Bucky blinked at the question, caught off guard, but the grin slipped back twice as bright. Sometimes, away from the backbreaking work on the docks or the piss-scented alleyways, Bucky was a damn dreamer and it was always the brunet that insisted one day Steve would make a real name as an artist. A rags-to-riches story, discovered from selling drawings in the street that would sell for hundreds of dollars in later years.
Drawing was, according to a handful of people, not Bucky’s forte but Steve had talent beyond hauling heavy things like a horse.
It meant that Steve could think about something else about their argument too and could practice like Bucky was always insisting. Settling back on the couch, the man eventually stopped fidgeting. They talked about the future rarely, mostly stuck trying to earn enough money for the next day, but when they had peaceful moments, Bucky liked to dream and to envision years where they didn’t have to fight to survive. It was always the two of them, though. Both of them still living together until they were old and grey; luckily, no-one had pressed the point that they should have settled down by then.
There were plenty of decent dames around, but Bucky was known as a skirt chaser and none of them ever made the man think about watching that same woman walk down the aisle. It wasn’t a bad thing. Lots of other guys avoided commitment and clearly, Bucky was the same.
"So, how’d you want me? ‘Course, both sides are my good sides."
No matter how much Steve would have loved to believe that in the future, he would have a beautiful, loving wife and children, he knew better than that. He wasn’t the kind of men who should set any children in this world, and even if he would do it, god only knows if they would survive long enough.
Picturing his future with Bucky was way more fun, anyway. It was easy to get lost in Bucky’s dream. Listen to him talk about the mansion they would live in, sometimes it’s even a vila. Listen to how many cars they would have and how everyone would be standing in line just to see steve and shake the hand that ‘creates magic’.
Bucky was known for his exaggerations, but Steve never bothered with pointing out anything, the idea of a future was more than enough to make him happy.
Of course he knew that sooner or later one of the dames Bucky surrounded himself with would steal his heart but… He hoped it wouldn’t happen too soon. A life without Bucky… It just seemed too early. They should have some ‘them’ time, too, right?
"Sorry to break it to you, pal, but none of your sides are anywhere near good." He stood up and took one of the pillows of the couch before he put it on the floor in front of the little couch table they had standing around and sat down opposite to Bucky.
”Tell me about the car you’ll be driving in less than five years…” He enjoyed the sound of Bucky’s voice, it was the closest thing to ‘home’ that he had left and… Truth be told, he felt uncomfortable just staring at Bucky and drawing him in complete silence.
The joy on Steve’s face is worth every damn callous and drop of sweat that Bucky has shed to save up for it. Eyes transfixed on the smile that Steve so rarely had a reason truly use, the older man shifts closer, shrugging a little at the exclamation. Steve wasn’t to worry too much about the money spent; it was a damn present and a chance to forget all about those problems, just for one day.
It was one of their first Christmas days spent, just the two of them. Not quite the holiday at the orphanage, where Jesus’ birthday was truly celebrated as the nuns collected as much money and charity as possible to provide religious presents. This day was quieter than they had ever experienced it and Bucky wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
"Not expensive, was gonna be thrown out anyway."
The kiss caused Bucky to blink, freezing a little. That wasn’t what men usually did, not the ones that weren’t kicked the crap out of by cops and mocked as they walked into their special bars anyway. Except they were in private now and no-one would see. No need to jerk away or pass it off as a joke it was probably a mistake anyway, an impulse from the happiness.
Not that Bucky was hoping for anything more.
Smile softer now, though no less bright, the man huffed with laughter at the thought.
"Could teach you to actually dance for once, since you’ve got two left feet." The thought was warming, the idea of “Can’t keep steppin’ on a dame’s feet.” Interrupting that train of thought, Bucky crouched down, fiddling with the dials to get some tinny music to filter through.
Steve was waiting for the dance partner, that’s all. Someone who did not try to keep him on arms length just in case he had anything that could be spread ——And not someone who stared at Bucky all the time. All the dames Bucky had introduces Steve to, never really cared about him but… Guess what? Steve didn’t care, either. He smiled, was polite and enjoyed life as much as possible while he still could.
The fact that he shouldn’t have kissed Bucky was nothing new to him but there was no way he was going to take it back.
It was not awkward as long as you didn’t make it awkward, right? And Bucky obviously didn’t mind it. It’s not like this was going to lead to Steve doing it more often or anything, no. Today was a special day.
The young man nodded quickly, already standing in the middle of the room and waiting for Bucky to find a radio channel with some music. “You always make it sound like I am the worst dancer on this planet, Bucks, I’m not really that bad.” Okay… He was, but again, not the point.
Truth be told, Steve had no idea if he was about to have a heart attack or if he was fine. His heart was beating so fast and so hard that he could hear all the blood rushing through his ears when he slid from one side of their small apartment to the other one, humming the melody of whichever song was probably playing underneath all those weird radio-noises which Bucky absolutely failed at filtering out.
Bucky’s hands are calloused, now, and sometimes still sore from the construction site but taking on extra jobs would always be worth it. They need to get through the winter and Bucky learned long ago that it was better to be safe than sorry; most of the spare money went to Steve’s present, but a lot is being hoarded in a rainy day pile in case there’s a bout of flu that could kill the scrawny man.
For now, though, Bucky can ignore all of that. Their stomachs are satisfyingly full and the cold is left on the doorstep for now.
Steve is smiling brighter than ever and it sends a happy ache through Bucky’s body. Through the struggle that their lives are, it’s those things that remind Bucky why they keep on fighting.
"Merry Christmas, Steve."
It’s taken months of saving, of squirreling away lunch money and work for the local bars, but Steve’s present is tucked under Bucky’s cot in their bedroom. The radio is ancient, but Bucky has polished the battered wood to a shine and Mrs Cooper sold it for a damn cheap price since the ‘old ears’ had no need for music anymore.
Feet propped up on the sofa, Bucky peels back the newspaper layers, grin stretching. Without hesitation, the man sets down the gifts and tugs Steve into a clumsy hug.
"Thanks, buddy. Gonna stay warm whilst everyone else freezes their asses off. An’ you know, you’re art’s just getting better. Next Picasso, Steve Rogers. Now close your eyes." Drawing away, Bucky slips off quickly into the bedroom, dragging the radio onto the creaking table by Steve’s elbow. "There. Open."
Steve doesn’t ever think about how they might need money for his medicine one day — Bucky has always taken care of it and although there are days when they don’t have enough to eat, that Steve feels horrible about living like a parasite glued to Bucky, he knows better than to ever speak it out.
They are family, and Steve would sell his kidney - if anyone would want it at this point - if it meant he could keep Bucky healthy and safe.
The hug was worth everything. Steve leaned into it, arms wrapping around the broad shoulders of Bucky while he nuzzled his face against the other one and chuckled softly. He could happily live without getting anything in return as long as Bucky was around and gave him hugs like this.
Yet he did as told, nodded and closed his eyes, a small smile on his face and a soft flush on his cheeks. Bucky always complimented Steve’s drawing, he sometimes even said that one day Steve would be the one earning all the money by selling his art. Bucky is a dreamer when it comes to things like that, and Steve can’t help it but dream along. Think about better days…
When Bucky returns with his present and tells Steve to open his eyes, the smaller one is starring, eyes gone wide before he tenderly ran a finger over the edge of the radio. “How…?” He whispered, his heart running a mile before he chuckled. “This must have been incredible expensive, Bucky!” And yet he couldn’t help it but drag his best friend closer to himself to place a small kiss on his cheek. "Finally we can listen to music while being at home! —This is beautiful." You are beautiful.
They don’t have a Christmas tree, nor is their apartment decorated, but… Back in these days, Christmas is a holiday for the rich. Yet Steve had tried to make them something nice for their Christmas Dinner. They had meat, potatoes, and even some pudding. That’s more than they usually had and it was more than enough.
Once the dishes were washed and it was time for exchanging presents, Steve couldn’t wait but beg Bucky to open his present first.
"Merry Christmas, Bucky!" His eyes are beaming and his whole face is lit up in happiness.
Steve had started working a few months ago, and although he wasn’t making too much money, he saved his first loan to get a present for Bucky. Deep down Steve had wished that he could have afforded new shoes for the man or something big and shiny, but… ——A sweater and a self made card with a christmas tree drawn on the front and a message inside, wrapped into newspaper paper should work, too, right?
The laugh was honest this time, tension oozing out of Bucky’s bones with the first huff of laughter. When Steve smiled, Bucky could help but mirror it. As different as they were in appearance and personality, there were times that they were just one half of a whole. The entire neighbourhood knew that they had been joined at the hip since they were kids and none of that was a lie in the least.
"Even in that tiny thing, I look like a damn stud. Thought you weren’t the kinda guy to lie, Steve."
Bucky nudged Steve in return, but was careful to keep it light. They rough housed sometimes and Bucky knew not to handle the scrawnier man with kid gloves lest that hurt and frustrated expression be provoked, but the man valued keeping Steve alive over avoiding a lecture.
"Her old man’s freaking out, givin’ every fella the stink eye as if we’re all in on it. Think the old birds downstairs would have a fit."
Steve feels his whole body ease after hearing Bucky laugh. There is nothing more beautiful on this planet, more calming and more powerful than hearing and seeing the closest person to you laugh and smile and be happy…
He would have loved to just wrap his arms around his friend, hold him and value that moment as long as it lasted, but he knew better than to do this. Especially after the one time Bucky thought Steve was seriously going to die when he randomly hugged his friend. — Bucky was filled up with drama from his head till down to his toes.
"Wouldn’t surprise me."
Everything was fine. They were fine. And… They could laugh. Steve didn’t need more than Bucky —— and his medication… — in this life. Of course he claimed to that he was waiting for the right dame, the one person, but… He wouldn’t miss her if he would never meet her.
Catching himself delving in thoughts, he quickly jumped off the couch and walked over to their little bookshelf, getting his notebook from there.
"Can I draw your stupid, smiling face? I could hold it up whenever you are frowning and pretend you are smiling." Not weird at all.
The discomfort was a general side effect of knowing Tony Stark. Not just knowing his name, or having met him in passing or between the sheets. It was being - dare he say it - a friend. It came with a whole slew more cons than pros. Maybe because Tony didn’t exactly do friends that weren’t computer programmed. Or maybe because being his friend meant knowing there was something else under all the crap but only seeing it once in a blue moon.
” You passed the interrogation. Congrats.
I do however, reserve the right to change my mind, on whim. ”
If Tony would ever point it out and call Steve a friend, using exactly those words, he probably wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable as he did at the very moment. It was the whole uncertainty and not knowing what Stark was about to do next, that got under Steve’s skin in the worst possible way. After all he could decide to try out a few new weapons on him, see how hard he could be punched before he broke a bone, etc.
Tony Stark represented the future, didn’t he? And Steve? Steve represented the past. Being nervous around the guy who creates high tech super armors and other things seems like the only healthy reaction.
Steve blinked, confusion still written all over his features before he sighed one more time and shook his head, dropping the topic completely.
“Would you be up for some training today? Once you are done re-creating your perfect chaos, of course?”
“If I don’t allow SHIELD near my home or anywhere besides one agent they’d love to send over once in awhile to make sure that I’m still alive, I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowing any sort of cameras in a home of a friend. Why in the world would I allow something like that?” Maybe he would do it for himself if he was so keen on it but this was Steve, why in the world would Tony do that?
It would be so easily done too if he really wanted to.
”C’mon Steve, I’ll make sure you avoid them all day and for the rest of forever till they come knocking if I must.” Tony stepped inside though and moved over to where he could wait for the other. He was curiously wanting to look about but he kept it to a minimum so they could get out of there fast when Steve was done changing.
Steve didn’t question Tony’s motives any further — At least not aloud. He nodded and left to get changed, put something warmer and his jacket on before he joined Tony in the living area and smiled just a little.
Maybe he should have considered paying Tony a visit every now and then, too, instead of locking himself away at his apartment, but there was no reason to think about that now.
"We can go whenever you want to."
”Please don’t make me regret this, Tony.” After all Steve had read Tony’s files and he knew ‘the kind of fun’ the other man enjoyed… If this was going to end with a trip to the joyhouse, he’d run as fast as possible…
Taking a step around the Captain, a few odds and ends were moved to new homes, and a couple of files were thrown onto his desk in no particular order. When and if he needed them, he’d find them — That’s usually how things worked.
”You sound like Pepper. ”
With a pointed indication at Steve, he settled against the desk nearest the supersoldier, and leant back against it, arms folded over his chest.
” It’s always : Tony you’re making a mess, or Tony you can’t build a nuclear explosive device, and store it inside the tower, and let’s not forget : Tony you’re trudging blood into the carpet. ”
Making a tisking sound, he rolled his shoulders, stretching out his arms with a wistful sound. If he thought long and hard enough about it, maybe he’d realize the complaints were legitimate, but the likelihood was somewhere in the point zeros and didn’t seem liable.
” You need to learn to loosen up. ”
For the sake of avoiding any future arguments, Steve decided not to say anything on sounding like Pepper because obviously Pepper was right. A nuclear explosive device stored at the tower? Really, Tony? And you are supposed to be a genius?
”I do not understand what me stopping by to say hello and you accusing me of things has to do with me loosening up.”
He sighed silently, flexing his muscles before unfolding his arms from in front of his chest only to shrug. There was no one other than Tony, that Steve felt this uncomfortable around and he didn’t even get it. They were on good terms, right? So what’s with the wrecked nerves and the try throat and the constant fear of being attacked by something - anything - just so Tony could get rid of him?
”Anyway. Are we done with the interrogation and the comparison now?”
It was difficult to shake off that sense of loss when Steve pulled away; at least Bucky was practiced. The moment had just lasted a split second longer than usual, but never turned out the way it seemed to lead… not that Bucky was hoping for anything. Those thoughts were not safe, not in the eyes of the God that Bucky wasn’t sure existed or in the more dangerous views of their community.
Brushing those thoughts away, Bucky set down the last of the plates, giving Steve a wary once over at the sudden joviality. There were still bruises blooming on the pale skin, some that were just starting to darken and would probably be a mottled yellow by tomorrow. It sickened Bucky to see the wounds and as much as the old birds downstairs would tut or fuss over Steve, it was always Bucky that cared the most about these things.
Still, they had already had that argument a thousand times before and today had been such a good day. Their stomachs were full and neither of them needed a reason for it to taste anything less than the satisfying meal that it had been.
"Fellas at the site were gossips as usual, I guess." Shrugging a little, Bucky couldn’t help the smile that twitched at his lips. The builders were worse than any old ladies and their sources were much faster. "They say Perry’s gonna tie the knot anytime soon, but his dame has been makin’ eyes at all the guys down at the docks when she visits her old man. Mary Ellen’s eloped, you remember the girl with plaits from back then?"
'Back then' was always the orphanage, but Bucky didn't mention it all that often. They still met a lot of kids from those days, though, in varying degrees of success. Mary Ellen was the girl with curling brown plaits and the one Bucky got to second base with first.
"How could I ever forget that? You made sure I would never ever." This was good. Sitting on their old couch, smiling at each other, talking about the other people, the town, the people they once knew and now hardly recognize on the street.
Bucky was in peace. ( No matter whether Steve’s bruises bothered him or not. ) This was the closest to happiness they would ever get and, truth be told, this was all Steve needed in his life. Of course he knew that at some point they both should start looking out for serious relationship, but as long as Bucky didn’t wanted to get involved for longer than an evening / one night, as long Steve wouldn’t feel bothered, either. Besides: They were young. Too young and way too poor to think about things such as ladies and families…
Bucky and Steve were family. That was more than enough at the moment.
“I’m glad for her. She always had such a terrible taste in men, though. —— I mean… have you looked in a mirror recently?” The smile on Steve’s face was way too big to belong to this tiny little man and the way he playfully nudged his best friend… It was almost like the last five minutes had never taken place and they had never left the couch and had ‘that talk’.
” The whole sour look you’ve got going on there. You’re not happy to see me, or something?
‘Cause you did come here - I’m assuming to see me. Unless you and JARVIS have a playdate. ”
Taking a step away from the door, Tony left it open on the chance that Steve would follow, before moving back to the boxes he’d been unpacking from his unscheduled trip. Heaving tools back onto shelves, and materials back into their place — disordered or not, the mess made sense in his head.
” You need something? Or is this a social call? ”
” At least tell me it’s not a lecture. I cannot handle another lecture —
JARVIS already covered all the bases. ”
”Me? Why? I’m not sour looking at all. I do believe that I am looking quite friendly…”
The super soldier crossed his arms in front of his chest and decided to follow the other man inside.
“It is not a social call, nor am I here to lecture you. Now, I do appreciate knowing that your artificially intelligent does tell you a piece of its mind because, no doubt, you do deserve it sometimes, but can’t a man miss a friend without being questioned? What’s next? Are you going to ask me which socks I’m wearing and why they are blue and not black?”
Besides: There was no way Tony could deal with everything that had happened in the last months and not feel like talking to someone. Chances weren’t high that this someone was going to be Steve, but that’s not the point now, is it?
“By the way… —— Are you tidying up right now or just trying to create a bigger mess?”
Bucky had always said that the real genius knew how to survive in pure chaos… Obviously he hadn’t just tried to talk his way out of cleaning up and tying up their apartment…
In response to Steve’s muttered apology, Tony only grunted; the scowl deepened the lines of his face as he continued to stare blankly across the workshop, allowing his mind to wander to somewhere far more pleasant. Though the mechanic was unable to quell the insistent nagging of his doubts and was plunged headfirst back into his catacomb of rancid self loathing. He was in no mood to gloat, and wished only for the solace of solitude, which Steve seemed eerily hesitant to grant him. Did he really look that bad? Though Tony was unwilling to test his hypothesis, for surely he looked haggard enough to warrant a measure of worry. He leaned to wriggle his fingers back through his dark crop of hair which fell limp to one side, unkept and streaked with grey.
With all Steve’s stammering, impatience rose as bile in the back of his throat, souring his expression further. Even in his haze of intoxication, he knew Steve wasn’t even that dull. He served him with a weighted sigh, before pushing himself from the stool on which he slumped. Tony steadied himself with a hand upon the smooth marble tabletop, his body swaying slightly beneath the weight so much tequila. He clutched the glass to his chest, unwilling to abandon it as he continued forward, rather proud his feet didn’t falter upon his approach. Tony paused several feet from where his companion idled, and extended an impatient hand. His fingers danced expectantly in the open air as he motioned for Steve to plop the device into his open palm. “You are impossible, Rogers.” He huffed, and snatched the piece of technology from his companion’s grasp as soon as it was tugged from his pants pocket.
— - “It unlocks like this.” He instructed with a deft swipe across the length of the screen. The device livened to his palpitations, and he sifted through the pages of applications before happening upon the one that denoted video chats. “If you need to make a call, open this app,” he sprang to life beneath the pad of his forefinger, “And select who you want to bother… that’s it.” Tony tossed the thing back, before glancing up from under his dark brows, “So, Mr. Eidetic Memory, please refresh me on how you forgot how to unlock your phone.”
For one moment Steve was convinced that he had managed to fool Tony into believing the whole needing help story. He knew that it was easier to get closer to someone wounded by posing with your own wounds. Of course, one might not compare whatever Tony was going through with Steve struggling with a simple phone, but that wasn’t the phone, either. The point was that Steve needed to help Tony and remind him once again that he wasn’t alone. No matter whether Miss Pots was around to collect his trash or not.
Tony was a hero and he forgot it way too often.
After giving the man his phone and watching him tap away at it, Steve nodded. A guilty look crossed his features once he was called out on his bluff and he shrugged. Awkward.
“It happens to the best of us, right?”
"And I’d really appreciate it if you could just call me by my name." Rogers, Captain, Captain [ add special terms here ], was just not right. Especially not if these things were said with so much force. ”I should go now. I’m sorry for bothering you with this.”
” I told you, it’s Captain Fancypants. Do we have to go over this again, honey —
’Cause the whole ‘ formal title ‘ thing makes blondie sound like one of Fury’s toy soldiers, which personally makes me feel a little affronted. “
The billionaire motioned towards himself, and picked up his empty glass, tipping it back to watch the ice shift, before drawing his hand half across his forehead and letting out a loud breath. Pressing his tongue to the back of his teeth, he settled the glass and picked up a few fallen sheets of paper as he stepped around one of his work desks.
“ Have someone bring me another of those bottles, you know what I like. “
" Of course, sir. Your drinking habits are always my top priority. "
The tone of scathing was unmissable, and the corners of his lips hitched upwards as he blew a kiss at one of the speakers, and made his way to the door to shift a few boxes he’d propped against it earlier, allowing it to slide open and reveal six-foot-something of muscle bound supersoldier. It’d be a nice sight to admire, if he wasn’t expecting a lecture about where he’d disappeared to, or that patented ‘ I’m disappointed in you ‘ stare.
” Wasn’t expecting you, Cpt. You bring me something nice?
I’m one of those girls who likes to be courted ‘ nice and proper‘ before you start making housecalls. “
At this point it was difficult to say when the last time they had met had been. — Too long, if Steve was going to be honest. Enough time had passed for Steve to get used to both, his new apartment with all the fancy new things and his new, forced life. Not that he wasn’t still feeling down every now and then whenever he thought of his past and how out of everyone he had to be the one to survive.
He was waiting patiently in front of the door and tried, he really did try very hard, not to be judgemental at all. It wasn’t up to Steve to judge anything Tony Stark did and / or was doing. He had made that mistake once, the first time they met, he wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Jarvis welcomed him politely — It was unbelievable to Steve how something Tony had created could have so many manners while he, himself lacked them completely.
”No. I must apologise. I didn’t had the time to think about getting something to not appear empty-handed.”
“Although I might have to admit that I do not understand your reference.”
—— Tony must have woken up on the wrong ( or right; you never know with him ) side of his bed this morning.
"You know, that’s the first time I’ve seen someone react that badly to shawarma. Didn’t do any good for your stomach, Cap?” He can’t say he remember much of the dinner, having just picked at his food and then casually pick at other people’s food.
But he hadn’t been feeling shawarma himself lately. In fact, he’s sort of craving—
"How about some soup and a sandwich?"
"It was too strong. Please, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I have never tasted before and enjoy eating a lot now but I’m just not thrilled to eat it.” He will not answer to Tony’s question how his stomach reacted to the shawarma. Really, Tony should know better than to think that Steve’s body was working in any other way than the one way it should. If not even alcohol bring his system out the system, why would food?
“Sounds great. Are we going to walk there or… ——Scratch that. I forgot that some of us are still being recognized on the street.” While it was easier — not perfectly easy — for Steve to walk down the street, he did not doubt that together with Tony, they wouldn’t even be able to take a step out of the building without having paparazzi and fans surrounding them.
It was always difficult to argue with Steve about this and Bucky loathed every moment. They always threw Steve’s wholesome conscience in a clearer light whilst highlighting Bucky’s shadows. The man knew better than to assume Steve was in the wrong during their fights; Steve was basically the only person that kept Bucky a halfway decent man these days. Bucky put them both in front of everyone else because, world be damned, they deserved it. They needed someone to do it because in this day, this time, no-one else was about to do it.
People like Steve were few and far between; Bucky always felt repulsed at the points made against Steve standing up to bullies because it was like trying to wipe away what made the scrawny man stand a head over the rest of them. Yet there was a reason there were so few people that acted like that these days and one of them was, usually, the bullies won.
"That’s not what I meant, idiot. Jesus, you don’t owe me anythin’." It felt like taking three steps forward, then four steps back. A dance that they did where they stepped on each other’s toes. "I know. I know you can’t, an’ a good fella wouldn’t just walk on by. But you gotta think first. Get help. Don’t just go in to distract ‘cause they always just charge at you like a damn bull and you never get outta the way in time."
Setting the last plate down, Bucky finally turned to Steve, setting a hand on the skinny shoulder and trying not to wince at the sharpness of bone underneath. There was nothing ugly about Steve’s body - it was one of the many thoughts Bucky would take to the grave - but the reminder that Steve was a strong man in a weak body was painful.
Maybe things would be different if Steve would have been built like Bucky or anyone else. If he’d have been healthy and could actually throw a punch without risking to break his own hand. But that’s how things were and he was more than glad to have Bucky around to treat him like a normal being despite the way he looked like.
He turned around and tilted his head back to look up at his friend when he talked and put his hand on Steve’s shoulder. There was no way Steve could have hidden the confusion and sorrow written all over his face because Bucky was right. One day he would end up laying in a dark alley, not able to move because a big, rude bully broke his legs and what then?
The thought of having to leave Bucky or having Bucky losing him… —— It was horrific and worse than anything else.
Slowly he lifted his hand and put it on top of Bucky’s, smiling just a little before nodding. “You’ll see… One day I’ll come out of a battle without a scratch.” The urge to lean in, to hold on and to live the moment… —— He pulled and walked back towards the couch to go back to lazing through the evening, after playfully knocking his fist against Bucky’s jaw and then winked at him. This was safe and definitely better than turning this into an emotional moment neither of them needed. Not on such a good day!
"You haven’t told me anything ‘bout your day! Come on. Share and tell, Bucky."
Fingers were clenching hard at his side and Tony didn’t feel it. And then he lets go, forces himself to relax, and breathe. A cocky smile flits into his expression and settles completely.
"What’s wrong with the TV?" He sounds almost amused with Steve, opting for the change in direction of where their conversation is going. He doesn’t want to think about what Steve was hinting at prior and he doesn’t want to even go toward that direction in their conversation.
"And—yeah, dinner. Let’s do it. What are you up to? Hot dog? Prime rib?”
Busy was easier than slow.
"Nothing… It’s just… a constant reminder." Of everything. —— Mostly Bucky who had loved watching movies back in the old days… If he could only see all those movies now, see the series and the news… He’d probably never stand up from the couch again.
”I don’t know… As long as we don’t eat Shawarma again, I’m okay with everything.”
They would have a good evening, eat something nice and then part without fighting and throwing things at each other.
And he knows that look or at least a semblance of it. Immediately, the man is straightening up and pursing his lips at Steve. He tsks at him.
"You’re judging me and I didn’t even do anything.” Yet.
"I am not judging you. —— Who am I to judge anyone, Tony? Please. I’m only trying to understand… A few things."
It was the truth. Tony could do whatever he wanted, he could drink all day long, Steve would be worried, yes. He’d wonder if the other’s body would be able to work that much alcohol off, but he would never judge Tony. Everyone had his reasons and explanation on why they did what they did.
Tony had, by god, more than enough reasons to search for the answers on the bottom of a tumbler.
”I originally stopped by because I hoped that we could go out for dinner. I do not believe that I could spend another day in my apartment without throwing something at least against the television.” Showing that he had his own flaws might calm Tony down again. ——Hopefully.
"Steve? Lettin’ me call you by your first name? Ain’t that a sin? Am I big now?"
"Where we goin’? Back to the orphanage? Can we go to Coney Island? Y’know, I know a kid called Steve. Lives near me. Kinda sick all the time."
"Oh yes, you are a big boy. ——But… If you want to, you can call me uncle Steve, too. Depends on you."
And there it is. Of course Bucky would have cared about him back then, too… With a playful huff, Steve shook his head.”No. — I’ll take you somewhere else. You can meet that Steve another time, for now, I hope I’ll be good enough. Come on. Let me take you on my shoulders so you can enjoy the view.”
Now that kid looked a lot like Bucky and… ——Wait. What did a little boy do out here all by his own? Steve took a closer look, wondering if he could help the boy when he realized that it was indeed Bucky in his early years. “B-bucky…?”
“Do I know you, mister?”
"You’re real big. You the new priest? ‘Cause Mother Mary said she was gonna get one o’ you to give me a talkin’ to again."
"No… —— No, kiddo. I’m not the new priest. But… I’m a friend? You can call me Steve, if you’d like to? Mother Mary told me to take you somewhere… safe.”
And here you can see that Steve is the worst liar in the universe and probably the nine realms, too.
Bucky was trying to prevent Steve from getting hurt, from so recklessly challenging people in fights that the smaller man never won. Trying to open Steve’s damn eyes to realise that not everyone else had to be put in front of them, that Steve was more important than that and to Bucky it was almost selfish that Steve could risk so much without thinking.
Except they weren’t characters in a flick. Men didn’t say those things to one another, with good reason, and Bucky squashed the hurt down.
There was no suppressing the guilt, though, along with the bitterness that Steve never thought about either of them before charging into battle. Steve’s apology wasn’t what Bucky wanted to hear, it wasn’t the promise not to do it anymore, and the fact that the first real meal they’d had for weeks had been ruined by this made the aftertaste taste like ashes.
Watching Steve practically flee made the feeling even worse.
"I know the guy deserved it - you’d never fight someone that didn’t." Because Steve was a goddamn hero, someone with a sense of justice out of the comics they used to read as kids when they saved up enough pennies and a heart too big for that body. "But the jerks that you fight are always the biggest bullies around with the muscle to match."
Standing, Bucky stepped into the kitchen, face a little hot as he took up their ratty dishcloth and began to dry up the dishes.
"Forget it, alright? Let’s just… forget I said anythin’. You never fuckin’ listen anyway.” The last part spilled out like the water from the tap and Bucky stiffened, eyes fixed on the plate and scrubbing it with too much force.
Steve missed the days where leaning into Bucky’s embrace had been natural. Where seeking his closeness and warmth didn’t feel like a crime bigger than stealing. He wouldn’t have left to wash the dishes if he could have just leaned against Bucky, hold his face in his hands and promise him that nothing would ever be able to separate them, neither a bully, nor three…
But he was standing there, his finger already freezing while he scrubbed off the tomato sauce from their pan. “Nobody was helping her.” He would do it again, and that was probably the main issue here. Steve would never stop throwing himself between a bully and an innocent person, no matter how much he would suffer in the end. Sometimes he did wonder why he was the way he was. Why god couldn’t have been kind enough and make him more a man than he was but… ——You didn’t needed muscles to know the difference between right and wrong, right? In less than a week, the bruise would be gone but the flower Lady would never stop smiling gratefully at him. That’s what mattered. Making people happy…
No matter how much it hurt Steve to know by doing so, he was making Bucky unhappy.
"I do listen, Bucky. I am listening. Always." He turned the tap off and dried his hand at another dishcloth they had laying around near by the sink before he slowly shook his head. "I appreciate it. ——And I owe you everything I have, literally, but… I can’t just walk pass things like that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep ever again." Not that Steve’s sleepings habits were anything near healthy anyway.
With Steve, it was rarely nothing. A cold morphed into pneumonia; a cough was a chest infection or a bruise was massive internal bleeding. This was always a touchy subject with them both, Bucky’s default setting of being overly careful. It wasn’t that Bucky handled Steve with kid gloves, the man wished Steve knew that; it was just that Bucky couldn’t stand this constant fear and risk of losing his best friend to something stupidly small.
They had argued before about Steve’s habit of not picking the right fights and, because of that, Bucky never really admitted that admiration for Steve’s bravery-bordering-insanity. Bucky couldn’t be the one to say that, however much the man would have liked for Steve to finally hear that someone recognised Steve as a hero rather than that skinny kid that poked his nose in places that shouldn’t be poked. They only had each other in this world and Bucky was the only person that was afraid enough of losing Steve to protest against the constant heroic acts.
Sighing, Bucky raked a hand through tousled hair. “I’m not tryin’ to be your babysitter, you idiot. I’m tryin’ to get you to realise that one day, you’re not just gonna come home with just bruises.” One day, you’re not gonna come home at all. Then what the hell am I gonna do without you?
Bucky didn’t voice those last words, lips pressed firmly together to stop the flow. It wasn’t what guys said to each other.
"Just think about these things, would you? You have a brain and you’re the smarter one outta the two of us.”
Of course he knew it was Bucky’s default reaction to seeing Steve like this and if he was honest, seeing Bucky hurt did the exactly same to him. Seeing his best friend with a bruise or a weird limb in his walk… You never knew what might come and get you these days.
He put his plate down on their couch table and turned around just enough so he could face Bucky. There weren’t many things that made Steve feel the way he did right now and he blamed it on the look on Bucky’s face. If he could only stop this from happening, could actually win his fights rather than being knocked out with nothing but a few punches…
There was nothing he would rather do than hug Bucky and prove him that this time it was just a bruise, that this time he had come back home… Promise him it wouldn’t happen again… But he couldn’t. First of all, because he knew he would, probably for the rest of his life, end up being bullied and secondly, he couldn’t just pull Bucky in his arms and hug him without making the situation bigger than it was.
"I’m sorry." His voice was low when he finally looked away again, eyes locked with their plates before he stood up, using washing the dishes as an excuse to cross through their little apartment and flee.
"He deserved it, though. You should have seen the way he had been treating the lady selling the flowers at the corner… I couldn’t have let him get away with it, could I?" He was leaning over the sink, trying his best not to waste too much water while he rubbed the sauce off the plates, watching his hands —— Bucky wouldn’t understand. Bucky put Steve and himself before anything and everyone, Steve simply didn’t.
God, food was the best smell in the world. How long had it been since they had a decent meal or a full belly? Pouring out their water, Bucky settled next to Steve on the couch and took the plate gratefully. It took a lot of self restraint not to shovel all the pasta in, taking it one mouthful at a time and savouring every piece. Nothing tasted better than this, food cooked by Steve, the tomato and salt rolling over Bucky’s tongue. Even with will power involved, Bucky polished off the plate within minutes, eyes focused on the food almost the entire time.
Setting the plate down on the floor, Bucky lounged lazily back against the pillows, glancing at Steve with a content smile. Then, in the better light of their ‘living room’, the dark eyes pinpointed the bruises darkening on Steve’s cheek.
“Shit." Pleasure evaporating, Bucky straightened and examined the wounds closely. They went through this routine so many times, every other day and week, but Bucky’s stomach still seemed to surge at the sight. "Steve… God, what the hell happened this time? Why didn’t you tell me?”
He had made sure to give Bucky more, he simply needed more and could eat more than Steve anyway, but there weren’t any left overs.They could cook tomorrow again, it always tasted the best when it was fresh and seeing how Bucky had just brought all of the things, they could enjoy eating some freshly made meals for a few - two or three - days.
When Bucky was done eating, Steve was still mid-chewing, a few noodles still on his plate because unless some other people in this room, he did enjoy it and tried to make it last as long as possible. Until Bucky jumped out of his post-food laying and stared at Steve’s face instead.
Secretly, Steve was still looking forward to the day Bucky would not freak out about a new bruise or act like Steve was a China Doll he needed to care of. There were times where he threw Steve around like a sack full of potatoes (Not really, but… something similar to that ) and then there were moments like this when Bucky had this lookin his eyes and Steve felt horrible for not being able to cover the marks of… —-Of what? Weakness? Stupidity? Braveness?
"Because it’s nothing." He slided away just a little bit, making sure there was more than enough room between the two of them while he stared down at his plate. "And because I do not need a Babysitter to fight my fights for me."
"Sounds like a plan." Bucky nodded gratefully, aware of the stinkeye Mr Patterson had given the man for stinking up the precious family grocery store. It was a little harsh, expecting customers to wait and still remain civilised when it came to food. Bucky had witnessed plenty eating off the damn sidewalk.
Retreating to their ‘bathroom’, Bucky stripped off clothes that clung to his skin, sticky with sweat, and poured out a bucket of water. It wasn’t a shower really, their stall, but it was a place to wash and Bucky wasn’t going to sniff at that. Mrs Barnes had instilled cleanliness into the children before passing away and Bucky felt like it was good to honour the woman’s memory in any way possible, especially since buying flowers wasn’t much of an option.
Toweling dry, the man tugged on a pair of trousers but decided not to let another shirt become victim to the heat and sweat.
"Smells good, buddy." Sniffing the air appreciatively, Bucky wandered back into the kitchen.
After all those years they had spent together, Steve was used to Bucky smelling like rats died in his armpits, yet he was not going to risk having the other man sit around like this. Not that Bucky would do it anyway.
While he was gone to take his shower, Steve took care of their meal, a smile threatening to split his face. Stirring the pasta sauce - just a few tomatoes oil and salt, nothing too special - was already making his mouth water. Steve loved days like this the most. It had been a successful day and thank god the bruises left on his face from the fight he ended up in was the only bad thing about it.
By the time Bucky stepped back into the ‘kitchen’, Steve was getting the plates and forks ready. He would have to strain the pasta in a few moments and then they could enjoy the rest of their evening on the couch while stuffing themselves so full that moving a finger alone would seem impossible. There was more than enough for both of them to pretend that food was nothing they’d need to worry about.
"It’s going to taste even better!" He did finish up and then filled their plates, nodding over to their couch. "Could you bring me a glass of water? I’ll take the food."
"You’ve become more suspicious." She remarked blandly. Of course she had entertained the notion that he wouldn’t believe she was actually there. There were times where she didn’t believe the same about him, so she couldn’t fault him for it.
"You know who I am, Steve. As for who sent me? I came on my own."
Steve clenched his hands into fists and stared at the young woman in front of him. She looked and talked like her… ——But could it be possible? If it was, why had nobody told him about this? Why did he had to find it out like this?
"I know who this face belongs to, yes." The frustration was reflected in his voice now but he couldn’t help it, didn’t even try to hide it. "How?"
"Hmm, I suppose I’m getting rusty if you were able to pick me out so quickly." Peggy replied, seemingly unfazed by his hostile tone. "I think that perhaps we have some things we need to discuss?"
Steve had seen more then enough in the new world to suspect either a robot under that face or a shapeshifter. ——And someone using Peggy’s face just to get under his skin? That was nothing he’d let happen.
"I suppose not. Who are you and who sent you here?"