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Bucky Runs (his mouth) & Comes (back home)

Chapter Text

Winter Soldier captured on a cellphone screen

 

Chapter 1: A Bold Claim

 

Steve shown on a cell phone screen lying in bed

 

“On your left.”

 

Steve’s in too much pain to muster a grin but a corner of his mouth twitches a little as Sam blinks awake in response and smiles at him, something smooth and jazzy playing in the background.

 

Speaking of… maybe awake isn’t something Steve wants to be right now. Those three little words were enough to make his throat ache and with every passing second a new hurt is making itself felt. Broken bones, especially in his face, stab wounds, multiple gunshots, cuts, bruising, and anything minor that managed to fix itself before he regained consciousness. Everything’s healing, of course, and he’s sure it would have hurt far worse if he’d woken up sooner, but body parts always protest knitting back together and re-growing at high speed.

 

After several minutes, Steve is blearily able to determine that, while his entire body is throbbing to some level or another, his toes at least appear to be uninjured.

 

“You with me, man? Or are you passing back out for a few hours?”

 

Steve closes his eyes and considers his options. He feels the fuzzy haze that indicates the medical staff were desperately trying to keep him asleep as long as possible but the meds are no longer enough and the pain has won out. For now.

 

“I’m ‘wake,” he mumbles. “You c’n tell the n’rse.”

 

Moments later a nurse bustles in and briskly gives him a full run-down of his injuries, surgeries, and healing progress as she checks his vital signs. Steve’s not sure what it says about him that the med staff in Avengers Tower knows exactly what he wants to hear when he first regains consciousness, or that he never hears them complain about manually checking his pulse, color, and breathing even though their fancy machines have been streaming them that very data the entire time he was out. Tony has assured him that they’re all very well-paid to compensate both for the danger of working with enhanced individuals and dealing with the varying eccentricities of the team. Unusually, though, she pauses after completing her status report and tentatively asks, “Any, ah… other injuries we should know about? Anything else you remember happening or that hurts?”

 

Steve frowns at her. Bad idea, even his eyebrows ache, probably due to the still-healing eye sockets. “Should there be?”

 

She looks flustered, a first for the Tower staff. “There was… we just… the news had… thought we should ask….”

 

Steve frowns harder and tries to sit up. Oh, yep, even worse idea, his abdominal muscles are clearly not all intact. Sam rushes to ease him back down then very carefully adjusts the bed into a slightly more upright position.

 

The nurse gestures vaguely to the TV monitor mounted on the wall. “Jarvis? Could you please?”

 

“At once, ma’am,” Jarvis returns promptly and a TV anchor appears on screen.

 

“This just in, the latest in our ongoing coverage of what is currently being deemed the Triskelion Incident, the sudden battle that took out most of SHIELD headquarters and what appears to be three giant helicarriers. Our station has just obtained exclusive footage showing one scene of the aftermath. We’re live-streaming it now.”

 

The camera cuts to a cell phone video, shot vertically, of the banks of the Potomac with Bucky hunched possessively, almost predatorily, over Steve's beaten and dripping wet body, (replacement?) mask somehow back on his face, everything concealed except his eyes and forehead. Off-camera one voice calls for an ambulance as another voice asks, "Are.... are you a new Avenger? Did you just save Captain America?"

 

Bucky looks up, eyes momentarily confused but quickly turning to a stormy glare before snarling, "I fucked Captain America. In the ass ."

 

And then.... his eyes just go blank, like his brain has suddenly gone on vacation, or maybe.... like he's staring at something that's only playing inside his head. But within a flash, it's gone. Bucky shakes his head, growls menacingly at the person wielding the camera phone, and lopes off faster than any non-enhanced human can follow. Sirens sound in the distance and someone rushes in from off-camera to begin CPR before it cuts out.

 

Back in the studio, the TV anchors struggle to conceal their shock as one makes a hasty comment about perhaps using a 5-second delay next time before quickly moving to analysis of the “mysterious figure” last seen during the bridge fight and his “menacing comments”. The TV flicks off and the nurse gazes at Steve expectantly.

 

Steve drops his head back to the pillows, eyes closed and laughing softly despite the burning of his gut wounds. He doesn't know what Bucky was thinking in the video but he knows what's going through his own mind right now: the last time they were together, Bucky had topped, and, sure enough, they'd been so impatient and worked up that Steve had still been wearing the Captain America uniform. That's a damn bit more specific of a memory than just recalling that Steve was his friend.

 

If, that is, Bucky was really remembering and it wasn’t just the Winter Soldier using some crude modern language to describe besting Steve in a fight. He chuckles one last time before assuring the nurse, “My pants were still on…. didja see? The fight ended…. when I fell into the river and you can tell by the blood and the water that I’ve... just been pulled out. Nothing... nothing happened.”

 

At least not then. 1937-1945 was a very different matter.

 

The nurse nods slowly, still unsure. “If… if you’re sure. Since you weren’t unconscious, we didn’t… we wanted to confirm… if you’re at all worried…”

 

Steve tries to grin reassuringly at her but it just comes out as a wince. “I’m sure. But thanks for your concern. ‘Ppreciate it.”

 

Sam frowns down at him. “Don’t tell me you’re too macho to tell her you’re hurting and need some pain meds, Rogers. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it and your muscles will heal better if you’re not all tensed up and clenching from how bad it is. What are you trying to prove here?”

 

Sam is too perceptive. Great quality in an Avenger, frustrating one in a nosy best friend.


Steve just sighs and stares at the ceiling as the nurse preps and administers a new dose of elephant-tranquilizer grade meds. He wonders where Bucky is now. He wonders if he is safe. He hopes he didn’t hurt him too badly. He didn’t want to but he had to stop the helicarriers, he had to , and he couldn’t back down from the fight until after the computer chip had been securely placed. The feel of Buck going unconscious in his arms, from his arms isn’t a sense memory he’ll be able to shake any time soon…..

Chapter Text

a cell phone screen showing a silhouette of an individual against a fiery background

 

He recovers.
He gets discharged.

His Shield-issued apartment is thoroughly trashed both from the attack on Fury and the subsequent “investigation”. He’s sure it was just an excuse for Shield/Hydra agents to tear apart every inch for clues as to his loyalties so he packs up a few things and retreats back to his “quarters” in Avengers Tower. Whatever Tony did to get him back to the Tower when he was hurt instead of letting him near a regular hospital or, worse, a Shield-affiliated medical facility must have been drastic. Steve figures he owes him one and, for whatever reason, having the Avengers under one roof pleases Stark.

Sam doesn’t commit to moving in but does accept a transfer to a VA office in NYC and promises to at least consider joining up with the Avengers.

The other Avengers are furious over both Steve's near-death experience and the Winter Soldier's words.

Steve can't bring himself to either join in or tell them the truth: that the Winter Soldier is actually Bucky Barnes, his best friend, his lover.

That his memories appear to be scattered and fuzzy but that Steve firmly believes that he's been freed from Hydra's control.

Only Sam and Natasha seem to notice that Steve doesn't join in the vehemence and they eye him closely but don't ask questions. They said their piece before the Triskelion, when Steve had been shaken by Bucky’s attack on the bridge but hadn’t recognized him, not with the mask on, not with the brutal way he moved.

But Steve had recognized that his gear looked more like a straitjacket than armor, much less a uniform, had pointed out how his mask gave the hideous impression of a muzzle, had confessed that his eyes looked unhappy and haunted, so unlike the vicious brutality and gleeful violence of the Strike teams. Had voiced his conviction that the Winter Soldier’s service to Hydra was entirely involuntary.

Sam had shown compassion but still told Steve, “I don’t think he’s the kind you save, he’s the kind you stop.” And Steve had listened and Steve had promised and when the mask had come off during the helicarrier fight and his heart had stopped he had still put the mission first. He had choked out Bucky- his Bucky- and saved millions of lives before refusing to fight him, tossing aside the shield and pleading for Bucky to remember, to know him, to not leave him so utterly alone again.

Sam knows about POWs.

Natasha knows about escaping brainwashing.

Steve does tell them- again- that he doesn’t think the Winter Soldier was working for Hydra voluntarily and affirms that he pulled Steve from the river.

But the whole truth… it feels too precious and fragile for Steve to find the words to share it. Maybe… maybe after he’s thought it over some more.

In the weeks to follow, Hydra bases start to go up in flames and/or explosions. Some were listed in the SHIELD data dump and their locations could possibly have been decoded in that time but others were a mystery to everyone. Some postulate that Hydra is cleaning house, destroying evidence. Others think that it’s a rival organization, trying to seize their assets and other resources, searching for secret weapons. Many think that it’s a team from one of the alphabet organizations, trying to wipe out the threat quickly and without official jurisdiction so their hands aren’t bound by legalities and procedures.

Steve knows that it's Bucky, hell-bent on revenge.

He can’t prove it.

But when he’d said, “I’m with you till the end of the line”, Bucky’s eyes had gone so wide and shocked but fully his, lovely and familiar and aware, even if horrified.
His whole face had softened.
He’d stopped punching.
If the helicarrier hadn’t shattered apart beneath them just then and dumped him in the river, Steve would’ve kissed him.
Taken him home.

He does tell the other Avengers that he thinks it’s the Winter Soldier, freed from Hydra and getting revenge. Tony bets him $100 that he’s wrong or that, even if it is the Soldier, that it’s just Hydra in-fighting and power consolidation.

But then Bucky, still in Winter Soldier gear and facemask, is again confronted via cell-phone video, this time outside an old bank that he's watching burn. Steve can't believe Bucky's that easily caught if he doesn't want to be, so he can only guess that Bucky wants Hydra to know that he's the one hunting them down.

This time the off-camera voice is more antagonistic, yelling, "You can't get away with this! The Avengers will bring you down!"

Bucky's response is a near-immediate sneer of, "I can bring Captain America to his knees. And make him like it."

And, again, what Steve can see of his expression goes blank afterwards, wide-eyed and empty for a long moment before Bucky scowls and reaches the cell phone wielder in a few quick strides, smashing the phone to the ground and shattering both the screen and the transmission.

Chapter Text

cell phone screen showing a collage of news articles

 

The media goes wild.

Captain America has a nemesis, and one sexually obsessed with him as well. The cell phone guy hadn’t even mentioned Steve by name or title and yet he was the one Bucky had fixated on. Fury, mostly acting through Hill as a proxy, sets up a plan to track him down, and Stark deploys an army of surveillance drones at their request to track for the heat signatures of the sudden, intense fires and explosions that seem to be the Winter Soldier's new trademark.

Steve demands his $100 from Tony. Tony is not convinced.

Steve retreats into his apartment in Avengers tower, sitting in his living room and filling page after page of a brand-new sketchbook with images of Bucky: Bucky before the war, so beautiful and charming; Bucky during the war, dangerous yet haunted, sharp-edged but needy, callused fingers and soft touches; Bucky on the bridge, pretty face mostly hidden, eyes wide and confused, dark circles hinting at misery and torture and a lack of proper rest. Bucky with hair short and long, slender and surprisingly built, with 2 flesh arms, with 1 flesh and 1 metal. Bucky Bucky Bucky.

He dreams of going to his knees for Bucky, of the time Steve got restless and full of energy in the middle of a European countryside, waiting with the rest of the Howlies on orders that just kept getting delayed, until he got so twitchy that Bucky pulled him away from their camp and made him come again and again and again until his body was relaxed enough to sleep.

He spent quite a while on his knees that day.

He is undisturbed for precisely 3 days while the media rages on.

CAP'S NEMESIS: SEXUAL PREDATOR OR TROLL?
INTERNATIONAL FUGITIVE HARRASSES AVENGER
SWOON OR CRINGE: How do you feel about the Winter Soldier's crush on Cap?
WS COMMENTS SPARK OPEN CONVERSATION ABOUT SEX AND CONSENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
SEXUALLY EXPLICIT STATEMENTS FROM TERRORIST INCITE NATIONAL OUTRAGE
CAP'S SILENCE -- The true tragic story behind the WS claims, as told by a close source from the Avengers
BONDAGE BOY WANTS CAP -- And can you blame him?
BOLD CLAIMS FROM CAP CRAVER -- But who is this leather-clad villain?
FAN BOY FLAMES FIRE -- Cautious Captain closeted?
ARSONIST OBSESSED WITH AVENGER -- Is he taking down Hydra just to catch Cap’s eye?

The intrusion, when it comes, is from an unexpected source: Jarvis and his unique version of a throat-clearing noise.

“Captain Rogers? If I may presume for a moment, I would appreciate your input on a manner of protocol.”

Steve frowns at the ceiling. It’s not like Jarvis- or, rather, his programming- to have need of assistance in nearly any area, unless it’s a matter of an odd human quirk he hasn’t managed to figure out himself yet. “What can I help you with, Jarvis?”

“Well, you see sir, I have been asked to analyze all available public and private records I have access to in order to determine if I can locate a match for the individual known as the Winter Soldier.”

Steve looks guiltily at the sketchbook in his lap. Private records indeed. “Oh.”

“All security monitoring of your living quarters is not considered even a manner of private records. It is a secure and confidential feed, stored separately from all the rest of the tower’s footage and destroyed after 30 days. I am also instructed to not use any of the monitoring when making any decision or taking any action unless the information poses some threat or possible danger.”

Steve still isn’t sure what Jarvis’ point is but he’s fairly certain he won’t like it. “And?”

“With a typical search, I access all possible records for the last 60 years. So with this request, I would search as far back as 1954.”

“And?”

“Do you think I should extend my search farther back, sir?”

Steve stares down at his lap again. On the left-hand page is Bucky in 1935, Bucky in 1940, and Bucky in the war wearing his blue jacket with all the buttons. On the right-hand side is Bucky cold and closed off in the Winter Soldier getup, eyes blacked and face muzzled, Bucky looking lost and confused, face exposed, on the helicarrier, and finally Bucky as Steve imagines him, in a comfy shirt, hair long and eyes haunted, but looking cozy and cautiously hopeful.

six black and white sketches of Bucky

He hears what Jarvis is really asking. It’d be so easy to let Jarvis break the news for him, tell the team what Steve can not. But he’s not ready for that, not yet. Not ready for the questions, the suggestions that Bucky is no longer Bucky, the implication that he is still a threat, no matter how many Hydra bases he’s taken out since the helicarrier. Not ready for the team to see the way he’s an entirely different person when he talks about Bucky. Not ready for them to know that his failure to save Bucky, to find him afterward, has resulted in what is probably the longest-suffering POW in history.

Bucky is his. And he’s not ready to share.

The silence grows heavy until Steve finally clears his throat. “Please…. Please don’t.”

“As you wish, Captain. I trust you have an alternate strategy in mind.”

He does.

Well.

At least he should.

Maybe he should work on that.

…..once he’s finished his drawing, of course.

Chapter Text

cell phone screen showing the masked Winter Soldier holding a gun

 

At a status meeting two days later, Steve carefully does not react when Jarvis- technically truthfully- reports that he could not find any concrete facial recognition match for the Winter Soldier on any accessible database or records in the last 60 years. The rest of the team groans and sighs while Tony babbles about the possibility of “Frankenstein/Bionic Man mash-up” monstrosities created in a lab. Steve carefully does not doodle a beautiful pair of eyes rimmed by dark shadows.

The drones find a likely explosion within a week and zero in on the spot within minutes only to find nothing left but flames and rubble for the quickly assembled Avengers to review. It’s a smallish town in Illinois but one with an express train that goes into Chicago. Natasha muses that a spot like that would make for a good safehouse or warehouse cache when Jarvis suddenly announces, “I found something,” and overlaps the drones’ surveillance feeds with a social media post.

It’s the same location, something Jarvis emphasizes by overlaying the virtual screen on top of the drone with the most similar angle on the site. A man live-streaming about his day in selfie mode as he walks down the street suddenly stops and flips the view on his camera, revealing Bucky with a heavy jacket over his usual gear standing in front of a building. His mask and hand are still clearly visible, though, and the streamer backs away even as he yells, “What the fuck are you doing, man?”

Bucky tilts his head and his eyes glint with a familiar smirk. “I hear your Cap likes to punch Nazis. But I think he could go a little harder.” He tosses something through the open door in front of him and adds, as a shrill beeping starts up,”You should run.”

The man obeys, camera bouncing and shaking as he reverses direction and switches the camera back to himself, making shocked faces and mouthing obscenities even as he pants for air. There is no sign of Bucky behind him but an explosion vibrates through the screen 20 seconds later, billowing menacingly in the background. The man shouts about his ears but seems unhurt and runs even faster. The video ends as the man reaches the car and announces his intention to provide an update later, after he’s “booked it the fuck outta here.”

Everyone is staring at Steve. Again.

He swallows hard. “Well, you heard him. He wants to take them out. And he warned a civilian to get clear. Hydra was never one to care about collateral damage.”

He doesn’t add that the silent, wide-eyed pause is gone.

That Bucky seems even more present than he had the last two times he’d shown up on camera.

That his stomach is fluttering with an intoxicating mix of hope and that smirk he could never resist. Go a little harder, indeed.

Sam shakes his head. “Warned, my ass. He scared the shit out of the guy and you know it.”

Steve just shrugs. “It worked.”

Tony breaks in. “And what was that- criticizing you for being too soft? As if his strategy of what- scorched earth- is any better? Does he think he’s Sherman prancing to the sea? Is this a warning? And to whom? What does he want?”

Natasha breaks in quietly. “I think Steve is right.”

Tony twirls around to gesture at her. “About which part? Caring about civilians? Has it occurred to you that Rogers is as soft on this guy as this guy accuses him of being towards Nazis? What, does he want Mr. Morals here to start doing summary executions?”

“He’s not Hydra. Not anymore.” Natasha stands up and takes a deep breath. “He’s wiping them out. Going for revenge. And he clearly has intel we don’t. Too many of these locations haven’t even been hinted at in the files we dropped, and our decryption work on them is fully complete. He was an insider- we know that- Hydra wouldn’t have sent anyone less than their best to take out Fury, openly attack us, and protect the helicarriers.

“Maybe they were furious about his failure on all 3 counts and planned to terminate him. Maybe Rogers was right; he never worked for them by choice and the helicarrier catastrophe was his chance to break free. But whatever he may want or do in the future, for now it seems like vengeance against Hydra is his primary aim.” She sits back down and adds, “And I don’t blame him.”

Now it’s her eyes going blank and far-away.

Steve wonders if she ever really got her revenge on her former handlers or if letting Hawkeye bring her in meant her personal vendetta had to be put aside in favor of proving her loyalty and reliability to a suspicious Fury.

He wonders if she ever found a way to get even anyway.

Barton pipes up. “So where do we go from here? The guy’s still a loose cannon.”

“He has information we don’t.” Eyes turn towards Banner in his corner. “One agency or another has investigated all the locations we figured out and the few agents we’ve been able to capture alive either don’t know or aren’t talking. We don’t have many leads.”

Stark scoffs, “So, what, we deputize the guy?? Just go, ‘oh sure, you forced Fury to self-induce a near-death experience, tried to wipe out an American hero and our favorite former-Soviet assassin and Mr. Morals 2.0 virtuous VA Boy Scout over here-” Sam acknowledges this with a gracious incline of his head- “then tried to help Hydra wipe out millions of people but you didn’t mean it and you’re mad at them now so it’s all okay! Welcome to the team!’ Is that what you all are thinking?”

Steve looks steadily at him. “Do you have a better idea?”

“We have leads, they’re just small,” Stark snorts. “We’ll track down the Hydra remnants on our own. Found some helpful paper trails, suspicious transactions, millions disappearing from shady offshore accounts, that sort of thing. I’ll refine the drones’ searches to focus more on his creepy-ass persona, all this mask and metal get-up, instead of chasing down his pyromania after the fact. We’ll find him, too. Bring him in. Stop his little murder spree before anyone other than Hydra gets hurt.”

A subtle flare of Hill’s nostrils indicates she’s about to decisively assert her authority and demand silence when an alarm pings and a red-tinged monitor bursts into view in front of them, projecting a view of some farmland and a deserted road with a dark figure in the distance.

The Winter Soldier has been found, just miles from his latest explosion. Hill patches Fury through from wherever he’s currently hiding as the StarkTech drone waits for instructions before approaching.

It’s no use. No sooner has Fury’s face flickered into view in the conference room then Bucky turns, spots the drone, and takes it out from 100 yards. The surveillance screen fizzles into static and Steve tries to hide a smile.

Bucky was always a damn good shot.

Chapter Text

cell phone screen showing Fury standing over a table looking very serious into the camera

 

He’s writing letters. The first, in his messy chicken scratch scrawl to his old pal Buck. He writes of odd jobs, commission opportunities for artists to make recruitment and war bond posters, the greengrocer who will let him take home the bruised fruits and vegetables he was just going to toss in exchange for lettering his signs and specials. Includes a second piece of paper that he took around to the neighbors in their tenement building so they could each write a line or two to “that brave Barnes boy”. Signs his name with a careless Steve or Steven and seals the envelope. He only writes one of those a week. Then he stretches his fingers and arms, takes out a new sheet, and starts all over. This one he addresses “To my darling B.B.” in his best artist’s flow with daintily looping letters. He pours out his heart and his lust and pretends that the careful lack of named body parts in the steamier sections are just so as not to tempt the censors. He writes of his lonely bed and his longing for stormy eyes but also his new scarf from Becca, the silly cartoons he drew for her and the others, and the way the Barnes family fusses over the idea that he’s not being properly taken care of, how he hates the implication that he can’t take care of himself but loves how thoroughly they’ve welcomed him into the family. “I confess, sweetheart, that as our friendship grew into something more I fretted that your parents would not find me a suitable match, and declare me unworthy of their son. I have never been more delighted to admit that I was wrong.” He signs off, “Forever Yours, Sugar” with a little extra emphasis on the SGR and as many looping whorls as he can fit on the page. Those letters are written every night.

Steve wakes, arm reaching automatically for that Army-issue letter paper, fingers already twitching to shape, “Dearest BB, I even write to you in my dreams,” into reality before he blinks back to the current year. He used to dream of Bucky in the future, their tentative talks with Dot and Betty to get married one day, settle down in neighboring units or even townhomes, and carve out an interior adjoining door so they could keep up appearances but still all live and sleep as they wished. Ever since he woke up it’s been all memories, clear and vivid as if he’s living them again and again. Lately, though, things are beginning to blur. Hints of running his hand through messy, shoulder-length hair, peeling off leather straps and buckles to reveal what’s underneath, and stroking a metal arm that could pin him to the wall or throw him onto the bed.

Maybe he should up his workouts, tire himself out a little more before bed each night.

 

After several days of grumbling during strategy sessions, Tony gives Steve his $100. Fury mutters that there will be consequences if Steve’s hunch about the Winter Soldier’s loyalties are incorrect. Still, Fury seems surprisingly complacent about the idea of partnering with the guy who’s still listed as his murderer in official records.

 

But even with Tony telling his drones, “Any visual on any metal hand, ever! Any abnormal heat signatures, there’s no way a prosthetic gives off heat in precisely the same way as a human limb! How does his freaking mask and BDSM get-up never attract attention before he’s making with the explosions??”, it’s not until they pick up yet another explosion on their monitors that the Avengers get the slightest hint as to his location.

 

When the alert comes through, they all race to the meeting room, the projection of Fury seated at a desk already taking up an entire wall. Fury doesn’t acknowledge their arrival, just addresses the drone, “It’s no use trying to watch from a distance. Approach the Winter Soldier directly from the front, waving whatever white flag you can.” The drone chirps in acknowledgement and a second screen pops up, showing the drone’s forward monitor. It’s displaying a peace sign against a white background. Fury huffs in possible amusement or approval and drawls, “Let’s see if this works.”

 

Bucky is standing on a gravel driveway leading up to what once probably looked like nothing more than a deserted farmstead. A run-down farmhouse is burning in a fairly typical way but the grain silo nearby is sporting the slowly dissipating mushroom cloud that likely grabbed the drone’s attention. Smaller plumes of smoke and flames are jetting up from points in the ground that hint at ventilation shafts leading to a much larger underground facility.

 

Bucky eyes the drone’s careful approach but doesn’t attack it. When the drone is still some 20 feet away, Fury orders it to stop and project his face on-screen. Bucky tilts his head in acknowledgement at Fury’s appearance but says nothing, his eyes dark with suspicion. Steve clenches one hand into a fist and presses it hard against his mouth, fighting everything he has just to keep still and not cry out Bucky’s name.

 

“Winter Soldier,” Fury says heavily. “We need your help.” The drone’s signal projects Bucky’s stony, silent glare onto the wall opposite Fury but he makes no move either to run or shoot down the Stark drone hovering in front of him. Fury presses on. “The files we’ve obtained are only a fraction of Hydra’s databanks, and only the North American ones at that. Your recent… actions… have convinced us that you may also wish to see them taken down. We can offer you much- amnesty, protection, a new identity, you name it. In return we ask for whatever intel you can provide and your assistance in navigating and taking out their bases. You can name your price.”

 

Bucky’s eyes are scornful and disbelieving. Steve’s sure he suspects a trap, particularly given the way Tony is scowling at Bucky, off to one side but still close enough to Fury to be visible on the drone’s screen. He scoffs, “My price is more than you’re willing to pay.”

 

Steve tries not to whimper at hearing that beloved voice, distorted through the mask, but live in real-time and feeling like he’s right there in front of him. Fury’s lip twitches as he retorts, “Try me.”

 

Bucky smirks, crossing his arms and voice rumbling. “I want Steve Rogers.”

 

Steve leaps to his feet. “Done.”

 

Around him erupts protests and cries of dismay. “Silence,” he snaps. He knows full well that the Avengers are utterly unused to the authority and command he can voice and they obey, stunned. He steps into the projection and mirrors Bucky’s stance, lifting his chin in the way that Bucky could forget one hundred times and yet still remember a thousand more. “But I want it done right, buddy. It’s gotta be mutual and legally recognized by the state of New York.”

 

Bucky’s head snaps back with shock. After a long moment, he grates out, “You can’t be serious…..”

 

Steve gives him his best unimpressed face. “One, being my spouse will grant you legal protection against extradition and deportation. Two, we’re both less likely to be accused of kidnapping or holding the other hostage. Three, I’m not just letting you walk away when you feel like it; you want me, you’re stuck with me, pal. Four, it’s legal in some states now and New York is one of them. I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

 

Bucky still says nothing. Steve mirrors Bucky’s earlier smirk. “Unless you’re afraid of commitment?”

 

Bucky Barnes never could back down from a challenge issued by Steve Rogers. “Never.”

 

Steve smiles beatifically. “Then it’s settled. Give me a way to get in touch with you so I can get your color preferences for the wedding and measurements for your tux.”

 

Bucky frowns suddenly in suspicion. “What’s in it for you, Rogers?”


Steve gives him the innocent smile that modern media describes as his “aw-shucks” face but that has never, not once, fooled one James Buchanan Barnes. “Would you believe I’m motivated entirely by my desire to eradicate Hydra?”


“No.”

 

“I did give my life to defeat them. I’m very upset that they’ve managed to survive.”

 

“Try again.”


“Well, if you insist.” He shrugs casually. “I may have been… informed…. by several reputable scientists that I could cause severe damage to an unenhanced partner. Even the Black Widow hasn’t been able to find me a date that’s safe. Really puts a damper on any potential romance.”

Bucky looks like he may be choking a little behind the mask. Steve grins at him, smugly. “You seem… reasonably sturdy."

 

Bucky makes an outraged sound, all hint of stony indifference gone. He stalks towards the drone, reaching out and snarling, “You’re bluffing.”


Steve just barely manages to shout out, “Try me!”, before Bucky smashes the drone out of the sky, screens fizzling away to static.

 

The Avengers conference room bursts into chaos.

Chapter Text

cell phone screen showing various images of furniture and interior design

 

What follows reminds Steve strangely of the bewildered yet hostile press conference that occurred in the aftermath of the helicarriers and the revelations about Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD. Except that this time the rapid-fire questions are coming from his own colleagues.

 

Q: Dammit Rogers, what were you thinking?
A: That we need his help at all costs.

 

Q: Why should we support you in this? We do not trade in human lives.
A: Oh yeah, since when?

 

Q: Are you…. You can’t possibly be serious. Are you serious?
A: Absolutely.

 

Q: But marriage, Steve, really? To the Winter Soldier? Why?
A: I think he’s touch-starved. Possibly depressed as well. I want to help.

 

Q: Man, you know you’re not a therapist, right?
A: Yes, I am aware.

 

Q: So you’re saying you actually have a plan for this?
A: Of course I have a plan.

 

Q: Well, then what’s your next step?
A: Planning a wedding.

 

Q: What do you want from us?
A: Just don’t get in my way.

 

Q: You want us to just, what, stick back and watch you do this?
A: What I do in my personal life is my choice and I can marry whomever I wish.

 

Q: Since when does Captain Choir Boy America have a personal life?
A: Well, maybe it’s time for me to start.

 

Steve pushes himself away from the table and exits the room, whistling down the corridor and back to the elevator and his apartment. His Q&A with Jarvis goes much more smoothly.

 

Q: Jarvis, are there Catholic priests that perform gay weddings?
A: I’m sorry, sir. Per papal regulations, they are banned from signing same-sex marriage certificates and could be defrocked if they do so.

 

Q: Yeah, I get that, somebody else would have to serve as the official officiant. But are there any that will just do the ceremony and let someone else sign?
A: One moment, please….. According to my analysis of various reports and rumors, I would estimate that .3% of the priests in the New York and Brooklyn dioceses would perform your wedding.

 

Q: Oh, you heard that, huh?
A: Indeed, sir. I provide assistance and oversight to the drone program. I have sent profiles of the potential priests as well as pictures of the exterior and interior of their cathedrals to your personal tablet.

 

Q: Isn’t Sam licensed to officiate weddings?
A: That is correct, Captain Rogers. Although I’m not sure I detected an affirmative answer from the Winter Soldier, sir.

 

Q: I’ll worry about that part. What sort of changes am I allowed to make to my apartment?
A: Within these walls, you are permitted to make any modifications you like, as long as they do not affect the structural integrity of the building or go beyond the parameters of your apartment.

 

Q: Jarvis, how much clearance and access am I allowed to grant my guests?
A: Anyone you place on the cleared list and personally vouch for will be able to access all of the shared Avengers areas and your personal quarters, sir.

 

Q: Please place Bucky on my list. And make a note that he can come and visit my quarters anytime, even if I’m not here? In case he needs a shower or place to sleep or something.
A: I have added one James Buchanan Barnes to the list, sir.

 

Steve pulls out his sketchbook and starts making designs. The bathroom will need to be completely redone. His tub is big enough for one supersoldier, but not two. Same with the fancy shower Stark had installed with five different shower heads on the walls and a big one on the ceiling with a rain fixture. Nice enough, but the bench needs to be both wider and deeper. Also, this is the future so he’s sure he could find some waterproof cushion that’s nice and wide and won’t slip on the floor. The damage will heal pretty fast but the pain of kneeling for long on cold bath tile is an unpleasant distraction. He doesn’t think they’ll need two sinks but the vanity needs to be much longer so they can stand side by side and Bucky will have plenty of space for all his hair products and any primping devices he may want to acquire. It’s probably meant to obscure his face but Bucky’s long hair has Steve imagining so many creative possibilities. Maybe Natasha can recommend some good hair and skin products to stock the bathroom. Perhaps he needs a shopping list as well as a To-Do list.

 

The hallway should stay as it is. It looks common enough from the living room but around the corner, on the expanse of wall leading to the spare room and guest bedroom, is what Steve refers to as the Howlies’ family tree. Way up at the top, close to the ceiling, is a black and white photo of Steve with Bucky and the rest of the Howling Commandos. Beneath that is a portrait of each Howlie individually, with their partner(s) next to them, their children below, and their grandchildren below that. Each frame is labeled neatly with name and birth date. He has the memory to recall all the details without them but he finds comfort in the constant, visual reminder, even tucked away as it is. He receives updated pictures of the surviving family members each year. Bucky’s branch on the wall is on the far left but next to his picture are ones of his sisters, their children and grandchildren and even a great-grandchild down filling in as the Barnes progeny.

 

Next, the bedroom. Before the serum, Bucky always liked to be between Steve and the door, partly out of protectiveness and partly to trap the heat between the wall (always an interior wall, to keep away any draft or seeping chill) and himself to keep Steve warmer. After the serum, Bucky always wanted his back up against the wall or tent edge farthest from the door, saying that Steve was such a punk he needed to be able to keep an eye on Steve and the door at the same time. Steve had noticed the way Bucky would never turn his back on a door when he went to sleep, and the way he seemed to feel more secure with something solid behind him and so said nothing. Plus, on the rare occasions that Bucky got sick, he always liked to be surrounded by pillows and cozy things. Steve would pull out their spare sheets, sweaters, stuff a jacket into a pillowcase, anything, just to build a nest around Bucky. Having one side of the bed be against the wall meant that he could line it with pillows and they wouldn’t fall off. That would also give him an excuse to buy pillows in a variety of options so that Bucky could pick his favorite. He knew of cotton, down, feather, memory foam, gel, and a few other types but he was sure there were many more.

 

Bedding was important, too. Tony had strong opinions about “thread count” that Steve had never listened to because it seemed like yet another rich guy thing, but perhaps he had a point. Bucky deserved every luxury Steve could buy and 70 years of back pay and merchandising royalties could buy quite a lot. Lifestyle magazines in the 30s and 40s rhapsodized about movie stars sleeping on silk and satin. Would that be something Bucky might want? Maybe Pepper would have good suggestions. And blankets. A hand-pieced quilt like the one they’d had made from scraps, except warmer and with a more deliberate design and color choice? A thick knitted or crocheted afghan made with washable wool? A fluffy down comforter? Fleece? Bucky deserved only the best.

 

Layout next. Steve had a small minifridge built into his nightstand to stash some of the high-calorie drinks that Tony and Bruce had designed for him. He never had time to stop and eat something during lengthy missions and he’d discovered during the war that his healing factor was greatly slowed down when he was dehydrated and/or wasn’t getting enough calories. It took a long time for them to develop something that had the right balance and quantities of fat, sugar, and protein for his body, as well as a multitude of vitamins and minerals but that still tasted halfway decent. Since then he’d taken to keeping some by his bed so that if he woke up in the middle of the night he could just drink one instead of having to get up to fix himself a snack. The translucent, energy drink type ones that were tinted to indicate the flavor were 1,000 calories per bottle. The thick meal replacement types were 2,000 calories. Tony had laughingly named them Cap Colas and Steve had sworn he’d come up with a better name for them but never did. But Bucky’s strength, speed, and the energy output needed to power his arm meant that he probably had similar caloric needs to Steve as well. The minifridge would have to be bigger. A shelf for Bucky’s nighttime reading on the nightstand. Maybe one on the other side of the bed as well. But how would that work with the bed against the wall? Shelves set into the wall, maybe. A shelf mounted high enough up that one could reach up while sitting and pull off a book but not risk banging their head? A second dresser for Bucky’s clothes. Clear out the stuff Steve had been storing in the walk-in closet he barely used so that Bucky had plenty of space for as many dapper suits as he desired. A shoe rack. Drawers for accessories like pocket handkerchiefs. Something for ties. Shelves for spare sheets and towels so they wouldn’t have to venture out to the linen closet or bathroom for spares after intimate activities. A biometrically sealed weapons case so his stash of guns and knives would always be easily within reach.


Speaking of stash… they’d need a new bed. Bucky would probably sleep better with a secret compartment big enough for a knife and small handgun by his head. Steve had never tested the strength and durability of his current bed either on his own or with a partner but he was confident that it would not hold up to both Bucky and him together. Maybe one that had a rectangular frame of support instead of relying on 4 or 6 legs to hold it up. Whatever the style, it would need to be solid. Would wood that was highly rated for strength or flexibility be better? Should he go with solid metal instead and, again, strength versus give? He doodled a bit and found himself sketching an inviting-looking bed made of oak with a steel inlay that was actually a reinforced frame embedded into the wood. Bruce was good with issues of structural integrity, perhaps he’d be a good resource in this. Back in Brooklyn, the mattress they’d had to tip up against the wall every morning to add floor space would have been considered a full size mattress today and seemed plenty roomy given Steve’s size at the time. The tiny Army cots they had squeezed into had been cramped and they’d only fit by lying half on top of each other. A queen seemed like such a luxury, room to stretch but not so vast that it’d be hard to find each other in the night. If Steve is still having trouble on the marshmallow mattresses, as Sam calls them, even after all these years then Bucky will likely struggle with them as well. Surely there must be very firm mattresses that still feel supportive and extremely restful. He will find them. 

 

In addition to a guest room, which he could probably leave alone for now, Steve has a small spare room that he’s left empty. He’d left SHIELD and their paperwork behind so he didn’t need an office. He does analysis and strategy from a tablet in the living room where Jarvis can project large scale maps and layouts on the blank wall he used as a TV screen on the occasions when he wants to watch something fun. Bucky always did fret that Steve was too busy working to do things that made him happy so Steve should probably convert the space into a studio, and quickly. How many times had Bucky whispered during the war that with his Captain America salary, he’d be able to buy all the pencils and paints he wished once they’d gotten back home? That he wanted to be there the first time Steve walked into an artist supply store now that his colorblindness was cured? He added paints, pencils, easels, a drawing table with ergonomic chair, and more to the list. A couch or futon so Bucky could hang out and watch him draw or paint (or even pose for him) and be comfortable. A thick, easy-to-wash slipcover for when it inevitably got splattered with paint or other fluids. A small bookshelf for Bucky’s daytime reads with space on top for drinks or snacks. Good lighting.

 

Bookshelves in the living room as well. Steve has a fancy surround sound audio system already but there’s room for a record player cabinet in the corner, a fancy one with a good vintage player and a radio and room for all of Bucky’s favorite records, some new ones Steve had come across and enjoyed, and still more space left over for new albums they could discover together. A squishy armchair nearby for easy listening. An open space to dance or lie in the sun coming in through the big floor-to-ceiling windows. It was something Bucky had always insisted on, back in Brooklyn. On weekends in winter when the wind wasn’t too bad, Bucky would pull aside the curtains meant to help block drafts and protect their privacy and fuss about vitamin D until Steve came over and lay down next to him. They’d strip down to their undershorts and wool socks, slip their arms into their winter jackets, and squeeze together into the patch of winter sunlight that came through, chests and bellies and legs exposed to the rays, backs protected from the cold floor and cushioned a bit by the coats. Bucky would insist they stay there until Steve’s back started to hurt, just listening to music or dozing or talking quietly, and would scold Steve any time he tried to turn onto his side to take in or touch the much more appealing source of warmth next to him. Steve wondered if Bucky now still loved naps in the sun or if he hadn’t yet had an opportunity to experience any since his escape from Hydra. His couch was probably okay, though. He and Buck both liked ones that were firm and comfortable, good for sitting up and reading the newspaper without feeling like you were sinking into the material or being swallowed up and good support for when you decided to turn and put your feet up for an afternoon nap. Needed more pillows, though. Regular throw pillows or those cylindrical ones that seemed silly but turned out to be designed for neck support. And blankets. More blankets for draping over dozing bodies or curling up under together when nights were cool. Steve wondered if the cold reminded Bucky of cryofreeze the way it reminded him of the ice. Maybe some plants. Big cheerful ones that were easy to take care of and could go by the windows to brighten the room.

 

The kitchen was last on his list but the kitchen was fine, really. Lots of room to store and make lots of food for two supersoldiers. But maybe… maybe he could change the windowsill of the big window next to the eat-in table. Something deep enough to hold a row of herbs, like the one Bucky’s ma had on the windowsill over her kitchen sink. He had gotten used to shakers full of dried seasonings but would always remember her pinching off various leaves to send home with them so they could have “proper” sauces and stews, even when the rest of the ingredients were just all the food they had thrown into a pot and boiled.

 

Steve sketches and designs and researches and crafts lists the entire rest of the day, phone firmly set to Do Not Disturb mode. Finally, he has something close to the home he’d always wanted to give Bucky, the one Bucky had insisted they’d be able to afford one day when Steve was a rich and famous artist.

 

The main thing missing was the location. He wants to go back to Brooklyn one day but the security in the Tower is unparalleled and he knows Bucky will be a target for quite a long time to come. Also, Stark’s lawyers had done something very fancy in terms of jurisdictions and authority and the arrangements that allowed the Avengers to operate semi-autonomously also blocked a variety of law enforcement and alphabet agency personnel from entering the Avengers portions of the Tower without permission. There was something about diplomatic immunity, something else about serving as an Asgardian embassy, and other things Steve didn’t fully understand but knew would be sufficient to prevent anyone from swooping in and trying to arrest Bucky for war crimes. No townhome or condo in Brooklyn could offer the same.

 

All that’s left is to put his dreams into action. And receive a “yes” from Bucky, of course. He heads to bed.



Steve hasn’t masturbated much since he was thawed out. There didn’t seem to be a point, really. It took a ridiculous amount of effort for him to actually feel satisfied, the serum quickly ripping away the emptiness of his balls and the fuzzy-headedness of a good orgasm as if they were hurts to be quickly recovered from, instead of sensations to savor. Mostly it just makes him feel lonely and it’s not like he’s had much motivation, either. Hard to feel frisky when your favorite wet dream is dead and all that.


But now… now it’s like his libido has roared back to life. His worries about Bucky’s blank stares are gone, replaced with endless loops of Bucky’s enhanced muscles flexing and writhing within his grip during their fight on the helicarrier. During the day his mind echoes with the voice he heard in his ear a thousand nights before, “fucked…. in the ass, bring… to his knees, make him like it” and in his dreams he can hear a constant chant, “go a little harder, harder, harder.”

 

But always, always, it comes back to this: “I want Steve Rogers.” It would take someone made from stronger stuff than Steve Rogers to resist that.

 

He requisitions more hand lotion than usual.



The days of waiting and avoiding well-meaning fellow Avengers are rough but Steve remains hopeful.



Precisely 38 hours since Bucky issued his ultimatum, Steve is cornered by Natasha and Clint while heading back to his apartment after hitting the gym and then marched into a strategy session. There’s no displays or monitors or analyses projected around the room, just a simple white envelope addressed to him in block letters with a Brooklyn postmark and Howling Commandos stamp.

 

“What’s this?, he asks, as the other Avengers hover around his seat.

 

“You tell us, Capsicle. Not even Jarvis can crack it.” Tony looks most put out by this.

 

“So who’s reading my mail, huh?”

 

“Rogers, are you kidding? Everyone’s mail gets read. I have an entire team dedicated to Avengers and SI mail. Scanning for explosives, poisons, powders, intercepting threats, disposing of used panties, the works. They’re just usually polite enough to seal it back up afterwards so it looks nice and fresh before it gets delivered to you.”

 

“They weren’t feeling polite today?”

 

“Steve. Steven. Steve-o. Cap. My Captain. You made some very reckless statements the other day- and that’s saying something, coming from me- and you haven’t received a response and then you receive mail that not even my best encryption team can solve and that was with hours of help from Jarvis.”

 

Their days together at SHIELD mean that Natasha knows exactly what it means when Steve’s nostrils flare followed by a sharp intake of breath but she quickly cuts in before he can say anything. “Just open it, Steve.”

 

He grumbles under his breath, “It’s already open,” but slips the sheet inside out anyway. The block letters continue, neat and evenly formed and leaving no clue as to the actual handwriting of the writer:

 

STEVEN GRANT ROGERS-

 

I ACCEPT YOUR TERMS.

 

Below it are ten lines of numbers. Well, ten clues that refer to numbers.

 

NUMBER OF TIMES YOU WERE ARRESTED

NUMBER OF ART SCHOOL CLASSES YOU ATTENDED

NUMBER OF TIMES YOU WERE SHOT IN 1944 (ADD BOTH DIGITS TOGETHER)

NUMBER OF EXTRA TEETH

NUMBER OF TIMES YOU BROKE YOUR NOSE

 

Tony interrupts before he can finish reading. “Seriously, Capsicle. This goes beyond intel, information gathering, data acquisition, whatever you want to call it. This dude is obsessed with you.”

 

“And he’s going to help us bring down Hydra so can it, Stark.”

 

“Oh sure. Of course. I can do that. As soon as you tell me what the frick we’re looking at.”

 

Steve grins broadly, the letter’s message only just beginning to sink in. “I asked for a way to contact him so we could talk about wedding colors and his tux. He sent me his number.”

 

Now it’s Tony’s nostrils that are flaring. “Those numbers. Do not. EXIST.” It only takes one unimpressed eyebrow from Steve to set Tony off and, really, someone with as much firepower as Iron Man really should have better control of his emotions. “Art school classes? Sure. Those are a matter of public record. The school even framed your transcripts and hung them on the wall. Extra teeth? I assume that means SHIELD’s secret accounts of you receiving the serum and the four wisdom teeth that either spontaneously emerged through your gums or just straight up grew themselves when you got ‘roided up. But your injuries, your arrests? The U.S. federal government snapped those files up the instant you got yourself inflated. They only existed in paper copy, they were thoroughly shredded before 1944, and the only person still alive who might possibly have seen them is Aunt Peg! I only know about your salacious time with the Workers Union Anti-Capitalistic Anti-Nazi Super Socialist Whatever It Was Called Party because dear old Dad would laugh about it when he got drunk. And yet- somehow- Masked McFreakerson has managed to track it all down?”

 

Steve smiles sweetly at him. “It’s good to know the person you’re going to marry.”

 

Tony points a finger right up in Steve’s face. “Oh??? So you agree marrying someone you don’t know is bad , then?”

 

Steve heaves a sigh as he snatches his letter off the table and stands up. “If that is all, I have a fiance to contact and a wedding to plan.”

 

He makes it halfway down the hall before his smile takes over his face and he presses that precious ACCEPT to his lips.

Back in his quarters, he heads to his nightstand and pulls the dog tags out of his drawer. The Smithsonian sells two types of replicas- cheap plastic ones and high-quality metal ones so realistically scratched and worn at the edges that SHIELD had tried to use a set to help trick Steve when he woke up. Joke was on them because Steve had been wearing one tag of his own and one of Bucky’s since a month after the Howling Commandos had been formed. He’d quickly picked up a set of Bucky’s to accompany his own but he’d been far too sad to wear either or both. Now he carefully pops the toggles on the metal chains open and pairs them the way they belong, returning one set to the nightstand and draping the other over his head. He sighs at feeling the weight of STEVEN G. ROGERS and JAMES B. BARNES near his heart once again. He’s not sure if fellas wear engagement rings in this modern day and age but this feels like the right symbol for them. He curls on his bed with the letter, runs some numbers in his head until he has ten digits in front of him, pulls up his phone, and carefully taps out then sends Hey BB, it’s me.

 

No response.

 

The next day he tries again. Any preference on colors?

 

Nothing.


The day after that. Send me your measurements? Do you want tuxes that match or contrast?

 

Still nothing. Steve destroys some reinforced punching bags in the gym, tags jostling and jingling faintly on his chest in that long-ago familiar way.

 

The next day Steve is contemplating testing the speed limits on Stark’s latest “super soldier” treadmill when Jarvis interrupts. “Forgive the intrusion, sir, but I appear to have come into possession of a set of measurements for an adult human. Would they be for you?”

 

Every atom inside Steve stills in shock. “M-measurements? What type of measurements?”

 

“Chest, waist, neck, hips, inseam, arms although the widths are uneven from one arm to the neck, back of neck down to waist-”

 

“Ok Jarvis, I got it. Tux measurements.”

 

“There’s shoe size and width as well.”

 

“Good. Alright. Great. Jarvis, we have work to do.”

 

He submits work orders and finds contractors. He looks at the profiles of cathedrals and priests that Jarvis had sent him, checked out the sources Jarvis had used to make his determinations (mostly social media posts that had been insufficiently locked down, with hints of the priests’ faces in the backgrounds) and texted three priest and parish names to Bucky.

 

24 hours later Jarvis names the only cathedral on the list that was located in Brooklyn, but again declines to say how he received the information. It’s frustrating as heck. Steve wants to hear from Bucky so badly. He understands mission silence, he does, but even just a text, an acknowledgement, a single Sugar that he could hold onto. Bucky had said so little on the helicarriers after his mask had come off; how had his voice changed over the years?

 

Still. Bucky said yes. Bucky is responding to his texts, if not directly. Steve needs to make things happen.


He sits on one hundred mattresses.

 

He touches a thousand different fabrics in at least ten different stores and can’t even find it in his usually thrifty nature when he ends up with two sets of sheets in silk, two satin, two cotton, and four flannel. Flannel , of all things. So much softer and warmer and thicker than they’d ever been able to afford but still feeling utterly like home, like long winter nights curled closely together.

 

He finds crafting fairs and artisan shops and purchases both a large quilt and a large crocheted afghan for the new bed, and smaller ones of each for the couch. He only buys one comforter and two fleece blankets.

 

He clears out the walk-in closet and stocks towels. He discovers huge ones that are called “bath sheets” and in a variety of dark colors that can conceal even as they absorb messes. When his new night stand is finished and installed, he stocks it with packs of wipes. With his next order of hand lotion comes twelve different sample bottles of lube and Steve carefully tests each one out both on his dick and in his ass, making notes on each before ordering larger bottles of his favorites.

 

He consults with Pepper about taste, comfort, and style. She introduces him to Tony’s personal tailor and he gets their tuxes commissioned. He talks structures with Bruce, who offers no judgment or questioning, just the occasional baffled look. He solicits advice about hair and body products from Pepper and Natasha while they’re together, partly to compare recommendations and partly to stave off some of Natasha’s questioning. He discovers just how much Natasha had been waiting to mock his 3-in-1 wash and promises to replace it in exchange for her help. Soon the shelves inset to the tub surround and on the shelf in the shower are full of gels and exfoliation agents and bath scents and conditioning balm. The new, long counter has body butter and texturizing gel and toner and other things he doesn’t understand. What’s important, though, is that every one of the products has a lovely and natural scent and feel. No clashing or chemical or fake-sweet odors.

 

Natasha still manages to corner him at one point, though. “You know something,” she hisses. “You’re hiding something from us. I want to know what it is.” He smiles sunnily and asks her to be one of the witnesses at the wedding.

 

Tony stops by Steve’s quarters to demand explanations for all the work orders but is shocked at the changes he finds. “I give you a sleek, modern, spacious masterpiece and now it looks like a cozy nook!! Why??”

 

Steve studies him for a long moment before answering quietly. “No matter what bad memories or moments or nightmares he has, at any point, in any place in this apartment, I want everything he sees, hears, touches, smells, and tastes to remind him instantly that he’s no longer with Hydra.”

 

Tony stammers a lot and then sees himself out.

 

Steve seeks out Sam for some advice on PTSD and soldiers/POWs transitioning home from war. Sam knows he’s hiding something, too, he and Natasha just know him so well. Sam gives him so many helpful resources in addition to his usual plug for the VA but is still full of side-eye. “You can not love bomb someone into functionality, Steven Grant.”

 

Steve is going to try anyway. And Sam agrees to attend the wedding and serve as officiant after the ceremony portion is done.

 

Steve keeps texting Bucky. Little messages of I found some soap I think you might like and I can’t wait to show you the view at sunrise out the windows and I like the Trouble Man soundtrack but Bucky only responds through Jarvis to direct questions, and not even all of them at that. There is no answer when Steve asks about minor things such as corsages and cake flavors.

 

The priest is more interesting than Steve expects. He’s not surprised that he’s Irish Catholic, the same as himself, but when he goes to see Father Patrick to quietly discuss “the personal matter” he’d called about, he is greeted at the rectory by the parish deacon, Michael, who hovers around anxiously, and perhaps even a little suspiciously, even after he’s made the other men tea. Father Patrick is about sixty, balding and grey-haired and with a crisp paternal manner. Deacon Michael is perhaps ten years younger, with salt-and-pepper air and a sense of kindness under his nerves. Within five minutes of casual conversation, he discovers that they’ve both been assigned to the samer parish for over ten years and it only takes an inquiring eyebrow aimed at the both of them for Father Patrick to sigh heavily and ask what it is Steve is really after. Steve tells them about “Father Timothy”, a earnest young priest from Queens who had been defrocked after it had been discovered that he’d committed sodomy with an older man from the next parish over. He’d been devastated and suicidal until he’d ended up at a queer bar in their neighborhood, serving drinks. Even then, for the right price he had kept conducting marriage ceremonies, only this time in the hidden basement room that had been dug out during Prohibition. He and Bucky had waited too long, he explains. They’d had to share their moment with a half-dozen other couples also eager to exchange vows, no matter how illicit, before one or both of them shipped out. He promised Bucky a rite in a real cathedral once, he says, not one half-bombed out in the war. The older men share a long look in the silent communication of long-term couples and the discussion begins in earnest. Steve is honest, except for the whole Winter Soldier bit, explaining that Bucky was captured and also frozen but has recently escaped and can’t be a part of wedding arrangements because he’s… away on a mission and other polite mostly-truths. Father Patrick does not want to budge on the topic of premarital counseling and insists that it’s mandatory for all couples, no matter the gender or circumstances. Steve insists he’ll do his best but that Bucky may come in on his own, because he’s still healing and recovering. They talk dates and availability but Father Patrick holds firm to not scheduling anything until he’s personally spoken to Bucky. He drills Steve on what premarital counseling usually entails- discussion of finances, family, children, and faith. “I’m fine with you being interested in a Catholic ceremony largely because of your tradition and childhood but would appreciate the honesty if you’re not planning to start attending regularly.”

 

It’s amazing how he can still feel guilt after all these years, even if it’s from a priest audacious enough to serve the Church with his partner alongside him. Steve is forced to leave with nothing more than a kind, “We’ll see.” He texts Bucky an update and takes his motorcycle for a long ride after that. There are plenty of places, both religious and not, that would marry them openly but he wants to give Buck at least a hint of the wedding he always thought he’d have one day, in one form or another.

 

Father Patrick calls early the next morning. “Captain Rogers, when you said your fiance has trouble with people and doesn’t like to be seen, I did not realize this meant he might climb through my window asking for premarital counseling at 2 am.”

 

Steve gulps. “Yeah… That’s him.”

 

Father Patrick does not share what he discussed with Bucky, citing the privacy of the confessional but he does agree that he can do the counseling with them each individually.

 

Steve tries very hard not to be jealous that the priest got to speak to Bucky, maybe even see his face, and he didn’t.

 

He slips into the NYC City Clerk’s office wearing an earpiece connecting him to Jarvis so that he can be advised as to which employee has the highest reliability index before approaching them about obtaining a marriage certificate. Her demeanor never changes, her tone staying bored and professional with no direct eye contact even as he quietly gives their names and birth dates.

 

Steve texts Bucky to ask about a late Saturday afternoon opening the church has three weeks away. The next day Jarvis says yes.

 

Soon all there is to do is wait. And try on his tux one last time. And maybe practice what he wants to do with his hair. He’s still getting the hang of these new products.

Chapter Text

cell phone screen showing a faceless man getting dressed in a suit

Today is the day.

His day.

Their day.

Wedding day.

 

Steve stomach feels like it’s been riding the Cyclone all night.

 

He’s going to see Bucky.

His Bucky.

They’re going to be together.

 

And then they’ll take down Hydra. Together. The way it was always supposed to be. The way Steve couldn’t without him.

 

But first, wedding.

 

He texts I can’t wait to Bucky’s number and aches with the lack of response.

 

Jarvis has to remind him several times that he needs to eat and drink. Why did the cathedral only have a late afternoon opening? His quarters are done. The new furniture has arrived and been swept for bugs and installed and furnished. The bed looks gorgeous and just the right height for… certain positions. He used the new sheets just enough that they smell a bit like him instead of the store. There’s a stack of wipes and towels on top of the bigger nightstand and underneath the extra-wide minifridge is full. Each side of the walk-in closet is half full. He had called up Pepper’s (not Tony’s) personal shopper to use their tux measurements to find a variety of clothes ranging from the very soft and cozy to stylish and debonair but there’s plenty more space for them to shop together one day. It was nice being able to try things on without other people around. The carpet is thick and soft under his toes. The book shelves are all at least half full, paperbacks of all Bucky’s old favorites mixed in with what Jarvis said was the best science fiction and fantasy of the past sixty years. Author names like Le Guin, Octavia, Wynne Jones, McMaster Bujold, Jemisin, and Okorafor hinting at adventures neither of them could have scarcely dreamed of back then. And Lord of the Rings , of course . Does Bucky know? Did he ever find out that his beloved Hobbit has a three volume sequel? Steve hadn’t been able to stand the thought of reading it without Bucky but now….

 

What is he supposed to do before he can head over?

 

The answer arrives with Natasha at 8am and is, apparently, “spa day”. Steve frets and fusses through sugar scrubbing his body and soaking in a tub full of something that may actually have been milk and honey and washing again and coating himself in a goop that he has to admit does feel quite soothing on his skin. But while Natasha grudgingly allows him his independence through all those steps as she herself is waited on hand and foot, she insists that the Tower spa staff be allowed to handle his face and nails “properly” while he lies still. She threatens him with her Widow’s Bites when he keeps bouncing a knee anyway so he tries to comply.

 

He had expected an interrogation. Some last attempt to talk him out of it or deduce his true motive. But there’s none of it. They just chat about things they were told or taught about marriage growing up and how it compares to what they notice around them now. Natasha’s childhood training in American society is most surprising. The 40s didn’t have many laws for things like spousal abuse but most neighborhoods did have policemen who’d usually look the other way if the men in a woman’s family decided her husband needed a lesson in manners. The time passes slightly more quickly than it had before and finally he can justify leaving the Tower.

 

Natasha has arranged a sleek Stark car and Happy to drive it and Steve helps her load in her outfit and makeup and the tuxes (he so hopes Bucky’s will fit) and the shoes and the last-minute hair products she says he’ll need once he changes and the marriage certificate and so much more. He assists her in, entirely unnecessarily, then pulls back, hand on the door. “I…. I think I’ll take my bike. Get some fresh air. I’ll meet you there, alright?”

 

Her face goes utterly cold. “Steven Grant Rogers, you will not waste the spa staff’s entire day of hard work by getting all gritty and dusty on your big day. What would you do with your bike afterwards, leave it at the church? Have it towed back to the Tower? Get a hold of yourself and get in the car.”

 

He obeys sulkily and she says nothing about him bouncing his leg this time, so long as he doesn’t mess with his neatly manicured nails or cuticles. He clenches and unclenches his fists as they wind through NYC to Brooklyn to pick up Sam already in his church suit and a small but gorgeously decorated cake for afterwards. He doesn’t even snark in response to Sam’s “Now, are you sure you have everything? Forgetting key details is kind of a wedding tradition.”

 

Steve stares out the window and goes over the ceremony in his head. There’s several options for Catholic wedding vows these days, and he hopes he chose the right ones. He’d said no to the “until death do us part” ones and yes to the priest saying the vows and them only needing to answer I do instead of repeating them all and he’s extra glad of that now because his sweaty palms suggest that speaking may give him some trouble later on.


Deacon Michael meets them at a side entrance as the previous wedding’s guests are still clearing out and directs them to two small rooms they can use for getting ready. Steve has just reached the doorway of the second, Sam close behind, when he hears the loud purr of what sounds like an absolutely gorgeous motorcycle pulling up outside. Is it? Could it be? He tries to turn to go look but Sam just marches him inside and Natasha calls from the door, “Go get ready, I’ll check it out.” Steve is ready to fight about it but she just trills, “It’s bad luck to see each other before the wedding, you know.”

 

Sam chuckles as he sets down Steve’s tux and shoes. “C’mon Rogers, let’s get you cleaned up.”


Steve dresses carefully, methodically. He’s already wearing silky black boxer briefs and a supima cotton undershirt because there’s no way he could get fully naked in a church. The dress socks are silky thin and he can feel every inch of the Italian leather wrapped around his feet. The white dress shirt is crisp, without a wrinkle or spare inch of fabric to bunch up anywhere and the waistcoat nips snugly at his waist. That and the jacket are a shade of blue that the tailor swore would be perfect for his eyes, with Bucky’s a few shades darker to bring out his stormy blue-gray ones. Sam nods approvingly. “Nice choices. How did you choose the design?”

 

Steve flushes. Sam is his best friend, surely he can tell him… something. “My best friend had a suit like this. He had a nice suit, way more than anything I could afford, but only the one so it had to be black to fit all occasions. The Depression and all. At my mother’s funeral I was devastated, so hurt I couldn’t even cry. But in the middle of it all, he was there, by my side, and still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

Sam squeezes his shoulder. “You sure about this, man? If you’re getting cold feet, there’s always other ways.”


Steve nods. “I’m sure. I know what it’s like to be alone. I can tell he’s been hurting and I want to give him… everything.” Sam just nods and reaches for the pomade, coaxing Steve’s bangs back from his forehead.

 

Natasha pokes her head in. Steve wasn’t aware of a third dressing room but she’s changed into a stunning but modest purple cocktail dress and high heels. “Hey, boys. Ten minutes till showtime.”

 

Steve looks at her, his stomach dropping. “So…. everything’s ready? He… he’s here?”

 

She smirks. “I even gave him a shovel talk. Now c’mere. If you’re going to be a human sacrifice, we can at least make you a pretty one.” She takes a vial of something clear and strokes the little brush inside over his eyelashes and eyebrows then a tube of something smooth and clear over his lips. “There we go. Altar ready.”

 

Natasha heads back to the other ready room while Sam walks him into the sanctuary. It seems bigger in its emptiness, their footsteps echoing loudly on the floor as they proceed down aisle to the chancel area. There is no organist that may let something slip and it didn’t occur to Steve to find music and ask about playing something over their speakers. There’s no wedding program, no printed evidence that may be left behind and discovered. No one can know that James Buchanan Barnes is alive, much less any possible connection with the Winter Soldier, until he is safely married to Steve and back at the Tower. The late afternoon sunlight stretches patterns from the stained glass all throughout the room. Steve is struck suddenly by the solemnity of it all. Whether he believes or not, he’s about to take sacred vows and he’s the type of guy that believes a promise still means something.

 

Father Patrick and Deacon Michael appear from a side door, stunning in ivory and gold wedding vestments, interlocking rings stitched into the embroidery glinting faintly as they take their place in front of the altar. Father Patrick looks at him closely. “Are you alright, my son?”

 

Steve gusts out the breath he didn’t even know he was holding. ‘Yeah. Yeah. I’m… yes. Good. Nervous. I think. I’ve never done this before.”

 

The priest chuckles kindly. “I should hope not.” The entry doors to the sanctuary open and Steve sees a glint of purple. “Ah, here we go.”

 

Natasha is smiling faintly as she walks stately down the aisle, the silence still and swirling. In her hand she holds a dainty little flower arrangement and he comes close to pin it on Steve’s lapel. A corsage. Steve had forgotten to get them. Sam chuckles a little from behind him and Natasha backs up to mirror Sam’s position on the other side.

 

All sound dies away but still Steve’s eyes are drawn across the room. And there he is, his Bucky, in his deep blue suit and lovely hair perfectly layered and tucked back behind his ears. But his face. Steve still can’t see his face. Bucky steps into the sanctuary and stops at the first row of pews, colored light from the stained glass dapplying strangely over his mask. Steve sucks in a breath. Does Bucky not want Steve to see him? Is he afraid? But slowly, slowly Bucky reaches up with his metal hand, cups the mask, and pulls it away, dropping it onto the cushioned seat next to him. Bucky. Steve’s Bucky. The nose Steve always nibbled, the cheekbones he’s sketched a hundred times, the lips too pretty for a welterweight boxing champion, the divot in his chin that begged to be pressed. He straightens his lapel with both hands and starts to walk towards Steve. “Hol-ee shit ,” Sam whispers faintly. “That’s Bucky Barnes.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve breathes. “It is.”

 

Sam mutters something that might begin with, “Well, no wonder you….” but Steve can neither hear nor speak. His face has broken into a grin that’s so wide it hurts but he can’t stop, his lips stretching as if they’d split at the corners if it wasn’t for the goop Natasha applied. And still Bucky is walking towards him, that lithe strut he always had when they went out dancing and he knew Steve’s eyes would be on him all night.

 

cell phone screen of Bucky in a blue suit walking towards the camera, picture of a cathedral, picture of dog tags, picture of Steve in a suit grinning at a Bucky that has his back to the camera

 

He draws close, takes his spot opposite Steve, and reaches out with both hands. “Hey punk,” he murmurs.

 

“Hey buddy,” Steve whispers back.

 

Father Patrick is greeting them and those gathered (all two of them) and giving an opening prayer. Steve thinks. He’s not sure. He’s holding Bucky’s hands and Buck’s thumbs are rubbing gently over the backs of his fingers and he’s the happiest he’s been since 1945. He starts a bit when he hears their names.

 

“James Buchanan and Steven Grant, have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”

“"I have.””

 

“Are you prepared, as you follow the path of marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?”

“”I am.””

 

He’s drowning in Bucky’s eyes and their voices are in sync and Steve might perhaps be floating.

 

“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?”

“”I am.””

 

Bucky can quirk an eyebrow at that all he wants but by God, if children come their way, Steve will absolutely accept them and be happy about it because Bucky would make an amazing father and anybody who knows him knows it.

 

“Since it is your intention to enter into the covenant of holy matrimony, join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his church.”

 

Consent is important, yes, absolutely, Sam just had a talk with him about it last week and how can he just join their right hands, that is 50% less hands than they are holding right now, how he is supposed to do that.

 

“Steven, do you take James to be your lawful husband? Do you promise to be faithful to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?”

“I do.”

 

Bad times, so many bad times, so much sickness, Steve wants more love and honor in his life.

 

“James, do you take Steven to be your lawful husband? Do you promise to be faithful to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?”

“I do.”

 

He does. He always has. Bucky has always, always been there, he’s proven himself a thousand times over.

 

“Do either of you have anything you would like to add?”

 

Catholics aren’t supposed to write their own wedding vows, it is absolutely not allowed but they are not good Catholics and they are not supposed to be here today and hang the rules and they’ve only each spoken 10 words so far but somehow he has no idea what to say. “I- I-”

 

Bucky smiles gently at his stuck tongue and reaches out as if to brush a wisp of hair back. The metal fingers are warm and slide gently over the curve of his ear. Steve tries not to shiver but Bucky just licks his lips and murmurs, “I’m with you, pal. To the end of the line.”

 

Steve bursts into tears. Bucky lets go of his right hand and pulls him in, metal arm wrapping securely around his lower back and flesh hand rubbing over his spine and shoulder blades. “Shhhh, Stevie, shhh. I gotcha, you’re okay. Shhh. Easy, now.” Steve buries his face into his neck, lets the shoulder-length hair drape over his too-hot skin as he inhales Bucky’s scent, warm and spicy and crisp with a hint of sweat-salt. It’s too much, too intense, and maybe it’s okay Steve forgot the corsage in favor of a pocket square because Bucky is pulling back enough to slide a silk black one out of his breast pocket and stroking it tenderly under his eyelids. Everyone waits quietly as Bucky puts Steve back to rights. Sam shifts his weight behind him, Natasha is permitting her eyes to widen slightly in surprise, and Deacon Michael just gazes at Father Patrick with utter longing on his lined face. The black handkerchief disappears into a different pocket of Bucky’s and they reclasp their hands. Father Patrick clears his throat before he continues.

 

“Let all present here today acknowledge that this couple has declared their consent to be married. May the Lord in his kindness strengthen the consent you have declared to fulfill blessings within. What God joins together, let no one put asunder.”

 

No one. No one. No one. He has Bucky back and no one is going to separate them again.

 

“And now, the rings.” Father Patrick gestures to them and Bucky slips a solid gold band out of a pants pocket. It could be any plain wedding band except that this one has a distinct diagonal scratch along the outside identical to the one inflicted in a dock mishap that almost cost one stocky Joseph Grant Rogers his finger. The one that never in a million years would have fit a pre-serum Steve Rogers.

 

Steve gasps. “Bucky, how could- is this- did you break into the Smithsonian?”, he hisses, eyes still red from tears.

 

Bucky just smirks a little. “No idea what you mean, buddy. This is just a simple vintage band worn by a WWI soldier. Plenty of pawn shops have ones just like it.”

 

Bucky and Father Patrick look expectantly at him and Steve feels the blood drain away from his face. “I…. I forgot to get a ring,” he admits, shamefaced. “I- I- was buying us a bigger bed and more clothes and some nice plants and I-” He stops and yanks at his collar with his free hand. He pops the top button and tugs down the tie and pulls the dog tags out from under his shirt, turning them so Bucky can see the names. “This… should be yours. And I’ll find you a ring that will work for your left hand, I swear.”

 

Father Patrick looks skeptical but intones, May the Lord bless these… tokens… which you will give to each other as the sign of your love and fidelity. Amen.”

 

Bucky goes first this time. “Steve, receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” His father’s ring slides home as if it has always belonged there on Steve’s fingers.

 

Steve fumbles the dog tags off from his head before gently looping them over Bucky’s. He brushes Buck’s hair back before running a finger over the raised lines and pressing them over Bucky’s heart before he recites, “James, receive this token as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Father Patrick grins indulgently. “You may now kiss the groom.”

 

At last. Steve is swooping in and Bucky’s arms are strong and the priest may be doing a final blessing or dismissal but Steve doesn’t know or care because Bucky’s lips are on his, pressing his mouth open, welcoming him in, and when Steve moans Bucky gasps out, “Sugar,” and it’s everything, everything in the world and they’re married and it’s 2014 and he finally has everything he’s ever wished for.

 

They stagger apart enough to face the back of the church, walking down the aisle with shoulders pressed together and leaning in for kisses every few feet but still moving until they’re out of the sanctuary and Natasha is wheeling a cake over to them on a cart stocked with plates and silverware. But it doesn’t matter because they’re here and they’re married and they’re kissing and Steve barely looks as he sloppily cuts off a small piece to shove into Bucky’s mouth, immediately leaning forward to lick the smears of frosting off his lips.

 

“Tower- go- now,” he gasps into Bucky’s mouth and Bucky nods, nipping both upper and lower of Steve’s lips as he goes. Steve wraps a hand around his and starts to tug him towards the door as behind them Natasha is saying something and Sam is waving a paper around. None of it matters, though, not when Bucky’s lips are soft and sweet and he whimpers whenever Steve pulls away.

 

They’re out the door and into the outside air and there may or may not be a Stark car idling some distance away until they get done but Steve needs to move now and there’s a gorgeous creation of a motorcycle right in front of them, a Harley built for two with wide tires and looking solid enough to take even their combined weight.

 

“Yours,” he pants. “Please tell me that’s yours, Buck.” Bucky turns one hip to him in offering and Steve’s sliding his fingers in, forward to where Buck had slit the pockets for easy access to his knife thigh holsters and back to find a key and security fob on a ring. Steve emerges with it and grins, keys aloft, remarking, “But however will we head back on a bike?” and then they’re laughing and racing to the bike, Bucky urging Steve onto the seat ahead him and plastering himself to Steve’s back.

 

The ride back is reckless and wild. Bucky holds tight and mutters in his ear at every red light, miss you and want you and so long, Stevie . At every green light, Steve races ahead, weaving in between lanes of traffic with barely inches of clearance, savoring Bucky’s thrilled laugh in his ear and the fingers rubbing into his abs through the suit.

 

Happy must have warned security because they’re waved into the underground parking garage instantly. The bike’s barely stopped moving when Steve kills the engine, turning around to swipe Bucky off the back and pull him in front of Steve for more kisses. “Bed- go- now,” Bucky pants and they’re tumbling into the elevator, pinching and pawing at each other as if making sure the other is real.

 

Jarvis says something that may almost have been, “Welcome back, Sergeant Barnes,” but Steve doesn’t have time to parse that right now, he’s busy, Bucky holding him in the longest, best hug he’s had in 69 years as the elevator shoots towards the sky.

 

When the doors open on his floor, Steve stops, takes a breath, and squats down a bit before scooping Bucky up into his arms in a bridal carry. Bucky laughs. “What are you thinking, punk? Put me down.”

 

Steve grunts. “Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that. It’s tradition.” He carries Bucky over the threshold of his quarters and kicks the door shut behind him before easing Bucky down and cupping his cheeks. Bucky stills under his hands, mouth parted as Steve strokes his thumbs over his cheekbones. Steve leans in for a slow, sweet kiss full of all the love and loneliness that has been swelling inside him since 2012. He pulls back and waits for Bucky’s eyes to flutter open at him, stormy gray-blue and dilated with wants. Steve smiles, soft and smug.

 

“Welcome home BB” he murmurs, then he wraps his arms around Bucky and pushes him against the wall.

 

the image of Steve grinning at a Bucky with his back to the camera done up as a romance book cover