Enjoy, my dear!
"I'm not going on that," Steve said, looking up at the wooden structure warily.
"Don't worry, you're tall enough, I checked," Bucky said, smirking.
Steve rolled his eyes. "Look, I just don't see the point," he muttered, turning away from the giant coaster.
The point?" Bucky ran his fingers through his hair, pushing back the lock in the front that had started to curl up from the humid air. "The point is to have some fun, birthday boy."
"We can go back to the beach. The beach is fun," Steve said, scuffing his shoe against the ground.
"Yeah so much fun you spent the whole morning complaining about the—" Bucky's voice got cut off as the coaster cars—packed with screaming people—careened by them at sixty miles an hour. "—and the sand in your pants!"
Steve closed his eyes and took a breath. His lungs still felt tight, and the heavy summer heat wasn't helping. He'd been hoping for rain, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. "Okay," he said, once the coaster went around the far bend and he could hear himself think again. "Okay fine, let's get on this thing."
Bucky grinned, and pulled a small handful of coins from his pocket.
The buzz bar resting across Steve's lap did nothing to make him feel safer. He swallowed heavily as the roller coaster cars started moving slowly up the track's first hill.
"Ready?" Bucky asked, just before they reached the top.
"No," Steve muttered, and clenched his eyes shut against the wind as they plummeted down the first incline. His stomach felt like it was being shoved up against his lungs, his lungs were squashed more than when he got hit by a racking cough and the hard seat of the coaster rattled under his ass hard enough to hurt. He could feel the car go up again, down again and then up, real slow. He forced his eyes open and looked to out the side of the car, then down— eighty feet straight down. He turned to Bucky, panicked, but his ever-helpful friend just waggled his eyebrows and said, "It's gonna get bumpy."
They reached the top, Steve clutched the bar with a white-knuckled grip, and they dropped, speeding down faster than Steve had ever travelled in his life. This time his stomach shot all the way up, his head filled with pressure like a balloon about to burst, and then suddenly, the coaster shot up again, around a curve, and Steve felt like he was flying. Bucky whooped loudly next to him and Steve started laughing and let out a whoop of his own. They took another turn and another, each one more exhilarating than the last.
The coaster slowed, then came to a wobbly stop. Steve's heart was hammering in his chest and his eyes were tearing from the wind. But he was happy. The coaster-operator lifted the bar up and Steve stepped out, unsteady on his feet.
Bucky clapped a hand on Steve's shoulder. "What'd I tell you?"
Steve smiled up at him. "You're right, that was pretty—" His stomach clenched and his equilibrium started flopping like a dying fish. He had just enough time to think, Oh no, before he started heaving.
"Could've been worse," Bucky said, wringing the ocean water out Steve's shirt one more time. He spread it out behind them on the warm wood of the pier.
Steve reached into his knapsack and pulled his jacket out, slipping it on over his bare skin. It was still hot out, but he wasn't going to walk around—or sit around as the case may be— with nothing covering him. Plus the sun was already starting to make its way down.
Bucky gave him a sheepish look as he sat down next to him. "Sorry I made you puke on your birthday."
Steve chuckled. "Nah. You were right. That was aces."
Something growled from the direction of Bucky's stomach. He looked over at Steve hopefully. "I'm starving, you hungry?"
Steve had to swallow back bile at the thought of eating. "Not just yet, but go on."
"You sure, I can wait—"
"Just go, I'll be here," Steve said, settling back on his elbows. The sun was in his eyes, so he lay all the way down and closed his eyes.
By the time Bucky got back, Steve had almost drifted asleep. The smell of french fries and hot dogs wafted to Steve's nose and his stomach gurgled, then cramped, then gurgled again. He blinked his eyes open. The sun was right at the horizon, and the sky had started to tint dark orange.
Bucky sat on Steve's left and placed a paper bag between them. "I got you some. Dig in if you're hungry."
"Your mom's gonna snap her cap when she finds out you spent all your dough here." Steve said, sitting up.
"Nah, I worked an extra shift at Donnelly's to cover this. I won't be short none."
Steve wanted to protest, but wasn't sure what to say, so he looked away, reached into the Nathan's bag instead. He wasn't sure eating was a good idea, but nibbled on a fry and then found himself wolfing down a whole handful. A few minutes later he felt better and worse all at the same time and groaned as he lay back down.
"Want to head back?" Bucky asked.
"Right here's good," Steve said, and he meant it, too. The heat started to fade as the sun dipped below the ocean. He started to drift off again to the sound of the ocean and Bucky's hand rustling in the paper bag, digging for the last of the french fries.
A loud whistle and bang woke him with a start. He sat up, heart thudding in his chest to find the sky glittering with fireworks.
Bucky nudged him with his shoulder. "Figured that'd get you up."
Steve took a breath and tilted his head up as the next firework shot up, and the next. "Wow," he said as a particularly wide arc lit up the sky.
"Yeah, I told 'em it was your birthday," Bucky said.
Steve laughed, "Yeah?"
"What— you don't think I could plan something like this?"
"You couldn't plan a hole in the ground."
They watched the sky light up over and over to the oohs and aahs of the other beach visitors, until the show came to an end and the thousand pinpricks of light faded, leaving behind a smoke-filled sky. Bucky grabbed the empty bag and crinkled it into a ball in his hands before pushing himself to his feet.
"You didn't have to do all this," Steve said, standing. "The ride, and the food, and the—" he gestured vaguely around them.
"Course I did." Bucky looked at his toes for a second before turning back to Steve with a grin. "The fireworks were a bit overkill maybe."
"I'll get them to tone it down next year."
"We doing this again next year?"
"Damn right. Every year. No matter what."
Steve watched red, blue and green blossom in the sky and rain down in a shower of light. The whistles and bangs of the fireworks reminded him of six near-perfect birthdays here, and a missile filled sky in the winter of 1944.
A group of teenagers next to him cheered loudly as the next round of fireworks exploded above them, this time in concentric circles of red, white and blue. He couldn't help but wonder if they'd always been so colorful.
The newly rebuilt pier was packed full of people watching. The next round—the finale—was deafening, a rapid fire sequence of explosions that lit the night-sky up until it rivaled the day. A girl next to him jumped so enthusiastically she elbowed Steve in the ribs.
"Oh oops, sorry!" She said, turning to pat him apologetically on the arm. Her eyes widened when she saw his face. "Holy shit, you're—"
He nodded, raising his hands, plams out, "Yeah, but please don't—"
"Wow!" She stumbled back into another girl behind her who turned and immediately clapped her hands over her mouth.
Steve waved and then turned to leave, eager to get away before people started pointing. It wasn't that he wanted to hide who he was, not really. Well, maybe tonight.
"Happy Birthday!" One of them shouted loudly behind him as he tried to squeeze back through the crowd towards the boardwalk.
But there were so many people, he gave up pushing through the throng. Instead he fought his way to the edge and slid off the side of the walkway, then dropped down knee-deep into the water and made his way back to the sand underneath the pier. It was cool and quieter, and getting away from the press of people was well worth a soaking pair of sneakers.
He slipped out of his wet shoes and sat on the sand as far back as he could, waiting for the crowd to die down. It hadn't always been this crowded. There'd been hordes of people watching the fireworks since Coney Island had fireworks, but the numbers nowadays were just...intimidating. He hadn't come last year, not after seeing the damage done by the storm the year before. The crumpled piers, the jagged wreckage of the promenade and the flattened houses he'd seen on the train ride there alone had haunted him for months after.
It was nearly all fixed now, but it didn't look a thing like it had decades ago when he'd been here with Bucky. Nearly everything had changed. But the Cyclone was still there. And so was Nathan's.
Over an hour passed before the crowd started to really break up. Steve poked his head out—the beach was nearly empty except for a few stragglers. He pulled himself back up onto the pier and walked to the end, staring down at the water. The waves rippled gently, and he watched the moon's reflection bob up and down for a bit before closing his eyes.
After a few seconds of peace, he got the distinct feeling that somebody was watching him. His fists clenched, and he turned to look over his shoulder, as surreptitiously as he could.
There was nobody else on the pier, but there was someone nearby— a flicker of movement between the boardwalk stairs and the back of the arcade. He didn't catch much more than a glimpse, but he'd seen enough for his heart to skip a beat. Long black pants, boots, a hood drawn up, but not tightly enough to hide the shoulder-length hair.
Steve pushed down the urge to run towards the shadowy figure, even though everything inside screamed at him to do just that. Instead, he turned carefully back towards the water and took the last few steps towards the very edge of the pier, then sat down, all the way on the right, leaving plenty of room to his left.
A minute passed, then another and another. That sense of being watched never went away, it only got stronger. He imagined Bucky under the pier, could swear he heard feet moving in near total silence across the sand, wading into the water—timed with the sound of the receding tide.
When he was sure Bucky was right underneath him, Steve said, "The fireworks were a bit overkill."
He waited for a response. But the only sound was the lapping of the waves. Steve swallowed down disappointment and stood, turning back towards the boardwalk. He could jump off the side, look under the pier, and see Bucky. And he wanted to—he wanted to so badly—just to tell him it was okay, to tell him he could stop running.
But he had no idea how Bucky would react. He was determined not to mess up—to give him time, and if he was here, then— that was a good thing, wasn't it? With a deep breath, he rolled his shoulders and headed back towards the promenade. He was almost at the end when he heard the sound of boots behind him.
"I'll get them to tone it down next year."