Spoilers & Desirable Foreknowledge: Captain America: the First Avenger and Captain America: the Winter Soldier.
Warnings: Nothing you wouldn’t find in canon.
Characters & Relationships: Bucky x Steve x Peggy
Summary: Hydra had Bucky on a lab table for god knows how long and never discovered his secret. Cue Agent Carter walking in on it pretty much the moment he and Steve make it back to camp. // aka the one where Bucky Barnes is a merman and once you’ve lived through your single worst nightmare, ‘chasing tail’ puns are a close second
Author’s Note: Enjoy!
Lots of Fish in the Sea: Steve and Bucky
Peggy discovered the drawings by accident.
She and Steve had departed with such haste he hadn’t bothered cleaning up after himself, throwing his things at his cot thoughtlessly while searching for a jacket and proper boots. The little notebook he’d been doodling in when she found him had landed open on the bed, cover up. When she picked it up to put it and his other things away somewhere it would make the USO tent look less like he’d fled or been abducted from it – for all the time that would buy them – it slid closed. She only opened it again to smooth out some pages that had folded in on themselves.
Apparently the book had opened to a drawing of a male mermaid sprawled indolently across two pages. The boy fish – round-cheeked and youthful still, though his upper body had a young man’s build and the mischief glinting in his eyes and curling around his mouth was anything but child-like – was beautifully detailed and anatomically plausible. Something about the face, atypical in a way that just didn’t seem to fit Steve’s drawing style, gave Peggy the feeling it must have been drawn from memory.
Could this be...?
On the other side of the page, hiding behind two blank pages folded over the bottom half of the mermaid’s tail, was a drawing of Peggy. Just as large as the mermaid, of her pristinely in uniform, feet apart, pistol raised and ready to fire, hair flying.
There were angel wings sprouting from her back.
And his self-portrait was a dancing monkey. Oh, Steve.
Nothing had ever made Steve’s heart sink quite like asking for James Barnes and getting the words ‘isolation ward’ for an answer. They were followed by ‘no-one’s ever come back from it’, but Steve barely even heard those. Nor did he need to.
Hydra didn’t treat ill or wounded prisoners, they executed them. An isolation ward could only mean one thing.
No – this was Bucky. Two things.
"What happened to you?"
"I joined the army."
"Did it hurt?"
"Is it permanent?"
"...you don’t have one of those, do you?"
Steve had the chilling realisation that while his initial fears may have been misguided, he might have to ask Bucky the same thing.
"I volunteered for the procedure," Steve was quick to point out once all four hundred odd freed soldiers were walking, driving, or being driven away from the Hydra camp. The guilty ‘who, me?’ look on Bucky’s face at that was better than the glances he’d been shooting Steve so far, like he’d already drawn all the wrong conclusions, but it obviously didn’t put him at any real ease. "So I could join up. It fixed my lungs and everything. Don’t you go worrying about me, Buck, I knew what I was getting into. It was worth it."
Bucky examined Steve’s new body the way Steve must’ve done his all those years ago, when he first looked at his best and closest friend and saw something he didn’t recognize and which shouldn’t be possible.
"I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for this. Neither of us would," Steve whispered, at a loss.
"Yeah, okay," Bucky mumbled absently. He wouldn’t look Steve in the eye.
It started raining during the trek back. Steve didn’t think anything of it, only angling his helmet a little deeper over his eyes to keep the drizzle from blowing into them.
When he adjusted his helmet for the umpteenth time and looked over at Bucky to see how he was handling it, Steve did a double-take. He’d forgotten – Bucky didn’t have a helmet. Instead, he stared straight ahead through his third eyelids, unblinking.
Hell – Bucky, like many of the rescued men, didn’t even have a jacket.
The serum kept Steve from cooling down too much, and Bucky obviously didn’t feel the cold like a warm-blooded creature anymore. But Bucky was hovering at the tipping point between human and not human. If the two of them, half man and half myth, were soaked through that thoroughly, how must the rest of the troops be faring?
Bucky startled severely. Rainwater flew from his hair as he whipped his head around, wide-eyed and with a white-knuckled grip on his rifle. He looked a thousand miles away, and a thousand miles from human.
Steve gestured to his eyes. Frowning, Bucky blinked – and blinked again.
"Oh." The membranes retreated, and Bucky squinted back at the troops through the rain. "They must be freezing," he whispered. "I hadn’t even realised..."
"Yeah, me neither."
Bucky shot him a puzzled look. But then understanding dawned, and he scanned Steve’s body again, like he was only just remembering all the impossible things he’d already seen it do.
"We should –" He gestured vaguely over his shoulder. "Hypothermia. A lot of them weren’t in the best condition to start with."
"Yeah," Steve said.
They turned, together, elbows brushing.
Steve was on Bucky like a hound on a scent the moment he fled the medical tent. "Hey, were are you going?"
"Swimming," Bucky said, voice clipped.
"I’ll come with you," Steve said.
"Don’t you got somewhere to be?"
"Not right now."
"Then you will real soon, trust me. Better stay put where the brass can find you."
"If they really want me they’ll find me, until then I’m coming with you."
"Why, you think I’ll disappear downstream and desert the army if you don’t keep a leash on me?" Bucky snapped.
For a moment, Steve faltered, halfway to a dead stop. Then he quickened his pace. He leaned in, his voice dropping to a whisper. "Not until now. I thought I’d be your spotter." He studied Bucky’s face closely, trying to see past the hollow eyes and the bruising and the weight-loss and the sweaty pallor. "Should I be worried?"
"I don’t know, should you?"
Steve frowned. "Buck –"
"I really don’t know, Steve," Bucky said with a bark-like little laugh just his side of hysterical. He wouldn’t look anywhere but straight ahead. "You tell me. Am I the kind of guy who runs away? Because that’s all I can think about right now. ‘I haven’t gotten away yet, I haven’t run far enough. I can’t get far enough.’"
Steve caught his elbow, but Bucky shot him such a heart-stoppingly helpless look, he encountered no resistance when he pulled away.
They ducked between tents and into the woods. Nobody stopped them. Bucky’s jaw worked like he was rolling words around on his tongue, testing, tasting, but he didn’t speak again until they saw the glitter of sun on water through the trees ahead.
"They’re under my skin, Steve," he said hoarsely. Steve could see his hands shaking. "They put something in me. I need to get out of this body before... before..."
"God, Buck," Steve breathed. "What did they do to you?"
Bucky shook his head once, hard, and started to strip. "I need a swim. Come on."
Unhappy but knowing better than to push, Steve turned away and settled with his back against a tree, one ear turned the way they came. Bucky waded in, and changed, and swam.
This wasn’t how they were supposed to reunite. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen when they went to war. They were supposed to fight the good fight, and preferably live to tell about it, but if they must die then preferably only after they’d made a difference no matter how small, and when they crossed paths again they were supposed to be able to smile no matter what horrors had been burned into their retinae since they laid eyes on each other last, and the joy – the relief, at least – of finding each other alive was supposed to be able to last.
He and Bucky weren’t supposed to slide off of each other like the wrong ends of a pair of magnets, never really getting through. They were supposed to be stronger than this war.
What had Hydra done to him?
"You know, Buck," he called out after a while, his heart radiating pain into his throat. "They’re finally letting me do what I signed up for. I’m staying. But if you wanna go, I won’t stop you."
Bucky’s lips parted in shock, but then his expression shuttered. He stared at Steve for a long moment, eyes blank. Then he ducked underwater without a word and didn’t surface again.
Steve sat, and stared out across the still water, and tried not to scream.
Tried to figure out what he’d be screaming if he did.
He had no idea how long it was before he heard footsteps approaching. He jumped up, whirled around, and exclaimed louder than necessary: "Peggy!" Wait, no, bad. "Agent Carter. Ma’am."
"Captain Rogers," she replied primly, stepping over a fallen log in a pair of stained boots he was pretty sure didn’t go with her skirt-and-tie uniform. "I’ve been looking all over for you. What are you doing all the way out here?"
"Sergeant Barnes wanted to go for a swim. Figured I’d keep the Germans off his back while he was at it."
Peggy raised an eyebrow, and her lips curled as if something about that was terribly amusing. "Indeed. Where is he now?" she asked, looking towards the water.
Bucky surfaced as if on cue.
Steve almost swore out loud in front of the lady. "Bucky, stay back! You’re not decent."
Bucky approached anyway. "Who’s this?" he called.
"Agent Carter of the Strategic Scientific Reserve," Peggy said. "I supervise all SSR operations."
Nowadays Steve’s eyesight was as superhuman as the rest of him, which he dearly hoped meant Peggy’s eyes weren’t keen enough to notice Bucky’s gaze unsubtly raking over every inch of her.
He cleared his throat. Loudly. "Agent Carter helped me through boot camp so I could get the serum, too."
"Is that what happened?" Peggy said, at the same time Bucky’s expression darkened and he asked, "You helped turn him into a lab rat?"
Peggy’s eyebrows shot up.
The bottom dropped out of Steve’s stomach. "Bucky, please. We’ve been over this."
"Over what? Your stupidity is your problem, not mine." He swam so close to them a coppery gleam became visible under the water.
"Bucky," Steve hissed, eyebrow-gesturing frantically.
Peggy kept the results of her intense scrutiny of the both of them to herself and only asked, "Are you sure you should be in there? The medics were complaining you ran out on them before they could clear you for release, let alone prolonged exposure to the elements."
A harsh, humourless sound left Bucky’s throat. The hair on the back of Steve’s neck rose before he even spoke.
"Wanna compare your results to Hydra’s, huh?"
Peggy frowned. "Beg pardon?"
"Steve!" Bucky mimicked nasally.
There was a wild curl to Bucky’s lip and a fever-bright look in his eyes, and it leeched all the warmth from Steve’s body –
"Maybe I should desert the army if the SSR is part of it, ’cause from where I’m standing it looks like it’s just Hydra in a different coat."
...but some detached, pragmatic little voice inside also said: There we have it. Finally.
Then that voice evaporated.
Because Bucky closed the last distance to the bank and dragged himself into the shallows. His shoulders left the water. Then he heaved up his chest, his hips – and what should have been his legs.
Not even the transformation could hide the evidence of what had happened to him. Bands of near-black bruises crossed his arms, stomach and chest, narrowly missing the gills that had opened up between his ribs, and where a coppery fish tail had replaced his legs, the same restraint marks showed as strips of raw and darkened flesh rubbed clear of scales, and angry-red, swollen fins.
Steve didn’t know whether it was the bruises or the look on Bucky’s face or the tail (Bucky, Bucky no, she can see your tail) that upset him most.
At least Peggy didn’t scream.
"Gonna strap me back to the table, huh?" Bucky asked, voice trembling and breaking. "Like you strapped him to a table?"
"What are you doing?" Steve whispered, horrified.
Peggy looked from one to the other, eyes wide and lips parted. "You," she said to Steve, inexplicably. "This is why –" Then her jaw snapped audibly shut, and she collected herself in the blink of an eye, her eyes sharpening to daggers. "Not all of... this is the result of Hydra’s experiments, is it?"
"Hydra didn’t have the first fucking clue about ‘this’." Bucky gestured wildly down at himself and laughed, or perhaps choked. "It’s funny, you know. It’s fucking hilarious. Do you know what happens to my kind when we’re found out? What could have happened to my family and everyone like me if the fucking Nazis – ? All my life, the only thing I’ve ever been afraid of was people finding out and ending up in a laboratory somewhere, getting cut into pieces for this. But when I got there, Hydra didn’t even see it!" Every new inhale and exhale was wilder and more ragged. "What’s the point in hiding it anymore when I end up like a pin cushion for the mad scientists anyway?"
Steve couldn’t take it anymore and jumped into the water.
Bucky’s breath hitched; his face crumpled.
Tamping down on his culminating panic, Steve pulled him into his chest, held him tight and let him cling, murmured in his ear because slow deep breaths, Buck, come on, you’re hyperventilating, slow deep breaths or you’ll faint like a pearl-clutching old lady. They’d done this the other way around so many times, talking their way through like it was an asthma attack was instinct.
Better than admitting that clearly what Bucky really wanted was to cry like a baby.
While Bucky kept Steve’s jacket clutched tight and his eyes shut tighter, his forehead pressed to Steve’s chest and his mouth open in a grimace, fighting for control of every breath, Steve watched Peggy watch them. The super soldier and the merman. The product of her people’s hard work and the legend come alive. Like the Cube. Like any given number of Schmidt’s lunatic ravings. Like equally many things the Allies had no defence against if they turned out to be true.
Agent Carter was inscrutable.
"Sergeant..." she started eventually, frowning. Bucky had himself pulled mostly back together, but her voice didn’t even seem to register. Then, more authoritatively: "Sergeant Barnes!"
The results were instantaneous.
"Ma’am," Bucky croaked, wide-eyed and snapping to attention as best he could with no legs.
Peggy’s expression softened. She knelt down to eye level with them.
Somehow, her words were still a surprise.
"You’ve been through hell, Sergeant, and only a madman would expect you not to be affected by the experience. But the world is full of mad men. As such, I am going to pretend this never happened. I promise you that the SSR will never know of your – condition." Peggy’s lips thinned. "As much as I would like to pretend the words ‘deserting the army’ didn’t leave your mouth either, though, I’m afraid you’ve got something of a point there. The Nazis may not have noticed your secret, but they were looking specifically for the effects of whatever it was they were doing to you. If you’re put on medical leave and get sent back to civilization for observation and recuperation, or the brass decides we need to get to the bottom of Hydra’s actions and your anomalous survival of them, they’ll be looking for any abnormalities, and who knows what they’ll find."
"What are you saying?" Steve asked cautiously.
"That I saw neither hide nor hair of either of you when I went out to look for Captain Rogers. It’s very tragic, but Sergeant Barnes may well have drowned out here. Overestimated his strength after his recent ordeal."
Steve’s jaw dropped.
"Oh, hell no," Bucky said. He scrubbed a hand down his face real quick and conjured up a smirk. "Getting in over his head is Steve’s line. I just turn into a fish sometimes."
"The serum put an end to that," Steve pointed out automatically.
"See, there we go. Thinks he’s fucking invincible. I can’t leave him alone for five minutes, I swear."
A crooked grin split Steve’s face before he even noticed.
"Besides, I already told a bunch of the guys I can’t swim," Bucky said. "They’d think I drowned on purpose. No way am I gonna be remembered like that."
"Well then." With a small, quick smile, Peggy straightened back up and primly smoothed down her skirt. "In that case, I distinctly recall you walking into camp, and let it never be said that I can’t read between the lines. Your legs can... come back, correct?"
"Very good. Then I’ll see the two of you back at camp." She looked them both in the eye in turn and raised an expectant eyebrow. "Within the hour? Colonel Phillips is growing impatient, Captain."
"Yes, Ma’am," Bucky said.
Steve could only nod.
Peggy nodded. "Excellent. It was an honour to meet the man Captain Rogers speaks so highly of, Sergeant Barnes, but next time we cross paths, I do hope you’ll be wearing more clothes."
And she marched off, no looking back.
Steve and Bucky stared after her and kept staring long after the sound of her footsteps had faded.
"Did that really just happen?" Bucky asked eventually.
Steve pinched him.
"Ow." He shook his head, wonder in his face. "Damn. Are Brits even real?"
"That’s Peggy for you," Steve said with no small amount of pride.
Steve made a face but didn’t have it in him to protest.
"Now help me out of the water and get me my clothes before I eat you, ya shrimp."
That, Steve did protest. By getting his mouth on Bucky first and kissing hard.
True to her word, Peggy treated their meeting by the lake as if it had never happened.
"You must’ve really impressed her somehow. I don’t think she’d tell even General Eisenhower she was honoured to meet him," Steve said, because a little pang of jealousy was no reason not to.
The sun was setting. The camp was permeated with the smell of hot food. Steve and Bucky’s stomachs rumbled in unison, but Colonel Phillips had sent Bucky back to medical while he talked to Steve, and they could both use a breather.
Steve could see Bucky bite back something bitter – he didn’t know her, after what she’d witnessed he probably thought it was pity – but he found enough game somewhere to ask, "So what exactly did you tell her about me?"
"Only the good stuff."
"There you go, mystery solved. You know, between you and her I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t just shout my secret from the rooftops and instantly become the most popular guy in town. Clearly mom’s generation used up all the horror stories and heartbreak. What could possibly go wrong?"
"‘Chasing tail’ jokes?"
Bucky cuffed him upside the head for that. "Hey, does Captain America have an adorable animal sidekick yet?"
"I think a fish tank would take up too much room that could be better used by chorus girls in tiny skirts."
"Ooooh, good point. When’s your next show?"
"Steven Grant Rogers, is that any way to treat your best guy and a POW? Shame on you."
The sordid details came out eventually. Steve and Bucky didn’t get to bunk together, they had to bunk together. Perks of Steve’s nebulous rank and bringing back almost trice the number of men this camp alone had lost. Their own guys, Brits, French, a black platoon, a Nisei squad...
"Needles, pal," Bucky sighed into the privacy of their shared tent. His elbows were on his knees, and he raked his hands through his hair, bowed nearly in two. But he hadn’t purposely avoided Steve’s eyes since he dried up and changed back, and Steve breathed just a little easier for it. "And then tests, and then more needles. It hurt like – like they’d poured acid in my bones, and it screwed with my head, and the food tasted wrong. I don’t know what they were after, Steve. I don’t know." His hands tightened against his scalp.
"Hey, hey, shhhh, it’s okay," Steve murmured, coaxing Bucky’s fists out of his hair. "It’s okay. It’s over now, you made it. You’re fine."
"For now. Who knows what all that stuff did to me, is gonna do to me?"
Nothing. I won’t let it happen, Steve wanted to say.
But he already had.
‘Nobody’s ever come back from it.’
Nobody but Bucky.
This being Hydra, and Hydra having already tried to retrieve Erskine's formula once, and the Red Skull’s personal presence being the – ha – red flag it was, everyone’s obvious first guess was that they had been trying to recreate the super soldier serum in the back room while the main factory produced their scientifically impossible super-weapons.
"And your asthma was gone, just like that?" Bucky asked. "Christ, you got tall. Caught up on your stunted growth too, huh? Always knew you had it in you." He pinched Steve’s biceps. And his pecs. "Look at these hooters you grew!"
Steve swatted at his wandering hands. "It cured my lungs, my heart, my ear, everything, and if Doctor Erskine’s predictions are correct, I’m never getting sick again. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this..." He shook his head. "– this alive."
Bucky smiled at him like all his own dreams had come true – however briefly. He still looked like death warmed over.
"So the procedure’s biggest risks that we know of were the chance that Doctor Erskine got something wrong and accidentally created a poison instead, the strain on the body during the transformation, and the possibility of turning into a fucking demon," Bucky summarized.
"Well, that last one was what the strict selection process was for."
"And this is just what you guys know from what the dearly departed doctor would actually risk writing down, and the grand total of two recipients of the serum the SSR knows of. One of whom being a Nazi bigwig who took an unfinished version without telling the doc about it, and the other a punk with every medical problem under the sun who ran off with the circus rather than get that shit studied."
It was almost enough to make Steve regret it, even though he knew that was the last thing Bucky meant. "Yeah."
"So even if what they shot me up with was some bastard cousin of Doc Erskine’s super juice, we still don’t really know anything about what to expect."
"I know one thing for sure." Steve looked Bucky in the eye very earnestly. "If you got the serum, now or ever, you’d never become like Schmidt."
If Bucky had gotten the serum, it didn’t seem to have worked. Peggy had been right on the money: the SSR checked, thoroughly, for any sign of increased performance. And then Steve and Bucky privately checked again in his other body. No strength of ten men for Bucky, and no strength of ten mermen either.
But the universe had a twisted sense of humour, so the fact that Bucky wasn’t human was probably the reason living through his worst nightmare hadn’t meant the death of him like it had for all the others subjected to Arnim Zola’s tender mercies.
Whatever Hydra did, though, and however it worked, it may not have succeeded in any way they could discern, but it hadn’t killed him either. Not on the table, not during the march, not at camp and not in London. He got better, not worse. The bruises faded. Colour returned to his skin. He gained back most of the meat on his bones.
Even the paranoia gradually ebbed away, and the memories stopped replaying behind his eyes. By the time Steve popped the question – "You ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death?" – you ready to run towards Hydra? – he was already pretty sure of the answer.
And Bucky smirked, sure enough. Tired and sharp-edged and dark like Steve had rarely seen it back in Brooklyn, but Bucky all the way.
He was gonna be just fine.
"You don’t like music?"
"I do, actually. I might even, when this is all over, go dancing."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Oh, yeah. Definitely gonna be fine.
London sleeping arrangements had been blissful ignorance to Steve, but once they were back to sharing a tent on missions, Bucky woke Steve up in the dead of night a couple times, thrashing and whimpering. In the near-total darkness, Steve watched him rub his arms and dig in his nails to try and pry his mind away from phantom needles and straps until he had enough.
"Hey, Buck, do you trust me?"
"Oh, god, now what?" Bucky asked, laughing tiredly.
He sighed. "Of course I do, pal. What do you want?"
Steve crawled out of his blankets and into Bucky’s. "For you to focus on me and think of absolutely nothing else."
And he started mouthing at Bucky’s neck.
"What are you – ?" Bucky pushed him away. "Oh, goddammit, Steve, don’t you dare. What, it’s only wrong to keep doing this when I’m the one running out on you? Agent Carter and her feelings don’t deserve the same respect my girls did?"
Steve thought of getting kissed and caught and shot at in the basement. "Stop thinking so hard, you dolt. Not that I’m not flattered, but you’re severely overestimating what’s going on between me and Agent Carter."
"Yeah, and my name’s Nancy. Buddy, you still got a punch coming for not telling me about you and her before you started eating my face that first day back."
Steve thought, again, of getting kissed and caught and shot at in the basement. His throat constricted in an eerie imitation of half a dozen of his old ailments, but. But. He also still had to stop himself sometimes from putting his hands all over Bucky to make sure he was really okay and Steve really hadn’t lost him for good.
"Buck, it’s fine." He pressed his forehead to Bucky’s jaw and his hand to his heartbeat. "It’s fine. Let me do this for you."
For a moment, Bucky leaned into the touch, sighing as if in longing. Then Steve felt him smile, and Bucky pushed him out from under his blankets, and said sadly, "Not out of pity, pal. You’re never gonna find another woman like Peggy, don’t throw that away."
"I don’t want her if I can’t have you too. I don’t want anything if the price is losing you," Steve said. He felt flayed open. He’d never admitted that before. He’d never believed that when he felt it before.
"I’m not going anywhere. You love her, Steve," Bucky insisted. "I can tell. And I’ll bet my left foot it’s mutual. Come on, man, she could be the one."
Steve steeled himself. "I only just met her. I’ve loved you all my life."
Silence. Then, coldly:
"Because I’m all you’ve ever had to love."
Steve recoiled as if struck.
"Don’t use bullshit logic like that if you can’t stomach having it used against you," Bucky scolded. "Now go back to sleep. You wanted to distract me? You did it."
And he rolled over, back turned to Steve.
Slowly, Steve rolled the other way, back into his own blankets.
The next morning, Steve was woken up by a noise of surprise and Bucky’s face pressing into his neck. He kept his breathing even and stayed very still. At some point while they slept, Bucky had wrapped around him like an octopus, and despite everything he’d said the night before, he held on tight for as long as he could.
They – the two of them, together – had been so simple once. Steve remembered being sixteen and watching Bucky twirl girls he sometimes didn’t even have to ask for the name of around the dance floor like a pro, because just because they couldn’t dance together didn’t mean they couldn’t put on a show for each other.
Steve also remembered being twenty and watching Bucky’s eyes glaze over and his smile turn wide and awed whenever Sadie Woodhouse winked at him.
Thing is, Bucky wanted a family. Kids. As many as he could feed. He wanted to be a father and teach his small fry to sing and swim and catch fish with their bare hands, just like his mother had taught him and his sisters when they were children. Loving Bucky was like breathing, but a house as full and warm as the one he grew up in was something Steve just couldn’t give him.
Supposedly, Bucky had never actually fallen out of love with Steve, he just... didn’t hold himself back when he found himself falling in love with a woman in addition. No – ‘supposedly’ was unfair. Sore as he could get about it, Steve trusted Bucky more than that. One single person could hardly give you everything you needed to be happy. For men like Bucky that just meant there would always be a choice to make.
It was a conundrum.
It was the way of the world.
Steve, for his part... well, Steve had never been quite as optimistic about his odds with the ladies. By the time the war rolled around, he wasn’t even sure if he got that dull ache in his chest thinking about it because it was something he wanted, because it was something he would have wanted if not for Bucky, or because it seemed like yet another thing he’d been born too unlucky to ever have whether he wanted it or not.
When Bucky didn’t have a girl he was serious about, Steve told himself there was no point sinking time into potential marriage candidates, because he had him, and even if Bucky was all he had, he could make do, he’d never needed much. He was probably too queer to do right by a wife anyway, and children? What Bucky had to pass on was beautiful; all Steve could give his offspring was a list of health defects as long as his arm. Once Bucky did fall in love with a woman – and it was ‘once’, not ‘if’, not anymore – Steve told himself Bucky’s friendship wouldn’t be a consolation prize, nothing Bucky was willing to be to him would ever be a consolation prize, and being the funny uncle to Bucky’s kids instead of a father to his own would just leave him more time to do other great things with his life.
Then there was Peggy, and so much for those lies.
And then he almost lost Bucky for good, and wow, that got complicated fast.
Bucky took to Peggy a lot better than Steve had to winking Sadie Woodhouse. Or any of Bucky’s girlfriends, if he was being perfectly honest. Which didn’t help matters. In any way. At all.
Because Bucky was beautiful, and Peggy was gorgeous, and on their own they had always done all kinds of funny things to his head. Now, together, they short-circuited every scrap of good sense Steve had. Their dark heads close together as they bent over a map in matching dress uniforms; that time Bucky shocked everyone in the bunker by surprising a bout of full-bodied laughter out of Peggy; the single, covert glance they exchanged when the other Howling Commandos started ragging on Bucky for not knowing how to swim; teaming up against him and practically finishing each other’s sentences trying to convince him that ‘no Steve, you can’t Steve, even for you that’s an impossible feat, Steve, try that and you’ll die, Steve. oh. you went and did it anyway. goddammit, Steve, I swear if I didn’t love you so much –’
They filled Steve with so much affection and happiness and courage and pride, and such an intense desire to watch them necking and maybe draw a picture or two (or twelve) of Bucky sucking on Peggy’s girls and the looks on their faces when Peggy wrapped a hand around Bucky and Peggy throwing her head back as she sank down on Bucky’s lap, and –
It probably said all kinds of sad, sad things about his self-esteem. ‘I want the both of you like I’ve never wanted anyone else in my life, so how about you two hook up with each other and... don’t mind me, I guess.’ Because clearly the solution to not being able to have his cake and eat it too was to give the whole damn cake to someone else. Clearly.
Well, that or adultery, but don’t even get him started.
Steve settled for just one blue picture; Peggy’s hair obscuring her features and Bucky’s face buried in the crook of her neck, their hips slotted together.
He stared at his handiwork for long minutes. Slid his thumb along the curve of Bucky’s back, up Peggy’s thigh from her knee to the place where Bucky’s hand dug into the fold between her leg and behind, across the back of her hand buried in his hair. It smudged his careful lines and shading.
Didn’t matter. He tore out the page and burned it.
To replace it, he drew a cartoony sketch of a big, blond gorilla in spotted caveman fur with a dark-haired angel and merman over his shoulders. The gorilla carried them toward a cave entrance illuminated by a candle set on a dinner table decked out for three. Peggy and Bucky were giving each other the thumbs up behind his back.
And Steve sighed a lot.
Once again, Peggy saw the drawing by accident. Yes, really. Not her fault she had such freakish luck.
That being said, she would not apologize for making it a good, long look once she got it. It was, after all, another drawing depicting her.
That’s where things got interesting.
Hook, Line, and Sinker (WORK IN PROGRESS)
The lives and loves of Bucky Barnes, shapeshifting merman.
Bucky can’t sing or swim, except that he totally can. It’s complicated.
aka the one where Bucky Barnes is a merman and the greatest tragedy in a child’s life is not being able to go swimming with your friends // Steve x Bucky
Lots of Fish in the Sea
Chapter: Bucky and Steve
Chapter: Bucky and Peggy
Chapter: Bucky and Steve and Peggy
Chapter: Steve and Peggy
Hydra had Bucky on a lab table for god knows how long and never discovered his secret. Cue Agent Carter walking in on it pretty much the moment he and Steve make it back to camp.
aka the one where Bucky Barnes is a merman and once you’ve lived through your single worst nightmare, ‘chasing tail’ puns are a close second // Steve x Peggy x Bucky
Canon-divergent AU branching off from the more or less canon-compliant Hook, Line, and Sinker. Steve walks away from the wreckage of the Valkyrie and returns home in time to propose to Peggy on V-E day, and some fifteen years later, the Winter Soldier's handlers make the grave mistake of sending Bucky Barnes after his best guy and girl's young children.
It's all domestic fluff and hurt/comfort and suburban absurdity from there. :D The mermaid thing may or may not be relevant or even visibly present in any given installment. Fics with "fish" theme titles contain overt mermaid stuff, fics with "bird" themed titles don't.
A man may take himself out of the war, and the war out of himself, but what does he put back in?
They have a lot of options. Not least of which: going back to sleep while the grown-ups do their thing.
The Christmas Cookie Caper
What's a brainwashed assassin turned suburban dad supposed to do to keep his homemade baked goods safe around here?
Once Upon A Tide
Once Upon A Tide...
Ten Years Later
“Once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, there lived a fisherman, a fisherwoman, and a merman...” // standalone / sidestory
aka the one where Bucky Barnes is a shapeshifting merman, and his children are deeply unimpressed with the lack of imagination that goes into their bedtime stories. The alternative is... unfortunate, though.