Characters: Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes
Word Count: 940
Summary: James sits on the back porch with a book in his hand, but he's watching Steve. His blond hair has gone a little silver at the temples, and there are wrinkles at the corners of his eyes from decades of smiles—and how impossible is that, that after everything, Steve's managed to spend enough time smiling to leave the mark of it on his face—but he's still unreasonably handsome, and doesn't look anywhere near as old as he is, no matter which way you count the years.
Warnings: Spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, technically.
Disclaimer: Named characters and certain plot elements in this story are © Marvel Entertainment and Walt Disney Pictures. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
Notes: Instead of the fic I've been trying to write, or, like, working on my mid-term like a responsible person, this happened. Because of course. But I really like this, so...yay?
Beta'd by the gracious, lovely, and very helpful cityofpaperbuildings. A million thanks!
Title from "Don't Carry It All" by The Decemberists because, I mean...self-explanatory. *vague, emphatic gesturing* Listen to it!
Posted to avengers_2k.
This story also available on AO3.
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James doesn't understand it, not really.
James—he's gone by James for years now, not Bucky. He doesn't feel like the same person he used to be, and it—it doesn't hurt him anymore, but he doesn't feel like he can go back. It's okay. People change. Steve still calls him Bucky, and James has never asked him to stop.
James sits on the back porch with a book in his hand, but he's watching Steve. His blond hair has gone a little silver at the temples, and there are wrinkles at the corners of his eyes from decades of smiles—and how impossible is that, that after everything, Steve's managed to spend enough time smiling to leave the mark of it on his face—but he's still unreasonably handsome, and doesn't look anywhere near as old as he is, no matter which way you count the years.
When Steve had suggested this, years ago, James had favored him with an incredulous stare and told him, “Pal, when I said 'to the end of the line,' I didn't mean 'to the end of the country line dance,'” but James never was any good at denying Steve anything, so here they are—high prairie, Oregon Trail country, in a tiny town that isn't pronounced how it's spelled.
Steve farms. He took to it with gusto if not very much skill, not at first, and he loves it. He's up at the crack of dawn most mornings and all day out in the sun, sweating through his dirt-stained plaid shirt and under the shade of a hand-to-God wide-brimmed straw hat, weeding and mulching and milking the goats and talking to the hens like he's their mother and scrutinizing the honeycombs with careful, vigilant eyes.
James doesn't understand it. Not the farming. He helps, sure, and the labor feels good, the way any hard work does, but it doesn't do for him the way it does for Steve. It's not a bad retirement, though. It's peaceful here. James likes the quiet, and the way the sun looks small in the broad blue hazy sky. And he's got his own hobby. He's started making junk art, welding scrap metal, old tractor parts and things, into animals and trees and whimsical nonsense shapes. Steve finds it hilarious that after all this time James has turned into an artist, but James knows without him saying that Steve's proud of him, too. James sells some of it online, even takes commissions, but Steve wouldn't let him sell the great big scaly dragon, so it sits out by their mailbox at the end of the drive and breathes rusty fire at the cars that pass by on the highway; it's become a bit of a local landmark. James spends hours and hours every week sorting through piles of wing nuts and leaf springs and wire, but some days he sits still with a book and a glass of ice water and does nothing else at all.
Steve mostly grows for their own table, but they share with their neighbors and take the surplus a few towns over on Saturday mornings for the farmer's market, setting up amongst the stalls of champagne grapes and peaches and sausages hot off the grill and the old ladies—much, much younger than either of them—spinning wool into skeins of soft yarn. Steve sells his strawberries and heirloom potatoes and pale green chicken eggs and jars of honey and soft, mild goat cheese—it hasn't got that goat flavor, he tells his customers, not when it's fresh. James sells some of his smaller sculptures; Steve calls them doodads.
The townspeople know who they are, but mostly nobody ever says anything. Even that one history professor from the little liberal arts college up the highway has stopped asking them to come and lecture. He comes over for dinner, now, once in a while; he brings his wife, the chemistry professor, and she brings a keg of her home brew.
Sometimes James and Steve climb into the beater pick-up truck they bought secondhand and drive east to the Blue Mountains, get up above the little towns and the endless sea of rolling, wheat-gold hills and into the cool green shade of firs and maples. They hike along streams and up onto the ridge tops, and they gather the forest foods an old Umatilla tribeswoman once taught them to find—wild celery, and mushrooms, morels or oyster mushrooms or shaggy mane, that Steve takes home and sautés in a pan with the grape seed oil their neighbor two farms over makes.
That's definitely part of it; Steve's gotten really into food, cooking it and eating it, and James' memories of skinny, sickly Steve are still strong enough that he gets a great deal of satisfaction out of watching him do it.
But it's more than that, it's the growing and the gathering, some part of the process of shepherding a garden of tender sprouts to fresh, wholesome food that gives Steve a soul-deep satisfaction, a quiet joy that James can't quite comprehend, and would never have expected from the scrappy city boy he grew up with. He doesn't understand it—but sometimes, when Steve stomps up to the porch smudged with dirt, his jaw gone stubbly because he wants to grow a beard again, his arms full of carrots and his eyes soft with a quiet kind of peace, and James holds the screen door open for him so he can kick off his boots and carry his prizes to the kitchen sink to carefully wash each one—sometimes he thinks he very nearly can.