Three words that became hard to say.
I and love and you.
What you were then I am today.
Look at the things I do.
-I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers
"So how've you been adjusting to life in the castle in the sky?"
Bucky considered Sam's question as he stirred in his sugar to the coffee. "I'm doing fine."
His tone of course gave him away. "But somebody else isn't?"
Bucky took a sip of the bitter diner coffee, collecting his thoughts. He wasn't averse to talking to Sam, or else he wouldn't have even implied anything. There was something about Sam that he trusted, and even more importantly, Steve trusted him.
"For months I've been recovering, regaining my memories, and my personality."
"You've been doing great," Sam encouraged.
"I know. But, Steve isn't," Bucky exhaled.
Sam squinted at him a little. "What do you mean?"
"It took a while to figure it out, I couldn't trust my own memories and perceptions. I first noticed a couple of weeks ago when you guys were all over and Clint swore and Tony pointed to the jar that said 'Steve's Swear Jar' on it."
Sam laughed, "I remember."
"I asked Steve about it and he said it was some dumb joke from when he scolded for Tony for swearing."
"That sounds about right. I am still not getting at the issue."
"Steve swore like a sailor back in the day. He had a worse mouth on him than me, and I worked down on the docks. I knew those memories were real and I couldn't connect with the Steve being teased at the party to the Steve I knew before the War. Once that thought came into my head, I started to notice more differences."
"Like the fact that he never draws anymore. I can't find his art anywhere and I don't ever see him sketching. He used to doodle on everything, but now nothing. He barely reads anymore, or at least not like he used to. He doesn't cook, something he loved doing. Anytime we had a few extra bucks we would get the good ingredients to make some of his ma's better recipes. He loved ordering me around the kitchen. And then there's…" Bucky trailed off, his voice catching at the most important point.
"What else?" Sam's voice was laced with concern.
"Things were complicated back then, but I had…well still do, have feelings for Steve."
"And how did Steve feel," Sam asked without hesitation.
"I'm pretty sure he felt the same way I did, but it was never an option because of the world we lived in. I never told him how I felt because I always hoped he would find a woman and he could have that perfect life he deserved."
Sam picked up where he left off. "Then the War happened and that all went to shit. Now, you are living in a time when society will no longer kill you to love another man and you are rethinking that whole no relationship thing."
Bucky loved Sam's bluntness. "Exactly. Maybe it is an option now, but it hard because I can tell he is still stuck in the past, worrying about me non-stop. He can't see how much better I am. I want him to see that."
"Then you need to show him how much you have recovered. You need to get your lives back."
"That simple huh?"
"I didn't say that," Sam smirked. "But, luckily for you, you have the Avengers on your side now."
Bucky sagged a little in relief at letting somebody in on this burden. "Thanks."
"That's what I'm here for."
They were silent for a few minutes before Sam started to chuckle.
"I'm just thinking of all of the history books that will have to be rewritten. Not to mention, Republicans are going to flip their shit when they find out Captain Fucking America is gay."
In the end Bucky realized he was not as alone as he thought he was. It was interesting, because back before the War it truly was just Steve and Bucky, trying to live their lives and survive. Now, they had a whole team.
It started with Natasha and Clint joining him in the gym for a sparring match. Towards the end of him getting his ass kicked by Clint, who knew he could fight hand to hand combat so well, they started to hint that Sam had talked to them.
"I get it guys, you know."
"In our defense, we had an ongoing bet that something was going on between you two. Natasha over there said that something happened. I, on the other hand, said nothing did, but now that you were in a more enlightened time period, something might happen."
Bucky had to laugh. "What did you lose Natasha?"
She smirked. "Let's just say, I'll be on my knees quite a bit in the next couple of days."
"Glad to be of service to your guys' sex life."
"We really do appreciate you," Clint teased.
"In all seriousness, though, Sam might have been fishing to see if we had any bolt holes that you could get away for a while. He didn't say why, though. How are you doing?" Clint asked.
This was harder. Opening up to Sam was easy as his de facto counselor and friend though this whole transition. Clint and Natasha were harder to pin, but then who else would understand more how war can change somebody.
"It's hard to explain, but it doesn't involve me. Well, it does, but not in the way you think. My whole life has been defined by taking care of Steve and now that I'm regaining my identity, I'm remembering that part of me. He may no longer be sickly and on the verge of death, but he's a man out of time."
"And along the way, he's lost a part of him," Clint said softly.
Bucky gave a small smile in appreciation. "He has. All of this," he waved his arms around him, "being a super hero, an Avenger, was always his dream. He wanted to help people. I think he takes that weight too much on himself and he is losing himself."
Natasha and Clint exchanged glances, using the nonverbal language they used best to communicate, before coming to some agreement.
Natasha spoke first. "We have a place. It's more than just a bolt hole, it's our refuge. You would be the first person we have ever told about it, so bearing that in mind I want you to keep it secret. It's special to us, but more importantly it is safe."
Bucky felt gratefulness rise up in him that he wasn't sure how to express. "Thank you for doing this for Steve."
Clint shrugged. "We're doing this for you too. You're one of us, whether you like it or not."
After getting some details from Natasha and Steve, he started to create a mental list of everything he needed to prepare. He knew he could get a lot of the stuff himself, but the busy world of New York was still intimidating at points. The number of choices out there was astounding and the magical card that Tony bestowed on him had no limit on it. He knew there was a more efficient way to get all of the supplies needed, and he trusted the rest of the team so far, he had one more person to check with.
He walked into Tony's lab, finding him tinkering with some mechanical device, presumably a new upgrade to his suit.
"What's up Skywalker?"
"He lost his hand, not his arm, R2-D2."
Tony looked up, a look of approval on his face. "Got to Star Wars I see. What did you think? I mean obviously one through three are crap, but four through six are phenomenal. I dressed up as
Han Solo for Halloween too many years to count."
"That doesn't surprise me."
"Anyways, I'm guessing you didn't come up here to discuss the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Pull up a stool." He gestured to the one sitting at the bench he was working at.
"Thanks, I wanted your help on something."
"Is it dating advice? My reputation precedes me. Well, women these days are probably not what
you are used to…"
"Tony!" Bucky cut in.
Tony surveyed him for a minute, before going back to his work. "Sorry, I get carried away. What do you need?"
Bucky calmed himself a little. "I need supplies. I'm taking Steve out of town for a while."
"Out of town like to New Jersey or out of town like Egypt?"
"Like a cabin in the middle of nowhere, according to Natasha and Clint. They said it is out of range of cell service, although they do have satellite internet, and is basically set up on a well and is powered by a generator."
Tony nodded as he tightened a screw. "I see, so you are going to need food, probably some winter clothes, maybe a few weapons for protection, a satellite phone to make sure we can get a hold of you if the need arises."
"Yes, and let's just say going down to the corner store and picking out a new toothbrush can be overwhelming."
"Say no more." Tony pulled out his data pad and started typing away. After a minute, he set it down, looking up and smiling. "It's taken care of. If you think of anything specific you want or need, just let me know and I'll get it for you."
Bucky was once again amazed that when it came down to it, these people had their back. It was a nice feeling to not be so alone. "I can't thank you enough for this, and not just the supplies."
Tony gave him a genuine smile, the soft one he saved for special occasions. "You're welcome. My dad always spoke about the bond between you and Steve. He said there was no purer form of friendship and how you two would do anything for each other. You put each other before yourselves. That's what Steve has been doing for months now. I'm guessing you are trying to return the favor?"
"Something like that."
"Good, you guys deserve some happiness after all of the shit you've been through. Doesn't matter what shape that happiness takes." Tony gave him a sly wink.
Bucky always did wonder if Howard had caught on to what was going on between Steve and himself. I guess he just found out.
"What are we doing Buck?" Steve asked. "And when did you learn to drive?"
"What are you talking about? I learned to drive long before you."
"Crashing military vehicles into enemy bases does not count."
"I did that once!"
"My point still stands."
"Sam helped me brush up my driving skills."
"Is this even legal?"
"It's not like anybody is going to give the person driving Captain America around a ticket."
That actually got Steve to laugh. "That's probably true. Still, where're we going?"
Bucky didn't know exactly how to sell this trip to Steve. Bucky had taken the initiative to pack up everything they would need, organize it, and load it into the huge SUV he borrowed from Tony. He asked Steve if he wanted to go for a ride with Bucky, and not until they were on the road did he actually notice the pile of stuff poking up from the back.
"We're getting away for a little while? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine. It's just…"
"What is it Bucky?"
"Please trust me."
"Of course I trust you."
"Then can we discuss it when we get there?"
There was a thoughtful pause and Steve must have heard something in Bucky's voice. "What do you want to listen to, Sam's playlist full of soul music or Tony's full of classic rock?" He asked as he synced his phone to the car stereo.
"If you didn't have a car full of stuff, I would think you are taking me some place to kill me." Steve commented as they continued down a deserted dirt road.
"You're a punk Steve," Bucky laughed.
Bucky checked his GPS again. "Just another minute and…."
Bucky swung a hard right onto a barely there road that cut through a thick swath of trees. On the other side was a clearing and a two-story cabin that backed out on a small lake.
"What is this Bucky?" Steve asked as he stepped out of the car.
"Hold on, I have to disable the alarms or I won't be alive long enough to explain."
Bucky ran into the house, finding the small electronic pad near the door and punched in a long sequence of numbers, letters, and symbols that disabled the many defenses this house included.
Once finished, he stepped back out and actually took in the scene. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the damp air, heavy with the scent of pine. He closed his eyes briefly, taking in the sounds of lake lapping at the shore, birds off in the distance, and wind rustling through leaves. When he opened his eyes, he noticed Steve giving him a soft smile he hadn't seen in a long time.
"What?" Bucky asked, his own lips turning into a smile unconsciously.
"It's just, you look how I remember you, more peaceful."
"That's kind of the point," Bucky explained, figuring he should probably let Steve in on his grand plan. "I wanted to get away, but I wanted to take you with me. Clint and Natasha offered up their private safe house. They said this place is as secure as it gets and is out of reach of society."
"And Stark equipped us with satellite phones if the team needs to get ahold of us. But, I needed to get away, but more than anything you did too."
"I'm fine, Buck."
"You're not, though. You help the team non-stop and then you come home and deal with me. You've been there for everything and I think you can't see I'm getting better. You don't need to walk on egg shells around me."
Steve's shoulders sagged a little. "I didn't mean…"
"I know. I appreciate everything you've done for me. I was hoping that you and I could just have some time for us. No super powers, no villains, no government, and no Avengers. Just two kids from Brooklyn, who've never had a vacation in their life, finally getting one."
Steve chuckled, "I think I can agree to that."
"Good, let's unload the car and see what we have to work with. I made a list of stuff, but in all honesty, I left the rest up to Tony and his imagination, so who knows what we've got."
They spent the next half an hour unloading massive amounts of bags and even a handful of coolers. They unpacked the food first and Bucky was pleased to see that Tony packed enough food to keep them going for a couple of weeks. There would be no rush to leave. He had thought of everything, and had even put post-its on food items to provide instructions, such as the box of graham crackers with an explanation on how to make s'mores, whatever the hell those were.
They got that done and explored the little cabin. The bottom floor was an open-concept plan. The kitchen was at the back wall, overlooking the lake. An island in the middle separated it from the living area that had overstuffed chairs and a huge couch. The seats faced the left wall where there was a fireplace and tv. All along the walls were bookshelves packed with dvds and books. Bucky made a note to take a closer look later. The ceilings were vaulted and to the right were the stairs that led to the loft. In front of them was a massive bed and to the left there was a door that must have led to the bathroom. Bucky opened the door to find a spacious bathroom with a shower, toilet, and a tub that could double as a swimming pool. Bucky whistled lowly as he turned back to the bedroom.
"No wonder they kept this place a secret. I wouldn't let anybody know about this place either."
"No kidding," Steve joked.
"Hope you're okay sharing the bed," Bucky motioned to the bed.
"You know it's okay."
Bucky did know. Two-thirds of the time Bucky ended up in Steve's bed after a nightmare. Steve didn't say anything anymore. He just pulled back the covers, motioning for Bucky to join him, no questions asked.
"I kind of feel like this is Christmas," Steve commented as they unpacked the non-food items. He held up the soft leather sketchbook.
"Does that make Stark Santa Claus? Should I tell him or do you want to?" Bucky teased as he messed with some sort of cube with colored squares on all of the sides.
"I'll need to thank him for picking it out," Steve said earnestly, "but I know it wasn't his idea."
"What do you mean?"
"Come on Bucky, you requested it, didn't you?"
"I haven't seen you draw anything since I made it back, not even a sketch on a napkin."
"I haven't really wanted to."
"I know, I just thought maybe now that we are taking a break from the whole world of super heroes and aliens that you would like to start sketching again."
"Only if you read to me while I sketch, like we used to."
Bucky didn't hesitate. "Let's see what Barton and Romanoff have in the way of books."
"Quite suddenly Dori, now at the back again carrying Bilbo, was grabbed from behind in the dark. He shouted and fell; and the hobbit rolled off his shoulders into the blackness, bumped his head on hard rock, and remembered nothing more." Bucky shut the book, sitting up on the bed from where he had been laying on his stomach, reading The Hobbit.
"That's not the end of the chapter!" Steve looked up from his sketch.
"Come on, one more, Bucky. We can't leave it there."
"You agreed to one more chapter and then you would cook dinner. I'm starving."
Steve groaned, "Fine. Now I understand why we could never get our hands on a copy of this book."
"How's your sketch?" Bucky reached for the book.
"Uh-uh, you remember the rules. Not until I'm done. That will take at least another two, probably three chapters." Steve closed the book and got up from the bed, stretching his arms.
"You're milking it."
Steve gave a small smile, "I can't help it if I like your voice reading to me. Now, what do you want for dinner?"
"Did we have the stuff to make your Ma's casserole?"
"I think so, that means chopping vegetable duty for you."
"Yes, sir," Bucky saluted.
"Son of a bitch!"
"Oh give it a fucking break. I can't believe I landed on Boardwalk again!"
"Looks like you're going to have to sell a few more properties."
Steve shuffled through his dwindling stack of properties. "I think I'm out. God damnit Bucky."
"Always such a sore loser."
"Oh shut your mouth."
Bucky laughed loudly, bending over slightly to hold his sides. When he opened his eyes and looked back at Steve, he noticed all of the venom was out Steve's features, and there was a youthfulness there that he hadn't seen in decades.
"I've missed you so much, Bucky."
"I know, but I'm here now."
"I've been so focused on everything around you, your schedule, your training, your treatments, that I haven't noticed how great you are doing. I know you're never going to be like you were before the war, but neither am I. It's nice just to see you happy."
"I am happy. It's my turn to take care of you. That's always how it has been between the two of us, us taking turns."
"You never needed me taking care of you. It was always you working extra shifts to make ends meet."
"And who was there waiting for me when I got home from those extra shifts, with warm food and a funny story to keep my spirits up. I don't know if I would have gotten through those years without you."
"I never minded. It was the least I could do for you."
"I felt the same way."
Steve must have realized they were at an impasse. "Should we check if the stew is done?"
"It better be. I've been waiting 70 years to have another bite of your Ma's stew."
Bucky started awake, for once not from his own nightmares. At first he was confused, then he felt the bed shake and looked over to see Steve's body squirming under the covers. The moment the whimpers left Steve's mouth, Bucky knew that that the other man was in the grip of a nightmare. Bucky scooted over in the massive bed, calling Steve's name. When that didn't wake him, he resorted to shaking him.
Steve jolted up, gasping for breath, looking all around him. His eyes landed on Bucky's frozen body. "Buck?" His voice came out as a hoarse whisper.
Steve sagged at his words. "They had you. They were forcing you to be the Winter Soldier and torturing…" Steve couldn't finish his sentence before he started crying, crawling back into bed, this time curled up around Bucky.
Bucky's heart broke, realizing that losing him was Steve's worst nightmare. He didn't hesitate stretching his arms around Steve's massive frame. It was more difficult that it used to be before the serum, but he still managed. "Shhh, it's okay. I'm here with you now Steve. They won't get me again. I won't let that happen, and I don't think they would make it through you anyways."
"Damn straight," came Steve's muffled response as he nuzzled his head into Bucky's neck.
"I know you'll keep me safe." Bucky knew that was what Steve's fear boiled down to, because in the end, that was what kept him up at night, that maybe he wasn't enough to protect Steve from the world.
"Did you find a movie?" Steve asked as he brought in the over-sized bowl full of popcorn.
Bucky held up the colorful cover. "I can't believe Natasha owns Disney movies. Finding Nemo seems like fun."
Five minutes into the movie, Steve sniffled first, giving Bucky permission to wipe at his eyes.
"I thought you said this movie would be fun!"
"It's about fish, how was I supposed to know?
"What happened to Disney?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it."
Bucky looked up from his book he was reading with his afternoon cup of coffee. "What is it?"
He asked Steve who was curled up on the opposite side of the couch with the tablet.
"There are robots attacking New York, the Avengers are on the scene right now," Steve responded, throwing the tablet aside as he got up, heading up the stairs.
"What are you doing?" Bucky followed Steve.
"Getting my stuff. We have to go."
"No. No we don't," Bucky responded slowly.
"Bucky!" Steve looked up from grabbing his shield.
"No, don't be that way. They know how to contact us. They didn't, which means they have it handled. By the time we get out of here, they will have it taken care of it."
"I can't just sit around and wait. I have to go." Steve replied, pushing past Bucky and heading toward the door.
"Bucky," Steve had his hand on the door.
"No, you were mine first!"
Steve froze and turned back to face Bucky. "What does that mean?"
Bucky sagged under the weight of what he had just revealed. He had wanted to reconnect with
Steve and eventually have this talk, but in a quieter, calmer moment. He realized this was his moment, whether he liked it or not. He sat down on the stairs, thinking that his shaking knees won't hold his body much longer. "It means exactly what it sounds like. Before you were ever Captain America, you were my Steve, a little punk ass from Brooklyn. I've never cared about Captain America, and I still don't. I care about Steve."
"I'm still Steve, underneath everything."
"But, Captain America is slowly killing him. Since I've been back, I never saw you sketch once. You've only cooked a handful of times. You don't take care of yourself. You put every single person above yourself, including me, and while I appreciate it, it can't be at the sake of losing yourself."
"I can't just not do my duty. I understand you're worried, but you don't have to be. I'm fine."
Bucky could see that he wasn't getting through, so he said the only thing he could think of.
"You're not, though, and I love you too much for this to continue."
"You what?" Steve's voice was soft. He came closer, getting on his knees on the bottom stair.
It was difficult, but Bucky kept eye contact with Steve, knowing how important this moment was. "You heard me. I love you. I've loved you since I was fourteen, but I never could bring myself to do anything about it because of the world we lived in."
"What do you mean?"
"I knew that you had feelings for me too, but I also knew you liked girls. There was no hope for me, I only had eyes for you, I was doomed to live a life as a pervert. But, I wanted a better life for you and I kept wishing that a nice woman would finally see what I saw in you. If you could fall for a nice lady, you would have a perfect life with a house and children, something I could never give you. I was so happy when I met Peggy, she was perfect for you and I wouldn't have to fear for your safety. I would do anything to protect you. But here we are in a world where, not only is it no longer a crime to be with a man, but we could get married and have children. I want that life with you and I'm afraid that if you always put Captain American first, then we never will."
Steve looked slightly stricken. "You've never once turned your back on me."
That wasn't exactly the reaction he wanted. "Of course I have. I would do anything for you."
"How come," Steve's voice broke and tears started to fall. "How is it that you have always protected me when nobody else could, but the one time you needed me to keep you safe, I couldn't?"
Bucky knew Steve was finally showing him the pain that he had been keeping hidden ever since his return. He knew how heavy guilt could be and that has been what has been driving Steve since his return. "Oh Steve," he muttered, reaching forward to wipe away the tears falling. "There was nothing you could do."
"I should have grabbed you or come looking for you or something. You were my entire world and I couldn't do for you what you have done for my entire life. I caused all of this pain and I'm just doing everything I can to make up for it in any way I can."
"You're killing yourself in the process, though. Maybe, not physically, but mentally."
"I just want you to be happy, that's all I've been trying to do, put you first for once."
"And what I'm saying is that what makes me happy is you. It breaks my heart to think that being Captain America has broken you somehow. I want you to have a better life."
Steve gave a watery smile at that admission. "I'm not broken. I was when I thought you were dead, but since I've found out you were alive, everything has changed. And now you tell me we could have been together all along."
Bucky blushed a little. "Maybe."
Steve chuckled. "I'll consider forgiving you for hiding this from me all these years because you thought you knew what is best on one condition."
Bucky let out a relieved sigh at the hopeful expression on Steve's face. "That I can do."
Bucky shifted awake, feeling the warmth of Steve close, reminding him of last night's events.
"Hi beautiful," Steve said as he ran a hand through Bucky's hair, pushing it from his eyes.
Bucky looked up to see Steve leaning back against the headboard, a sketch pad in his lap. "Good morning. Drawing this morning?"
"I woke up and got inspired." Steve held up the notebook to show detailed pencil sketch of Bucky sleeping. The drawing was amazing. In sleep, he looked more like the old Bucky of their youth.
"It looks great."
"Thanks. I actually had a lot of time to think while drawing and I thought a lot about what you said yesterday."
"Already having second thoughts, Rogers," Bucky teased.
"Yes, I've completely changed my mind after realizing you drool in your sleep."
"I do not, you punk," Bucky laughed as he shoved Steve, who shoved him right back.
"No, I was actually thinking the opposite. Everything you said finally caught up with me and I realized I want those things you talked about, a life together, whatever that may be, marriage, kids, dogs, a house. I want all of that with you."
"You want to get married?" Bucky sat up more fully so he could look at Steve as he talked.
"Well, not right now. I would like to stay out here a while longer. But, yeah," Steve shrugged, "I don't want to waste any more time. You and I have made so many sacrifices for each other and the greater good. It's time that you and I finally get to put ourselves first and have some happiness. I'm going to take a step back from being Captain America."
"You don't have to give that up for me. You know that wasn't what I was saying yesterday?"
"I know. And I won't completely give it up, if the Avengers really need me, I'll be there, but it's time to step away from the day to day missions and managing. I don't want that to be my life anymore. I want you to be my life."
"I want that too, more than anything."
"Then it's settled. When we get back to New York, you and I are going to start building our life together and the first step is getting married."
"Only on one condition," Bucky smirked.
"Oh and what would that be," Steve smiled back.
"That you kiss me."
"I think that can be arranged."