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and it starts just where the light exists

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“Steve, you don't gotta—” Bucky tries to say, when he's ten days out of SHIELD custody, and the dark circles under his eyes make it look like he hasn't slept since he was last sedated. It's probably close to the truth.

It's bright afternoon, and there's a baseball game on. Steve knows how Bucky spent last night, keeping watch by his side, leaving only to do quick perimeter checks of their Brooklyn apartment—because they're coming for him, and they're coming for Steve, and Bucky can only allow one of those things to happen.

“None of that shit. C'mere,” Steve tells him, and Bucky does, because Bucky always does what Steve tells him (even—especially—when he makes a show of telling Steve 'no,'). “This way, you'll know you're home, and I'm with you.”

Too tired to argue further, Bucky does what he says, and rests his head on Steve's lap. “This ain't gonna help,” he says, letting his eyes close. “But if it makes you feel better...”

Steve grabs the blanket that he keeps folded at one end of the couch, and covers Bucky with it. Bucky lets out a soft, contented sound, and Steve gets a hand in his messy hair.

Bucky's out in two minutes, and he sleeps for two hours, and that shouldn't feel like some kind of trophy, but Steve's ready to go have one made.

“Told you,” Steve says, and Bucky yawns and hides his face in Steve's sweatpant-clad thigh.

“Steve, you don't have to—” Bucky says, but he still can't sleep at night, and Steve has seen what that many hours alone with his thoughts can do to him.

“I want to stay up with you tonight. Now shove over, you're hogging the couch.”

Bucky rearranges himself so his sprawl occupies a fair partition. “I pick the movie,” he says, quickly adding, “you get the next one,”

“I can live with those terms,” Steve says, sitting down next to him and promptly putting his legs up to encroach on Bucky's territory.

Bucky stares at Steve's socked feet and cracks a smile. “Have you seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?”

“Nope,” Steve says. “I have lists. It might be on a list.”

“I saw it on a hotel television sometime in the seventies,” Bucky says. He sounds a little sad. “I don't remember much about it. It was good, I think. I think I liked it.”

Steve nudges Bucky's thigh with his toes until he smiles again. “It sounds good. We can watch.”

“It starts in twenty minutes. That's enough time for hot chocolate,” Bucky says, grinning.

Steve can't help but smile back. “Am I making you cocoa, or are you making me cocoa?”

“You're staying up for me, so I'm making it for you,” Bucky says, making a show of climbing to his feet as if it were a herculean effort.

“In that case, I'll keep you company in the kitchen.”

Bucky freezes him in place with a look. “The whole point of me making you hot chocolate is that you get to stay on the couch.”

“But I'd rather talk to you,” Steve says, aiming his best puppy-eyes Bucky's way – it's a very effective method for putting an end to protest. Try as he might, Bucky has never been immune.

As it turns out, Bucky makes a mean hot chocolate, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, despite the somewhat ridiculous name, is a pretty great movie.

Steve falls asleep sometime past sunrise, after talking to Bucky—about everything and nothing—for hours. Watching Bucky's face in the soft glow of the morning light, Steve feels some of the loneliness he's been carrying in his heart like a stone since the ice melt away.

“You don't have to take me home, Steve,” Bucky says. “I can find it all on my own.”

Except his hands—steady hands, sniper's hands, one flesh and one metal—are shaking, and he looks like he can't shake the eyes of strangers from his skin. And Steve knows Bucky—he knows damn well that Bucky's not going anywhere unless Steve drags him there.

At the start of the night he looked good in his suit, had managed a decent approximation of confident and happy. But now there's sweat ruining Bucky's artfully-mussed hair and running down his forehead. His lower lip looks swollen, like he's worried the inside bloody with his teeth. People have been coming up to him all evening, eager for the time and attention of a resurrected hero, and Steve remembers how that feels.

Except to Bucky, who sleeps every third night, and panics when he doesn't have a clear eye-line to the nearest exit, they're all potential attackers—threats in the making.

Steve needs to get him home.

“Let's get out of here,” Steve says—and then, when Bucky stares after him, gaze hollow. “I'm not letting you leave me here alone.”

Steve guides Bucky out of the hotel ballroom with a steady hand on the small of his back. He waves off anyone who tries to stop either of them for one last conversation with a warm smile, and a firm, polite goodbye.

“We're free, Buck!” Steve says, when the cool night air hits his skin.

Bucky's lips curl in a tight smile. He's still off balance. His hands are still shaking. Steve needs to fix this.

He knows that's not how it works, that Bucky's been to the kinds of places no one comes back from, but Steve has always been the kind of man to try anyway. “There's three diners between here and home—I counted on the way. Think you could go for a milkshake? I could go for a milkshake.”

The muscles of Bucky's back tense further underneath Steve's touch. He knows well enough that all Bucky wants is to go home—where he'll hide in the bedroom he never actually sleeps in until he emerges the next afternoon, too quiet, with deep shadows underneath his eyes that will not fade for days. This is Steve's last chance to help before he gets shut out.

He strokes Bucky's back. “Bet one of them is empty...”

“Alright,” Bucky says, leaning into Steve's touch. “Alright.”

“Hey, Buck,” Steve says, and then he takes off running.

Bucky's shocked laugh echoes down the street, and then he gives chase—Steve lets him catch up, of course—then grabs his hand so they can run together. The first diner is crowded, so they fly right past. The second one is perfect.

Bucky's almost smiling when Steve drags him inside. Steve picks their booth, and orders him a chocolate milkshake with butterscotch (mint chocolate-chip for himself, but they split both almost equally). Before the milkshakes are gone, Bucky's trying not to snicker when he kicks Steve under the table.

Steve is overcome with an immense gratitude—that Bucky is here, with him, in this time, where Steve could buy him a hundred milkshakes in one sitting if he wanted, where they can goof around in fancy suits inside an empty diner while the lone waitress working watches them, smiling. But beyond that, he's grateful that Bucky is trying, that he runs through the streets with Steve when he'd rather hide himself away at home.

Except there's no way he can put that into words, so Steve kicks back under the table, and then employs strategic maneuvers in trying to trap Bucky's foot with both of his own. They race home, scuffing their fancy shoes and laughing like children.

Bucky falls asleep that night, his head on Steve's chest, where he can be reassured by the steady beat of Steve's heart.

(It's a record four hours before Bucky wakes up from nightmares, breathing too fast and tangled in sweaty sheets. Steve hugs him close and talks him down, whispering stories about Brooklyn into his skin. Bucky doesn't go back to sleep—but he doesn't patrol the apartment, either; choosing, instead, to pass the rest of the night by Steve's side).

“You really don't have to come with me,” Bucky says, but he looks sharp in his tux and comfortable in his skin. He's trained in every method of deception anyone's ever thought of, but Steve still sees right through him.

Steve's the one who's out of place here. Steve's the one who feels like he's gonna bust out of the impeccably tailored getup made special for this black tie affair. It's Steve, who's in an exquisite ballroom, still—all these years later—unable to dance. It's been a struggle tonight, trying not to stomp all over the expensive, lethal-looking shoes of women eager for a dance with an Avenger.

Being Captain America sometimes means being forced to do this, to mingle with the rich and the famous. And it's never once felt right, but it's worse today. People keep patting him on the back and telling him that he represents the lost America they're trying to win back, and he itches under his skin with how badly he wants to tell them off, to tell them what it's like to be truly, desperately poor.

Except they paid five thousand per plate to spend time with an idea of him, and that money's going to help. It's going to help so many people. He picked the cause—veteran mental health. Steve's got his principals, but for once in his life they mean he's gotta keep his mouth shut. He hasn't been trained to lie, but he does have experience putting on a show. With these kinds of crowds, he gets by with the aw-shucks smile. It fools most people without world-class espionage skills or knowledge of Steve's actual personality.

Something in Bucky's face changes. For the past few minutes, he has been silently watching Steve think. But now, his mouth takes on a vulnerable twist, and one his hands—gloved (black leather, “to preserve his sexy, dangerous vibe without alarming the masses,” as the stylist had put it)—worries the smooth line of his tuxedo.

He looks suddenly and overwhelmingly distressed, and he could be faking, but Steve can't take that chance. “Let's get out of here, Buck,” he says.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, his voice soft with what Steve swears is genuine relief. He smiles, takes Steve's hand, and guides it to the small of his back.

Steve leads him through the ballroom and makes their apologies, smiling his aw-shucks smile, but the glitterati are not so easily deterred this time. Steve leans in to whisper in Bucky's ear. “Can you find a back way out of here?”

Bucky smirks. “I already know eight. I'm guessing you don't wanna climb out of a window.”

Steve shakes his head and laughs. “Meet you by the bathroom in five?”

Bucky nods, and then vanishes soundlessly into the crowd. It takes Steve nine minutes to extricate himself from three different conversations with three different men whose slicked hair and unctuous charm makes his skin crawl.

By the time he completes the daring escape, Steve is more than a little wrung out. He finds Bucky sitting on the floor, bow tie undone, a cigarette burning between gloved fingers.

“What'd you do to the smoke detector?” Steve says. He cannot help smiling.

Bucky takes a drag. The curl of smoke coming out of his expressive mouth is a striking image. Steve aches for a pencil. “You don't wanna know,” Bucky says, “plausible deniability.”

Steve offers him a hand up, laughing. Thirty seconds alone with him, and it's better already.

“You don't have to,” Bucky says, shaking his head. But he takes Steve's hand, climbs to his feet, and leads him—down a hall, through a storage room, and outside—to freedom.

“My savior,” Bucky says.

Steve punches him in the shoulder. It's a cold night—refreshing, after hours trapped in a wool tuxedo and a crowded ballroom. Bucky glows beneath the streetlights. Steve doesn't think he will ever get tired of looking at him.

Bucky stares back at Steve for a long moment, turning some thought or another over and over in his head.

“What's on your mind?” Steve asks him.

“Just wondering,” Bucky says.

“You're quite the thinker these days,” Steve says, teasing. “What about?”

“Whether or not I still remember how to do this—”

And then Bucky's lunging for Steve's ribs, somehow managing to tickle him effectively through what must be three layers of fabric.

“Yep,” Bucky says, when Steve is helpless with laughter, and on the verge of collapsing on the sidewalk, “I still remember the right spots.”

“Oh yeah?” Steve manages, gasping for air. “I know I still remember yours!”

He escapes Bucky's monstrous onslaught to get behind him and lock an arm around Bucky's waist. He does remember—the exact spots on Bucky's stomach, and right behind his knees. For a moment, Steve worries that too much has changed, but then Bucky is laughing and struggling to find purchase and twist out of his grasp.

Bucky puts up a good fight, and Steve winds up diverting attention away from tickling him in order to prevent his escape. Bucky manages to turn himself around in the tight circle of Steve's arms, and then they're face to face, dressed in formal wear on a beautiful night, breathless from laughter.

Bucky's eyes are bright. He is wretchedly, improbably handsome, and very, very close.

The first kiss passes like a breath between them. It's the brightest moment of clarity Steve has had in his entire life, because this isn't new. It's just the explanation for a lifetime of decisions.

Steve pulls away to say, “We're so—”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, smiling before he goes in for another kiss.

“You don't gotta do that for me, Steve,” Bucky says, voice rough. Steve is licking patterns into the sensitive skin of his abdomen, tracing scars and making his own pathways.

Steve kisses Bucky's hipbone, and then the hollow next to it. “Who says I'm not doing this for selfish reasons?”

Steve has had enough time to notice that Bucky's none too keen on doing anything in bed that will benefit him and him alone. He wants to focus on Steve. And Steve? Steve wants to drink up the whole of him through touch and taste and sound, but Bucky is always frantic, always pushing Steve's hands away and saying things like, 'Let's fuck before I die waiting,' eyes bright and pupils blown.

He's got that look now. “Kinda thought you'd at least know what the word 'selfish' means. Get up here.” He tangles a hand in Steve's hair to pull him in for a kiss.

Steve catches Bucky's wrist and presses his lips to the pulse point instead. “Stop trying to distract me.” He lets go of Bucky's hand and returns his attention to the jut of Bucky's hip, biting and then licking the delicate skin. Bucky lets out a sharp hiss.

Steve lightly brushes his fingertips against Bucky's side until he feels goosebumps. “If you don't want it, that's one thing. But trust me, I want to suck your dick.” He trails kisses towards Bucky's cock and draws faint designs on Bucky's skin with blunt nails. “Bet you taste sweet.” He moves down so the hard, silky length of Bucky's cock brushes his cheek. “And I bet you'd make the best sounds.”

Bucky lets out a soft, breathy moan.

“That's not a 'yes,'” Steve says, nuzzling against him. “Gonna need one of those if I'm gonna do this.”

Bucky swallows. “Yes,” he says, “yes.”

“Mmm.” Steve runs his hands down Bucky's thighs. “I think you're gonna have to be a little more specific than that...Let me know exactly what you want me to do.”

Steve,” Bucky says.

Steve looks up at him—Bucky is flushed and disheveled and gorgeous—and then places one chaste kiss on the head of Bucky's cock.

“Steve, yes,” Bucky said, “yes, I want you to suck me off.”

Steve reaches up to roll one of Bucky's nipples between his thumb and forefinger. “Magic word.”

“I hate you so much,” Bucky says, though the effect of the words is largely ruined both by the fact that he's rock hard, and by the tender way he's running a hand through Steve's hair. “Yes, please, Steve. Please suck my dick.”

“Thought you'd never ask, Buck,” Steve says, grinning. And then he licks Bucky's cock from root to tip.

Bucky writhes. Steve's probably goes a little slack-jawed; it's the hottest thing—Bucky open and gorgeous and wanting this. He wraps a hand around the base of Bucky's dick and takes the head in his mouth—Bucky tastes like salt and clean skin. He is sweet and responsive, moaning and clutching the sheets, so it's easy to figure out what he likes best, easy to find the right rhythm.

Steve twists his wrist in time with his mouth and coaxes those hot, perfect sounds louder. He uses his free hand to explore Bucky's skin, stroking Bucky's thigh and hip or reaching up to play with a nipple. Steve loses track of time. Bucky calls out Steve's name like it's a prayer, a reverent thing, his head thrown back, over and over again.

Steve's so turned-on he might well be burning with this, his own cock rock hard though it's hardly been touched. Steve wants. He wants to paint the perfect line of Bucky's throat. He wants to press bruises into Bucky's hip so he can carry a reminder of how badly Steve wants him, of all the ways he shatters Steve's careful control—so he applies pressure and leaves the mark.

Bucky curses and moans, evidently undone by the touch of pain amid pleasure. Steve wants to swallow up every sound and every bead of sweat that glistens on Bucky's skin, so he bobs his head and sucks harder.

“Steve—” Bucky chokes out, groaning. “I'm gonna—”

Steve scratches Bucky's thigh, where his hand has settled, and that's enough to send Bucky over the edge. Bucky comes in hot spurts, and Steve sucks him through it, basking in the lovely, ragged sounds Bucky makes while he's falling to pieces.

Steve sits back on his heels to take in the sight of him blissed out, eyes closed and hands still fisted in the sheets. He looks like a classical painting—at least until he makes a face and opens one eye to tell Steve, “Get up here,” voice thick with equal parts affection and consternation.

Steve obliges (he's always going to oblige), and crawls up the bed to pull Bucky close. He kisses Bucky's temple and then his mouth.

Bucky smiles, brilliant and genuine. “So maybe you have good ideas sometimes.”

“Love you too, Buck,” Steve says, grinning, because he can't help it—with Bucky, he can never help it.

Bucky runs his hands over Steve's torso, lingering on places he knows are sensitive. “My turn to take care of you,” he tells Steve, licking his way up Steve neck to catch Steve's earlobe between his teeth.

Steve lets out a contented sigh.

“This okay?” Bucky asks, wrapping a hand around Steve's cock.

“More than,” Steve says, leaning in for a kiss.

They make out while Bucky brings Steve off with deft, languid strokes. Steve relaxes into the sensations, enjoying Bucky's skilled hands and hot mouth and the feeling of having him warm and close and happy. Steve comes and it's perfect—all bright, sparkling, pleasure. The satisfaction that follows settles somewhere deep in his bones.

Steve briefly (but seriously) considers the idea of staying in bed with Bucky forever. There is, however, a whole world out there, and sometimes it is their job to help save it. And if they make it out to the couch today, it's Steve's turn to pick the movie—he wants to show Bucky The Big Sleep. Bucky always liked Bogart; Steve thinks it will make him smile.

Steve is very committed to making Bucky smile.

For now, Steve's got his arms wrapped around Bucky, who is kissing sleepy patterns into the skin of Steve's shoulder. It will be a little while before the next time Steve has to worry about him smiling.

They are ambling somewhere vaguely in the direction of home. The sun is setting, and a cool, crisp day is settling into a chilly evening. This is, to Steve, New York at its most beautiful, all lively sidewalks and fading light.

Bucky shivers at a gust of late-autumn wind. He will probably never deal well with the cold.

Steve removes his hand from the back pocket of Bucky's jeans, where it is comfortably nestled against his boyfriend's perfect ass, and instead wraps an arm around his shoulder, pulling him close so that Steve (and his super soldier metabolism) can keep Bucky warm.

“Steve—” Bucky starts to say, but Steve quiets the protest with a quick kiss on the lips. When he pulls away, Bucky is beaming.

They keep walking, no longer in any danger from the wind.