Title: The New Victories of Old Brooklyn
Summary: In which boys are stupid, strawberries are eaten, and the 21st century is exactly what it was cracked up to be.
The New Victories of Old Brooklyn
Somewhere outside of Avignon, Steve directs the set-up of a haphazard campsite and Bucky fucks off for six hours, comes back grinning with his pack slung over one shoulder. It's a smile Steve's been looking for since the last time he laid eyes on McGuinness Boulevard, since well before that, since back when he'd never thought Bucky was dead and Bucky'd never thought he was smaller, so he doesn't say anything. Dum Dum's off somewhere burying his frustration by throwing rocks at trees, and Monty's cleaning knives on his spare pair of pants, and when Bucky pulls out a passel of strawberries like they're spoils of war, Steve's keenly aware that they are.
"Where'd you get those?" Steve asks, and Bucky shrugs one shoulder, the way he used to do when Steve said "I didn't need you to do that," or "I could've had him, I swear," or "It was just a little fight, Bucky, Jesus." There are languages learned and languages taught, so Bucky and Steve built one out of Brooklyn accents and shared histories. This is a protection thing, but isn't everything, these days? This is a white flag, but it's just possible that it's a red one, too. Bucky's always been good at dichotomy.
The berries taste like home, even though they don't. Home tastes like stale bread and staler air, like cabbies shouting each other down in the street, but Bucky's lips are stained red and the sun's drifting lower on the horizon. Steve lets his lately-broad shoulders slump from attention, lets himself lean his head back against a rock and stare up at the sky. Dear Peggy, he thinks, despite everything, this is a beautiful country, but he doesn't write it down. Like everything else, it would too much and not enough, and anyway Bucky's still smiling.
"You didn't have to," Steve says eventually, and Bucky shakes his head, says, "I know that, genius. Take a little victory, will you," so Steve does.
Friends are honest with each other; best friends read the silences, know which truths will and won't be worth acknowledging, have charted the waters of vague and specific hurts until travel is second nature. Friends are honest with each other, and best friends are true to each other. There's a difference there, no matter how subtle.
Steve freezes, but Bucky is frozen. There's a difference there, too. When you think about it, it's not so subtle after all.
For the first month, Bucky only speaks Russian and bleeds from the fingernails of his good hand, won't eat anything unless someone else tastes it first. So Steve learns Russian, and watches Bucky until he realizes he's scratching the metal arm in his sleep, and eats the first bite of every hot dog; it's not like Bucky wouldn't do it for him.
"Steve," Bucky says one night, and Steve says, "Da?" and Bucky shakes his head like he's trying to clear the cotton from it, like he's reaching for words that aren't there, like he's trying to surface from an ocean that's really only fog. There's at least one whole reality he doesn't recall, and probably two, and possibly more--he knows Steve, but that's only because Steve has made it a point to make himself known. SHIELD's afraid Bucky will murder him in here, this tiny sub-basement apartment with cameras in the steel-reinforced walls. Steve figures they can worry all they like; if Bucky doesn't come back one of these days, it'll kill him one way or another.
"Strawberries," Bucky says, clearly, and in English. Steve is so surprised he falls off his chair, tips the whole thing over backwards, flails and snaps the flimsy wood in half in the process. He hits the ground with a huge, hideous thwack and Bucky laughs so hard tears stream from his eyes, so hard he has to double over to keep from falling down himself. Steve laughs too, even though he's more shell-shocked than amused. He laughs because he wants Bucky to keep laughing, and is certain that it's a damn good reason.
"You remember that?" Steve says, in Russian, when he's calmed down. Bucky's eyes narrow contemplatively, but then he lifts one shoulder, drops it again. For a second, his eyes are familiar. It's only a second, but Steve knows how to take a little victory, so he smiles, means it, takes the first bite of Bucky's dinner and doesn't let himself fall.
Someone comes back, and it's Bucky, except that it's not. He remembers everything and trusts nothing, and Steve doesn't really blame him. Aside from everything else (assassinations and brainwashing, bits of him cut loose and never returned, seventy years in the darkness and his face still yesterday-fresh), Steve knows that he's not quite the person Bucky's remembering either. Loss'll do that to you.
"I used to beat up people who beat you up," Bucky says slowly, a question, one night in July. SHIELD has, hesitantly, let them out of the sub-basement; they suggested Steve take him to Brooklyn, and Steve bit the inside of his cheek and didn't punch anyone, drove him an hour outside the city instead. He's certain that the town of Bayville, NY, looks markedly different than it did seventy years ago, but since neither of them has ever been there before, that doesn't much matter. There are ducks here, and trees, and chipmunks, and Bucky's been talking longingly of open air for weeks.
"Yeah, you did," Steve says. "Never could get you to stop."
"You didn't want me to stop," Bucky says, sounding more sure of himself now. "You wanted to think that you wanted me to stop, but you didn't really. I always wondered, though."
"About how you turned out…" Bucky says, and waves a hand in absent frustration. "You know. You. Instead of getting bitter, I mean. People get good beaten out of them, not into them. Most of the time, anyway. That's how it's supposed to work."
"There's not much about either of us that works the way it's supposed to, though," Steve says. He says it kindly, and Bucky frowns, more contemplative than upset. "And, anyway, I had this friend who kept sticking by me even when he shouldn't've. Hard to be bitter in the face of that, y'know?"
Bucky snorts. "D'you know, I know how that is?"
"Nah," Steve says, and fists a hand in the cool grass, then gives up and lays back all the way. The clouds above him are half-assing it, not shapes so much as wisps of smoke, and he thinks Dear Peggy, despite everything, this is a beautiful country, is surprised to find it doesn't hurt as much as he's grown accustomed to. "Never doubted that you could hold your own; I couldn't. I just, I don't know, wanted to try."
"Rogers, that is the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard you say," Bucky says, "and that's a high bar, believe me."
"Yeah, well, you're not short on stupid yourself," Steve says easily, and Bucky actually smiles, the wide, crooked one that used to mean you asshole.
"I know," he says. "But you told me to take it with me, remember? So I did. Put it down somewhere at some point. Guess someone shipped it back to you, huh? Thanks for keeping it warm and everything, you can hold onto it, can't say I missed it much."
Steve props himself up on an elbow, because there are a hundred things there and none of them are the ones Bucky is saying, because language is taught and found and they're still rebuilding, and sometimes you chance across a pylon half-buried in the rubble. "I missed you like crazy, you know that, right?"
"Yeah," Bucky says, and he lays back too, lets some of the tension slip from his shoulders. "Yeah, Steve, I know."
They get an apartment in Brooklyn, which makes Steve's chest hurt and Bucky's head spin, until it doesn't anymore. Tony builds a special exit route into the core of the building with no zoning permits at all, and Brooklyn's different but New Yorkers are always the same. Bucky makes friends with the neighbors and learns his way around the local bars, flirts indiscriminately with everyone who crosses his path, tells Steve that "Maybe it's been seventy years, but at least the accent hasn't changed much." He starts a bizarre and disorganized dog-walking operation for something to do, and Steve figures out eventually that it's because he likes having something to chase through the streets, a fixed excuse to surround himself with noise.
Both of them end up reading a lot of books, because Steve is morally opposed to getting a television and Bucky's unsettlingly thrilled to realize he's now got access to nearly a century's worth of as-yet-unread pulp fiction. Steve gets used to finding Bucky in strange positions all over the apartment, or, more often than not once summer sets in, on the roof; Dr. Banner buddies up with him, offering Steve a nervous grin when he asks about it, and starts teaching him yoga. Even though Steve's pretty sure Bucky's only doing it to enjoy the benefits of his new arm strength, it's kind of endearing to come home from a long day of crime fighting and discover Bucky stretched across the floor, impossibly contorted, with a copy of Beyond Desire balanced on his thighs.
"Do you get bored?" Steve asks, once. "When I'm not around, I mean."
"Of course I get bored," Bucky says. "I love being bored. Do you know how much of a luxury it is to be bored? And, anyway, it's not like I need you around to find ways to entertain myself."
"Yeah," Steve says, and swallows. Bucky will be Bucky, after all; there's no reason it should bother him, the things implied there, the very real possibility that Bucky wiles away his free hours in the company of someone else. No reason at all.
"You jealous, Steve?" Bucky says, and there's something strange in his voice, just for a second. It's lower than it should be, a rasp that scrapes up out of the back of his throat, and his eyes are hooded. There are things Steve's afraid to hope for, and things Steve trained himself out of wanting when wanting them would've been suicide; he blinks, forces a smile, looks away.
"You've been reading too many pulp novels," he says, voice carefully light, and Bucky doesn't argue.
Some nights, Steve wakes up because Bucky's screaming; some nights, Steve wakes up because he's not. Once, Steve goes to bed early to weather the aftereffects of a poisonous gas attack, and wakes up to the sound of a crash. Bewildered, finds himself in his kitchen, the porcelain breadbox shattered on the floor. He blinks and blinks again, presses his tongue to the roof of his currently foul-tasting mouth, and focuses on Bucky in the doorway.
"Huh?" he manages.
Bucky's eyes are half-lidded, heavy circles beneath them, and he's wearing boxer shorts, nothing else. He looks half-awake with his arms folded across his chest, which is twice as awake as Steve feels, just now.
"Guess the whole superhero thing didn't cure you of sleepwalking," Bucky rasps across a yawn. When Steve just stares at him, he shakes his head and moves, makes a barefoot traverse around the shards of glass to put his hands on Steve's shoulders and steer him out of the room. "C'mon, Rip Van Poisoned. Coulson called, said this might happen--apparently it's not supposed to be as bad for you as it is for the others, if that helps. Told me to tell you to sleep it off, and, y'know what, here's the thing about sleep: a bed usually helps. Forward march, yeah? Yeah, there you go, one foot in front of the other, can you believe someone made you a captain one time?"
Steve's not exactly sure what's happening, but he lets Bucky steer him into his own bedroom, shove him gently onto the mattress, climb in next to him and pull the covers up. Some forgotten corner of his brain posits a question, but all that makes its way out of his mouth is a fuzzy "Muh?"
"I see you have noticed this is not my bed," Bucky says cheerfully, sounding even more awake now. Distantly, Steve remembers this voice, remembers that once, some lifetimes ago, Bucky was the only person Steve ever let patch him up. It was a thankless task, he's sure--Steve was a proud kid for all he didn't have much to be proud of, and he needed patching on a regular basis, always did his best to avoid admitting it. Bucky took care of him because he was the only person who never got fed up with it, the way Steve snapped and dodged and tried to lie his way to better health; Bucky took care of him because he'd bully Steve into letting him do it if he had to, which makes him, Steve realizes distantly, the only bully he's ever been particularly fond of.
It's been a long, long time since Steve Rogers needed patching up. Outwardly, anyway. Inwardly, the reverse is probably true, but it's one of those things he tries not to dwell on too much.
"Mm," Steve says, which he's sure was meant to be a word at some point. In the darkness, Bucky's grin flashes white.
"I'm gonna just generously assume that was 'Yes, I did indeed notice that, Bucky, would you care to explain yourself?' Out of the kindness of my heart, Rogers, and not pity, so don't get how you get--honestly, it is a goddamn relief to find myself on this side of things again, I was starting to think you were Captain America all the time. Don't frown at me while you're doped up, you look constipated. And I am in your bed because, if I was in my bed, I wouldn't know if you went on another little stroll until you broke something else, and then you'd be mad in the morning. And frankly? There is not enough coffee in this apartment for that."
Steve makes some kind of noise--he's not sure what kind, but some kind, definitely--and Bucky laughs at him, ruffles his hair. He doesn't move his hand away, after, and Steve's glad. He likes Bucky's hands. He's never quite gotten around to mentioning that, though.
"You know," Bucky says after awhile, quiet now, contemplative, "it's still the weirdest thing, you being bigger. Which, I mean, it shouldn't be, right? After everything else--and it's definitely not the worst thing or anything, god knows it's not the worst thing. It's not even bad, really. Just. Sometimes I still turn around expecting you, and you're….you, instead. Which, don't make faces, Steve, you're supposed to be sleeping. It's just weird, that's all."
Steve nods against the pillow, and then, with Herculean effort, pushes through the fog enough to say, "Arm." Bucky looks badly startled for a second, and then he frowns, and then, to Steve's surprise, he laughs, tipping his head back against the wall and sighing when he's done. His whole body goes lax with it, like he'd breathed out something along with the air, and Steve makes a half-hearted attempt to search the room for it. He doesn't want to move, though, and anyway, it's probably already gone.
"Yeah," Bucky says, "I guess so, huh. Everybody changes somehow. Go to sleep, Rogers. You'll feel better in the morning."
In September, after careful thought and against Tony's oddly urgent advice ("Never declare love with strawberries, Cap, even if it seems like a good idea, especially if it seems like a good idea"), Steve stops at the market and goes home. The apartment is empty, but filled with the accumulated detritus of their combined lives; there's Bucky's growing collection of leashes and his smaller collection of firearms, Steve's sketchbooks and charcoals, the mismatched bookshelves that hold their ever-expanding library. He grins, just a little, and then takes his bag up to the roof, where he finds Bucky leaning his elbows on the wide railing and looking out at the skyline.
He drops the strawberries between them like spoils of war, and is aware that they are, in their way. Not everything operates in straight lines, after all, and the truth of it is that he and Bucky have both been fighting for years.
Bucky raises an eyebrow. "Are we doing re-enactments now? Hi, by the way."
"Hi," Steve says. "No. I was jealous."
"No, when you asked," Steve says, copying Bucky's shrug without even meaning to, trying to force himself away from the chance to stumble over this. "And I told you you'd been reading too many pulp novels? I lied. I was jealous."
The expression that passes over Bucky's face is too fast and too complicated for Steve to even try to decipher; something like confusion, and something like hope, and something else, too, almost hungry, before his features go carefully blank. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah," Steve says, shifting. "Uh. Sorry, you know I'm not…I'm not sure how I'm supposed to say this, exactly. Or what I'm supposed to say. Or if you even want me to say anything."
"Hmm," Bucky says, and pops one of the berries into his mouth. It's fresh enough that Steve thinks he can hear it crunch, just slightly, when Bucky bites down; after a second, he throws the leafy top over the edge of the roof with a cavalier disregard for public safety and cocks his head. "Well, I guess you could start with why you'd be saying it now, instead of then. If you were saying something, I mean."
"Because you're my best friend," Steve says desperately, "and then you were gone and…and do you remember when we were kids? And you, god, I don't even remember how old we were, but they'd just started making those…those slide viewer things, right, and you talked about them all the time and I knew you wanted one, but you said you didn't, because--"
"Because it would be worse to want one and not have one then to just not have one, yeah," Bucky says, his expression cracking just a little. "I can't believe you remember that."
"I remember it because this is…like that. For me. And it always was, but it's not then anymore, and I thought maybe--oh, I don't know. I'm trying not to be a coward here, Buck, or to stop being one, I guess, but it's a long time coming and it's not, I'm not really sure what I'm doing."
"I thought Captain America wasn't afraid of anything," Bucky says, his voice strangled.
"I'm just a dumb kid from Brooklyn," Steve says, "remember?"
"You are," Bucky agrees, and then he's smiling, a sunset in Avignon and a game of stickball played across McGuinness Boulevard, a history brighter than the one neither of them quite managed to live caught in his eyes. "You are so, so dumb, Steve, Jesus, I might as well have stamped it on my damn forehead," and then he closes the distance between them, a familiar laugh on his breath and the taste of strawberries on his tongue.
Steve's lived a lot of years and slept a lot more, fought one big war and so many little ones, lost and lost and lost, done less finding than being found. But Bucky always shows up, doesn't he, when things look desperate, when Steve can't hold his own, when neither one of them wants to go it alone; Bucky speaks a language they built and has lived at least part of someone else's life and he's here, changed and unchanging, following the kid who never knew when to back down from a fight.
"So," Steve says, when they break apart, and he's going to say something about lost time or stuff he never said or friends that got him through, but Bucky kisses him silent before he can, a quick, determined sort of thing.
"Quit while you're ahead," he advises, flashing a quicksilver grin and taking Steve's bigger hand with his metal one. "C'mon. Let's go inside."