon nodded like he understood and stuck a hand out for Steve to shake.
“Well good for you Rogers,” he said, “Say, where you headed? I’m sure the old biddies around here will be wanting to bring you pies and such. It’d be good to know where to send ‘em.”
“Boarding house on Fulton,” Steve said, “the Jones’ place.”
Jon lit a cigarette and gave Steve another nod. “Good to know,” he said, “Take care of yourself kid.”
“You too,” Steve said. Life was hard for fellas like Jon. Steve hated that it was and hoped like hell that the future was kinder, that people could be themselves without hiding it but for the time being, guys like him, like Jon, had to be careful.
Jon seemed to know what he was saying and nodded.
Sarah had always told her son that it cost nothing to be kind and kindness was looking out for their neighbors. Treat them like family Steve, and you’ll never be alone.
“Look out for Bucky for me will ya?” Steve asked.
“Of course, just don’t forget about us, okay?”
Steve cast a glance up and over his shoulder to the fire escape outside his and Bucky’s bedroom window. They’d spent many nights there together sitting shoulder to shoulder shooting the breeze and making each other laugh. So close together Steve’d felt the heat of the other man’s skin, could smell the bite of his aftershave. It had been Steve’s own little slice of heaven.
“Believe me, I won’t,” Steve said.
Bucky came home at a quarter to five smelling like the docks and tired as hell but happy. It was Friday. He had money in his pocket and two whole days off of work. He wanted nothing more than to clean himself up and then have some fun before falling into bed and sleeping half the next day away.
Steve had gotten off work hours before and should be game for a least one drink at the bar. Bucky was hoping he could coax his friend into more than one, Steve was always so shy and quiet but he was also funny, and talented, and good. He deserved to have fun and let go of the seriousness the guy carried like a shield every day. It was all Bucky wanted. To give Steve the best of everything, to see the guy smile and know that he was the one who caused it.
Filled with fond feelings for his best friend, Bucky took the stairs two at a time, whistling a tune he’d heard on the wireless earlier in the day.
He unlocked the door quickly and called out to his best guy.
“Steve! Stevie, you home pal?” he called as he took off his jacket and kicked off his boots.
There was no answer and Bucky rolled his eyes. He opened the icebox despite knowing it was empty and sighed. They never had enough to eat and it worried him. Steve was so damn thin. Not that Bucky had a problem with the way Steve looked, in fact, he loved Steve’s looks. His bright blue eyes and golden hair were unmatched. Sure, he needed to gain some weight but that was just because it would help him stay healthy, aesthetically? Bucky had no complaints.
Shaking off the inappropriate thoughts of his best friend, Bucky tried again.
“Don’t tell me you fell asleep already punk,” Bucky teased, “It’s Friday! Clean yourself up and let’s go out. Hell, I’ll even split a sandwich with ya, I’m starvin’ .”
Bucky made his way across the room to the one door they had that separated the bedroom from the rest of their rented space. The door was closed so Bucky rapped on the thin wood lightly with his knuckles.
“Steve. Stevie, you decent?” Bucky asked.
The longer he went without a response, the more worried Bucky got.
What if he’s sick again? He thought.
The last one had been bad. Real bad. There had been fluid in Steve’s lungs and a fever that lingered for days. Bucky had been frantic, spending the little cash they had on a doctor and praying at Steve’s bedside each night.
Luckily he’d pulled through and Bucky got to keep his most important person close for a little longer.
“Forget it,” Bucky said to himself, then louder, “I’m comin’ in. Better hide what ya don’t want me to see.”
He swung the door open causing a piece of paper to flutter up from where it had been resting on Steve’s bed. Bucky’s eyes went to it first as he walked into the empty room. He bent down and scooped up the torn sheet of paper fearing the worst.
It was only when he’d sat down on his own messy bed to read it that he noticed Steve’s bed was stripped to the bare mattress.
With shaking fingers Bucky held the note. It took him two passes to actually read it despite how brief it was. His eyes kept watering and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Bucky slid off his bed and onto his knees on the floor. A low piteous whine cut through the air making him look up. It took another two minutes for him to realize the sound was coming from him.
His hands were cranked into fists which he pressed to his eyes as he tried to think. The last time he’d seen Steve everything had been normal, pleasant even. The weather was finally warming up and Steve had been excited to start sketching in the park again.
Bucky replayed the morning over in his head, again and again, trying to see what he had missed. How he’d failed to see the signs that Steve was unhappy, that he was going to leave.
From out in the hall came the sound of footsteps on the stairs which pulled Bucky to his feet.
This was all a mistake. He thought running to the door, Steve’s not really gone. He’s gonna come home and we’re still gonna be together. Bucky and Steve. Steve and Bucky. I’ll do anything, I swear. Just give me one more day.
Bucky swung the door open and watched as the mom of two who lived in 4B lead her toddler down the hall to their tenement.
“Afternoon Mrs. Harper,” he said dutifully as she smiled his way.
“Hello there Bucky,” she said, before disappearing into her own place.
The strength went out in Bucky’s legs along with his hope. He barely managed to get himself inside and close the door before he was on the floor again. This time he sat on the hardwood his back to the front door, his legs splayed out before him.
It didn’t take long for the tears to come and it was a long time before they stopped. Bucky heaved and sobbed, his every breath feeling like it was being torn from his chest as he cried. Confusion and hurt wracked his chest while he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.
Maybe if I wait he’ll come back. This is all just a bad dream. He’ll come back.
Except he didn’t.
Bucky cried himself to sleep that night and the next morning woke up cold, aching, and alone. He chain-smoked on the fire escape like a fiend and waited anxiously for his best friend to return or some clue to appear revealing where he’d gone and why.
When the sun went down again, the pain began to melt away into anger. Fueled by heartbreak Bucky went and bought a bottle of bourbon that he couldn’t really afford and set about getting fall down, blackout drunk.
To hell with Steve Rogers. He thought. To hell with his pretty blue eyes and easy smiles. The way he throws his head back and laughs loud enough to fill the room. Who needs his wiry strong arms burrowing under me for warmth in the winter? I sure as hell don’t.
It was easy to stay angry as long as the booze lasted. It made the room spin and the edges blur which made it easier to ignore the fact that he was alone.
On Sunday Bucky woke up on the floor for the second morning in a row. His head was pounding and his throat felt like it had been scrubbed with steel wool.
Pulling himself up off the cold floor, he went down the hall to splash his face with water. After taking a piss and cleaning himself up the best he could, Bucky stumbled back to the tenement and tried to get himself together.
He sat on the dilapidated lump they called a sofa and picked up the note Steve had left. It was crumpled to shit after Bucky had spent the night clutching it in desperation but after smoothing it out on his knee, he read it again.
I’m sorry I held you back so long.
What the hell? Where had Steve gotten that idea from? Bucky wondered. Certainly not from him. Steve was the best guy Bucky knew. If anyone was holding anyone back it was Bucky with his impure thoughts and playboy ways. Steve was the good one. The one who knew what the right thing was and did it. It was usually Bucky who had to be dragged along into fights with bullies or to church on Sundays…
Bucky hopped up off the couch and raced to get dressed while steadfastly ignoring the memory of Steve scolding him about cussing.
“I’m comin’ Stevie, I’m comin’.”
Steve always went to church on Sundays, even when it was so cold his whole frail body shook with it, he went to Sunday mass. It was something Sarah had instilled in him, and while he had admitted that his faith had taken a serious hit after the loss of his mother, he still went. If only because it made him feel closer to her.
Bucky just had to make it on time and Steve would be there. He would be able to set things right. He just had to get there.
The last chime of the noon bell rang out just as Bucky rounded the corner bringing the massive church into view. The double doors opened before he could reach the steps and dozens of families came pouring out, chattering away with one another as they made their way out of the building and onto the street.
Bucky went against the tide, going up the stairs as he searched desperately for his friend.
“Steve! Steve!” he called out.
A few people looked his way but he paid them no mind, none of them were Steve.
Then he heard someone say his name. Turning quickly he came face to face with Dolores Reideman.
“Hi Bucky,” she said, a shy smile on her pretty face.
“Hey Dot,” Bucky said distractedly, “Have you seen Steve?”
“Can you come here for a second?” Dolores asked at the same time, “Wait, what was that?”
“Steve. Steve Rogers, have you seen him?”
“Oh, no I haven’t Bucky,” she said, “I don’t think he came to mass today. Or maybe he caught the early service?”
Bucky scanned the crowd, the desperate feeling rising again in his stomach.
“Say, while you’re here,” Dolores said, “I’d like you to meet my folks. They’re just over there.”
She pointed towards the church lawn but Bucky wasn’t paying attention. His mind was already back home waiting on the front steps like a dog hoping Steve would come home.
“Now’s not a good time Dolores,” Bucky said.
“Bucky,” Dolores said pleading a little, “It’ll only take a minute I swear. I’ve been telling them just how swell you are and they’d really like to meet you.”
Bucky felt like a heel. He’d known for some time that Dolores was really keen on him but he didn’t feel the same. Couldn’t feel the same. Not when someone else had already laid a claim on his heart. He’d meant to break it off sooner but hadn’t been able to find the right time, the right words to let her down easy. Dolores was a great girl, better than he deserved and now he had to break her heart.
He tried to let her down easy but there was no saving the situation. She slapped his face on the steps of St. Agnes and he deserved it. A few scandalized mothers let out gasps but he was already moving. He took the stairs two at a time as he pushed his way out of the crowd and on his way home, Dot’s crying following him like a curse.
Bucky picked up another cheap bottle of liquor and prepared himself for another rough night.
It can’t hurt like this forever. He told himself. You’ll get over him before you know it.
Except Bucky didn’t want to get over Steve, he wanted him back. Back in his arms where he belonged.
Jon Wilson, the neighbor across the hall, was sitting on the stoop when Bucky got back to his building. Jon was smoking a cigarette, there was a bit of kohl still around his eyes making his lashes look longer and his eyes a warm hazel.
Bucky gave him a wan smile and a lazy salute with his bottle.
“Little early ain’t it?” Jon asked.
“You had a rough one last night,” Jon said, “Didn’t think you’d be up for another round so soon.”
“What’s it to you?”
Jon shrugged then took another drag off his smoke. He had a sneaking suspicion about what was going on with the boys in 4A and he decided to test the waters a bit.
“Normally I’d say it isn’t anything to me but I promised Rogers I’d keep an eye on you so here I am,” he said.
Bucky’s reaction was instant. The fight went out of him like in a huff leaving only sadness and confusion behind.
“You spoke to Steve?” Bucky plopped down onto the stairs beside Jon and tried not to get his hopes up, “When?”
Jon fought against rolling his eyes. He was right and there had been some sort of misunderstanding between the two. He had a feeling it had something to do with the thicker than cement tension between them but had to be sure.
“Just the other day when he moved out,” Jon said, “What’s wrong? What did he do? Stiff you on the rent or overstay his welcome?”
“Neither!” Bucky cried, he clapped his hand over his mouth and forced himself to calm down before speaking again, “Neither. Stevie and I- it wasn’t like that. I didn’t kick him out. I’d never kick him out. I don’t even know why he left. I just came home from work and he was gone.”
“Hmm. I got the impression it was a mutual thing,” Jon told him, “He mentioned your girl and his job. Said you both were making changes.”
Bucky felt sick. Steve's word floated through his head.
Holding you back…
He’d been spending a lot of time with Dot and Steve had gotten the wrong idea. Thought that he’d wanted Steve gone when that was the furthest thing from the truth.
Bucky wasn’t aware he was crying again until Jon passed him a handkerchief.
“Look,” he said, “It’s none of my business but if it’s got you feeling this miserable then maybe you should talk to him about it.”
“How’m I supposed to do that? All he left was a note saying goodbye. He didn’t happen to mention where he was going.”
“He told me,” Jon admitted.
Bucky’s head snapped around and he pinned the older man with his hopeful gaze.
“Jones boarding house on Fulton Street.”
The words were barely out of Jon’s mouth before Bucky was bounding off the stairs and down the block.
“You left your whiskey!”
“Consider it payment for your help!”
Bucky ran the whole way to the boarding house, his hair a flyaway mess when he arrived and the press completely gone from his good slacks.
He didn’t care.
It was quiet when he reached the door, just after lunch when most people would be doing chores or settling in for a lazy afternoon.
Bucky rang the bell and tried not to bounce on his feet with impatience.
An older woman with salt and pepper hair and horned rim glasses answered, her smile soft but her gaze sharp. Feeling self-conscious Bucky smoothed down his hair and gave her an apologetic smile.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Mrs. Jones?” Bucky asked, “My name is James Barnes and I think a friend of mine is renting a room here? His name is Steve. Steve Rogers.”
She stepped back and let him into the parlor.
“Is he expecting you?” she asked.
“No ma’am,” Bucky admitted, “I was hoping to stop by and maybe surprise him with a late lunch.”
She smiled apologetically.
“Well I can tell you that he’s already eaten,” she said, “But I bet he could do with the company anyway. He’s been awfully quiet since moving in. Not that I mind quiet tenants, just the opposite, in fact, it’s just, well he seems lonely if I’m being honest.”
Bucky was so relieved he wanted to kiss her.
“I’ll try my best to cheer him up ma’am,” he said.
“You do that,” she said, “Upstairs, first door on the left.”
Bucky took his time going upstairs not because he wasn’t frantic to see his friend but because he didn’t want Mrs. Jones kicking him out for tearing through her house like a hooligan.
When he reached Steve’s door, he found his hands were shaking. A mix of emotions, anger, fear, sadness, and hope all welled up inside him making the air feel thick in his chest.
He knocked on the door. The sound loud in the otherwise quiet house.
“If you’re wanting your newspaper back Mr. Jones I’m nearly done with it,” Steve said from inside.
“It’s me,” Bucky said hoarsely.
The door swung open to reveal Steve’s startled face.
“Bucky,” he said softly.
“I should smack you,” Bucky said crowding the other man into the room and shutting the door.
He was so angry at that moment that he nearly took a swing at his best friend. Only the relief at seeing him alive and well, along with the ever-present love in his heart for the punk, stilled his hand.
“Maybe you should,” Steve said.
Bucky took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It was just like Steve to choose a fight over talking. Except Bucky wasn’t going to let him. This thing between them was too important for that.
“I’m not gonna hit you Stevie,” he said.
“What’re you doing here Buck?”
“I should be asking you that,” Bucky said, “In fact, I am asking you that. What is going on Steve? Why’d you run out on me?”
“I didn’t run out on you Bucky,” Steve said sitting down on his bed, “I’m not your girl or your wife. I’m a grown man and it’s high past time for me to start getting by on my own.”
“C’mon Steve,” Bucky said sitting down next to him, “You know you don’t have to. I’m with you to til the end of the line pal.”
“Well maybe we’ve reached the end of the line then,” Steve said quietly.
Bucky jerked in his boots then grabbed Steve’s shoulders and gave him a little shake.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked, “You gotta talk to me here, I got no idea what’s goin’ on and you’re scarin’ me.”
Steve chewed his lip for a moment and avoided looking Bucky in the eye. When the older man dipped his chin to catch Steve’s gaze he noticed his eyes were wet with unshed tears.
“Can’t you see?” Steve said breaking out of Bucky’s hold and standing up, “I’m no good for you Buck. I’ve been real selfish since Ma’s been gone. Leaning on you when I should’ve been taking care of myself. Asking more of you than any guy’s got the right to ask of his friend. I ain’t been fair to you Buck, but I’m gonna do better. Be better . You deserve the world and you aren’t gonna miss out on it ‘cause of me.”
“Steve,” Bucky said standing and reaching out to his friend, “Pal, there is nothing I’m missing out on except spending time with you.”
“Bucky…” Steve shook his head, “You don’t mean that. What about Dolores?”
Bucky’s face colored and he rubbed at the back of his neck in embarrassment.
“She and I uh, we decided maybe to see other people,” Bucky said.
“Buck no. C’mon,” Steve pleaded, “It’s not ‘cause of me is it? Cause I left?”
Bucky avoided his gaze and Steve felt his heart sink.
“What’d you go and do that for?” he cried, “She was great. You two were really good for each other.”
She isn’t you. He thought.
“You fat head,” Steve spat, bringing Bucky out of his thoughts “You just don’t get it, do you? You always say I’m the self-sacrificing idiot but I’m starting to think I learned it from you.”
Bucky looked up at him in surprise.
“Yeah, I said it and I tell you what, it ends today,” Steve said.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His insides were quaking with fear but he knew what he had to do. Bucky was going to keep fighting him, to keep trying to help Steve because that’s what he felt was right, what he felt was his responsibility. It was another thing that Steve loved about Bucky. Steve, however, knew that if he told the truth if he revealed his deepest secret, Bucky’s feelings would change.
It would kill Steve, to see his friend turn from him in disgust but it was for the best. He only hoped that Bucky didn’t kill him literally.
“Hey,” Bucky said, “You alright pal?
Steve was shaking and he clenched his fists to stop it. It didn’t help but it did allow him to brace himself against potential blows.
“You wanna know why I left?” Steve asked, “It’s because if I didn’t, you would’ve made me go and I wasn’t brave enough to face that.”
“What are you talking about? I’d never-”
“Yes you would,” Steve argued, “Because it never would have been enough. Every day with you was the best kind of torture. Being close to you, letting you take care of me when I couldn’t, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I always want more and I suspect I always will.”
Steve met Bucky’s eyes and then tried to memorize his best friend’s handsome face. The blue of his eyes was the hardest, no matter how many times Steve tried to capture it, he never could. It haunted him in the best way.
“I love you Bucky Barnes and not like I’m supposed to,” Steve said, “So don’t you go and say you love me too. You are the best thing I’ve ever had and I’m sorry.”
Bucky let out the breath he was holding in a ragged gasp then crossed the room in three quick strides before crashing his and Steve’s mouths together.
Steve raised his hands and pressed them against Bucky’s chest savoring the contact for a heartbeat then pushed the other man away.
“No,” he said.
“No? Steve what?”
“No, I’m not letting you throw your life away,” Steve said, “This isn’t like picking up extra shifts at the docks to buy me cold medicine. You can’t just grin and bear it this time Buck.”
“Keep your voice down!” Steve snapped, “You’ll get me tossed outta here.”
“Good,” Bucky said stepping into the other man’s space, “Then you’ll be forced to come home where you should’ve been this whole damn time .”
“Nope. Shut up. You’ve done your talking and now it’s my turn,” Bucky said, “You think I don’t love you? You think I am just what? Grinning and bearing it for you? Like I don’t get up every morning hoping to see you smile and go to bed at night praying you’ll let me hold you even if it’s just to keep away the chill? I love you, you stubborn idiot. I always have, always will. You’re not holding me back, you’re making me better. My sorry life is worth living because I’ve got you in it.”
Steve was openly crying and Bucky wiped his own tears then reached out and wiped away Steve’s too.
“I fell apart when you left,” he admitted softly, “I’m not me without you. Come home Stevie, please? I love you and it’s all I want. You’re all I want.”
Bucky kissed him again, this time it was soft and slow. His mouth dragging gently against Steve’s coaxing him to kiss back and it was better than he’d ever imagined.
“People say it aint right,” Steve argued, pulling away again, “You’d be giving up a chance at a normal life.”
“I don’t care. If it’s a life without you, I don’t want it,” Bucky said.
“You stubborn ass,” Steve said.
“And don’t you forget it.”
Steve moved out the following evening. Bucky had stayed as late as the Jones’ would allow the night before and only left because he didn’t want to put Steve’s safety at risk by raising people’s suspicions.
When Bucky came home from work and found Steve sitting on the sofa sketching he thought his heart might burst.
“Heya Stevie,” Bucky said.
“Hey Buck, how was work?”
Bucky flopped down onto the sofa next to Steve.
“Exhausting,” he said, “I’m glad to be home.”
Steve nodded and set aside his sketches.
“Bucky I’m sorry,” he said honestly.
Steve sighed. This man.
“For what I put you through. I shoulda just talked to you. I knew it before I left but I also knew that if I did, you’d do everything in your power to stop me.”
“That’s because you weren’t supposed to leave,” Bucky said.
Bucky leaned in and kissed Steve. It still took his breath away. The fact that he could now, that Steve wanted to kiss and be kissed by Bucky was nothing short of amazing. He pulled the smaller man into his lap and smiled smugly when Steve went easily.
“You like that doll?” he asked.
Steve rolled his eyes and smiled. “You can literally feel that I do,” Steve said faking confidence as he carefully brushed his groin against Bucky’s.
Bucky groaned deep in his throat and squeezed Steve’s hips tightly, his own hips thrusting up. Steve let out a surprised squawk followed by a moan as he and Bucky began moving against one another.
Bucky kissed Steve again slowly and let the blonde set the pace.
“B-Buck,” Steve said, “Should we be-?”
It was all so new, and while one minute it felt like they were going too fast, the next it felt so right Steve couldn't believe he'd ever doubted it.
Bucky slowed to a stop and smoothed back the hair that had fallen across Steve’s brow. “It’s okay honey,” he told Steve, “Do you want this? Because if you don't, that's okay. We can stop.”
Steve blushed from the tips of his ears, across his face and down his neck. Still, he met Bucky’s heated gaze with his own and nodded. "I want this," he said, "I want you. "
Bucky grinned and kissed him.
“Good,” he said between kisses, “I do too and as long as we both want it, there is nothing wrong with it.”
Steve nodded and kissed the man he loved again as he resumed the slow rolls of his hips. Bucky gasped and squeezed Steve again drawing moans from them both. It didn’t take long for them to increase their rhythm desperate need setting fire to their desires.
Steve dropped his head into the crook of Bucky’s neck where he bit and sucked at the slightly sweaty skin there, leaving a mark in the shape of his mouth. He’d barely gotten the chance to admire it when Bucky surprised him by cupping his erection through his pants and rubbing it enthusiastically.
“Buh-Bucky!” Steve cried softly, “M’gonna cum.”
“Yeah?” Bucky asked eagerly, “Give it to me.”
Steve moaned heatedly, his cheek pressed to Bucky’s, his voice low and hoarse in his lover’s ear. Steve’s orgasm hit him like a punch to the chest, stealing his breath and making him see stars. He ground down hard as he rode the waves of pleasure, his body coaxing Bucky to cum too.
They half sat, half laid against one another on their lumpy sofa, gasping for air in the aftermath, goofy smiles on their sweaty faces.
“Well that,” Bucky said, “Sure was somethin’.”
“We made a damn mess,” Steve said. His underwear was sticking to him uncomfortably and as much as he didn’t want to move, he knew if he didn’t, it would only get worse.
“S’alright,” Bucky said, “Easy enough to clean. Just gotta get your trousers and shorts off.”
“You just came and you’re already talking about getting me naked,” Steve said, “ You’re impossible.”
“Nothing’s impossible, doll,” Bucky said, “Not as long as I got you.”
Steve laughed and held on tight as the man he loved wobbled to his feet and carried him to their bedroom.
“In fact,” Bucky said, “I’ll prove it to you.”
“Alright stud,” Steve teased, “Go ahead, wow me.”
“Believe me, I’m gonna.”
And he did.