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It Isn't Simple, But It's Good

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One of the things Steve learns early on is that Bucky is both overwhelmed by and completely starving for contact. In the middle of panic attacks or near-comatose blank stares, Steve sometimes can't help but rub Bucky's arm or hold his hand, trying to anchor him, and over time he realizes that it helps. He learns that Bucky often stands up and walks out of the room after a while, silent, but that before that moment when he's overstimulated and uncomfortable, he is enjoying it. He can't verbalize it, but one afternoon they're at the kitchen table and Bucky doesn't want to eat, doesn't want to talk, and seems to know how much that's disappointing Steve. He hesitatingly puts his right hand on the table, between their plates, and after a moment Steve steels himself and puts his hand on top of Bucky's. Bucky doesn't pull away, so Steve curls his fingers lightly around Bucky's wrist, thumb tracing little circles, and Bucky lets out a breath and relaxes a little. When Sam comes home they're still sitting there, and Steve's embarrassment at PDA (isn't that what it's called? Does this count?) is trumped by his desire to keep giving Bucky at least one thing that helps him. Bucky continues staring at his potatoes, long since gone cold, and Sam looks at them both for a minute before putting his keys down and saying that rotisserie chicken was on sale and that they did not have any whole milk.

**

Natasha isn't shy about taking a special interest in Bucky. She talked reverently about his abilities, before, but when she comes back from her trip she doesn't treat him like a colleague, or anything else Steve can easily identify. She seems to predict a lot of his bad reactions, a lot of his strange coping mechanisms, sharing tips with Steve via text and occasionally murmuring to Bucky in Russian, quietly on the couch as they watch television together, and after a while a pattern emerges and Steve sees that she's filling him in on the pop culture jokes he doesn't understand yet.

They never watch the news.

**

Sam understands the basics, although he reiterates to Steve over and over that he's dealt "with like, ones, twos, all the way to maybe eights and nines, if we're putting people on a scale. But his issues? Like, twelve? Thirteen? I've worked with POWs before but a few weeks or months of being taken doesn't compare to his deal."

Sam talks a lot. Before Natasha comes back he talks about how much Bucky's going to like her, how she's smoking hot and has a bad case of being totally in love with Sam, he's sure of it. He talks about how tiny his place is but how much cleaner it is now that the "cleaning fairy" keeps tidying things up when he's out, and that's when he'll shoot Steve a bit of a glare, mentioning again that he told the "cleaning fairy" he didn't need to feel obligated to do house chores while he's healing up, how the "cleaning fairy" should do as he's told and lay on the couch and watch The Price is Right.

One morning Steve is working on the grit between the tiles in the bathroom when he hears the television turn on, infomercial giving way to a music video giving way to several other channels until it lands on something with applause. Bucky comes in to the bathroom, taking his arm gently, pulling him to the couch where he's laid out a pillow and the fluffier of Sam's blankets. A man on the television is telling a very excited lady that yes, that is the dining set does indeed cost $1200.

**

Moving to New York is difficult, and moving into the Tower is even harder, but Sam follows like there was never any question about it and drowns out Steve's trepidations about the noise and chaos by being one hundred percent in love with everything. He meets Pepper and loves her. He meets Tony and immediately starts giving him shit, which Tony loves. He sees his new apartment, which shares a floor with Bucky's and Steve's, and hoots, shouting, running into the kitchen to grab Bucky's arm (Steve's internal alarms go off) and drag him in so he can see.

"It's huge!" Steve hears Sam yelling, as he pretends he isn't running after them both. "Lookit the window! The view! Look at that bed."

Steve stands in the doorway, watching as Bucky surveys the room, looking out at the city, then turning around and kneeling down to push on the mattress.

"Firm," he says approvingly, and Sam laughs.

"Don't use up your all your words at once, dude. C'mere, I wanna see if there's a sweet shower or maybe a oh my god there is a jaccuzi tub."

Natasha laughs next to Steve, who jumps a little because of course he didn't hear her come over. Sam is still yelling.

"There is a jaccuzi tub and it is mine and I love it. Oh my god. Steve get in here, even Bucky is smiling."

**

Steve hates to admit it but the Tower helps. There's no 'normal' - Banner hides himself away for days at a time and everyone accepts it. Clint over-trains, barely talks except to Nat, and Tony is so austentatious and ridiculous that, well, Bucky seems to feel safe finally trying new things, finally trying on the swim shorts Nat bought him and getting into the hot tub next to the infinity pool. Childlike, he goes from alarmed to confused to excited.

"It's nice," he reports, actually grinning, and Nat smiles next to him, tipping her sunglasses down. Sam stops doing laps in the pool to tread water and stare at Bucky.

"That thing's waterproof, right?"

Bucky glances at his arm and then at Sam. "How do you think I've been showering?"

Sam's eyebrows shoot up. "You shower?"

Steve adjusts the bandage around his midsection and gets comfortable on the deck chair. When he wakes up a few minutes later, Sam has laid out on the chair next to him, dozing next to a colorful-looking drink. Bucky and Nat are looking over New York, still in the hot tub, backs to him as they look out over the city. Her fingertips are scratching delicate patterns into his scalp. The line of his shoulders looks relaxed. Steve can't find it in himself to feel jealous.

**

Steve is pretty sure Bucky isn't having a harder time sleeping than he used to, or getting more nightmares than he used to. He's pretty sure Bucky just isn't as self-conscious about coming into his room at night as he used to be. He'll crawl in, always without speaking, always wearing a soft long-sleeved shirt. (Ever since Steve yelped awake one night at the feel of cold metal pressed against his side. Bucky nearly hid under the bed that night, and while Steve never suggested the baggy shirts to sleep in, he suspects who did when he sees Natasha come back from shopping one day with more of them, just for Bucky, in different colors.)

One night Steve falls asleep watching another Star Wars movie with Sam, and sometime around one in the morning Bucky walks in, wearing pajama pants and a hoodie and almost sulking when he sees Steve on the sofa.

"Hi," Sam says, because Bucky is ignoring him and Sam is literally sitting right next to the sleeping person Bucky is glaring at.

Bucky looks conflicted for a while, looking from Steve's sleeping face to the hallway where the bedrooms are, then the clock. Finally he steps forward, filling the space between Steve and Sam on the couch and bunching a throw blanket up so he can use it as a pillow on Steve's lap. Sam has to bite back a laugh at how serious Bucky looks, and Bucky glares, daring him to say something, but Sam just shrugs his shoulders and grabs one of Bucky's legs, untucking it so it lays across Sam's lap, where he pats it. Bucky looks at him for a long time, finally unfolding his other leg so Sam can have both.

"The good part's coming up," Sam says, gesturing with his other hand to where Han Solo is running through a corridor. Bucky nods and watches with him.

**

(Several weeks later Steve is out on a mission. Bucky's nothing near battle-ready and Sam's new suit isn't finished yet, so the Tower's quiet that night with just the two of them.

When Sam answers the quiet knock on the door in the middle of the night he understands Bucky's face, the strain and the tension and the not-quite-sure-this-is-okay, all covered with a blank expression that Sam learned to see through a long time ago. Sam backs up to let Bucky in.

"I dunno what you get up to with Steve, but I'm just gonna big spoon you. C'mon.")

**

Sam hits on Natasha a lot. Really, almost any chance he gets. He's seen Natasha shut down bad ideas and shitty behavior with just a look, and he's never gotten that look yet, just grins and smooth replies, so he figures he must be alright.

Steve pretends he doesn't notice it, having been unable to cope with such displays since birth, and Bucky watches it with a calm sort of curiosity, like he's wondering where it will lead. Sam makes the mistake of saying something in front of Clint once, having never been told of their ... dynamic ... and Clint looks about ready for murder when Nat gets up from her perch on the table, walks over to Sam and joins him in front of the television. She tucks her feet to one side and throws an arm around his shoulder, tipping her head against him, stunning him and the rest of the room into silence. The rage fades from Clint's face and he shrugs, going back to his chips, satisfied that Natasha approves. Tony puts down what Steve is pretty sure is a panic button. Steve thinks it's around then that Sam figures out that this, just this, is Nat's version of dating, and that Sam is already there.

He hits on her less after that, and most times when there's room enough on the couch, Natasha gets foot rubs, backrubs, really anything she wants. Bucky observes from the armchair and nods as if satisfied.

**

(When Bucky asks Sam to show him how to do all that, Sam makes a joke about Bucky trying to steal 'his girl' and sits him on a stool, standing behind him and working his neck and shoulders, apologizing when Bucky twitches as Sam grips too tightly at the place where flesh turns to metal. He tries to show Bucky how to rub feet next but Bucky just flinches away, hating it, so Sam calls Steve down and pushes him onto the couch and takes his boots off for him, laughing at how pink Steve's ears are.

"It's what you do with people you like," Bucky says, explaining, and if that slightly breaks Sam's and Steve's hearts they don't show it. Sam tugs Steve's foot into his lap and pushes his thumbs into the arch, drawing an embarassing sound out of Steve that he immediately bites down on, and when Bucky smiles it's so, so familiar.)

**

Bucky joins Steve and Nat in the kitchen one afternoon and asks what a California King is.

"It's a thing, right? Not a person?"

"Not a person," Natasha confirms, pouring her smoothie into a tall glass. "It's a bed. Bigger than queen size. Queen, King."

"Oh." Bucky's brows come together and he nods. "That's... big."

"Where'd you hear it?" Steve asks around a mouthful of tacquito. (Not all future things are bad.)

"Sam's asking Tony for one," Bucky says, and Nat's eyebrows lift imperceptibly, one corner of her mouth tugging upwards. "A bed makes sense. He was talking about room dimensions and something else."

"Was he talking about his plans for it?" Natasha's voice has that...something to it that makes Steve look up from his food. He can feel the tips of his ears going pink.

"No. Just room dimensions." Bucky opens the fridge and kneels down, disappearing behind the door. "Maybe it's because of me? I don't sleep with him that often, though."

Steve nearly chokes. "You what?"

"Only when you're not there." There are sounds of Bucky rummaging past bottles. Nat grabs Steve's attention and gives him a look, telling him to cool it.

"You mean," Steve blinks rapidly. "You mean you share a bed with him."

"Yes." Bucky suddenly sticks his head up, looking concerned. "Should I be...? I thought he just wanted,"

"If he wanted to have sex with you, he'd tell you," Nat injerects smoothly. Bucky relaxes and nods, bending down and disappearing again. "After," Nat adds as an afterthought, "asking Steve to make sure he wouldn't murder him."

Bucky pops back up.