Bucky’s not hungry. Across the table, Steve’s so worked up about it he can barely take a bite of his own soup.
“Do you want me to heat it up again? Or there might be some bread left…” He’s hallway to snatching up Bucky’s bowl.
Bucky shakes his head. “Stevie, I’m ok,” he says. “I just…don’t want any right now.”
Steve gives him a disappointed look, then makes to take both their dinners back to the kitchen.
“Hey, no, you sit down.” He motions for Steve to come back. “You eat. You need it.”
“But, if you’re just gonna sit there,” Steve starts. “After you worked all day…” Bucky’s sure he’s about to launch into another one-sided conversation on the fairness of it all.
“I’m fine,” Bucky assures him. “Aren’t I allowed to not be hungry once in a while?”
It shuts Steve up pretty well, and they sit in silence for a while, acting out an odd juxtaposition of the usual goings on. Steve eats, shooting Bucky a concerned glance after every bite.
Bucky reaches for his water glass and takes a sip. He raises his eyebrows in another non-verbal affirmation. Look, see? I’m fine.
He’s not, though. Bucky won’t admit it aloud, but as he stands in the bathroom brushing his teeth a couple hours later, he knows something’s amiss. The taste of toothpaste makes him want to gag. When he spits minty foam into the sink, he almost does.
His stomach feels odd. Not hungry. Certainly not full. Almost as if it contains the carbonation from too many cokes. Odd, though, since it’s been at least a month since he’s had the time or spare cash for a soda.
Maybe he’s working too hard. Maybe Steve’s words of warning have held water all along, despite Bucky’s constant downplaying. Ten hour days at least six days a week are necessary just to cover their basic expenses. A few extra hours on Sunday and double shifts here and there make it possible to relax a little, cook with meat and spices, catch a movie once in a while. Or, during the cold winter months, just barely afford Steve’s medications.
They’re almost out of cough syrup, and if the crunch that holds to Steve’s exhales hangs on much longer, they’re sure to need more soon. If only that stuff weren’t so damned expensive…
Bucky shakes his head, trying to replace the thought with something more pleasant before he turns in. He slides beneath the covers, pulling the ratty quilt right up to his chin. Steve climbs in, bringing in a gust of cool air with his inviting body heat.
“You sure you’re ok?” Steve asks sleepily, giving Bucky a final once-over before snuggling into him.
Just being horizontal is upping Bucky’s exhaustion by the second. “Mm-hm,” he breathes. He hadn’t realized how much his head was hurting. Shutting his eyes is downright heavenly. “I’ll…try not to wake you up…when I leave for work,” he whispers, already drifting off.
Bucky normally wakes prior to dawn, scuttling off to the docks before the sun crests the horizon. But when his eyes snap open, it’s barely past midnight. He’d gone to sleep chilly, so it’s a shock to be drenched in sweat and practically boiling in his skin. His stomach’s bubbling up into his throat, and he barely has time to flop out from between the blankets and sprint into the bathroom before he’s gagging up everything in his stomach and then some.
“Buck?” Steve asks blearily from the doorway. He flips on the light, and the reflection against the stark whiteness of the toilet seems to incinerate his eyeballs.
“Go…go back to bed,” Bucky chokes, doing his best to hold down an impending retch. “I’ll be there…in a minute.”
“No, I’m staying with you,” Steve insists. The sink runs for a second, and a cool cloth comes down on the back of Bucky’s neck. “I think you have a fever.”
Bucky shuts his eyes, trying to delay the moment when he starts vomiting again. A spasm blooms in his stomach and his back arches and he leans further over the toilet. He burps and tastes acid. “Ugh,” he groans.
“It’s ok.” Steve sits beside him, pressing his hand into Bucky’s shoulder.
It takes a moment for Bucky to cough the bile and mucous out of his throat. “Really, just go back to bed,” he murmurs. “I’ll come…I gotta…try to sleep before work…”
“Buck,” Steve sighs. “Why’re you even thinking about the docks? You can’t go when you’re this sick.”
“Can’t lose the hours.” Bucky shifts in response to another uptick in nausea. He intends to say more, but all his energy is absorbed in a heave that seems to rise from his knees. Hardly a dribble comes up for the effort.
Bucky breaks off coughing, and Steve pats between his shoulder blades. He takes the damp washcloth from the back of Bucky’s neck and presses it to his jaw, then his forehead.
“You’re burning up. You’re not thinking straight,” Steve says.
“I am,” Bucky protests. He shoves himself back against the wall, praying his stomach will stay in place for a moment. “We won’t be able to afford your medicine. Fuck, we won’t be able to afford the electric bill. I can’t take off a whole day…” He shakes his head, raking his clammy hand from his forehead down to his cheek.
“It’ll be ok,” Steve says. “We can go cheaper on food for a week. I can do some portraits in the park…”
Bucky can barely listen to it. It’s December. Nobody’s going to sit for a portrait, and Steve won’t be able to work out in the chill for hours. Not without getting pneumonia. He’s about to start up with another protest, but his body has other ideas. He looses a primal retch, so caught off guard he can’t roll up to his knees quickly enough.
“Ok, you’re ok,” Steve intones. He pushes Bucky’s shoulder with one hand and holds the wadded washcloth to his chin with the other, catching another pitiful stream of bile. He gets Bucky situated over the toilet to dry heave, then rubs his back.
“You can be sick,” Steve says softly. “It’s ok. You don’t have to…carry around the world.”
“I gotta take care of you,” Bucky rasps, not looking up from the toilet.
“Well, you gotta take care of you first.” Steve wets a fresh cloth in the sink. “Or at least let me try to do that.”