Steve Rogers pulled up a chair at one of the elegantly appointed tables scattered around the room. He took in the scene around him and could not help but smile. Just six months ago, Thanos had snapped half the universe out of existence. Just one month ago, the Avengers and other enhanced humans, with the help of the Guardians and the forces of Wakanda, defeated Thanos and restored their lost companions. Steve and his team had gotten lucky, because they emerged intact and Vision would possibly be restored soon due to the diligent work of Helen Cho and Princess Shuri.
A few months ago, Steve couldn’t even pull himself out of his bed in the Avengers Compound. Tonight, he was in a Manhattan skyscraper at the home of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, sipping champagne at their wedding reception.
Here and now, in this room, Steve was surrounded by people he cared about. Tony and Pepper were in a corner chatting with James Rhodes, Maria Hill, Happy Hogan, and May Parker. Natasha Romanov and Bruce Banner were seated with Thor, Valkyrie, Jane Foster, Clint Barton and his family. Carol Danvers and her family, Maria and Monica Rambeau, had persuaded Nick Fury to join them. Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter were laughing at something Nakia was saying that was also making T’Challa blush.
“These seats taken?”
Steve heard the anxiety in Peter Parker’s voice and assured him, “There is always room for you.”
“Thank you, sir, Captain. Sir.” Peter stammered, then winced as he scraped his chair while sitting down.
Steve remembered being as uncomfortable as Peter. Hell, if he was honest, he never completely outgrew his discomfort in social situations. Time to play the hero again. “You did great as one of the groomsmen, kid.”
“Oh, wow. Thank you, sir.” Peter’s blush was charming. “Never expected to be at Tony Stark’s wedding, much less be a part of it.”
“I understand.” Steve and Tony had come to an uneasy truce in the past year. “Any other duties tonight?”
“I think I’m expected to dance with the bride at some point.
Steve groaned. “I forgot about the dancing.” Until that moment, he had been blissfully ignorant of how the tables framed a large open space on the floor.
“Oh, look, it’s the awkward kids table.” Shuri nodded at Steve and placed sparkling drinks in front of Peter before sitting at his side. She laughed as Peter buried his head in his hands. Steve’s cheeks heated in sympathetic embarrassment for the younger man.
Because as the music started, Steve felt the truth of her words. Nothing made him feel as awkward as having to dance. Even the super serum hadn’t been able to solve that problem. It didn’t help that it seemed to come so easy to some people.
Tony and Pepper opened the floor, the traditional first dance for the newly married couple. Pepper glowed, as she always did, and Tony gazed at her as if she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. They looked into each other’s eyes for the duration of the song, and Steve was both happy for them and damned mystified how they didn’t stumble once.
As the song ended, Tony greeted their assembled guests. “Thank you so much for witnessing the miraculous event that is my wedding to the most amazing woman in the world.”
Tony tried to say more, but emotions caused him to choke up a bit, so Pepper jumped in. “We are overwhelmed with joy to have you with us after such an awful time, to be able to share hope for a bright future together.”
“And share cake.” Tony kissed Pepper’s cheek. “And the best champagne. And those little snacky sausage puff thingies….”
“What my dear husband is trying to say is please enjoy the evening. We all deserve it.” As Pepper bowed to applause, Tony mouthed husband like he was in shock. Everyone laughed.
The music started up again, but like at most gatherings, the guests were hesitant to be the first out on the dance floor. Tony and Pepper approached Steve’s table, and Tony’s eyes locked on Steve’s with an evil twinkle.
“Come on, Cap. Aren’t you going to get out there and teach us the jitterbug or Lindy hop or something?”
“Not unless you want the first night of your marriage spent administering first aid to your unwitting guests.”
Steve bowed his head. “Disastrous.”
Tony wheedled, “C’mon, how are we supposed to get our guests out on the floor without your leadership, Cap?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I have a way.” Pepper smiled in the direction of the elevators.
Steve turned to see what she was looking at and gasped at the sight of Bucky Barnes entering the room.
Bucky had been invited to the wedding ceremony, but declined the invitation, not wanting his presence to adversely affect such an important day in Tony’s life. But Pepper had insisted he attend the reception, even helped him pick out an appropriate suit for the occasion. Black trousers, black shirt, deep blue velvet blazer with black accents, the blue enhancing the color of his eyes. Steve quickly looked down at the blue tie Natasha had picked out to go with his charcoal gray suit. It was the same blue. He looked over at Natasha who smirked and raised her champagne glass in his direction.
Pepper walked over and presented her arm to Bucky, who was still hovering uncertainly at the entrance to the reception. He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and escorted her onto the dance floor. There, the two of them smiled at each other and danced, Pepper radiating with happiness and Bucky cutting as dashing a figure as ever. All eyes in the room were focused on them. Steve was impressed with the strategy. There was no way anyone could doubt Bucky had been welcomed by Pepper and Tony into their home. It was a sign of forgiveness, or at least the intent to forgive. Steve knew both Tony and Bucky had a long road ahead, and maybe reconciliation would never happen, but Pepper brokered peace with this twirl around the dance floor, and nobody was more grateful for her graciousness than Steve.
“Looks good, doesn’t he?”
Embarrassed at being caught staring for so long at his best friend, Steve said, “Just glad to see him so healthy and content.”
“Mmm hmm.” Shuri was not convinced.
This feeling was familiar, watching Bucky dance with a beautiful woman. The ache deep in his bones, in his heart, to be out there dancing himself. When he was younger, he thought it was jealousy. Bucky never had any problems finding a date, finding his footing on the dance floor. After the serum, Steve had no shortage of women interested in making time with him, on the dance floor and everywhere else. But somehow none of them caused the pain of watching Bucky with someone else go away. Not even Peggy, though she came the closest. Eventually Steve had to admit it was jealousy, but not of Bucky. And tonight, so many years in the future, the ache was still there.
Bucky was still there.
The song drew to a close, and Rhodey approached Pepper for the next dance. Bucky bent to kiss her hand, causing on genuine blush to appear on Pepper’s face and Rhodey to shake his head in amusement. Bucky stepped away and scanned the room, obviously searching for Steve, eventually making eye contact. Steve hadn’t seen such a brilliant smile on Bucky’s face in eighty years.
Bucky grabbed two glasses off a passing tray and handed one to Steve as he sat in the remaining empty seat at the table.
“What, none for me?”
“Sorry, Princess. I’m pretty sure you’re still underage.”
“I am not!”
“As protective of your little sisters as ever, eh, Buck?”
“I do not need another older brother.”
“Oh, yes, you do.”
“Can’t ever have too many people on your side,” added Steve.
Peter lifted his glass of soda. “I’ll drink to that.”
The four tapped their glasses together.
The four sat in companionable silence. Steve stole a glance at Bucky, who smiled softly back at him. They were sitting close enough for their legs to rest against each other, and Steve felt as content as he had in years. Of course, that peace didn’t last long when Shuri finally broke the silence. “Bucky, why is it that you dance so beautifully, but Steve won’t even go near the dance floor?”
Bucky turned to Steve, surprise in his eyes. “You still don’t like to dance?”
“Sounded more like he was terrified of it, actually.”
Peter withered under Steve’s glare.
“Stop terrorizing the kid and answer me.” Bucky gentled his voice. “You never go dancing?”
“Nah.” Steve took a long drink of champagne. “Not worth the humiliation.”
Bucky shook his head. “I could never figure you out.”
“Did you guys go dancing a lot back in…?” As Peter tried to find the right words to finish his sentence, Shuri added, “… in olden times?” She laughed at Bucky’s glare.
“Bucky danced. I watched.” Steve grumbled.
Bucky rolled his eyes. “We both would bring dates to the dance halls.”
“He would tell the girls he would only go out if I could come along. Any time we went on a double-date, both girls were hoping to dance with him.”
“What are you talking about?” And oh, wasn’t that a tone Steve remembered from arguments about this decades ago.
“I know you always felt sorry for me, worried about me being home alone.”
Shuri and Peter looked back and forth between Steve and Bucky, like they were watching a tennis match.
“Did you ever think that maybe I just wanted you to be happy?” Bucky drained his glass and addressed Shuri and Peter. “This guy, right here, can be a stubborn ass.”
“Oh, we’re aware.” Shuri sipped her drink and stared at Steve, while Peter attempted to muffle his laughter.
“If we went to the dance halls, just the two of us, he’d stand along the walls and sit at our table and wouldn’t even put himself out there. Other times, I’d set him up with nice girls, but he sometimes he barely spoke to them.”
“Never had any moves, Cap?” Peter teased.
“Never. Buck was the only person I was comfortable with when I was younger.”
Shuri raised her eyebrows. She started to say something, but changed her mind and instead asked, “What was Bucky like back then?”
“I’m right here.”
“I know, but I’d like to hear it from Steve.”
Steve wasn’t sure he had the words adequate to describe how he saw Bucky when they were young. He couldn’t say he was everything, so he tried, “Everybody loved him. He was smart and funny. His sisters adored him. When my mom died, he kept me from falling apart. He always treated me like I was a person, not a burden.”
Steve didn’t let Bucky interrupt him. “He was the best-looking guy in our neighborhood. Had a different girl on his arm every week, yet their parents still approved of him. He literally helped old ladies cross the street and carried their groceries, that’s the kind of guy he was. He could walk into any situation and charm everyone there.” Steve shrugged, feeling a pang of the old envy even now. “He just made it seem so effortless.”
“It was never effortless, Steve. But I always made the effort around you.” Bucky said.
Steve didn’t quite know what to make of that.
“Now tell us about Steve?” Because, of course, Shuri and Peter were enjoying this.
The twinkle in Bucky’s eyes worried Steve, but also made his heart beat faster.
“Steve was the definition of stubborn, fighting the world and his health. That just made him passionate and different, you know? And he should have had the chance to be a famous artist, if there was any justice in the world.”
He was never comfortable when people talked about him, but Steve remained silent because Bucky’s face had taken on the dreamy quality of reminiscing. This was Bucky truly remembering Steve, and it was the greatest miracle of his life.
“He was so damned prickly around people, though. I always felt honored he let me into his life at all. He was scrawny, yeah, but strong and sure. Blue eyes blazing with righteous anger, shining brighter than the goddamn sun.” Bucky looked directly at Steve, fearlessly and honestly. “Steve was always the most beautiful person in any room. I never could understand why the girls weren’t lining up to dance with him.”
Steve was so astonished by what Bucky said that he blurted, “Why would anyone have ever wanted me when they had the chance to be with you?”
Steve’s words rang in his ears. As he looked anywhere but at Bucky, he noted Peter’s wide, sparkling eyes and Shuri’s delighted smile. How could they look so happy when Steve felt so embarrassed, a century of feeling… feelings for Bucky out in the wide open?
Bucky stood up, and Steve hunched in upon himself, steeling himself for the inevitable rejection.
Then a hand appeared in front of Steve’s face.
Bucky was looking down at Steve, his hand open for Steve to take. Steve gaped and did not move.
Bucky moved his hand slightly closer to Steve. “May I have this dance?” His voice was full of gentle exasperation, fondness, hope, and a subtle hint of fear.
Steve quickly glanced around the room. Sam was dancing with Monica Rambeau. Helen Cho had lured Bruce onto the dance floor. Tony and Pepper were still out there, gazing into each other’s eyes. Clint, Laura, and Natasha were swaying together, arms around shoulders, a seeming confirmation of a relationship Steve had always wondered about. Carol and Maria held each other close, their body language displaying a long-lived intimacy.
Steve remembered those dance halls of his youth. He remembered keeping to the walls while Bucky danced the nights away. He remembered feeling so awkward every time he attempted to dance with a date Bucky had found for him. Steve remembered a dance with Peggy he’d never had, sweet and perfect in a way his real dances never were. He remembered Bucky teasing him for his clumsiness in public, because Steve had always danced just fine with Bucky in the privacy of their lessons at home.
He remembered waiting for the right partner.
Steve looked up at that beloved face and clasped Bucky’s hand.
Decades later, Steve would not remember walking to the center of the dance floor with Bucky, but he would still be able to feel the warmth and the strength of Bucky’s hand in his. Then Bucky placed his other hand on Steve’s waist, and they danced.
Steve started to look down at his feet, but Bucky stopped him.
“Look at me.”
Steve raised his head and caught his breath.
Until that moment, Steve had never understood the concept of being lost in someone’s eyes. But the room faded away as he looked at Bucky. They moved easily in time with the music and with each other. They were dancing, as effortlessly and gracefully as all the couples Steve had envied in the past. As all the dances Bucky had shared with others in the past.
It felt like a dream come true, even more so when Bucky said, “It was always you, Steve. You know that, right? In my thoughts, I was always dancing with you.”
Steve decided to be brave and give Bucky the truth he deserved. “I think I was always waiting for you to ask.”
Smiling brightly, Bucky pulled Steve closer, so they were dancing cheek-to-cheek. Steve could feel Bucky’s breath on his neck, and he shivered.
“You okay?” Bucky pulled back just a little.
“Never better.” And he pressed his lips to Bucky’s cheek.
“Me, too.” Bucky, no stranger to Steve’s tactical planning, immediately upped the stakes by kissing him on the corner of the mouth.
And that’s how Steve Rogers, who had notoriously jumped on a potentially live grenade and out of an airplane without a parachute, once again leapt into a new adventure by kissing Bucky Barnes for the first time on a dance floor.
After a few moments, a sound filtered through the blissful haze of emotions surrounding them, and Steve regretfully pulled away from the kiss. Bucky appeared as dazed as Steve felt, and there had been no stepped-upon toes, which pleased Steve to no end. Then he finally recognized the sound. Applause.
“I hate everyone in this room but you, Buck.”
Bucky promptly burst into laughter.
“And maybe you, too.”
“Nah. You love me, Stevie.” There was a bit of the dare in Bucky’s voice.
But it would have been more of a challenge to deny saying after all these years. “Yeah, I do.”
Bucky smiled, a shy sweet thing. “I love you, too.”
And Steve could see all of it on Bucky’s face. All the fights Bucky finished for him. All the sleepless nights at his sickbed. All the hopeless dates with other people, all the carefree days spent together. The sniper at his back. The ghost from his past. His constancy, his devotion, his future.
Why did Steve ever doubt Bucky could love him back?
“I know.” A single tear fell down Steve’s face. “I know.”
Bucky raised his hand to Steve’s face, wiped away the tear, caressed his bearded jaw, and kissed him.
This kiss was different than the first. This kiss was full of intent, full of promise, full of peace, full of desire.
And then it was full of giggling, because there was more applause, now supplemented with cheering and some catcalling.
“Did you want to get out of here?”
“No way, Stevie. I’ve been waiting a century to show you off.”
Steve buried his face into Bucky’s neck so nobody would see the tears threatening to overflow. There was a temptation to give into regret for all the wasted opportunities. Steve had already spent too much time emotionally living in the past. Instead, while the songs cycled through and they continued to dance, sharing more tender kisses and loving touches, Steve chose to marvel at the confluence of events, both wondrous and terrible, which had brought them into this future together, to this moment together.
The sound of footsteps caused Steve and Bucky to remember the world contained more than just the two of them.
“Hey, congratulations, you two.” Pepper managed to give Bucky a side hug although he wouldn’t let go of Steve. Bucky blushed and murmured, “Thank you.”
“Please, I beg of you, make use of any of the fine rooms available to you in my humble skyscraper. Just don’t make me have to watch centenarians make out on my wedding day.” Tony gave Steve’s shoulder a quick squeeze, and Steve felt his absolution and understanding under the teasing.
“Yeah, yeah, leave us alone,” Steve gazed into Bucky’s eyes, slate blue and clear and happy and brimming with love. He hoped Bucky could see even a fraction of what he felt on his own face. “We’re dancing.”